Russian subs looking for undersea Internet cables, say US officials

Undersea cableAn increased presence of Russian submarines near American territorial waters appears to correspond to the location of undersea Internet cables used for commercial and military communications, according to officials. Citing “more than half a dozen” American and European officials, including naval commanders and intelligence professionals, The New York Times said on Sunday that the United States Department of Defense was paying close attention to what it described as “significantly increased Russian activity” along known routes of the cables. The paper was referring to Russian underwater vessels, which Washington believes are equipped with technology designed to tap into the cables, or even to sabotage them, by severing them.

According to The Times, officials at the Pentagon believe that Moscow is less interested in tapping into the cables and more interested in mapping their location so that it can attack them during a hypothetical clash with the US. Superficially, the paper said that, according to US officials, the Russian Navy appeared to be seeking to locate the precise coordinates of the fiber-optic cables. The ultimate goal was to sever them “at some of their hardest-to-access locations” if Russia ever needed to disrupt the flow of communication to and from the US. The Russian submarines seem to be seeking some of the deeper locations of the undersea cable networks, which would make it harder for repair crews to locate and repair severed fiber-optic cables.

The New York Times said that, alongside commercial Internet cable networks, Russian submarines were looking for military networks, whose location is usually classified. The paper quoted a European diplomat, who said anonymously that Russian submarine patrols in American territorial waters had increased by nearly 50% since 2014. The level of activity of Russian submarines was now “comparable to what we saw in the Cold War”, said the diplomat.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 October 2015 | Permalink

News you may have missed #857 (hacking edition)

Mossad sealBy IAN ALLEN |
►►UK spies hacked Belgian phone company using fake LinkedIn page. British spies hacked into the routers and networks of a Belgian telecommunications company Belgacom by tricking its telecom engineers into clicking on malicious LinkedIn and Slashdot pages, according to documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The primary aim, reports the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which obtained the documents, was to compromise the GRX router system that BICS controlled, in order to intercept mobile phone traffic that got transmitted by the router.
►►Indonesian hackers behind attack on Australian spy service website. Indonesian hackers are believed to have brought down the website of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australia’s leading spy agency. The page was not working on Monday afternoon after hackers launched a “denial of service” attack. A “404 not found” message typically appears when a website crashes under a “denial of service” attack. The cyber attack is reportedly a response to revelations that Australia had been spying on its closest neighbor through its Jakarta embassy.
►►Hamas blasts alleged Mossad website. Hamas officials released a warning about a website called Holol (“solutions”), claiming it is a ruse set up by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency to recruit Gazans as informants. The website’s “Employment” page states, “due to our connections with the Israeli Civil Administration, we can help you bypass the bureaucratic tape and procedural processes which prevent you from leaving Gaza”. The site also offers Israeli medical assistance, “due to connections with the Ministry of Health and the Israeli Civil Administration”. Palestinians interested in contacting the website’s officials are asked to provide their full name, telephone number, email, topic of inquiry, and an explanation of why they are asking for help. Last month, Lebanese group Hezbollah accused the Mossad of being behind a website seeking information on Hezbollah’s intelligence wing.

Mysterious website seeks intelligence on Hezbollah operatives

Hezbollah party workersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
Intelligence circles in the Middle East are abuzz with news of a mysterious website that appears to offer substantial financial rewards in exchange for information about alleged members of militant group Hezbollah. The website, located at, describes its mission as helping end “Hezbollah-perpetrated terrorism in Lebanon and abroad”. It specifically targets the Lebanese group’s Unit 910, believed to be tasked with international operations, including intelligence gathering from around the world. Hezbollah is a Shiite militant group and political party that controls large swathes of Lebanese territory. It was founded in 1985 in response to the invasion of southern Lebanon by the Israel Defense Forces. It is largely funded by Iran and in recent years has come out in support of the Syrian government in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Much of the website consists of dozens of photographs of alleged Hezbollah operatives. Some are identified by name or alias, but the website asks for further information on them, including their real name, primary residence and telephone numbers or email accounts associated with them. Other photographs show images of unidentified individuals, whom the website describes as suspects known to be members of Hezbollah’s Unit 910. Next to each photograph, the website provides an allegedly secure link, which visitors can use to upload information and request payment. The website, which is currently blocked by most Lebanese Internet service providers, claims to represent an alliance of Western intelligence organizations. But McClatchy Newspapers contacted two Western intelligence officials who said the website was almost certainly an Israeli effort to gather information on Hezbollah activities. The United States-based news agency said it spoke to an unnamed “official based in Beirut […], who works for a European intelligence service”. Read more of this post

NSA ‘broke, circumvented Internet encryption standards’

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | |
The United States National Security Agency (NSA) has been able to crack or get around basic encryption standards used daily by hundreds of millions of Internet users, according to newly leaked documents. The New York Times said on Friday that it was in possession of documents that prove that the NSA is not restrained by universal encryption standards used in the US and abroad. The NSA, which is America’s largest intelligence agency, and is tasked by the US government with intercepting electronic communications worldwide, is now able to routinely circumvent Secure Sockets Layer or virtual private networks, as well as encryption protection standards used on fourth-generation cell phones. It therefore has instant access to the content of billions of encrypted messages exchanged by users of some of the Internet’s most popular email companies, including Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and Facebook. The paper said it obtained the documents from Edward Snowden, a technical contractor for the NSA who defected to Russia this past summer. They include internal NSA memoranda that suggest the NSA deployed specially built supercomputers to break Internet encryption standards. In other cases, the Agency worked with selected companies and convinced them to “build entry points into their products”. The multi-billion effort was apparently launched by the NSA in the early 2000s, soon after the US government lost a lengthy battle with the communications industry centering on the so-called ‘clipper chip’. Read more of this post

New documents reveal massive NSA surveillance capabilities

General Keith AlexanderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Documents provided by American former intelligence technician Edward Snowden show that the United States National Security Agency has unprecedented surveillance capabilities, which allow it to monitor nearly every online activity of targeted Internet users. Snowden, a self-styled whistleblower, who is currently in Russia, provided British newspaper The Guardian with an NSA training presentation. The visually based presentation explains the inner workings of an intelligence collection program called XKeyscore, which the NSA describes as its “widest-reaching” digital collection program. The system allows NSA data collectors to sift through massive online databases containing millions of individual users’ browsing histories, emails and chats —what the NSA calls digital network intelligence (DNI). According to the training presentation, authorized NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by entering their name, email address, IP address or telephone number. The presentation states that, upon entering the identifying information, an NSA analyst can tap into “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet”, including the content and metadata of emails, website browsing and search terms used. Snowden told The Guardian that an NSA analyst only needs to know a user’s personal email address in order to “wiretap anyone [while] sitting at [his] desk, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the President”. What is more, it appears that NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by simply “filling in an […] on-screen form”, and by giving only a very broad justification for the probe. Additionally, individual digital collection operations are not approved by a court or senior NSA officers. According to Snowden, all an NSA analyst has to do is suspect that the targeted online user is in contact with “a foreign target”. Meanwhile, NSA Director Keith Alexander was jeered by participants during his keynote speech at the Black Hat Technical Security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #836

Investigating the Boston bombingsBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►NSA guide explains how to access private info on Google. In 2007, the US National Security Agency produced a book to help its spies uncover intelligence hiding on the World Wide Web. The 643-page tome, called Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research (.pdf), has just been released by the NSA following a FOIA request filed in April by MuckRock, a site that charges fees to process public records for activists and others. Although the author’s name is redacted in the version released by the NSA, Muckrock’s FOIA indicates it was written by Robyn Winder and Charlie Speight.
►►Are the EU’s unofficial spy services growing out of control? Since its founding, the European Union has been building its own spy programs, often triggered by specific needs, in an ad-hoc manner, without strategy and without a coherent concept about their structure, methods, and people. Unofficially, the has been building an intelligence apparatus of six services so far, some of them brand new, populated already by 1,300 specialists. But because they are technically not conducting covert operations, they simply deny being intelligence services.
►►Hearing on Boston bombings exposes intelligence failures. The US House Committee on Homeland Security’s hearing on the Boston Marathon bombings on Thursday amounted to more than the usual political posturing: it exposed clear deficiencies in communications among intelligence- and law-enforcement agencies. whatever the cause of the intelligence breakdown, the failure to share vital information —and the continued finger-pointing between agencies yesterday— shows the need to improve coordination.

French spy agency forced Wikipedia volunteer to delete entry

Wikipedia welcoming screenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
A French intelligence agency forced a volunteer for online open-source reference site Wikipedia to delete n entry that allegedly contained classified information about French nuclear defense systems. According to the Wikimedia Foundation, which publishes Wikipedia, the entry describes a radio relay system located at Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station in south-central France. Operated by the French Air Force, the station is said to have a central role in transmitting the order to launch France’s nuclear missiles in case of a full-scale thermonuclear war. The French-language Wikipedia webpage —which has since been fully restored— mentions, among other things, that the radio masts at Pierre-sur-Haute are designed to withstand the type of shockwave experienced in a thermonuclear attack. According to the Wikimedia Foundation, it was approached in early March, 2013, by the Direction Central du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI), which is tasked with domestic security and counterintelligence. The agency asked the Wikimedia Foundation to delete the entire webpage referring to the Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station, because it said it contravened French national security law. The Wikimedia Foundation, however, refused to comply with the request unless it was accompanied with either a court order or concrete information explaining why the Pierre-sur-Haute revelations were a threat to French national security. The DCRI reportedly backed down, promising to return with a formal justification for its request. However, instead of doing so, it contacted a French-based Wikipedia volunteer, who was summoned to the DCRI’s office under threat of legal action. Read more of this post


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