Entries Tagged "cyberespionage"

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NSA Employee Charged with Espionage

An ex-NSA employee has been charged with trying to sell classified data to the Russians (but instead actually talking to an undercover FBI agent).

It’s a weird story, and the FBI affidavit raises more questions than it answers. The employee only worked for the NSA for three weeks—which is weird in itself. I can’t figure out how he linked up with the undercover FBI agent. It’s not clear how much of this was the employee’s idea, and whether he was goaded by the FBI agent. Still, hooray for not leaking NSA secrets to the Russians. (And, almost ten years after Snowden, do we still have this much trouble vetting people before giving them security clearances?)

Mr. Dalke, who had already left the N.S.A. but told the agent that he still worked there on a temporary assignment, then revealed that had taken “highly sensitive information” related to foreign targeting of U.S. systems and information on cyber operations, the prosecutors said. He offered the information in exchange for cryptocurrency and said he was in “financial need.” Court records show he had nearly $84,000 in debt between student loans and credit cards.

EDITED TO ADD (10/5): Marcy Wheeler notes that the FBI seems to be sitting on some common recruitment point, and collecting potential Russian spies.

Posted on October 4, 2022 at 6:30 AMView Comments

Security Vulnerabilities in Covert CIA Websites

Back in 2018, we learned that covert system of websites that the CIA used for communications was compromised by—at least—China and Iran, and that the blunder caused a bunch of arrests, imprisonments, and executions. We’re now learning that the CIA is still “using an irresponsibly secured system for asset communication.”

Citizen Lab did the research:

Using only a single website, as well as publicly available material such as historical internet scanning results and the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we identified a network of 885 websites and have high confidence that the United States (US) Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used these sites for covert communication.

The websites included similar Java, JavaScript, Adobe Flash, and CGI artifacts that implemented or apparently loaded covert communications apps. In addition, blocks of sequential IP addresses registered to apparently fictitious US companies were used to host some of the websites. All of these flaws would have facilitated discovery by hostile parties.

[…]

The bulk of the websites that we discovered were active at various periods between 2004 and 2013. We do not believe that the CIA has recently used this communications infrastructure. Nevertheless, a subset of the websites are linked to individuals who may be former and possibly still active intelligence community employees or assets:

  • Several are currently abroad
  • Another left mainland China in the timeframe of the Chinese crackdown
  • Another was subsequently employed by the US State Department
  • Another now works at a foreign intelligence contractor

Citizen Lab is not publishing details, of course.

When I was a kid, I thought a lot about being a spy. And this, right here, was the one thing I worried about. It didn’t matter how clever and resourceful I was. If my handlers were incompetent, I was dead.

Another news article.

EDITED TO ADD (10/2): Slashdot thread.

Posted on September 30, 2022 at 9:19 AMView Comments

Microsoft Issues Report of Russian Cyberattacks against Ukraine

Microsoft has a comprehensive report on the dozens of cyberattacks—and even more espionage operations—Russia has conducted against Ukraine as part of this war:

At least six Russian Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors and other unattributed threats, have conducted destructive attacks, espionage operations, or both, while Russian military forces attack the country by land, air, and sea. It is unclear whether computer network operators and physical forces are just independently pursuing a common set of priorities or actively coordinating. However, collectively, the cyber and kinetic actions work to disrupt or degrade Ukrainian government and military functions and undermine the public’s trust in those same institutions.

[…]

Threat groups with known or suspected ties to the GRU have continuously developed and used destructive wiper malware or similarly destructive tools on targeted Ukrainian networks at a pace of two to three incidents a week since the eve of invasion. From February 23 to April 8, we saw evidence of nearly 40 discrete destructive attacks that permanently destroyed files in hundreds of systems across dozens of organizations in Ukraine.

Posted on April 28, 2022 at 9:15 AMView Comments

US Critical Infrastructure Companies Will Have to Report When They Are Hacked

This will be law soon:

Companies critical to U.S. national interests will now have to report when they’re hacked or they pay ransomware, according to new rules approved by Congress.

[…]

The reporting requirement legislation was approved by the House and the Senate on Thursday and is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden soon. It requires any entity that’s considered part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, which includes the finance, transportation and energy sectors, to report any “substantial cyber incident” to the government within three days and any ransomware payment made within 24 hours.

Even better would be if they had to report it to the public.

Posted on March 15, 2022 at 6:01 AMView Comments

Amy Zegart on Spycraft in the Internet Age

Amy Zegart has a new book: Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence. Wired has an excerpt:

In short, data volume and accessibility are revolutionizing sensemaking. The intelligence playing field is leveling­—and not in a good way. Intelligence collectors are everywhere, and government spy agencies are drowning in data. This is a radical new world and intelligence agencies are struggling to adapt to it. While secrets once conferred a huge advantage, today open source information increasingly does. Intelligence used to be a race for insight where great powers were the only ones with the capabilities to access secrets. Now everyone is racing for insight and the internet gives them tools to do it. Secrets still matter, but whoever can harness all this data better and faster will win.

The third challenge posed by emerging technologies strikes at the heart of espionage: secrecy. Until now, American spy agencies didn’t have to interact much with outsiders, and they didn’t want to. The intelligence mission meant gathering secrets so we knew more about adversaries than they knew about us, and keeping how we gathered secrets a secret too.

[…]

In the digital age, however, secrecy is bringing greater risk because emerging technologies are blurring nearly all the old boundaries of geopolitics. Increasingly, national security requires intelligence agencies to engage the outside world, not stand apart from it.

I have not yet read the book.

Posted on February 8, 2022 at 10:52 AMView Comments

Using Foreign Nationals to Bypass US Surveillance Restrictions

Remember when the US and Australian police surreptitiously owned and operated the encrypted cell phone app ANOM? They arrested 800 people in 2021 based on that operation.

New documents received by Motherboard show that over 100 of those phones were shipped to users in the US, far more than previously believed.

What’s most interesting to me about this new information is how the US used the Australians to get around domestic spying laws:

For legal reasons, the FBI did not monitor outgoing messages from Anom devices determined to be inside the U.S. Instead, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) monitored them on behalf of the FBI, according to previously published court records. In those court records unsealed shortly before the announcement of the Anom operation, FBI Special Agent Nicholas Cheviron wrote that the FBI received Anom user data three times a week, which contained the messages of all of the users of Anom with some exceptions, including “the messages of approximately 15 Anom users in the U.S. sent to any other Anom device.”

[…]

Stewart Baker, partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, and Bryce Klehm, associate editor of Lawfare, previously wrote that “The ‘threat to life; standard echoes the provision of U.S. law that allows communications providers to share user data with law enforcement without legal process under 18 U.S.C. § 2702. Whether the AFP was relying on this provision of U.S. law or a more general moral imperative to take action to prevent imminent threats is not clear.” That section of law discusses the voluntary disclosure of customer communications or records.

When asked about the practice of Australian law enforcement monitoring devices inside the U.S. on behalf of the FBI, Senator Ron Wyden told Motherboard in a statement “Multiple intelligence community officials have confirmed to me, in writing, that intelligence agencies cannot ask foreign partners to conduct surveillance that the U.S. would be legally prohibited from doing itself. The FBI should follow this same standard. Allegations that the FBI outsourced warrantless surveillance of Americans to a foreign government raise troubling questions about the Justice Department’s oversight of these practices.”

I and others have long suspected that the NSA uses foreign nationals to get around restrictions that prevent it from spying on Americans. It is interesting to see the FBI using the same trick.

Posted on January 13, 2022 at 9:35 AMView Comments

NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware Used Against US State Department Officials

NSO Group’s descent into Internet pariah status continues. Its Pegasus spyware was used against nine US State Department employees. We don’t know which NSO Group customer trained the spyware on the US. But the company does:

NSO Group said in a statement on Thursday that it did not have any indication their tools were used but canceled access for the relevant customers and would investigate based on the Reuters inquiry.

“If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO’s tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place,” said an NSO spokesperson, who added that NSO will also “cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.”

Posted on December 13, 2021 at 6:16 AMView Comments

Nation-State Attacker of Telecommunications Networks

Someone has been hacking telecommunications networks around the world:

  • LightBasin (aka UNC1945) is an activity cluster that has been consistently targeting the telecommunications sector at a global scale since at least 2016, leveraging custom tools and an in-depth knowledge of telecommunications network architectures.
  • Recent findings highlight this cluster’s extensive knowledge of telecommunications protocols, including the emulation of these protocols to facilitate command and control (C2) and utilizing scanning/packet-capture tools to retrieve highly specific information from mobile communication infrastructure, such as subscriber information and call metadata.
  • The nature of the data targeted by the actor aligns with information likely to be of significant interest to signals intelligence organizations.
  • CrowdStrike Intelligence assesses that LightBasin is a targeted intrusion actor that will continue to target the telecommunications sector. This assessment is made with high confidence and is based on tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), target scope, and objectives exhibited by this activity cluster. There is currently not enough available evidence to link the cluster’s activity to a specific country-nexus.

Some relation to China is reported, but this is not a definitive attribution.

Posted on October 22, 2021 at 6:13 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.