Posts Tagged ‘cyber’

Chinese Hackers Hit U.S. Firms Linked to South China Sea Dispute

March 17, 2018


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China has militarized the South China Sea — even though they have no legal claim. This is Mischief Reef, now an extensive Chinese military base — one of seven Chinese military bases near the Philippines


By David Tweed

 Updated on 
  • Victims are in maritime industries with South China Sea ties
  • Hackers ‘most likely’ operating on behalf of a government

Chinese hackers have launched a wave of attacks on mainly U.S. engineering and defense companies linked to the disputed South China Sea, the cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. said.

The suspected Chinese cyber-espionage group dubbed TEMP.Periscope appeared to be seeking information that would benefit the Chinese government, said FireEye, a U.S.-based provider network protection systems. The hackers have focused on U.S. maritime entities that were either linked to — or have clients operating in — the South China Sea, said Fred Plan, senior analyst at FireEye in Los Angeles.

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“They are going after data that can be used strategically, so it is line with state espionage,” said Plan, whose firm has tracked the group since 2013. “A private entity probably wouldn’t benefit from the sort of data that is being stolen.”

The TEMP.Periscope hackers were seeking information in areas like radar range or how precisely a system in development could detect activity at sea, Plan said. The surge in attacks picked up pace last month and was ongoing.

Increased Attacks

While FireEye traced the group’s attacks to China, the firm hasn’t confirmed any link to Chinese government entities or facilities. FireEye declined to name any targets. Although most were based in the U.S., organizations in Europe and at least one in Hong Kong were also affected, the firm said.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang told a briefing Friday in Beijing that China opposed all kinds of cyber attacks. “We will continue to implement the important consensus on cybersecurity reached in 2015,” he said.

Plan said suspected Chinese cyber-attacks on U.S. targets has picked up in recent months, after both sides agreed not to attack civilian entities. The 2015 deal to tamp down economic espionage was hammered out between then-U.S. President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping.

The U.S. indicted five Chinese military officials in 2014 on charges that they stole trade secrets from companies including Westinghouse Electric Co. and United States Steel Corp. after hacks were detected by Mandiant, a unit of FireEye. China denies the charges and argues the country is a victim rather than an instigator of cybersecurity attacks.

Strategic Data

Data sought in the latest incidents could be used, for instance, to determine how closely a vessel could sail to a geographical feature, Plan said. “It is definitely the case that they can use this information for strategic decision-making,” he said.

The U.S. Navy sometimes conducts so-called freedom of navigation operations to challenge Chinese claims to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea — one of the world’s busiest trading routes. China has reclaimed some 3,200 acres (1,290 hectares) of land in the waters and built ports, runways and other military infrastructure on seven artificial features it has created.

China has been involved in other attacks related to the South China Sea. In 2015, during a week-long hearing on a territorial dispute in the water, Chinese malware attacked the website of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, taking it offline.

The latest attacks were carried out using a variety of techniques including “spear-phishing,” in which emails with links and attachments containing malware are used to open back doors into computer networks. In some examples, the emails were made to look as if they originated from a “big international maritime company,” Plan said.

FireEye said in a separate report that government offices, media and academic institutions have been attacked, along with engineering and defense companies. Plan declined to comment when asked whether the U.S. Navy was among the targets.

“Given the type of organizations that have been targeted — the organizations and government offices — it is most likely the case that TEMP.Periscope is operating on behalf of a government office,” Plan said.

— With assistance by Dandan Li, Peter Martin, and Andy Sharp



We’ve heard 白痴國家 (Means “Idiot Nation”)




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China has long had its eye on James Shoal and may move toward the island unless Malaysia or Indonesia protest…


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.


Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey: Donald Trump is serious threat to US national security

March 17, 2018

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A retired four-star Army general said that he believes that President Trump is a “serious threat to US national security.”

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey tweeted Friday that he reached the conclusion about Trump because the president “is refusing to protect vital US interests from active Russian attacks.”

“It is apparent that he is for some unknown reason under the sway of Mr. Putin,” he added.

McCaffrey has also worked as an adjunct professor at West Point and led the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for five years during the Clinton administration.

Trump has come under fire for his response to Russian interference in the U.S. election. The president has repeatedly hit the probe into Russian election meddling as a “witch hunt.”

His administration unveiled new sanctions against Russian cyber groups involved in election meddling on Thursday, including individuals and groups charged with election interference by special counsel Robert Mueller.

However, Trump had been criticized for not implementing sanctions against Russia earlier, after Congress passed a bipartisan bill last year giving him the power to do so.

U.S. Cyber Command chief and National Security Agency (NSA) Director Adm. Michael Rogers testified before the Senate last month that he hadn’t received instructions from Trump to take additional steps to deter Russian cyberattacks aimed at U.S. elections.


Hackers tried to cause Saudi petrochemical plant blast: NYT

March 16, 2018


© AFP/File | Energy giant Saudi Aramco, whose Shaybah plant is seen here, was among firms hit by an earlier cyber-attack in 2012

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Cyber-attackers tried to trigger a deadly explosion at a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia in August and failed only because of a code glitch, The New York Times reported.Investigators declined to identify the suspected attackers, but people interviewed by the newspaper unanimously said that it most likely aimed to cause a blast that would have guaranteed casualties.

A bug in the attackers’ code accidentally shut down the system instead, according to the report.

The cyber-attack — which could signal plans for other attacks around the world — was likely the work of hackers supported by a government, according to multiple insiders interviewed by the newspaper.

All sources declined to name the company operating the plant as well as the countries suspected to have backed the hackers, The New York Times said.

Security experts however told the newspaper that Iran, China, Russia, Israel and the United States had the technical capacity to launch an attack of that magnitude.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi Arabia, which has come under frequent cyber-attacks, including “Shamoon”, the aggressive disc-wiping malware that hit the Saudi energy sector in 2012.

Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, was among the firms hit by Shamoon, which was believed then to be the country’s worst cyber-attack yet.

US intelligence officials at the time said they suspected a link to the kingdom’s regional rival Iran.

But the August attack was “much more dangerous” than Shamoon, according to The New York Times, and likely aimed to send a political message — investigators said the code had been custom-built with no obvious financial motive.

Tasnee, the Saudi Arabian industrialisation company, had also been attacked by hackers in January 2017, according to Tasnee officials and researchers with the Symantec cybersecurity company interviewed by the newspaper.

The attack destroyed the company’s hard drives, wiped all data and replaced it with the now-iconic image of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy in a red T-shirt who washed up dead on the Turkish coast.

Saudi Arabia was also hit by Powershell malware targeting government computers in November.

See also:

A Cyberattack in Saudi Arabia Had a Deadly Goal. Experts Fear Another Try.



In a first, U.S. blames Russia for cyber attacks on energy grid

March 16, 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Thursday blamed the Russian government for a campaign of cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the U.S. power grid, marking the first time the United States has publicly accused Moscow of hacking into American energy infrastructure.

Beginning in March 2016, or possibly earlier, Russian government hackers sought to penetrate multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and manufacturing, according to a U.S. security alert published Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI said in the alert that a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” had targeted the networks of small commercial facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks.” The alert did not name facilities or companies targeted.

United States officials and private security firms saw the Russian attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could sabotage the West’s critical facilities in the event of a conflict. CreditSpencer Platt/Getty Images

The direct condemnation of Moscow represented an escalation in the Trump administration’s attempts to deter Russia’s aggression in cyberspace, after senior U.S. intelligence officials said in recent weeks the Kremlin believes it can launch hacking operations against the West with impunity.

It coincided with a decision Thursday by the U.S. Treasury Department to impose sanctions on 19 Russian people and five groups, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other malicious cyber attacks.

Russia in the past has denied it has tried to hack into other countries’ infrastructure, and vowed on Thursday to retaliate for the new sanctions.


U.S. security officials have long warned that the United States may be vulnerable to debilitating cyber attacks from hostile adversaries. It was not clear what impact the attacks had on the firms that were targeted.

But Thursday’s alert provided a link to an analysis by the U.S. cyber security firm Symantec last fall that said a group it had dubbed Dragonfly had targeted energy companies in the United States and Europe and in some cases broke into the core systems that control the companies’ operations.

Malicious email campaigns dating back to late 2015 were used to gain entry into organizations in the United States, Turkey and Switzerland, and likely other countries, Symantec said at the time, though it did not name Russia as the culprit.

The decision by the United States to publicly attribute hacking attempts of American critical infrastructure was “unprecedented and extraordinary,” said Amit Yoran, a former U.S. official who founded DHS’s Computer Emergency Response Team.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Yoran, now chief executive of the cyber firm Tenable, said.

A White House National Security Council spokesman did not respond when asked what specifically prompted the public blaming of Russia. U.S. officials have historically been reluctant to call out such activity in part because the United States also spies on infrastructure in other parts of the world.

News of the hacking campaign targeting U.S. power companies first surfaced in June in a confidential alert to industry that described attacks on industrial firms, including nuclear plants, but did not attribute blame.

“People sort of suspected Russia was behind it, but today’s statement from the U.S. government carries a lot of weight,” said Ben Read, manager for cyber espionage analysis with cyber security company FireEye Inc.


The campaign targeted engineers and technical staff with access to industrial controls, suggesting the hackers were interested in disrupting operations, though FireEye has seen no evidence that they actually took that step, Read said.

A former senior DHS official familiar with the government response to the campaign said that Russia’s targeting of infrastructure networks dropped off after the publication in the fall of Symantec’s research and an October government alert, which detailed technical forensics about the hacking attempts but did not name Russia.

The official declined to say whether the campaign was still ongoing or provide specifics on which targets were breached, or how close hackers may have gotten to operational control systems.

“We did not see them cross into the control networks,” DHS cyber security official Rick Driggers told reporters at a dinner on Thursday evening.

Driggers said he was unaware of any cases of control networks being compromised in the United States and that the breaches were limited to business networks. But, he added, “We know that there is intent there.”

It was not clear what Russia’s motive was. Many cyber security experts and former U.S. officials say such behavior is generally espionage-oriented with the potential, if needed, for sabotage.

Russia has shown a willingness to leverage access into energy networks for damaging effect in the past. Kremlin-linked hackers were widely blamed for two attacks on the Ukrainian energy grid in 2015 and 2016, that caused temporary blackouts for hundreds of thousands of customers and were considered first-of-their-kind assaults.

Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, asked the Trump administration earlier this month to provide a threat assessment gauging Russian capabilities to breach the U.S. electric grid.

It was the third time Cantwell and other senators had asked for such a review. The administration has not yet responded, a spokesman for Cantwell’s office said on Thursday.

Last July, there were news reports that the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp, which operates a nuclear plant in Kansas, had been targeted by hackers from an unknown origin.

Spokeswoman Jenny Hageman declined to say at the time if the plant had been hacked but said that there had been no operational impact to the plant because operational computer systems were separate from the corporate network. Hageman on Thursday said the company does not comment on security matters.

John Keeley, a spokesman for the industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute, said: “There has been no successful cyber attack against any U.S. nuclear facility, including Wolf Creek.”

Reporting by Dustin Volz and Timothy Gardner, additional reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Tom Brown, Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman

See also: New York Times

Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says


“Cringe-Worthy” — Was the 2016 Election a Game of ‘Russian Roulette’?

March 15, 2018

By Steven Lee Meyers
The New York Times

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The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump
By Michael Isikoff and David Corn
338 pp. Twelve. $30.

It is an article of faith among President Trump’s most ardent detractors that he is a corrupt blowhard catapulted to the office by a devious intelligence operation ordered up by America’s supervillain, the Russian president Vladimir V. Putin.

On the other end of the country’s hopelessly splintered political spectrum are those who join Trump in rebutting the idea, often with the caps lock on: “FAKE NEWS!” “NO COLLUSION!”

Somewhere in between are those — and let us presume to count among them the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — who are determined to establish what exactly Russia did to influence the outcome of the presidential election of 2016.

For that, it seems, we will have to wait for Mueller’s band of investigators to complete their work. His latest indictment inched ever closer to the Kremlin, targeting 13 Russians, including one close enough to the top to be nicknamed “Putin’s cook,” but still stopped short of implicating the Russian leader or establishing the collusion with Trump’s campaign that critics are certain took place.

In the meantime comes “Russian Roulette,” a new book by two veterans of Washington political journalism, Michael Isikoff and David Corn, whose subtitle promises to reveal “the inside story of Putin’s war on America and the election of Donald Trump.”

Alas, it does not — at least so far as offering foolproof evidence of Putin’s involvement, or his motives. “For all the public controversy,” they write two pages before the end of their book, “there was still much about Putin’s cyberattacks that was cloaked in mystery, especially what had happened in Russia.”

“Russian Roulette” is, thus, not an investigative breakthrough as much as a new contribution to that well-worn genre: the granular, source-on-the-wall election diary. On that score, they have produced the most thorough and riveting account so far — riveting, that is, as long as you don’t mind falling into paroxysms of political outrage and dismay.

Although the authors make their view clear from the start, referring to Russian help as the perceived “original sin” of Trump’s presidency, it is to their credit that they present both campaigns in an unfavorable light. The book will surely infuriate readers on either side of what should be the most urgent question facing the nation today: the vulnerability of our democratic institutions to Russian manipulation.

For aggrieved Clinton supporters, reading “Russian Roulette” will be like reliving a nightmare. Trump supporters, too, should wince at the cringe-worthy embarrassments that would have derailed any other candidate.

In one scene inside Trump Tower, the candidate’s aides debate how to respond to the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which the future president boasts about grabbing women by their genitals. According to the authors, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, her face reddening and eyes filling with tears, urged her father to make a full-throated apology. He did not. He simply dismissed what he said as “locker room banter” without denying anything he did.

It should have been a moment for Team Clinton to celebrate a knockout blow to Trump’s insurgency — except that the video landed on an inauspicious day for them.

Barely an hour earlier, the director of national intelligence and secretary of homeland security issued a statement saying that the intelligence community was “confident that the Russian government directed” the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email system. The subsequent leak of thousands of emails was a tactic “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”

This was the Watergate burglary of the internet age, yet the revelation was all but drowned out by the release of the tape. “The Clinton staffers hit the phones, calling reporters they had worked with, urging them to give more attention to the Russia story. They weren’t having much luck.”


And still to come was the third October surprise of the day. WikiLeaks announced that it would begin dribbling out thousands of emails to and from John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman, that proved hugely embarrassing to the candidate.

That day — Oct. 7 — may prove to be a turning point in American history. It was, by some unearthly coincidence, also Vladimir Putin’s 64th birthday.

“Russian Roulette” is best when describing how the country’s intelligence agencies were slow to recognize Russia’s effort and the frustration among Clinton’s supporters of the failure of the administration, the F.B.I. and the media to trumpet it for what it was. (Some reporters did, in fact, including Corn and Isikoff, but much more became clear only after Trump’s victory.)

It was President Obama, however, who set the administration’s tone: He did not want to be seen as trying to tip the scales of the election by suggesting a foreign leader was intervening in support of one side. “We were wearing self-imposed handcuffs,” one agonized aide tells the authors.

A disclosure is required here: The book describes an article that a colleague, Eric Lichtblau, and I wrote for The New York Times. In it we reported on the F.B.I.’s inability to substantiate what appeared to be ties between the Trump Organization and a private Russian bank, Alfa, even as its agents were following an array of other leads. Some of them were detailed in the “dossier” of Christopher Steele, the former British agent hired to conduct opposition research.

While evidence of many accusations remains unclear, the authors argue that the article and headline wrongly focused on the absence of proof rather than the main point, which was that there was an investigation into “possible links between the Russian government and the Republican presidential candidate.”

There are, in the end, no heroes in “Russian Roulette.” The bureau’s director, James B. Comey, deserves significant scrutiny (and he has his own book coming). During the investigation into her private email server, Clinton and her staff were so suspicious of the bureau that when agents first came to the Brooklyn headquarters to inform them of the Russian hacking, the campaign manager, Robby Mook, refused to meet them, fearing they were there to ask about Clinton’s emails.

The suspicions boiled over when Comey made an 11th-hour statement that the bureau was reviewing “new” emails found in a separate investigation, into Anthony Weiner, the disgraced husband of Clinton’s close aide Huma Abedin. By doing so, Comey hurled a thunderbolt into the election only days before the vote — something aides quoted anonymously claim he wanted to avoid.

Historians may long debate who had a bigger influence on the outcome: the F.B.I. director or the Russian leader.

For anyone who believes in the better angels of American politics, “Russian Roulette” is a depressing book. The Russian hacking, it is now clear, simply exploited the vulgarity already plaguing American political campaigns, which churn on spin and strategy (and money) far more than vision or values.

The book does have its flaws. The simplistic vilification of Russia — without evidence or better context — reinforces the view of some thoughtful Russians that Americans have become irrationally hostile toward the country and even the culture. The sourcing is also sloppy in places. The authors are respected journalists, and one can trust their use of anonymous sources or not, but in the span of four pages describing the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, for example, they quote four different ones. There is “a Miss Universe associate” (whatever that means), “a Miss Universe official,” “a Miss Universe staffer” and “another Miss Universe staffer.”

The “Miss Universe official” states that only Putin could have approved holding the pageant in Moscow, which is absurd. Putin controls much in Russia, but only in the fevered imagination of a pageant official does he dictate the location of beauty contests. The “another Miss Universe staffer” suggests Trump winnowed the finalists in his pageants by rejecting dark-skinned contestants and those who “snubbed his advances.” That is an explosive accusation to attribute to a single source among a muddle of them.

Still another anonymous source reveals one of the book’s most significant revelations. A Russian insider had been providing the American Embassy in Moscow with unconfirmed but what turned out to be prescient information about Putin’s inner circle around the same time Trump was presiding over the pageant. Among the disclosures was the racially tinged disdain senior Russians felt for Barack Obama, all dutifully reported back to Washington in top-secret cables.

This source — described not as an intelligence asset but as a sympathetic political insider, who as a young man had been “heartened by Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet rhetoric” — told his interlocutor as early as 2014 that the Kremlin was planning to undermine democracy in the West. It was, the authors suggest, one of many missed signals of what was coming.

“Anybody who had any doubt about Putin’s intentions,” the source’s American interlocutor is quoted as saying, “just wasn’t reading what we reported.”

First Skripal, Then NATO — How Putin’s Poison Works — The Putin challenge had only worsened on Mr. Trump’s watch

March 14, 2018

Security at home for Putin means showing that the West lacks the will to act.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Lukyanenko National Grain Center in Krasnodar, Russia, March 12.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Lukyanenko National Grain Center in Krasnodar, Russia, March 12. PHOTO: ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY/SHUTTERSTOCK

One theory you can put aside is that last week’s attempted nerve-gas murder of a retired Russian spy in Britain was planned by someone looking to discredit and undermine Vladimir Putin.

Since the original sin of the Putin era—the apartment-block bombings in 1999 that killed hundreds of Russians in their beds and were unconvincingly blamed on foreign terrorists—the question has always come up: Did Putin order it? Or was it orchestrated by “friends” trying to control his path?

The cases include: Who allowed a highly sophisticated missile system into Ukraine to shoot down a Malaysian airliner? Who arranged the 2006 fatal poisoning in London, using another exotic weapon, of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko ?

Who authorized the murder of Boris Nemtsov, Mr. Putin’s most credible domestic political opponent? Who exactly was responsible for the style and content of Russia’s meddling in Western elections? (Arrests and an unexplained death in Moscow since November 2016 suggest to some that Mr. Putin was not entirely happy with the result.)

These questions are always apt in one sense. The picture of a masterly Putin calling every shot is apocryphal. He intervenes in the projects of his intelligence and criminal confreres only when he has to—when he perceives danger to himself by failing to exercise control.

At the same time, by now there is an apparatus of billionaires and security officials who depend on his remaining in power and seek to signal to rivals and the broader public at home that he is invulnerable. And a big part of invulnerability, in their minds, means being immune to imagined or real Western efforts to weaken his position.

London has long been a favorite place for Putin allies to stash their stolen wealth and conduct their rivalries. Since the attack last week on Sergei Skripal, a former head of Scotland Yard is now calling for investigation of 14 other mysterious, Russia-related deaths.

No longer is it possible for the government of Prime Minister Theresa May to soft-pedal this mess and retain the respect of its public. Let’s hope another consideration is also at play: a growing understanding that worse may be coming unless Western allies start drawing lines Mr. Putin is bound to respect.

His biggest roll of the dice, with the biggest upside if he wins, would be a campaign of aggression against a nearby NATO member that would be aimed at proving the alliance to be an empty bag. There is reason to worry such a campaign is in the cards.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. He made a non-insane point before becoming president: Mr. Putin walks all over the West because we let him. Relations, Mr. Trump suggested, would improve when Mr. Putin is met by somebody equally tough.

Assuming Mr. Trump understood his own words, he should also understand that he has failed so far to achieve the desired result. Though his differences with Rex Tillerson were numerous, it hardly helps that Mr. Tillerson was fired Tuesday after he spoke strongly and plainly about how the Putin challenge had only worsened on Mr. Trump’s watch.

Britain is one of America’s closest allies. So far, the president has reportedly said the right things on the phone to Mrs. May but will the U.S. under Mr. Trump be up for a prolonged and costly effort to alter Russia’s path?

Mr. Putin’s career, alas, has become a funnel down which there is unlikely to be any return for Russia while he lives. And he plans to live. Aside from his speech this month outlining miracle weapons on Moscow’s drawing board, he has, in recent years, created a private army for his personal protection. His regime is currently resurrecting a Soviet commissariat (or a new Gestapo) to police the political reliability of the regular army. Meanwhile, his billionaire cronies seem to have reconciled themselves to eternal dependence on him.

Three levers are available and yet have been hardly tried against the Kremlin: More-capable weapons, supplied overtly or covertly, to those resisting Russian-backed forces in Ukraine and Syria. Freezing the assets of Putin-friendly Russians in the West. Spilling the intelligence beans linking Mr. Putin to various matters that would discredit him in the eyes of his saner countrymen.

Sen. Marco Rubio, during a confirmation hearing last year, elicited from the now-ousted Mr. Tillerson an acknowledgment of the considerable evidence linking Russia’s secret police (formerly headed by Mr. Putin) to the 1999 apartment bombings. This was a breakthrough. The U.S. government has been decisively silent on the subject for nearly 20 years.

OK, don’t hold your breath. Democrats who’ve discovered Mr. Putin only because he’s a club to use against Donald Trump should especially not kid themselves. Even less pushback was likely to come from previous administrations. The West’s risk-aversion in dealing with Mr. Putin is understandable. It’s also the reason we may be sailing into increasingly dangerous straits in our relations with Russia.

Appeared in the March 14, 2018, print edition.

Hacked Japanese Cryptocurrency Exchange Pays Back Customers — Coincheck spends $435 million to compensate customers

March 13, 2018

Coincheck spends $435 million to compensate customers who kept a digital currency called NEM at Coincheck

Coincheck resumed accepting withdrawals of selected cryptocurrencies including bitcoin on Monday. Here, Koichiro Wada, president of the exchange.
Coincheck resumed accepting withdrawals of selected cryptocurrencies including bitcoin on Monday. Here, Koichiro Wada, president of the exchange. PHOTO: FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUT/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

TOKYO—Coincheck Inc., a Japanese cryptocurrency trading platform operator that was hacked in January, said Tuesday that it has completed compensating customers affected by the hacking and resumed some exchange services.

Coincheck, based in Tokyo, spent ¥46.3 billion ($435 million) to compensate 260,000 customers who had kept a digital currency called NEM at Coincheck. The exchange said 523 million units of NEM were stolen in a cyberattack in January.

TOKYO: Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck Inc, reeling from government reprimands over lax standards after $530 million dollar theft of digital money, said it would from Monday start repaying customers affected by the heist.

The customers received refunds in yen at a rate of 88.549 yen per NEM, in line with earlier promises by Coincheck. That is higher than the current market rate but lower than the ¥110 value at the time of the hacking.

A Coincheck spokeswoman said the payment in yen to the former NEM holders was begun and finished on Monday. She said the company used its own funds for the payment.

The company also resumed accepting withdrawals of selected cryptocurrencies including bitcoin on Monday. It had halted the service after the hacking, saying it wanted to make sure the system was secure. The company hasn’t resumed accepting deposits.

Some Coincheck customers expressed relief on Twitter and other social media and said they would use the refunded yen to buy cryptocurrencies again.

Still, experts warn that cryptocurrencies and the exchanges dealing in them remain vulnerable to cyberattacks. Japanese authorities are investigating the hacking at Coincheck, but they haven’t reported significant progress in identifying the hackers. Many cryptocurrencies were designed to provide a high level of anonymity to their owners.

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Coincheck said it couldn’t comment on the investigation.

The company, which has described itself as Japan’s largest bitcoin exchange, has said it hopes to stay in business, but it hasn’t acquired a license from the Japanese government. The nation’s financial watchdog has told the company twice to improve its governance and controls.

Coincheck executives have said they would like the company to remain independent but wouldn’t rule out a buyout if that is the best way to survive.

Write to Takashi Mochizuki at

Russia’s conflict-laden foreign policy

March 12, 2018

Russian foreign policy has hardened under President Vladimir Putin. Although Russia is looking for cooperation, it is not afraid of confrontation, which has often led to difficult foreign relations. DW has the lowdown.

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United States

Russia has an ambivalent relationship to the US. During the US presidential elections in the fall of 2016, Russia apparently tried subtly to influence public opinion to benefit the future president Donald Trump. At least, that is the gist of special investigator Robert Mueller’s work to date.

But since Trump’s inauguration, the relationship between the two heads of state has been strained. At the beginning of March, Putin announced in his speech on the state of the nation that he wanted to turn new, and what he described as impossible to attack, nuclear missiles against the West.

This was also a reaction to the US’ withdrawal from the treaty with Russia on missile defense in 2002. In any case, the US did not seem surprised by this move. Trump announced the construction of new nuclear missiles with reduced explosive force. Political scientist Susanne Spahn told DW that she suspects it is important to Putin to strengthen his country’s position of power specifically in relation to the US.

“The main enemy is the United States. Putin has used very threatening rhetoric towards the West along the lines of, ‘in the past you did not want to listen to us, then at least listen to us now’.”

Middle East

Russia’s ambition to become an international political heavyweight again is most evident in the Middle East. Russia strongly supports the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is at war with sections of his own population. Russia has set up a substantial military contingent to protect Assad and his established political order.

Read moreWhat foreign powers want from the war in Syria

There are several reasons for Moscow’s involvement: Firstly, it is about having a military foothold in the Mediterranean region. Above all, however, Russia has become an actor in the region that no one can avoid. Together with Assad’s other key ally, Iran, Russia now has considerable influence in the region between Iran and Israel.

Russia’s authority holds significantly more weight than at the beginning of the Syrian war, in Iraq, Syria and in areas of Lebanon controlled by Iran-backed Hezbollah. Russian authority also counts in Turkey, which intervened in northern Syria in January. The US had largely withdrawn from the Middle East under the Obama administration. They left behind a gap that Russia is increasingly filling.

Central and Eastern Europe

Russia has rather difficult relations with the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. Lithuania has barely had any political contact with Russia since the Ukraine crisis. Around 65 percent of Lithuanians regard Russia as an “unfriendly” neighbor, while around 18 percent do not rule out the possibility that Russia could invade their country. This has made them all the happier about the 1,000 NATO soldiers who have been deployed to Lithuania.

Lithuania has also distanced itself economically. For a long time, the Baltic country was heavily dependent on Russian energy exports. It has systematically reduced this dependence.

Russian relations with Poland are also at a low point. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose role as chairman of the right-wing conservative ruling PiS party makes him a kind of eminence grise of Polish politics, is a staunch anti-communist. He has also distanced himself from Putin’s Russia. For example, he is a strong supporter of the EU’s sanctions against Poland’s neighbor to the east. Neither country has any discernible interest in rapprochement.

On the other hand, Russia enjoys good relations with Serbia, which is in large part due to the good personal relationship between Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Serbia also gets a substantial part of its arms and energy imports from Russia.


Russia has had a difficult relationship with Germany since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis. Germany supports the EU’s decision to impose trade sanctions on Russia, despite the fact that German firms have suffered heavily as a result; around 40 percent of trade losses affect Germany.

Nevertheless, Germany is maintaining its critical stance on the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, SPD foreign policymaker Rolf Mützenich told DW. The breach of international law in Crimea is unacceptable, he said. However, he explained that the relationship with Ukraine and Russia generally remains a focal point of German foreign policy. “We must not put ourselves at the mercy of domestic political actors in either country,” said Mützenich.

Russia’s President Putin has an unclear relationship with Germany. On the one hand, Moscow maintains a close dialogue with Berlin. On the other hand, Putin questioned Germany’s sovereignty in June 2017. “There are not that many countries in the world that enjoy the privilege of having sovereignty. I don’t want to offend anyone, but what Mrs. Merkel said [in a previous speech – Ed] is an expression of the resentment of a limited authority that has accumulated over a long period of time.” The relationship is also strained by alleged Russian hacker attacks on German government computers.


Since relations with the EU have cooled as a result of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has increasingly turned its attention to China. Both countries want to expand their trade relations. Russia also wants to participate in the expansion of the “New Silk Road” — the dynamism of this primarily Chinese-European trade route should also benefit the Russian economy.

Read moreAre China and Russia challenging US military dominance?

In political terms, both states maintain a similar style, in particular, authoritarian dealings with critics and opponents within the country and a robust representation of their own interests to the outside world. Both states have repeatedly spoken out against Syria’s condemnation in the UN Security Council. They argue that interference in the country’s internal affairs is not admissible.

The two states have also come closer to each other militarily. They conducted several joint maneuvers — not only in central Asia, but also in the East China Sea. As a result, Russia has moved away in part from its previously cultivated neutrality in the dispute between China and Japan over islands in the South China Sea — a state of affairs that weighs heavily on Russian-Japanese relations, but that has further strengthened those with China.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that his government did not meddle in the 2016 election is “false.”

March 11, 2018

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo in a Sunday show interview said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that his government did not meddle in the 2016 election is “false.”

“The Russians attempted to interfere in the United States election in 2016,” Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday.”

Pompeo pushed back against Putin’s recent claim that the Russians indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller don’t “represent the interests of the Russian” government. Putin in an interview with NBC News insisted there is no proof the Kremlin ordered or attempted election interference.

“It was Russians who actually engaged in this,” Pompeo said, clarifying that those individuals had ties to the Kremlin.

Pompeo maintained the CIA’s position that the U.S. intelligence community’s analysis of the election interference does not extend to whether or not Russia’s attempts to meddle impacted the 2016 election.

“The intelligence community has been clear that’s not our role,” Pompeo said.



U.S. ‘woefully unprepared’ for cyber threats, Sen. Mark Warner says

March 11, 2018

  @selenalarsonMarch 10, 2018: 8:27 PM ET

Whether it’s an attack on the banking infrastructure or disinformation campaigns on social media, the United States is “woefully unprepared” to combat cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns, Senator Mark Warner said on Saturday.

Speaking at the SXSW festival, Warner said it’s time to consider the liability of tech platforms and software makers.

Senator Richard M. Burr, right, and Senator Mark Warner, the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee. CreditAndrew Harnik/Associated Press

Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, outlined a four-part “cyberdoctrine,” actions the government could take to address cybersecurity threats.

He suggested the establishment of basic rules for cyber aggressions, like those in place for nuclear weapons. Warner also called for using the government’s purchasing power to force tech product makers to adopt security standards, and said the United States should reallocate some defense resources into the cyber domain.

“One of the things I want to do is bring together parliamentarians of all the Western nations that have been attacked,” he said. “The West ought to start seeing if we can get some commonality,” around cybersecurity efforts.

Related: Facebook to use postcards in anti-election meddling effort

Cybersecurity is not a partisan issue, Warner said, adding that Republicans and Democrats understand the threats posed by cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.

Tech companies aren’t doing enough to combat abuse of their platforms for disinformation, Warner said. But he didn’t go so far as to support government regulation.

“If we can do this in a collaborative fashion, I think it would be a better route, but I think Americans’ patience is starting to run thin,” Warner said.

The Russia threat

The Senate Intelligence Committee continues to investigate how Russian hackers interfered in the 2016 election, including the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms to spread fake information and manipulate public opinion.

But Warner said disinformation efforts began long before the presidential election.

“As far back as 2011, I think Russia realized they weren’t going to out-purchase the US in terms of tanks and airplanes, so they had to figure out a way to wage asymmetrical conflict,” he said.

US intelligence agencies have blamed Russia for extensive disinformation campaigns on social media.

Facebook (FB) has estimated that false ads were seen by about 11 million people, while content from accounts linked to a Russian troll group reached an estimated 150 million people on Facebook and Instagram.

Related: How the Russians did it

Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians and the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-linked troll group, for offenses related to their alleged interference in the American political system and the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook has made some efforts to self-regulate and implement new rules on how people can buy political advertising. The company recently said it will verify ad buyers’ identities with physical postcards.

Social networks are facing increased scrutiny from both the government and the public over their power to control and distribute information. Facebook and Twitter have become more transparent about their efforts to fight abuse and let users see if they viewed Russian propaganda, but many, like Warner, are not convinced it is enough.

At Saturday’s event, a Twitter employee asked how the intelligence community can cooperate with tech companies as they work to improve their platforms. Warner, ever critical of tech companies, dodged the question somewhat and said Twitter’s efforts were slow and “derivative of Facebook’s work.”