White House targets WikiLeaks and
LulzSec in cyber-espionage report
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Published time: February 21, 2013 13:37
Edited time: February 21, 2013 22:39
The White House in Washington, DC (Reuters / Yuri Gripas)
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Tags Anonymous, China, Court, Hacking, Information Technology, Internet, Law, Obama, USA,
Amid a growing call for new cybersecurity protections in the United States, the US
government has issued a report that reconfirms Washington’s interest in shutting down
WikiLeaks and other underground information-sharing organizations.
In Washington, DC on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a new White
House report that is meant to address further the growing threats malicious hackers are
posing on America’s computer networks and the information stored therein.
The presentation, made just days after a security firm released an in-depth analysis of a
covert cyberbattle waged at the US byChinese hackers, is only the latest in a series of
actions from the White House being rolled out to target computer criminals scouring the
Web for privileged information to pilfer and exploit. As with an onslaught of other recent
administrative actions, though, the latest release out of Washington also serves as yet
another example of the White House’s escalating war on information sharing: In addition to
singling out the dangerous actors abroad that are attempting to uncover state secrets and
private intelligence, the report put out on Wednesday also points the finger at the
whistleblowing website WikiLeaks and the group LulzSec — a now-defunctoffshoot of the
hacktivist movement Anonymous who wreaked havoc on the Web for a span of several
months in 2011.
US President Barack Obama has made numerous statements in recent months in which he
addresses emerging cyberthreats from foreign competitors, specifically China, but the report
released by the White House on Wednesday doesn’t stop with states abroad. Within the 141
pages of the publication, ‘Administration Strategy on Mitigating the Theft of US Trade
Secrets,’ the Obama administration includes portions of a 2011 report that discusses the
dangers posed by alleged hacktivists groups, including WikiLeaks and LulzSec.
That sub-report, a product of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, was
put together 16 months ago to warn Congress of the growing threats facing American
companies holding onto crucial trade secrets and sensitive technologies that could be
harvested from bad actors on the Internet. But in addition to the Chinese hackers who have
managed to make international headlines this week on the heels of a highly-cited report,
the publication warns that domestic parties could be acting as proxies for foreign
“Cyberspace provides relatively small-scale actors an opportunity to become players in
economic espionage,” the report claims in part. “Under-resourced governments or
corporations could build relationships with hackers to develop customized malware or remote-
access exploits to steal sensitive US economic or technology information, just as certain FIS
have already done.”
“Similarly, political or social activists may use the tools of economic espionage against US
companies, agencies, or other entities, with disgruntled insiders leaking information about
corporate trade secrets or critical US technology to ‘hacktivist’groups like WikiLeaks,” it
Further down, the authors of the whitepaper attempt to broadly explain the hacktivism
phenomena, citing WikiLeaks and the Anonymous-offshoot as examples of hacktivist groups
orchestrated to harm the United States.
In the section ‘Possible Game Changers,’ the report reads:
“Political or social activists also may use the tools of economic espionage against US
companies, agencies or other entities. The self-styled whistleblowing group WikiLeaks has
already published computer files provided by corporate insiders indicating allegedly illegal or
unethical behavior at a Swiss bank, a Netherlands-based commodities company, and an
international pharmaceutical trade association. LulzSec — another hacktivist group — has
exfiltrated data from several businesses that it posted for public viewing on its website.”
Exposing “allegedly illegal or unethical behavior” seems unworthy of administrative action on
the surface, but when WikiLeaks or other groups are unearthing damaging facts about the
United States, the White House is ready to respond. While unveiling the report this week, Mr.
Holder said attacks targeting United States entities are posing a "steadily increasing threat to
America's economy and national security interests.”
The attorney general’s comments mirror a remark made by Pres. Obama earlier this month
during his annual State of the Union address when he said, “We cannot look back years from
now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our
economy.” Holder’s quip, however, comes at a crucial moment as it comes the same week
that two accused LulzSec members have hearing in federal court week for matters related to
On Thursday morning, District Judge Loretta Preska told 27-year-old Jeremy Hammond
and a courtroom full of supporters that she will not be stepping down at this time from the
federal case against the young political activist, who’s accused by the government of
hacking private intelligence firm Stratforduring a highly-publicizedsecurity breach in late
2011. Prosecutors say Hammond, an alleged member of LulzSec, hacked into Stratfor and
obtained a trove of personal information, including personal correspondencebetween
executives and thousands of credit card credentials belonging to subscribers of a paid
service offered by the company. In recent weeks, though, it’s been discovered that Judge
Preska’s husband, attorney Thomas J. Kavaler, was victimized in that very hack. Mr. Kavaler’s
personal information, including his credit card numbers, were leaked in the hack attributed
to Hammond. Despite this knowledge, though, Judge Preska said Thursday that she is
reserving judgment in recusing herself from the case.
“The conflict of interest here is clear cut,” National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Heidi
Boghosian said in a statement earlier this week. “Judge Preska is required to avoid the
appearance of bias so that, even if she owned one share of Stratfor stock, she would be
obligated to recuse herself. How can she be impartial when the case directly affects the man
she wakes up to every morning?”
Supporters of Hammond say any conviction might be grounds for an appeal if Judge Preska
stays on board, but given the current state of affairs — especially Thursday’s decision — a
happy ending for the alleged hacktivist seems improbable. Moments before Thursday’s
hearing began, attorney Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights told a crowd
outside of the courthouse that Mr. Holder’s report from one day earlier suggests the Obama
administration will go to great lengths to return a guilty verdict against Mr. Hammond and
any other hacktivists.
“Just yesterday, our wonderful attorney general announced a new policy, a tougher policy, one
in which he said we are going to make truth tellers — getting them — a priority,” he said.
According to Ratner, the latest maneuver out of Washington exemplifies the Obama
administration’s ongoing witch-hunt for political activists who have engaged in activity
critical of the US government.
“They already killed Aaron Swartz; Jeremy Hammond is facing 39 years-to-life; Bradley
Manning, life imprisonment; and Julian Assange, if they ever get him out of that embassy and
into a prison here, will face the same,” said Mr. Ratner, who works as an American attorney
for the whistleblower site.
Last month, 26-year-old Demand Progress founder and Reddit co-creator Aaron Swartz
was found dead in his New York City apartment from an apparent suicide. He was weeks
away from standing trial in a controversial court case regarding his alleged theft of free
academic papers published on the website JSTOR. After his death, Aaron Swartz’ father
blamed the government in part for his loss.
“Aaron did not commit suicide but was killed by the government,” Robert Swartz said during
his son’s funeral earlier this month outside of Chicago, Illinois.“Someone who made the
world a better place was pushed to his death by the government.”
Interestingly, all parties mentioned by Mr. Ratner share one common bond in particular:
they’ve all been linked in some regards to the WikiLeaks website. After his passing,
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said with little explanation that Swartz had
arelationshipwith his organization. As for Hammond, the Stratfor data he is believed to
have compromised was later publishedby WikiLeaks, a group which has been in the sights
of American prosecutors since even before the 2010 release of materials attributed to Army
Private first class Bradley Manning — a 25-year-old soldier who has been detainedfor
roughly 1,000 days now without trial. Assange, an Australian citizen residing in England, has
been inside of London’s Ecuadorian Embassy for over six months awaiting safe passage to
“What do they want to do? Put them up against the wall and just shoot the guys?” Mr. Ratner
asked outside of the courthouse.
On Friday, Mr. Ratner might very well get his answer. Hector Xavier Monsegur, a hacker who
famously operated on the Web as LulzSec ringleader “Sabu,”will be sentenced in federal
court for crimes that preceded the Stratfor hack. But although Sabu’s rap sheet is long and
his crimes arguably heinous, he is expected to be let off easy: according to court documents,
he pleaded guilty back in August 2011 but has had his sentencing delayed because of his
ongoing cooperation with federal investigators. In fact, FBI agents provided him with the
very computer used by Hammond to upload the hacked Stratfor files just two months later.
“A travesty of justice,” Mr. Ratner said of the ordeal on Thursday, accusing the government
of entrapping other LulzSec members by using Sabu as a confidential informant. That on its
own is being considered enough reason by soon to shut-down the case against Hammond.
Since the start of 2013, Washington’s elite have relentlessly rolled out new attempts at
prosecuting and persecuting alleged cybercriminals. On the day of his State of the Union
address, Pres. Obama signed an executive order that will lay out the framework for a
system of information-sharing about the government and private businesses. One day later,
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Sen. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Cyber
Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA — an attempt at formally creating those
government-to-business links through federal legislation. Both lawmakers attempted to
have CISPA be approved by Congress last year, but the bill failed to advance to the Senate
before the end of the session.
In light of recent events, though, CISPA may have a new fate. This week’s report on
emerging cyberthreats from China has garnered so much attention that the White House
and Justice Department responded with their new strategies to protect trade secrets and
intellectual property on the Web. Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the
president himself are advocating new cybersecurity laws almost to the same extent of the
fear-mongering being spewed at the same time.
“This is clearly not a theoretical threat – the recent spike in advanced cyberattacks against the
banks and newspapers makes that crystal clear: American businesses are under siege,” Rep.
Rogers said when he unveiled his proposal. Rep. Ruppersberger added that all it will take is
one national cyber-emergency and Congress“will get all the bills passed we want.”
Until then, though, it will be the courts that come down on hacktivists — not Congress.
Meanwhile, those making enemies with the White House say they won't stop. In a letter
published by his attorney on Wednesday, Jeremy Hammond writes, "We the people demand
free and equal access to information and technology. We demand transparency and
accountability from governments and big corporations, and privacy for the masses from
invasive surveillance networks.
"The government will never be forgiven. Aaron Swartz will never be forgotten."
White House announces online espionage response policy
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Published time: February 20, 2013 14:04
Edited time: February 21, 2013 01:57
A general view of the North Lawn of the White House in Washington (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
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China, Crime, Hacking, Internet, Law, Trade, USA
In response to a report published this week about the emerging cyber threat posed by
Chinese hackers, the White House has unveiled a new policy that will impose sanctions and
other punishments on foreign nations engaged in online espionage.
According to a detailed threat analysis published this week by Northern Virginia’s Mandiant,
hackers employed by the Chinese government have waged a sophisticated cyberwar against
entities in the United States and elsewhere, compromising over 100 computer networks
over a few short years and attacking networks belonging to the public and private sector
alike. Now, only days after that report was released, the administration of US President
Barack Obama has published a 141-page document outlining plans to implement harsh
penalties on nation-states caught pilfering American computer systems for trade secrets
and other intelligence.
The plan increases the threat of new trade restrictions on products and services made by
foreign companies on the basis of information stolen in hacking operations or other similar
online raids. White House officials also named a series of diplomatic measures meant to
back up their promise to take such thefts seriously. The report recommends that various
government agencies review current legislation to determine whether new laws need to be
written to protect American corporate secrets.
It also outlines Washington's plan, led by the State Department, Commerce Department and
US Trade Representative, to coordinate with allied governments on pressure strategies
against countries it says are stealing its intellectual property.
"Trade-secret theft threatens American businesses, undermines national security, and places
the security of the U.S. economy in jeopardy," the report reads. "These acts also diminish U.S.
export prospects around the globe and put American jobs at risk."
Though the report does not exactly rebuke China or threaten action against it in plain
language, it does name several examples of Chinese thefts of American corporate secrets.
During the State of the Union address earlier this month, President Obama weighed in
briefly on “the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks,” claiming “foreign countries and
companies swipe our corporate secrets” and that America’s“enemies are also seeking the
ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions [and] our air traffic control
system.” Only hours before his address, Obama signed anexecutive order designed to
create a cyber-infrastructure that will better manage future attacks against the US, and the
next day two members of Congress reintroduced a bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and
Protection Act, or CISPA, which will thrive to correct security concerns that the executive
"This is happening thousands of times a day,” former-FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn
Henry told the AP of the cyberattacks. “There needs to be some definition of where the red
line is and what the repercussions would be."
"If the Chinese government flew planes into our airspace, our planes would escort them away.
If it happened two, three or four times, the president would be on the phone and there would
be threats of retaliation,” he adds.
The Chinese government, though, has largely disavowed cybercrimes against America. In
response to the Mandiant report, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said it was ripe
with“groundless criticism” that was both irresponsible and unprofessional.
Nevertheless, on Tuesday White House press secretary Jay Carney hinted at what would be
coming from the Obama administration on Wednesday. "I can tell you that we have
repeatedly raised our concerns at the highest levels about cyber-theft with senior Chinese
officials, including in the military, and we will continue to do so," he told members of the
According to the Washington Post, former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said before her
recent resignation that “We have to begin making it clear to the Chinese that the United
States is going to have to take action to protect not only our government, but our private
sector, from this kind of illegal intrusions.”
Mandiant’s report, published earlier this week, suggests that hackers employed by the
People’s Liberation Army in China have targeted computers used by major Pentagon
contractor Lockheed Martin and soft-drink giant Coca-Cola. A State Department diplomatic
cable about the hackers from 2008, published two years later by whistleblower website
WikiLeaks, says the Chinese hackers have also waged attacks on computers belonging to
the Department of Defense, the State Department and other government agencies,
occasionally with success.