Brit Diplomat Snagged in KGB “Honey Pot?”

July 12, 2009

The Cold War ended a generation ago, but the sexcapades persist.  Witness James Hudson, deputy consul general at Britain’s outpost in Russia’s Ekaterinburg, who finds himself caught in grainy video as he frolicks with a local prostitute in a whorehouse.  A KGB plot?  The Independent says no, Putin’s government wouldn’t bother with this triviality, probably Hudson was just caught by security cameras and somebody (former KGB?) decided to embarrass him and Her Majesty’s Service by releasing the images.  Or maybe there was a stumbling attempt at blackmail that went badly south.

The Russians, in any event, had their fun with the porcine Mr. Hudson.  His exploits were edited down to a 4 minute, 18 second porno highlights fick that has aired on the Internet in Russia.  A shorter version (very tame, if only because the quality is poor) showed up on YouTube.

Mr. Hudson has resigned his diplomatic post.

Hudson’s ex-wife was tracked down by the Sun and is reported saying: “I’m glad I got out when I did – I want nothing to do with what he’s done.”

The Times of London sums it up succintly: diplomats must keep their heads down and trousers up.

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Hemingway as KGB Agent

July 12, 2009

That’s what a new book says. The book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America claims Hem was recruited in 1941, and admits he provided no intel of any value.

What Not To Post

July 10, 2009

Israel Hyman blames his home burglary — wherein he lost thousands of dollars of video gear — on Twitter.  That’s because, as he drove from his Arizona home to his Kansas City destination, he tweeted about the drive and, easy-peasy, any malefactor could deduce that it was prime time to rob Mr. Hyman’s abode. …and indeed that is what apparently happened.

As the AP observed, “Most people wouldn’t leave a recording on a home answering machine telling callers they’re on vacation for a week, and most people wouldn’t let mail or newspapers pile up while they were away. But users of social media think nothing of posting real-time vacation photos on Facebook, or sending out automatic e-mail messages that say, ‘I’m out of the country for a week.'”

Classic advice of course when going out of town is to stop newspaper deliveries, stop the mail, ask a neighbor to pick up doorway flyers, etc. — basically to cover up the absence so as not to appear a ripe target for burglars.  Social media, with their question, “What are you doing now?”, seem to turn this on its head, by imploring users to offer minute by minute updates and indeed that intel is fodder for bad guys.

A San Francisco Chronicle reporter offers more insight: “Joanne McNabb, chief of the California Office of Privacy Protection, says she hasn’t received any complaints from people who think they were robbed because they disclosed their whereabouts on social networks. But, she says, ‘It’s a risk in the online world just like in the offline world.’ Robbers have long been known to scour the newspaper for death or wedding announcements and target homes when families are likely to be at the funeral or on a honeymoon. ‘It’s not that these Web 2.0 things are creating new crimes. They are providing some new vectors or venues for the crimes that can happen anyway,’ McNabb says.”

Bottomline: stay mum about travels and, our advice, is don’t send out a tweet that proclaims, “Just sat down at Babbo for a tasting menu, buckled up for a three hour dinner.”  Right there you’ve provided your timeline.  Wait until you’re home, then Tweet.  That’s the safe route.

Murdoch Spy Plot Thickens

July 9, 2009

You’d think it was a script for a bad “B” movie but apparently it is real life in tabloid London, as details cascade across computer screens and depict the scandal that is enveloping London journalism.  Today the Evening Standard leads with a story that “News of the World” paid 700,000 quid to buy the silence of the head of the footballers association, whose phone was hacked into by investigators hired by the Murdoch-owned paper.

Footballers, Tinsel stars, even a high-powered PR flack are on the Evening Standard’s list of Londoners whose phones were compromised, in a quest for scoops.

The Metropolitan Police are reopening investigations — if the allegations are true, Murdoch’s minions broke numerous laws — and even Gordon Brown has chimed in with a tssk-tssk: “I think this raises questions that are serious and obviously have to be answered.”

The Telegraph elaborates on the wrongdoing: “Journalists…are alleged to have used private investigators to listen in to calls made by people such as former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell, model Elle MacPherson and PR executive Max Clifford. Other alleged targets included Mayor of London Boris Johnson, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Nigella Lawson.”

The numbers of possible phone taps now crosses into many thousands, as this scandal tears away Fleet Street’s respectability.

Spying on the Mighty

July 9, 2009

The giggle of a story with nasty bits at the center is the Daily News’ report on a Dolce & Gabanna PR maven who confessed to NYPD that she’d used spyware to intercept a NYC socialite’s voicemail.  Reports the News: “Ali Wise, well-known on the party circuit and director of entertainment public relations for Dolce & Gabbana, was arrested Tuesday after confessing to cops that she had bought computer spyware to sneak into interior designer Nina Freudenberger‘s voice mail, police sources and court records said.”  We think perhaps Ms Wise saw too many James Bond flicks.

But the bigger news is that Scotland Yard has opened inquiries into allegations that journalists working for Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids used illicit means to hack into cellphone messages of public figures, reports the Guardian. (This of course gives new meaning to the word “hack.”)  Giggles aside, the unnerving part of the story is that, apparently, Murdoch’s entities paid out over $1.6 million to buy the silence of those whose phones were hacked.  Exactly how many were victims remains unclear.  Reports the Guardian: “The suppressed legal cases are linked to the jailing in January 2007 of a News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, for hacking into the mobile phones of three royal staff, an offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. At the time, News International said it knew of no other journalist who was involved in hacking phones and that Goodman had acted without their knowledge.

But one senior source at the Met told the Guardian that during the Goodman inquiry, officers found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into ‘thousands’ of mobile phones. Another source with direct knowledge of the police findings put the figure at ‘two or three thousand’ mobiles. They suggest that MPs from all three parties and cabinet ministers, including former deputy prime minister John Prescott and former culture secretary Tessa Jowell, were among the targets.”

Yikes.

That is an astonishing scandal that underlines just how threadbare our privacy is.

Cell Phones Track You

July 8, 2009

First the light story: “Sending GPS The Way of the Tape Deck,” where a NYTimes reporter speculates thst just about now smartphones pack enough of a wallop to have made standalone GPS devices superfluous.

Just when you are feeling good about the phone as multi-function device (and indeed a decent phone with the right software is very capable of replacing a dashboard GPS unit)…read this other Times story,”Growing Presence in the Courtroom: Cellphone Data as Witness.”   What the piece explores is: “the surge in law enforcement’s use of increasingly sophisticated cellular tracking techniques to keep tabs on suspects before they are arrested and build criminal cases against them by mapping their past movements.”

There you have it: your cellphone knows where you’ve been: “many more cellphones are equipped with global-positioning technology that makes it possible to pinpoint a user’s position with much greater precision, down to a few dozen yards,” reports the Times and in at least two prominent NYC murder trails, cellphone location evidence played crucial roles in pinpointing where a prie suspect was when the deed came down.

More compelling: the technology exists to allow cell phone carriers to track targets in real time (say, vis a vis an Amber alert).

And now tools are emerging to (voluntarily) let others track your every move and to email them with updates of your progress along a route.

Is all this good, bad?  Keep tuning into this blog for fresh updates on your privacy and what’s come of it.

StasiLand Redux

July 8, 2009

Deutsche Bank has some explaining to do.  A study, commissioned by the bank and conducted by outside counsel, has found the bank spied “on several of its management board members, supervisory board members and on at least one shareholder,” reports BUSINESS WEEK.

Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Bahn also have had internal spying scandals that involved wholesale violations of employee privacy rights.

With Deutsche Bank, the apparent focus was on alleged relationships between a board member and a Reuters reporter, who — the bank thought — was getting leaked insider info.

True, false, it doesn’t matter at this juncture.  What does matter is that pillars of Germany industry — telephone, rail, and finance — all find themselves dragged through public mud for trampling on employee rights.

Is your cellphone spying on you?

July 8, 2009

Don’t laugh.

The bad guys may be catching up on you.

Here’s the scary reality: smartphones pack plenty of intelligence, but slender self-defense mechanisms.  The built-in anti-viral, anti-malware tools taken for granted on PCs don’t exist on wireless devices, where competition for available storage is intense and, so far, users would rather have space for voice dialers and snapshots of their kids than for self-defense tools.  This is creating a massive opportunity for cyber criminals, who increasingly eye the phone as the weak link because a new generation of cheap, easy to deploy spy software is turning the phone into an all-purpose eavesdropping device, with the owner as victim.

Newsweek reports that: “This new generation of -user-friendly spy-phone software has become widely available in the last year—and it confers stunning powers. The latest programs can silently turn on handset microphones even when no call is being made, allowing a spy to listen to voices in a room halfway around the world. Targets are none the wiser: neither call logs nor phone bills show records of the secretly transmitted data.”

Spend $50 to $100 online and you’ll get real, working spyware.  It’s no joke.

In Tampa, ABC Action News planted spyware on the phone of a volunteer named Brie (who was in on the ploy) and, reports ABC, “every time Brie makes or receives a call, we received a text message alert telling us she was on the line. All we had to do was dial in, and listen in.

And this gets even creepier. At a Tampa restaurant we could listen to Bries conversations even though she wasn’t using her phone! It doesn’t even have to be turned on.

That’s right, even though we were miles away, we could remotely activate the microphone in her cellphone, turning Brie’s phone into a bug hidden in plain sight.”

Big news media have jumped on the story.  The sad, scary story of teenager Courtney Kuykendall — whose phone was commandeered and turned against her and her family — has opened many eyes with fright.  Local news reported: “The Kuykendall family’s troubles started in February when 16-year-old Courtney Kuykendall’s cell phone started sending text messages to her friends — by itself, the family said.

Then the threats came. A scratchy voice called daily, sometimes to say that the entire family’s throats would be slit, Courtney’s mother, Heather, told ABC News.”

A good YouTube news report on how your phone can be turned into a spy tool against you is here.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Three steps are worth taking:

* Make the phone password protected.

* Turn off all Bluetooth connectivity when not using it (or just turn Bluetooth off entirely, suggest many security experts).

* Take out the phone’s battery for extended periods.  With no power, the device cannot spy on you.

Calling the Pot Black

July 8, 2009

China has arrested a Rio Tinto executive on charges of espionage and for allegedly stealing state secrets, according to officials in Australia, home base for Rio Tinto, a global mineral giant.  Contract talks between Rio, which supplies iron ore to Chinese steel mills, and China had stalled, apparently due to substantial disagreement about future pricing.  But the arrest of the executive came out of nowhere.

When the Mighty Fall

July 7, 2009

Just when you thought you’d done enough to protect yourself in an age of endemic espionage, two news items smack you in the face:

* Feast on Sergey Aleynikov, a Goldman Sachs computer programmer (reportedly earning $400k at the gig) who, allegedly, copied the firm’s super-secret trading algorithms and uploaded the lot to a server in Belgium…then Aleynikov abruptly quit.  What’s puzzling is how even an insider can download 32 mb of code, then upload to an offsite server without bringing security to his desk quicker than you can say, insider trading.

Writes the NYTIMES: “He is no John Dillinger, no public enemy No. 1. But Sergey Aleynikov nonetheless masterminded a dazzling bank theft, the authorities say, and he did it without brandishing a gun or cracking a vault.”

The Times report continues: “just before he left, according to the complaint, Mr. Aleynikov used his desktop computer at Goldman’s New York offices to upload a stream of code to a Web site hosted by a server based in Germany….Later, he downloaded the files again to his home computer, his laptop computer and to a memory device.”

Internal alarms rang eventually did ring at Goldman as the system detected the data exchange and Aleynikov was arrested at Newark Airport…but what’s gone is gone.

Item #2: When John Sawers takes up the job as head of MI6 — the British CIA, with so much legend the agency’s head always is called just “C,” in honor of the first incumbent — people will know more about him than they did his predecessors.  A lot more.

That’s because his doting wife fleshed out a family Facebook page.  In addition to posting pictures of the new C in Speedos, “she had posted details about their children and the location of the flat the couple use in London,” reported the Guardian newspaper.  Here, for instance is Lady Sawers and their daughter Corrinne.

The tabloid Daily Mail even printed a screenshot of Lady Sawer’s Facebook page (itself deleted).

Sir John, at last count, still held onto his new job — but you can bet MI6 will promulgate companywide rules barring employee use of Facebook.

What’s stunning about these two incidents is the scope of the targets.  Money-machine Goldman Sachs — seemingly bigger than “too big to fail” — and the incoming head of MI6 are about as big as things get.

And yet you have this.