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Pegasus Spyware: Israel’s Attorney General Orders Probe of NSO Claims

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By Associated Press | Updated: 21 January 2022

Israel’s attorney general said Thursday he was launching an investigation into Israeli police’s use of phone surveillance technology following reports that investigators improperly tracked targets without authorisation.

In a four-page letter, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he had not yet found evidence substantiating the claims in the Israeli business daily Calcalist, which said police monitored the leaders of a protest movement against then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mayors, and other citizens without court approval. But Mandelblit said many questions remained unanswered, and that he was forming an investigative committee headed by a top deputy.

The specific cases mentioned by the newspaper “raise a very troubling picture,” he said, but don’t provide “sufficiently concrete information” to identify the cases of alleged misuse.

Mandelblit’s letter came a few hours after Israel’s police chief said he had ordered an extensive investigation into the newspaper’s claims. In a report this week, Calcalist said police had used the NSO Group’s Pegasus hacking software to surveil some of Netanyahu’s political opponents, as well as a raft of other alleged misuses of the technology.
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The police have dismissed the report as inaccurate and said they only operate according to the law. But the publication drew an outcry from lawmakers and prompted multiple investigations by various Israeli authorities into the allegations.

The NSO Group does not identify its clients and says it has no knowledge of who is targeted. The company says its products are intended to be used against criminals and terrorists, and that it does not control how its clients use the software. Israel, which regulates the company, has not said whether its own security forces use the spyware.

The Israeli spyware company has faced mounting scrutiny over its Pegasus software, which has been linked to snooping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians across the globe. In November, the US Commerce Department blacklisted NSO, barring the company from using certain US technologies, saying its tools had been used to “conduct transnational repression.”

In announcing his investigation, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that immediately following the report’s publication, police launched “a thorough internal investigation” that has yet to find any instances of unlawful surveillance. He called on the paper to provide “concrete details that will allow us to inspect the alleged incidents.”

Tuesday’s Calcalist article didn’t name any of the people whose phones were allegedly hacked, nor did it cite any current or former sources in the police, government or NSO. The report referred to eight alleged examples of the police’s secretive signal intelligence unit employing Pegasus to surveil Israeli citizens, including hacking phones of protesters, mayors, a murder suspect and opponents of the Jerusalem Pride Parade, all without a court order or a judge’s oversight.

Shabtai said that “if it turns out that there were specific instances in which regulations were violated, the police under my command will work to improve and correct,” pledging full transparency. At the same time, he defended the police’s lawful use of such technologies to combat crime.

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Facebook, Twitter, Google, Other Tech Firms Ask US Supreme Court to Block Texas Social Media Law

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By Reuters | Updated: 14 May 2022

Lobbying groups representing Facebook, Twitter, Google and other tech companies filed an emergency request with the US Supreme Court on Friday, seeking to block a Texas law that prohibits large social media platforms from banning users based on their political views.

The Texas law went into effect on Wednesday when the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals granted the state’s request for a stay of a district judge’s injunction blocking the law.

The law forbids social media companies with more than 50 million active users per month from banning members based on their political views and requires them to publicly disclose how they moderate content.

It was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, in September.

Internet lobbying groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed a lawsuit against the measure, and US District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas, issued a preliminary injunction in December.

Pitman had found that the law would harm social media companies’ free speech rights under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The tech groups, in their emergency request, asked the Supreme Court to “allow the District Court’s careful reasoning to remain in effect while an orderly appellate process plays out.”

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Cyberattacks Grown in Last 2 Years During Pandemic, Global Cost Topped $6 Billion in 2021: Italian Defence Firm

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By Agencies | Updated: 11 May 2022

The global cost of cybercrime topped $6 trillion (roughly Rs. 4,63,52,100 crore) last year, as the coronavirus pandemic caused online activity to soar, the head of Italian defence, security and aerospace giant Leonardo said Tuesday.

“New cybersecurity threats over the last two years have been a ‘collateral damage’ of the COVID-19 pandemic and the acceleration of digitalisation it induced,” Alessandro Profumo said at the opening of the Cybertech Europe 2022 conference in Rome.”

Cyberattacks have grown in number, sophistication and impact — in 2021 the global cost of cybercrime exceeded $6 trillion. “The figures came from Clusit, the Italian association for information security, and compare to an estimate of losses of $1 trillion (roughly Rs. 77,25,550 crore) in 2020.

One fifth of the total attacks was directed at Europe, Profumo said, but the continent lacked at least 200,000 cybersecurity professionals.

Speaking to foreign journalists in Rome last month, he said cybersecurity issues had increased following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “We are noticing additional pressure,” said the boss of Leonardo, which has a specialised branch dedicated to cybersecurity.

The statement from Italian defence firm comes a day after the European Union (EU), the UK and the US accused Russia to be behind a series of cyberattacks linked with its conflict with Ukraine earlier this year with wide-ranging impact across Europe.

The western allies said the most recent attack was on the communications company Viasat in Ukraine, which had a wider impact across the European continent, disrupting wind farms and internet users in central Europe. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) assesses that the Russian Military Intelligence was “almost certainly” involved in the January 13 defacements of Ukrainian government websites and the deployment of a destructive malware called Whispergate.

“This is clear and shocking evidence of a deliberate and malicious attack by Russia against Ukraine which had significant consequences on ordinary people and businesses in Ukraine and across Europe,” said UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

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EU, US, UK Accuse Russia of Cyberattacks Amid Invasion of Ukraine; Blame It for Deployment of Whispergate

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 10 May 2022

Russia has been behind a series of cyberattacks linked with its conflict with Ukraine earlier this year with wide-ranging impact across Europe, the European Union (EU), the UK and the US said on Tuesday. The western allies said the most recent attack was on the communications company Viasat in Ukraine, which had a wider impact across the European continent, disrupting wind farms and internet users in central Europe.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) assesses that the Russian Military Intelligence was “almost certainly” involved in the January 13 defacements of Ukrainian government websites and the deployment of a destructive malware called Whispergate.

“This is clear and shocking evidence of a deliberate and malicious attack by Russia against Ukraine which had significant consequences on ordinary people and businesses in Ukraine and across Europe,” said UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

“We will continue to call out Russia’s malign behaviour and unprovoked aggression across land, sea and cyberspace, and ensure it faces severe consequences,” she said.

The NCSC said it also assesses that it is “almost certain” Russia was responsible for the subsequent cyberattack impacting Viasat on February 24.

At the time, a cyberattack against Viasat began approximately one hour before Russia launched its major invasion of Ukraine. Although the primary target is believed to have been the Ukrainian military, other customers were affected, including personal and commercial internet users. Wind farms in central Europe and internet users were also affected.

Viasat has said that “tens of thousands of terminals have been damaged, made inoperable and cannot be repaired”.

The announcement this week comes as cybersecurity leaders from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – the EU and others are meeting at the NCSC’s Cyber UK conference in Newport to discuss the cyber threats facing the world.

The UK government highlighted that it has already sanctioned the Russian Intelligence network GRU after their poisoning incidents in the city of Salisbury, and has frozen more than GBP 940 billion (roughly Rs. 89,38,530 crore) worth of bank assets and GBP 117 billion (roughly Rs. 11,12,613 crore) in personal net worth from oligarchs and their family members who back Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Russia’s RuTube Knocked Out for Second Day by Victory Day Cyberattack

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 May 2022

RuTube, Russia’s answer to YouTube, was crippled for a second day on Tuesday by a cyber attack whose timing it linked to this week’s anniversary celebrations of victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.

Usually packed with video content, RuTube’s site is currently black, with a short message reading: “Attention! The site is undergoing technical work. The site was attacked. At the moment the situation is under control. User data has been saved.”

The attack began on Monday, a major national holiday when Russia commemorated the Soviet victory over Adolf Hitler and President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech likening that struggle to the current war in Ukraine.

“Someone really wanted to prevent RuTube from showing the Victory Day parade and celebratory fireworks,” RuTube said. “It is not a sin to remember the battles our guys won. The battle for RuTube continues.”

It described the cyberattack as the worst in the site’s history.

In a separate incident on Monday, Russian satellite television menus were hacked to show viewers in Moscow messages about events in Ukraine, including “You have blood on your hands”, according to screenshots obtained by Reuters.

The websites of state-owned companies and news websites have fallen under sporadic hacking efforts since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, often to show information that is at odds with Moscow’s official line on what it calls a “special military operation”.

RuTube said a large team was working to restore the service, and denied reports it had lost the website’s source code.

The long outage goes some way to explaining why Russia has not yet blocked Alphabet’s YouTube, despite repeatedly fining and warning the US service over its removal of some state-backed Russian channels and for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal.

Russia restricted access to Twitter and Meta Platform’s Facebook and Instagram in early March.

Critics have previously told Reuters that RuTube, despite its weekly user numbers jumping in early March as other foreign social media were forced out of the Russian market, still has a long way to go to rival Google’s video product.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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US Offers $15 Million Reward for Information on Conti Ransomware Group

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 May 2022

The US on Friday offered a reward of up to $15 million (roughly Rs. 115 crore) for information on the Russia-based Conti ransomware group, which has been blamed for cyber extortion attacks worldwide, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

The FBI estimates that more than 1,000 victims of the Conti group have paid a total in excess of $150 million (roughly Rs. 1,154 crore) in ransomware payments, Price said in a statement.

“In offering this reward, the United States demonstrates its commitment to protecting potential ransomware victims around the world from exploitation by cyber criminals,” he said.

The reward comprises $10 million (roughly Rs. 77 crore) for the identification or the location of leaders of the group, and $5 million (roughly Rs. 38 crore) for information that results in the arrest of anyone conspiring with Conti.

Last year, the FBI said Conti was responsible for striking 16 medical and first responder networks in the US.

Price noted that Conti was blamed for an attack in April on Costa Rica’s tax and customs platforms, impacting the Central American country’s foreign trade.

In February, the Conti group vowed to attack enemies of the Kremlin if they respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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AGCO Ransomware Attack Disrupts Tractor Sales During US Planting Season

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 May 2022

AGCO did not disclose the names of the facilities or if any data was stolen, but said it was still probing the extent of the attack that occurred on Thursday and working to repair its systems.

Tim Brannon, president and owner of B&G Equipment in Tennessee, told Reuters he has not been able to access AGCO’s website for ordering and looking up parts since Thursday morning.

“We just have to trust that it will be over as soon as possible because we are coming into our busiest time of the year and it will be very damaging to our business and customers,” Brannon said.

AGCO, which competes with larger rival Deere & Co, sells tractors and combines, manufactures and assembles products in 42 locations worldwide with 1,810 dealerships in North America.

Dealers are now struggling to keep up with orders that were already backlogged.

The company told dealers that it was “prioritising” the most business critical systems in an e-mail read to Reuters by a dealer who declined to be identified.

“I’ve got about nine orders that I need to place right now,” said the dealer.

He said AGCO told him “digital systems” had been impacted worldwide.

AGCO did not respond to requests for additional comment.

AGCO’s shares were down 6 percent at $125.55 (roughly Rs. 9,600) in late afternoon trading.

Ransomware attacks have targeted food and fuel companies in the United States in recent years, including the Colonial Pipeline’s oil network and meat processing company JBS. Last autumn, at least three grain handlers in the Midwest were hit with ransomware attacks.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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