Germany warns travelers to Turkey over legal action on VPN use

With thousands of websites now inaccessible in Turkey, its citizens and foreigners have been driven toward VPNs for free access to the internet. (Reuters/File)
Updated 27 November 2019

Germany warns travelers to Turkey over legal action on VPN use

  • Digital networks are being ‘strictly monitored by Ankara to control flow of information’

ISTANBUL: Germany has warned its citizens traveling to Turkey that they could face legal action for using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in the country.

In the first-ever formal warning on the issue from such a high government level, the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs cautioned that the digital networks were strictly monitored by the Turkish government to control the flow of information.

The alert is likely to prompt travelers from other countries to be aware of the potential legal consequences of using VPNs.

With hundreds of thousands of websites now inaccessible in Turkey, its citizens and foreigners have been driven toward VPNs for free access to the internet. But the use of a VPN connection can turn some people into a person of interest in the eyes of law enforcement agencies.

“Do not sign any documents that you do not understand. Request a lawyer. Keep your ID on your person. Be open to cooperation while at security checkpoints,” the German ministry said in a statement.

Its updated warning noted that German citizens who had been active in Kurdish organizations in Germany were being detained in Turkey and it issued a reminder that insulting the president (of Turkey) or terror charges carried heavy sentences.

Turkey’s recent military incursion into northern Syria also prompted Germany to update its travel safety advice on eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey, while it cautioned against visiting the country’s major cities where potential terror group attacks could target foreign nationals.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Turkey’s recent military incursion into northern Syria also prompted Germany to update its travel safety advice on eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey, while it cautioned against visiting the country’s major cities where potential terror group attacks could target foreign nationals.

• The warning coincided with the latest row between Berlin and Ankara over the detention of a lawyer who had been working on asylum cases in the German Embassy in the Turkish capital.

The warning coincided with the latest row between Berlin and Ankara over the detention of a lawyer who had been working on asylum cases in the German Embassy in the Turkish capital.

German officials have slammed the move as a “violation” of diplomatic conventions and urged for the release of the lawyer who was in charge of Turkish citizens seeking asylum in Germany. But Ankara has accused him of espionage.

Meanwhile, Turkey recently deported a number of German citizens with suspected ties to Daesh.

Isik Mater, a digital rights activist, told Arab News that nobody had so far been punished just for using VPNs, but the use of such internet tools had been among the political reasons for going after some foreigners.

The year-long incarceration of German-Turkish correspondent Deniz Yucel, of Die Welt, over espionage and terrorism charges brought Ankara and Berlin to the brink of a diplomatic crisis last year. He was released after intense political negotiations.

Mater, who is also the research director at media freedom watchdog Turkey Blocks, said internet service providers were able to detect the moment a person connected to a VPN, but could not reach the website the person clicked on.

“The only way the public authorities obtain personal information about people using the VPNs is through contacting the company which provides VPN services. But again, this means there is a political motive behind it,” she added.

Turkey Blocks regularly monitors internet censorship and blackout cases in Turkey. The group also reveals signs of interference and cyberattacks on critical infrastructure using real-time measurement techniques.


US media questions Bezos hacking claims

Updated 25 January 2020

US media questions Bezos hacking claims

  • Experts said while hack “likely” occurred, investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions”
  • Specialists on Thursday said evidence was not strong enough to confirm

LONDON: An investigation into claims that the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was hacked has been called into question by cybersecurity experts and several major US media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Associated Press (AP).

Specialists on Thursday said evidence from the privately commissioned probe by FTI Consulting is not strong enough for a definitive conclusion, nor does it confirm with certainty that his phone was actually compromised.

The Wall Street Journal reported, late on Friday: “Manhattan federal prosecutors have evidence indicating Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend provided text messages to her brother that he then sold to the National Enquirer for its article about the Amazon.com Inc. founder’s affair, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Experts said while a hack “likely” occurred, the investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions,” including how a hack happened or which spyware program was used, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Steve Morgan, founder and editor-in-chief of New York-based Cybersecurity Ventures, said the probe makes “reasonable assumptions and speculations,” but does not claim 100 percent certainty or proof.

UK-based cybersecurity consultant Robert Pritchard said: “In some ways, the investigation is very incomplete … The conclusions they’ve drawn, I don’t think, are supported by the evidence. They veered off into conjecture.”

Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook, wrote that the FTI probe is filled with “circumstantial evidence but no smoking gun.”

Matt Suiche, a Dubai-based French entrepreneur and founder of cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, told AP that the malicious file is presumably still on the hacked phone because the investigation shows a screenshot of it.

If the file had been deleted, he said the probe should have stated this or explained why it was not possible to retrieve it. “They’re not doing that. It shows poor quality of the investigation,” Suiche added.

Reports on Wednesday suggested that Saudi Arabia was involved in the phone of Bezos being hacked after he received a WhatsApp message sent from the personal account of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi Embassy in the US denied the allegations, describing them as “absurd.” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called the accusations “purely conjecture” and “absolutely silly,” saying if there was real evidence the Kingdom looked forward to seeing it.

A Wall Street Journal report quoted forensics specialists as saying the FTI investigation’s claims that Saudi Arabia was behind any possible hacking of the phone “appeared to forgo investigatory steps.”

CNN reported that critics of the probe highlighted a “lack of sophistication” in it, quoting Sarah Edwards, an instructor at the SANS Institute, as saying: “It does seem like (FTI) gave it a good try, but it seems they’re just not as knowledgeable in the mobile forensics realm as they could have been.”

The New York Times said the probe tried to find links between the possible hacking of the phone and an article in the National Enquirer about the Amazon CEO’s extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, but any link remains “elusive.”

National Enquirer owner American Media said in a statement regarding the source of the leak on Sanchez’s involvement with Bezos: “The single source of our reporting has been well documented, in September 2018 Michael Sanchez began providing all materials and information to our reporters. Any suggestion that a third party was involved in or in any way influenced our reporting is false.”