Russia is still launching cyberattacks against the US, a Microsoft exec has revealed, contradicting what the President claimed just a few days ago. According to Microsoft VP for customer security and trust Tom Burt (shown above second from right, with his hand raised), his team discovered a spear-phishing campaign targeting three candidates running for office in 2018. Burt announced his team’s findings while speaking on a panel at the Aspen Security Forum, where he also revealed that they traced the new campaign to a group believed to be operated by the GRU, Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency. In other words, those three candidates are being targeted by the same organization that infiltrated the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign in 2016.
The US recently indicted 12 Russian GRU officials, 11 of whom are accused of hacking the DNC and leaking the party’s emails with the purpose of influencing the 2016 elections. If you’ll recall, a “Guccifer 2.0” dumped names, phone numbers, emails and a bunch of other information stolen from the party, from Hillary Clinton and from the Clinton Foundation on the internet.
The last GRU official named in the indictment is accused of breaking into the state board of elections and the systems owned by companies making election software to steal half a million voters’ information.
While Burt divulged Microsoft’s findings to the public, he refused to name the targets and their parties due to security concerns. He did say, however, that they’re “candidates of note” who are “running for reelection.” Neither party would confirm whether their candidates are being targeted, but DNC rep Xochitl Hinojosa told BuzzFeed News: “We saw the Russians attack our democracy in 2016 and we know they’re a threat in 2018, 2020 and beyond.” He added that it’s unfortunate how the President isn’t taking the issue seriously and how House Republicans refuse to increase funding for election security.
Xinhua/Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa via Getty Images
President Trump is still dealing with the repercussions of appearing to agree with Vladimir Putin that Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 US election (and the subsequent attempted walk back of this statement), but that isn’t stopping him from further controversial statements on cybersecurity. In a cabinet meeting, Trump told a reporter that Russia was no longer “targeting” the US with cyberattacks. The claim strains credulity, to put it mildly — it contradicts both his previous remarks and the findings of intelligence agencies.
To start, Trump told members of Congress in a July 17th meeting that the US was reportedly “doing everything in [its] power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.” If cyberattacks weren’t a real possibility, why show concern about Russian meddling just a day earlier? Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also stressed in a July 16th statement that Russia was conducting “ongoing, pervasive efforts” to undermine the US, indicating a continued threat.
It’s certainly an unusual statement to make in light of dozens of indictments (some made just before Trump’s meeting with Putin) against Russian intelligence officers and Russia-linked individuals for attempting to interfere with the 2016 election through everything from ad campaigns to hacking electoral systems. And that’s not even including the reams of evidence of ongoing cyberattacks against the West, including Twitter bots as well as hacks targeting the Olympics and chemical warfare prevention labs. There’s simply no good reason to believe Russia has changed its ways ahead of the US mid-term elections, regardless of what Trump says.
Tuesday marked another chapter in the “Tech Companies go to Congress” story, with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. The hearing, titled “Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants,” was supposed to shed light on how these companies are keeping their sites safe for users by filtering out toxic content. But, instead, we learned very little. Executives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube simply echoed what they’ve been saying in other congressional hearings since 2017. They talked about how they’re using a combination of artificial intelligence and human reviewers to fight fake news, bots and toxic content like hate speech.
Throughout yesterday’s session, US House Representatives from both sides of the aisle seemed to be more interested on their personal agenda. Republicans like Rep. Smith (TX) talked about how he felt conservatives were being censored, accusing Google of blocking his searches for “Jesus, Chick-fil-A and the Catholic religion.” Democrats, on the other hand, said the committee should be having hearings on Russian election interference and Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin instead. “This committee needs to proceed with hearings involving the question of the Russian intrusion and stealing of the 2016 election,” Rep. Lee (D-CA) said. “And I’ve come to a conclusion now that it was truly stolen. Dealing with these engines that have been effective for the United States on that issue seems to be a stretch and inappropriate.”
Rep. Lieu (D-CA) went as far as calling the hearing “dumb” and “stupid,” saying there were more important issues the House Judiciary Committee should be focusing on. “I served on active duty in the US military, I never thought I would see the American Commander-in-Chief deliver the talking points of the Kremlin. Are we having a hearing on that? No.” he said. “As we sit here today there [are] nearly three thousand babies and kids ripped away from their parents by the Trump administration, they have not been reunified yet. Are we having a hearing on that? No.” Instead, he added, “we’re having this ridiculous hearing on the content of speech of private sector companies. It’s stupid because there’s this thing called the First Amendment — we can’t regulate content. The only thing worse than an Alex Jones video is the government trying to tell Google not to do it, to prevent people from watching [it]. “
Meanwhile, Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) asked Facebook, Twitter and YouTube why the shouldn’t be regulated as non-utilities like hotels or clubs, which at a certain point have a legal liability for how consumers use their services. Goodlatte’s concern is that these social media giants
The US’ indictment of Russian officers over the DNC hacks is having an effect… at least, on Twitter. The social network has banned accounts for both DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 in response to the indictment. In a statement explaining the suspensions, the company told Engadget that they were “connected to a network of accounts” that had already been shut down for violating rules. At the same time, Twitter was aware that the shutdowns were considered overdue — DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 have long been linked to Russia, and the indictments just formalized the connections.
“We’re reviewing our policies in light of this and expect to make updates soon,” Twitter said in an additional statement to the New York Times‘ Jim Rutenberg. “We recognize that to promote healthy conversation we need to be responsive to ways the platform is being misused and we are committed to that here and everywhere.”
It’s not certain what those changes might be. However, Twitter has faced more than a handful of accusations that it only belatedly recognized the threat of electoral interference on its platform, with bot purges, candidate labels and other anti-manipulation tactics only coming after the 2016 US presidential vote. This may be an acknowledgment that it needs to be more proactive in dealing with accounts linked to hacking and other criminal activity, especially when politics are involved.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team have received an indictment for 12 Russian intelligence for hacking Democrats leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The spies are accused of digitally infiltrating the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, along with stealing information of 500,000 US voters, and releasing emails with the express purpose of influencing the election.
Eleven of the 12 spies named in the indictment are charged with breaking into the DNC and Clinton’s campaign; The last is accused of hacking state boards of elections, secretaries of state and companies that provided election software, with the goal of stealing information about hundreds of thousands of voters. And yet, the Mueller team does not believe their efforts influenced the election.
“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime. There is no allegation that the conspiracy altered the vote count or changed any election result,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a prepared statement at a press conference.
The Wall Street Journalreported last November that Mueller’s team had identified six Russian government officials who were allegedly involved in hacking the DNC and releasing that information to harm the Clinton campaign. Then Mueller then indicted 13 Russian nationals involved with the government-associated Internet Research Agency for allegedly tampering with the election back in February.
Reality Winner was expected to plead guilty to leaking NSA data, and she’s done just that. The whistleblower has officially pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful retention and dissemination of national defense information. Sentencing will have to wait, but the felony carries a maximum penalty of 63 months (5.25 years) with up to three years of supervised release.
Winner faced the charge after giving The Intercept NSA documents that showed Russia’s military intelligence wing, the GRU, attempting to hijack the computers of 122 local election officials ahead of the 2016 American vote. The NSA had determined that Russia wanted to collect information about election-related hardware and software in what could have been a precursor to manipulating the vote itself.
This week, The New York Times reported that tech companies met with US government officials to discuss security and possible foreign influence around the 2018 midterm elections. Representatives from Amazon, Google, Twitter, Oath, Microsoft, Snap and Apple met at Facebook’s headquarters in California. Christopher Krebs, an under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, and an unnamed representative from the FBI’s foreign influence task force were present at the meeting.
Companies such as Facebook have been under fire since the 2016 presidential election in regard to foreign influence. Democrats in Congress have released thousands of Russia-purchased Facebook ads to the public; these paid posts make clear the intent was to stoke the fires of discord in the US on controversial issues. It’s understandable, then, that tech companies and the government both have an interest in making sure this kind of meddling doesn’t happen again.
That’s why it’s surprising that The New York Times reports that this is the first such meeting between intelligence officials and tech companies in regard to the 2018 midterms (which are less than five months away). The meeting was apparently initiated by Facebook, not the government, and the officials at the meeting reportedly refused to share any details on specific threats that these tech companies might face. The Times article goes on to say, “One attendee of the meeting said the encounter led the tech companies to believe they would be on their own to counter election interference.”
Russian meddling and interference in US elections is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. The problem, apparently, is that ordinarily the presidential administration would take the lead in countering this kind of threat. However, this administration shows little interest in dealing with the issue (or even acknowledging that it’s a problem). It looks like it’s up to the tech companies to ensure that foreign influence is kept to a minimum during this next election, and that’s not an encouraging thought.
The team behind the 2018 Winter Olympics hack is still active, according to security researchers — in fact, it’s switching to more serious targets. Kaspersky has discovered that the group, nicknamed Olympic Destroyer, has been launching email phishing attacks against biochemical warfare prevention labs in Europe and Ukraine as well as financial organizations in Russia. The methodology is extremely familiar, including the same rogue macros embedded in decoy documents as well as extensive efforts to avoid typical detection methods.
While Kaspersky didn’t directly point fingers, it brought up a number of clues suggesting that Russia was responsible. Most of the lab targets were people associated with an upcoming biochemical threat conference run by Spiez Laboratory, which just happened to be involved in the investigation of the nerve agent poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Also, Kaspersky noted that the custom images and messages in the documents were in “perfect” Russian, and one of them specifically references the Skripal attack (conveniently, a piece where scientists couldn’t definitively came from Russia).
So why target Russian financial outfits, then? Kaspersky acknowledged that there could be multiple parties involved (say, profit-oriented crooks in addition to state-sponsored attackers). However, it’s generally accepted that Russia tried to frame North Korea for the Olympic hack. It’s entirely possible that the Russian targets amounted to a false flag meant to cast doubt on the true origins of the attack. The focus on labs and the Skripal connection may have been meant to rattle the West for daring to attribute assassination attempts to Russia.
It may be difficult to completely prevent campaigns like this when political tensions are so high. Kaspersky believes the labs can curb this in the future, however, such as tightening their overall security and running impromptu security audits. It’s also a reminder to be cautious — a seemingly innocuous attachment can have dire consequences.
Our train slowly chugged to a halt. Something was apparently blocking the road up ahead, possibly put there by a rival band of survivors. The captain sent my character out to investigate. Moments later, I was killed by a giant floating orb of static. Post-nuclear Russia is not a place to explore blindly.
But explore is exactly what Metro Exodus maker 4A Games wants you to do. Beginning on a train headed away from the Moscow public transit system in which players spent the previous two games foraging for bullets and batteries Exodus will take players to a city far away, consisting of several open-air regions spread across four different seasons and linked by the same set of tracks. The area I explored in a hands-on demo at E3 2018 took place during early spring, and the unforgiving landscape hid everything from mutant crocodiles and deadly wisps of sentient electromagnetic energy to an outpost of religious fanatics who blame technology for the modern state of the world—a completely reasonable sentiment under the circumstances.
After reloading my last auto-save, I set out on a more roundabout path past an old abandoned train car, a quick, barebones search of which turned up nothing interesting but the broken down ghosts of past civilizations etched into the window curtains. I headed toward a thawed lake where a rowboat sat. On the other side, there looked to be an old abandoned boathouse, so I decided to head for it. Giant bugs plopped off into the marshy water from the banks on either side as I rowed by, and I did my best to avoid the ripples they left in their wake. My short voyage went on, uninterrupted.
As I approached the boat house, I found that I was not alone: I could hear someone giving a sermon about the hellscape surrounding us and how those who embraced technology were to blame for it. No one interacted directly with me, though and I was able to make my way up a landing by the dock and toward the top of the building. A mother and daughter were there, asking for my help. They needed asylum of some kind. It was hard to tell how exactly, but my agreeing to help them sparked a chain reaction that set thugs from the religious meeting below looking for me. What followed was a bloodbath, one I hadn’t planned on, but one whose consequences would haunt me for the rest of my time in the Exodus demo. I slogged my way the muck, weapons dirty and low on ammunition, searching desperately for the resources I’d need to finish my reconnaissance missions.
As the latest series to make its way into the open-world space, Metro’s is to accommodate player agency and make different paths and approaches to exploring new areas viable. The developers at 4A Games, during the demo and afterwards during an interview, explained that choice is important in this new, more free-flowing Metro world. In the large swamplands I explored, that meant giving me an objective to go check something out off in the distance, but not holding my hand telling me how to get there, or preventing me from checking out other buildings or combing the land for potential supplies or hidden secrets.
Building in multiple player paths and planning for different possibilities means that Exodus has also had to leave some of its past behind. Most notably, the new game dispenses with the series’ bullet economy, in which ammunition doubled as the currency of exchange for buying items.
“I think the bullet economy was something that was really cool,” the game’s executive producer Jon Bloch told Kotaku at E3. “But at the same time, I think that had to be to be sacrificed in order to move into this new design idea of doing these open environments, and players seeking their freedom.” Bullets were laid out like cookie crumbs in the last two games, and 4A Games was able to craft these drops with precision because of the limited nature of most environments and the way players were propelled down narrow tunnels from one story beat to another. In the more open world of Exodus, this planned economy wouldn’t be possible.
Bullets will still be precious in Exodus, Bloch said, and a reason to try and take out enemies as stealthily as possible rather than go in guns-blazing like I did. The end of my time with the game was spent hiding behind a door in an abandoned factory trying to figure out how my three shotgun shells would get me through the unknown number of mutated creatures stalking the halls around me.
An overhauled crafting system means that ammunition and other supplies can be crafted using a portable workshop carried on your back, but you still need to find the right ingredients first, leading to a risk and reward trade-off that adds a layer to the decision-making process. Diverge from the beaten path and you might find useful stuff or the occasional audio log, but you’re also likely to encounter threats that are costly to deal with and potentially leave you in even worse shape than when you arrived.
Screenshot: Deep Silver (Metro Exodus)
This heightened danger risk is something most open worlds and go-as-you-please sandbox environments are missing, and shows just how much the series has to gain from leaving the cramped Moscow underground from the first two games. Where most game areas encourage the player to find a way to overpower and eventually master them, the part of Exodus I played was not keen to have me around in the slightest. If anything, it left me wishing I could complete my task, get the tracks cleared, and hop back on my comrades’ train as soon as possible, like any great survival game should.
Ultimately, this is what’s helped Metro feel so grounded and intimate, and what my time with the game convinced me Exodus will still have. Despite evolving to more closely resemble games like Dishonored 2 and Fallout 4, the game is still about protagonist Artyom trying to make his way in a world wracked by nuclear winter and not immediately die of radiation poisoning. The game’s roots in this deeply personal realism are reaffirmed nowhere better than in its still incredibly organic and minimalist user interface. Whether I was rowing in a boat or crouching behind a snow-covered log, I could always pull out a map of the area on my clunky clipboard to figure out where I should head next. With the game still proceeding in the background, I could study the crude contours of the island I was on with a handwritten X marking my next objective.
As Exodus adds new systems and becomes a more complex game, relying on a more explicit HUD to communicate with the player could have provided easy shortcuts. Instead, it has opted for the more beautiful and brutal alternative. The game doesn’t pause when you’re studying your map, or the diary on the flip-side, or when you’re checking your guns to clean them or switch out attachments. These aren’t secondary activities separate from the open world exploration: they’re the heart of it.
“It might take a little more effort on the part of the player, but I like that,” said Bloch. “We’ve used this this term ‘It’s like the thinking gamer’s shooter’—you have to put a little bit more thought into it, and you can’t just go around with a bullet hose.”
The US Department of the Treasury has issued another round of sanctions against a handful of Russian groups and individuals. These latest sanctions have been placed against companies that are controlled by and/or have provided support to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) as well as some entities that are owned by or have acted on behalf of those that have allegedly supported the FSB. In all, the Treasury Department issued sanctions against five groups and three individuals.
“The United States is engaged in an ongoing effort to counter malicious actors working at the behest of the Russian Federation and its military and intelligence units to increase Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities. The entities designated today have directly contributed to improving Russia’s cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with the FSB and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.
The Treasury Department says that the activities that led to these new sanctions include the NotPetya cyberattack, attacks against the US energy grid as well as hacks into network infrastructure devices like routers and switches. Additionally, US officials say the Russian government has been tracking communication cables in the ocean.
Sanctions were brought against firms Digital Security, ERPScan, Embedi, Kvant Scientific Research Institute and Divetechnoservices as well as Aleksandr Tribun, Oleg Chirikov and Vladimir Kaganskiy — three individuals connected to Divetechnoservices. Any property belonging to these entities that is subject to US jurisdiction will be blocked as a result of the sanctions and US citizens can no longer engage in transactions with these companies or individuals.
“The United States is committed to aggressively targeting any entity or individual working at the direction of the FSB whose work threatens the United States and will continue to utilize our sanctions authorities, including those provided under [the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act], to counter the constantly evolving threats emanating from Russia,” Mnuchin said today.