Archives 2012

DIY Counter Espionage

Spying on Spies

The FBI probe into the scandal involving former CIA director David Petraeus and his mistress may have stolen global headlines the past week.

But there is something else the FBI knows that should warrant more attention. Something closer to those of us less exalted than the boss of the world’s most famous spy agency.

The FBI is known to have video footage, covertly taken in a hotel room somewhere in China, showing how Chinese agents broke in and swept through the belongings and laptop of an American businessman.

There were recent media reports of similar incidents. The FBI is now showing the clip as a warning to corporate security experts of major US companies.

The FBI also warned some months ago about the risks of using hotel wi-fi networks and recommended all government officials, businessmen and academic personnel take extra caution when traveling abroad.

Whilst the corporate world is often most at risks, the average citizens are also highly vulnerable, especially to electronic surveillance on home and foreign soil.

So what can one do to protect the personal data and business secrets on the computers, especially when traveling abroad?

Please read full article here and there.

Spy Game: Kids for Tricks

The First World’s Version of Child Soldiers?

It is estimated that 250,000 children are fighting in wars all over the world, recruited by force or lured by the false promise of an escape from poverty. They are living a life no child should ever lead.

But across the planet, another crop of children, living in affluence in Cupertino, California, or Knightsbridge in London, or Berlin are being recruited as child soldiers. They won’t bear arms. They won’t nudge from their posts – usually in their parents’ back bedrooms.

On Halloween, while their peers are wearing goblin costumes and going from door to door, their families might regard them as hiding in their bedrooms and staying away from trouble.

But so you thought. They may be in much bigger trouble than you could ever imagine – they could be on a Wanted List from intelligence agencies – for hire. But in their teen years, are they capable of making the moral decisions to take up spying, any more than a 12 year old peering over the sights of a Kalashnikov in Sierra Leone?

Read the full article here.

How to Beat the CIA and Protect Your Data

A little secret and long overdue column – as I have promised some weeks ago.

How about leading a cyber lifestyle without the risks of compromising your computer, privacy and precious confidential data… ie. your life?!

There’s an easy solution and you do not have to be a computer expert. But the CIA, MI6, etc, wouldn’t want you to know the trick… because you can beat those spies and hackers by going online and leaving no trace.

Read the full article here.

Shhh… US Still At Loss on Cyber Espionage War

In the increasingly pugnacious cyber espionage war, the US is not only admittedly losing out to countries like China and Russia but the real headline news is, the US is still at a loss on how to protect itself against the massive intellectual property threats on its very turf.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers told audience at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) cyber conference, held on 26 September in Washington DC, that the US is “running out of time” – US government officials have stated that no country engages in cyber espionage as systematically, thoroughly and broadly as China and the theft of critical intellectual property is billing up to US$1 trillion.

The Rogers-Ruppersberger Bill designed to stem the tide is facing resistance at the Senate.

This Bill proposed to offer business liability insurance cover to the business community. In return, the victimized companies would have to share their threat information with the government, who will in turn share that experience with the business world.

(What? Are you kidding me?! Okay, I hear you at the back row).

Need I say more? Find out more about it here.

Shhh… "Shhh-crets & Craft"

Many Big Thank You to all for the very kind comments and support.

Fyi, I am planning to set up a new section to cover topics like spy gadgets, spy craft, etc – probably under the caption “Shhh-crets & Craft“. The main objective is to help readers identify (new) risks and ways to protect themselves – and not exactly about How To’s for any spy wannabes.

I’m still trying to figure out how to separate these new postings from the rest (ie. my Column and other Musings & Commentaries), given the choice of widgets… Any suggestion will be deeply appreciated. Thanks again.

Shhh… “Shhh-crets & Craft”

Many Big Thank You to all for the very kind comments and support.

Fyi, I am planning to set up a new section to cover topics like spy gadgets, spy craft, etc – probably under the caption “Shhh-crets & Craft“. The main objective is to help readers identify (new) risks and ways to protect themselves – and not exactly about How To’s for any spy wannabes.

I’m still trying to figure out how to separate these new postings from the rest (ie. my Column and other Musings & Commentaries), given the choice of widgets… Any suggestion will be deeply appreciated. Thanks again.

Shhh… Spying on Journalists

The Pentagon’s recent sworn: They won’t spy on journalists.

(Yeah right…. Yes, I hear you at the back.)

The US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave an order July 19 to clampdown on classified leaks from the Pentagon and “monitor all major, national level reporting”.

This raised immediate concerns amongst the press as journalists wondered: is the Pentagon planning to spy on their very act of reporting or simply to conduct wide-sweeping news scans for supposedly leaked information? The former, left to one’s imagination, could include wiretapping, surveillance and various forms of intrusive acts.

The Pentagon press secretary George Little reportedly replied in writing:

“The secretary and the chairman both believe strongly in freedom of the press and encourage good relations between the department and the press corps.” (Read this).

Meanwhile, a true story, I know a journalist who was spied upon by a Chinese intelligence agent.

The agent apparently tried to recruit the reporter by offering “huge rewards” if he cooperates and collects information about certain individuals under the pretense of combing background data for potential stories.

This journo friend declined outright but not long after, he suspected his phones were bugged and asked for help.

My advice?

Quite simply though cumbersome: buy and replace regularly several low-value, use-and-dispose SIM cards, several used cellular phones (the pre-smartphone days type like those good old Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, etc) and used laptops.

In short, change your phone and cyber lifestyle – at least for the time being (Refer to my earlier commentary: Shhh… How to Beat the CIA and Protect Your Data).

Shhh… Spies Boundary

I just picked up 2 interesting reports on surveillance matters.

It was reported that the FBI claimed its surveillance on those involved in the Occupy movement is within legal boundaries and did not cause “unnecessary intrusions into the lives of law-abiding people.”

This came after the American Civil Liberties Union used the Freedom of Information Act to secure FBI surveillance documents on the movement in a lawsuit and asked why the agency withheld two-thirds of its records and subsequently cited national security as a reason for the nondisclosure (Read this).

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the civil rights group Liberty used the UK Data Protection Act to represent a disabled woman in a legal action against a commercial security firm and its undercover surveillance “usual practice” which, as part of their investigative works for insurance companies, send agents disguised as delivery men to spy on the sick and disabled in their homes (Read this).

These are just going to lead to endless debates. Watch this space, I might post a column on this topic.

 

Shhh… Counting Spies

Interesting spy updates over the past few days.

Question: where do you think is the spy capital of the world?

Hint: Starts with letter B.

Did someone say Bei….?

Answer: Brussels.

Say what, Brussels?! Well, that’s according to Belgian intelligence chief Alain Winants, who added that spies usually pretend to be diplomats, journalists, lobbyists, businessmen or students (Read this – and please see my previous columns about spies pretending to be businessmen in China and students in US campus in Spy vs Spy and Espionage on Campus, respectively).

Now speaking of diplomats, the well known intelligence historian and collector of spy gadgets H. Keith Millon reportedly claimed “there are more spies at the United Nations than diplomats” (Read this).

The latter piece is not surprising but much depends on one’s definition of spy. But then again, given Million’s reputation in the intelligence trade…

Spies and the Airport Screening Machine

The US works out a free ride for its spooks

I have always fancied having a smorgasbord of passports, each bearing a different name, country of citizenship and photo — just like the spies as we know them, or at least as we understand them from spy fiction and movies like James Bond and CIA agent Jason Bourne in the Bourne Trilogy movies.

However, airport security checks and immigration clearance must be a nightmare for real spies, undercover agents and intelligence officials these days as governments, increasingly wary of the growing sophistication of terrorists, have invented new technologies to try to detect them. Hence the increased tight security measures at airports over the world have created lots of inconvenience for the intelligence community. And the pseudo passports probably don’t even work, given the facial recognition checks on top of the fingerprint hassles that have become commonplace at immigration checkpoints across the globe.

The spymasters know and they care, and they set out to do something about it.

So in late July, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – the agency within the US Department of Homeland Security that exercises authority over the security of the traveling public in America – reportedly put procedures in place to allow the employees of three US intelligence agencies to pass un-scrutinized through airport security checks with convenience… (Read the entire column here and there).

Shhh… The Safest Place to Hide Your Data

… is possibly in your mouth?!

I’m glad I have not gone that far yet but nevertheless happy to read this piece of news article. I always advised my friends not to leave their computers and phones in their hotel room, or unattended for that matter, as spies will not only break into their room but also their devices. In fact, in certain countries, these agents are tasked to target certain individuals and business travelers the moment they left the airport. And they will wait patiently for the opportunity to penetrate their data. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the city and the hotel, the bigger the risks… because Ahem, I know only too well from… never mind.

Anyway, no one seems to believe or take it seriously. So I’m glad this story printed not only what I always wanted to say but also gave insights on some interesting counter-measures. Kind of paranoid for the men on the streets but… I hope you don’t have to go so far as planting the SD card in your mouth.

Shhh… New Phones for Spies

Christmas comes early for spies this year.

The National Security Agency and Defense Information Systems Agency (the unit that manages all communications hardware needs for the Pentagon) are reportedly going to issue in December their newly developed smart phones and tablets based on commercially designed devices. Only a selected number of “customers” would get such a device as an early Christmas present, including spies and some high-level military and government officials.

These new phones and tablets are modified from commercial designs  – for good operational reasons – and thus mark a departure from the current use of special phones that stand out from the crowd and cost thousands of dollars. These ordinary looking devices will use some special Apps to optimize use of cloud computing and thus ease the risks of losing them and having sensitive data easily compromised.

And by the way, these modified devices run on Google’s Android operating system. Apple’s loyal worshippers will be left disappointed…

Shhh… New iPhone Spy App to Log the World

It’s the App, Stupid!

Sounds familiar? Yes, it’s often the software that matters more than the hardware.

Whilst the countdown to the new iPhone 5 release is grabbing headlines, there is reportedly a new Spy App for iPhone that should deserve even more attention. This is unlike any other past so called iPhone Spy software: imagine you can log all incoming and outgoing phone calls and SMS of a chosen target’s phone?!

Yes, I know. The potential for this new iPhone Spy App, if it’s true, will simply blow your socks off…

Shhh… How to Beat the CIA and Protect Your Data

Business travel is a nightmare these days, especially when one visits a country known for high espionage/ corporate espionage activities or active government eavesdropping and wiretapping.

So what if you need to transmit confidential data, sensitive business information and trade secrets via emails or the cloud? Or simply access your online banking account?

Public wifi pose significant risks. The Internet connection in your hotel room is not any better. And you can forget the Internet cafe.

No worries, there’s a solution and I will soon be posting a column on this matter. Watch this space.

Shhh… Privileged Spies and Frequent Travelers

Airport security checks and immigration clearance must be a nightmare for spies, undercover agents and intelligence officials these days. The increased tight security measures at airports over the world have created lots of inconvenience for the intelligence community. And the pseudo passports probably don’t work, given the facial recognition checks on top of those fingerprint hassles that have become commonplace at immigration checkpoints across the globe…..

I will soon be posting my next column on this topic. Please visit again, thanks.

Pay Packages Are Not Licensed to Thrill

Kudos to the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

What better way to celebrate true British culture and identity (and yes, humor) than to have James Bond (actor Daniel Craig) escorting the Queen to the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in true 007 fashion?

A brilliant idea, but I have three immediate wishes.

I wish other English spy characters like Austin Powers and Johnny English had also featured in this truly comedic, quintessentially British moment.

I also wish all the past screen Bond actors were on hand to usher Her Majesty to her seat.

And I wish, ahem, US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney would play the role of party pooper and jump out of nowhere to spoil the event in his very own disconcerting way.

Well, no worries, all the real Bonds and security staff would jump forward to salvage the moment.

Fat chance.

The real Bonds are clearly stirred, shaken and not at all prepared to take extra risks, given their low morale and jaw-dropping poor compensation package. And the general public would probably not count on the outsourced security and protection industry as well (Read the entire column here and there).

When the Boss is Always Right

No fingerprints in rigging the Libor rate?

Let me start with a familiar scene. Suppose the boss says “I don’t like his face.” His sidekicks exchange quick looks and leave the room without a word. They clearly understand what their boss means and promptly kill the guy in cool mafia fashion.
You probably relate this scene to classic Hollywood mafia movies, in which the sidekicks usually flee the scene right after the murder. When the police show up to find whodunit, nobody including the boss remembers what happened.Unconventional corporate governance combined with plausible deniability.
That is exactly what seems to have happened at the British banking giant Barclays
(Read the entire column here).

Spy Vs. Spy

Spies multiply like coathangers in China and the US

How many intelligence — okay honestly, spy — agencies does a country really need?
Anywhere between eight and 17 and possibly more if you’re referring to China and the United States. The US, in fact, recently established its newest spy agency, which is specifically targeted at China, among others (Read the entire column here, here and there).

Espionage on Campus

It’s not all kegger parties – Spies may be watching

I received many nice pens as gifts from my folks when I embarked on my university studies. I reckon pens would be inappropriate in this modern digital age. What about a book, say on how to guard against spies in campus?
And why not? The parents may appreciate it given recent reports about foreign spies in American universities – and my personal encounters (Read the entire column here).

Could You Get Away with Corporate Espionage?

Electronic gadgets are often fun but there is rarely one as useful as this: a new type of flash memory stick that can self- destruct by remote control.

I was immediately speculating the immense possibilities. James Bond or Ethan Hunt, anyone?

But the real implication is even more profound, given a recent US court ruling that dealt a blow to the fight against corporate espionage in saying the download of proprietary data does not amount to a criminal offense after all (Read the entire column here and there).

No Ordinary CSI: Mobile Phone Forensics

If it falls into the wrong hands, it could cause you plenty of trouble

I love my iPhone but I always look at it with deep suspicion. It probably knows more about me than my puffy pillows. But unlike them, it could easily betray me one day.

Blame it on Steve Jobs but I assume I’m not alone. Most of us have fallen prey to the modern digital world.

We take for granted the unlimited things we can do with our smartphones.

But, by using the devices, we are increasingly exposing ourselves to bottomless risks (Read the entire column here and there).

The Complicated World of Corporate Espionage

It isn’t as straightforward as it looks
Corporate espionage used to be rather straightforward – as the typical Coke-Pepsi textbook example illustrates, in which each tries to steal the other’s recipe for sugared water. It is a crime when someone steals company data/trade secrets and passes it to a business rival.
Well, yes — but not quite, in the case a series of court decisions in the United States that complicate the issue considerably (Read the entire column here and there).

Inspecting the Inspectors

I love my MacBook, as well as my iPhone and iPod. But I now wonder if I will have the same personal struggle I had with Nike more than a decade ago.

Despite all the recent frenzy in the papers about the upcoming public listing of Facebook, Jeffrey Lin and “Lin- sanity” at the New York Knicks, Apple has continued to grab the headlines.

This is not only because its stock topped a record US$500 or chaos at Apple Stores in China when the iPhone4s first went on sale, but also due to the disclosure last week that working conditions at mainland plants making Apple products would be audited and the findings will be made public by an outside independent party.

Wait a minute, did I say independent? (Read the entire column here and there).

Confidence and Con Men

It’s been said that you can’t cheat an honest man. But you can, if he’s naïve enough
The term “confidence man” first came into general use about 160 years ago during the trial in New York of a crook named William Thompson, who accosted strangers and talked them into loaning him their watches, then simply walked off with the timepieces.
Thompson has been followed by a long parade of con men, as they are now known. And what makes a great con artist? I have had extensive hands-on experience investigating hundreds of fraud cases and commercial crimes over the years in my profession and I was wondering which one tops my chart for the greatest one I have run into.
What makes the great con artists, the men who sell the Brooklyn Bridge, who practice the schemes perfected by the famous Carlo Ponzi anyway? They have to be sly but unsuspecting; extraordinary yet ordinary; and very clever at finding simplicity out of complexity and to employ all these traits with their calculated moves, just to get the most out of their innocent victims, or we wouldn’t label them con men.
I have another criterion: their tricks have to be very simple and elegant in design. And to top it off, they should never get caught. By this set of criteria, I have a winner – an insurance fraudster I once investigated in Hong Kong some years ago (Read the entire column here and there).