Kremlin deploys dangerous new hack

Western government officials and anyone on the wrong side of Vladimir Putin’s regime, beware!

The Russian hacking group Fancy Bear, which is part of the Kremlin’s military intelligence agency, has developed a new piece of malware that is so stealthy it can survive even after a complete wiping or replacement of your hard drive or a reinstall of your computer’s operating system.

The Daily Beast reports that a European security company uncovered the malicious code, which experts say is designed to give the Russian hackers long-term access to a target’s computer.

Its apparent purpose is to maintain access to a high-value target in the event the operating system gets reinstalled or the hard drive replaced—changes that would normally kick out an intruder.

Fancy Bear is already a known, formidable enemy. The group is responsible for hacks of the DNC, White House, NATO, members of Congress and a host of international organizations & governments. U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller  indicted 12 members of the GRU, Putin’s military intelligence agency where the hackers are based.

The development and deployment of such sophisticated cyberwar weaponry by Russia—and these tools are nothing short of that—shows the degree to which Putin and his regime are willing to go to interfere with and sabotage foreign states and businesses.

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War & Peace: Russia’s Election Subversion at a (Long) Glance

The New York Times has put together a handy graphical timeline of Russia’s plot to interfere with the 2016 election. It’s meant to be an at-a-glance review of the myriad actions, news stories, indictments, presidential tweets and events surrounding the plot and the fallout.

Even with the synopsis-style treatment, it’s still a long read. That speaks more to the sheer volume of Russia’s actions and long-term outlook toward intelligence operations, and less to the Times’ ability to keep it brief.

Moscow plays such a long game that any effort keep the story short and sweet runs into Tolstoy-length territory. Still, the Times’ valiant effort to make the epic plot bite-size is a worthy investment of time to read through, if only to understand the depth of the threat we’re facing as a country.

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Russian Trolls Seek to Sway U.S. Opinion on Syria

As the Syrian government plans a fresh assault on rebel-held areas in that war-torn country, its allies in Moscow are escalating a different sort of effort.

Russian media outlets such as Sputnik and RT are broadcasting pro-regime narratives and talking points as the Kremlin seeks to reshape public opinion worldwide to be less inclined to U.S. & Western intervention in the conflict.

A key part of the propaganda effort: social media trolls.

The Washington Post conducted an analysis of social media activity around a previous chemical attack in April 2018, and found startling results, including a 300% surge in posting activity and a hefty share coming from disinformation accounts likely controlled by Russia.

What can we expect now? Another concentrated effort among troll accounts that parrot Kremlin policy points and make it seem like public opinion is shifting in that direction. A quiet war while the hot one rages in Syria.

Check out the useful pointers for spotting foreign troll/bot activity in your social media feed, so you can block it, report it and avoid being taken in.

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Iran is running its own social media disinformation campaigns

Turns out Russia is not the only major player in global social media disinformation.

Iran, the hardline state that frequently aligns with Russia in all things anti-American, has been home to its own array of mischievous social media pages. This extent of Iran’s online operation is not yet fully known, but Facebook and Twitter’s late summer purging revealed hundreds of fake pages and shady accounts. In that bunch are Iranian pages dating as far back as 2011, as well as those with provenance elsewhere.

What were the goals of Iran’s social media meddling? The cybersecurity firm that prompted Facebook’s recent investigation had this to say:

the fake pages’ narratives “include anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as support for specific U.S. policies favorable to Iran, such as the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.”

The operation was so successful that it was even able to “rope in prominent Western anti-establishment writers to promote their material.”

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What Hath Russia Wrought? Possibly Government Regulation of Social Media Giants

After Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey appeared in Congress to defend their companies’ efforts to eradicate Russian and other foreign influence operations on their platforms, the Justice Department gave a stark warning that raises the specter of government regulation.

Here’s the statement from the Department of Justice:

“We listened to today’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms closely. The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

Leaving aside the allegations that the Silicon Valley giants are stifling conservative voices — that’s a story in and of itself involving feuding tech billionaires — there’s a bigger question here. Congress seemed skeptical that the tech giants are doing enough to clean up their platforms, and that’s a good question to ask: Is Silicon Valley able to clean up its own mess? Or is it outmatched against foreign governments who don’t have shareholders to keep happy?

Does that mean the government needs to step in and regulate them? Or should the government step up and do more to protect American companies — including Facebook and Twitter — against foreign intelligence operations?

Wherever the debate goes and whatever side of it you may be on, it’s a bedrock American principle that free speech is essential to an informed electorate. American Democracy says that every citizen has the right to express themselves, and at the same time, every citizen has the right to judge the validity of another’s opinion.

So when the cries about regulation ring out, the question worth asking is: what kind of regulation?

How to Tell a Russian Troll from a Regular Joe

The Russian trolls who masqueraded as Americans to amplify divisive content on Twitter sure didn’t work too hard at it.

They most often identified their location as just the U.S. – no city or state – followed by Moscow, St. Petersburg and Russia. The Internet Research Agency, the troll farm identified in Robert Mueller’s indictment, is based in St. Petersburg and has been identified as an arm of the Russian government’s propaganda operation.

Talk about lazy. According to a new study, most U.S. Twitter users specify a state or town or don’t give a location at all.

Another technical tidbit – the Internet Research Agency used the Twitter Web Client half the time when posting, whereas most regular users were more likely to use mobile apps or a platform like TweetDeck.

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China using LinkedIn to recruit agents in U.S.

It’s not just Russia…. and it’s not just Facebook and Twitter.

The work-oriented social media platform LinkedIn was called out by the U.S. chief of counterintelligence as being a hotbed of Chinese recruitment activity, per a new Reuters report.

The idea: Approach Americans with access to government and industry secrets, and entice them to hand over information via bribery or phony business propositions.

Targets include experts in fields such as supercomputing, nuclear energy, nanotechnology, semi-conductors, stealth technology, health care, hybrid grains, seeds and green energy.

“We are doing everything we can to identify and stop this activity,” LinkedIn’s head of safety told Reuters.

Nevertheless, says FBI intelligence head Joshua Skule of China: “They are conducting economic espionage at a rate that is unparalleled in our history.”

 

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