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  1. A probe by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and computer security firm Kaspersky Lab has uncovered a massive network of mobile malware for all phone types that is sold by an Italian firm to police forces around the world. The malware, dubbed Remote Control System (RCS), was produced by a company called Hacking Team. It can subvert Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Symbian and BlackBerry devices. The study found 320 command-and-control (C&C) servers for RCS running in over 40 countries, presumably by law enforcement agencies. Kaspersky has developed a fingerprinting system to spot the IP addresses of RCS C&C servers and found the biggest host is here in the Land of the Free, with 64 discovered. Next on the list was Kazakhstan with 49, Ecuador has 35, just beating the UK which hosts 32 control systems. "The presence of these servers in a given country doesn't mean to say they are used by that particular country's law enforcement agencies," said Sergey Golovanov, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab. "However, it makes sense for the users of RCS to deploy C&Cs in locations they control – where there are minimal risks of cross-border legal issues or server seizures." The Milan-based firm that developed RCS boasts on its website that its malware can crack any mobile operating system and remain undetected while doing so. Based on documents leaked to Citizen Watch, the firm may be correct in its claims. The documents detail how the RCS system works. Once a target is identified by cops or g-men the malware is sent out and installed, either by tricking the user with a spearphishing attack or by exploiting vulnerabilities in the target's operating system. The Hacking Team has devoted a lot of time to hacking Android systems with great success. But the documents suggest that it has also found a way to crack Apple's iOS, albeit with a rather tricky attack vector. It appears that RCS won't work against iOS phones unless they have been jailbroken. But, if an unjailbroken iPhone is hooked up to an infected computer, then a remote-operated jailbreak can be carried out without the owner's knowledge using a tool like Evasi0n – then the malware can be installed easily. Once on a target's mobile, the RCS software can intercept and record all phone calls, SMS messages, chat conversations from apps such as Viber, WhatsApp and Skype, grab any files or pictures on the handset, spy on the calendar, look up the user's location, and take screenshots whenever the operator specifies, as well as harvesting data from third-party applications like Facebook. The malware's operator runs the code from behind an anonymizing firewall and the code can be tailored to provide little or no evidence that surveillance is taking place. The code is optimized to avoid running down the handset's battery, and can even get around the mobile data usage statistics displayed by the operating system. While Hacking Team says that its software should only be used to track down criminal targets, Citizen Watch says it has found samples of the code aimed at political targets in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Morocco and Ethiopia. "This type of exceptionally invasive toolkit, once a costly boutique capability deployed by intelligence communities and militaries, is now available to all but a handful of governments," said Citizen Watch. "An unstated assumption is that customers that can pay for these tools will use them correctly, and primarily for strictly overseen, legal purposes. As our research has shown, however, by dramatically lowering the entry cost on invasive and hard-to-trace monitoring, the equipment lowers the cost of targeting political threats." Source
  2. “The mice ate the marijuana” was the explanation given by Argentinian policemen who have been dismissed from the force over the vanishing of 1200 pounds of weed. This took place in Pinar, a town that is about 40 miles from Buenos Aires the capital city. Here, the officers in blue, who were tasked with the duty of protecting a warehouse full of drugs, maintained their innocence while claiming that mice had made away with half a ton of weed. You see, 2 years earlier, authorities had registered about 13,220 pounds of marijuana. Only to find out that half a ton of weed was missing. Meanwhile, forensic scientists have said that there is no way a large number of mice could consume that much cannabis. The judge, through his spokesman, has said, “Buenos Aires University experts have explained that mice wouldn’t mistake the drug for food and that if a large group of mice had eaten it, a lot of corpses would have been found in the warehouse.” This shortage of the said marijuana was first discovered by the new police commissioner, who in turn reported his findings to the internal affairs division. The judge would sit sometime next month, to decide whether or not that excuse is a valid one or whether the policemen were just careless. But although the internal affairs investigators had said that mice couldn’t have done that much damage, officers in Wichita have said that rodents have bitten through evidence bags to consume marijuana in them. This is according to USA Today. Source
  3. Special Services Group also offers cameras hidden in child carseats and vacuum cleaners. A surveillance vendor that works with U.S. government agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, and ICE, is marketing spying capabilities to local police departments, including cameras that are hidden inside a tombstone, a baby car seat, and a vacuum cleaner. The brochure highlights some of the capabilities on offer to law enforcement agencies, from the novel to the sometimes straight-up bizarre. "I think one of the biggest concerns I have is about the cost/size/capabilities of these devices. They keep getting cheaper, smaller and more capable all the time, and it’s unlikely that only law enforcement will be the only actors using them," Freddy Martinez, a policy analyst from government accountability group Open The Government who obtained the brochure through a public records request told Motherboard in an email. The public records request was filed with the Irvine Police Department in California. Beryl Lipton of the government transparency nonprofit MuckRock also obtained the documents using a FOIA request. A screenshot from the Black Book of a so-called Tombstone Cam. Special Services Group, the vendor behind the brochure, does not advertise its products publicly. Its logo is the floating-eye-in-pyramid logo seen on the back of the $1 bill, which conspiracy theorists associate with the Illuminati, and the company's slogan is "Constant Vigilance." The company is so secretive that, when asked for comment for this story, it threatened VICE with legal action if we published this article. The brochure is available here, starting from page 93. "Due to the critical missions of our customers, we have chosen not to place our product information on our website. Please use the contact section of our site to request more information," the company's website reads. Special Services Group says on its website that it caters to law enforcement and government agencies, but not necessarily exclusively; the website adds it also works with "select clients." The brochure, dubbed "Black Book" by its authors, contains a cornucopia of surveillance devices. "The Tombstone Cam is our newest video concealment offering the ability to conduct remote surveillance operations from cemeteries," one section of the Black Book reads. The device can also capture audio, its battery can last for two days, and "the Tombstone Cam is fully portable and can be easily moved from location to location as necessary," the brochure adds. Another product is a video and audio capturing device that looks like an alarm clock, suitable for "hotel room stings," and other cameras are designed to appear like small tree trunks and rocks, the brochure reads. The "Shop-Vac Covert DVR Recording System" is essentially a camera and 1TB harddrive hidden inside a vacuum cleaner. "An AC power connector is available for long-term deployments, and DC power options can be connected for mobile deployments also," the brochure reads. The description doesn't say whether the vacuum cleaner itself works. It appears to be the same or similar product that the DEA purchased from Special Services Group in 2018, as Quartz previously reported. One of the company's "Rapid Vehicle Deployment Kits" includes a camera hidden inside a baby car seat. "The system is fully portable, so you are not restricted to the same drop car for each mission," the description adds. A screenshot from the Black Book of a Shop-Vac covert DVR recording system. "Certainly the idea of a 'Tombstone Camera' seems pretty far out there. I don’t think I’ve seen a baby seat as a covert camera before either," Martinez added. The so-called "K-MIC In-mouth Microphone & Speaker Set" is a tiny Bluetooth device that sits on a user's teeth and allows them to "communicate hands-free in crowded, noisy surroundings" with "near-zero visual indications," the Black Book adds. Other products include more traditional surveillance cameras and lenses as well as tools for surreptitiously gaining entry to buildings. The "Phantom RFID Exploitation Toolkit" lets a user clone an access card or fob, and the so-called "Shadow" product can "covertly provide the user with PIN code to an alarm panel," the brochure reads. When Motherboard asked Special Services Group for comment, the company did not respond. Shortly later though, a lawyer representing the company wrote a strongly worded legal email, demanding Motherboard not report on the brochure. The lawyer claimed that the brochure was protected under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a set of rules that regulates the export of munitions, as well as copyright. "THIS IS NOTICE THAT THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS FILE MAY INCLUDE COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL, CONFIDENTIAL TRADE SECRET INFORMATION AND/OR ITAR RESTRICTED INFORMATION WHOSE RELEASE MAY SUBJECT THE RELEASING PARTIES TO CIVIL AND POSSIBLY CRIMINAL LIABILITY AND WE WILL ASSIST IN THE PROSECUTION TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW BOTH IN THE UNITED STATES, THE UNITED KINGDOM AND ABROAD, OF ANY PERSON WHO KNOWINGLY DISSEMENATES, FACILITATES AND/OR RELEASES THIS INFORMATION IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW," one part of the email, in bold and all caps, reads. The lawyer sent a separate email to MuckRock, the transparency nonprofit, also threatening legal action. The lawyer said that if Motherboard published this article, which, again, is an advertisement and promotional catalog for the company's services, it would put law enforcement at risk. It suggested "recent world events," perhaps referring to the heightening of tensions in Iran, as a particular concern. The lawyer provided no specifics or evidence to support the claim that publishing a list of cameras the company sells would put anyone in danger. "Please understand that while I understand a desire for government transparency, the release of the information could result in very serious jeopardy to the lives of law enforcement and military users of the technology RIGHT NOW IN PARTICULAR DUE TO RECENT WORLD EVENTS … the responsibility for any resulting harm should you go ahead and assist in the dissemination of this information to a wider public audience, while we may never know exactly where or how it damages innocent people, will fall squarely on your shoulders," the lawyer wrote. When releasing this information to the public, the Irvine Police Department had a law firm called Rutan & Tucker perform a full disclosure review. The city's lawyers determined that some separate documents not associated with Special Services Group needed to be redacted or held back for security reasons, but ultimately determined that Special Services Group's "Black Book" was safe to be released and that publishing it was in the "public interest." Special Services Group has relationships with a wide range of U.S. agencies. In all, the company has had deals worth around $2.6 million with over two dozen U.S. agencies, according to public procurement data. In 2014 the U.S. Secret Service paid Special Services Group over $820,000 for "Mobile Video Platform Kits." The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) paid the company over a million dollars across several years for surveillance cameras, the records show. Special Services Group also sold GPS trackers to ICE, the records add. In 2017 the company provided the Porterville Police Department in California a quote for surveillance cameras. Cliff Emery, Special Services Group's co-founder and CEO, sits on the board of directors of the Washington chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), a nonprofit focused on national security. Special Services Group exhibits at high profile law enforcement conferences, such as the UK's annual Security and Policing event. The brochure and the company's successful government contracts show that, even though some of these devices are out of the ordinary, there is certainly a market and appetite among law enforcement for covert surveillance devices. The brochure reflects another one from British surveillance vendor Cobham, which included a camera housed inside a trash can. The City of Irvine did not respond to a request for comment. Update: This piece has been updated to mention that the DEA bought a camera hidden in a vacuum cleaner from Special Services Group. Source
  4. There is content on the envelope. A Senate committee has been told that law enforcement agencies sometimes get full URLs from telcos, despite government reassurances. The Commonwealth Ombudsman, Michael Manthorpe, has revealed that law enforcement agencies are being given the full URLs of web pages visited by people under investigation. Australia's mandatory telecommunications data retention scheme was meant to deliver only so-called "metadata" to the cops and spooks. Under the scheme, a warrant is not required. But according to Manthorpe, the "ambiguity around the definition of content" means that agencies might effectively be receiving the content of communications. The ombudsman explained his concerns during a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) on Friday. Senator Andrew Hastie, Committee Chair: Could you talk about your concerns regarding ambiguity around the definition of content and whether or not an agency should have access to that when disclosed by a carrier under an authorisation? Michael Manthorpe, Commonwealth Ombudsman: Yes, essentially, the piece of ambiguity we have observed through our inspections is that sometimes the metadata, in the way it's captured, particularly URL data, and sometimes IP addresses but particularly URL data, does start to actually in its granularity start to communicate something about the content of what is being looked at. That's essentially the point we're making. Hastie: Just to be very clear, you get the URL, you get the full www. whatever it is .com? Manthorpe: That's right. Hastie: Which can indicate indicate what they're looking at. Manthorpe: Exactly. It can be quite long, or it can be quite short, and in some cases the descriptor is long enough to start -- we start to ask ourselves well that's almost communicating content, even though it's captured in the URL. Hastie: And then multiple -- we are getting too technical but you know -- multiple clicks, for example, on a thread would generate more and more, I guess, content. Manthorpe: That's right. Yes, exactly. So it's, we're simply highlighting that I think when the scheme was commenced, the concept of metadata was probably thought to be quite a clean and delineable thing, but we know that there is a greyness on the edges here that we thought we should call out. Hastie: Yeah. Sometimes there's information on the envelope, so to speak, to use the analogy from a couple of years ago. Manthorpe: That's a good analogy. As for the intelligence agencies, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), Margaret Stone, said that she wasn't aware of any instances of content being provided unlawfully, but she echoed Manthorpe's concerns. "There is this assumption that you get more from content than metadata," Stone told the committee. "But when you look at the range of metadata, and what it tells you, there's an argument that could be made that it is just as intrusive, or almost as intrusive, as content. You can tell a lot about what a person's doing from that." 'Grave concerns' that this wasn't meant to happen Labor Senator Anthony Byrne noted that the major telecommunications companies had given the government "numerous assurances ... that they could keep metadata in a subset" away from the content. "The federal government actually gave these telecommunications companies a substantial amount of money to ensure that that has actually happened," Byrne said. "If that's not happening, that's of grave concern to me." Byrne stressed that he wasn't critical of the agencies, nor the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office, merely that what he was now being told did not match how he thought the system was meant to work. "We are undertaking a review of this mandatory data regime, whether or not it works, whether or not it could be improved," he said. "It's nothing more than that." Telco data requests are meant to be written down Law enforcement agencies are obtaining telco data without written authorisation in a "very small number" of cases, according to ombudsman Manthorpe. "In some cases, they issue an internal authorisation based on verbal advice. And at an operational level, I can understand why that might occur, but it isn't catered for in the legislation," he said. "Sometimes, agencies -- if they issue a verbal authorisation -- do subsequently go to commit[ing it] to writing." Or, presumably, sometimes not. "We see non-compliance in a small minority of cases generally, and this is one area of potential non-compliance," Manthorpe said. "I would want to emphasise that, you know, there is a big volume of authorisations, and as far as we can ascertain, most of them are authorised appropriately." However as the committee noted, with the huge number of authorisations issues, a small percentage might still represent a large absolute number. In the 2018-2019 financial year, 295,691 authorisations to access metadata were issued across all state and federal law enforcement agencies. This number does not include those issued to intelligence agencies. ASIO guidelines 'well out of date' The Attorney-General's guidelines that cover data collection by the Australian Security and Intelligence Agency (ASIO) are "well out of date", according to Margaret Stone. "The present guidelines were issued in 2007, so guidance in relation to new powers introduced since then would be very helpful," she said. As well as accessing mandatory data retention, those new powers include Australia's controversial encryption laws, and the power to conduit a range of "special operations". "We've been saying for many years now, that those guidelines need revising," Stone said. "They're well out of date, the present guidelines." PJCIS has been hearing evidence as part of its review of the mandatory data retention scheme. These powers were legislated as Part 5-1A of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, usually referred to as the TIA Act, in 2015. The committee is due to report by April 13. Source
  5. Internal documents obtained by Motherboard detail the planning of an anti-package theft operation that used fake Amazon boxes rigged with GPS location trackers. In response to Amazon packages being stolen from people's doorsteps, police departments around the country have set up sting operations that use fake packages bugged with GPS trackers to find and arrest people who steal packages. Internal emails and documents obtained by Motherboard via a public records request show how Amazon and one police department partnered to set up one of these operations. The documents obtained by Motherboard—which include an operations plan and internal emails between Amazon and the Hayward, California Police Department—show that Amazon’s “national package theft team” made several calls to the Hayward Police Department and sent the department packages, tape, and stickers that allowed the department to set up a “porch pirate” operation in November and December of 2018. The documents also reveal that the bait Amazon packages included real-time location-tracking devices in order to surveil and track anyone who stole a package. According to an “Operation Plan” obtained by Motherboard, the Hayward Police Department referred to the porch pirate operation as “Operation ‘Safe Porch,’” and it lasted from November 12 to December 17, 2018. The document describes package theft in Hayward as a “significant problem” during the holiday season, and it characterizes Operation Safe Porch as a way to “arrest/prosecute those individuals committing this criminal activity.” “The operation will emphasize a pro-active approach in the suppression of this criminal activity and with the use of ‘bait’ packages affixed with GPS tracking devices, Surveillance and Covert Operations, Probation/Parole Searches and potentially Search Warrants,” the document reads. The document claims that the Hayward Police Department Criminal Investigations Bureau, units form the Hayward Special Investigations Bureau, and Hayward Crime Analysis all assisted with Operation Safe Porch. It also notes that the program was run four days a week, for 10 hours per day, and outlined the GPS, radio, and vehicles that were used in the program (including “an assigned undercover vehicle for surveillance and covert operations.”) We don’t know if Operation Safe Porch resulted in the prosecution or arrest of any individuals. An email obtained by Motherboard from Hayward Police Department Sergeant Brian Maloney dated November 25, 2018 says, “So far, there have been no bites on our decoy package.” “We have been targeting high traffic areas, good visibility of porches, and prior theft neighborhoods,” he continued. “I’ll let you know how it goes.” However, Special Investigations Bureau logs obtained by Motherboard indicate that the operation continued for almost a month after that email was sent. The Hayward Police Department declined to comment for this story. The documents indicate the role that Amazon played in helping to organize the sting operation in Hayward, and the amount of planning that went into patrolling and potentially prosecuting package theft—a petty crime. “We appreciate the effort by local law enforcement to tackle package theft in their communities, and we remain committed to assisting them in their efforts however we can,” an Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard. The documents obtained by Motherboard also detail conversations between Amazon Logistics Loss representative Rob Gibson and Hayward Police Department Sergeant Maloney. The emails arrange the delivery of Amazon-branded boxes, Amazon tape, and lithium ion stickers. One email from Maloney requests 5 boxes, as well as tape and stickers. A later email from Gibson says that he will provide 10 Amazon-branded boxes, a roll of Amazon-branded tape, and more lithium ion stickers. The emails reference several conversations between Amazon and the Hayward Police Department that occurred offline. In his first email to the Hayward Police Department, Gibson provides his cellphone number. “I manage our national package theft team and heard that you might be looking for some assistance,” Gibson wrote in his first email to Maloney on November 7. The Amazon representative who communicated with the Hayward Police Department was a “Logistics Loss Prevention” associate. According to the Amazon jobs website, Loss Prevention employees are tasked with protecting the “people, products, and information at each site and in the supply chain.” “Specialists build data-driven investigations, conduct interviews, and monitor security risks,” the website reads. “Our managers implement programmes to prevent loss, manage Amazon assets, and lead teams of strong people.” Several other cities around the country—including Aurora, CO; Albuquerque, NM; Jersey City, NJ; and Hayward, CA—have also conducted porch pirate sting operations aided by Amazon. Jersey City, NJ—like Hayward, CA—put GPS-tracking devices inside the dummy packages. Aurora and Albuquerque, meanwhile, used doorbell cameras from Ring—which is owned by Amazon—to capture video footage and surveil for theft. A Motherboard investigation found that package theft is a focus for most posts on Neighbors, the “neighborhood watch” app owned by Ring. Users consistently claim that they hope for disproportionately severe punishment for people who steal packages from their doorstep. Source
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