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Edward Snowden granted temporary asylum in Russia

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August 1, 2013

The U.S.' NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, and it's expected that this will increase tensions between the two countries.

Russia's latest decision to grant the former CIA technician temporary political asylum has allowed the 30-year-old individual to leave the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he has been stuck in limbo for several weeks following his flight from Hong Kong on June 23rd.

U.S. authorities have revoked Snowden's passport shortly after he outed himself as the source of leaks about the NSA's controversial global internet surveillance programs.

The resulting lack of travel documentation meant that Snowden could neither leave Russia nor enter it, dumping him in the airport's so-called neutral transit area.

Snowden's legal representative in Russia, Anatoly Kucherena, confirmed that papers allowing the ex-NSA contractor to live and work in Russia for a year had been obtained, nevertheless.

Snowden has already fled the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, the newspaper Russia Today reports, citing eyewitness reports from a crew on the scene.

Russia Today further claims to have obtained a photo of Snowden's temporary visa, in a still-frame captured by one of its news crews at the airport.

Wikileaks, which has been providing legal assistance to Snowden, confirmed his exit-- "Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia for twelve months, and has now left Moscow's airport under the care of WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison.

Harrison said that Snowden's location would remain a top secret due to the ongoing concerns for his well-being and safety.

Moscow was supposed to be a stopover for Snowden, en route to a permanent asylum in either Ecuador and Venezuela, it's understood.

Ecuador, which gave Snowden papers that allowed him to fly between Hong Kong and Moscow, got cold feet about extending an offer of permanent asylum after the United States threatened it with trade and diplomatic sanctions.

The private jet of the Bolivian president was denied clearance to fly over Spanish, French or Portuguese airspace in June, over suspicions that Snowden could have been on board.

Those rumours proved to be groundless, but they nevertheless illustrated the practical issues that Snowden faced if he wanted to reach any of the three South American countries, including Venezuela and Bolivia, which had offered him asylum as well.

Snowden then applied for political asylum in Russia in early July, announcing the move during a press conference in Moscow's airport transit area.

Russian President Vladimir Putin previously said that an asylum for Snowden would only be possible if the leaker stopped harming the U.S. Putin said: "He must cease his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners."

It's still unclear for now if Snowden has agreed to that condition. Snowden's extended stay in the Moscow Airport's transit area frequently started resembling scenes from a Hollywood movie.

Several attempts by international journalists to locate him went amusingly awry when the press pack boarded a non-stop alcohol-free flight to Havana that Snowden was booked on but never took.

Then, there was an impromptu marriage proposal by ineffective Russian spy-turned-TV-presenter Anna Chapman. We'll keep you posted on this.

In other internet security news

The official Twitter account of the Reuters news agency has apparently become a direct conduit for pro-Assad propaganda yesterday after the account was hacked into by attackers from the new very infamous Syrian Electronic Army.

Updates supportive of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad spewed from @thomsonreuters before stability was somewhat restored and the news agency regained control of the hacked account.

The compromised Twitter account was then used to place a series of various propaganda messages and cartoons in support of President Assad's government.

Since March 2011, Syria has been embroiled in a very bloody and messy civil war. Uprisings against the Assad government have resulted in numerous clashes between rebels and the regime's forces, which are supported by the terrorist group Hezbollah.

According to some security and human rights researchers, including InfoWar Monitor, the SEA has also been tasked with hacking and otherwise disrupting opposition websites within Syria itself.

Syrian citizens' access to the Web has been cut off twice in the past two years-- once in the second month of the civil war, and most recently as rebel forces fought their way into the capital city of Damascus at the end of 2012.

Reuters is the latest in a long line of well-known media organizations perceived to be pro-rebel or against the Assad regime. Previous victims include The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Al Jazeera and The Onion.

An attack on the Associated Press in April was used to falsely claim that the White House had been bombed and President Barack Obama severely wounded, leading to a temporary dip in U.S. and global stock exchanges.

The group's main stock-in-trade involves multi-stage phishing attacks ultimately aimed at taking over email accounts associated with social media profiles of targeted organizations.

Unconfirmed reports also suggest that the SEA managed to take over three personal email accounts of White House employees. These compromised accounts were used to send secondary phishing emails, disguised as BBC or CNN articles, to other workers.

Prospective marks who clicked on these links were directed towards fake Gmail or Twitter login screens in a ruse aimed at harvesting login credentials.

The hacktivists said that, although their ultimate aim to compromise the White House website had failed, they have managed to compromise Twitter account passwords.

Twitter has suspended the group's official account — @Official_SEA12 — following the SEA's latest run of attacks on websites associated with VoIP apps Viber and Tango three weeks ago.

In other internet security news

Last Thrusday, two Russians arrested over their suspected involvement in the largest online fraud in U.S. history were simply tracked down by analyzing photographs that they posted previously to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. All that police had to do after that was to simply track down the location of one suspect's mobile phone.

Overall, four Russians and a Ukrainian national were named as suspects in a credit card hacking scam investigation involving no less than 160 million credit cards and victimizing big organisations including the Nasdaq stock exchange, 7-Eleven, Carrefour, JC Penney, Hannaford, Heartland, Euronet and Global Payments in an indictment unsealed on Thursday.

The criminal group allegedly acted as wholesale suppliers of stolen credit card data to carding forums resulting in losses of more than $300 million to just three of the organizations they targeted. The investigation is ongoing.

Two of the suspects, alleged moneyman Dmitriy Smilianets, 29, and alleged hacker Vladimir Drinkman, 32, both from Moscow, were arrested in the Netherlands in June 2012.

Smilianets has already been deported to the U.S., while Drinkman continues to fight against expulsion. Three other suspects still remain at large, however.

Alexandr Kalinin, 26, of Saint Petersburg, allegedly worked with Drinkman in breaking into the systems of targeted organizations, normally employing SQL injection attack techniques.

The group subsequently planted trojans and various virusses to harvest and extract credit card numbers and personal information from compromised computers.

Investigators say that Smilianets and Drinkman worked with notorious double-dealing cybercrime kingpin Albert Gonzalez in the famous 2009 hacking of Heartland Payment Systems.

The indictment alleged that Roman Kotov, 32, also from Moscow, specialized in mining the data networks allegedly compromised by Drinkman and Kalinin to steal valuable information.

Smilianets allegedly acted as a high-tech fence by selling stolen credit details through underground forums. The fifth suspect, Mikhail Rytikov, 26, of Odessa, Ukraine, provided the hosting services to the group, the indictment claims.

Smilianets kept a relatively high profile in Russia and an active presence on social networking sites, which was how they easily tracked him down.

He founded an electronic gaming team called Moscow 5 that travelled the world for competitions. In that role, Smilianets used a variety of online nicknames including Dima Brave and Dima Bold.

U.S. Secret Service agents received information that Smilianets was travelling to Europe last year along with Drinkman. Investigators quickly realized that Drinkman was one of several people suspected of collaborating with Gonzalez.

"Here's the world's biggest hacker," a person familiar with the case told Reuters. "We got lucky." The agents still didn't know where the two suspects were staying but Drinkman assisted them by posting pictures of his trip, as well as leaving his phone on, transmitting location information and narrowing down the potential locations where he might have been staying.

Overnight inquiries were made at the hotels and the location of the suspects was narrowed down. The two criminals were eventually arrested as they boarded a tour bus.

Reuters adds that U.S. authorities have acted unusually by publicly naming suspects at large in an ongoing investigation. But that could be a sign of a lot of frustration and a lack of co-operation from their Russian counterparts.

In other internet security news

So far, at least four Russian citizens and a Ukrainian national have been charged with running a sophisticated hacking organization that over seven years penetrated several computer networks of more than a dozen major American and international corporations.

The five individuals are charged with stealing and selling at least 160 million credit card numbers and causing losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The indictments were announced this morning in Newark, New Jersey, where U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman called the case the largest hacking and data breach crime ever prosecuted in the United States.

The victims in a scheme that allegedly ran from 2005 until late in 2012 included the Nasdaq electronic stock exchange, 7-Eleven, JC Penney, the New England supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers, JetBlue, Heartland Payment Systems Inc. (one of the world's largest credit and debit processing companies), French retailer Carrefour S.A., and the Belgium Dexia Bank.

The indictment says that the suspects sent each other several instant messages as they took control of the corporate data, telling each other, for instance-- "NASDAQ is owned." At least one man told others that he used Google news alerts to learn whether his hacks had been discovered, according to the court filing.

The defendants were identified as Russians Vladimir Drinkman, Aleksander Kalinin, Roman Kotov and Dmitriy Smilianets, and Ukrainian Mikhail Rytikov.

Authorities say that one suspect is still in the Netherlands and another is due to appear in U.S. District Court in New Jersey next week. The whereabouts of the three others were not immediately known.

The prosecution builds on a case that resulted in a 20-year prison sentence in 2010 for Albert Gonzalez of Miami, who often used the screen name "soupnazi" and is identified in the new complaint as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Other unindicted co-conspirators were also named. Prosecutors identified Drinkman and Kalinin as "sophisticated" hackers who specialized in penetrating the computer networks of several multinational corporations, financial institutions and payment processors.

Kotov's specialty was harvesting data from the networks after they had been penetrated, and Rytikov provided anonymous web-hosting services that were used to hack into computer networks and covertly remove data, the indictment said.

Smilianets was the information salesman, the government said. All five are charged with taking part in a complex computer hacking conspiracy and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

The four Russian nationals are also charged with multiple counts of unauthorized computer access and wire fraud as well.

The individuals who purchased the credit and debit card numbers and associated data from the hacking organization then resold them through online forums or directly to others known as "cashers," the indictment said.

According to the indictment, U.S. credit card numbers sold for about $10 each. Canadian numbers were $15 each and European ones sold for as high as $50.

The data was stored on servers all over the world, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Latvia, the Netherlands, the Bahamas, the Ukraine, Panama and in Germany.

The cashers would encode the information on magnetic strips of blank plastic cards and cash out the value, by either withdrawing money from ATMs in the case of debit cards, or running up charges and purchasing goods in the case of credit cards.

In other internet security news

About 50.4 percent of all the world's critical stock and currency exchanges have suffered several cyber attacks in the past year, a new report has found.

A joint investigation by the World Federation of Stock Exchanges and?the International Organization of Securities Commissions reveals that the cyber attacks are increasingly aimed at destabilising financial markets, rather than making monetary gains for the hackers that are involved.

The authors found that people at the very top of the world's economic system are very nervous that a concerned online assault could cripple those markets.

Top bankers are increasingly aware of the possible threat but have little confidence in their ability to thwart attacks, with one quarter of respondents admitting their "current preventative and disaster recovery measures may not be able to stand up against a large-scale and coordinated attack".

And just half of all exchanges believe their local laws are strong enough to deter hackers and would-be cyber attackers.

The stock and currency exchanges want to see more concerted international efforts put in place to ensure that hackers have no chance to bring down critical systems.

“Several players in the financial industry doubt over the effectiveness of these regimes and generally appear to rest on the international nature of cyber crime, which creates a major obstacle in effective enforcement,” said Rohini Tendulkar, author of the report.

So a file which appears to be called RecentNews.ppa.pdf is actually The file is designed to trick users into thinking they are opening a .PDF file which is in reality an an executable .APP.

This sort of back-to-front trickery has been seen in Windows malware in the past - such as Bredolab and the high-profile Mahdi trojan from last year - but it's reckoned to be a new and unwelcome arrival on Macs.

In order to maintain the subterfuge, the malware displays a decoy document while silently executing in the background, installing malicious code on compromised Macs.

Because of the right-to-left override character, the usual file quarantine notification from OS X will also display with the words written backwards.

If you need reliability when it comes to SMTP servers, get the best, get Port 587.

Get a powerful Linux Dual-Core dedicated server for less than $2.67 a day!

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Source: Russia Today.

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