Posts Tagged ‘cyber security’

Germany Is Soft on Chinese Spying

December 10, 2018

Huawei has deep ties to the Chinese government. Berlin might let it build the country’s next generation of communications infrastructure anyway.

The logo of Chinese electronics company Huawei on Sept. 2, 2015 in Berlin. (John Macdougal/AFP/Getty Images)

The logo of Chinese electronics company Huawei on Sept. 2, 2015 in Berlin. (John Macdougal/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, New Zealand decided to exclude the Chinese technology company Huawei from providing equipment to operate its 5G high-speed mobile network due to “significant national security risks.” The country follows Australia and the United States, which have also excluded Chinese companies from supplying 5G infrastructure.

In Germany, meanwhile, security has so far hardly played any role in the debate over the fifth generation of cellular technology. In the terms of reference published last week by the German Federal Network Agency for its 5G auction, security was not even included in the conditions for awarding the contract. In October, the government announced: “A concrete legal basis for the complete or partial exclusion of particular suppliers of 5G infrastructure in Germany does not exist and is not planned.”

That is dangerously misguided. As Australia’s intelligence chief has pointed out: “5G is not just fast data, it is also high-density connection of devices—human to human, human to machine and machine to machine.” 5G will carry communications we “rely on every day, from our health systems … to self-driving cars and through to the operation of our power and water supply.” 5G will be the backbone of our industries and societies. “Critical infrastructure” hardly gets more critical. And the security risks are accordingly high. Wherever Chinese technology companies supply 5G infrastructure, they will have access to huge volumes of sensitive data and industrial secrets—and there’s reason to think they would eventually be forced to spy on behalf of Beijing. The Chinese government could also use these companies to disrupt other countries’ infrastructure in a future conflict.

Given the massive cybersecurity and national security risks, the only responsible decision is for Berlin to follow the Australian, New Zealand, and U.S. lead and ban Chinese providers from the German 5G network. In doing so, Europe’s strongest economy would send a crucial signal to the rest of the European Union members that are grappling with the same decision.

Contrary to Huawei’s claims, the decisions by Australia, New Zealand, and the United States were not motivated by crude protectionism. In none of these three countries will domestic suppliers be the primary beneficiaries. The anomaly of the 5G market is that there is no leading U.S.-based supplier covering the full technological spectrum. The companies profiting from a ban on Huawei and ZTE are mainly two European companies: Nokia and Ericsson.

Still, those calling for banning Huawei face an uphill battle across Europe. Huawei has strong supporters (not least due to its very professional lobbying operation and deep ties within the political scene). It markets itself as a private company, which is organized as a cooperative and is in no way under the control of the Chinese state. Network operators such as Deutsche Telekom are among Huawei’s cheerleaders. Deutsche Telekom warns against excluding “high-performance suppliers” such as Huawei if the country wanted to build its 5G network quickly and at cost. Huawei already supplies much of the existing German 3G and 4G infrastructure.

For Deutsche Telekom and other network operators, the situation is clear: Huawei offers innovative and reliable products at highly competitive prices. Legally, Deutsche Telekom does not bear any liability for the security risks associated with Huawei technology. And the company does not care about the fact that Huawei’s price advantage is the result of a highly skewed playing field in China. In the world’s largest market, domestic providers control 75 percent of the market, giving them unbeatable economies of scale.

Remarkably, Huawei’s defenders also include the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), Germany’s cybersecurity agency. Its president, Arne Schönbohm, believes the agency has the capabilities to check on whether suppliers meet security requirements, providing “technically substantiated statements of trust.” Huawei, for its part, describes itself as “the most audited company in the world.” The company offers to put its equipment through any inspection in testing centers jointly run with governments. Last month, they put one such center into operation in Bonn in cooperation with the BSI. Schönbohm was enthusiastic: “We welcome the opening of this laboratory, which enables a further and deeper technical exchange between Huawei and the BSI.”

His ebullience is misguided. The Bonn center follows the British model, where the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre has existed since 2010 controlled by the British intelligence service GCHQ, among others. Yet just this year, the British inspection report could give “only limited assurance” that Huawei products do not pose any risks to national security. This prompted the government to warn network operators that current rules could be changed and that certain suppliers (i.e., Huawei) could be excluded. Speaking about building Britain’s 5G network, just this week MI6 chief Alex Younger said the UK needs to take decision on “the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies.”

The final British decision is still pending, but the conclusion for Germany should be clear. If the British GCHQ, which is technically far superior to the German BSI, cannot issue a clean bill of health for Huawei, we don’t have to wait for the BSI’s own efforts. In the future, the testing centers will be in an even worse position. Checking for possible hardware backdoors will only be a small part of the job. Virtualization (and related software) will play a central role for 5G. And with weekly software updates, infrastructure operators will have a front door to compromise systems. No testing center would be able to check weekly software updates in advance.

For good reasons, the German intelligence services, unlike the BSI, take a far more critical view of the Huawei risk. They share the Australian intelligence community’s negative assessment, which, according to anonymously sourced reports in November, is based on at least one case of Chinese intelligence agents using Huawei employees to obtain access codes for a foreign network.




Germany Resists Pressure to Abandon Huawei

December 7, 2018

German officials were reportedly pushing earlier this year for their government to follow other countries’ lead and slap a ban on Chinese IT firm Huawei. But Berlin doesn’t seem inclined to bow to US pressure.

Logo von Huawei (Reuters/H. Hanschke)

Chinese multinational tech giant Huawei Technologies opened a new information security lab in the German city of Bonn last month. Some observers see the move as designed to butter up German regulators ahead of the country’s 5G mobile spectrum auction.

The German network regulator (BNetzA) is finalizing the terms for the 5G licensing round it plans to hold in the first quarter of 2019.

The total cost of building Germany’s 5G networks could be €80 billion ($91 billion) and this means high stakes for Huawei and its rivals Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE and Samsung.

Not too bothered

Germany doesn’t have its own indigenous telecoms hardware industry to speak of and maintains close trade and investment ties with Beijing.

The German interior ministry has said there is no legal basis to exclude foreign equipment providers from the country’s 5G system and no such measure is planned.

Read more: China’s Huawei finance chief arrested in Canada, faces extradition to US

There is no formal bilateral agreement on preventing commercial cyber espionage between Germany and China, but the number of known China-originated commercial cyber espionage attacks on German companies has dropped in the past two years, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

This is corroborated by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. The fall has been linked to an increase in Chinese foreign direct investment in high-tech and advanced manufacturing industries in 2016.

Former BfV head Hans-Georg Maassen has linked the decline to an increase in the use of legal tools for obtaining the same information, such as corporate takeovers.

“Industrial espionage is no longer necessary if one can simply take advantage of liberal economic regulations to buy companies and then disembowel them or cannibalize them to gain access to their know-how,” Maassen said.

But things may be changing. “The German public discourse around China has changed in the last year or so, not primarily rushed by the US,” cyber security specialist Raffaello Pantucci told DW. “The Germans have seen several cases where the Chinese have crossed a line.”

Read more: Exit the Dragon? Chinese investment in Germany

Pantucci believes the Chinese will now have difficulty winning the 2019 5G auction. “This puts the cat among the pigeons. No country can avoid this dilemma and I think it’s now very unlikely a Chinese firm will win.”

Huawei Australien (Imago/ZumaPress//Imago/M. Schwarz)Australia has cited national security risks with regard to Huawei

Issues in the UK, Australia and New Zealand

Britain’s BT Group said this week it will remove Huawei Technologies’ equipment from its core 4G network within two years and has also excluded Huawei from bidding for contracts to supply equipment for use in its core 5G network.

However, a ban remains unlikely in the UK, due to the advanced stage of Huawei’s involvement in 5G development in the country.

New Zealand has also rejected Huawei’s first 5G bid, citing national security risks while earlier this year, Australia banned Huawei from supplying 5G equipment for the same reason.

US pressure

The US is putting increased pressure on its political allies, including Germany, to exclude Huawei from their next-generation mobile networks. Washington has long said Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese hardware maker, are potential menaces to security and privacy.

US authorities have pointed to China’s national intelligence law, which they say could force Chinese companies to facilitate spying efforts in other countries. US authorities cited the issue when they blocked Broadcom’s hostile takeover of Qualcomm earlier this year.

In 2013, the US Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property estimated that the theft of Intellectual Property was $300 billion (€257 billion) annually, with 50 to 80 percent of the thefts attributed to China.

But why is it all such a big deal?

“Many states are concerned about using Chinese telecommunications and technology companies in critical infrastructure companies for a range of reasons,” Daniella Cave, a specialist on cyber security at ASPI, told DW.

Firstly, she says, the Chinese state has a history of aggressive and wide-ranging espionage and intellectual property theft.

Secondly, the national intelligence law they introduced in 2017 compels organizations and individuals to participate in intelligence activities and to keep secret the intelligence activities they are aware of.

Thirdly, there have been allegations that Chinese companies have been complicit, knowingly or unknowingly, in the theft of secrets and valuable government data, Cave says.

A double-edged sword

“I think the Chinese state’s introduction of the national intelligence law is going to place suspicion on the international activities of most of China’s large companies going forward,” Cave says.

“But it’s a double-edged sword for China, as the Chinese Communist Party has made it virtually impossible for Chinese companies to expand without attracting understandable and legitimate suspicion,” she adds.

Cave believes most developed states will be looking at ways in which they can move away from the use of Chinese products in their critical infrastructure.

“A lot of companies have already, and will continue, to look at ways in which they can minimize the risks to their supply chain by closely scrutinizing the hardware and software in their systems.”

Huawei forced to meet UK 5G security demands

December 7, 2018

Commitment by Chinese telecoms group comes after CFO arrested in Canada


By David Bond and Nic Fildes in London

Huawei has caved in to demands by UK security officials to address serious risks found in its equipment and software in a bid to avoid being shut out from future 5G telecoms networks.

At a meeting this week between Huawei executives and senior officials from GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, the Chinese telecoms provider agreed to a series of technical demands which will change its practices in the UK, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

Huawei has also agreed to write a formal letter to the NCSC outlining the company’s agreement to urgently address the issues, first raised in a critical report in July by an oversight board which monitors the testing of the company’s kit before approving it for use in UK networks.

The move comes after the US government stepped up efforts to persuade western allies to shun the world’s biggest telecoms provider when upgrading services to new, fifth-generation technologies, amid fears over cyber espionage.

Senior UK security officials have repeatedly stressed that their concerns are related to technical deficiencies and not the company’s Chinese origins. But the arrest on US sanctions-busting charges of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, founder and chief executive of the Chinese telecoms group, last weekend has only raised the international pressure on the UK to take a tougher line.

The commitment by Huawei to appease the UK’s concerns reflects the need for the Chinese group to tackle concerns where it can amid intense scrutiny of its business by western security organisations. It also represents a major coup for the government as it would require a significant shift in Huawei’s business practices.

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Western security chiefs have been unusually vocal in recent days to highlight concerns over Chinese technology groups. Alex Younger, head of MI6, the British intelligence service, said the UK faced a tough decision over whether to allow Huawei to supply technology for its 5G network.

Huawei has been slow to react to the concerns raised in the July report that highlighted “shortcomings” in the Chinese telecoms equipment provider’s engineering processes that exposed British telecoms networks to risks. It also identified long-term challenges in mitigation and management of those risks.

The issues raised include the use of out of date open source software developed by third parties that remained in the code used in some of Britain’s networks. Old software can be vulnerable to cyber attacks. A wider issue relates to the way that Huawei develops code and equipment, according to multiple people that have used the Chinese company’s kit.

Huawei distributes the development of its equipment across multiple teams to speed up the process and reduce the chances of technology being stolen. That system has served Huawei well as it has grown but has become an issue for governments looking for clearer lines of accountability when auditing equipment.

John Delaney, an analyst with IDC, said that Huawei appears to have responded to the pressure. “It [Huawei] is now the incumbent in the UK and it clearly wants to stay there,” he said. “It makes sense for them to at least pay lip service or to put in place tangible procedures to appease those concerns.

They won’t want the contagion to spread to other countries.” Huawei said that the oversight board report “identified some areas for improvement in our engineering processes. We are grateful for this feedback and committed to addressing these issues. Cyber security remains Huawei’s top priority, and we will continue to actively improve our engineering processes and risk management systems”.

The NCSC declined to comment.

BT to strip Huawei equipment from its core 4G network

December 5, 2018

Chinese supplier’s kit was used to build EE’s 3G and 4G networks BT and EE both built their networks using Huawei equipment

Image result for Huawei, BBC, picture

By Nic Fildes, Telecoms Correspondent

BT will strip Huawei equipment out of its core 4G network within two years to bring its mobile phone business in line with an internal policy to keep the Chinese company’s equipment at the periphery of telecoms infrastructure.

Governments around the world have become increasingly wary of Huawei’s presence in critical national telecoms infrastructure, especially as they prepare for auctions for 5G, a superfast service that will enable a new generation of digital products and services.

The US, Australia and New Zealand have moved to block the use of the Chinese company’s 5G equipment on security grounds, and the head of the UK’s secret service has warned that the UK must decide whether to follow suit.

BT and other UK telecoms providers have largely kept Huawei equipment out of the “control plane” or core, of their networks — which contains sensitive information such as customers’ activities and personal details — for more than a decade. BT was one of the first companies outside of China to use Huawei equipment when it signed a landmark deal with the equipment supplier in 2005.

The following year, the company pledged to keep the equipment out of the core, where potential security issues could arise.

However, BT’s £12.5bn acquisition of EE in 2016 undermined its pledge, as Huawei kit had been used to build the mobile phone company’s 3G and 4G networks. EE, for instance, used Huawei kit to launch Britain’s first 4G network.

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Huawei’s “enhanced packet core” technology is still used in the core EE network, which connects millions of 4G customers to the internet.

A spokesman for BT said the company is now extracting Huawei equipment “from the core of our 3G and 4G networks as part of our network architecture principles in place since 2006”.

BT has already stripped out most of the oldest equipment, inherited from T-Mobile’s 3G network, since it acquired EE. It is now working to replace all Huawei equipment in its core 4G network, which is expected to take between 18 months and two years.

BT has excluded Huawei from bidding for contracts to supply equipment for use in its core 5G network, but will continue to use the Chinese supplier’s kit in what it considers to be benign parts of the network, such as equipment on masts.

The telecoms provider has launched 5G trials across a number of London sites using the Chinese company’s equipment.

It argues that the kit is more advanced than that developed by rivals Nokia and Ericsson. The BT spokesman said that Huawei remains an “important equipment provider and a valued innovation partner”.

UK and Germany grow wary of Huawei as US turns up pressure

November 29, 2018

Huawei (Reuters/H. Hanschke)

Delegation from Washington warns against using Chinese supplier for 5G networks The US, Australia and New Zealand have already blocked the use of Huawei 5G equipment on national security grounds

By James Kynge and David Bond in London and Aime Williams in Washington

The UK and Germany are growing wary of allowing Huawei, the Chinese telecoms company, to install 5G equipment in their countries after a US delegation visited Europe to urge heightened vigilance against national security threats, officials said.

The clear message delivered by the US delegation this month and in online communications is that Germany and the UK as key American allies must safeguard the security of their telecoms networks and supply chains, the officials said.

The warnings come as Germany and the UK are preparing for auctions next year for 5G, a superfast service that will enable a new generation of digital products and services. Huawei is the world’s biggest telecoms equipment supplier and has been seen as a frontrunner to build the first networks in both countries, where it has conducted extensive 5G tests.

New Zealand this week became the latest country to take action against Huawei, blocking one of its biggest telecoms operators from using Huawei’s 5G equipment. The US and Australia have already blocked the company on national security grounds.

In Germany, officials said that the mood in government was growing increasingly wary of Huawei’s potential involvement in building the country’s 5G network.

While it is too early to say if Berlin will ban the Chinese company from participating, concerns in some parts of the government, including the foreign and interior ministries, is deepening, officials said. “The US influence on this has really intensified recently,” said one German official, who requested anonymity.

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Cui Haifeng, vice-president Huawei, West Europe, told the Financial Times in Hamburg that the company was doing everything possible to allay concerns over security.

Asked if Germany was set to issue a ban, he said: “So far, I never heard about this kind of thing.”

“[For] every technology for us at Huawei we always try to put the security and safety as top priorities so all the design, products and services will be safe,” Mr Cui said. In the UK the mood shifted significantly in the summer when a report from the centre set up to scrutinise contracts [Huawei kit and software] with Huawei, overseen by the GCHQ intelligence agency, flagged technical issues in the Chinese company’s engineering which posed “new risks in UK telecommunications networks”.

According to people familiar with the matter, the next report by the Huawei oversight board is likely to go even further, raising fresh concerns over engineering and the Chinese company’s failure to deal with the security problems raised in the 2018 report. Banning Huawei outright from providing 5G equipment to UK providers or removing them from existing telecoms networks remains unlikely, officials said. But the message to the Chinese company would be clear.

“They are slowing down Huawei to allow the rest of the market to catch up,” said one former intelligence official.

“If I was part of oversight board or government, I would be putting the boot in right now.” A meeting of the board, which is chaired by the chief executive of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre Ciaran Martin and includes representatives from some of the main UK telecoms operators is due to be held in December to discuss what next steps the UK should take.

UK security officials rejected the suggestion they are hardening their stance in response to growing pressure from the US, insisting the concerns are not based on Huawei’s Chinese origins as a company but on the way the company manufactures software and equipment which makes critical telecoms networks vulnerable to cyber attack.

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A spokesperson for Huawei said the July report “identified some areas for improvement in our engineering processes.” The company added: “We are grateful for this feedback and committed to addressing these issues. Cyber security remains Huawei’s top priority, and we will continue to actively improve our engineering processes and risk management systems.”

Raffaello Pantucci, director of international securities studies at RUSI, a UK think-tank, said the US is putting pressure on China in a “whole series of areas” and is pushing for “unity among its allies on China policy.”

“In the UK, the conversation with regard to China has definitely shifted with the hawks becoming kind of dominant,” Mr Pantucci added The main US concern over Huawei equipment is that the company’s ties to the Chinese government could enable snooping or interference.

Huawei has strongly denied such charges. More generally, the US is worried about the potential application of China’s National Intelligence Law, approved in 2017, which states that Chinese “organisations and citizens shall . . . support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work”. The risk, said US officials, is that this could mean that Chinese companies overseas are called upon to engage in espionage.


House Dem: Russia could move ‘even further into Ukraine’ as church rift deepens

November 23, 2018

A jurisdictional dispute within the Orthodox Church could lead to an escalation of violence between Russia and U.S. partners in Ukraine, political and religious observers worry.

“I have been and still am concerned that Putin will attempt to move even further into Ukraine,” Rep. Brendan Boyle, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Examiner.

That’s far from a certainty, but the Pennsylvania Democrat’s wariness points to the potential geopolitical ramifications of a what might appear otherwise to a simple clerical turf-war.

By Joel Gehrke
Washington Examiner

Image result for putin, orthodox church, photos

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Patriarch Kirill of Moscow arrive for the meeting with Russian Orthodox church bishops in Moscow February 1, 2013. Reuters

Patriarch Barthlomew of Constantinople — the most prestigious leader in the global Orthodox church, although he doesn’t wield papal authority — has pledged to issue documents establishing a self-governing (autocephalous) Orthodox Church in Ukraine. That decision has outraged Russian officials and the Russian Orthodox Church, which has held jurisdiction over thousands of Ukrainian parishes for centuries.

“The idea behind this is obvious – another step in tearing Ukraine from Russia, not just politically, but also spiritually,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in October.

The Russian Orthodox Church cut ties with Constantinople in September, but Patriarch Bartholomew plans to proceed with the move in December. “It’s no exaggeration to write that the granting of autocephaly from the Russian Orthodox Church to Ukraine’s millions of Orthodox believers is as significant as the disintegration of the USSR for Ukraine,” Taras Kuzio, an expert in Russian-Ukrainian controversies, explained in a September post for the Atlantic Council.

The question is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will use force to resist that development. The opportunities for conflict could be myriad, especially if some of the 12,000 Orthodox congregations in Ukraine split over the question of adherence to Moscow or the new institution.

“Some of the bishops are worried about that,” Valparaiso University’s Nicholas Denysenko, author of The Orthodox Church in Ukraine: A Century of Separation, told the Washington Examiner.

Some of the NATO members nearest to Ukraine are, too. “There might be efforts to instigate violence,” a Baltic diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Examiner. “Once you have violence, then you have something that can lead to something else more dangerous.”

It wouldn’t be the first time. Russian forces annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, after the Ukrainian parliament impeached President Viktor Yanukovych in the context of protests against his pro-Russian policies. Putin’s team denied sending Russian forces into the country, but Lavrov later justified the intervention by calling it a defense of ethnic Russians who live in Ukraine.

“I am very concerned that, under the guise of that argument, they would move even further in other parts of Ukraine, in other parts of the Baltics, because they could certainly use a similar logic in other parts of the former USSR that are now independent,” Boyle, one of the architects of House-passed legislation to boost Ukraine’s cyber-security, told the Washington Examiner.

Putin’s team may have laid the rhetorical groundwork for such a tactic already.

“Russia, of course, as it defends the interests of Russians and Russian-speakers, as Putin has always said, in the same way… defends the interests of the Orthodox Christians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in October. “This is if the Ukrainian authorities are unable to keep the situation within legal bounds, if it takes some ugly, violent turn.”

Denysenko thinks a major Russian offensive into western Ukraine remains “improbable,” unless the transition of authority over the local churches leads to high-profile violence against priests.

“Even if [Putin] doesn’t use that as an excuse to intervene, he can attempt to use that news to demonstrate and affirm the claim that they’ve been making that the Ukrainian church project is fueled by fascism — that [it] is purely inspired by the attempt to not have any Russians there at all,” he said. “In the informational part of the war, he would have a big success.”

For Boyle, these brewing controversies intensify the need for President Trump to avoid “send[ing] mixed signals” to Russia.

“We cannot allow Putin to take over parts of Europe,” Boyle said. “As we’ve seen too many times previously in history, that sort of aggression just leads to further aggression and would lead to further land grabs.”


Moscow’s Role in Ukraine Orthodox Church Ended

Facebook users in meltdown after social media site crashed — George Soros?

November 18, 2018

Image result for facebook, pictures

Facebook users worldwide went into meltdown after the popular social media site crashed on Sunday afternoon.

Many users around the world were greeted with the message that “something went wrong” when they tried to access their Facebook News Feed, posting identical images of the broken landing page on Twitter.

It suggested users “try refreshing the page”, but that still didn’t work.

Image result for Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, photos
Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook photo)

The hashtag #FacebookDown quickly started trending worldwide, appearing in thousands of tweets.

The Wired’s manager of audience development, Alex Whitcomb was less than impressed with the social media site’s explanation.

“‘Something went wrong’ has to be the most understated thing Facebook could say about its newsfeed,” Mr Whitcomb wrote on Twitter.

Alex Whitcomb@AlexWhitcomb

“Something went wrong” has to be the most understated thing Facebook could say about its newsfeed.

22 people are talking about this

Some locked-out users started preparing for impending doom

Tim Hatfield


Both @MadeleineDunne and I are getting this message! We’re through the looking glass here people! Hold your loved ones close.

See Tim Hatfield’s other Tweets

“We’re through the looking glass here people!” Sydney’s Tim Hatfield tweeted.

“Hold your loved ones close”.

Meanwhile, officers from the Richland Country Sherriff’s Department in Colorado turned to The Simpsons to convey their point, posting a gif of Homer Simpson walking down the street wearing a placard that reads ‘the end is near’.

Richland County Sheriff’s Dept.


Meanwhile, Facebook is down…

81 people are talking about this

As influence of AI, big data grows, cyber experts discuss tech safety and trust

November 15, 2018

At international conference in Tel Aviv, experts speak of need to protect public from hazards of algorithm-run lives

A drone exhibit at the 5th International Homeland Security and Cyber Exhibition, Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018.  (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

A drone exhibit at the 5th International Homeland Security and Cyber Exhibition, Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Cyber experts on Tuesday called for a new focus on cyber education to train the professionals needed to ensure that autonomous vehicles are safe.

Dr. Jacob Mendel, head of research cooperation with industries at Tel Aviv University’s Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, told a panel at the 5th International Conference and Exhibition on Homeland Security and Cyber that today’s airplanes were so full of electronic parts that it was important to test each one for vulnerability to cyber attack.

Not only were there not enough design engineers with cyber knowledge, he said, but there were insufficient numbers of ‘good hackers’ to test such products out.

“You have to ‘attack’ the device, to use the maximum knowledge we have today to protect it,” he said, calling on production companies to create departments for cyber security alongside those for sales, marketing and engineering.

Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, Germany, warned, “even if you’ve secured your own company, your suppliers and sub suppliers may be exposed. The whole ecosystem needs to be protected.”

A vision of transport in 2030 shown at the 5th International Conference and Exhibition on Homeland Security and Cyber, Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018. Dirk Hoke is seated second from left. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Hoke presented a visual depicting how transport might look in 2030. It showed air taxis and a little girl pointing a remote control at a crate of vegetables being delivered by a drone.

Yochai Corem of Cyberbit -– a subsidiary of the Israeli defense technology company Elbit Systems — called on the government to “push, educate and regulate” cyber education.

Tuesday’s presentations focused heavily on issues of artificial intelligence and human trust in them.

Roey Tzezana, billed as a US-based researcher in futures studies, spoke from California via a tablet attached to a physical robot that moved on the stage.

Tzezana described the growing presence of algorithms in our lives — pieces of code which provide the instructions for artificial intelligence (AI) systems. By connecting algorithms together, artificial neural networks are created.

It was algorithms which decided whether you would get a loan from a bank, which recommended friends and products for you, shaped the behavior of the stock market and determined the prices on Amazon, he said.

Roey Tzezana, a researcher of future studies, speaks from California via a tablet placed on a moving robot at the 5th International Conference and Exhibition on Homeland Security and Cyber in Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018.

“An algorithm is a brainless way of doing things — a set of precise steps that if obeyed mechanically, will lead to a desirable outcome,” he explained.

But today, algorithms were actually ‘learning’ from massive amounts of data. If they saw enough pictures of a beef burger, for example, they would eventually be able to generate their own picture of one.

“As a result of artificial neural networks, we have algorithms that are more effective than humans at deciphering human conversation, recognizing numbers, recognizing faces, and beating even the top human players at Go [an abstract strategy board game].

Tzezana described how Chinese authorities are using facial recognition algorithms in their surveillance systems to identify individuals in a crowd of 60,000 people.

The Chinese government is reportedly forcing Muslim Uyghur citizens from the restive Xinjiang region in the country’s north west to download a surveillance app called JingWang Weishi (‘web cleansing’) that records information about each device and scans it for certain files. If an undesirable file is found, the app sends a message to the phone’s owner with an instruction to delete it.

“Who gave algorithms permission to impact our lives?” Tzezana asked rhetorically. “We did,” he replied, adding that algorithms could also cause mayhem.

In one case in 2012, an electronic trading company, Knight Capital Group, lost more than $450 million in half an hour after a faulty algorithm bought stocks in multiple companies, worth billions of dollars, continuing to pay more and more as the stock prices rose.

In another example, algorithmic pricing on Amazon once pumped the cost of a book about flies to more than $3.5 million.

“Soon, we will be surrounded by algorithms, robots and autonomous cars,” Tzezana said. “An autonomous taxi will chose who to pick up and who not. Your Amazon door lock will lock you in your house if Amazon doesn’t like you.”

This artificial power was already so vast that people were withdrawing their trust and voting with their fingers by abandoning giants such as Facebook, Tzezana claimed.

This July 16, 2013 file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

And in losing trust, they were falling back on gut instincts such as fear, doubt, and xenophobia.

“If you are a company providing services based on data, you must realize that people don’t trust as easily as they did before. They want to know there is someone to trust. They want companies to be more transparent, to be regulated – not necessarily by the government but by the public, by some sort of mediator.”

Russell Roberts, chief information officer for the US Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, noted that machines were “not good in gray areas” and had the biases of their creators built into their learning.

“If you are driving your Mercedes in a few years’ time and a truck crosses you, and there’s a cliff on one side and a family on the sidewalk on the other, the Mercedes will protect you and take out the family,” he said. “You don’t decide.”

“It’s all about networks,” Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheikh told the 5th International Conference and Exhibition on Homeland Security and Cyber in Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018. Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Israel police chief Roni Alscheich said that just as countries were turning to web attacks before activating real armies, so criminals were moving to a cyber world in which they could steal money online without having to physically rob a bank, commit pedophilia without leaving the house and run a casino online rather than risk a police raid.

New challenges faced the force, he said. While collecting online information to catch terrorists had public support, doing the same to catch criminals provoked protest over invasion of privacy, he noted.

The police now had to find which smartphone or computer was used to commit an offense and to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the offender who sat at the keyboard or held the phone while the offense was committed. This was a new form of evidence with which the courts had to become accustomed.

Through engagement with big data, the police had learned to view crime in terms of networks rather than hierarchy, Alsheich went on. By attacking the hubs, they were managing to weaken entire networks.

New methods of big data analysis had led to significant decreases in property crime (down 15 per cent this year compared with 2017) and car theft (down almost 20% last year and a further 18 % this year), he said.

However, complaints about neighbor-related problems such as noise and parking disagreements had risen sharply over the past decade and now accounted for half of all complaints to the police by the public.

Shalom Tower, Tel Aviv (photo credit: Carli Kiene)

Shalom Tower, Tel Aviv (Carli Kiene)

High residential towers were isolating people and driving them to seek social connections on social networks, Alsheich added. Residents of neighborhoods were becoming estranged from one another, less tolerant of those they did not know, and more likely to turn to the police if there was noise from the apartment above.

In response, the police were focusing more on community initiatives, he said.


Iran-based political influence operation – bigger, persistent, global

August 29, 2018

An apparent Iranian influence operation targeting internet users worldwide is significantly bigger than previously identified, Reuters has found, encompassing a sprawling network of anonymous websites and social media accounts in 11 different languages.

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FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Facebook and other companies said last week that multiple social media accounts and websites were part of an Iranian project to covertly influence public opinion in other countries. A Reuters analysis has identified 10 more sites and dozens of social media accounts across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

U.S.-based cyber security firm FireEye Inc and Israeli firm ClearSky reviewed Reuters’ findings and said technical indicators showed the web of newly-identified sites and social media accounts – called the International Union of Virtual Media, or IUVM – was a piece of the same campaign, parts of which were taken down last week by Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc.

IUVM pushes content from Iranian state media and other outlets aligned with the government in Tehran across the internet, often obscuring the original source of the information such as Iran’s PressTV, FARS news agency and al-Manar TV run by the Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah.

PressTV, FARS, al-Manar TV and representatives for the Iranian government did not respond to requests for comment. The Iranian mission to the United Nations last week dismissed accusations of an Iranian influence campaign as “ridiculous.”

The extended network of disinformation highlights how multiple state-affiliated groups are exploiting social media to manipulate users and further their geopolitical agendas, and how difficult it is for tech companies to guard against political interference on their platforms.

In July, a U.S. grand jury indicted 12 Russians whom prosecutors said were intelligence officers, on charges of hacking political groups in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. U.S. officials have said Russia, which has denied the allegations, could also attempt to disrupt congressional elections in November.

Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who has previously analyzed disinformation campaigns for Facebook, said the IUVM network displayed the extent and scale of the Iranian operation.

“It’s a large-scale amplifier for Iranian state messaging,” Nimmo said. “This shows how easy it is to run an influence operation online, even when the level of skill is low. The Iranian operation relied on quantity, not quality, but it stayed undetected for years.”


Facebook spokesman Jay Nancarrow said the company is still investigating accounts and pages linked to Iran and had taken more down on Tuesday.

“This is an ongoing investigation and we will continue to find out more,” he said. “We’re also glad to see that the information we and others shared last week has prompted additional attention on this kind of inauthentic behavior.”

Twitter referred to a statement it tweeted on Monday shortly after receiving a request for comment from Reuters. The statement said the company had removed a further 486 accounts for violating its terms of use since last week, bringing the total number of suspended accounts to 770.

“Fewer than 100 of the 770 suspended accounts claimed to be located in the U.S. and many of these were sharing divisive social commentary,” Twitter said.

Google declined to comment but took down the IUVM TV YouTube account after Reuters contacted the company with questions about it. A message on the page on Tuesday said the account had been “terminated for a violation of YouTube’s Terms of Service.”

IUVM did not respond to multiple emails or social media messages requesting comment.

The organization does not conceal its aims, however. Documents on the main IUVM website said its headquarters are in Tehran and its objectives include “confronting with remarkable arrogance, western governments and Zionism front activities.”


IUVM uses its network of websites – including a YouTube channel, breaking news service, mobile phone app store, and a hub for satirical cartoons mocking Israel and Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia – to distribute content taken from Iranian state media and other outlets which support Tehran’s position on geopolitical issues.

Reuters recorded the IUVM network operating in English, French, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashto, Russian, Hindi, Azerbaijani, Turkish and Spanish.

Much of the content is then reproduced by a range of alternative media sites, including some of those identified by FireEye last week as being run by Iran while purporting to be domestic American or British news outlets.

For example, an article run by in January by Liberty Front Press – one of the pseudo-U.S. news sites exposed by FireEye – reported on the battlefield gains made by the army of Iranian ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That article was sourced to IUVM but actually lifted from two FARS news agency stories.

FireEye analyst Lee Foster said, one of the biggest IUVM websites, was registered in January 2015 with the same email address used to register two sites already identified as being run by Iran. ClearSky said multiple IUVM sites were hosted on the same server as another website used in the Iranian operation.


Reporting by Jack Stubbs in LONDON, Christopher Bing in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in LONDON; Editing by Damon Darlin and Grant McCool

Iran Reportedly Launches Cyber Attack At Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt

August 2, 2018

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The group, dubbed “Leafminer,” has attacked networks in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and Afghanistan, according to a report issued by US cyber security firm Symantec.


Manama, Bahrain (Tribune News Service) – A group of “highly active” hackers based in Iran have been found to be trying to steal vital information from governments in the Middle East.

The group, dubbed “Leafminer,” has attacked networks in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and Afghanistan, according to a report issued by US cyber security firm Symantec.

However, an Information and eGovernment Authority (iGA) spokesman told the GDN yesterday “no indication was found up until now that Leafminer targeted the portal or any systems managed by IGA.”

The cyber espionage group’s targets includes the “energy, telecommunications, financial services, transportation and government” sectors.

Means of intrusion used to infiltrate target networks consisted of infecting malware on websites often visited by the users, also known as watering hole style attacks, and using brute-force login attempts, which features trying numerous passwords with the hope of eventually breaching the network.

“Symantec has uncovered the operations of a threat actor named Leafminer that is targeting a broad list of government organizations and business verticals in various regions in the Middle East,” stated a threat intelligence report by Symantec.

Operations reportedly began in early 2017 but has increased since the end of last year.

“Leafminer is a highly active group, responsible for targeting a range of organizations across the Middle East.

“The group appears to be based in Iran and seems to be eager to learn from, and capitalize on, tools and techniques used by more advanced threat actors.”

The report also said an investigation into Leafminer revealed a list, written in Farsi, of 809 systems targeted by the hackers.

“Targeted regions included in the list are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, and Afghanistan.”

The report said the attackers were looking for e-mail data, files and database servers on their target systems in financial, government, energy, airlines, construction, telecommunication and other sectors in the region.

Symantec said it was able to identify Leafminer after discovering a compromised web server that was used in several different attacks.

“It [the cyber espionage group] made a major blunder in leaving a staging server publicly accessible, exposing the group’s entire arsenal of tools.

“That one misstep provided us with a valuable trove of intelligence to help us better defend our customers against further Leafminer attacks.”

IGA said, in a statement to the GDN yesterday, that part of its job was to monitor any report issued by security vendors such as Symantec regarding any threat actors targeting the region.

“The team then conducts further investigation to look for any sign of indication related to the threat actors,” it said.

“If an indication is detected, the case is reported to IGA’s cybersecurity incident management team to take the needful action to approach the incident.

“With regards to the Leafminer cyber espionage group, no indication was found up till now that Leafminer targeted the portal or any systems managed by IGA.”

IGA officials previously said that around 27,000 attacks on government systems were managed last year, with majority of them originating from countries in the east, namely Iran.

Meanwhile, a spokesman from Bahrain-based security firm CTM360 said it was aware of Leafminer and urged companies and individuals to install anti-virus software as well as use complex passwords.

“Leafminer targeted government organizations and businesses in the Middle East by using the existing available threats out there,” said the spokesman.

“The group studied reports published by different security firms about malwares or threats, and fix the loopholes mentioned in those papers for an advanced malware attack.”


Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.