Lee Fang / Reader Supported News & Stephen C. Webster / Raw Story – 2011-02-23 23:46:35
ChamberLeaks: Plan Solicited By Chamber Lawyers Included Malware Hacking Of Activist ComputersLee Fang / Reader Supported News
(February 17, 2011) — Last Thursday, ThinkProgress revealed that lawyers representing the US Chamber of Commerce — one of the most powerful trade associations for large corporations like ExxonMobil and CitiGroup — had solicited a proposal from a set of military contractors to develop a surreptitious campaign to attack the Chamber’s political opponents, including ThinkProgress, the Change to Win labor coalition, SEIU, StopTheChamber.com, MoveOn.org, US Chamber Watch and others. The lawyers from the Chamber’s longtime law firm, Hunton and Williams, had been compiling their own data set on some of these targets. However, the lawyers sought the military contractors for assistance.
As ThinkProgress has reported, the proposals â€” created by military contractors Palantir, Berico Technologies, and HBGary Federal, collectively known as “Team Themis” — were discussed at length with the Chamber’s lawyers over the course of several months starting in October of 2010.
The core proposals called for snooping on the families of progressive activists, creating phony identities to penetrate progressive organizations, creating bots to “scrape” social media for information, and submitting fake documents to Chamber opponents as a false flag trick to discredit progressive organizations.
In addition to the Team Themis plans that ThinkProgress and other outlets have reported on, a closer look at the proposals show that the firms had planned to use exploits to steal information from the Chamberâ€™s opponents, or worse.
On November 2, HBGary Federal executive Aaron Barr sent John Woods, a lawyer at Hunton and Williams representing the Chamber, two documents discussing tactics for assisting the Chamber (view the e-mail here).
One presentation (click here to download) boasted of HBGary Federalâ€™s capabilities in â€œInformation Operations,â€ a military contractor term for offensive data extraction techniques typically reserved for use against terrorist groups. The slide includes sections on “Vulnerability Research/Exploit Development” and â€œMalware Analysis and Reverse Engineering.â€
HBGary, the parent company of HBGary Federal, specializes in analyzing “malware,” computer viruses that are used to maliciously steal data from computers or networks. In other presentations, Barr makes clear that his expertise in “Information Operations” covers forms of hacking like a “computer network attack,” “custom malware development,” and “persistent software implants.”
The presentation shows Barr boasting that he had knowledge of using “zero day” attacks to exploit vulnerabilities in Flash, Java, Windows 2000 and other programs to steal data from a target’s computer.
Indeed, malware hacking appears to be a key service sold by HBGary Federal. Describing a “spear phishing” strategy (an illegal form of hacking), Barr advised his colleague Greg Hoglund that “We should have a capability to do this to our adversaries.”
In another e-mail chain, HBGary Federal executives discuss using a fake “patriotic video of our soldiers overseas” to induce military officials to open malicious data extraction viruses. In September, HBGary Federal executives again contemplate their success of a dummy “evite” e-mail used to maliciously hack target computers.
Some of the initial e-mails discussing the Chamber deal with Team Themis stress the fact that HBGary Federal would provide “expertise on ‘digital intellgence collection’ and social media exploitation.”
Barr also sent another document to the Chamberâ€™s attorney describing in greater detail Team Themisâ€™ hacking abilities (download a copy here). In one section, Team Themis claims that “if/when Hunton & Williams LLP needs or desire,” they can use “direct engagement” to “provide valuable information that cannot be acquired through other means.” This cryptic pledge appears to be in reference to same malware data intrusion techniques proposed in the other Team Themis documents.
In an e-mail on November 9th, Barr sent Chamber attorney John Woods an e-mail about his data extraction capabilities (view a copy here). Barr had compiled a dossier on a top Chamber attorney, Richard Wyatt, and hoped to use it as an example of what they could do to the Chamberâ€™s adversaries.
However, in the e-mail, Barr claimed that he realized that Wyatt’s wife’s computer had core vulnerabilities that could be exploited to gain access to Richardâ€™s personal data. “If I can exploit her account through one of her social connections I can exploit the home network/system,” he wrote. This explains why Team Themis devoted so much time to researching the families and children of progressive activists, to find vulnerabilities in their computer systems.
It should be noted that the Chamber’s attorneys and lobbyists were well aware of Team Themis’ plans. A sample demonstration of Team Themis work had “sold the Chamber” at one point. Throughout the conversations made available by the leaked e-mails, neither the Chamber or its attorneys ever raised ethical complaints.
View a timeline of the ChamberLeaks scandal composed by the Wonk Roomâ€™s Brad Johnson here.
Revealed: Air Force Ordered Software to Manage Army of Fake Virtual People
Stephen C. Websterâ€¨â€¨/ Raw Story
(February 19, 2011) — These days, with Facebook and Twitter and social media galore, it can be increasingly hard to tell who your “friends” are. But after this, Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my “friends” even real people? â€¨â€¨
In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.â€¨â€¨
The revelation was among those contained in the company’s emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group “Anonymous” broke into their systems.â€¨â€¨
In another document unearthed by “Anonymous,” one of HBGary’s employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events. “There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas,” it said.
Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”
While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.
Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel suspicions. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”
It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.
The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.
The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.
It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.
Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.
You could call it a virtual flash mob, or a digital “Brooks Brothers Riot,” so to speak: compelling, but not nearly as spontaneous as it appears.
That’s precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.
“I don’t know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think,” the blogger wrote. “I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn’t credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can’t be trusted, I won’t base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.
“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob a
It was Rockefeller who was first to highlight the Air Force’s “persona” contract, which was available on a public website.
A call to MacDill Air Force Base, requesting an explanation of the contract and what this software might be used for, was answered by a public affairs officer who promised a call-back. No reply was received at time of this story’s publication.
Other e-mails circulated by HBGary’s CEO illuminate highly personal data about critics of the US Chamber of Commerce, including detailed information about their spouses and children, as well as their locations and professional links. The firm, it was revealed, was just one part of a group called “Team Themis,” tasked by the Chamber to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others.
“Team Themis” also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.
HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of “Anonymous” after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he’d “infiltrated” the group.
A request for comment emailed to HBGary did not receive a reply.
Update: HBGary Federal among bidders
A list of interested vendors responding to the Air Force contract for “persona management software” included HBGary subsideary HBGary Federal, further analysis of a government website has revealed.
Other companies that offered their services included Global Business Solutions and Associates LLC, Uk Plus Logistics, Ltd., NevinTelecom, Bunker Communications and Planmatrix LLC.
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