Archive for the ‘National Security’ Category

Missile Strike

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment


Four suspected U.S. missiles slammed into a house in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday, killing six people in an area near the Afghan border teeming with local and foreign militants…strike, which was carried out by at least one unmanned aircraft, was part of the Obama administration’s rising campaign to use drones to target militants who regularly stage cross-border attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.. dead included three militants and three local tribesmen who were harboring them…U.S. has carried out more than 100 drone strikes in Pakistan this year, roughly twice the number of 2009…Almost all of this year’s strikes have occurred in North Waziristan, an area in which the U.S. has repeatedly requested Pakistan conduct a military offensive…



Stuxnet update

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment


mission: Infiltrate the highly advanced, securely guarded enemy headquarters where scientists in the clutches of an evil master are secretly building a weapon that can destroy the world. Then render that weapon harmless and escape undetected…job is handled by a suave and very sophisticated secret computer worm, a jumble of code called Stuxnet, which in the last year has not only crippled Iran’s nuclear program but has caused a major rethinking of computer security around the globe….have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they’ve all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department’s acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a “game changer.”… onstruction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,”… have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus…Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program…target was seemingly impenetrable; for security reasons, it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility…When it ultimately found its target, it would have to secretly manipulate it until it was so compromised it ceased normal functions…after the job was done, the worm would have to destroy itself without leaving a trace…That is what we are learning happened at Iran’s nuclear facilities — both at Natanz, which houses the centrifuge arrays used for processing uranium into nuclear fuel, and, to a lesser extent, at Bushehr, Iran’s nuclear power plant…At Natanz, for almost 17 months, Stuxnet quietly worked its way into the system and targeted a specific component — the frequency converters made by the German equipment manufacturer Siemens that regulated the speed of the spinning centrifuges used to create nuclear fuel. The worm then took control of the speed at which the centrifuges spun, making them turn so fast in a quick burst that they would be damaged but not destroyed. And at the same time, the worm masked that change in speed from being discovered at the centrifuges’ control panel…At Bushehr, meanwhile, a second secret set of codes, which Langner called “digital warheads,” targeted the Russian-built power plant’s massive steam turbine…nuclear facility in Iran runs an “air gap” security system, meaning it has no connections to the Web, making it secure from outside penetration. Stuxnet was designed and sent into the area around Iran’s Natanz nuclear power plant — just how may never be known — to infect a number of computers on the assumption that someone working in the plant would take work home on a flash drive, acquire the worm and then bring it back to the plant…Once the worm was inside the plant, the next step was to get the computer system there to trust it and allow it into the system. That was accomplished because the worm contained a “digital certificate” stolen from JMicron, a large company in an industrial park in Taiwan. (When the worm was later discovered it quickly replaced the original digital certificate with another certificate, also stolen from another company, Realtek, a few doors down in the same industrial park in Taiwan.)… Once allowed entry, the worm contained four “Zero Day” elements in its first target, the Windows 7 operating system that controlled the overall operation of the plant. Zero Day elements are rare and extremely valuable vulnerabilities in a computer system that can be exploited only once. Two of the vulnerabilities were known, but the other two had never been discovered. Experts say no hacker would waste Zero Days in that manner…After penetrating the Windows 7 operating system, the code then targeted the “frequency converters” that ran the centrifuges. To do that it used specifications from the manufacturers of the converters…worm then ordered the centrifuges to rotate extremely fast, and then to slow down precipitously. This damaged the converter, the centrifuges and the bearings, and it corrupted the uranium in the tubes. It also left Iranian nuclear engineers wondering what was wrong, as computer checks showed no malfunctions in the operating system….Estimates are that this went on for more than a year, leaving the Iranian program in chaos. And as it did, the worm grew and adapted throughout the system…worms reported back to two servers that had to be run by intelligence agencies, one in Denmark and one in Malaysia. The servers monitored the worms and were shut down once the worm had infiltrated Natanz. Efforts to find those servers since then have yielded no results…“the lives of the scientists working in the facility have become a living hell because of counter-intelligence agents brought into the plant” to battle the breach. Ironically, even after its discovery, the worm has succeeded in slowing down Iran’s reputed effort to build an atomic weapon…



December 6, 2010 Leave a comment


CIA has come closer to capturing or killing Osama bin Laden’s top deputy than was previously known during the last nine years…Tragically, the agency thought it had its best chance last year at a secret base in Afghanistan, but instead fell victim to a double agent’s devastating suicide bombing…Targeting al-Zawahri — along with bin Laden — is a main goal of U.S. counterterror efforts, focused on a man who has retained control of al-Qaida’s operations and strategic planning even as he has led an underground existence in Pakistan’s rugged tribal border zone…unlike bin Laden, a cipher since the Sept. 11 attacks who has surfaced only in occasional taped statements, al-Zawahri has kept a higher public profile, taking risks that expose him more…CIA’s pursuit of al-Zawahri climaxed last December in the suicide bombing that left seven agency employees dead at the agency’s eastern Afghanistan base in Khost, one of the worst U.S. intelligence debacles in recent decades…bomber turned out to be an al-Qaida double agent who had lulled U.S. intelligence into believing he could bring them closer to al-Zawahri. Part of the terrorist’s bait was his claim that al-Zawahri suffered from diabetes — a revelation about his health, if true…blunt internal inquiry raked the CIA last month for failing to properly vet the double agent in the months before the bombing and suggested its preoccupation with al-Zawahri may have led to lapses in judgment…al-Zawahri has tried at times to make contact with family members in Egypt, former intelligence officials say. More importantly, he has remained in the public eye with numerous messages…Mohammed was flown to a CIA black site in Poland and interrogated using harsh methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning. Mohammed admitted he had met with al-Zawahribut would not disclose the details…One key to locating al-Qaida’s upper echelon, former U.S. officials said, is cracking the crude but effective communications network linking the fugitive terrorists. The system uses a chain of human couriers ensuring no one messenger interacts with either bin Laden or al-Zawahri….CIA thought it had another chance to target al-Zawahri on January 13, 2006. The CIA had received a tip their target was headed to a gathering of top al-Qaida operatives in the town of Damadola in the Bajaur region. Al-Zawahri reportedly had met with al-Libi a year earlier in Bajaur — where locals had also pinpointed the terrorist leader after the 2004 bombing…former senior CIA official familiar with the episode said all the “intelligence signatures” pointed to al-Zawahri’s arrival that day. Former CIA Director Porter Goss gave a green light to launch a drone missile strike, the former senior official said. Goss declined comment through a spokeswoman…drone strike obliterated a mud compound, killing eighteen people, provincial officials said, including several al-Qaida figures and a dozen civilians…Pakistani intelligence officials said at the time that he was invited to the dinner but decided instead to send several aides…Those familiar with the CIA’s inquiry into the suicide bombing said the operation aimed at al-Zawahri ran afoul of one of the spy game’s cardinal perils — wishfulness…



App to see X-37B

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Seasoned skywatchers in North American may have several chances to spot the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane fly overhead with the help of a smart phone app that helps track satellites….imple Satellite Tracker app gives a one-week advance schedule of flybys, and also alerts users to when spacecraft will appear with a countdown clock and a direction guide…e robotic X-37B space plane and the International Space Station are expected to make a series of good passes over some North American cities and towns…X-37B space plane’s return date depends upon how well it performs its unknown tests in orbit…debut X-37B space plane was built by Boeing in Seal Beach, Calif., and weighs about 11,000 pounds (about 5,000 kg). It is about 29 feet (9 meters) long and has a wingspan of just over 14 feet (4 meters) across…space station can easily be seen from the Earth by the unaided eye on clear nights and can rival the planet Venus in brightness depending on observing conditions….U.S. Air Force officers have remained mostly tightlipped about the X-37B, except for denying that the vehicle represents a weapon.. Outside experts agree that the space plane most likely represents an orbital spy rather than a space weapon…

Pentagon and biometrics

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Biometrics has taken the U.S. Department of Defense by storm, both as a tool to fight war on the battlefield and as a way to make its business practices more efficient…“You can figure out who someone associated with and what they have been involved in. You can link events such as an [improvised explosive device] at one place and a protest at another. You build a picture of what has gone on.”… The military uses iris, facial, palm and voice characteristics in the field…now the Pentagon is bringing biometrics back for use at home. Just like in the combat zone — where biometrics are used to grant people access to secure facilities — the Defense department is using them in its own facilities as a type of universal access: every member of the military, their families and civilian employees have a common access identification card that is embedded with their fingerprints….At Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the Air Force uses a device that scans hand prints to clear veterans who are receiving treatment at the Veterans Affairs clinic for access to the base hospital…Army uses iris scanning technology to provide keyless entry to sensitive areas…


August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

repares for an assault next month into the birthplace of the Taliban, he doesn’t sugarcoat the hurdles his troops face in this crucial swath of southern Afghanistan…”Security sucks. Development? Nothing substantial. Information campaign? Nobody believes us. Governance? We’ve had one, hour-long visit by a government official in the last 2 1/2 months,” the battalion commander says. “Taliban is the home team here.”… Zhari, a district just west of Kandahar through which the insurgents funnel fighters, drugs, explosives and stage attacks into the city…Senior commanders call the fight for Zhari the next step — Phase 3 — of a wider campaign to pacify Kandahar, the country’s second largest city…Zhari itself remains insurgent territory despite five major NATO operations in recent years. In September 2006, a Canadian-led force launched a major operation in Zhari and nearby Panjwai district, pushing out the Taliban but at a cost of 28 coalition lives. Months later, the Taliban were back…Militarily, Benchoff will have to seize the village of Singesar, site of Mullah Omar’s school now defended by fortified trenches, mortars and mines, and stop Taliban movements and ambushes along Highway 1 and a parallel dirt road dubbed Iron City…”We are now poking the bear, trying to figure out how he will react and then developing ways to set him up to our advantage,” says Benchoff, who commands the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. “We are taking our time to do it right. We don’t want to charge in with shock and awe like in Marjah, and then come out scratching our heads and saying, ‘What happened here?'”…Marjah, a town in neighboring Helmand province, was captured in a highly heralded operation in February but has yet to see either solid security or effective government presence….Development and governance-wise, the area is starting from virtually zero….”Will we get all this done in a year? Probably not,” says Benchoff. He notes while U.S. troops may begin pulling out of Afghanistan in July, they will remain in Zhari for at least 1 1/2 years with a replacement for his unit already alerted. “But I think we can do enough here to take the pressure off Kandahar and hope that the ANA can then continue to hold it.”… “They are essential. Before they came, we got nothing out of the locals. People wouldn’t talk to us. Now we’re starting to get tips, information,” he says. “Maybe not a waterfall, but a steady trickle.”…

Malware implicated in plane crash

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Authorities investigating the 2008 crash of Spanair flight 5022 have discovered a central computer system used to monitor technical problems in the aircraft was infected with malware…infected computer failed to detect three technical problems with the aircraft, which if detected, may have prevented the plane from taking off…Flight 5022 crashed just after takeoff from Madrid-Barajas International Airport two years ago today…reported in a preliminary investigation that the plane had taken off with its flaps and slats retracted — and that no audible alarm had been heard to warn of this because the systems delivering power to the take-off warning system failed. Two earlier events had not been reported by the automated system…malware on the Spanair computer has been identified as a type of Trojan horse. It could have entered the airline’s system in a number of ways…