REviLives! A ransomware gang’s views on US ‘impunity’

This notice from the newly emergent Conti ransomware group has been posted in response to a US (and allies) operation to to take ransomware gang REvil offline.

Now, all is justified

What strikes me is how it echoes the general themes of the Russia’s propaganda: the US government is hypocritical, so ransomware gang behaviour is legitimate. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was wrong. So today, we hold sensitive medical data from American hospitals for ransom – and that’s ok. It’s whataboutism as a business plan. The best part of the statement is the last line, which discusses Americans being “free.” Who gets to define when America is free? Russian ransomware operators, naturally. Again, like propaganda.

CONTI Team (Conti ransomware group) statement on REvil: 

Title: Announcement. ReviLives.

Subject: Own opinion.

As a team, we always look at the work of our colleagues in the art of pen-testing, corporate data security, information systems, and network security. We rejoice at their successes and support them in their hardships.

Therefore, we would like to comment on yesterday’s important announcement by the US law enforcement about the attack on the REvil group.

We want to remark the following:

First, an attack against some servers, which the US security attributes to REvil, is another reminder of what we all know: the unilateral, extraterritorial, and bandit-mugging behavior of the United States in world affairs.

However, the fact that it became a norm does not presume that it should be treated like one. Unlike our dearest journalist friends from the Twitter brothel, who will sell their own mother for a bone from bankers or politicians, we have the guts to name things as they are. We have a conscience, as well as anonymity, while our skills allow us to say something that many “allied” governments are afraid of saying:

With all the endless talks in your media about “ransomware-is-bad,” we would like to point out the biggest ransomware group of all time: your Federal Government. There is no glory in this REvil attack. First, because REvil has been dead in any case, but secondly, because the United States government acted as a simple street mugger while kicking a dead body.

Let’s break it down point by point. There was an extraterritorial attack against some infrastructure in some countries.

  1. Is there a law, even an American one, even a local one in any county of any of the 50 states, that legitimize such indiscriminate offensive action? Is server hacking suddenly legal in the United States or in any of the US jurisdictions? If yes, please provide us with a link.
  2. Suppose there is such an outrageous law that allows you to hack servers in a foreign country. How legal is this from the point of view of the country whose servers were attacked? Infrastructure is not flying there in space or floating in neutral waters. It is a part of someone’s sovereignty.
  3. The statement mentions a multinational operation but does not name specific countries that participated in the cyber strike. We seem to know why; see next point.
  4. Most countries, the US included, perceive critical cyber strikes against their territory as a casus belli. You think anybody will be fine if Taliban conducts a misfile strike against a place in Texas to “disrupt an operation” of what Afghanistan considered a “criminal” group?
  5. When the special forces arrive at a hostage scene, they at least make sure that there are hostages there (at least, this is how it used to be). How did you know who you were attacking? It could just be a reverse proxy on an unsuspecting host. How did you know who ELSE these servers are serving? How was the safety of other people’s businesses, possibly people’s lives, ensured?

Just to be clear: these are all rhetorical questions. Of course.

What happened with this attack is way more than REvil or information security. This attack is just an another drop in the ocean of blood, which started because of NSA, CIA, FBI, and another two hundred three-letter security institutions (because, you know, true democracy and liberty requires millions of people in uniform) never had to answer these questions.

WMD in Iraq, which was “certainly there.”

Drone strikes on weddings because “these were terrorists.”

Airstrikes on hospitals and Red Cross convoys because “we thought these are hostile.”

Military raids within the foreign borders ended up with massacring allied soldiers.

The list is endless because those who are now enjoying the media fame from the REvil attack are vampires drunken and intoxicated by impunity and blood.

And this is not the story about REvil, Afghanistan, or any other subject in the world because impunity does not know borders.

No wonder, each day, we read in the news that the American police once again shot some unarmed African American, or a housewife, or a disabled person, or somebody brave enough to dared to protect their home and their family. This is your state, and it will treat you the way it drones unfortunate child-shepherd in the sands of the Maghreb or Arabia to ensure “the national security of America,” so far from its shores.

And we will be reminding you of this constantly. And yes, despites the popular opinion of the social media hobos, we can and WILL talk ethically as any other people. (Somebody, please put an Obama meme here).

We wish the people of America to resume control over your country as soon as possible and expel these fat, degraded bankers and become again the great FREE nation that we remember and love. We wish our retired colleagues from REvil have a lot of fun with their honestly earned money.

Sincerely yours,

Conti’s team

Facebook Papers due to launch on Monday

According to the Associated Press on Monday, US time, (Tuesday AEDT), it will begin the roll out of the stories from 17 US media outlets based on the papers obtained by Facebook book whistleblower Frances Haugen.

From the AP: Journalists from a variety of newsrooms, large and small, worked together to gain access to thousands of pages of internal company documents obtained by Frances Haugen, the former Facebook product manager-turned-whistleblower.

To set aside the core issue of what exactly Facebook is or isn’t doing, it is interesting how a level of coordination is needed to get past the endless noise and confusion generated online.

The effort brings to mind the recent Pandora Papers, the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers  – or going back further, the Pentagon Papers, all represent a coordinated journalistic effort to tackle sprawling international stories: global corruption, the Vietnam War.

The distribution and combined reporting, also brings to mind the Cablegate releases of Wikileaks and the Snowden leaks. As important as the investigative reporting on Facebook is, it will struggle to make a difference if no one hears it. In this regard, part of the story of the Facebook Papers, as well as the Pandora ones, is the mechanics of getting the message out in a time of noisy and seemingly endless information overload.

In that case, I remember when the editorial boards of 350 American newspapers published opinion pieces defending free media during the presidency of Donald Trump.

The fact that newsrooms do this today again, on the issue of Facebook, speaks volumes about the ambient noise level democracy lives in today.

We are partners in our own demise: ex-president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Too much information, too much contradiction and too much confusion. In this era, how do we even think about where democracy stands in the world? The former president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in a speech in honour of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, offers a clear-eyed assessment of the state of democracy today in competition with Russia, China  and other autocracies. He notes how there once was moral clarity about where the West stood in relations to these countries. Not so now: one of the fallouts of 30 years of globalisation, the internet and free trade is this great blurring, which sees Western economies, governments and businesses accept the ill-gotten wealth of strongmen. Ilves poses the question: are we “un-indicted co-conspirators” in our demise? He asks in terms of money. But I think a similar case can be made in terms of information and ideas.

You can hear Ilves’ full speech here – starting at 9.33

Text of the speech here.

Media analyst Vasily Gatov’s analysis of the Kremlin’s information war (2015) 

Regulate Facebook? Sure, but good luck in ridding the internet of bad content

This is a big week for the prospect of meaningful regulation of social media in the US. The testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has raised hopes of legislative reform for Facebook. But in the drive for government action, are reformers forgetting how much personalisation has change political communication? We’re in a different world now.

The tone of caution on this podcast should not be misread as the techno-libertarian argument against regulation (something like: “free speech!” therefore all regulation is pointless).

Rather, it’s a reminder that even if large tech platforms are brought to heel, some issues won’t magically go away. In fact, those new issues around how we experience information are the new environment we confront today.