Facebook shared user data with Chinese firm despite warnings by US intelligence

HuaweiThe online social media company Facebook shares data about its users with a Chinese telecommunications company that has been flagged in United States government reports as a threat to security. The New York Times revealed on Tuesday that Facebook has been routinely giving access to the private data of its users to four Chinese companies since at least 2010. The paper said that the data-sharing agreement with Lenovo, Oppo, TCL, and Huawei Technologies, has its roots in 2007. That was the year when Facebook began an effort to entice cell phone hardware and software manufacturers to include Facebook-friendly apps and features in their products. As part of the agreement, Facebook gave cell phone manufacturers access to its users’ private data, including “religious and political leanings, work and education history and relationship status”, said the Times.

However, several sources in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and other governments, have repeatedly flagged Huawei as a company that is uncomfortably close to the Chinese government and its intelligence agencies. In 2011, the US Open Source Center, which acts as the open-source intelligence arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, became the first US government agency to openly link Huawei with the Chinese intelligence establishment. It said that Huawei relied on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security, which oversee and administer China’s military and civilian intelligence apparatus. In 2013, the British government launched an official review of Huawei’s involvement in the UK Cyber Security Evaluations Centre in Oxfordshire, England, following a British Parliament report that raised strong concerns about the Chinese company’s links with the government in Beijing. And last year the Australian government expressed concern about Huawei’s plan to provide high-speed Internet to the Solomon Islands, a small Pacific island nation with which Australia shares Internet resources.

In a statement, Facebook said that all data shared with Huawei remained stored on users’ phones and was not downloaded on the Chinese’ company’s private servers. It also said that it would “phase out” the data-sharing agreement with Huawei by the middle of June. The Times noted on Tuesday that Facebook has been officially banned in China since 2009. However, the social media company has been trying to make a comeback in the Chinese market, by cultivating close links with Chinese Communist Party officials. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visited China in October of last year, and met with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and other senior officials.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 June 2018 | Permalink

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India arrests commando instructor who fell for Pakistani honey trap on Facebook

Garud Commando ForceIndian authorities have arrested an Indian Air Force officer for allegedly giving classified documents to two Pakistani spies on Facebook, who posed as women interested in him. The officer has been named as Arun Marwaha, a wing commander stationed at the Indian Air Force headquarters in Delhi. Marwaha, 51, is a para-jumping instructor who trains members of India’s Garud Commando Force —the Special Forces unit of the Indian Air Force. He was reportedly due to retire in 2019.

According to Indian government investigators, several months ago Marwaha was befriended by two Facebook users who claimed to be Indian women. He began chatting regularly with them on Facebook and eventually on the popular cell phone messenger service WhatsApp. Within weeks, Marwaha’s WhatsApp exchanges with the women had become intimate in nature. Before long, the Indian Air Force instructor was providing the women with classified documents in return for intimate photos of themselves. Media reports state that the classified documents related to special operations, some involving cyberwarfare, and space reconnaissance. Government investigators claim that Marwaha’s Facebook contacts were in fact male officers of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who targeted Marwaha in a carefully planned honey trap operation.

According to reports, the breach caused by Marwaha was discovered last month, at which time the internal security branch of the Indian Air Force launched an investigation. Marwaha was questioned for over a week before turning over his case to Delhi Police, who arrested him on Thursday. He has reportedly been charged under India’s Official Secrets Act and is facing a jail sentence of up to 14 years. Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force is investigating whether other officers have fallen victims to similar honey trap operations by Pakistan’s ISI on Facebook.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 January 2018 | Permalink

German intelligence warns European officials of fake Chinese LinkedIn profiles

BfV GermanyIn an unusual step, German intelligence officials have issued a public warning about what they said are thousands of fake LinkedIn profiles created by Chinese spies to gather information about Western targets. On Sunday, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) held a press conference in which it said that it had discovered a wide-ranging effort by spy agencies in China to establish links with Westerners. The agency said that it undertook a 9-month investigation, during which it identified 10,000 German citizens who were contacted by Chinese spy-run fake profiles on LinkedIn. Across Europe, the number of targets could be in the hundreds of thousands, according to the BfV.

The main targets of the operation appear to be members of the German and European Union parliaments. Also targeted are members of the armed forces, lobbyists and researchers in private think tanks and foundations in Germany and across Europe. These individuals were all targeted as part of “a broad attempt to infiltrate Parliaments, ministries and administrations”, said BfV Director Hans-Georg Maassen. He added that the fake LinkedIn profiles are of people who claim to be scholars, consultants, recruiters for non-existent firms, or members of think tanks. Their profile photographs are usually visually appealing and are often taken from fashion catalogs or modeling websites. During the press conference BfV officials showed examples of what they said were fake LinkedIn accounts under the names “Rachel Li” and “Alex Li”. The two identified themselves as a headhunter for a company called RiseHR and a project manager at the Center for Sino-Europe Development Studies, respectively. The information on these accounts was purely fictitious, said the BfV officials.

Individuals who have been targeted by the Chinese include European politicians and senior diplomats, according to the Germans. Many were invited to all-expenses-paid conferences or fact-finding trips to China by their LinkedIn contacts, presumably in attempts to recruit them for Chinese intelligence. At the closing of the press conference, the BfV urged European officials to refrain from posting private information on social media, including LinkedIn, because foreign intelligence operatives are actively collecting data on users’ online and offline habits, political affiliations, personal hobbies and other interests. In a statement issued on Monday, the Chinese government dismissed the German allegations, saying that the BfV’s investigation was based on “complete hearsay” and was thus “groundless”. Beijing also urged German intelligence officials to “speak and act more responsibly”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 December 2017 | Permalink

Mismanagement plagues US online program against ISIS, say sources

CENTCOM military computersWhistleblowers say mismanagement, amateurism and cronyism are plaguing a multimillion-dollar American psychological operation aimed at countering online propaganda by the Islamic State. The program, known as WebOps, was established by the United States Department of Defense during the administration of US President Barack Obama. Its stated goal is to counter efforts by the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria —ISIS) to spread propaganda and recruit followers using online social media. Since its creation, it has been administered by the US Central Command’s Information Operations Division. But its implementation has been contracted to Colsa Corporation, a private company based in the US state of Alabama. The company specializes in providing services for US government agencies, some of which include the use of specialized software that utilizes information found on social media.

According to the Associated Press news agency, WebOps staff consists of civilian analysts who speak Arabic. Every day, using fabricated online profiles, they browse social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter looking for pro-ISIS activity to counter. But the news agency said on Tuesday that it spoke to several people with knowledge of the program, who claim that it is plagued by incompetence, mismanagement and cronyism. They allege that analysts involved in WebOps have limited experience in counter-propaganda, incomplete understanding of Islam, and little more than a basic command of Arabic. Consequently, they have been known to make crucial errors when posting messages online. The latter end up amusing their readers instead of countering ISIS propaganda. In one case, a WebOps analyst confused the Arabic word for “authority” (as in Palestinian Authority) with the similarly sounding word “salad”, thus ending up with “Palestinian salad” instead of “Palestinian Authority”. Rather than managing to counter ISIS propaganda, the message was ridiculed on social media.

The report also cited “four current or former workers” who claimed that they personally witnessed “data being manipulated” to make the WebOps program seem more successful than it has been. They also claim that the program’s administrators have purposely resisted efforts by the Department of Defense to exercise independent oversight of the program’s performance. The Associated Press said it contacted US Central Command, the Pentagon outfit that is responsible for WebOps, on January 10. But it said that no response has been received from anyone there.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 February 2017 | Permalink

Israeli military says Hamas lured its soldiers using online profiles of women

Cellular telephoneThe Israel Defense Forces told a press conference on Wednesday that hackers belonging to the Palestinian militant group Hamas lured Israeli soldiers by posing as young women online. Wednesday’s press conference was led by an IDF spokesman who requested to remain anonymous, as is often the case with the Israeli military. He told reporters that the hackers used carefully crafted online profiles of real Israeli women, whose personal details and photographs were expropriated from their publicly available social media profiles. The hackers then made contact with members of the IDF and struck conversations with them that in many cases became intimate over time. At various times in the process, the hackers would send the Israeli soldiers photographs of the women, which were copied from the women’s online public profiles.

The anonymous IDF spokesman said that, if the soldiers continued to show interest, they were eventually asked by the hackers posing as women to download an application on their mobile telephones that would allow them to converse using video. Once the soldiers downloaded the application, the ‘women’ would find excuses to delay using the application, or the relationships would abruptly end. But the soldiers would leave the application on their telephones. It would then be used by the Hamas hackers to take control of the camera and microphones on the soldiers’ mobile devices. According to the IDF spokesman, dozens of Israeli soldiers were lured by the Hamas scam. No precise number was given.

Media reports suggest that the Hamas hackers were primarily interested in finding out information about IDF maneuvers around the Gaza Strip, the narrow plot of densely inhabited territory that is controlled by the Palestinian militant group. They were also interested in collecting information about the size and weaponry of the Israeli forces around Gaza. Media representatives were told on Wednesday that the operation “had potential for great damage”. But the IDF claims that the harm to its operations was “minimal”, because it primarily targeted low-ranking soldiers. Consequently, according to the Israeli military, the hackers were not able to acquire highly sensitive information.

In 2009, dozens of members of Sweden’s armed forces serving with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan were found to have been approached via Facebook, and asked to provide details on NATO’s military presence in the country. The Afghan Taliban are believed to have carried out the operation.

Hamas has not commented on the allegations by the IDF.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2017 | Permalink

South Korea’s ex-spy chief jailed for interfering in elections

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of South Korea’s intelligence agency has been jailed for directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians during a recent presidential election campaign. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. Since his replacement in the leadership of NIS, Won has faced charges of having ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”.

Prosecutors alleged that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. The illegal operation took place during the 2012 presidential election campaign, which was principally fought by Moon Jae-in, of the liberal-left Democratic Party, and Park Geun-hye, of the conservative Saenuri party. Park eventually won the election and is currently serving South Korea’s eleventh President. The court heard that a secret team of NIS officers had posted nearly 1.5 million messages on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in an effort to garner support for the Saenuri party candidate in the election.

Last September, a court in Seoul had sentenced Won to two and a half years in prison, which was much shorter than the maximum five-year penalty he was facing if found guilty. But the judge had suspended the sentence, arguing that there was no direct proof that Won directly sought to alter the outcome of the presidential election. On Monday, however, the Seoul High Court overruled the earlier decision, saying that Won had directly breached election laws and that the violation was sufficient for a prison sentence. In reading out its decision, the judge said that “direct interference [by the NIS] with the free expression of ideas by the people with the aim of creating a certain public opinion cannot be tolerated under any pretext”. Won was transferred directly from the court to prison, where he will serve his sentence.

South Korean court convicts ex-spy director of interfering in elections

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A former director of South Korea’s intelligence agency has been convicted in court of directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians during a presidential election campaign. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. Since his replacement in the leadership of NIS, Won has faced charges of having ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors alleged that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. The illegal operation took place during the 2012 presidential election campaign, which was principally fought by Moon Jae-in, of the liberal-left Democratic Party, and Park Geun-hye, of the conservative Saenuri party. Park eventually won the election and is currently serving South Korea’s eleventh President. The court heard that a secret team of NIS officers had posted nearly 1.5 million messages on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in an effort to garner support for the Saenuri party candidate in the election. On Thursday, a court in Seoul sentenced Won to two and a half years in prison, which was much shorter than the maximum five-year penalty he was facing if found guilty. In reading out its decision, the court said on Thursday that “direct interference [by the NIS] with the free expression of ideas by the people with the aim of creating a certain public opinion cannot be tolerated under any pretext”. The new jail conviction comes right after the defendant completed a 14-month sentence stemming from charges of accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. Read more of this post