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Paul Merrell

Operation Socialist: How GCHQ Spies Hacked Belgium's Largest Telco - 0 views

  • When the incoming emails stopped arriving, it seemed innocuous at first. But it would eventually become clear that this was no routine technical problem. Inside a row of gray office buildings in Brussels, a major hacking attack was in progress. And the perpetrators were British government spies. It was in the summer of 2012 that the anomalies were initially detected by employees at Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom. But it wasn’t until a year later, in June 2013, that the company’s security experts were able to figure out what was going on. The computer systems of Belgacom had been infected with a highly sophisticated malware, and it was disguising itself as legitimate Microsoft software while quietly stealing data. Last year, documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters was behind the attack, codenamed Operation Socialist. And in November, The Intercept revealed that the malware found on Belgacom’s systems was one of the most advanced spy tools ever identified by security researchers, who named it “Regin.”
  • The full story about GCHQ’s infiltration of Belgacom, however, has never been told. Key details about the attack have remained shrouded in mystery—and the scope of the attack unclear. Now, in partnership with Dutch and Belgian newspapers NRC Handelsblad and De Standaard, The Intercept has pieced together the first full reconstruction of events that took place before, during, and after the secret GCHQ hacking operation. Based on new documents from the Snowden archive and interviews with sources familiar with the malware investigation at Belgacom, The Intercept and its partners have established that the attack on Belgacom was more aggressive and far-reaching than previously thought. It occurred in stages between 2010 and 2011, each time penetrating deeper into Belgacom’s systems, eventually compromising the very core of the company’s networks.
  • Snowden told The Intercept that the latest revelations amounted to unprecedented “smoking-gun attribution for a governmental cyber attack against critical infrastructure.” The Belgacom hack, he said, is the “first documented example to show one EU member state mounting a cyber attack on another…a breathtaking example of the scale of the state-sponsored hacking problem.”
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  • When the incoming emails stopped arriving, it seemed innocuous at first. But it would eventually become clear that this was no routine technical problem. Inside a row of gray office buildings in Brussels, a major hacking attack was in progress. And the perpetrators were British government spies. It was in the summer of 2012 that the anomalies were initially detected by employees at Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom. But it wasn’t until a year later, in June 2013, that the company’s security experts were able to figure out what was going on. The computer systems of Belgacom had been infected with a highly sophisticated malware, and it was disguising itself as legitimate Microsoft software while quietly stealing data. Last year, documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters was behind the attack, codenamed Operation Socialist. And in November, The Intercept revealed that the malware found on Belgacom’s systems was one of the most advanced spy tools ever identified by security researchers, who named it “Regin.”
  • The revelations about the scope of the hacking operation will likely alarm Belgacom’s customers across the world. The company operates a large number of data links internationally (see interactive map below), and it serves millions of people across Europe as well as officials from top institutions including the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council. The new details will also be closely scrutinized by a federal prosecutor in Belgium, who is currently carrying out a criminal investigation into the attack on the company. Sophia in ’t Veld, a Dutch politician who chaired the European Parliament’s recent inquiry into mass surveillance exposed by Snowden, told The Intercept that she believes the British government should face sanctions if the latest disclosures are proven.
  • Publicly, Belgacom has played down the extent of the compromise, insisting that only its internal systems were breached and that customers’ data was never found to have been at risk. But secret GCHQ documents show the agency gained access far beyond Belgacom’s internal employee computers and was able to grab encrypted and unencrypted streams of private communications handled by the company. Belgacom invested several million dollars in its efforts to clean-up its systems and beef-up its security after the attack. However, The Intercept has learned that sources familiar with the malware investigation at the company are uncomfortable with how the clean-up operation was handled—and they believe parts of the GCHQ malware were never fully removed.
  • What sets the secret British infiltration of Belgacom apart is that it was perpetrated against a close ally—and is backed up by a series of top-secret documents, which The Intercept is now publishing.
  • Between 2009 and 2011, GCHQ worked with its allies to develop sophisticated new tools and technologies it could use to scan global networks for weaknesses and then penetrate them. According to top-secret GCHQ documents, the agency wanted to adopt the aggressive new methods in part to counter the use of privacy-protecting encryption—what it described as the “encryption problem.” When communications are sent across networks in encrypted format, it makes it much harder for the spies to intercept and make sense of emails, phone calls, text messages, internet chats, and browsing sessions. For GCHQ, there was a simple solution. The agency decided that, where possible, it would find ways to hack into communication networks to grab traffic before it’s encrypted.
  • The Snowden documents show that GCHQ wanted to gain access to Belgacom so that it could spy on phones used by surveillance targets travelling in Europe. But the agency also had an ulterior motive. Once it had hacked into Belgacom’s systems, GCHQ planned to break into data links connecting Belgacom and its international partners, monitoring communications transmitted between Europe and the rest of the world. A map in the GCHQ documents, named “Belgacom_connections,” highlights the company’s reach across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, illustrating why British spies deemed it of such high value.
  • Documents published with this article: Automated NOC detection Mobile Networks in My NOC World Making network sense of the encryption problem Stargate CNE requirements NAC review – October to December 2011 GCHQ NAC review – January to March 2011 GCHQ NAC review – April to June 2011 GCHQ NAC review – July to September 2011 GCHQ NAC review – January to March 2012 GCHQ Hopscotch Belgacom connections
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Reset the Net to Shut Off NSA Spying | PopularResistance.Org, June 5th - 1 views

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    "Everyone has a role to play. If you're a developer, promise to add one new surveillance-resistant feature to your app or website, and announce it on June 5th. If you're an Internet user, promise to try out one new privacy tool that directly confronts mass surveillance. We'll have an epic and definitive list for you to choose from. Then tell your friends to get protected too. If you have a website or Tumblr, get the Internet Defense League code installed and display the Reset the Net message on June 5th to help educate and rally Internet users worldwide to defend themselves from dragnet surveillance."
Paul Merrell

A Short Guide to the Internet's Biggest Enemies | Electronic Frontier Foundation - 1 views

  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its annual “Enemies of the Internet” index this week—a ranking first launched in 2006 intended to track countries that repress online speech, intimidate and arrest bloggers, and conduct surveillance of their citizens.  Some countries have been mainstays on the annual index, while others have been able to work their way off the list.  Two countries particularly deserving of praise in this area are Tunisia and Myanmar (Burma), both of which have stopped censoring the Internet in recent years and are headed in the right direction toward Internet freedom. In the former category are some of the world’s worst offenders: Cuba, North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Belarus, Bahrain, Turkmenistan, Syria.  Nearly every one of these countries has amped up their online repression in recent years, from implementing sophisticated surveillance (Syria) to utilizing targeted surveillance tools (Vietnam) to increasing crackdowns on online speech (Saudi Arabia).  These are countries where, despite advocacy efforts by local and international groups, no Internet has been made. The newcomers  A third, perhaps even more disheartening category, is the list of countries new to this year's index.  A motley crew, these nations have all taken new, harsh approaches to restricting speech or monitoring citizens:
  • United States: This is the first time the US has made it onto RSF’s list.  While the US government doesn’t censor online content, and pours money into promoting Internet freedom worldwide, the National Security Agency’s unapologetic dragnet surveillance and the government’s treatment of whistleblowers have earned it a spot on the index. United Kingdom: The European nation has been dubbed by RSF as the “world champion of surveillance” for its recently-revealed depraved strategies for Internet on individuals worldwide.  The UK also joins countries like Ethiopia and Morocco in using terrorism laws to go after journalists.  Not noted by RSF, but also important, is the fact that the UK is also cracking down on legal pornography, forcing Internet users to opt-in with their ISP if they wish to view it and creating a slippery slope toward overblocking.  This is in addition to the government’s use of an opaque, shadowy NGO to identify child sexual abuse images, sometimes resulting instead in censorship of legitimate speech.
Paul Merrell

USA Freedom Act Passes House, Codifying Bulk Collection For First Time, Critics Say - The Intercept - 0 views

  • After only one hour of floor debate, and no allowed amendments, the House of Representatives today passed legislation that opponents believe may give brand new authorization to the U.S. government to conduct domestic dragnets. The USA Freedom Act was approved in a 338-88 vote, with approximately equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans voting against. The bill’s supporters say it will disallow bulk collection of domestic telephone metadata, in which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has regularly ordered phone companies to turn over such data. The Obama administration claims such collection is authorized by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which is set to expire June 1. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held that Section 215 does not provide such authorization. Today’s legislation would prevent the government from issuing such orders for bulk collection and instead rely on telephone companies to store all their metadata — some of which the government could then demand using a “specific selection term” related to foreign terrorism. Bill supporters maintain this would prevent indiscriminate collection.
  • However, the legislation may not end bulk surveillance and in fact could codify the ability of the government to conduct dragnet data collection. “We’re taking something that was not permitted under regular section 215 … and now we’re creating a whole apparatus to provide for it,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said on Tuesday night during a House Rules Committee proceeding. “The language does limit the amount of bulk collection, it doesn’t end bulk collection,” Rep. Amash said, arguing that the problematic “specific selection term” allows for “very large data collection, potentially in the hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions.” In a statement posted to Facebook ahead of the vote, Rep. Amash said the legislation “falls woefully short of reining in the mass collection of Americans’ data, and it takes us a step in the wrong direction by specifically authorizing such collection in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.”
  • “While I appreciate a number of the reforms in the bill and understand the need for secure counter-espionage and terrorism investigations, I believe our nation is better served by allowing Section 215 to expire completely and replacing it with a measure that finds a better balance between national security interests and protecting the civil liberties of Americans,” Congressman Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said in a statement explaining his vote against the bill.
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  • Not addressed in the bill, however, are a slew of other spying authorities in use by the NSA that either directly or inadvertently target the communications of American citizens. Lawmakers offered several amendments in the days leading up to the vote that would have tackled surveillance activities laid out in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Executive Order 12333 — two authorities intended for foreign surveillance that have been used to collect Americans’ spying data, including online address books and buddy lists. The House Rules Committee, however, prohibited consideration of any amendment to the USA Freedom Act, claiming that any changes to the legislation would have weakened its chances of passage.
  • The measure now goes to the Senate where its future is uncertain. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declined to schedule the bill for consideration, and is instead pushing for a clean reauthorization of expiring Patriot Act provisions that includes no surveillance reforms. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have threated to filibuster any bill that extends the Patriot Act without also reforming the NSA.
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    Surprise, surprise. U.S. "progressive" groups are waging an all-out email lobbying effort to sunset the Patriot Act. https://www.sunsetthepatriotact.com/ Same with civil liberties groups. e.g., https://action.aclu.org/secure/Section215 And a coalition of libertarian organizations. http://docs.techfreedom.org/Coalition_Letter_McConnell_215Reauth_4.27.15.pdf
Paul Merrell

Senate majority whip: Cyber bill will have to wait until fall | TheHill - 0 views

  • Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Tuesday said the upper chamber is unlikely to move on a stalled cybersecurity bill before the August recess.Senate Republican leaders, including Cornyn, had been angling to get the bill — known as the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) — to the floor this month.ADVERTISEMENTBut Cornyn said that there is simply too much of a time crunch in the remaining legislative days to get to the measure, intended to boost the public-private exchange of data on hackers.  “I’m sad to say I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he told reporters off the Senate floor. “The timing of this is unfortunate.”“I think we’re just running out time,” he added.An aide for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he had not committed to a specific schedule after the upper chamber wraps up work in the coming days on a highway funding bill.Cornyn said Senate leadership will look to move on the bill sometime after the legislature returns in September from its month-long break.
  • The move would delay yet again what’s expected to be a bruising floor fight about government surveillance and digital privacy rights.“[CISA] needs a lot of work,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who currently opposes the bill, told The Hill on Tuesday. “And when it comes up, there’s going to have to be a lot of amendments otherwise it won’t pass.”Despite industry support, broad bipartisan backing, and potentially even White House support, CISA has been mired in the Senate for months over privacy concerns.Civil liberties advocates worry the bill would create another venue for the government’s intelligence wing to collect sensitive data on Americans only months after Congress voted to rein in surveillance powers.But industry groups and many lawmakers insist a bolstered data exchange is necessary to better understand and counter the growing cyber threat. Inaction will leave government and commercial networks exposed to increasingly dangerous hackers, they say.Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has been leading the chorus opposing the bill, rejoiced Tuesday after hearing of the likely delay.
  • “I really want to commend the advocates for the tremendous grassroots effort to highlight the fact that this bill was badly flawed from a privacy standpoint,” he told The Hill.Digital rights and privacy groups are blanketing senators’ offices this week with faxes and letters in an attempt to raise awareness of bill’s flaws.“Our side has picked up an enormous amount of support,” Wyden said.Wyden was the only senator to vote against CISA in the Senate Intelligence Committee. The panel approved the measure in March by a 14-1 vote and it looked like CISA was barrelling toward the Senate floor.After the House easily passed its companion pieces of legislation, CISA’s odds only seemed better.But the measure got tied up in the vicious debate over the National Security Agency's (NSA) spying powers that played out throughout April and May.“It’s like a number of these issues, in the committee the vote was 14-1, everyone says, ‘oh, Ron Wyden opposes another bipartisan bill,’” Wyden said Tuesday. “And I said, ‘People are going to see that this is a badly flawed bill.’”
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  • CISA backers hoped that the ultimate vote to curb the NSA’s surveillance authority might quell some of the privacy fears surrounding CISA, clearing a path to passage. But numerous budget debates and the Iranian nuclear deal have chewed up much of the Senate’s floor time throughout June and July.  Following the devastating hacks at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Senate Republican leaders tried to jump CISA in the congressional queue by offering its language as an amendment to a defense authorization bill.Democrats — including the bill’s original co-sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — revolted, angry they could not offer amendments to CISA’s language before it was attached to the defense bill.Cornyn on Tuesday chastised Democrats for stalling a bill that many of them favor.“As you know, Senate Democrats blocked that before on the defense authorization bill,” Cornyn said. “So we had an opportunity to do it then.”Now it’s unclear when the Senate will have another opportunity.When it does, however, CISA could have the votes to get through.
  • There will be vocal opposition from senators like Wyden and Leahy, and potentially from anti-surveillance advocates like Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).But finding 40 votes to block the bill completely will be a difficult task.Wyden said he wouldn’t “get into speculation” about whether he could gather the support to stop CISA altogether.“I’m pleased about the progress that we’ve made,” he said.
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    NSA and crew decide to delay and try later with CISA. The Internet strikes back again.
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