September 9, 2020
by Ian Allen
A court in Spain has begun to examine the findings of a long-running probe into an illegal network that spied on people in return for payments, which almost certainly implicates senior figures in the former governing party. The probe focuses on what is known in Spain as the Gürtel case, which is described by observers as one of the most extensive corruption scandals in Spanish political history. It centers on an extensive network of tax evasion, bribery and money laundering, which brought together leading business executives, criminal kingpins, and senior politicians from Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP).
In May of 2018, Spain’s highest criminal court, the Audiencia Nacional, ruled that senior PP officials had enriched themselves with kickbacks and bribes, and had laundered the money with assistance from the criminal underworld. The scandal effectively brought an end to the government of conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy later that year, and has virtually annihilated the once robust electoral popularity of the PP.
IntelNews has followed a series of scandals linked to the Gürtel case, notably a case involving José Manuel Villarejo, a 67-year-old former police chief, who was arrested in November of 2017 for carrying out illegal wiretaps, and remains in custody. According to Spanish prosecutors, Villarejo was in charge of an illicit information-collection enterprise that violated the privacy of hundreds of unsuspecting citizens. The latter were targeted by corporate competitors and individual wealthy clients. Many of Villarejo’s targets were eventually blackmailed by the recipients of information collected by the former police chief and his network.
Now a new side of the Gürtel case is about to emerge, as the Audiencia Nacional has unsealed a probe that sheds further light into Operation KITCHEN. This refers to an espionage effort connected to the Gürtel case, which targeted Luis Bárcenas, a senator and party treasurer of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular. Bárcenas had in his possession bookkeeping documents that shed light on a secret system for recording illicit funds in possession of PP administrators and senior party figures —for which Bárcenas was eventually given a 33-year prison sentence that he is currently serving.
Once senior government executives were notified by advisors that Bárcenas had these documents, and that he may be planning to share them with the authorities in order to secure a lighter prison sentence for himself, they allegedly set up an espionage operation aimed at preventing Bárcenas’ documents from ending up in the hands of the authorities. Villarejo was allegedly in charge of the espionage operation, which is how Operation KITCHEN connects with the broader Gürtel case. The probe of Operation KITCHEN was unsealed on Monday by Audiencia Nacional Judge Manuel García Castellón. A new series of prosecutions is now expected to take place in the coming weeks, in connection to Operation KITCHEN, which will almost certainly involve leading PP figures.
► Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 September 2020 | Permalink
Dutch hacker says he logged into Trump’s Twitter account by guessing password
October 23, 2020 by Ian Allen A DUTCH ETHICAL COMPUTER hacker and cybersecurity expert claims to have logged into the personal Twitter account of United States President Donald Trump, reportedly after guessing his password. The hacker, Victor Gevers, took several screenshots of the private interface of Trump’s Twitter account, and shared them with Dutch news…
October 23, 2020
by Ian Allen
A DUTCH ETHICAL COMPUTER hacker and cybersecurity expert claims to have logged into the personal Twitter account of United States President Donald Trump, reportedly after guessing his password. The hacker, Victor Gevers, took several screenshots of the private interface of Trump’s Twitter account, and shared them with Dutch news media, before contacting US authorities to notify them of the breach.
Trump attributes much of his popularity and electoral success to social media, and is especially fond of Twitter as a means of communication. He has tweeted nearly 20,000 times since 2015 (including re-tweets), with at least 6,000 of those tweets appearing in 2020 alone. His personal account, which uses the moniker @realDonaldTrump, has almost 90 million followers.
But Gevers, a self-described ethical computer hacker, cybersecurity researcher and activist, said he was able to guess the American president’s password and log into his Twitter account after four failed attempts. The hacker claims that Trump’s password was “maga2020!”. According to Gevers, Trump’s account did not require a two-factor authentication log-in process, which usually requires a password coupled with a numeric code that is sent to a user’s mobile telephone. As a result, Gevers said he was able to access Trump’s private messages on Twitter and —had he wanted to— post tweets in the name of the US president. He could also change Trump’s profile image, had he chosen to do so.
The Dutch hacker took several screenshots of the webpages he was able to access and emailed them to Volkskrant, a Dutch daily newspaper, and Vrij Nederland, an investigative monthly magazine. Shortly after accessing Trump’s account, Gevers said he contacted the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), which operates under the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. He said the US president’s password was changed “shortly after”, and that he was then contacted by the US Secret Service.
Also on Thursday, a Twitter spokesman said the company’s security team had seen “no evidence to corroborate” Gevers’ claim. He added that the San Francisco, California-based social media company had “proactively implemented account security measures for a designated group of high-profile, election-related Twitter accounts in the United States, including federal branches of government”. Such measures included “strongly” encouraging such accounts to enable two-factor authentication, said the spokesman. But he did not specify whether Trump’s account had activated this feature. The White House also denied Gevers’ claim, calling it “absolutely not true” and adding that it would “not comment on security procedures around the president’s social media accounts”.
► Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 October 2020 | Permalink
United States charges six Russian intelligence operatives with hacking
October 20, 2020 by Joseph Fitsanakis THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Justice has unsealed charges against six members of Russia’s military intelligence agency for allegedly engaging in worldwide computer hacking against several countries. The charges, announced in Pittsburgh on Monday, represent in a rare move that targets specific intelligence operatives and identifies them by name…
October 20, 2020
by Joseph Fitsanakis
THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Justice has unsealed charges against six members of Russia’s military intelligence agency for allegedly engaging in worldwide computer hacking against several countries. The charges, announced in Pittsburgh on Monday, represent in a rare move that targets specific intelligence operatives and identifies them by name and visually. According to the US government, the six Russian operatives were instrumental in some of the most destructive and costly cyber-attacks that have taken place worldwide in the past five years.
The indictment alleges that the six Russian intelligence operatives were members of a hacker group named “Sandworm Team” and “Voodoo Bear” by cybersecurity experts. In reality, however, they were —and probably still are— employees of Unit 74455 of the Russian Armed Forces’ Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU. Their cyber-attacks employed the full resources of the GRU, according to the indictment. They were thus “highly advanced”, and were carried out in direct support of “Russian economic and national objectives”. At times, the group allegedly tried to hide its tracks and connections to the Russian government, by making it seem like its cyber-attacks were carried out by Chinese- and North Korean-linked hackers. However, according to the US government, its operations and targets were carried out “for the strategic benefit of Russia”.
The hacker group has been active since the end of 2015, and is alleged to have continued its operations until at least October of 2019. Alleged attacks include a major assault on the power grid of Ukraine in December of 2015, which left hundreds of thousands without electricity and heat. Other alleged attacks targeted the government of Georgia and the French national elections of 2017. The charges include alleged attacks on Western chemical laboratories that examined the toxic substance used in 2018 against former GRU officer Sergei Skripal in England.
Finally, some of the group’s alleged efforts centered on sabotaging the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Russian athletes were barred from the games, after the Russian government was accused of participating in wholesale doping of its Olympic team. Notably, none of the attacks connected with the group’s operations appeared to have directly targeted the United States —though some of the viruses that were allegedly unleashed by the group affected some American companies.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 October 2020 | Permalink
Chinese authorities announce counterespionage crackdown with 100s of arrests
October 12, 2020 by Joseph Fitsanakis Authorities in China said on Sunday that a nationwide counterespionage operation launched earlier this year has identified “hundreds of espionage cases”, most of them involving Taiwanese intelligence agencies. In a concerted fashion, Chinese state-run media published dozens of reports over the weekend, hailing the alleged success of the project.…
October 12, 2020
by Joseph Fitsanakis
Authorities in China said on Sunday that a nationwide counterespionage operation launched earlier this year has identified “hundreds of espionage cases”, most of them involving Taiwanese intelligence agencies. In a concerted fashion, Chinese state-run media published dozens of reports over the weekend, hailing the alleged success of the project.
According to the reports, China’s Ministry of State Security codenamed the operation THUNDER 2020. It follows on the heels of an earlier counterespionage crackdown, known as THUNDER 2018, or THUNDERBOLT 2018. Last year, Chinese authorities said that the year-long 2018 operation had uncovered over 100 espionage cases throughout mainland China
The information released on Sunday includes claims that espionage activities uncovered under the THUNDER 2020 crackdown centered on “attempts to disrupt cross-Straits exchanges” —meaning efforts by China to raise support among the Taiwanese for reunification with the mainland. Other alleged espionage activities focused on encouraging “Hong Kong separatism” and on “instigating diplomatic ties between […] China and other countries”. No specific information was provided to support these claims.
In what appears to be a controlled leak, several Chinese news media reported on the case of a Taiwanese businessman identified as Li Mengju, or Lee Meng-chu. He was allegedly arrested in August of 2019 by authorities in the in southeastern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which is adjacent to Hong Kong. “Anonymous” sources in Shenzhen claim that Lee directs the “Taiwan Independence organization”, as well as another group calling itself “Taiwan United Nations Association” or “Association for the Advancement of Taiwan”. These appear to be groups that campaign against the possible reunification of Taiwan with China.
According to Chinese state-run sources, Lee was arrested “at a harbor in Shenzhen as he tried to flee after he was spotted conducting espionage activities”. He was allegedly found to be in possession of audiovisual material that had been “taken illegally” and included “secret-level military information”, such as “combat equipment, and quantity of troops”. No further information was provided by Chinese media.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 October 2020 | Permalink