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US talks global cybersecurity without a key player: Russia

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US talks global cybersecurity without a key player Russia

Amid an epidemic of ransomware attacks, the U.S. is discussing cybersecurity strategy this week with 30 countries while leaving out one key player: Russia.

The country that, unwittingly or not, hosts many of the criminal syndicates behind ransomware attacks was not invited to a two-day meeting starting Wednesday to develop new strategies to counter the threat.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan called it a gathering of “like-minded” governments in agreement on the urgency of the need to protect citizens and businesses from ransomware. “No one country, no one group can solve this problem,” he said in opening remarks.

The virtual discussions will focus in part on efforts to disrupt and prosecute ransomware networks like the one that attacked a major U.S. pipeline company in May, a senior administration official said. The attack on Colonial Pipeline, which led to gas shortages along the East Coast, was attributed to a Russia-based gang of cybercriminals.

The exclusion of a country so closely tied to the global ransomware phenomena reflects the overall poor relations between Moscow and Washington.

Despite that, the U.S. has used a “dedicated channel” to address cybersecurity with Russia, said the official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity to preview this week’s meeting with around 30 countries and the European Union.

Since President Joe Biden raised the issue directly with President Vladimir Putin this summer in a summit and later phone call, there have been “candid discussions” about cybercriminals operating within Russia’s borders, the official said.

“We’ve had several, and they continue, and we share information regarding specific criminal actors within Russia, and Russia has taken initial steps,” the official said.

It is unclear what steps Putin’s government has taken. Russia does not extradite its own citizens, and FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate told a security forum last month that he has seen “no indication that the Russian government has taken action to crack down on ransomware actors that are operating in the permissive environment that they’ve created there.”

The issue was expected to be on the agenda this week in Moscow as Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland met for talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

The Biden administration took office amid a massive cyberespionage campaign known as the SolarWinds attack, which U.S. officials have linked to Russian intelligence operatives. Ransomware attacks, perpetrated generally by criminal hacker gangs rather than state-sponsored groups, have caused tens of billions of dollars in losses to businesses and institutions and become a major source of tension between the two nations.

Ransomware payments reached more than $400 million globally in 2020 and topped $81 million in the first quarter of 2021, according to the U.S. government.

Actions taken by the Biden administration include imposing sanctions on a Russia-based virtual currency brokerage that officials say helped at least eight ransomware gangs launder virtual currency and issuing security directives that require pipeline companies to improve their cyber defenses.

In addition, the State Department has announced rewards of millions of dollars for information on people who engage in state-sponsored malicious cyber activities aimed at transnational criminal networks that Sullivan said operate “across multiple countries, multiple jurisdictions to carry out their attacks.”

Most of this week’s ransomware meeting is expected to be private as participants attend sessions led by India, Australia, Britain and Germany and will focus on themes such as developing resilience to withstand ransomware attacks.

Other participants include Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Kenya.


WASHINGTON (AP)

Cybersecurity

Panasonic confirms cyber breach to its access data

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Japanese manufacturing titan, Panasonic, confirmed Friday its network has been infiltrated by a cyberattack directed at its access data, on November 11, by gaining entry via third party.

In its statement, the company revealed that “some data on a file server had been accessed during the intrusion.”

This marks the only information publicized by the tech manufacturing giant. However, homegrown publications Mainichi and NHK alleged the breach was initiated June 22 and terminated November 23.

“After detecting the unauthorized access, the company immediately reported the incident to the relevant authorities and implemented security countermeasures, including steps to prevent external access to the network,” Panasonic said in its statement.

“In addition to conducting its own investigation, Panasonic is currently working with a specialist third-party organization to investigate the leak and determine if the breach involved customers’ personal information and/ or sensitive information related to social infrastructure,” it added.

In parallel, NHK disclosed that the breached servers contained data about Panasonic business partners and the manufacturer’s own technology, adding that a previous cyberattack directed at a subsidiary also obtained personal business data.

Panasonic also stated that aside from directing its own probe into the matter, the company is also seeking experts’ assistance by working with a third-party establishment to examine all aspects of the cyberattack. This will help the entity identify whether the infiltration was directed towards clients’ personal data.

“We cannot predict whether it will affect our business or business performance, but we cannot deny the possibility of a serious incident,” the Japanese titan said told one of the publications on Friday.

Earlier in March, Panasonic joined forces with cyber security company McAfee to institute a cybersecurity operations center (SOS) to address the rising risks of these attacks on its infrastructure. The pact will prioritize and strictly focus on detection and response.

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Apple suing Israeli hacker-for-hire company NSO Group

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Tech giant Apple announced Tuesday it is suing Israel’s NSO Group, seeking to block the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire company from breaking into Apple’s products, like the iPhone.

Apple said in a complaint filed in federal court in California that NSO Group employees are “amoral 21st century mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant abuse.” Apple said NSO Group’s spyware, called Pegasus, had been used to attack a small number of Apple customers worldwide.

“State-sponsored actors like the NSO Group spend millions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance technologies without effective accountability. That needs to change,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering.

NSO Group has broadly denied wrongdoing and said its products have been used by governments to save lives.

“Pedophiles and terrorists can freely operate in technological safe-havens, and we provide governments the lawful tools to fight it. NSO group will continue to advocate for the truth,” the company said in a statement.

It’s the latest blow to the hacking firm, which was recently blacklisted by the U.S. Commerce Department and is currently being sued by social media giant Facebook.

Security researchers have found Pegasus being used around the world to break into the phones of human rights activists, journalists and even members of the Catholic clergy.

Pegasus infiltrates phones to vacuum up personal and location data and surreptitiously controls the smartphone’s microphones and cameras. Researchers have found several examples of NSO Group tools using so-called “zero click” exploits that infect targeted mobile phones without any user interaction.

The Biden administration announced this month that NSO Group and another Israeli cybersecurity firm called Candiru were being added to the “entity list,” which limits their access to U.S. components and technology by requiring government permission for exports.

Also this month, security researchers disclosed that Pegasus spyware was detected on the cellphones of six Palestinian human rights activists. And Mexican prosecutors recently announced they have arrested a businessman on charges he used the Pegasus spyware to spy on a journalist.

Facebook has sued NSO Group over the use of a somewhat similar exploit that allegedly intruded via its globally popular encrypted WhatsApp messaging app. A U.S. federal appeals court issued a ruling this month rejecting an effort by NSO Group to have the lawsuit thrown out.

Apple also announced Tuesday that it was donating $10 million, as well as any damages won in the NSO Group lawsuit, to cybersurveillance researchers and advocates.


RICHMOND, Va. (AP)

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Cybersecurity

Thousands of Phone Numbers Compromised During Robinhood Hack

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Popular investment and trading platform Robinhood stated that “limited information” had been stolen during a cyber-attack targeting the company last week but highlighted that among them were thousands of personal phone numbers.

Robinhood said on Tuesday, that the list obtained by the hackers, which contained email addresses for about five million people and full names for a different group of roughly two million people, included “several thousand entries” with phone numbers.

While the company failed to reveal how many phone numbers were on the list, Motherboard reported that it’s about 4,400.

Motherboard got a copy of the stolen phone numbers “from a source who presented themselves as a proxy for the hackers.” In a statement, Robinhood did not confirm whether the phone numbers Motherboard had obtained, were authentic but did acknowledge that the stolen information included thousands of phone numbers.

However, the blog added: “We continue to believe that the list did not contain Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, or debit card numbers and that there has been no financial loss to any customers as a result of the incident. We’ll continue making appropriate disclosures to affected people.”

The company added: “After we contained the intrusion, the unauthorized party demanded an extortion payment. We promptly informed law enforcement and are continuing to investigate the incident with the help of Mandiant, a leading outside security firm.”

On his side, Robinhood Chief Security Officer Caleb Sima said, “As a Safety-First company, we owe it to our customers to be transparent and act with integrity.”

“Following a diligent review, putting the entire Robinhood community on notice of this incident now is the right thing to do,” he noted.

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