Did US spies hack French government computers using Facebook?

The Palais de l'ÉlyséeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A sophisticated computer virus discovered at the center of the French government’s secure computer network was planted there by the United States, according to unnamed sources inside France’s intelligence community. Paris-based magazine L’Express, France’s version of Time magazine, says in its current issue that the alleged American cyberattack took place shortly before last April’s Presidential elections in France. It resulted in the infection of the entire computer system in the Palais de l’Élysée, which is the official residence of the President of France. The French magazine cites unnamed sources inside the French Network and Information Security Agency (ANSSI), which is responsible for cybersecurity throughout France. The sources claim that the snooping virus allowed its handlers to gain access to the computers of most senior French Presidential aides and advisers during the final weeks of the administration of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, including his Chief of Staff, Xavier Musca. The article claims that the virus used a source code nearly identical to that of Flame, a super-sophisticated version of Stuxnet, the virus unleashed a few years ago against the computer infrastructure of the Iranian nuclear energy program. Many cybersecurity analysts believe that the US and Israel were instrumental in designing both Stuxnet and Flame. IntelNews understands that the alleged virus was initially directed at employees of the Palais de l’Élysée through Facebook. The targets were allegedly befriended by fake Facebook profile accounts handled by the team that operated the virus. The targets were then sent phishing emails that contained links to phony copies of the login page for the Palais de l’Élysée intranet website. Read more of this post

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US and Israel behind computer virus that hit Iran, say sources

Flame virus code segmentBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Flame, a sophisticated computer malware that was detected last month in computers belonging to the Iranian National Oil Company and Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum, was created by Israel and the United States, according to a leading American newspaper. Quoting “officials familiar with US cyber-operations”, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the malware, which is said to be “massive in size”, is part of a wider covert program codenamed OLYMPIC GAMES. The paper said that the US portion of the program is spearheaded by the National Security Agency, which specializes in cyberespionage, and the CIA’s Information Operations Center. The Post further claims that OLYMPIC GAMES has a three-fold mission: to delay the development of the Iranian nuclear program; to discourage Israeli and American officials from resorting to a conventional military attack on Iran; and to buy time for those officials who favor addressing the Iranian nuclear stalemate with diplomatic pressures coupled with sanctions. According to one “former intelligence official” quoted in The Post, the scale of OLYMPIC GAMES “is proportionate to the problem that’s trying to be resolved”. Russian antivirus company Kaspersky Lab, which first spotted the Flame virus in May, said that it is “one of the most complex threats ever discovered”. It is over 20 megabytes in size, consisting of 650,000 lines of code. In comparison, Stuxnet, a computer super-virus that was detected by experts in 2010, and caused unprecedented waves of panic among Iranian cybersecurity experts, was 500 kilobytes in size. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #675

Eugene ForseyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US ‘has engaged in cyberwarfare’. Former National Security Agency Director Mike McConnell said in an interview with Reuters that the United States has already used cyber attacks against an adversary. Most believe he was referring to Stuxnet, the computer virus unleashed against Iran in 2010.
►►Philippines studying US offer to deploy spy planes. The Philippines is considering a US proposal to deploy surveillance aircraft on a temporary, rotating basis to enhance its ability to guard disputed areas in the South China Sea, the Philippine defense minister said last week. The effort to expand military ties between the United States and the Philippines, which voted to remove huge American naval and air bases 20 years ago, occurs as both countries grapple with the growing assertiveness of China.
►►Canadian intelligence spied on constitutional expert. Canadian security forces kept close tabs on renowned constitutional scholar Eugene Forsey from his early days as a left-wing academic to his stint as a senator, according to newly declassified documents. The collection of more than 400 pages, which has been obtained by Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star, reveals the RCMP Security Service (the predecessor to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service), followed Forsey for four decades throughout his career as an economics professor, research director for the Canadian Congress of Labour (now called the Canadian Labour Congress), a two-time Ottawa-area candidate for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and then his 1970 appointment as a Liberal senator. No surprises here.

US Pentagon computers cannot be protected, says NSA head

General Keith AlexanderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The man in charge of America’s most powerful intelligence agency says the United States Department of Defense computer network is so disordered and chaotic that it cannot be defended from cyberattacks. General Keith Alexander directs the National Security Agency, America’s wealthiest intelligence institution, which expert James Bamford has described as “the world’s most powerful spy agency”. As America’s foremost signals intelligence agency, the NSA is largely responsible for protecting the integrity, security and cohesion of the country’s public and restricted military communications networks, including computer networks. To do so, it consumes an annual budget that dwarfs those of most other intelligence agencies, and employs entire armies of computer security experts and other professionals. But, according to General Alexander, who also heads the US Pentagon’s new Cyber Command, there is not much his army of cyberwarriors can do to either prevent or repel possible large-scale cyberattacks directed against the DoD’s computer networks. The NSA chief was speaking yesterday at the International Conference on Cyber Security, a high-profile gathering of experts at New York’s Fordham University. He told the conference, which is sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that the Pentagon’s computer infrastructure is too anarchic and chaotic to be successfully defended from cyberespionage, cyberterrorism, or cyberwarfare assaults. He said the DoD computer system consists of so many interconnected networks —over 15,000 in all— that the NSA “can’t see them all [let alone] defend them all”. As a result, said Alexander, the DoD’s current communications infrastructure “is indefensible”. Read more of this post

Does Iran have access to satellite jamming technology?

Iran displays captured US droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A European intelligence official has said that Iran downed an unmanned American surveillance aircraft earlier this month by remotely sabotaging its satellite navigation system. The official, who has not been named, told The Christian Science Monitor that the Iranians used a state-of-the-art laser system to effectively “blind” the American spy satellite that guided the drone’s global positioning system (GPS). In doing this, Iran’s military was able to remotely skyjack the aircraft and assume control over its navigational system. The paper also published an exclusive interview with an Iranian electronic warfare specialist, who claimed he was part of a team that hacked into the drone’s communication frequency and reprogrammed its GPS data. Eventually, the Iranian specialists managed to cause the unmanned aircraft to switch into autopilot mode, and guided it to land relatively smoothly on Iranian territory, where it was eventually captured intact by Iranian authorities. If this is true, it will mark the first-ever indication that the Iranian state is in possession of sophisticated satellite jamming technology. In an important development, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Iran’s government-run IRNA news agency on Saturday that the American drone was brought down by Iranian armed forces, without any foreign assistance. If this is so, then does it mean that the Iranians developed the state-of-the-art jamming system themselves? Read more of this post

News you may have missed #639

GCHQ

GCHQ

►►GCHQ will sell cyberdefense tech to private firms. The GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, is to market some of its security technologies to companies in the private sector, in an attempt to bolster defenses against the foreboding threat of cyberwarfare. The UK government’s “cyber security strategy”, which was unveiled this month, has earmarked £650 million in public funding to set up a four-year National Cyber Security Program, a percentage of which will be used to collaborate with private companies. Click here for an excellent analysis on the public-private cybersecurity collaboration in Britain.
►►Was there a coup attempt in Trinidad? Many in Trinidad and Tobago were expressing skepticism yesterday about an alleged assassination plot, which Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said had been uncovered against her and several of her ministers. Police said nearly a dozen people had been arrested, including members of the army and police, but authorities have not given more details, citing the need to maintain security in operations to dismantle the plot.
►►US Senators resist $7 Billion in spending cuts for spy satellites. The Obama Administration wants to stop incessant spending by Defense Department contractors, especially those who have wasted billions of US taxpayers’ money in failed spy satellite projects. But the contractors’ friends in Congress, including lawmakers on the US Senate Intelligence Committee, are trying to stop the White House from cutting a $7 billion commercial satellite program being developed by GeoEye Inc. and DigitalGlobe Inc. What else is new?

News you may have missed #566 (analysis edition)

Jeffrey Richelson

Jeffrey Richelson

►►Stuxnet virus opens new era of cyberwar. Well-argued article by quality German newsmagazine Der Spiegel on Stuxnet, the sophisticated computer virus that attacked the electronic infrastructure of Iran’s nuclear program last year. The article argues that, in terms of strategic significance, the virus, which is widely considered a creation of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, is comparable to cracking Germany’s Enigma cipher machine by Polish and British cryptanalists during World War II.
►►The fallout from the Turkish Navy’s recent spy scandal. Recently, the Turkish High Criminal court indicted members of an alleged spy ring operating inside the Turkish Navy. According to the indictment, members of the ring stole more than 165,000 confidential documents and obtained dozens of surveillance records and classified military maps. Its biggest customers were allegedly the intelligence services of Israel, Greece and Russia.
►►New edition of classic intelligence handbook published. A new edition of Jeffrey Richelson’s encyclopedic work on Read more of this post

Ex-CIA counterterrorist chief says al-Qaeda to turn to computer hacking

Cofer Black

Cofer Black

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The strategic retreat currently being experienced by al-Qaeda will force the group to concentrate on inflicting damage on its enemies through the Internet. This is the opinion of Cofer Black, the straight-talking CIA veteran who retired in 2002 as Director of the Agency’s Counterterrorism Center. Black, who is known for his hawkish views on Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’, gave the keynote speech on Wednesday at the Black Hat Technical Security Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. He told an audience of nearly 7,000 conference participants that “the natural thing” would be for al-Qaeda in the post-bin-Laden age to continue to engage in terrorism by “fall[ing] back to things that are small and agile”, with computer hacking being an ideal candidate. Black, who since 2002 has worked for private contractors, including Blackwater/Xe, illustrated his point by referring to Stuxnet, the elaborately programmed computer virus that targeted electronic hardware in Iran’s nuclear energy program in July of 2010. “The Stuxnet attack is the Rubicon of our future”, said the former CIA official, adding that it was the computer virus designed to cause “physical destruction of a national resource”. Black is rightly revered by intelligence observers for having warned US government officials of a large-scale terrorist attack in August of 2001, one month prior to the September 11 hijackings. Having said this, it is not exactly prophetic to state, as he did, that “cyber will be a key component of any future conflict”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #546

Thomas Drake

Thomas Drake

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Whistleblower says NSA mismanagement continues. Former US National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake was recently sentenced to a year’s probation for leaking secrets about the agency to a journalist. The presiding judge did not sentence him to prison, recognizing that his genuine intention was to expose mismanagement. Soon after his sentencing, Drake told The Washington Times that mismanagement continues at the NSA, which he compared to “the Enron of the intelligence world”. He also told the paper that NSA’s accounts were “unauditable”, like those of most of the other agencies operating under the Pentagon. ►►Taliban claim phones hacked by NATO. The Afghan Taliban have accused NATO and the CIA of hacking pro-Taliban websites, as well as personal email accounts and cell phones belonging to Taliban leaders, in order to send out a false message saying that their leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the Reuters news agency that the hacking was “the work of American intelligence” and that the Taliban would “take revenge on the telephone network providers”. ►►Rumsfeld memo says ‘US can’t keep a secret’. “The United States Government is incapable of keeping a secret”. This was opined in a November 2, 2005 memo authored by Donald Rumsfeld. The memo by the then-Defense Secretary continues: Read more of this post

News you may have missed #438 (Stuxnet edition)

[Research credit to Arthur Sbygniew]

Experts see nation-state behind sophisticated computer virus attack

Ahmadinejad

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Computer forensics specialists are split as to the purpose and initial target of a sophisticated computer virus that infected computers used in the Iranian government’s nuclear energy program. The virus, named Stuxnet, was discovered in Iran in June by a Belarusian computer security firm doing business in the Islamic Republic. It has since infected at least 100,000 computer systems in countries such as Brazil, India, Russia and the United States. But the primary target of the virus appears to have been the Iranian nuclear energy program, specifically computers located at the Islamic Republic’s nuclear reactor facility in Bushehr and the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz. Several commentators, including Wired magazine, dispute the existence of any evidence pointing to a clear target inside Iran.  But Israeli media maintain that computers at Natanz were the primary target of Stuxnet, and that subsequent infections at computer labs at Bushehr were in fact an unintended side effect. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #435 (cyberwarfare edition)

  • Analysis: Cyber attacks test US Pentagon. US military and civilian networks are probed thousands of times a day, and the systems of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters are attacked at least 100 times a day. Meanwhile, more than 100 countries are currently trying to break into US defense networks.
  • US should be able to shut Internet, ex-CIA chief says. Cyberterrorism is such a threat that the US President should have the authority to shut down the Internet in the event of an attack, Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has said.
  • Iran battling alleged ‘spy virus’. Iranian officials have confirmed reports that a malicious computer code, called Stuxnet, was spreading throughout the nation’s nuclear infrastructure. But they have given differing accounts of the damage, said to be capable of taking over computers that operate huge facilities, including nuclear energy reactors. Did someone say ‘Israel‘?

News you may have missed #425 (US edition)

  • US Pentagon considering pre-emptive cyber-strikes? This is what The Washington Post is reporting, noting that military officials are “still wrestling with how to pursue the strategy legally”. If anyone in the DoD discovers a legal method of launching pre-emptive aggression, we’d sure like to know.
  • More changes in US FISA court. After a recent change of leadership, the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court is considering new compliance rules for handling surveillance requests by US counterspy agencies. The court authorizes requests by agencies for surveillance of foreign suspects operating inside the US.
  • Why do US officials want to deport Chinese defector? Washington wants to deport Li Fengzhi, a Chinese ex-intelligence agent who defected to the US in 2004, back to China, where he could be executed for treason. There are rumors that Li may have “oversold” himself to the FBI and the CIA.

Comment: What Can the US Do To Stop WikiLeaks?

Julian Assange

Julian Assange

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Ever since whistleblower site WikiLeaks published 77,000 classified US military documents on the war in Afghanistan, several pundits have urged US government agencies, including the Pentagon, to take action. Late last week, former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen urged the Pentagon to unleash its “cyber capabilities to prevent WikiLeaks from disseminating those materials”. Some columnists have even suggested that US intelligence services should “come up with an up-to-date photo of [WikiLeaks founder Julian] Assange and distribute it to [...] SEAL sharpshooters”. Pentagon representatives have also stepped up their rhetoric, warning that “[i]f doing the right thing isn’t good enough for [WikiLeaks], we will figure out what alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing”.

Read more of this post

News you may have missed #405

  • Democracy Now on Google-CIA partnership. Democracy Now has aired an interview with John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google project, and Noah Shachtman, of Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, who broke the story of the Google-CIA investment partnership.
  • Ex-CIA chief downplays cyberwar with China. Retired CIA chief Michael Hayden downplayed the notion that the US is in a raging “cyberwar” with China during a speech on Thursday at the Black Hat Technical Security Conference in Las Vegas.
  • Men held over parcel bomb sent to MI6. Two men have been arrested in north Wales, after parcel bombs were sent to the offices of the British government executive at 10 Downing Street, and the headquarters of MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency. The two men, aged 52 and 21, are believed to be related and of Pakistani origin.

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