Israeli firm NSO’s spyware again hacking iPhones | Ukraine: US-made Patriot guided missile systems arrive | Age of airman in leaks case not the issue: defense chief | Putin, Zelenskyy rally troops with war poised for new phase - Military Times
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Published On 19 Apr 202319 Apr 2023
A research group says the Israeli NSO Group’s spyware was used to launch at least three “zero click” attacks on the iPhones of civil society members last year.
Citizen Lab released its findings on Tuesday into NSO’s global reach after its software infected the phones of at least two human rights defenders in Mexico in 2022.
NSO’s Pegasus spyware can infiltrate a mobile device either through a text message that users click or more recently through “zero-click attacks”.
Those intrusions compromise devices without any action by the user. Messages, chats, phone calls, contacts and emails can be monitored.
The latest identified hacks, Citizen Lab said, targeted phones with iOS 15 and iOS 16 operating software. The Lab shared its findings with Apple, which made security improvements to fix the flaws used by the spyware.
Apple’s Lockdown Mode successfully blocked one of the three attacks, the research showed.
NSO Group is an Israeli cyber-surveillance firm regulated by Israel’s Ministry of Defense. Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto has studied Pegasus extensively.
‘Penetrate and perhaps blunt’
Citizen Lab said it first found the zero-click exploits in a joint investigation with Mexican NGO Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights Defence Network), or RD3, after examining phones of Mexican human rights activists.
“The timing of the infections on their devices corresponds to events of importance to the activities of Centro PRODH, and suggests that the Pegasus operator may have been seeking to penetrate and perhaps blunt the impact of Centro PRODH’s work relating to human rights violations committed by the Mexican Army,” the report said.
Centro PRODH is Mexican legal aid and human rights organisation that was investigating a mass kidnapping of dozens of students in Mexico in 2015.
One infected phone belonged to Centro PRODH’s director, Jorge Santiago Aguirre Espinosa. Citizen Lab said his phone has been compromised at least three times since 2016.
A second member of Centro PRODH, María Luisa Aguilar Rodríguez, had her phone infected in June while she was representing victims of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by the Mexican military.
According to a report by The Washington Post, Mexico has been “a major NSO customer”.
Mexican government agencies signed contracts worth about $160m with NSO Group from 2011 to 2018, the Reuters news agency has reported.
NSO officials have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in selling spyware to governments around the world. Pegasus is intended for use only “against criminals and terrorists”, the company said.
An NSO spokesman “declined to say” whether its product was involved in the latest intrusions in Mexico, and he “faulted Citizen Lab for failing to disclose its underlying data”, the Post reported.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies
University of Toronto's Citizen Lab releases findings after detecting infiltration of Mexican human rights defenders.
Staunton, Apr. 12 – Patriarch Kirill long dreamed of a Russian world that included all those who follow Russian Orthodoxy regardless of where they live and thus identify with the Russian world that this faith epitomizes, but that version of the Russian world no longer exists, according to Andrey Desnitsky.
The Russian Academy of Sciences specialist on the Bible says this version of the Russian world died when Kirill and his church became spokesman for Vladimir Putin’s idea of the Russian world which is based on language and support for Moscow rather than any faith at all (moscowtimes.ru/2023/04/12/pochemu-russkii-mir-patriarha-kirilla-ischez-navsegda-a39834).
The Russian world Kirill promoted “has disappeared forever,” Desnitsky says. “Today, this unity can be seriously spoken about only as existing on the territory that is reliably controlled by the Russian Federation Armed Forces.” That change “makes the participation of the patriarch and in general of the church completely superfluous.”
But the bigger question is “what will happen when the regime to which the Moscow Patriarchate has now chained itself shifts or collapses.” Some thing everything will go on as before but others expect a new religious competition in Russia, one that the Patriarchate cannot be sure of winning.
Desnitsky says he is “sure of one thing: the ‘Spiritual Revival’ project Gorbachev opened 35 years ago in advance of the millennium of the baptism of Rus is now over. Once upon a time, it began with the Russian letters XB [for Khristos Voskres] which appeared on the streets of Russian cities at Easter.”
Now, these have “been replaced by two other letters, from the end of the Latin alphabet” [ZZ which have become the symbols of Putin’s expanded invasion of Ukraine.]
Window on Eurasia -- New Series
Staunton, Apr. 13 – No fewer than 66 people have been arrested in more than 21 regions of the Russian Federation for attempting to sabotage rail traffic there in the year since Vladimir Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Despite official claims, most appear to be the work of individuals rather than organizations.
In a comprehensive report on this phenomenon for Zona.Media, journalist Dima Shvets reports that most of those detained are under 25 and as many as a third are minors, that at least two have been killed in the course of attempts to apprehend them, and that the numbers have risen dramatically over the last several months (zona.media/article/2023/04/13/sabotage).
No trials in any of these cases have yet begun so more information may become available, but Russian officials have sought to portray these actions as the work of people linked to Ukraine and the West rather than being a form of indigenous Russian protest against the war in Ukraine.
For the moment, Shvets’ 4300-word article is the most detailed and comprehensive available on this subject.
Window on Eurasia -- New Series
MUSKO NAVAL BASE, Sweden (AP) — The age of the airman charged in one of the most significant U.S. intelligence leaks in recent memory — just 21 years old — has been the focus of a growing question: Why would the nation give someone so young access to some of its most important secrets?
But the airman’s age has not come up as a focus of the Pentagon’s investigation into how the documents were leaked. That investigation instead is targeting what security lapses took place that allowed Airman 1st Class Jack Teixeira to allegedly remove the top secret level documents from the Massachusetts National Guard base where he worked.
For the Pentagon’s leaders, who have seen 17- and 18-year-olds go to war, age isn’t the issue.
“The vast majority of our military is young,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters traveling with him in Sweden on Wednesday. “It’s not exceptional that young people are doing important things in our military. That’s that’s really not the issue.”
Teixeira was charged Friday in the U.S. District Court in Boston with unauthorized removal and retention of classified and national defense information. He is expected back in court for a hearing Wednesday.
The leaked documents exposed to the world unvarnished secret assessments on Russia’s war in Ukraine, the capabilities and geopolitical interests of other nations and other national security issues.
In Sweden, where Austin met with Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson in a show of support for that country’s NATO bid, Jonson said the issue of the leaks did not come up.
“I can just say that we have good intelligence cooperation between Sweden and the United States,” Jonson said. “We feel completely sure of the U.S. commitment of handling the situation.”
The Air Force is investigating how a lone airman could access and distribute possibly hundreds of highly classified documents, and in the meantime it has taken away the intelligence mission from the unit where the leaks took place, Air Force leaders said Tuesday.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told Congress he has directed the Air Force inspector general to look at the Air National Guard 102nd Intelligence Wing, where Teixeira served, and at “anything associated with this leak that could have gone wrong.”
For top secret information across the military, there’s supposed to be accountable control officers who are responsible for recording active top secret documents and ensuring they have been either properly secured or disposed of, such as through a shredder or by burning them.
In addition, the Air Force is conducting a service-wide review of how each command handles classified information, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown told a Congress subcommittee Tuesday.
The Air Force’s own reviews are on top of a military-wide review directed on Monday by Austin. Austin has ordered that all military facilities that handle classified information report to him within 45 days on how they access, share, store and destroy the nation’s secrets following the leaks.
Teixeira is accused of posting the highly classified material in a geopolitical chat room on Discord, a social media platform that started as a hangout for gamers. He was arrested by heavily armed tactical agents at his Massachusetts home last week and charged under the Espionage Act.
Copp reported from Washington.
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The new Washington consensus – FT shar.es/afOmGZ
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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s defense minister said Wednesday his country has received U.S-made Patriot surface-to-air guided missile systems it has long craved and which Kyiv hopes will help shield it from Russian strikes during the war.
“Today, our beautiful Ukrainian sky becomes more secure because Patriot air defense systems have arrived in Ukraine,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a tweet.
Ukrainian officials have previously said the arrival of Patriot systems, which Washington agreed to send last October, would be a major boost and a milestone in the war against Moscow’s full-scale invasion.
The Patriot can target aircraft, cruise missiles and shorter-range ballistic missiles. Russia has used that weaponry to bombard Ukraine, including residential areas and civilian infrastructure, especially the power supply over the winter.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said late Tuesday that delivery of the system would be a landmark event, allowing Ukrainians to knock out Russian targets at a greater distance.
Reznikov thanked the people of the United States, Germany and the Netherlands, without saying how many systems had been delivered nor when.
Germany’s federal government website on Tuesday listed a Patriot system as among the military items delivered within the past week to Ukraine, and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock confirmed that to lawmakers in Berlin on Wednesday.
Reznikov said he had first asked for Patriot systems when he visited the U.S. in August 2021, five months before the full-scale invasion by the Kremlin’s forces and seven years after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. He described possessing the system as “a dream” but said he was told in the U.S. at the time that it was “impossible.”
Ukrainian personnel have been trained on the Patriot battery, which can need as many as 90 troops to operate and maintain it.
“Our air defenders have mastered (the Patriot systems) as far as they could. And our partners have kept their word,” Reznikov wrote.
Experts have cautioned that the system’s effectiveness is limited, and it may not be a game changer in the war, even though it will add to Ukraine’s arsenal against its bigger enemy.
The Patriot was first deployed by the U.S. in the 1980s. The system costs approximately $4 million per round and the launchers cost about $10 million each, analysts say. At such a cost, it’s not advantageous to use the Patriot to shoot down the far smaller and cheaper Iranian drones that Russia has been buying and using in Ukraine.
Kyiv officials have reported daily civilian, but not military, casualties from Russian bombardment.
At least four civilians were killed and 27 others were injured in Ukraine on Tuesday and overnight, the press office of Ukraine’s defense ministry reported.
A 50-year-old man and 44-year-old woman were killed in a Russian airstrike on a border town in the northeastern Kharkiv region, its Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said in televised remarks.
Russian forces launched 12 rocket, artillery, mortar, tank and drone attacks on Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, its Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said, killing one civilian at a market in the center of Kherson, the region’s namesake capital, and a nearby school.
A woman was killed and another was wounded in northern Ukraine after Russian forces shelled the border village of Richki from multiple rocket launchers, the local military administration said.
Russian forces also fired nighttime exploding drones at Ukraine’s southern Odesa region.
___ Associated Press writers Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report. ___ Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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