Friday, September 03, 2010

Blackwater Won Contracts Through a Web of Companies

James Risen and Mark Mazzetti write in The New York Times:

Blackwater Worldwide created a web of more than 30 shell companies or subsidiaries in part to obtain millions of dollars in American government contracts after the security company came under intense criticism for reckless conduct in Iraq, according to Congressional investigators and former Blackwater officials.

While it is not clear how many of those businesses won contracts, at least three had deals with the United States military or the Central Intelligence Agency, according to former government and company officials. Since 2001, the intelligence agency has awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates, according to a United States government official.

The Senate Armed Services Committee this week released a chart that identified 31 affiliates of Blackwater, now known as Xe Services. The network was disclosed as part of a committee’s investigation into government contracting. The investigation revealed the lengths to which Blackwater went to continue winning contracts after Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September 2007. That episode and other reports of abuses led to criminal and Congressional investigations, and cost the company its lucrative security contract with the State Department in Iraq.

The network of companies — which includes several businesses located in offshore tax havens — allowed Blackwater to obscure its involvement in government work from contracting officials or the public, and to assure a low profile for any of its classified activities, said former Blackwater officials, who, like the government officials, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

More here.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Mark Fiore: God-O-Matic

More Mark Fiore brilliance.

Via The San Francisco Chronicle.

- ferg

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Krebs: FCC Must Make ISPs Crack Down on Spammers and Malware

Brian Krebs writes on CSO Online:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking for help in developing a "Cybersecurity Roadmap," an ambitious plan to identify dangerous vulnerabilities in the Internet infrastructure, as well as threats to consumers, businesses and governments.

The one piece of advice I will offer the commission is to begin measuring the responsiveness of Internet service providers (ISPs) and hosting companies in quashing malicious threats that take up residence on their networks. This is an imperative first step to prevent attacks on the Internet infrastructure, in addition to making the Internet a friendlier place for users.

The FCC said that it is seeking comments on how to proceed with the roadmap, which is part of the commission's National Broadband Plan to roll high-speed Internet services to more Americans.

The commission made the request at almost the same time as the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project issued its finding that more than half of Americans disagree with federal efforts to expand broadband deployment, an effort for which the Obama administration has allocated more than $7 billion. The Pew report came as the FCC was releasing data showing that most Americans who are paying for high-speed access aren't getting anywhere near the Internet speeds they've been promised.

More here.

Russian Trojan Blamed for Credit Card Losses at U.S. Diner

John E. Dunn writes on

Hundreds of lunchtime customers of a diner in the US city of Memphis are believed to have had funds stolen from their debit and credit cards after PCs at the venue became infected with malware.

Large numbers of customers reported having had funds taken after using Jason’s Deli in recent weeks, which prompted an investigation by the US Secret Service, part of the Department of Homeland Security.

After establishing that staff were not involved, police discovered that a computer system used by to verify credit cards had been infected with unidentified new-variant malware, which had logged and forwarded the data to criminals believed to be in Russia.

“The computers received a virus that was unknown before this event,” said Special Agent Rick Harlow of the US Secret Service in a news conference. “No antivirus program that we ran against it found it,” he said.

More here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dead UK Codebreaker Was Linked to NSA Intercept Case

Kim Zetter writes on Threat Level:

A top British codebreaker found mysteriously dead last week in his flat had worked with the NSA and British intelligence to intercept e-mail messages that helped convict would-be bombers in the U.K., according to a news report.

Gareth Williams, 31, made repeated visits to the U.S. to meet with the National Security Agency and worked closely with British and U.S. spy agencies to intercept and examine communications that passed between an al Qaeda official in Pakistan and three men who were convicted last year of plotting to bomb transcontinental flights, according to the British paper the Mirror.

Williams, described by those who knew him as a “math genius,” worked for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) helping to break coded Taliban communications, among other things. He was just completing a year-long stint with MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service, when his body was found stuffed into a duffel bag in his bathtub. He’d been dead for at least two weeks. His mobile phone and a number of SIM cards were laid out on a table near the body, according to news reports. There were no signs of forced entry to the apartment and no signs of a struggle.

Initial news stories indicated Williams had been stabbed, but police have since disputed that information, noting that — other than being stuffed into a duffel bag — there were no obvious signs of foul play. A toxicology report is expected Tuesday.

More here.

Does NSA's Cyber Security Mission Extend to the dot.Com Domain?

William Jackson writes on

The National Security Agency appears to be suffering a case of mission creep.

For years, NSA, the Defense Department’s lead agency for information gathering and protection, has said that it has its hands full with protecting military networks and has no interest in networks outside the .mil domain. The .gov domain is the responsibility of Homeland Security, NSA said, and the .com and other private-sector domains are the responsibility of the private sector, with DHS help.

Of course, NSA would also be willing to lend a hand if needed, but it has no direct responsibility for non-military networks.

These statements have been taken with a grain of salt by many in the security world, especially with the revelation of wholesale illegal wiretaps that were discovered sweeping up traffic from commercial networks during the Bush administration. Now, DOD is admitting the obvious by saying that its interests extend beyond .mil.

More here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pentagon Considers Preemptive Strikes as Part of Cyber-Defense Strategy

Ellen Nakashima writes in The Washington Post:

The Pentagon is contemplating an aggressive approach to defending its computer systems that includes preemptive actions such as knocking out parts of an adversary's computer network overseas - but it is still wrestling with how to pursue the strategy legally.

The department is developing a range of weapons capabilities, including tools that would allow "attack and exploitation of adversary information systems" and that can "deceive, deny, disrupt, degrade and destroy" information and information systems, according to Defense Department budget documents.

But officials are reluctant to use the tools until questions of international law and technical feasibility are resolved, and that has proved to be a major challenge for policymakers. Government lawyers and some officials question whether the Pentagon could take such action without violating international law or other countries' sovereignty.

Some officials and experts say they doubt the technology exists to use such capabilities effectively, and they question the need for such measures when, they say, traditional defensive steps such as updating firewalls, protecting computer ports and changing passwords are not always taken.

More here.

Note: This is such a bad idea, I can't even muster the words to describe the level of idiocy poor judgment. -ferg