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Justice Department charges Iranian hackers with attacks on US cities, companies

November 29, 2018

John Spink | Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP – Linda Crossland gives directions to a citizen while seated at the City of Atlanta Customer Service Desk with her computer off, in the atrium of City Hall in Atlanta, March 23, 2018. Employees at Atlanta City Hall were handed instructions as they come through the front doors to not turn on computers or log on to their workstations. The action comes as city officials struggled to determine how much sensitive information may have been compromised in a cyberattack.

BY Ellen Nakashima and Devlin Barrett, The Washington Post • November 28, 2018 11:31 am

Source Link: Justice Department charges Iranian hackers with attacks on US cities, companies

{You think Iran will ever do anything for the betterment of mankind…or their own people for that matter? – LS}

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department unsealed charges Wednesday against two Iranian criminal hackers who allegedly used ransomware to hit American hospitals, universities, government agencies and the city of Atlanta, causing tens of millions of dollars in damages.

In all more than 200 victims were affected, more than $6 million in ransom collected and damages exceeded $30 million, officials said. Ransomware encrypts data on affected systems, with an offer to decrypt if a ransom is paid.

This is the first time federal prosecutors are bringing charges against hackers for using ransomware with Bitcoin exchanges, according to officials. Bitcoin exchanges transfer traditional currencies into Bitcoin, or Bitcoin into traditional currencies.

The 25-page indictment charges that the hackers’ scheme was for their own personal profit, and was not government directed.

The defendants, Faramarz Shah Savandi and Mohammad Mehd Shah Mansouri, were charged with conspiring to hack victims between December 2015 and this month. The suspects are believed to be in Iran.

A ransomware called SamSam was used in attacks against Atlanta, the Colorado Department of Transportation and several health care institutions. The ransomware, first identified in 2015, gained prominence after it afflicted Atlanta in March, hobbling computers in the court system, shutting down the Wi-Fi at the international airport, preventing residents from paying their water bills online, and forcing the police for several days to file police reports on paper instead of electronically.

Though Atlanta refused to pay the anonymous hackers $51,000 in ransom, recovering from the attack is estimated to have cost the city’s taxpayers more than $9 million.

The SamSam ransomware was not as well-known as WannaCry, a computer virus paired with ransomware that in May 2017 affected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries. But in some ways, it is more sophisticated. WannaCry, which U.S. officials said was created by North Korea, spread on the open internet and hit targets indiscriminately.

With SamSam, by contrast, the hackers chose targets that were vulnerable and then infiltrated their networks, pre-positioning the ransomware on key servers before triggering it — a technique that enabled them to inflict maximum damage immediately, according to officials and cybersecurity experts.

SamSam differs from other ransomware because it does not rely on phishing to infiltrate a system, but uses other techniques, including what security officials call brute-force attacks to guess weak passwords.

But it shares one key attribute with WannaCry, said cyber experts. Both utilize a potent cyber tool developed by the National Security Agency that was breached and wound up on the open internet: EternalBlue. The “exploit,” as hackers call it, takes advantage of a software flaw in some Microsoft Windows operating systems, helping attackers gain access to those computers.

Although Microsoft, after being notified by the NSA, issued a patch for the flaw in March 2017, many companies around the world and some in the United States failed to update their machines and fell victim to WannaCry last year.

The hackers who developed SamSam at some point incorporated EternalBlue into the malware. “SamSam was far more potent with EternalBlue,” said Jake Williams, founder of the cybersecurity company Rendition Infosec. “Their capabilities increased dramatically with it.”

Other ransomware has also used EternalBlue, showing how these exploits, once released, can be picked up by anyone — criminals or nation states. And it has raised questions about how agencies such as the NSA protect their hacking tools.

PUTIN TO ISRAEL, U.S.: LOOSEN SANCTIONS IN EXCHANGE FOR IRAN LEAVING SYRIA

November 21, 2018

“We are continuing our conversations in order to reach a political solution in Syria.”

BY MAARIV ONLINE NOVEMBER 20, 2018 Jerusalem Post

Source Link: PUTIN TO ISRAEL, U.S.: LOOSEN SANCTIONS IN EXCHANGE FOR IRAN LEAVING SYRIA

{Two observations…one, Iran is clearly Russia’s pawn and, two, the sanctions must really be biting. – LS}

Russia offered Israel and the United States a deal involving Iran’s withdrawal of its forces from Syria in exchange for a reduction in American sanctions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a closed session of the Knesset’s Foreign and Security Committee Monday, Channel 10 News reported. The offer was made by Russian President Putin, according to an MK who was present at the meeting.

Netanyahu met Putin in Paris last week during the ceremonies marking the centenial of the armistice that ended the first World War, but it is unclear if Putin made the offer then. After the meeting, Netanyahu said that “the conversation with Putin was good, productive and very important. There is no point in going into further details.”

MKs said that Netanyahu said at the meeting that the Russians and Americans are in discussions on containing the Iranian influence in Syria, and held their last meeting on the issue on November 8 in Vienna.

According to the report, at the beginning of the month Netayahu met with the American envoy to Syria, Jim Jeffery, and discussed the matter with him. Netanyahu was asked by the Knesset members if Israel expressed its stance on the proposal, and he answered that at this stage there is no official Israeli position.

“We are continuing our conversations in order to reach a political solution in Syria,” a senior US State Department official told Channel 10. “We will not go into detail on the content of those diplomatic conversations.”

Mossad said to thwart Hezbollah terror plot against Jewish targets in Argentina

November 20, 2018

Israel’s intelligence service reportedly passed information which led to arrest of suspects in Buenos Aires; 3 men said to confirm they planned to attack Jewish targets

By Times Of Israel STAFF November 19,2918

Source Link: Mossad said to thwart Hezbollah terror plot against Jewish targets in Argentina

{Brought to you by the world sponsor of terrorism, the Islamic Republic of Iran. – LS}

A terror plot against Jewish targets was thwarted when the Mossad intelligence service passed information to Argentinian security officials which led to the arrest of suspected members of the Hezbollah terrorist group, Hadashot TV reported Monday.

According to the report, police arrested two brothers and their cousin at a hideout in Buenos Aires which was found to contain an arsenal of weapons and explosives. The suspects were said to have admitted they planned to attack Jewish targets in the country.

No further details were given on the credentials or travel, and the discrepancy in the number of individuals arrested has not been clarified.

The two men, aged 23 and 25, were arrested at a Buenos Aires residence, and were also found to be in possession of a “small arsenal” including a rifle, a shotgun and a number of handguns.

A Hezbollah suicide bomber carried out the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires. The attack, orchestrated by Iran, killed 85.

Earlier this year the Argentine government targeted a Hezbollah fundraising network in the northern Triple Frontier with Brazil and Paraguay.

Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that the Mossad not only is responsible for preventing attacks against Israeli targets, but also provides intelligence to Israel’s allies around the world.

In October, Israeli officials said the Mossad provided its Danish counterpart with information concerning an alleged plot by Tehran to assassinate three Iranian opposition figures living in the Scandinavian country.

Mossad is also said to be behind the thwarting of an Iranian government bomb plot that aimed to target an opposition group in Paris in June.

Trump Ends $1.3 Billion Payments To Pakistan: “I Ended It Because They Don’t Do Anything For Us”

November 20, 2018

US President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his administration’s decision to stop hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan, saying the country does not do “a damn thing” for the US and its government had helped Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hide near its city.

By ROBERT SPENCER — NOVEMBER 19, 2018 Freedom Outpost

Source Link: Trump Ends $1.3 Billion Payments To Pakistan: I Ended It Because They Don’t Do Anything For Us

{It’s refreshing to see some real leadership in this country for a change. – LS}

Bravo. This is long overdue. For years I’ve called for a reconfiguration of our global alliances in light of the realities of the global jihad. The alliance with Pakistan was always a sham, and should have been ended long ago.  “…we give Pakistan $1.3 billion a year. … (Laden) lived in Pakistan, we’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them $1.3 billion a year – which we don’t give them anymore, by the way, I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us,” he said.”

“Pakistan doesn’t ‘care’ about US: Trump,” by Shafqat Ali, Nation.pk, November 19, 2018:

Islamabad/WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his administration’s decision to stop hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan, saying the country does not do “a damn thing” for the US and its government had helped Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hide near its city.

Referring to Laden and his former compound in Abbottabad, Trump in an interview to Fox News said “You know, living – think of this – living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer.”

The compound was demolished shortly after US Naval Special Warfare Development Group forces, in a daring helicopter raid, killed Laden there in 2011.

“But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there,” Trump added. “And we give Pakistan $1.3 billion a year. … (Laden) lived in Pakistan, we’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them $1.3 billion a year – which we don’t give them anymore, by the way, I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us,” he said.

The ties between the two countries strained after Trump, while announcing his Afghanistan and South Asia policy in August last year, hit out at Pakistan for providing safe havens to “agents of chaos” that kill Americans in Afghanistan and warned Islamabad that it has “much to lose” by harbouring terrorists.

In September, the Trump administration cancelled $300 million in military aid to Islamabad for not doing enough against terror groups active on its soil.

Trump also said that he has plans to visit Iraq and Afghanistan to meet American troops stationed there. “Well, I think you will see that happen. There are things that are being planned. We don’t want to talk about it because of – obviously because of security reasons and everything else,” he said.

Trump has been criticised by his political opponents for not visiting either Afghanistan or Iraq in the first two years of his presidency….

Life in Israel under the shadow of Hamas’s rockets

November 19, 2018


A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows Palestinian rockets being fired from Gaza City towards Israel

BY Stephen Daisley NOVEMBER 15, 2018 The Spectator

Source Link: Life in Israel under the shadow of Hamas’s rockets

{Civility under fire…absolutely amazing. – LS}

Midway through coffee a soldier came running in. ‘Tzeva adom!’ ‘Red colour!’ Cups clattered, chairs shrieked across slate floor. There is a calm exodus to an improvised bomb shelter — the cafe’s concrete reinforced bathroom. Soldiers at the front, paramedics behind, civilians at the back. Two dozen faces are lit by the insistent flashes of Red Alert, an app that warns of incoming fire. The foreigners quip nervously, the locals tut at the inconvenience. After a few minutes, the all clear is given and diners return to their lunch. It is 1.02pm and another rocket has just hit Israel. 

We are at Yad Mordechai junction, four kilometres from the 1949 armistice line — the border between Israel and Gaza. This is the second time in 30 minutes that we have had to flee from a Hamas rocket. Both times, a public announcement system sounded: the factual tone announcing ‘red colour’ is deemed less psychologically damaging than constant air raid sirens. Iron Dome, Israel’s anti-ballistic defence shield, took out the first rocket; the second got through and hit a house nearby. Israelis say without the Dome, casualties would be much higher and the government would have no option but to launch another full-scale military offensive against Hamas. 

Scores of injured Israelis have been taken to hospitals in the borderland in recent days. On Tuesday morning, Hamas’s rockets claimed their first fatality this week: Mahmoud Abu Asabeh, a 48-year-old Palestinian working in Israel, was killed when a projectile hit his apartment building in Ashkelon. He leaves behind a wife and five children. The tense ceasefire between Israel and Hamas looks likely to survive Sunday’s botched IDF operation inside Gaza, which cost the life of a senior Israeli officer (named only as ‘Lt. Col. M’) and seven Palestinians. The Israelis’ story is that this was a routine intelligence operation gone wrong but there are reports that this was a botched assassination attempt. 

Wherever the truth lies, Hamas exacted its revenge as always on Israeli civilians, targeting them with hundreds of rockets, and prompting a response that has killed seven Gazans, according to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency. Israel’s hawkish defence minister Avigdor Liberman resigned on Wednesday, in what is thought to be an act of political positioning ahead of rumoured elections. 

I travelled to Israel this week as part of a delegation of British journalists invited by the country’s ministry of foreign affairs. With the government picking up the tab, I feared that it might be one of those pointless junkets where diplomats spin the usual lines: Israel the Victim, Israel the High-Tech Eden, and Israel the Only Democracy in the Region. Instead, we have been given remarkable access to police, senior diplomats, policy-makers and politicians. Checkpoints, anti-Arab racism, the Nation State Law — nothing has been off limits. They have pushed back, sometimes hard, but there has been little glossing over Israel’s faults. 

This candour is what makes us insist on visiting the Gaza border as scheduled: here is a chance to test all they have told us. Our planned visit to the Kerem Shalom border crossing is now out of the question, a pity because Kerem Shalom is busy. Israel is sending tankers of fuel and trucks with essential supplies into Gaza. After some pushing, our hosts agree to take us as close to the border fence as possible. We rattle down a highway on which all the other traffic is heading in the opposite direction and, after an hour, arrive at Sapir College, just outside Sderot. Sapir has 8,000 students on its roll — 7,000 Jews and 1,000 Arabs or Bedouins — but today the campus is a shell. The authorities shut it down briefly on Tuesday because it is in range of Gaza, before it was reopened. The building is also a literal shell: the college is surrounded by a forbidding concrete barrier designed to look like the walls of the building. 

Inside the education fortress we meet Zohar Avitan, the director of academic studies, who has been at the college since 1977. A lively-humoured man, his jokes are punctuated by a regular lament about the absence of his students. Avitan speaks of them with grandfatherly affection, especially the Bedouin women he says have to sneak out to classes every day lest their husbands find out. Sapir is to him ‘the wondership — the ship of dreams’, where students can find their way in life. 

Before the second intifada, Sapir had a sizeable contingent of Gazan students and ran courses inside the Strip. ‘This was back when we believed in peace,’ Zohar says. He is sad but he is not bitter. His parents, Moroccan Jews, moved to Israel when he was one and the family lived in a 32-square metre house in Sderot. He is proud of his town, recalling how it was known as ‘the Liverpool of Israel’ in the 1980s for producing a succession of chart-topping artists. 

Zohar is old enough to remember before Red Colour, when air raid sirens sounded through every street of his town. In December, a rocket landed outside his house during the Friday night shabbat dinner, blowing in the windows on the family as they prayed and ate. ‘I forgot what to do but my wife shouted at me to get to the shelter,’ he says, adding with a wry grin: ‘When my wife shouts, you listen.’

The 60,000 Israelis who live in communities adjacent to Gaza could be forgiven for holding a siege mentality but everyone we meet launches one-liners faster than Hamas can fire Qassams. Zohar jokes about two colleagues comparing the time they have to reach a bomb shelter. The man, who lives in Sderot, has 20 seconds while a female colleague from Ashkelon has 40. ‘What do you do with all your free time?’ he enquires. Later, when we are running from the second rocket in Yad Mordechai, Zohar assures us: ‘Don’t worry, the college will give you 20 credits in gymnastics for this.’

Zohar has an old man’s impatience for ideology. ‘This question of who started it. He started it; no, he started it. This is the argument of the kindergarten. We cannot live in the past; we have to build the future.’ The Palestinians, he states many times, are not his enemies. He wants one of his students to become manager of the duty free between Gaza and Israel. ‘That day, we’ll throw Toblerones, not missiles’. 

He takes us into central Sderot. It is a town of 24,000 and lies 800 metres from Gaza. Zohar introduces us to the mayor, Alon Davidi, a forty-something religious man and a smooth, easy political operator. He guides us into the municipality’s security command centre with its wall of CCTV screens and bank of telephonists fielding calls from concerned residents. The atmosphere is wire-taut; Red Alert buzzes with every fresh rocket that lands nearby. Davidi breaks the tension by saying he hopes for peace in Sderot — and continued success for the English national football team. 

I ask him about the psychological effects of rocket attacks. Israeli children living in the border communities report markedly higher mental health problems than the rest of the country. Three of Davidi’s children have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The town runs a number of programmes to help youngsters manage anxiety; his children have a therapy pet, a dog called Mocha. It helps them handle the enduring fear of the next barrage. 

Next we arrive at a bakery in the centre of town. A rocket landed the night before and struck a gas canister, incinerating the back of the shop. The stench of carbon attacks the nostrils. The baker is inside, now baking in the front of his shop because he cannot afford not to work. Out the back, insurance assessors fill out their forms, stony-faced. We drive closer still to Gaza, heading to the Black Arrow memorial that commemorates an earlier, more successful Israeli incursion. We can see the tops of Gaza tower blocks on the horizon but soon we are pulled over by the IDF. At first they agree to let us take pictures then lose patience and order us to move on. 

Ten minutes later we turn into Kfar Aza, a kibbutz directly on the border. As we arrive, some of the soldiers there shake their heads. Idiot tourists. A short walk later, we run out of road. Before us stands the electrified border fence. Only its wire mesh, and 50 metres of agricultural land, stand between us and Gaza. The kibbutzniks still farm the land but Hamas is now sending flaming kites to burn the crops, even as the children of Gaza — but not the children of Hamas — struggle to survive on supplies driven in every week by Israel. The same children have no trauma pets, no ship of dreams. Their rulers put them in front of soldiers, not the other way round. Gaza is 50 metres and yet much farther from here.


US IS IN SYRIA UNTIL IRANIAN ‘COMMANDED FORCES’ LEAVE

November 18, 2018

The US State Department had not spelled out a clear policy, and the Pentagon didn’t seem to know if removing Iran and Iranian proxies was actually the official stance.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN NOVEMBER 18, 2018 Jerusalem Post

Source Link: US IS IN SYRIA UNTIL IRANIAN ‘COMMANDED FORCES’ LEAVE

Bonus Link: The Model of Iranian Influence in Syria

{Bottom line…Iran must go. – LS}

The United States is laying the groundwork for a long-term commitment to eastern Syria that will include “stabilization” after the defeat of Islamic State and also the demand that “Iranian-commanded forces” leave Syria before the US withdraws. Over the last six months, this policy has increasingly crystalized. It was finally spelled out by US special representative for Syria engagement James Jeffrey at the end of last week.

US intervention in Syria to target Islamic State began in September 2014 to stop the extremists from taking the Kurdish city of Kobani. By April 2016, the US support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units and the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main partner force fighting ISIS, had expanded to include hundreds of US special forces and teams assisting the effort on the ground. The US presence expanded during the battle to liberate Raqqa in the summer and fall of 2017.

Over the summer, rumors and then statements began to emerge that the US presence in Syria would remain until Iran leaves. In September, National Security Advisor John Bolton said, “we’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.”

This would include Iranian proxies and militias. But the US-led coalition did not see that as part of their mission. In a press conference on October 2, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve was asked about the Iranian issue.

“First and foremost [our mission] is to destroy ISIS,” the spokesman said. “The second is to train local troops to eventually take over. And then for the Geneva process to start working.” A Pentagon Inspector-General report went a bit further.

The US State Department had not spelled out a clear policy, and the Pentagon didn’t seem to know if removing Iran and Iranian proxies was actually the official stance. Instead, a US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs said that the US was “desegregating” efforts against ISIS, from the Iran policy, and that confronting Iran was an “ancillary” or “residual” benefit of having a US footprint in eastern Syria.

Jeffrey told a special briefing in Washington on November 14 that the US policy is the “enduring defeat of ISIS, a reinvigorated and irreversible political process in Syria led by the Syrian people and facilitated by the UN and a de-escalation of the conflict that will include all Iranian-commanded forces departing from the entirety of Syria.”

The US military role in eastern Syria “indirectly helps affect Iran’s malign activities,” he said. The goal is not clear: The Iranian commanded-forces must go. This also means a “fundamental change in Iran’s role in Syria,” which the US says helped fuel ISIS.

The US special representative also said that getting Iran out is not a military goal. That means the US won’t be trying to confront Iran on the ground in the Syrian areas held by the regime.

He also said that Iran’s presence was a threat to US allies and partners, including Israel, Turkey and Jordan. “The Syrian government invited them [Iran] in, we expect the Syrian government to ask them to leave,” he said.

Jeffrey noted that the US presence in Syria is made legally possible by a 2001 law that allows use of military force as part of the war on terror after 9/11. He also says that what the coalition calls “stabilization” is part of a “stage-four aspect to the military, political, diplomatic, and economic efforts” to ensure ISIS is defeated.

Spelling out how the US mission in Syria is in the process of shifting from an anti-ISIS mission, to one that includes using eastern Syria as leverage against the Assad regime and its Iranian allies is important for the region. Over the last several years, the US presence and end-goal in Syria were not clear. What began as a war on ISIS grew as the US found partners in eastern Syria, particularly among the Kurds, who proved effective warriors against ISIS.

Now, as “stabilization” takes place and the defeat of ISIS continues with battles along the Euphrates, Washington is seeking to explain what comes next. It appears that getting Damascus to remove not only Iranian forces but also those proxies and militias commanded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is the next step.

 

U.S. Counterterror Official: Iran Spends $1 Billion Annually Supporting Terrorism

November 16, 2018

by TheTower.org Staff | 11.16.18 11:42 am

Source Link: U.S. Counterterror Official: Iran Spends $1 Billion Annually Supporting Terrorism

{This is nothing compared what the rest of us must spend to counter terrorism. – LS}

The United States Coordinator for Counterterrorism said that Iran spends nearly $1 billion annually supporting terrorist groups across the Middle East, Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe reported Thursday.

Of the total, Amb. Nathan Sales said that Iran gives $700 million to the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah; $100 million to Hamas and other “Palestinian terrorist groups;” and unspecified sums to other terrorist organizations.

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. It has held that dubious distinction for many years now, and it shows no signs of relinquishing the title,” Sales said.

“Sadly, it is the Iranian people who are forced to pay this price. The resources that Iran uses to fund its global terrorist ambitions are resources that come directly out of the pockets of everyday, average Iranians.”

Reuters reported last week that ordinary Iranians are “increasingly” taking to social media and “pointing fingers at the rich and powerful, including clerics, diplomats, officials and their families,” for living privileged lives while most Iranians are suffering from the poor economy.

In addition, Iranian teachers have gone on a nationwide strike for a second consecutive day demanding from the regime in Tehran better working conditions and higher salaries, one month after their last mass protest. Voice of America reported Wednesday that elementary and high school teachers were protesting outside their offices in at least 27 Iranian cities.

In a related development, Brian Hook, the U.S. Special Representative for Iran, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.

Netanyahu thanked the U.S. for imposing “powerful sanctions against Iran.” The goal of these sanctions, the prime minister asserted, is to take action against “the most aggressive power in the region that has to be rolled back.”

Hook stated that with new sanctions in place, the U.S. is positioned “to really go after all of the revenue streams that Iran uses to fund Hamas and Hezbollah, its missile proliferation, all of the threats to peace and security that Iran presents.” He also thanked Israel for being “a fantastic and committed partner in this endeavor.”

When he announced that the U.S. would pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran this past May, President Donald Trump stated that the U.S. was committed to “efforts to eliminate the threat of Iran’s ballistic missile program; to stop its terrorist activities worldwide; and to block its menacing activity across the Middle East.”

[Photo: U.S. Department of State / YouTube ]