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Paul Merrell

European Lawmakers Demand Answers on Phone Key Theft - The Intercept - 0 views

  • European officials are demanding answers and investigations into a joint U.S. and U.K. hack of the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile SIM cards, following a report published by The Intercept Thursday. The report, based on leaked documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, revealed the U.S. spy agency and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, hacked the Franco-Dutch digital security giant Gemalto in a sophisticated heist of encrypted cell-phone keys. The European Parliament’s chief negotiator on the European Union’s data protection law, Jan Philipp Albrecht, said the hack was “obviously based on some illegal activities.” “Member states like the U.K. are frankly not respecting the [law of the] Netherlands and partner states,” Albrecht told the Wall Street Journal. Sophie in ’t Veld, an EU parliamentarian with D66, the Netherlands’ largest opposition party, added, “Year after year we have heard about cowboy practices of secret services, but governments did nothing and kept quiet […] In fact, those very same governments push for ever-more surveillance capabilities, while it remains unclear how effective these practices are.”
  • “If the average IT whizzkid breaks into a company system, he’ll end up behind bars,” In ’t Veld added in a tweet Friday. The EU itself is barred from undertaking such investigations, leaving individual countries responsible for looking into cases that impact their national security matters. “We even get letters from the U.K. government saying we shouldn’t deal with these issues because it’s their own issue of national security,” Albrecht said. Still, lawmakers in the Netherlands are seeking investigations. Gerard Schouw, a Dutch member of parliament, also with the D66 party, has called on Ronald Plasterk, the Dutch minister of the interior, to answer questions before parliament. On Tuesday, the Dutch parliament will debate Schouw’s request. Additionally, European legal experts tell The Intercept, public prosecutors in EU member states that are both party to the Cybercrime Convention, which prohibits computer hacking, and home to Gemalto subsidiaries could pursue investigations into the breach of the company’s systems.
  • According to secret documents from 2010 and 2011, a joint NSA-GCHQ unit penetrated Gemalto’s internal networks and infiltrated the private communications of its employees in order to steal encryption keys, embedded on tiny SIM cards, which are used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the world. Gemalto produces some 2 billion SIM cards a year. The company’s clients include AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and some 450 wireless network providers. “[We] believe we have their entire network,” GCHQ boasted in a leaked slide, referring to the Gemalto heist.
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  • While Gemalto was indeed another casualty in Western governments’ sweeping effort to gather as much global intelligence advantage as possible, the leaked documents make clear that the company was specifically targeted. According to the materials published Thursday, GCHQ used a specific codename — DAPINO GAMMA — to refer to the operations against Gemalto. The spies also actively penetrated the email and social media accounts of Gemalto employees across the world in an effort to steal the company’s encryption keys. Evidence of the Gemalto breach rattled the digital security community. “Almost everyone in the world carries cell phones and this is an unprecedented mass attack on the privacy of citizens worldwide,” said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a non-profit that advocates for digital privacy and free online expression. “While there is certainly value in targeted surveillance of cell phone communications, this coordinated subversion of the trusted technical security infrastructure of cell phones means the US and British governments now have easy access to our mobile communications.”
  • For Gemalto, evidence that their vaunted security systems and the privacy of customers had been compromised by the world’s top spy agencies made an immediate financial impact. The company’s shares took a dive on the Paris bourse Friday, falling $500 million. In the U.S., Gemalto’s shares fell as much 10 percent Friday morning. They had recovered somewhat — down 4 percent — by the close of trading on the Euronext stock exchange. Analysts at Dutch financial services company Rabobank speculated in a research note that Gemalto could be forced to recall “a large number” of SIM cards. The French daily L’Express noted today that Gemalto board member Alex Mandl was a founding trustee of the CIA-funded venture capital firm In-Q-Tel. Mandl resigned from In-Q-Tel’s board in 2002, when he was appointed CEO of Gemplus, which later merged with another company to become Gemalto. But the CIA connection still dogged Mandl, with the French press regularly insinuating that American spies could infiltrate the company. In 2003, a group of French lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to create a commission to investigate Gemplus’s ties to the CIA and its implications for the security of SIM cards. Mandl, an Austrian-American businessman who was once a top executive at AT&T, has denied that he had any relationship with the CIA beyond In-Q-Tel. In 2002, he said he did not even have a security clearance.
  • AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon could not be reached for comment Friday. Sprint declined to comment. Vodafone, the world’s second largest telecom provider by subscribers and a customer of Gemalto, said in a statement, “[W]e have no further details of these allegations which are industrywide in nature and are not focused on any one mobile operator. We will support industry bodies and Gemalto in their investigations.” Deutsche Telekom AG, a German company, said it has changed encryption algorithms in its Gemalto SIM cards. “We currently have no knowledge that this additional protection mechanism has been compromised,” the company said in a statement. “However, we cannot rule out this completely.”
  • Update: Asked about the SIM card heist, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he did not expect the news would hurt relations with the tech industry: “It’s hard for me to imagine that there are a lot of technology executives that are out there that are in a position of saying that they hope that people who wish harm to this country will be able to use their technology to do so. So, I do think in fact that there are opportunities for the private sector and the federal government to coordinate and to cooperate on these efforts, both to keep the country safe, but also to protect our civil liberties.”
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    Watch for massive class action product defect litigation to be filed against the phone companies.and mobile device manufacturers.  In most U.S. jurisdictions, proof that the vendors/manufacturers  knew of the product defect is not required, only proof of the defect. Also, this is a golden opportunity for anyone who wants to get out of a pricey cellphone contract, since providing a compromised cellphone is a material breach of warranty, whether explicit or implied..   
Paul Merrell

The Great SIM Heist: How Spies Stole the Keys to the Encryption Castle - 0 views

  • AMERICAN AND BRITISH spies hacked into the internal computer network of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, stealing encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe, according to top-secret documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. The hack was perpetrated by a joint unit consisting of operatives from the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The breach, detailed in a secret 2010 GCHQ document, gave the surveillance agencies the potential to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data. The company targeted by the intelligence agencies, Gemalto, is a multinational firm incorporated in the Netherlands that makes the chips used in mobile phones and next-generation credit cards. Among its clients are AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and some 450 wireless network providers around the world. The company operates in 85 countries and has more than 40 manufacturing facilities. One of its three global headquarters is in Austin, Texas and it has a large factory in Pennsylvania. In all, Gemalto produces some 2 billion SIM cards a year. Its motto is “Security to be Free.”
  • With these stolen encryption keys, intelligence agencies can monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments. Possessing the keys also sidesteps the need to get a warrant or a wiretap, while leaving no trace on the wireless provider’s network that the communications were intercepted. Bulk key theft additionally enables the intelligence agencies to unlock any previously encrypted communications they had already intercepted, but did not yet have the ability to decrypt.
  • Leading privacy advocates and security experts say that the theft of encryption keys from major wireless network providers is tantamount to a thief obtaining the master ring of a building superintendent who holds the keys to every apartment. “Once you have the keys, decrypting traffic is trivial,” says Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union. “The news of this key theft will send a shock wave through the security community.”
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  • According to one secret GCHQ slide, the British intelligence agency penetrated Gemalto’s internal networks, planting malware on several computers, giving GCHQ secret access. We “believe we have their entire network,” the slide’s author boasted about the operation against Gemalto. Additionally, the spy agency targeted unnamed cellular companies’ core networks, giving it access to “sales staff machines for customer information and network engineers machines for network maps.” GCHQ also claimed the ability to manipulate the billing servers of cell companies to “suppress” charges in an effort to conceal the spy agency’s secret actions against an individual’s phone. Most significantly, GCHQ also penetrated “authentication servers,” allowing it to decrypt data and voice communications between a targeted individual’s phone and his or her telecom provider’s network. A note accompanying the slide asserted that the spy agency was “very happy with the data so far and [was] working through the vast quantity of product.”
  • The U.S. and British intelligence agencies pulled off the encryption key heist in great stealth, giving them the ability to intercept and decrypt communications without alerting the wireless network provider, the foreign government or the individual user that they have been targeted. “Gaining access to a database of keys is pretty much game over for cellular encryption,” says Matthew Green, a cryptography specialist at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute. The massive key theft is “bad news for phone security. Really bad news.”
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    Remember all those NSA claims that no evidence of their misbehavior has emerged? That one should never take wing again. Monitoring call content without the involvement of any court? Without a warrant? Without probable cause?  Was there even any Congressional authorization?  Wiretapping unequivocally requires a judicially-approved search warrant. It's going to be very interesting to learn the government's argument for this misconduct's legality. 
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