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.”


Israeli forces wound 77 Palestinians at protest near Gaza Strip border

Protesters run for cover from teargas during Friday’s protests in Gaza. (AP)
Updated 20 October 2018
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Israeli forces wound 77 Palestinians at protest near Gaza Strip border

  • Palestinians have been protesting along the border since March 30, demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of the territory and the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948

GAZA: Israeli soldiers shot and wounded 77 Palestinians during protests near the Gaza Strip border on Friday, the enclave’s Health Ministry said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said about 10,000 demonstrators massed at the border and that some threw burning tires, grenades and explosive devices at the troops across the fence. About 30 Palestinians suffered tear gas inhalation, the Gaza Health Ministry said.
But the protest was relatively small — some of the previous gatherings included about 30,000 people, a sign that tensions that have built up in the past few days may be easing.
On Thursday, Israel had ramped up armored forces along the Gaza border, a day after a rocket fired from the enclave destroyed a home in southern Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed “very strong action” if attacks continued. A Palestinian official said Egyptian security officials had held separate meetings in the past few days with Israeli counterparts and with leaders of the Palestinian Hamas group that rules Gaza in an effort to prevent an escalation in violence.
Palestinians have been protesting along the border since March 30, demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of the territory and the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948. About 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the protests started, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures. Pale stinians have launched incendiary balloons and kites into Israel and on occasion breached the Israeli frontier fence. More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel pulled troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders.
Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border. Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Mideast peace envoy, earlier urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint ahead of the protests. Mosque loudspeakers in the Palestinian enclave urged Gazans to attend Friday’s demonstrations, despite statements by Gaza’s leaders that Hamas seeks to rein in the protests. “In light of today’s planned Gaza march, I urge all to exercise restraint, to proceed in a peaceful manner, and to avoid escalation,” Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement. “The UN is working with Egypt and its partners to avoid violence, address all humanitarian issues and support reconciliation.”
Egyptian intelligence officials met with Hamas and Israeli officials on Thursday in efforts to broker a cease-fire and ease months of deadly border protests. Egypt and the UN have attempted to negotiate a truce between Israel and Hamas for weeks in a bid to ease tensions in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.
Hamas has organized weekly protests since March that seek, in part, to secure an easing of the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Palestinian enclave imposed after the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 in an armed coup.
At least 156 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire at the protests, and an Israeli solider was killed by a Palestinian sniper.
The protests have intensified in recent weeks as Egyptian and UN cease-fire negotiations have faltered, and cross-border violence earlier this week has brought tensions to a simmer.
On Wednesday, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip destroyed a house in the Israeli city of Beersheba in the worst bout of violence in recent weeks. Israel retaliated with airstrikes and has beefed up its military forces along the border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet resolved to retaliate more severely to cross-border attacks, but has thus far refrained from further action, suggesting it was giving the Egyptians a chance to restore calm.