EletiofeA Mysterious Leak Exposed Chinese Hacking Secrets

A Mysterious Leak Exposed Chinese Hacking Secrets


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Today marks two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This week, we detailed the growing crisis in Eastern Ukraine, which is now littered with deadly mines. As it fights back the invading Russian forces, Ukraine’s government is working to develop new mine-clearing technology that could help save lives around the globe.

A leaked document obtained by WIRED has revealed the secret placement of gunshot-detection sensors in locations around the United States and its territories. According to the document, which ShotSpotter’s parent company authenticated, the sensors, which are used by police departments in dozens of metropolitan areas in the United States, are largely located in low-income and minority communities, according to WIRED’s analysis, adding crucial context in a long-running debate over police use of the technology.

Speaking of leaks, WIRED this week obtained 15 years of messages posted to an internal system used by members of the US Congress. The House Intelligence Committee used the “Dear Colleagues” system to warn lawmakers of an “urgent matter”—something that has not happened since at least 2009. That urgent matter, which was quickly leaked to the press, turned out to be related to Russian military research of space-based weapons. But some sources say the matter wasn’t urgent at all, and the warning was instead an attempt by House Intelligence leadership to derail a vote on privacy reforms to a major US surveillance program.

On Tuesday, a coalition of law enforcement agencies led by the UK’s National Crime Agency disrupted the LockBit ransomware gang’s operation, seizing its infrastructure, dark-web leak site, and code used to carry out its attacks against thousands of institutions globally. Although ransomware attacks resulted in a record $1.1 billion in ransom payments last year, Anne Neuberger, a top US cyber official in the Biden administration, tells WIRED how the 2021 ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline has transformed the ways American institutions defend against and respond to such attacks.

In dual wins for privacy this week, the Signal Foundation began its rollout of usernames for its popular end-to-end encrypted messaging app. The update will allow people to connect without having to reveal their phone numbers. Meanwhile, Apple began to future-proof its encryption for iMessage with the launch of PQ3, a next-generation encryption protocol designed to resist decryption from quantum computers.

And there’s more. Each week, we highlight the news we didn’t cover in-depth ourselves. Click on the headlines below to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.

Hundreds of documents linked to a Chinese hacking-for-hire firm were dumped online this week. The files belong to i-Soon, a Shanghai-based company, and give a rare glimpse into the secretive world of the industry that supports China’s state-backed hacking. The leak includes details of Chinese hacking operations, lists of victims and potential targets, and the day-to-day complaints of i-Soon staff.

“These leaked documents support TeamT5’s long-standing analysis: China’s private cybersecurity sector is pivotal in supporting China’s APT attacks globally,” Che Chang, a cyber threat analyst at the Taiwan-based cybersecurity firm TeamT5, tells WIRED. Chang says the company has been tracking i-Soon since 2020 and found that it has a close relationship with Chengdu 404, a company linked to China’s state-backed hackers.

While the documents have now been removed from GitHub, where they were first posted, the identity and motivations of the person, or people, who leaked them remains a mystery. However, Chang says the documents appear to be real, a fact confirmed by two employees working for i-Soon, according to the Associated Press, which reported that the company and police in China are investigating the leak.

“There are around eight categories of the leaked files. We can see how i-Soon engaged with China’s national security authorities, the details of i-Soon’s products and financial problems,” Chang says. “More importantly, we spotted documents detailing how i-Soon supported the development of the notorious remote access Trojan (RAT), ShadowPad,” Chang adds. The ShadowPad malware has been used by Chinese hacking groups since at least 2017.

Since the files were first published, security researchers have been poring over their contents and analyzing the documentation. Included were references to software to run disinformation campaigns on X, details of efforts to access communications data across Asia, and targets within governments in the United Kingdom, India, and elsewhere, according to reports by the New York Times and the The Washington Post. The documents also reveal how i-Soon worked for China’s Ministry of State Security and the People’s Liberation Army.

According to researchers at SentinelOne, the files also include pictures of “custom hardware snooping devices,” such as a power bank that could help steal data and the company’s marketing materials. “In a bid to get work in Xinjiang–where China subjects millions of Ugyhurs to what the UN Human Rights Council has called genocide–the company bragged about past counterterrorism work,” the researchers write. “The company listed other terrorism-related targets the company had hacked previously as evidence of their ability to perform these tasks, including targeting counterterrorism centers in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

The Federal Trade Commission has fined antivirus firm Avast $16.5 for collecting and selling people’s web browsing data through its browser extensions and security software. This included the details of web searches and the sites people visited, which, according to the FTC, revealed people’s “religious beliefs, health concerns, political leanings, location, financial status, visits to child-directed content and other sensitive information.” The company sold the data through its subsidiary Jumpshot, the FTC said in an order announcing the fine.

The ban also places five obligations on Avast: not to sell or license browsing data for advertising purposes; to obtain consent if it is selling data from non-Avast products; delete information it transferred to Jumpshot and any algorithms created from the data; tell customers about the data it sold; and introduce a new privacy program to address the problems the FTC found. An Avast spokesperson said that while they “disagree with the FTC’s allegations and characterization of the facts,” they are “pleased to resolve this matter.”

Two Chinese nationals living in Maryland—Haotian Sun and Pengfei Xue—have been convicted of mail fraud and a conspiracy to commit mail fraud for a scheme that involved sending 5,000 counterfeit iPhones to Apple. The pair, who could each face up to 20 years in prison, according to the The Register, hoped Apple would send them real phones in return. The fake phones had “spoofed serial numbers and/or IMEI numbers” to trick Apple stores or authorized service providers into thinking they were genuine. The scam took place between May 2017 and September 2019 and would have cost Apple more than $3 million in losses, a US Department of Justice press release says.

Security researchers from the US and China have created a new side-channel attack that can reconstruct people’s fingerprints from the sounds they create as you swipe them across your phone screen. The researchers used built-in microphones in devices to capture the “faint friction sounds” made by a finger and then used these sounds to create fingerprints. “The attack scenario of PrintListener is extensive and covert,” the researchers write in a paper detailing their work. “It can attack up to 27.9 percent of partial fingerprints and 9.3 percent of complete fingerprints within five attempts.” The research raises concerns about real-world hackers who are attempting to steal people’s biometrics to access bank accounts.

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