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Friday, April 19, 2024

An Alleged Russian Spy Was Busted Trying to Intern at The Hague

This week, WIRED revealed new details that link an Indian police force to a hacking campaign against human rights defenders and activists. Researchers at SentinelOne uncovered connections between the city of Pune’s police agency and evidence planted on the devices of activists, as part of a hacking campaign dubbed Modified Elephant. It is alleged that evidence was planted on the computers of activists Rona Wilson and Varvara Rao and then used to arrest the two men. Among other details, an unnamed security analyst at an email provider revealed to SentinelOne and WIRED that the email address and phone number of a Pune police official was set as the recovery email on hacked accounts.

Elsewhere, a new front is emerging in Russia’s war against Ukraine. In the occupied city of Kherson and other nearby regions, Russian forces are routing internet connections from Ukrainian internet service providers to Russian companies. Ukrainian officials tell WIRED the shifts are happening at a large scale and could result in people being subjected to Vladimir Putin’s surveillance and censorship machine.

Robocalls aren’t going away. There’s been progress in tackling the nuisance calls in recent years but the spammy calls are still prevalent. This week we looked into the roots of the problem and what can still be done in the fight against robocalls. We also looked at a new way for cops to collect your fingerprints. How censors in Shanghai haven’t been able to hide stories of the city’s dead during an aggressive Covid-19 lockdown. And the dwindling options facing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after the UK Home Office approved his extradition to the US, where he faces espionage and hacking charges.

But that's not all, folks. Each week we round up the big security and privacy news we didn't cover ourselves. Click the links for the full stories, and stay safe out there.

An Alleged Russian Spy’s Lies

Viktor Muller Ferreira had a traumatic childhood. Growing up, his father and mother—who had adopted him—split up. His mother later died of pneumonia, and his aunt, who raised him, also passed away. The family didn’t have much money. At school, children bullied Ferreira for his looks and his weird accent. As a result, he didn’t have many friends.

One day when his aunt was out, a neighborhood boy came round and told Ferreira that he was the fairy tale character Grey Shadow and he was going to “devour” him. “This scared me so much that I spent the entire day in a small box out on the balcony, praying until my aunt came home.” As he grew older he worked in a garage, took an interest in journalism, and moved to Brazil to reunite with his estranged father and “restore my citizenship.”

Except, according to authorities in the Netherlands, none of that is true.

Dutch intelligence agency AVID claimed this week that “Viktor Muller Ferreira” is just a cover story and false identity for Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, an alleged Russian intelligence officer belonging to the GRU military unit. AVID said it caught Cherkasov applying to be an intern at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which is investigating potential war crimes in Russia’s wars against Ukraine and Georgia.

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As well as stopping Cherkasov from obtaining the position at the ICC and sending him back to Brazil, the Dutch intelligence agency also published his long and detailed cover story. The four-page story, often known as a covert intelligence officer’s “legend,” details the background of the “Ferreira” identity. “The threat posed by this intelligence officer is deemed potentially very high,” AVID said in a statement.

Since outing “Ferreira,” more clues about his undercover life have emerged. Social media profiles belonging to “Ferreira” have been discovered by the investigative unit Bellingcat, as well as a blog and online CV. He also studied at Trinity College Dublin and Johns Hopkins University. Eugene Finkel, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins, who says he taught “Ferreira,” tweeted: “I wrote him a letter. A strong one, in fact. Yes, me. I wrote a reference letter for a GRU officer. I will never get over this fact. I hate everything about GRU, him, this story. I am so glad he was exposed.”

You Can Finally Move WhatsApp Chats

For years it’s been impossible to move backups of WhatsApp chats between Android and iOS, and vice versa. In August last year, WhatsApp announced it was starting to roll out the ability for people to move their data between iPhones and Android devices. Now, this week, the Meta-owned company says backups will work in the other direction too—from Android to iOS.

Hertzbleed Flaw Allows Cryptographic Key Theft

Processors from Intel and AMD are vulnerable to a new side-channel attack called Hertzbleed. The attack could allow the theft of cryptographic keys and data, as reported by BleepingComputer and DarkReading. Hertzbleed works by exploiting a common power-saving feature in chips—called dynamic frequency scaling (DVFS)—that could allow an attacker to steal data. Frequency changes in DVFS may be correlated with information being processed by chips, Intel says in a blog post. Despite this, neither Intel nor AMD appear to have plans to address the issue. However, the risk to end users seems low at the moment. The team of researchers who found Hertzbleed say ordinary users probably shouldn’t be worried.

Chinese Authorities Used Covid Health App to Block Protest

Ever since Covid-19 started spreading in early 2020, technological systems have been developed to try to control its spread. In China, a mandatory health code system was created to monitor people’s health status—people with a red code are required to self-isolate, those with a green code are allowed to move freely. These health codes are tied to people’s phones. Now, according to multiple reports, people in the Chinese province of Henan claim their plans to protest have been blocked as their health code has been turned red. Several people impacted claim they have not been around anyone positive with Covid-19 and the change is an abuse of power by officials.

Firefox Becomes More Private

Mozilla’s web browser may have been struggling in recent years, but it is still one of the most privacy-friendly browsers. This week the company said Firefox is turning on its Total Cookie Protection feature by default for everyone using the browser. Any cookies saved to your computer will be available only to the website that placed them there, Mozilla explains in a blog post. “Instead of allowing trackers to link up your behavior on multiple sites, they just get to see behavior on individual sites,” the company says, adding it is “Firefox’s strongest privacy protection to date.”

US Firm L3Harris Mulls Purchase of Pegasus Spyware

In November 2021, the US sanctioned notorious Israeli spyware firm NSO Group. The company’s Pegasus hacking tool has been used around the world to spy on journalists and activists. This week it emerged that US defense firm L3Harris is interested in purchasing the technology behind Pegasus, as the Financial Times reports. Any purchase of the technology by a US company would potentially put it at odds with the Biden administration, which blacklisted NSO. Talk of the potential deal, which was said to be in early stages, has prompted criticism from the White House. “We are deeply concerned,” a senior official told the Washington Post. They said the deal could cause security and counterintelligence issues for the US.

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