There are some good lessons in this article on financial fraud:
That’s how we got it so wrong. We were looking for incidental breaches of technical regulations, not systematic crime. And the thing is, that’s normal. The nature of fraud is that it works outside your field of vision, subverting the normal checks and balances so that the world changes while the picture stays the same. People in financial markets have been missing the wood for the trees for as long as there have been markets.
Trust — particularly between complete strangers, with no interactions beside relatively anonymous market transactions — is the basis of the modern industrial economy. And the story of the development of the modern economy is in large part the story of the invention and improvement of technologies and institutions for managing that trust.
And as industrial society develops, it becomes easier to be a victim. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith described how prosperity derived from the division of labour — the 18 distinct operations that went into the manufacture of a pin, for example. While this was going on, the modern world also saw a growing division of trust. The more a society benefits from the division of labour in checking up on things, the further you can go into a con game before you realise that you’re in one.
Libor teaches us a valuable lesson about commercial fraud — that unlike other crimes, it has a problem of denial as well as one of detection. There are very few other criminal acts where the victim not only consents to the criminal act, but voluntarily transfers the money or valuable goods to the criminal. And the hierarchies, status distinctions and networks that make up a modern economy also create powerful psychological barriers against seeing fraud when it is happening. White-collar crime is partly defined by the kind of person who commits it: a person of high status in the community, the kind of person who is always given the benefit of the doubt.
Fraudsters don’t play on moral weaknesses, greed or fear; they play on weaknesses in the system of checks and balances — the audit processes that are meant to supplement an overall environment of trust. One point that comes up again and again when looking at famous and large-scale frauds is that, in many cases, everything could have been brought to a halt at a very early stage if anyone had taken care to confirm all the facts. But nobody does confirm all the facts. There are just too bloody many of them. Even after the financial rubble has settled and the arrests been made, this is a huge problem.
Posted on July 25, 2018 at 6:29 AM •
If you’re going to commit an illegal act, it’s best not to discuss it in e-mail. It’s also best to Google tech instructions rather than asking someone else to do it:
One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here’s the relevant passage from the indictment. I’ve bolded the most important bits:
Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI’s income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a “Word” document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that “Word” document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the “Word” document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.
So here’s the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller’s investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company’s income, but he couldn’t figure out how to edit the PDF. He therefore had Gates turn it into a Microsoft Word document for him, which led the two to bounce the documents back-and-forth over email. As attorney and blogger Susan Simpson notes on Twitter, Manafort’s inability to complete a basic task on his own seems to have effectively “created an incriminating paper trail.”
If there’s a lesson here, it’s that the Internet constantly generates data about what people are doing on it, and that data is all potential evidence. The FBI is 100% wrong that they’re going dark; it’s really the golden age of surveillance, and the FBI’s panic is really just its own lack of technical sophistication.
Posted on February 26, 2018 at 3:39 PM •
Brian Krebs has a long article on the Mirai botnet authors, who pled guilty.
Posted on December 20, 2017 at 6:10 AM •
Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist whose anti-corruption investigations exposed powerful people. She was murdered in October by a car bomb.
Galizia used WhatsApp to communicate securely with her sources. Now that she is dead, the Maltese police want to break into her phone or the app, and find out who those sources were.
One journalist reports:
Part of Daphne’s destroyed smart phone was elevated from the scene.
Investigators say that Caruana Galizia had not taken her laptop with her on that particular trip. If she had done so, the forensic experts would have found evidence on the ground.
Her mobile phone is also being examined, as can be seen from her WhatsApp profile, which has registered activity since the murder. But it is understood that the data is safe.
Sources close to the newsroom said that as part of the investigation her sim card has been cloned. This is done with the help of mobile service providers in similar cases. Asked if her WhatsApp messages or any other messages that were stored in her phone will be retrieved, the source said that since the messaging application is encrypted, the messages cannot be seen. Therefore it is unlikely that any data can be retrieved.
I am less optimistic than that reporter. The FBI is providing “specific assistance.” The article doesn’t explain that, but I would not be surprised if they were helping crack the phone.
It will be interesting to see if WhatsApp’s security survives this. My guess is that it depends on how much of the phone was recovered from the bombed car.
EDITED TO ADD (11/7): The court-appointed IT expert on the case has a criminal record in the UK for theft and forgery.
Posted on November 6, 2017 at 6:12 AM •
I have no comment on the politics of this stabbing attack, and only note that the attacker used a ceramic knife — that will go through metal detectors.
I have used a ceramic knife in the kitchen. It’s sharp.
EDITED TO ADD (6/22): It looks like the knife had nothing to do with the attack discussed in the article.
Posted on June 20, 2017 at 6:21 AM •
Turns out, multi-million dollar yachts are no more secure than anything else out there:
The ease with which ocean-going oligarchs or other billionaires can be hijacked on the high seas was revealed at a superyacht conference held in a private members club in central London this week.
Murray, a cybercrime expert at BlackBerry, was demonstrating how criminal gangs could exploit lax data security on superyachts to steal their owners’ financial information, private photos and even force the yacht off course.
I’m sure it was a surprise to the yacht owners.
Posted on May 15, 2017 at 6:02 AM •
I’ve previously written about the serious vulnerabilities in the SS7 phone routing system. Basically, the system doesn’t authenticate messages. Now, criminals are using it to hack smartphone-based two-factor authentication systems:
In short, the issue with SS7 is that the network believes whatever you tell it. SS7 is especially used for data-roaming: when a phone user goes outside their own provider’s coverage, messages still need to get routed to them. But anyone with SS7 access, which can be purchased for around 1000 Euros according to The Süddeutsche Zeitung, can send a routing request, and the network may not authenticate where the message is coming from.
That allows the attacker to direct a target’s text messages to another device, and, in the case of the bank accounts, steal any codes needed to login or greenlight money transfers (after the hackers obtained victim passwords).
Posted on May 10, 2017 at 6:50 AM •
Fitbit evidence is cited in an arrest warrant, stating that the device monitored steps by the victim after the suspect claimed she died.
Posted on May 2, 2017 at 6:13 AM •
This is an interesting combination of computer and physical attack:
Researchers from the Russian security firm Kaspersky on Monday detailed a new ATM-emptying attack, one that mixes digital savvy with a very precise form of physical penetration. Kaspersky’s team has even reverse engineered and demonstrated the attack, using only a portable power drill and a $15 homemade gadget that injects malicious commands to trigger the machine’s cash dispenser. And though they won’t name the ATM manufacturer or the banks affected, they warn that thieves have already used the drill attack across Russia and Europe, and that the technique could still leave ATMs around the world vulnerable to having their cash safes disemboweled in a matter of minutes.
“We wanted to know: To what extent can you control the internals of the ATM with one drilled hole and one connected wire? It turns out we can do anything with it,” says Kaspersky researcher Igor Soumenkov, who presented the research at the company’s annual Kaspersky Analyst Summit. “The dispenser will obey and dispense money, and it can all be done with a very simple microcomputer.”
Posted on April 5, 2017 at 6:29 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.