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Hackers Release documents and files Indicating US National Security Agency (NSA) Monitored Global Bank Transfers

The release included computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity

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An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, VOA

April 15, 2017: Hackers released documents and files Friday that cybersecurity experts said indicated the U.S. National Security Agency had accessed the SWIFT interbank messaging system, allowing it to monitor money flows among some Middle Eastern and Latin American banks.

The release included computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity, said Shane Shook, a cyber security consultant who has helped banks investigate breaches of their SWIFT systems.

The documents and files were released by a group calling themselves The Shadow Brokers. Some of the records bear NSA seals, but Reuters could not confirm their authenticity.

The NSA could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Holes in Windows

Also published were many programs for attacking various versions of the Windows operating system, at least some of which still work, researchers said.

In a statement to Reuters, Microsoft, maker of Windows, said it had not been warned by any part of the U.S. government that such files existed or had been stolen.

“Other than reporters, no individual or organization has contacted us in relation to the materials released by Shadow Brokers,” the company said.

The absence of warning is significant because the NSA knew for months about the Shadow Brokers breach, officials previously told Reuters. Under a White House process established by former President Barack Obama’s staff, companies were usually warned about dangerous flaws.

Bangladesh heist

Shook said criminal hackers could use the information released Friday to hack into banks and steal money in operations mimicking a heist last year of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank.

“The release of these capabilities could enable fraud like we saw at Bangladesh Bank,” Shook said.

The SWIFT messaging system is used by banks to transfer trillions of dollars each day. Belgium-based SWIFT downplayed the risk of attacks employing the code released by hackers Friday.

SWIFT said it regularly releases security updates and instructs client banks on how to handle known threats.

“We mandate that all customers apply the security updates within specified times,” SWIFT said in a statement.

SWIFT said it had no evidence that the main SWIFT network had ever been accessed without authorization.

It was possible that the local messaging systems of some SWIFT client banks had been breached, SWIFT said in a statement, which did not specifically mention the NSA.

When cyberthieves robbed the Bangladesh Bank last year, they compromised that bank’s local SWIFT network to order money transfers from its account at the New York Federal Reserve.

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NSA and SWIFT

The documents released by the Shadow Brokers on Friday indicate that the NSA may have accessed the SWIFT network through service bureaus. SWIFT service bureaus are companies that provide an access point to the SWIFT system for the network’s smaller clients and may send or receive messages regarding money transfers on their behalf.

“If you hack the service bureau, it means that you also have access to all of their clients, all of the banks,” said Matt Suiche, founder of the United Arab Emirates-based cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, who has studied the Shadow Broker releases and believes the group has access to NSA files.

The documents posted by the Shadow Brokers include Excel files listing computers on a service bureau network, user names, passwords and other data, Suiche said.

“That’s information you can only get if you compromise the system,” he said.

Cris Thomas, a prominent security researcher with the cybersecurity firm Tenable, said the documents and files released by the Shadow Brokers show “the NSA has been able to compromise SWIFT banking systems, presumably as a way to monitor, if not disrupt, financial transactions to terrorists groups.”

Thwarting terrorists

Since the early 1990s, interrupting the flow of money from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere to al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other militant Islamic groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries has been a major objective of U.S. and allied intelligence agencies.

Mustafa Al-Bassam, a computer science researcher at University College London, said on Twitter that the Shadow Brokers documents show that the “NSA hacked a bunch of banks, oil and investment companies in Palestine, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, more.”

He added that NSA “completely hacked” EastNets, one of two SWIFT service bureaus named in the documents that were released by the Shadow Brokers.

Reuters could not independently confirm that EastNets had been hacked. And EastNets, based in Dubai, denied it had been hacked in a statement, calling the assertion “totally false and unfounded.”

EastNets ran a “complete check of its servers and found no hacker compromise or any vulnerabilities,” according to a statement from EastNets’ chief executive and founder, Hazem Mulhim.

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Snowden documents

In 2013, documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said the NSA had been able to monitor SWIFT messages.

The agency monitored the system to spot payments intended to finance crimes, according to the documents released by Snowden.

Reuters could not confirm whether the documents released Friday by the Shadow Brokers, if authentic, were related to NSA monitoring of SWIFT transfers since 2013.

Some of the documents released by the Shadow Brokers were dated 2013, but others were not dated. The documents released by the hackers did not clearly indicate whether the NSA had actually used all the techniques cited for monitoring SWIFT messages.
-VOA

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

Also read: NASA’s Curiosity rover finds a Wide Variety of Minerals in Martian Rocks

There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

 

 

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Construction for Arab Residents in Palestine at the expense of the Jews

It should be mentioned that this is a long-term outline, the implementation of which could take up to 35 years.

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Yossi Dagan
Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council. Wikimedia
  • 14,000 housing providing accommodation for 50,000 Arab residents were approved for marketing for the city of Qalqiliya
  • The government approved about 2,000 housing units for Jews a week ago in the entirety of Judea and Samaria
  • This is a long-term outline, the implementation of which could take up to 35 years

Qalqiliya (Palestine), June 16, 2017: 14,000 housing providing accommodation for 50,000 Arab residents in Palestine were approved for marketing in Area C, which is under full Israeli responsibility, for the city of Qalqiliya. The size of the city, located in Area A, would be doubled by the move at the expense of land in Area C which was meant for Israeli development. The plan would work well in bringing the city and nearby Jewish communities far closer together.

At the same time, the government approved about 2,000 housing units for Jews a week ago in the entirety of Judea and Samaria. Judea and Samaria have a Jewish population of approximately 450,000 people.

It should be mentioned that this is a long-term outline, the implementation of which could take up to 35 years. The wait for an approval has already been about ten years.

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The move was slammed by Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, who also called it a scandal.

According to him, “at the time of the calculation of every housing unit with us, and when only 66 housing units have been approved by the Samaria Regional Council, the political echelon decides to grant the city of terror Qalqiliya the ultimate reward for terror: doubling the area and doubling the population. In the morning, we can say that we are doing everything for the settlement and in the evening [we act] to stop construction in the settlements and to promote Arab construction. We cannot allow the government to continue with this illusion.”

It is believed by the Regavim movement, which is the legal representative of the nearby town of Tzofim that the planned expansion of the city will result in bringing it very close to the territory of the town.

According to Regavim’s statement, the proposed plan will be severely detrimental for the settlement of Tzofim, which the Palestinian city will effectively encircle. They also added that the Palestinian proposal is nothing but a planning disaster. It allows for low construction on a huge area and unreasonably wastes land resources instead of approving the maximum urban construction height based on the existing plan.

The heads of the Knesset Land of Israel lobby, MKs MKs Yoav Kish and Bezalel Smotrich, responded to that saying, “This is unreasonable and intolerable behavior that is taking place under the table and we will demand clarification [on the matter].”

The heads of the lobby also said that the construction and allocation of extensive land to Palestinians in Area C, on the one hand, and the limited number of Israelis on the other, crosses the red line that can be afforded by a national government.

According to reports in Israel National News, the response statement from the Prime Minister’s clarified, “This is a plan that was brought in by the defence minister last year and approved by the cabinet, and since then, more than 10,000 housing units have been approved for Jewish settlement, and therefore the claim [that the move was taken at the expense of Jewish residents] is incorrect and even absurd.”

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang