Stealth aggression: US attacked Iran with cyberweapons, including after Saudi oil refinery airstrike – reports

The US has conducted several cyberwarfare operations against Iran in recent months, including one in retaliation for the September 14 attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, according to Reuters sources.

The latest cyber-strike was conducted by the Pentagon sometime in late September and affected physical hardware, two sources told the news agency. The target is related to what the sources described as Tehran’s ability to spread “propaganda.” The operation was said to be smaller in scale than previous ones that took place during several months of US-Iranian brinkmanship.

Washington has a long record of using its cyber-offensive capabilities against Iran. The most famous example was Operation Olympic Games, which involved infecting industrial controllers at an Iranian uranium enrichment plant with a virus designed to damage centrifuges in ostensibly natural malfunctions. The campaign was conducted under the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and was stopped after the virus, called Stuxnet, got out of control and spread across the internet, where it was identified by cybersecurity experts.

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The latest cyberoperation was meant as retaliation for the September 14 drone and missile attack on a Saudi Arabian oil facility which the US and its allies blamed on Tehran. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been fighting against a Saudi-led military incursion into their country since 2015, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The escalation of tensions between the US and Iran started last year when President Donald Trump broke an international agreement signed by his predecessor and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. Trump re-imposed economic sanctions which had been lifted in exchange for Iran’s agreement to restrict its nuclear industry, and targeted Iranian oil exports, threatening buyers of Iranian crude with secondary sanctions.

Washington’s public response to the September 14 airstrikes was to deploy additional troops and weapons to the region – the latest in a series of similar moves this year.

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Cyberattacks Cost Australia Over $5 Billion Per Year

Cyberattacks cost Australian citizens and companies more than AU$7 billion ($5.09 billion) a year, according to the country''s prime minister on Thursday.

Malcolm Turnbull said that since 2016, the country's authorities have responded to more than 14,000 cybersecurity attacks by foreign nations or agencies.

Australia is increasingly threatened by cyber attack, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says, and it's time to saddle up.

Flanked by senior ministers from portfolios dealing with Australia's defence, Mr Turnbull cut the ribbon on a new, national cyber security centre on Thursday.

'All these increasing cyber attacks have the hallmarks of a perfect cyber storm,' Mr Turnbull told reporters and intelligence officials in Canberra.

'We must not and will not wait for a catastrophic cyber incident before we act to prevent future attacks.'

The new building for the Australian Cyber Security Centre houses sections for classified and unclassified operations.

The centre has already seen off 14,000 cyber security incidents since 2016, at a rate of more than 16 a day.

'Attempted attacks are occurring every day,' Mr Turnbull said.

The threat, Mr Turnbull said, was global with foreign governments among the most consistent offenders.

The global cost of cyber crime was estimated at $600 billion this year, with Australia's bill topping $7 billion.

The creation of the Home Affairs department, making the Australian Signals Directorate an independent agency and the launch of joint cyber security centres across the nation are all part of the government's cyber security plan.

Even as Trump advocates for Russia, his administration imposes new sanctions for Moscow’s cyberattacks

Citing “malicious” cyberattacks by Russian government agents, the Trump administration on Monday imposed economic sanctions on several Russian companies and persons accused of supporting Moscow’s spy networks.

The sanctions came even as President Donald Trump suggested Russia be readmitted to the powerful G-7 group of industrialized nations, which would reverse a decision made after the country’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Although Trump has spoken frequently of making Russia a closer ally, his administration has nevertheless imposed numerous sanctions packages for human rights violations, meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other acts. By a nearly unanimous vote, Congress ordered some of the sanctions, which Trump then enacted only reluctantly.

In Monday’s action, the Treasury Department said it was blacklisting five Russian companies and three Russian citizens, most of whom have supplied material to or worked with Moscow’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB.

All worked on development of “offensive” cyber and underwater capabilities, posing a danger to the security of the United States and its allies, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

“The United States is committed to aggressively targeting any entity or individual working at the direction of the FSB whose work threatens the United States,” Mnuchin said.

His comments stood in marked contrast to remarks that Trump made during the summit of the Group of 7 major economic powers over the weekend in Quebec, where he lashed out at traditional allies such as Canada and said Russia ought to be invited to rejoin.

“We have a world to run,” Trump said.

Mnuchin said Russia’s “malign” activities included cyber intrusion into the U.S. energy grid and other infrastructure; an internet-chewing worm called Notpetya that cost several global conglomerates millions of dollars in damages; and the tracking of and possible interference with undersea communications cables that carry most of the world’s telecommunications data.

The blacklisting means any property or assets that the targeted people and companies have in U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen, and U.S. citizens may not do business with them.

The firms included Digital Security and its subsidiaries ERPScan and Embedi; the Kvant Scientific Research Institute; and Divetechnoservices and three of its executives. The last company was working on a $1.5-million “submersible craft” for the FSB.

Putin, in China for an international conference, did not address the sanctions, but instead focused on Trump’s goodwill. He said he’d be happy to return to the G-7 and looks forward to a separate summit with the American president.

“The U.S. president has repeatedly said that it’s reasonable to hold such a meeting,” Putin said. “As soon as the U.S. side is ready, the meeting will take place, depending, of course, on my working schedule.”

In Moscow, however, other Russian politicians had more antagonistic words. Russian Sen. Konstantin Kosachev said Washington is revealing that its mechanism for punishing Russia is “out of the control of common sense” and looks “more and more unconvincing and ever more pitiful.”

The state-run Ria Novosti news agency quoted Kosachev as saying the sanctions were meaningless “except as an attempt by the radical wing of American politics to use all means to assert U.S. exclusivity in the modern world.”

It was not clear what “radical wing” he was referring to.

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US pumps billions into meddling in affairs of foreign states – Russian senator

Billions of dollars from the US budget are spent on interfering in the internal affairs of foreign countries, with Russia being the prime target, Andrey Klimov, a top Russian senator, said.

“According to open sources, billions of dollars from the US budget were allocated” on interference in other states, Klimov, who heads a temporary Federal Council committee tasked with protecting Russia’s sovereignty, reported.

And it is Russia that gets a “special treatment” from the Americans, he added. “We are the only country in the world that is capable of giving the US an immediate tangible response, therefore meddling into our affairs will continue.”


FILE PHOTO © Alexei Druzhinin / Global Look Press

“At the moment, the battlefield is the election,” the Senator said, referring to the presidential vote in Russia on March 18.

The US is accusing “a dozen people,” who have no connections to the Russian authorities, as part of the so-called “Russiagate” probe, Klimov pointed out. Meanwhile, “from 500 to 700 employees at the CIA headquarters, and thousands – in the State Department, the Pentagon and Congress are working on the Russian issue,” he said.

The Senator also ridiculed attempts by Washington to support its own accusations of Russian meddling into the US 2016 election, by citing RT’s spending on advertising in the US “which amounted to no more than several dozen of thousands dollars.” This is “laughable” compared to the sums spent by Washington on meddling into other states, he said.

The Federal Council member also said that the “score isn’t in their [US] favor” when it comes to cyberattacks carried out from the territory of either country. Hacking attempts from Russia constituted just two or three percent of the total amount of cyberattacks on the US in 2017, while "cyberattacks from the US towards Russia amounted to 25-27 percent.” Every year the number of American hacking attempts increases multi-fold, Klimov added.

Another commission member, Senator Oleg Morozov, said that the US meddling into Russia’s internal affairs has been growing exponentially in recent years and is now affecting almost all fields of life.

READ MORE: Putin: US interferes in other countries’ affairs, should expect mirror reply

He singled out non-governmental organizations as a “very interesting subject,” saying that the US has provided 72 billion rubles (over $1.2 billion) to NGOs in Russia in 2016.

“One state is actively infusing money into the life of another state under the pretext of creating a proper civil society here (in Russia), despite nobody asking it to do it. And it’s the American taxpayers who are paying for the creation of civil society institutions in our country,” Morozov said.

READ MORE: Foreign sponsors boost funding of Russia’s opposition, upper house commission claims

According to Russian law on NGOs, organizations that receive money from abroad can be classified as foreign agents, which makes it obligatory for them to file regular reports on their funding and activities. Late last year, the Russian Justice Ministry put similar restrictions on six media outlets, including US-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in response to RT and Sputnik news agency being forced to register as foreign agents in the US.

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Group Thought to Be Behind NSA Tool Leaks Threatens New Round of Spy Tools

The NSA used the Microsoft flaw to build a hacking tool that ended up in the hands of a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers.

A group that has taken credit for leaking NSA cyber spying tools — including those used in the recent WannaCrypt global ransomware attack — has threatened in a blog it is believed to have authored to release more recent code to enable hackers to break into the world's most widely used computers, software and phones.

Using trademark garbled English, the apparent ShadowBrokers communique promised that, starting next month, it will begin releasing tools on a monthly basis to anyone willing to pay for access to some of the tech world's biggest commercial secrets.

It also threatened to dump data from banks using the SWIFT international money transfer network and from Russian, Chinese, Iranian or North Korean nuclear and missile programs, without providing further details. "More details in June," it promised.

"ShadowBrokers are back" tweeted Matthieu Suiche, a French hacker and security researcher who has tracked the group. Among the notable claims, he said, was that it had newer exploits for Microsoft's Window 10 operating system dating from after 2013.

The NSA used the Microsoft flaw to build a hacking tool codenamed EternalBlue that ended up in the hands of a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers, which then published that and other such tools online. 

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Foreign secret services stepping up efforts to destabilize Russia – top security official

The head of Russia’s top consultative security body has said that foreign secret services have intensified their efforts to destabilize Russia, noting that Ukrainian authorities had openly confessed to planning sabotage operations.

The destructive activities of foreign special services that set their goal as destabilizing the Russian social and political situation has intensified,” Security Council chair Nikolai Patrushev told participants at a conference of the heads of security agencies of the Southern Federal District. 

Ukrainian authorities openly declare that they are organizing acts of sabotage,” he said.

The Russian security chief also told his colleagues that the terrorist threat was higher in the Southern Federal District than in other parts of the country. He outlined such threats as various radical and xenophobic groups, internet propaganda of radical ideas and the growth of xenophobia among the younger generation.

Earlier this month, Patrushev held a similar conference in the Urals Federal District in central Russia. There he prioritized the threat from cyberattacks, saying that the main goal of these attacks was the disruption of hardware - including the networks that service the Russian segment of the internet - and obtaining classified information through clandestine deployment of various means of computer surveillance.

According to the head of the Security Council, the overall number of cyberattacks on Russian state bodies and companies was over 52 million in 2016, more than three times the number registered in the previous year.

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Moscow charges ex-FSB & Kaspersky staff with treason ‘in interests of US’ – lawyer

Two senior FSB officers and a high-level manager of Russia's leading cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab are facing official charges of treason in the interests of the US, a lawyer representing one of the defendants has confirmed to Interfax.

Ruslan Stoyanov, head of Kaspersky Lab's computer incidents investigations unit, Sergey Mikhailov, a senior Russian FSB officer, and his deputy Dmitry Dokuchayev are accused of "treason in favor of the US,” lawyer Ivan Pavlov said on Wednesday, as cited by Interfax.

Pavlov chose not to disclose which of the defendants he represents, adding, however, that his client denies all charges.

The charges against the defendants do not imply they were cooperating with the CIA, Pavlov added. "There is no mention of the CIA at all. [The entity] in question is the US, not the CIA," he stressed, according to TASS.

The lawyer maintained the court files included no mention of Vladimir Anikeev, an alleged leader of 'Shaltai Boltai', a hacking group that previously leaked emails from top Russian officials, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The hacking group's name was in the news earlier in January, when Russian media reports linked Mikhailov and Dokuchayev to 'Shaltai Boltai'. In an unsourced article last Wednesday, Rosbalt newspaper claimed Mikhailov's unit was ordered in 2016 to work with the group.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told RIA Novosti on Wednesday the treason charges do not relate to the US suspicions of Russia being behind the alleged cyberattacks on the 2016 presidential elections. He added that President Vladimir Putin is receiving regular updates on the current investigation.

Russian media reports said Mikhailov was arrested during a conference of top FSB leadership. He was reportedly escorted out of the room with a bag placed over his head. His deputy, Dokuchayev, is said to be a well-known hacker who allegedly began cooperating with the FSB several years ago. Kaspersky Lab manager Stoyanov was also placed under arrest several weeks ago.

Stoyanov is still employed by Kaspersky Lab, the company told RIA Novosti later on Wednesday, adding there were “no personnel changes” at this point.

Treason charges mean that the defendants could be handed a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The treason charges also mean any trial will not be public due to its sensitive nature.

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