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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ian Greenhalgh -- Spyware Linked To NSA Discovered In Hard Drives Across The World


By Ian Greenhalgh on May 21, 2016

All computing devices designed by Western companies likely fatally compromised by in-built backdoors

When I read this article I was so shaken by the implications that I turned to Mike Harris, our resident expert in the computing industry, for verification that it could be true. Mike replied:

Absolutely, not only hard drives but also back doors within microprocessors, which is why Putin mandated last year that Russia no longer buy any Intel or AMD products and that Russia design and manufacture their own.

Mike added:

People need to understand just how exposed they are.

Let’s think about the implications of this – every computing device could be fundamentally compromised by software code built into the firmware of the electronic components.

Therefore, there is no security, it is all totally undermined by these ‘backdoors’. This is worrying enough when it is your home computer, laptop or cell phone that is at risk, but when you consider the same issue applies to computers doing much more important tasks such as monitoring nuclear reactors or processing signals in the fly-by-wire system of a fighter jet then things become exponentially more worrying.

In short, the entire concept of computer security is fundamentally undermined by this revelation.

While the immensity of the implications of this discovery were sinking in I happened to mention to Mike that one of Intel’s main design centres was in Israel. Mike replied:

They have many design centers, but they made a coordinated effort to locate R&D assets in Israel; former Intel CEO Andy Grove was an avid pro-Israel Zionist.

Oh, so that means that it’s not just the NSA who can access these backdoors, the Israelis will no doubt have access too, seeing as they were designed into the devices in Israel in the first place! Mike further explained:

That has been an Israeli initiative for some time now, as it gives them access to R&D that they would never have on their own and they have nothing to offer, only to gain; then they resell the tech to other countries and steal the IP from the companies. It is a racket for the Zionists.

What a racket! In a computerised world, holding the secret key to the hidden backdoors within all computing devices gives you a massive degree of control and access to almost any information held in computerised form – which is virtually all information! 

I looked at wikipedia and learned that there are over 250 foreign R&D Centers in Israel:


Intel established their R&D centre in Israel way back in 1974; AMD followed suit in 2011, opening an R&D centre in Ramat Gan, near Tel-Aviv. Mike commented on the AMD move:

Funny how that works and Putin forbids the sale of their products within 18-24 months after that; then tie that to the improvements in Russia military capabilities shortly after that.  I am sure you are connecting the dots…”

Sure I’m connecting the dots; as the Russians obviously found out about these backdoors some time ago, hence they stopped using components containing the nefarious code, leading to Putin’s initiative for Russia to develop their own semiconductor products with the result that their military capabilities are improved by the removal of compromised Western components and replacement with Russian ones.

Russian state news agency TASS reported last year that Russia wants to replace US computer chips with local processors:

“Russia’s Industry and Trade Ministry plans to replace US microchips Intel and AMD, used in government’s computers, with domestically-produced micro processor Baikal in a project worth dozens of millions of dollars.

The Baikal micro processor will be designed by a unit of T-Platforms, a producer of supercomputers, next year, with support from state defense conglomerate Rostec and co-financing by state-run technological giant Rosnano.”

Replacing compromised foreign products with sound domestic ones will no doubt make Russian readers sleep a little more soundly, knowing their military is wise to the racket and has taken steps to remedy the situation. However, it has a far more unsettling effect on those of us who live in countries who posses militaries armed and equipped with compromised hardware.

I happen to be 17 miles from a nuclear power station as I write this article and I can’t help but wonder just how secure the computers that control those reactors are, if they contain compromised components with backdoors for bad guys to slip through and do untold damage. The Fukushima disaster may well have been partly caused by a cyber attack; now we can see just how vulnerable to such attacks we are.
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Noted cybersecruity firm Kaspersky Lab has discovered evidence of advanced spyware likely tied to the National Security Agency embedded deep in hard drives from more than a dozen manufacturers worldwide.

According to the Moscow-based firm, which released a report detailing the threat Monday, the spyware is able to reprogram the firmware of infected hard drives and inject the computers they’re built into with highly effective and evasive malware, adept at gathering information and avoiding detection.

Attributed to hackers dubbed “The Equation Group” by Kaspersky, the threat “surpasses anything known in terms of complexity and sophistication of techniques,” and has been active in major hard drives manufactured by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and others in more than 30 countries over the last 20 years.

The suite of surveillance platforms has been behind more than 500 attacks against military and government institutions, banks, telecommunications companies, energy companies, Islamic activists and media in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen, Algeria and others.

According to Kaspersky, the number of attacks is likely much higher — possibly in the tens of thousands — but self-destruct mechanisms embedded in the infections makes the true number virtually uncountable.

While the firm did not mention the NSA by name in its report, Equation Group was linked to the Stuxnet virus deployed by the signals intelligence agency between 2007 and 2008 to sabotage Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges, which successfully destroyed about one-fifth of the country’s nuclear enrichment infrastructure.

Spokespersons for both Western Digital and Seagate deny sharing their hard drives’ source code with the government. However, a former NSA analyst confirmed to Reuters that the NSA has ways of obtaining the source code for hard drives from companies, including “posing as a software developer” or requesting a security audit for a proposed purchase.

“They don’t admit it, but they do say, ‘We’re going to do an evaluation, we need the source code,’” former NSA analyst Vincent Liu said in the report.

“It’s usually the NSA doing the evaluation, and it’s a pretty small leap to say they’re going to keep that source code.”

Kaspersky’s report also details the existence of an Equation Group tool known as the “Fanny” worm, which is used to surveil computer networks not connected to the Internet. The worm is installed in secret compartments on intercepted USB sticks or CD-ROMS, and infects such “air-gapped” networks when inserted into a computer on that network. The worm then transmits the information it gleaned back to Equation after it’s plugged into an Internet-connected computer again.

Vulnerabilities uncovered by Fanny were later found to have been exploited by Stuxnet.




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