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US Cyber Spies Unmasks Identities of Citizens who in Contact with Foreign Intelligence Targets

Alex Joel, a DNI official, said it was likely that the higher number of U.S. persons unmasked last year was inflated by names of victims of malicious cyber activity

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cyber spies, identities
FILE - A man types on a computer keyboard in this illustration, Feb. 28, 2013. VOA

U.S. cyber spies last year unmasked the identities of nearly 17,000 U.S. citizens or residents who were in contact with foreign intelligence targets, a sharp increase from previous years attributed partly to hacking and other malicious cyber activity, according to a U.S. government report released on Tuesday.

The unmasking of American citizens’ identities swept up in U.S. electronic espionage became a sensitive issue after U.S. government spying on communications traffic expanded sharply following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and started sweeping up Americans’ data.

The report by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said that in 2018 cyber spies at the National Security Agency (NSA) unmasked the identities of 16,721 “U.S. persons,” compared to 9,529 unmaskings in 2017 and 9,217 between September 2015 and August 2016.

cyber spies, identities
U.S. person used by spy agencies includes actual individuals, email addresses and internet protocol (IP) addresses. Pixabay

According to U.S. intelligence rules, when the NSA intercepts messages in which one or more participants are U.S. citizens or residents, the agency is supposed to black out American names. But the names can be unmasked upon request of intelligence officers and higher-ranking government officials, including presidential appointees.

Alex Joel, a DNI official, said it was likely that the higher number of U.S. persons unmasked last year was inflated by names of victims of malicious cyber activity. Another official said the definition of U.S. person used by spy agencies includes actual individuals, email addresses and internet protocol (IP) addresses.

The expanded collection of data that affected Americans was exposed by whistleblowers like former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, prompting politicians and the public to demand greater accountability.

cyber spies, identities
The report says that the number of “non-US persons” targeted by the U.S. for foreign intelligence surveillance rose to 164,770 in calendar year 2018 compared to 129,080 the year before. Pixabay

Annual reports on the extent of NSA and other government electronic surveillance were one notable reform. NSA’s operations historically were so secretive that agency employees joked its initials stood for “No Such Agency.”

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Not long after President Donald Trump took office, Devin Nunes, the Republican who then chaired the House Intelligence Committee, touched off a political flap by claiming intercepted messages involving members of Trump’s transition team had been unmasked at the direction of top Obama administration officials.

The report says that the number of “non-US persons” targeted by the U.S. for foreign intelligence surveillance rose to 164,770 in calendar year 2018 compared to 129,080 the year before. The report adds that not a single FBI investigation was opened on U.S. persons based on NSA surveillance in either 2017 or 2018. (VOA)

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Hackers Use Data Protection Websites to Hack User Data: Study

In any possible scenario - be it the absence of the SSN or entering the correct existing SSN - the website alerts mistakes and offers to sell a temporary one for the $9 price

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Hackers
Experts at cybersecurity firm Kaspersky detected this new online fraud scheme where Hackers urge users to buy 'temporary US social security numbers' worth around $9 each. Pixabay

In a unique online fraud, hackers are tricking people into thinking that they own compensation after being victims of personal data frauds, and under the pretext of offering them money, are fleecing them, a new report said on Monday.

Experts at cybersecurity firm Kaspersky detected this new online fraud scheme where scammers urge users to buy ‘temporary US social security numbers’ worth around $9 each.

Victims were found in Russia, Algeria, Egypt and the UAE as well as other countries.

The scheme involves a website allegedly owned by the Personal Data Protection Fund, founded by the US Trading Commission.

The fund issues compensation to those who may have been subject to a personal data leak and is available to citizens from any country in the world.

For those interested, the site offers to check whether user data has ever been leaked.

For this, one needs to provide their specific surname, first name, phone number, and social media accounts.

Once this has been done, an alert is shown indicating that the user has experienced a leak, which can include data such as photos, videos, and contact information, entitling the user to compensation of thousands of dollars.

Hackers
In a unique online fraud, hackers are tricking people into thinking that they own compensation after being victims of personal data frauds, and under the pretext of offering them money, are fleecing them. Pixabay

“However, fraudsters do not just ask for a user to enter a bank card number and wait for the payment to be credited; users inevitably need to offer their own social security numbers,” the report noted.

In any possible scenario – be it the absence of the SSN or entering the correct existing SSN – the website alerts mistakes and offers to sell a temporary one for the $9 price.

Upon agreement, the victim is redirected to this payment form in Russian or English with the purchase price specified in rubles or dollars, respectively. The specific form depends on the victim’s IP address, the experts noted.

“The scammers themselves are most likely Russian speakers, as suggested by the request for payments in rubles, plus the suspicious similarity of the scheme to other easy money offers that regularly tempt residents of Russia and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States),” said Tatyana Sidorina, Security expert at Kaspersky.

The e-bait in those schemes varies — giveaways, surveys, secret retirement savings, even a part-time job as a taxi dispatcher — but they tend to be in Russian (as are some of the preceding links).

The bottom line is always the same: the juicy promise of quite a bit of easy money, followed by a demand to pay for an inexpensive service, be it a commission, a ‘securing’ payment, or a temporary SSN.

Hackers
“However, Hackers do not just ask for a user to enter a bank card number and wait for the payment to be credited; users inevitably need to offer their own social security numbers,” the report noted. Pixabay

“The new scheme is quite a topical one and is related to offering compensation for data leaks. Once some organizations have started to pay users, fraudsters decided there is a monetary opportunity for them as well,” Sidorina added.

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In order to stay protected from the potential risks of online fraud, do not trust payment offers, use trusted resources and utilize a reliable security solution, said the researchers. (IANS)