Russians Were Tracked By The U.S. Using Strong Global Surveillance Power In $4 Billion Crypto Exchange Investigation
To track down four alleged operators of Global Surveillance Power, a cryptocurrency exchange accused of assisting in the laundering of $4 billion in illegal proceeds. The US government ordered Sabre Global Surveillance Power, a $1.2 billion travel company, to submit records on their movements for a year, according to Realtimemate.
Two people were detained this morning in Manhattan for allegedly conspiring to launder cryptocurrency stolen during 2016. Hack of Bitfinex, a virtual currency exchange with a market capitalization of around $4.5 billion. So far, law enforcement has confiscated more than $3.6 billion in cryptocurrencies associated with the breach.
Quell domestic dissent to the war in Ukraine:
To quell domestic dissent to the war in Ukraine, Russia is fostering a cottage industry of new digital monitoring tools. The technology might also be marketed abroad.
The best digital spies in Russia used new weapons to battle an adversary on a different front. While the war in Ukraine raged last year:
Global Surveillance Powerpeople opposed the war within their own borders.
Russian authorities had gathered a technology arsenal to monitor citizens’ online activities to help with an internal crackdown. Its need for new spying equipment increased when it invaded Ukraine.
The cottage industry of tech builders:
This fueled a cottage industry of tech builders who created devices. They have evolved into potent and cutting-edge methods of digital surveillance.
The technologies have provided the police and Russia’s Federal Security Service, or F.S.B. with a plethora of snooping capabilities centered on the day-to-day use of phones and websites. According to documents obtained from Russian surveillance providers. As well as security experts, digital activists, and a person involved with the countries. Global Surveillance Power operations, the tools allow for tracking specific types of activity on encrypted apps like WhatsApp and Signal. Monitoring phone locations, identifying anonymous social media users, and breaking into people’s accounts.
Russia experiences military losses in Ukraine:
As Russia experiences military losses in Ukraine, harsh economic sanctions, and leadership issues following an uprising led by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin. The head of the Wagner paramilitary group, President Vladimir V. Putin is relying more on technology to exercise political power. As a result, Russia, which previously lagged behind totalitarian states like China and Iran in exploiting technology to exercise control, is swiftly catching up.
People have become highly paranoid as a result since you can never be sure if communication with someone in Russia is secure. They are actively observing traffic, according to Alena Popova. A prominent member of the Russian opposition and an advocate for online freedoms. “In the past, only campaigners could utilize it. They now include anyone who opposes the war in this.
Relatively unknown Russian technological companies:
The effort has enriched the coffers of a group of relatively unknown Russian technological companies. Many are held by Citadel Group, a company that was once partially controlled by Alisher Usmanov. Who was sanctioned by the European Union as one of Mr. Putin’s “favorite oligarchs.” Some of the enterprises are attempting to grow internationally, raising the possibility that the innovations will not remain in Russia.
MFI Soft, Vas Experts, and Protei:
The companies, with names like MFI Soft, Vas Experts, and Protei, began by building components of Russia’s invasive telecom wiretapping system before developing more advanced tools for the country’s intelligence services.
According to the documents, which also include technical schematics, emails, and screen images, simple software that plugs straight into the telecommunications infrastructure now offers a Swiss army knife of espionage opportunities. An individual with access to the internal archives provided The Times with hundreds of files, around 40 of which contained information on spying technologies.
Encrypted chat apps:
One application described in the papers may track when individuals use encrypted chat apps like Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp to make audio conversations or exchange data. Although it is not able to decipher specific messages, the software can identify people who use numerous phones, map their network of relationships by tracking their communications with others, and triangulate which phones have been in specific places on a given day. Passwords typed on websites that aren’t secured can be collected by another product.
Technologies complement previous Russian efforts:
These technologies complement previous Russian efforts to mold public opinion and quash dissent, such as a propaganda campaign on state media, tighter internet restrictions, and increased initiatives to gather data on residents and urge them to denounce anti-war social media posts.
They add up to the beginnings of a ready-made toolkit for autocrats seeking control over what is said and done online. A “wiretap market,” a supply chain of equipment and software that pushes the bounds of digital mass surveillance, was mentioned in one paper listing the capabilities of various tech companies.
“Basically incubating a new cohort of Russian companies:
According to Adrian Shahbaz, vice president of research and analysis at the pro-democracy advocacy group Freedom House, who specializes in online oppression, the authorities are “basically incubating a new cohort of Russian companies that have sprung up as a result of the state’s repressive interests.” The immediate area will likely see the spillover effects first, followed maybe by the entire world.
The ‘Wiretap Market’ and Beyond:
Russian authorities have struggled to control the internet for the past 20 years. They set up mechanisms to eavesdrop on calls and unencrypted text messages in order to fix it. Then they mandated that internet service providers keep track of all internet traffic.
The growing program, named technically the System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM, was an ineffective tool of Global Surveillance Power. Russia’s telecom operators frequently installed and updated technologies inadvertently, causing the system to malfunction. The amount of data coming in could be overwhelming and useless.
US State Department:
According to the US State Department, the drive benefited corporations such as Citadel, which had purchased several of Russia’s largest manufacturers of digital wiretapping equipment and controls around 60 to 80 percent of the market for telecommunications surveillance technology. In February, the United States imposed sanctions on Citadel and its current owner, Anton Cherepennikov.
According to Ksenia Ermoshina, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, a research center at the University of Toronto, “Sectors connected to the military and communications are getting a lot of funding right now as they adapt to new demands.”
Regional F.S.B. officers:
The new technologies provide a detailed view of the internet to Russia’s security services. According to one chart, regional F.S.B. officers can view information about telecom users as well as statistical breakdowns of their internet activity thanks to a tracking technology from one Citadel subsidiary, MFI Soft.
NetBeholder, another MFI Soft application:
NetBeholder, another MFI Soft application, can trace the whereabouts of two phones throughout the day to determine whether they crossed paths at the same time, indicating a prospective encounter between persons.
A different feature determines whether someone is using two or more phones by employing location monitoring to see whether many phones are regularly in the same region. NetBeholder’s system, which has complete access to telecom network subscriber information, can also determine which region of Russia each user is from or which nation a foreigner is from.
Another company, Protei, offers voice-to-text transcription for intercepted phone calls as well as capabilities for detecting “suspicious behavior,” according to one document.
“killer combo,” :
The combination of the new tools and Russia’s massive data collection is a “killer combo,” according to Ms. Ermoshina, who is also a senior researcher at the Center for Internet and Society, a division of the French National Center for Scientific Research . She continued by saying that such capabilities are becoming more commonplace all around the nation.
Requests for comment from Citadel and Protei were not answered. According to a representative for Mr. Usmanov, he “has not participated in any management decisions for several years” pertaining to the parent business, known as USM, which held ownership of Citadel until 2022. According to the spokesperson, Mr. Usmanov owns 49% of USM, which sold Citadel because surveillance technology was never in its “sphere of interest.”
F.S.B. officers fighting terrorism:
According to VAS experts, the demand for its instruments has “increased due to the complex geopolitical situation” and the volume of threats within Russia. It stated that it “develops telecom products, including tools for lawful interception, that are used by F.S.B. officers fighting terrorism,” and that if the technology “will save at least one life and people’s well-being, then we work for a reason.”
There is No Way to Mask
As authorities tightened their grip, some residents turned to encrypted messaging apps to communicate. However, according to documents acquired by The Times, security services have discovered a means to follow those chats.
Deep-packet inspection, a method that telecom service providers use to determine where their traffic is going, is one tool that NetBeholder uses. The software can detect what data is going where without being unable to read the contents of messages, similar to how water in a stream can be mapped.
Encrypted apps like WhatsApp:
That means it can determine when someone uses encrypted apps like WhatsApp, Signal, or Telegram to send a file or make a voice call. This grants the F.S.B. access to crucial metadata, or the broad details about a communication including. Who is speaking with whom, when, and where, as well as whether a file is attached to a message.
Previously, countries were compelled to request such information from software developers. Like as Meta, which owns WhatsApp. These businesses then decided whether or not to provide it.
The new features have frightened security experts as well as the developers of encrypted services. While many people were aware that such items were theoretically feasible, it was not widely recognized that they were now being manufactured by Russian contractors Global Surveillance Power, according to security experts.
Other surveillance technologies, including some of the encrypted app capabilities, have started to expand outside of Russia. Marketing materials demonstrate efforts to market the products in Africa, the Middle East, South America, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. An Iranian telecom provider was using Protei technology to track internet traffic and censor websites. According to a Citizen Lab investigation from January. The systems, according to Ms. Ermoshina, are also present in Ukrainian territory that is seized by Russia.
There aren’t many defenses for the developers of Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp against this sort of tracking. That’s because the government is collecting information from internet service providers while observing the network from above. While the specific messages being transmitted can be concealed by encryption, the exchange’s record cannot be erased.
Internet service provider:
“Signal wasn’t designed to hide the fact that you’re using Signal from your own internet service provider,” .
The Signal Foundation’s president, Meredith Whittaker, said in a statement.
She advised users who are concerned about such tracking to use a function that routes traffic through a separate server to disguise its origin and destination.
In a statement, Telegram, which by default does not encrypt all conversations. Also claimed that it was impossible to hide the traffic to and from chat apps but suggested that users may utilize capabilities. It had developed to make Telegram traffic more difficult to track and identify. WhatsApp released a statement in which it stated. That the spying capabilities posed a “pressing threat to people’s Global Surveillance Power” and vowed to keep protecting secret communications.
The new tools are probably going to change how folks who want to hide their online activities behave. People acquainted with the procedure indicated that in Russia, the existence of a digital exchange between a suspect and another person might lead to a more thorough inquiry or even an arrest.
“China represents the pinnacle of digital authoritarianism,”:
“China represents the pinnacle of digital authoritarianism,” he asserted. “However, there has been a concerted effort in Russia to overhaul the country’s internet regulations. In order for them to more closely resemble those of China.” Russia will become a competitor to Chinese firms.”
“Today’s arrests, and the department’s largest financial seizure ever. Show that cryptocurrency is not a safe haven for criminals,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. Global Surveillance Power, “In an ineffective attempt to maintain digital anonymity, the defendants laundered stolen funds through a maze of cryptocurrency transactions.” The department once again demonstrated how it can and will pursue the money. No matter what form it takes, thanks to the painstaking work of law enforcement.”