Government

  • The “Mask": Kaspersky Lab discovers advanced global cyber-espionage operation

    Kaspersky Lab’s security researchers have announced the discovery of the Mask (aka Careto), an advanced Spanish-language speaking threat actor that has been involved in global cyber-espionage operations since at least 2007. What makes the Mask special is the complexity of the toolset used by the attackers. This includes a sophisticated malware, a rootkit, a bootkit, Mac OS X and Linux versions, and possibly versions for Android and iOS (iPad/iPhone). The primary targets are government institutions, diplomatic offices and embassies, energy, oil, and gas companies, research organizations and activists. Victims of this targeted attack have been found in thirty-one countries around the world.

  • Former FERC chair calls for mandatory security standards for high-voltage substations

    Jon Wellinghoff, the former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission(FERC), is leading a crusade to improve physical security around the nation’s electrical grid. Following a 16 April 2013 sniper attack on a San Jose, California substation he is urging Congress to give federal agencies the authority to demand improved security around electrical substations. “This isn’t about this substation or this organized attack,” Wellinghoff said of the California incident. “This is more about the larger issue of physical security of these high-voltage substations nationwide and the need to ensure that some defensive measures start to be put in place.”

  • State, Political Community and Foreign Relations in Modern and Contemporary Syria
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  • Israeli legal expert urges development of ethics code for cyberwarfare

    Col. Sharon Afek, former deputy military advocate general, says that countries would benefit from developing an ethics code to govern cyber warfare operations. He notes that existing law already prohibits cyber operations which would directly lead to loss of life, injury, or property damage, such as causing a train to derail or undermining a dam. “Israel faces a complex and challenging period in which we can expect both a cyber arms race with the participation of state and non-state entities, and a massive battle between East and West over the character of the future legal regime,” he writes. He acknowledges, though, that only a catastrophic event like “Pearl Harbor or Twin Towers attack in cyberspace” would accelerate developments in this area.

  • Security of dirty bomb materials in U.S. inadequate: experts

    There are more than 5,000 medical and research devices in the United States containing high-activity radiation sources, including 700 with category-1 sources. Category-1 radiation material could be used by terrorists in dirty bombs. The security measures developed by the industry were written with accident prevention in mind, not in order to thwart a deliberate, forcible effort by terrorists or criminals to gain control of the toxic material. In addition, radioactive materials were considered to be “self-protecting,” because it was assumed that the powerful radiation would deter anyone thinking of tampering with these devices. Terrorist bomb-makers, however, showed themselves to be more technologically-savvy than earlier thought, and, in any event, suicide bombers would not be deterred by the risk of radiation poisoning.

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  • Lawmakers want mandatory security standards for national grid

    Lawmakers have urged the imposition of federal security standards on grid operator in order to protect the U.S. national electric grid from attack. The new push follows stories, first reported in the Wall Street Journal reported last Wednesday, about a 16 April 2013sniper attack which disabled seventeen transformer in a San Jose, California substation for twenty-seven days, causing about $16 million in damage. Federal cybersecurity standards for protecting the grid are in place and mandated, but rules for protecting physical sites such as transformers and substations are voluntary.

  • Nevada trial of Sikh terrorist postponed by two years to clarify FISA-related issues

    Balwinder Singh, 39, who received asylum in the United States in 1997, was indicted as a member of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF). Both groups use bombings, kidnappings, and murders in a campaign to establish an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region of India, to be called Khalistan. U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks agreed with the prosecution and defense that the trial should be postponed from February 2014 to February 2016 so that issues related to FISA-authorized NSA surveillance of Singh could be clarified. Judge Hicks said that “the ends of justice served by this continuance outweighs the defendant’s and public’s best interests in a speedy trial.”

  • Most of Libya’s chemical weapons destroyed

    When Libya joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in December 2003, it reported to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that it was operating three chemical-weapons production facilities, and that it had produced a total of twenty-five tons of sulfur mustard gas, 3,563 bombs with warfare agents, and 1,390 tons of precursor materials. Over the next eight years, these chemical weapons stock were systematically destroyed under international supervision. The work was halted between February and November 2011 – the beginning of the rebellion against Qaddafi and his departure from power – and resumed in early 2012. OPCW announced than on 26 January 2014, work on destroying Libya’s mustard gas has been completed. The question is whether the Qaddafi regime was truthful in its 2003 declaration – or whether there are still stocks of chemical agents stashed somewhere in desert caches.

  • HHS to fund development of drug for bioterrorism, antimicrobial-resistant infections

    HHS says that a public-private is partnership will advance the development of Carbavance, a new option to treat bioterrorism threats and antibiotic-resistant infections. The two bioterrorism Carbavance will address are melioidosis, also known as Whitmore’s disease, and glanders. Both melioidosis and glanders can become resistant to existing antibiotics. Already, with existing antibiotic treatments, approximately 40 percent of people who become ill from these bacteria die from the illness, and up to 90 percent die if not treated.

  • NSF rapid response research grants to fund study of West Virginia chemical spill

    On 9 January 2014, crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), a chemical primarily used to clean coal, leaked from a storage tank near Charleston, West Virginia, and bled into a river upstream of a water-treatment plant. As a result, about 15 percent of the state’s residents were advised not to drink the water. Better to understand the properties of the chemical that contaminated the drinking water, and the plumbing and water-treatment systems surrounding the area, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grants to research teams at three universities. These grants also will provide STEM learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students on the research teams.

  • FBI monitors Americans back from fighting in rebel ranks in Syria

    Western intelligence services estimate that 2,100 Europeans and seventy Americans have fought in Syria. U.S. intelligence officials report that some of these Americans have returned to the United States and are under FBI surveillance. There is a concern that individuals who have been trained by al-Qaeda affiliates will ultimately use their battlefield experience to launch attacks in the United States.

  • Attack on California power station heightens concerns about grid security

    Security experts are concerned that last year’s unsolved attack on an electrical-power substation in San Jose, California, is but a prologue to similar attacks which, if executed simultaneously and in a coordinated fashion against several such substations, could cripple the U.S. power grid. The transformers at the substation, vital for regional power distribution, were shot at by several gunmen and disabled for twenty-seven days. What is especially worrisome, security exert note, is that the attack appeared to have been carried out by people with some training, although the FBI said the agency does not think it was the act of terrorists.

  • First full-system mechanical environment test of B61-12 nuke completed successfully

    The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced the successful completion of the first full-system mechanical environment test of the B61‑12 as part of the NNSA’s effort to refurbish the B61 nuclear bomb. This first full-system mechanical environment test is one of several critical milestones for the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP). The B61-12 will replace the existing B61-3, -4, -7, and -10 bombs. Fielding the B61-12 will also enable the retirement of the B83, the last U.S. megaton class weapon, in the mid-to-late 2020s.

  • DHS alerts Russia-bound airlines of toothpaste tube bombs risk

    The U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies have advising airlines flying to Russia to be aware of the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes. DHS issued a bulletin to airlines flying into Russia alerting them to the potential threat. The new concern about explosive toothpaste tubes notwithstanding, the biggest worry is still Islamist groups based in southern Russia’s Caucasus region.

  • Assessing the risk of terrorism at the Winter Olympics

    The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, open tomorrow. New background report examines history of terrorism in Russia and acts of terrorism directed at the Olympics Games and other sporting events. “The analysis [in the background report] indicates that there is no consistent increase or decrease in the frequency of terrorist attacks during the Olympics, suggesting that efforts to reinforce security are generally effective at mitigating any potential threats that may exist,” says Erin Miller, program manager for the START’s Global Terrorism Database (GTD) and the author of the report.

  • Snowden’ leaks derailed important cybersecurity initiatives

    Edward Snowden’s leaks created such a climate of distrust around the NSA that many important cybersecurity initiatives died, stalled, or became non-starters. Security experts say that this is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and that the result of these stalled cybersecurity initiatives is that the United States is now more vulnerable to cyberattacks on its infrastructure, and government agencies and American corporations more exposed to sensitive information being compromised and stolen. U.S. officials have found it more difficult to respond to cyberattacks from Russia, China, and elsewhere. “All the things [the NSA] wanted to do are now radioactive, even though they were good ideas,” says James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies(CSIS).