Lebanon lacks infrastructure to carry out phone-hacking espionage, tech expert claims

Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, poses for a photo at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, on Thursday. (AP)
Updated 20 January 2018
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Lebanon lacks infrastructure to carry out phone-hacking espionage, tech expert claims

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s security and intelligence bodies have not reacted to deny or confirm information published in a joint report by Lookout mobile security and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which claims Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security (GDGS) hacked the smartphones of thousands of targeted users around the world.
Dr. Ahmed Maghrabi, a technology and communications expert, told Arab News: “Lebanon has neither the required knowledge nor the technology infrastructure to carry out a worldwide smartphone hacking campaign.”
“EFF, which defends individual freedoms and protects personal online data, is against all forms of online censorship and surveillance, especially generalized ones,” he added. “The foundation is also against the National Security Agency (NSA), which used to carry out mass-surveillance projects that on the people of the United States.”
The report claimed a group of state-backed hackers called Dark Caracal had run more than 10 campaigns for the GDGS since 2012, aimed mainly at Android phone users in at least 21 countries, according to Reuters. The hackers used phishing attacks and “other tricks to lure victims into downloading fake versions of encrypted messaging apps, giving the attackers full control of the devices of unwitting users,” Reuters explained.
“According to EFF, Dark Caracal was affiliated with the government of Kazakhstan and carried out several attacks that targeted Kazakh personalities who opposed Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev,” said Maghrabi. “The foundation believes Dark Caracal is supported by the Kazakh government and uses Kazakhstan’s electronic infrastructure, including the Kazakh cellular network.”
Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert who has a good relationship with EFF, has claimed that the Kazakh government works closely with Russia and has extensive capabilities, a supercomputer, and expertise in artificial intelligence and malicious software programming, which makes the country capable of hacking and spying on smartphones and computers, Maghrabi explained.
“Similar groups act under a North Korean identity or from inside North Korea, but use Chinese electronic tools and specialize in the field of artificial intelligence and supercomputing,” he continued.
“What was described in EFF’s report is an electronic group with hacking and encryption capabilities that can scan computer and smartphone systems and breach their networks, which are owned by very few countries.”
Maghrabi said this was not the first time the EFF has reported on Dark Caracal’s activities: “It did so in 2016 as well. The foundation had reasons to believe a group or some individuals in Lebanon were affiliated with Dark Caracal. In 2016, EFF linked Caracal activities targeting Kazakh opposition to Lebanese General Security, while for the current attack, the foundation mentioned four names of people who are most likely residents of Beirut. It also pointed out that those names could be just one person using four different accounts. Their names are Nancy Jabbour and Hassan Ward, who, according to the report, are most likely one person, as well as Rami Jabbour and Hadi Mazeh. The report could not determine whether they were real people, or nicknames used for different accounts managed by one person.
“The report admits from the outset that it does not have a real sample of those people’s activities, yet it links the four names to the GDGS based on the fact that one of them, Rami Jabbour, lives in the vicinity of the General Security’s building, which is crowded with telecom companies, travel agencies, and banks.”


Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

Russian soldiers distribute aid in the central Syrian province of Homs. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

  • A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west
  • The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone

MOSCOW: The Russian Defense Ministry said it was coordinating efforts to help Syrian refugees return home and rebuild the country’s infrastructure destroyed by the civil war.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said in a conference call that included Russian and Syrian officials that work is underway to rebuild dozens of Syria’s power stations, schools and other vital institutions.
In Damascus, Syrian Public Administration Minister Hussein Makhlouf pledged the regime would protect refugee property rights and grant returning refugees a year’s deferral from military conscription.
“The Syrian government is working to simplify procedures for refugees who return, repair housing and try to create new jobs,” Makhlouf said, adding that the authorities were also working to streamline legislation to facilitate refugee returns.
He dismissed as hostile “propaganda” claims that some refugees were facing arrests on their return.
Makhlouf called on Western nations to drop their sanctions against Damascus, introduced early in the seven-year conflict, in order to help post-war restoration and encourage the return of the refugees.
Mizintsev said that over 1.2 million of internally displaced Syrians and about 300,000 refugees have returned in the past two and a half years.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin might take part in a summit with the leaders of Turkey and Iran at the beginning of September.
The three leaders met in April at a summit in Ankara where they discussed developments in Syria.
With help from its Russian ally, President Bashar Assad’s regime has expelled fighters from large parts of Syria’s south since June.
Israel has repeatedly pledged to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence along its border. A series of airstrikes that killed Iranians inside Syria have been attributed to Israel.
A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west.
The Russian army’s Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters on an organized press tour this week how “stability” had returned to the buffer zone.
Apart from “a few problems with Daesh” in its southern tip, the demilitarized zone was “entirely under control of Syrian military police,” Kuralenko said.
“Everything is ready” for the return of UN troops, he said, after the peacekeepers were forced to withdraw in 2014.
After retaking most of the two southern provinces adjacent to the buffer zone, regime forces last month raised their flag inside, above the key border crossing of Quneitra.
The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone, Kuralenko said, and plan to set up four more in the near future.
They are “willing to hand them over to the UN if it says it is ready to ensure the monitoring of the Golan alone,” he said.