British intelligence nerve-centre MI5 is recruiting fluent Chinese speakers to eavesdrop on phone calls – but it got more than it bargained for when its Mandarin comprehension test was ridiculed by Redditors.
Blighty’s Security Service set up an online language exam, which encourages peeps with Mandarin, Russian, Sylheti, Swahili, Somali and Pashto skills to test their suitability for a role with the service.
It explains as follows:
The tests reflect the nature of some of the work of our Foreign Language Analysts, Mandarin Intelligence Analysts and Russian Analysts, who listen to lawfully intercepted phone calls made by the targets of our investigations.
You’ll use your judgement, language skills and cultural knowledge to decide between those calls that are important and those calls that are not, and transcribe your findings in clear and succinct written English to help further investigations.
However, users of the wildly popular social news website Reddit took the Chinese exam – which requires the applicant read or listen to a passage and answer a set of related questions – and were none too impressed with the quality of the language.
One Redditor, willdunz, opined yesterday: “This can’t be the real admission test right? I mean nobody talks like that in China; even those news anchors on CCTV [China Network Television] talk faster than this.”
Another, snackburros, claimed that the “written passage has some grammar, usage and sentence structure awkwardness to it”. One wag, getting his MI6 and MI5 mixed up, added: “Easiest test ever. I’m gonna be the first American James Bond in China.”
To be fair, the test is meant to be a basic first hurdle for those interested in such a role, rather than a green light for Chinese speakers into one of the UK’s most secretive and revered institutions.
MI5 explained as much in the following disclaimer:
The clips do not reflect the full complexity of the challenges offered by our analyst roles but they are indicative of the type of skills successful candidates should be comfortable using on a routine basis.
The Security Service, which mainly tackles major crime and terrorism within the UK, needs more language experts as it makes more requests to telcos than any other body for information on phone calls and internet activities in the UK.
That was according to a parliamentary report last month into a controversial draft communications surveillance law, which calls for much wider snooping powers. Officials claimed there is a 25 per cent “shortfall” in the comms data the authorities want and what they can currently get.
The attack campaign was discovered and analyzed by researchers from security firm Kaspersky Lab and the Laboratory of Cryptography and System Security (CrySyS) of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics.
Dubbed MiniDuke, the attack campaign used targeted email messages — a technique known as spear phishing — that carried malicious PDF files rigged with a recently patched exploit for Adobe Reader 9, 10 and 11.
The exploit was originally discovered in active attacks earlier this month by security researchers from FireEye and is capable of bypassing the sandbox protection in Adobe Reader 10 and 11. Adobe released security patches for the vulnerabilities targeted by the exploit on Feb. 20.
The new MiniDuke attacks use the same exploit identified by FireEye, but with some advanced modifications, said Costin Raiu, director of Kaspersky Lab’s global research and analysis team, on Wednesday. This could suggest that the attackers had access to the toolkit that was used to create the original exploit.
The malicious PDF files are rogue copies of reports with content relevant to the targeted organizations and include a report on the informal Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) seminar on human rights, a report on Ukraine’s NATO membership action plan, a report on Ukraine’s regional foreign policy and a report on the 2013 Armenian Economic Association, and more.
If the exploit is successful, the rogue PDF files install a piece of malware that’s encrypted with information gathered from the affected system. This encryption technique was also used in the Gauss cyber-espionage malware and prevents the malware from being analyzed on a different system, Raiu said. If run on a different computer, the malware will execute, but will not initiate its malicious functionality, he said.
Another interesting aspect of this threat is that it’s only 20KB in size and was written in Assembler, a method that’s rarely used today by malware creators. Its small size is also unusual when compared to the size of modern malware, Raiu said. This suggests that the programmers were “old-school,” he said.
The piece of malware installed during this first stage of the attack connects to specific Twitter accounts that contain encrypted commands pointing to four websites that act as command-and-control servers. These websites, which are hosted in the U.S., Germany, France and Switzerland, host encrypted GIF files that contain a second backdoor program.
The second backdoor is an update to the first and connects back to the command-and-control servers to download yet another backdoor program that’s uniquely designed for each victim. As of Wednesday, the command-and-control servers were hosting five different backdoor programs for five unique victims in Portugal, Ukraine, Germany and Belgium, Raiu said.These unique backdoor programs connect to different command-and-control servers in Panama or Turkey, and they allow the attackers to execute commands on the infected systems.
The people behind the MiniDuke cyber-espionage campaign have operated since at least April 2012, when one of the special Twitter accounts was first created, Raiu said. However, it’s possible that their activity was more subtle until recently, when they decided to take advantage of the new Adobe Reader exploit to compromise as many organizations as possible before the vulnerabilities get patched, he said.
The malware used in the new attacks is unique and hasn’t been seen before, so the group might have used different malware in the past, Raiu said. Judging by the wide range of targets and the global nature of the attacks, the attackers probably have a large agenda, he said.
MiniDuke victims include organizations from Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Montenegro, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States.
In the United States, a research institute, two pro-U.S. think tanks and a health care company have been affected by this attack, Raiu said without naming any of the victims.
The attack is not as sophisticated as Flame or Stuxnet, but is high-level nevertheless, Raiu said. There are no indications regarding where the attackers might operate from or what interests they might be serving.
That said, the backdoor coding style is reminiscent of a group of malware writers known as 29A, believed to be defunct since 2008. There’s a “666″ signature in the code and 29A is the hexadecimal representation of 666, Raiu said.
A “666″ value was also found in the malware used in the earlier attacks analyzed by FireEye, but that threat was different from MiniDuke, Raiu said. The question of whether the two attacks are related remains open.
News of this cyber-espionage campaign comes on the heels of renewed discussions about the Chinese cyber-espionage threat, particularly in the U.S., that were prompted by a recent report from security firm Mandiant. The report contains details about the years-long activity of a group of cyberattackers dubbed the Comment Crew that Mandiant believes to be a secret cyberunit of the Chinese Army. The Chinese government has dismissed the allegations, but the report was widely covered in the media.
Raiu said that none of the MiniDuke victims identified so far was from China, but declined to speculate on the significance of this fact. Last week security researchers from other companies identified targeted attacks that distributed the same PDF exploit masquerading as copies of the Mandiant report.
Those attacks installed malware that was clearly of Chinese origin, Raiu said. However, the way in which the exploit was used in those attacks was very crude and the malware was unsophisticated when compared to MiniDuke, he said.
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – A former Canadian Navy intelligence officer who pleaded guilty to espionage on Wednesday was selling secrets to the Russians for about $3,000 a month.
Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle showed no emotion as he acknowledged to a Nova Scotia provincial court judge that he understood the consequences of entering guilty pleas to three charges and was voluntarily giving up his right to a trial
Federal prosecutor Lyne Decarie outlined the case against Delisle during a bail hearing in March, saying he voluntarily entered the Russian embassy in Ottawa in 2007 and offered to sell information to them. A publication ban was imposed on those hearings at the time.
At the bail hearing, Decarie read portions of a police statement where Delisle reportedly described the day he walked into the embassy as “professional suicide.”
“The day I flipped sides … from that day on, that was the end of my days as Jeff Delisle,” Decarie read from his statement.
She said he claimed to police that his betrayal “was for ideological reasons” and that he wasn’t doing it for the money.”
Delisle, 41, worked at a naval communications and intelligence center in Halifax that was a multinational base with access to secret data from NATO countries.
Decarie alleged in court that Delisle had access to the facility’s secure and unsecured systems that contained information from Canada and allies, and that he shared mostly military data.
Decarie said Delisle was asked to search for Russian references in the past month on his work computer, then copy it onto a USB key and take it home with him where he uploaded it to an email program that he shared with his foreign handler.
Decarie said Delisle, a father who is divorced from his first wife, received $5,000 for the first couple transfers and then $3,000 every month. Decarie said he began doing it “following some personal problem.”
He came to the authorities’ attention when he was returning from a trip to Brazil to meet a Russian handler in the fall of 2011, Decarie said. He was carrying several thousand dollars after staying the country only four days, raising the suspicions of Canada Border Services agents who shared their concerns with the police and military.
The prosecution said some time after, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police took over the account he shared with the Russians, allowing him to think he was transmitting material to a Russian agent when “it was actually the RCMP opening the email.”
Delisle was arrested in Halifax last Jan. 13 and charged with espionage and breach of trust, making him the first person in Canada to be convicted under the country’s Security of Information Act which was passed by Parliament after the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Defense lawyer Mike Taylor said the evidence against his client is overwhelming.
“You reach a point in which you say, ‘OK we’re toast,’” Taylor said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Barring some catastrophic happening there was going to be a conviction.”
Taylor said at no time did his client put any Canadian troops in danger.
“There was no information that indicated where troops were or ships were,” he said.
Taylor also suggested the Russians put pressure on when at one point he tried to stop spying. Decarie said Delisle told officers that the Russians had pictures of his children.
“They had all my information. They had photos of me,” Decarie read from the statement. “They had photos of my children and I knew exactly what it was for.”
Delisle, wearing a blue hooded sweat shirt, jeans and glasses, clasped his hands and appeared unmoved as the judge asked him if he understood the consequences of the plea on Wednesday.
Taylor said no deal on sentencing was reached with the prosecution. Delisle is looking at life in prison, but Taylor said it will be up to the judge. Two days of sentencing hearings will start Jan. 10.
The Canadian military, the government and police have not revealed any details about what information is alleged to have been disclosed. A spokesman for Canada’s defense minister said they’ll reserve comment as the judicial process continues.
Delisle, who joined the navy as a reservist in 1996, became a member of the regular forces in 2001 and was promoted to an officer rank in 2008. He had access to systems with information shared by the Five Eyes community that includes Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
In damage assessments read in court, officials in the Canadian intelligence community said the breaches from 2007 to 2012 could unmask intelligence sources and place a chill on the sharing of vital security information among allies.
“Delisle’s unauthorized disclosure to the Russians since 2007 has caused severe and irreparable damage to Canadian interests,” one official wrote in a statement read by Decarie.
Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
(09-25) 13:49 PDT OAKLAND — A divorce attorney pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that she hired a private investigator, who was a central character in Contra Costa County’s “dirty DUI” scandal, to illegally install listening devices inside the car of a client’s ex-husband.
Mary Nolan, 60, appeared in Oakland federal court, where she also pleaded innocent to four counts of tax evasion. She faces up to 15 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted on all counts.
Nolan was first linked to disgraced private investigator Christopher Butler,50, in 2010, after two men told The Chronicle that she used their drunken driving arrests against them in divorce and custody battles. Both men have since filed civil lawsuits against Nolan alleging she orchestrated their arrests through Butler.
Butler pleaded guilty earlier this year to using attractive women to meet estranged husbands in bars and set them up for drunken driving arrests by police officers tied for him.
Butler, who is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday afternoon, admitted in court papers that Nolan referred clients to him. He also estimated that he bugged between 75 and 100 cars during his tenure as a private investigators.
Nolan was never charged in connection with the drunken driving scandal that snared Butler and others.
But prosecutors alleged in their separate case against Nolan that in at least one instance she hired Butler to bug the car of a client’s spouse so she could use the recorded information against him in divorce proceedings.
Nolan’s court appearance drew the attention of Phil Dominic, 55, of Oakland, who said Nolan represented his ex-girlfriend in a 2010 custody dispute over their son. His case is not the one forming the basis of the criminal case against Nolan.
Dominic said Nolan lied about him to family court judges and destroyed his relationship with the mother of his son, as well as his child.
“This is Christmas for me,” said Dominic, who heckled Nolan as she left the courthouse.
Dominic said he was organizing a group of men whose wives were represented by Nolan to discuss taking legal action against the attorney.
“I told her one day she’d get caught,” Dominic said. “I told her, ‘One day I’m going to see you on the other side.”
Outside court, Nolan’s attorney Jay Weill declined to comment.
Nolan is scheduled to appear in court next month for further proceedings.
Justin Berton is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
Cyber terrorism and espionage have been highlighted as growing threats to Australian organisations and government departments, according to a new annual report by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
The Annual Report 2011-12, which was tabled in the federal parliament this week, found that ASIO completed more than 150,000 counter terrorism security assessments during the reporting period.
“Emerging technology and an Internet-connected world offer new avenues of espionage,” read the report.
In-depth: Information security 2011 Research Report.
“The espionage threat is evidence by foreign intelligence services seeking agents in relevant positions, including in the Australian public service and working for Australian businesses, but also seeking access to any computer system or network holding data that could be targeted for espionage activity.”
According to the report, cyber espionage state and non-state actors continued to target Australian organisations.
ASIO pointed out that critical infrastructure, such as SCADA networks, is one area organisations need to focus on protecting in Australia.
“Critical infrastructure by its very nature poses a potential target for those who wish to do harm to Australia and so careful consideration must be given to matters having an impact on the security of critical infrastructure,” read the report.
“No single element of critical infrastructure stands alone and the potential for threats against auxiliary assets must also be considered.”
Over the 2011-12 period, ASIO provided 25 briefing sessions on potential or specific threats to critical infrastructure and produced 22 reports. These were sent to more than 153 government and private sector organisations.
Turning to terrorism, ASIO reported that international influences through the Internet will continue to inspire some Australians to potentially join terrorism groups such as al-Qa’ida.
“Over the 12 months, al-Qa’ida and its affiliates have suffered a number of setbacks including the loss of senior figures such as Anwar al-Aulaqi, in Yemen,” read the report.
“The continuing counter-terrorism efforts of Australia’s partners in South-East Asia are also having an effect on regional extremist networks, although terrorist threats persist.”
However, ASIO conceded that these setbacks have not lessened the extent of what the report referred to as “violent jihadist” groups to promote, foster and engage in terrorism.
“The global tempo of terrorist activities, including attacks, attempted attacks, plotting, fundraising and recruitment, remains undiminished.”
The report went on to highlight ASIO’s connection with the Australian arm of the Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers (CREST) which was established in March 2012.
“CREST Australia is the product of co-ordinated engagement with industry involving ASIO, CERT Australia and the Defence Signals Directorate [DSD] and will have an important role in establishing clear and agreed standards for cyber-security testing.”
According to the report, the CREST standards will help the business sector be confident that the work conducted by CREST-accredited IT security professionals is completed with integrity, accountability and to agreed international standards. In addition, CREST Australia is affiliated with CREST Great Britain.
Jayde Consulting's team are experienced practitioners of technical surveillance countermeasure (TSCM) sweeps, vulnerability assessments and counter-espionage consulting. We work within Australia and regularly internationally. We also maintain close associates in Europe and the USA.
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