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 #538

Wali Karzai

Wali Karzai

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Egyptian diplomat dead in London after bizarre suicide attempt. Police in London are trying to solve the mysterious apparent suicide of Ayman Mohammed Fayed, a 41-year-old employee of the Egyptian embassy, who plunged to his death from one of the embassy’s third-floor windows last week. Embassy officials said he did so after hurriedly signing a brief suicide note to his family. Interestingly, one witness saw him trying to get back into the building from the window, apparently having changed his mind about killing himself. But, says The Daily Mail, he seems to have “lost control and fell”. The death does not seem to be related to the political changes that have taken place in Egypt this year. ►►CIA agent Wali Karzai dead in Afghanistan. Another death, that of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother, has featured all over the news media in the past few days. Ahmed Wali Karzai, Afghan drug lord and influential strongman, was shot dead by his bodyguards last Tuesday. Wali Karzai’s role as a CIA agent is less widely advertised in obituaries (with a few notable exceptions). IntelNews readers will remember that, in October of 2009, The New York Times revealed that Wali Karzai had been financially sustained by the CIA ever since the initial US invasion of Afghanistan, in 2001, and that he was still —as of 2009— receiving “regular payments” from the Agency.  Read more of this post

Iran admits some of its nuclear scientists spied for the West

Ali Akbar Salehi

Ali Akbar Salehi

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A top-level Iranian government official has admitted that some scientists and technicians in Iran’s nuclear energy program were successfully lured into spying for Israeli and Western intelligence agencies in the past. The disclosure, which was characterized as “stunning” by the Associated Press, marked the first-ever open admission by the Iranian government that the country’s nuclear energy program has been penetrated by foreign spies. It was made last weekend by Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s Vice President and Director of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization. According to the Iranian government-controlled Fars News Agency, Vice President Salehi told an audience that individual scientists and technicians working in Iran’s nuclear program had used their access to classified relevant information to benefit from “foreign purchases and commercial affairs”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #438 (Stuxnet edition)

[Research credit to Arthur Sbygniew]

Iran announces arrests of alleged nuclear spies

Heidar Moslehi

Heidar Moslehi

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The Iranian government has announced the arrest of an unspecified number of alleged nuclear spies, reportedly in connection with a sophisticated virus that infected computers used in Iran’s nuclear energy program. The arrests were publicized on Sunday by Heidar Moslehi, Iran’s Minister of Intelligence, who said those arrested had helped facilitate the spread of the so-called Stuxnet virus last June. The malicious program, which appears to have been designed to sabotage sensitive hardware components found specifically in nuclear centrifuges, has infected at least 100,000 computer systems worldwide, most of which are located in Iran. Speaking to Iranian media, Moslehi accused Israel and the United States of trying to sabotage the Iranian nuclear energy program, but noted that Iran’s intelligence services have resumed “complete supervision of cyberspace” and will successfully prevent “any leak or destruction” of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear research and development program by outside forces. But elsewhere in Tehran, Hamid Alipour, an Iranian government Senior Information and Technology official, admitted that technical experts are still working on containing the virus, which appears to be mutating. Read more of this post

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‘?