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At the inauguration of “Innovation Day” on November 19, 2013 the French President Francois Hollande and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced their desire to cooperate on cyber security. It is the first time a French President is officially calling for cyber-security cooperation with Israel.
In the last few months, the French have thoroughly reviewed their defence and national security policy. Among their priorities is the prevention and response to cyber-attacks, which has been a major issue in national security procedure recently. To face the growing challenge imposed by cyber-attacks, the National Security Agency for Information Systems (ANSSI) was created in July 2009. It is an inter-agency, under the authority of the Prime Minister. Moreover, the French’s cyber security is becoming an important aspect of the French defence industry. France and Israel are two powerful nations and this cooperation will be beneficial for both countries and strengthen their technological links.
The Washington Post published on November 14th, 2013 that FBI Director James B. Comey testified in front of the Senate Homeland Security Committee declaring the risk of cyber-attacks is likely to exceed the danger posed by al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks as the top national security threat to the United States and will eventually become the dominant focus of law enforcement and intelligence services. The FBI Director expected Internet-related attacks, espionage and theft to emerge as the most consuming security issue for the United States by the end of his 10-year FBI term. The warning depicted the growing alarm among officials in Washington over the nation’s vulnerability to cyber attacks, as well as the diminished capability of al-Qaeda to mount plots against the United States after more than a decade of CIA strikes and other counterterrorism operations.
The first U.S congressional hearing on the future of Bitcoin
The Washington Post published on November 18th, 2013 the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held their first congressional hearing on the future of Bitcoin. The first panel featured senior figures from the Obama administration, and their comments about Bitcoin had been remarkably positive. “We are attuned to the criminal use,” Mythili Raman of the Justice Department stated, but he added, “there are many legitimate uses. These virtual currencies are not in and of themselves illegal”. Raman also said in regards to Bitcoin being used for illicit purposes, “there is good reason for us to remain watchful.” Later in the same panel, Edward Lowery of the Secret Service, testified that cyber criminals “have not by and large gravitated toward peer-to-peer cryptocurrencies…. [but] have by and large gravitated toward centralized digital currencies that are based in a locale that may have less regulatory guidelines and less aggressive law enforcement.”
These updates have been the focus of the hearing so far. All three Obama administration officials expressed concern about Bitcoin being used for illicit activities but they also stressed Bitcoin has important legitimate uses and regulators need to be careful not to hinder innovation in virtual currencies.
Russian leading news Izvestia, recently reported Russian government officials have received a letter from Federal Security Service (FSB) with a recommendation not to use foreign e-mail services, such as Google’s Gmail, and instead to use domestic Russian email accounts. The FSB officials did not comment on this information. According to Izvestia sources, the reason to avoid foreign e-mail services was based on the tracking conducted by U.S. intelligence agencies revealed from leaker Edward Snowden. Beside this recommendation, a couple of months ago the state service charged with safekeeping Kremlin Communication was already looking for solutions preventing computer cyber spying. One of the possible solutions was the use of electric typewriters. Today the Russian cyber strategy is oriented towards development and exclusive to Russian systems to protect themselves from potential cyber-attacks.
Six people were arrested and charged recently for participating in a worldwide ATM heist that stole $45 million from two Middle Eastern banks. Five men and one woman, all residents of the New York City suburb, Yonkers, were accused of being a member of a global cybercrime organization, which stole MasterCard debit card information. The six arrested were “cashers” in the scheme, withdrawing approximately $2.8 million from more than 140 ATMs in New York City. According to prosecutors, in December 2012 and in February 2013, the hackers stole debit card data from the National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates and Bank Muscat in Oman. Each member faces up to 7.5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250 000.
The Syrian Electronic Army attacked governmental websites in Qatar
Last month the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), launched an attack on government websites in Qatar. The attack, which was “hashtagged” and made popular on Twitter as “Qatar is #down,” lasted for a few hours, during which government websites were down and unavailable, or instead showed pictures of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. This is another example of a cyber attack from SEA in the cyber world. SEA has already been responsible for cyber-attacks on the New York Times, AP, as well as creating false reports about President Obama. Whether the group is linked directly to the Assad regime or working independently, it’s hard to tell, however, Assad himself mentioned them in one of his speeches on June 2011, calling them a “Real Army in the virtual reality.”
A Lebanese government committee claims “Israel is waging cyber war on Lebanon.”
According to the Daily Star, the Committee on Assessing the Dangers of the Israeli Telecom Towers Directed toward Lebanese Territory, briefed Lebanon’s parliament regarding the latest on Israel’s spying activities along the Lebanese border. The committee told the Parliament Israel is waging a “cyber war” on Lebanon and violating the country’s right to data privacy, safety and security.
On November 7th, 2013, Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn stated Beirut is investigating in reports about Israel’s location of spying devices along the Lebanese border. They also mentioned Israeli’s largest spying station is, reportedly, deployed in al-Abbad and Jal al-Alam areas, situated near the UN-designated Blue Line.
The Lebanese investigation committee said Israel has expanded its espionage network in 39 different locations along Lebanon’s border by setting up dozens of towers and hundreds of antennas overlooking Lebanese soil.
China and APAC
According to the website, The Voice of America, in November, the South Korean Intelligence Service provided details on the scale, operation, and goals of North Korea’s cyber army. In a private meeting with the intelligence committee of South Korea’s National Assembly, they gave the names of seven North Korean cyber terrorist organizations and a network of spies operating in China and Japan. North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, declared cyber warfare is as important to Pyongyang as missiles and nuclear weapons. Ruling party lawmaker, Seo Sang-ki, chairman of the committee, said North Korea has established a hacking central in China due to its geographical close location, additionally the Internet infrastructure in China is more developed and its activities can be protected. According to Seo, there are about 1,700 North Korean hackers and 4,200 supporting agents active in China and this number is increasing. He also announced North Korea was earning foreign money by developing computer software in China and conducting cyber spying activities to collect national industrial secrets.
Indonesia is using Chinese cyber tools to spy on Australia.
According to well-placed sources, Jakarta and Beijing are launching a growing number of spying operations against Australia. In fact, after revelations were made by the media company, News Corp., on Australian cell phones being bugged by companies linked with the Indonesian military, it was revealed intercepted cell phone communications were being redirected to military authorities in China, via the Badan Intelligent Strategies (BAIS), which is the Indonesia military’s intelligence agency. The phone taps are only part of a specific targeted spying operation using fixed mobile interception equipment to bug Australian diplomats, companies and citizens. This operation used the most advanced Chinese communication spying technology. Most of the Chinese equipment is based on western designs, having been stolen and provided to Indonesia by China’s 3rd Department of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This department is responsible for all of China’s signals and cyber intelligence. The 4th Department handles cyber warfare. An intelligence source reported to News Corp., the Indonesia-China relationship was very strong and China was interested in using the relationship to spy on Australia and other western nations, who have interests in Indonesia.
Talks, which began in September, came to fruition when Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim and his Argentine counterpart, Agustin Rossi, confirmed bilateral cooperation on cyber security will begin. Regional cooperation will be launched via the defense council of the Union of South American Nations. The two countries will promote a greater exchange of information, which will include Brazil hosting a bilateral cyber security in 2014, as well Brazil providing cyber warfare training to Argentine officers. The combined efforts will “diminish situations of vulnerability,” according to Rossi.
The decision for Brazil to elevate its cyber security command came after revelations from Edward Snowden, who leaked U.S. intelligence had been spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Brazilian national oil company, Petrobras. In wake of this, Brazil’s Federal Data Processing Service (Serpo) has confirmed plans to ensure a more secure email service to avoid future espionage. Some experts, however, warn new measures could lead to cyber isolation for Brazil and be compared to repressive regimes. Additionally, President Rouseff announced on Twitter to host an international summit in 2014 to discuss Internet security renewing calls for Incann (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) and other organizations to oversee the use of the Internet and encourage UN enforcement. The U.S. has been adamantly against this.
A week ago, NATO headquarters in Brussels started a large-scale cyber defense exercise with the cooperation of 32 European countries. This three-day exercise, named “Cyber Coalition 2013,” was the biggest cyber exercise made by NATO in terms of number of countries participating. According to the Estonian Defense Forces, the exercise included about 400 IT security experts, legal specialists and government officials. More than 100 of them are operating from the National Defense College in Tartu and another 300 are based in various staff centres around the continent. The NATO Cyber Cooperative Defense Centre of excellence is practising cyber-attacks simulation against computer networks and testing the experts’ response speed, coordination and decision making capabilities. By doing this kind of exercise, NATO is trying to strengthen European cyber security.
UK Government is going to launch a cyber-standard to track Businesses cyber threats
A survey from the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has revealed the UK’s top companies are not considering cyber risks in their decision-making. The survey was based on 350 companies, showing only 14% regularly consider cyber threats. However, according to the study, 62% of companies claim they take cyber risk seriously. The British Science Minister David Willetts declared: “The cybercrime threat facing UK companies is increasing. Many are already taking this extremely seriously, but more still needs to be done. We are working with businesses to encourage them to make cyber security a board-level responsibility.”
To track growing cyber threats, the U.K. government is cooperating with the UK industry to develop an official “cyber standard,” helping businesses to adopt good cyber security rules. According to the British government, the cyber framework will be launched at the beginning of next year. This standard is a part of the £860 million cross-government National Cyber Security Programme developed by the U.K. According to Willetts, the cyber standard will promote excellence in tackling cyber risks, help businesses to understand how to protect their infrastructures, and increase the nation’s collective cyber security.
This newsletter is brought to you by the Cyber team at INSS:
Dr. Gabi Siboni, Daniel Cohen, Hadas Klein, Aviv Rotbart, Gal Perel, Amir Steiner, Keren Hatkevitz, Sami Kronenfeld, Jeremy Makowski, Shlomi Yaas, Simon Tsipis, Daniell Levin