News you may have missed #882 (cybersecurity edition)

Andrew LewmanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►GCHQ launches ‘Cyber Security Challenge’. Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, has created a new online game to find new recruits and test the public’s ability to deal with hacking attacks. The new game, named Assignment: Astute Explorer, will give registered players the chance to analyze code from a fictitious aerospace company, identify vulnerabilities and then suggest fixes.
►►Chinese hackers spied on investigators of Flight MH370. Malaysian officials investigating the disappearance of flight MH370 have been targeted in a hacking attack that resulted in the theft of classified material. The attack hit around 30 PCs assigned to officials in Malaysia Airlines, the country’s Civil Aviation Department and the National Security Council. The malware was hidden in a PDF attachment posing as a news article that was distributed on 9 March, just one day after the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
►►Developer alleges NSA and GCHQ employees are helping Tor Project. Tor is a free software used for enabling online anonymity and resisting censorship. It directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network consisting of more than five thousand relays to conceal a user’s location or usage. Interestingly, its executive director, Andrew Lewman, has told the BBC that employees of the NSA and GCHQ offer his team of programmers tips “on probably [a] monthly” basis about bugs and design issues that potentially could compromise the [Tor] service”. He added that he had been told by William Binney, a former NSA official turned whistleblower, that one reason NSA workers might have leaked such information was because many were “upset that they are spying on Americans”.

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UK spy agency sued by Internet providers over malware attacks

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A group of Internet service providers from North America, Europe, Asia and Africa have filed a lawsuit against Britain’s foremost signals intelligence agency, accusing it of hurting their business by spying on them. The legal complaint was filed against the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British government agency tasked with communications interception, which also provides information assurance to both civilian and military components of the British state. Service providers from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, South Korea and Zimbabwe are listed as plaintiffs in the complaint, which was filed on Wednesday in a court in London. The legal action against the spy agency is based on articles that surfaced in the international press last year. They alleged that GCHQ targeted Belgium’s largest telecommunications service provider Belgacom. The revelations surfaced first in September of 2013 in Flemish newspaper De Standaard. The paper claimed that Belgacom’s mainframe computers had been deliberately infected by an “unidentified virus”, which had specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries. De Standaard further claimed that the scope and technical sophistication of the operation pointed to a state-sponsored agency as the culprit. Further revelations about the Belgacom malware attacks were made in German newsmagazine Der Spiegel in November of last year, pointing to GCHQ as the agency behind the operation. The allegations originated in information provided by Edward Snowden, an American defector to Russia who used to work for GCHQ’s American equivalent, the National Security Agency. In their lawsuit, the Internet service providers allege that, regardless of whether they were themselves targeted by GCHQ in a manner similar to that of Belgacom, the British spy agency effectively compromised the integrity of their industry. It did so, they argue, by allegedly targeting employees of telecommunications service providers, by infecting telecommunications networks with malware, by Read more of this post

Location of UK’s ‘above top-secret’ Middle East spy base revealed

GCHQ's Seeb spy base in OmanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The location of a British listening base in the Middle East, which is classified by the British government as “three levels above top-secret”, has been revealed by a technology website. The information had been previously leaked by American defector Edward Snowden to several British newspapers, but the latter refrained from airing it following pressure by the British government. However, the highly classified material was published on Tuesday in online technology review The Register. The author of the revelatory article is Duncan Campbell, a longtime investigative journalist and researcher who has been reporting on intelligence matters for over three decades. In his article, Campbell alleges that the secret British spy base is located in Seeb, in northeast Oman, and is operated by the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency. The base’s primary operational goal is to monitor undersea telecommunications cables serving the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, which pass through the Strait of Hormuz. According to Campbell, the listening facility was initially constructed with British funding as a joint intelligence center with the Omani authorities, with the purpose of intercepting the signals of civilian communications satellites orbiting in the wider region. But it has since developed into one of three high-value GCHQ locations in Oman (referred to as Overseas Processing Centres —OPCs). The three locations, codenamed TIMPANI, GUITAR and CLARINET, form part of a region-wide communications interception program codenamed CIRCUIT. Through CIRCUIT, London has allegedly managed to gain access to nearly a dozen underwater cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz, which link a host of Arab countries, including Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Interestingly, GCHQ relies on the close cooperation of several telecommunications service providers to meet its interception targets, says Campbell. These include British Telecom, codenamed REMEDY in internal GCHQ documents, and Vodafone, the world’s second-largest mobile telecommunications company, which GCHQ has codenamed GERONTIC. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #870

Carl LodyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Documents show NZ spies taught ‘honey trap’ tricks. Members of New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau were briefed by counterparts from the ultra-secret Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, a unit of the British Signals intelligence agency GCHQ, on setting honey traps and Internet “dirty tricks” to “control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp” online discourse, documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal. According to the slides, JTRIG conducted “honey traps”, sent computer viruses, deleted the online presence of targets and engaged in cyber-attacks on the “hacktivist” collective Anonymous.
►►Ex-CIA analyst tells how data helped catch bin Laden. A central figure in the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, Linda Bakos spoke this week as the keynote speaker at a conference in California, on how data, big and small, led to the capture of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. “You don’t want to lead the information, you want the information to lead you”, she said, and credited the agency’s innovative gathering process that institutionalized various types of intelligence analysis —opposed to solely relying on general guidelines and best practices.
►►The story of WWI German spy Carl Lody. Towards the end of August 1914 a man checked into what is now the Balmoral Hotel in the centre of Edinburgh claiming to be an American tourist. In reality he was a German spy who had been sent to gather intelligence from the British. Carl Lody was a junior naval officer who had been forced to retire for health reasons but was looking for other ways to serve the fatherland. He was especially attractive to German naval intelligence because he had lived for years in the United States and spoke English fluently, although with an American accent.

News you may have missed #862

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Covert CIA program helped Colombia kill rebel leaders. A covert CIA program has helped Colombia’s government kill at least two dozen leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel insurgency also known as FARC, The Washington Post reported Saturday. The National Security Agency has also provided “substantial eavesdropping help” to the Colombian government, according to The Post.
►►Israel asks US not to spy on it. Israeli officials broke their silence over the US surveillance scandal Sunday, angrily demanding an end to Washington’s spying on Israel. Last week more documents leaked by former NSA technical expert Edward Snowden uncovered a partnership between the NSA and British intelligence agency GCHQ from 2008 to 2011 to monitor office email addresses from the then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
►►Germany reacts coolly to French request on Central Africa. Germany reacted coolly last week to a French request that European countries step up support for its military mission in Central African Republic, playing down the likelihood of any financial assistance on the eve of an EU summit. France has deployed 1,600 troops there to prevent worsening violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels who ousted ex-President Francois Bozize.

News you may have missed #859

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Some fear terrorists are exploiting online computer games. American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to documents disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. The documents show that intelligence operatives fear that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks.
►►Niger’s president says Libya risks becoming like Somalia. Libya risks becoming a failed state like Somalia, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said last week, a day after gunmen shot dead an American teacher in the eastern city of Benghazi. “Our fear is that Libya falls into the hands of Salafist terrorists and that the state becomes like Somalia”, Issoufou told reporters ahead of a Franco-African summit in Paris. His country adjoins Libya to the south and has fought Islamists at home.
►►Secret memos show British spies’ efforts to keep Cyprus base. Heavily redacted documents show how determined British security and intelligence agencies –including GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency– were to maintain an effective presence in Cyprus after the strategically important island became independent in 1960. The files also reveal that Archbishop Makarios, the Greek Cypriot leader who became the first president of Cyprus when the island gained independence in August 1960, agreed not only to the UK bases but to British help in setting up his country’s own security and intelligence agencies.

British agency spies on foreign diplomats’ hotel reservations

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Britain’s signals intelligence agency operates a system that monitors the hotel bookings of international diplomats and foreign government officials around the world, according to information published on Sunday. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said the revelation came from the personal archive of American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been offered political asylum in Russia. In an article published last weekend, the magazine said the classified program is codenamed ROYAL CONCIERGE, and it is operated by the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The classified documents allegedly show that ROYAL CONCIERGE was launched on an experimental basis in 2010; the program was apparently “so successful” that it was approved for “further development” by GCHQ’s intelligence planners. Since that time, the British signals intelligence agency has been able to compromise the booking systems of at least 350 high-end hotels around the world, which are frequented by international diplomats and foreign government officials. As soon as a room booking is confirmed by an email to an account in a governmental Internet domain, GCHQ receives an alert, allowing it to know the name and arrival details of the guest(s). This information, says Der Spiegel, enables the British “technical operations community” to target the hotel guests according to the intelligence requirements set out by the British government. In some cases, the hotel room’s telephone and fax machine are monitored, while unsuspecting hotel guests have their computers and personal cellphones targeted by GCHQ. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #854 (SIGINT edition)

NSA/GCHQ listening station in Menwith HillBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►British ex-minister accuses GCHQ of ignoring surveillance fears. Nick Brown, a former Labour Party cabinet minister, has warned that GCHQ and Britain’s other intelligence agencies appear to be undertaking mass surveillance without parliament’s consent because the country’s coalition failed to get the communications data bill –-dubbed the “snoopers’ charter” by critics– passed into law after Liberal Democrat opposition. Brown said there was an “uncanny” similarity between the GCHQ surveillance programs exposed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden and proposals in the first part of the bill.
►►Analysis: The NSA’s new codebreakers. Matthew Aid writes: “There was a time when the codebreakers of the National Security Agency actually took the lead in solving enemy encryption systems. These days, not so much. In today’s NSA, it’s hackers, break-in artists, corporate liaisons, and shadow salesman using front companies who are at the forefront of this effort. Even so-called “hacktivists” play an unwitting role in helping the NSA gain access to computer networks –both hostile and friendly. Just about the only place that’s somewhat immune to the NSA’s new style of codebreaking attacks? North Korea, because it’s so disconnected from the rest of the world’s networks”.
►►UKUSA treaty countries collecting data for NSA. The latest leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden reveal a new dimension to the US-led electronic eavesdropping, with address books and ”buddy lists” from Yahoo!, Hotmail, Facebook and Gmail accounts being harvested across the globe. The documents, published by The Washington Post on Tuesday, show the clear involvement of Australia along with the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand —the so-called “five eyes” intelligence-sharing nations.

Snowden leaks reveal GCHQ’s reliance on NSA money, data

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Information provided by American defector and former intelligence insider Edward Snowden shows that Britain’s signals intelligence agency is very much the junior partner in an uneven relationship with its American counterpart. Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), has been given political asylum in Russia. In June, he revealed a number of enormous intelligence-collection programs, including PRISM and TEMPORA. The latter is administered by the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence organization. The program enables the agency to access communications traffic carried through fiber optic cables worldwide. But GCHQ also receives data from PRISM, a massive electronic surveillance program operated by the NSA, which provides access to millions of email and online chat exchanges facilitated by some of the world’s foremost Internet service providers. Because of these arrangements, GCHQ’s access to electronic data increased by 7,000 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to an internal GCHQ document provided to The Guardian newspaper by Snowden. The agency’s immense access to information has propelled it to a leading role within Britain’s intelligence establishment. It currently receives over half of Britain’s £1.9 billion annual intelligence budget, while its employee size is more than twice that of Britain’s domestic (MI5) and external (MI6) intelligence agencies combined. Its headquarters, the so-called “doughnut building” in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was Europe’s largest single construction project when it was being built in the early 2000s.  But the documents provided by Snowden show that, despite its considerable wealth and access to resources, GCHQ’s intelligence planners are deeply concerned about “being left behind by technology” in the fiber optic age. One internal report highlights “the pressure on the agency to deliver” and warns that “the complexity of [GCHQ’s] mission has evolved to the point where existing mission management capability is no longer fit for purpose”. Read more of this post

Germany ends spy treaty with US, UK, in response to Snowden leaks

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The German government has announced the termination of a Cold-War era surveillance cooperation treaty with the United States and the United Kingdom in response to revelations made by American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), has been given political asylum in Russia. Earlier this summer, he told German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that the United States spies on the communications of Germany and other European Union countries with the same intensity it spies on China or Iraq. In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Snowden also revealed the existence of Project TEMPORA, operated by Britain’s foremost signals intelligence agency, the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Snowden told the paper that GCHQ collected and stored massive quantities of foreign telephone call data and email messages, many of them from Germany, and shared them with its US counterpart, the NSA. On Friday, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, issued a statement saying that the government in Berlin had decided to scrap a longstanding surveillance cooperation agreement with Western countries in response to Snowden’s revelations. The agreement was signed in 1968 between the governments of West Germany, the US, UK, and France. It gave Western countries with military bases on West German soil the right to conduct surveillance operations in Germany in support of their military presence there. In the statement, Foreign Minister Westerwelle argued that the cancellation of the surveillance agreement was “a necessary and proper consequence of the recent debate about protecting personal privacy”. Read more of this post

UK to pardon genius wartime cryptanalyst convicted of ‘indecency’

Alan TuringBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
One of the greatest mathematical minds of modern times, who is widely considered the father of computer science and is credited with helping the Allies win World War II, is to receive a posthumous pardon by the British government, who in 1952 convicted him of homosexuality. Alan Turing, a mathematician and logician, with careers at the universities of Cambridge and Princeton, worked as a cryptanalyst for the British government during World War II. His work for Britain’s Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, the British Armed Forces’ wartime joint codebreaking center, was instrumental in helping the British crack German military ciphers. Turing is personally credited with devising a complex method for compromising the Enigma machine, a highly secretive message-encoding device used by the German military and intelligence services. In 1952, while working for the Department of Mathematics at the University of Manchester, Turing was charged with “gross indecency” under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which criminalized homosexuality. After pleading guilty to having a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old unemployed man, Turing was convicted and given a choice of imprisonment or undergoing “chemical castration”. The latter was a hormonal treatment based on injections of synthetic estrogen, aimed at reducing a person’s sexual drive. Turing chose the latter option, which rendered him impotent and caused massive chemical imbalance in his brain. Read more of this post

UK to probe Chinese telecoms firm over security concerns

Huawei TechnologiesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The British government has confirmed that it will review the involvement of a Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer in a cybersecurity testing center in Oxfordshire, England. The facility, called Cyber Security Evaluations Centre, has been operating since 2010 in the town of Banbury, 64 miles northeast of London. Its establishment was part of a 2005 agreement between firm British Telecom and Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei. According to the stipulations of the agreement, British Telecom would purchase switches and other hardware equipment from the Chinese company, if the latter agreed to set up “the Cell”, as it is known, in Banbury, to test the equipment’s security features. However, last month, a report (.pdf)  by the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) raised strong concerns about Huawei’s involvement at the Centre. The ISC report called the government’s attention to “the risks of Huawei effectively policing themselves” and stressed that Britain’s national security could potentially be compromised by Huawei’s alleged links to the Chinese military. The report based its concerns on the fact that virtually every member of staff at the Banbury testing facility is an employee of Huawei, barring its Director, who is a former deputy director of Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The parliamentary report urged the government to overcome its “fear of jeopardizing trade links with Beijing” and pressure British Telecom to amend its agreement with Huawei. Instead of Huawei technicians, the ISC report suggested that the Banbury Centre should be staffed exclusively with personnel from GCHQ —Britain’s communications intelligence agency. Late last week, the UK Cabinet Office announced it was in agreement with the principal recommendations of the ISC report and said that a review of the Banbury testing facility will take place. Read more of this post

Germany probes UK spy program revealed by CIA whistleblower

Sabine Leutheusser-SchnarrenbergerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Germany wants to know whether its citizens were spied on under a British government surveillance program revealed by American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden. The program, codenamed Project TEMPORA, was disclosed earlier this week by Snowden, a former technical assistant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Snowden remains holed up at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, as Russian authorities have rejected repeated requests by Washington to extradite him to the US. According to British newspaper The Guardian, which first wrote about Project TEMPORA on June 21, Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has been able to “plug into the cables that carry internet traffic into and out” of the United Kingdom. The agency, which is tasked with communications interception, has therefore collected and stored massive quantities of foreign telephone call data and email messages, and has shared much of it with its US counterpart, the National Security Agency. On June 25, Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, wrote a letter to her British counterpart, Chris Grayling, asking for immediate clarification on the precise legal basis for Project TEMPORA. In her letter, which was copied to the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, the German cabinet minister also inquires whether TEMPORA has been authorized by the appropriate judicial authorities. She argues that “European institutions should shed light on this [issue] immediately” and warns her British colleagues that she plans to raise the subject during the July 2013 meeting of European  Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers, which will be held in Brussels, Belgium. Read more of this post

UK/US spy agencies targeted heads of state at London G20 meeting

NSA/GCHQ listening station in Menwith HillBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
British and American intelligence agencies targeted the communications of heads of state and other senior officials during a G20 summit held in London in 2009, according to documents. The summit was hosted by the then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and was attended by delegates from 20 major world economies, including then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who was specifically targeted in the spy operation. British newspaper The Guardian, which published the information, said that delegates had their personal computers and cellular telephones monitored during a joint effort by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The two agencies, which are tasked with intercepting communications signals on behalf of their respective governments, maintain a jointly administered listening base inside the Royal Air Force station in Menwith Hill near Harrogate, North Yorkshire. According to one of the documents, entitled “Russian Leadership Communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London —Intercept at Menwith Hill station”, the listening facility was utilized to spy on the communications of the Russian President during his stay in London. The targeting began as soon as President Medvedev and the Russian delegation arrived in the British capital on April 1, and continued for several days. The top-secret document, which was shared between British, American, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand intelligence services, noted “a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted” through satellite links from the Russian embassy in London. Another set of documents, also published by The Guardian, indicate that some G20 summit delegates were “tricked into using Internet cafes [that] had been set up by British intelligence agencies” in order to intercept their email communications. Read more of this post

UK planned to spy on 2009 Commonwealth heads of state meeting

Delegates at the 2009 CHOGMBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
British intelligence agencies had plans to spy on a British Commonwealth meeting, which was attended by Queen Elizabeth and the President of France, among other heads of state. The plans to spy on the meeting, which was held in 2009, are revealed in a document disclosed to The Guardian newspaper by American whistleblower Edward Snowden. Earlier this month, Snowden, a former technical assistant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The Guardian said on Sunday that it had in its possession a page from an internal classified document given to NSA by Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which is tasked with collecting signals intelligence. The document apparently outlines plans to spy on international delegates in order to “give UK ministers an advantage in talks with their Commonwealth counterparts”. Some “key intelligence [collection] requirements” at the summit, which took place in 2009 in Trinidad, included “intelligence on South Africa’s views on Zimbabwe”, as well as “climate change reporting”. The document, says The Guardian, also sets out a schedule for various British intelligence agencies to arrive and begin operations in the South American island-nation. GCHQ is instructed to initiate its surveillance activities following the arrival of the international delegates. On the other hand, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6), which is Britain’s primary external intelligence agency, is expected to set up operations in Port of Spain several days prior to the event. Read more of this post

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