North Korea is now robbing banks, says US intelligence official

North KoreaComments made by a senior American intelligence official on Tuesday appeared to suggest that the North Korean government was behind an attempt to steal nearly $1 billion from a Bangladeshi bank last year. The heist took place in February of 2016, when a computer malware was used to issue several requests to transfer funds from Bangladesh Bank —the state-owned central bank of Bangladesh— using the SWIFT network. The hackers were able to transfer five separate sums of $101 million each to a linked Bangladesh Bank account at New York’s Federal Reserve Bank. However, when further requests were issued, Federal Reserve Bank employees contacted Bangladesh Bank and blocked further transactions. Eventually, most of the transferred funds, which neared $1 billion, were recovered; but the hackers managed to get away with approximately $81 million worth of funds.

Forensic investigators described the heist as technically advanced. The antivirus company Symantec said it identified a piece of code in the malware that is known to have been used by North Korean government hackers in the past. Not everyone agreed with the claim that Pyongyang was behind the bank heist. But those who did, said that it was unprecedented in scope and aggressiveness. Some even said that the heist showed that North Korea’s cyber capabilities were among the most sophisticated and powerful in the world.

Meanwhile the United States government did not comment on the matter. However, this past Tuesday the deputy director of the National Security Agency appeared to confirm reports that North Korea was behind the Bangladesh Bank heist. Rick Ledgett, a 30-year veteran of the NSA, who is due to retire in 2018, was speaking at a public event hosted by the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC. He reminded the audience that private researchers had connected the malware code used in the Bangladesh Bank heist with that used in previous hacking attempts launched by North Korea. “If that linkage […] is accurate”, said Ledgett, it “means that a nation state is robbing banks”. When asked by the moderator whether he believes that to be the case, Ledgett responded “I do. And that’s a big deal”. Foreign Policy magazine reached out to Ledgett following his talk and asked him for clarification about his comments regarding the Bangladesh Bank heist. But the NSA official simply said that “the public case [about the heist] was well-made”. Foreign Policy also contacted the NSA, but the agency said it preferred not to comment on the matter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 March 2017 | Permalink

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Snowden documents reveal New Zealand spy program in Bangladesh

Dhaka, BangladeshBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
New documents released by American defector Edward Snowden reveal an extensive intelligence-collection operation in Bangladesh, operated by New Zealand with American and Indian collaboration. The documents were analyzed by The New Zealand Herald in association with The Intercept, which received them from Snowden, a former technical expert with the US National Security Agency, who now lives in Russia.

The principal file, entitled “National Security Agency Relationship with New Zealand”, marked “Top Secret”, is dated April 2013. It states that New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), has been actively intercepting mobile telephone communications in Bangladesh since at least 2004. The document, which was authored by the NSA, describes the GCSB as the leading agency involved in collecting counterterrorist-related signals intelligence in Bangladesh.

Another file, also released by Snowden, and dated 2009, explains that the interception is carried out by a special GCSB unit named Signals Intelligence Development Team and codenamed OCR. It also mentions that the operation is headquartered in a “special collection site” in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, which is equipped with interception systems. The Herald notes that New Zealand does not have an embassy or any other official buildings in Bangladesh in which to operate listening facilities. It thus speculates that the interception systems must be located in an American-controlled building.

The NSA documents describe the Bangladesh operation as “a success story” for New Zealand’s intelligence community, adding that it has provided “unique intelligence leads”, whcih have “enabled successful counterterrorist operations” by a host of agencies. The latter include Bangladesh’s own State Intelligence Service, the US Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence agencies from nearby India.

India uncovers plot to assassinate Bangladeshi prime minister

India and BangladeshBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Indian authorities claim to have uncovered a plot by an outlaw militant group to assassinate the prime minister of Bangladesh and launch a coup d’état in the South Asian country. The Reuters news agency quoted three “senior Indian officials” on Tuesday, who claimed that the plot was primarily aimed against Sheikh Hasina, leader of the nationalist Bangladesh Awami League, who was elected to the office of the prime minister in 2009 for the second time, after having led the country of 156 million people from 1996 to 2001. The National Investigation Agency of India (NIA) said the plot was to be carried out by members of the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a militant Islamist organization whose aim is to overthrow the government of Bangladesh and replace it with an Islamic theocracy based on Sharia law. The group, which maintains close ideological links with the Pakistani Taliban, is believed to have over 100,000 members throughout the country. It was officially banned by the government of Bangladesh in early 2005. But later that year the JMB conducted a massive terrorist operation that included over 500 explosive devices detonated in 300 locations around the country. Four leaders of the organization were later executed by the authorities for their role in the bombings and for organizing the assassination of two judges. Indian security officers reportedly discovered the coup plot earlier this month, when two members of JMB were killed in an explosion while building homemade bombs. The explosion took place in a house in India’s eastern state of West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh. NIA officials said the plotters were all Bangladeshis and were using West Bengal as an operations base from which to launch their attacks across the border into Bangladesh. According to one report, the plotters also planned to kill members of the Bangladeshi cabinet, as well as senior opposition leaders in the country. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #653: India edition

Research and Analysis WingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►India’s external intel agency gets wiretapping powers. India’s government has given the country’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the right to intercept domestic phone calls, emails and voice and data communications. This is the first time that RAW has been authorized to intercept communications inside the country. Should Indian citizens be bracing for more political policing?
►►India uncovers alleged Pakistan honey trap operation. A lieutenant colonel in the Indian Army was reportedly caught in a ‘honey trap’ by Pakistani intelligence agencies, as a result of which he was forced to spy for them against Indian interests, according to Indian media. The officer was allegedly in Bangladesh this past summer to attend a course at a military academy, when he was trapped by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), sources said. What is it with Indian government employees and honey trap operations?
►►Indian arrested for spying for Pakistan. Indian police in Rajasthan said it arrested Pawan Kumar Sharma, a clerk working at the regional Sub-Divisional Magistrate’s office in Suratgarh town, on charges of spying for Pakistan. Authorities said Sharma is suspected of spying for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate for the past year-and-a-half, using a prepaid cell phone provided by the ISI.

News you may have missed #0289

  • UK spies worry about human rights lawsuits. Intelligence officers at Britain’s MI5 and MI6 are allegedly being diverted from counter-terrorism work to sift through thousands of documents relating to former terrorism detainees, who are suing the security services for breaching their human rights. The article makes it look like it is the torture victims’ fault for pursuing their rights. But in reality, MI5 and MI6 should have known better than to allow and participate in extralegal torture.
  • Bangladesh arrests alleged Burmese spies. Bangladesh coast guards have arrested eight citizens of Myanmar on suspicion of spying. Photographs of Bangladesh Navy warships and security installations were found in their possession, according to the country’s police chief.

Researchers discover gigantic cyberespionage operation

Ronald Deibert

Ronald Deibert

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A team of Canadian researchers claims to have discovered a large cyberespionage ring located mainly in China. The researchers say the ring has managed to infiltrate nearly 1,300 mainly government and corporate computers in at least 103 countries around the world. The report, entitled Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network, was compiled after a ten-month collaboration between Ottawa’s SecDev group and the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies. Although the report concludes that the cyberespionage ring is located mainly in China, it specifically rejects claims that GhostNet is inevitably a Chinese government operation, saying that there is no evidence that Beijing is behind the operation. University of Toronto associate professor Ronald Deibert suggested that the operation could potentially be the work of non-state pro-Chinese actors, or could be conducted by a profit-oriented group that sells the acquired information to whoever offers it the highest monetary compensation. “It’s a murky realm that we’re lifting the lid on”, said Dr. Deibert: “This could well be the CIA or the Russians”. Read more of this post