Saturday, March 28, 2009

U.S. intel head disputes N. Korea's claim

WASHINGTON, March 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. intelligence chief challenged North Korea's repeated claim it will launch a satellite into space next month, not a missile test.

"Most of the world understands the game they are playing," National Intelligence Director Dennis C. Blair said during a news briefing. "I think they're risking international opprobrium and hopefully worse if they successfully launch it."

Satellite images indicate North Korea is in the final stages of assembling a multistage rocket at a launch site along its coast, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday. North Korea says it plans to launch a communications satellite between April 4-8, but Western leaders said they are concerned that the launch is a missile test-firing.

Western nations and North Korea have been sparring over consequences of the launch, with the United States, South Korea and Japan saying they would seek punitive action from the United Nations, while Pyongyang threatening to reverse the steps it has taken on nuclear disarmament if sanctions are imposed.

"They're trying to use the rationale of a legitimate space launch for a missile, which is in its foundation a military missile," Blair said, describing the rocket as a Taepodong, a multistage missile that may be capable of reaching Alaska.

GhostNet Attack Infiltrates Computer Systems

Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries

Published: March 28, 2009
TORONTO — A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers and has stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama, Canadian researchers have concluded.

In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved.

The researchers, who are based at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto, had been asked by the office of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader whom China regularly denounces, to examine its computers for signs of malicious software, or malware.

Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.

The researchers, who have a record of detecting computer espionage, said they believed that in addition to the spying on the Dalai Lama, the system, which they called GhostNet, was focused on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

Intelligence analysts say many governments, including those of China, Russia and the United States, and other parties use sophisticated computer programs to covertly gather information.

The newly reported spying operation is by far the largest to come to light in terms of countries affected.

This is also believed to be the first time researchers have been able to expose the workings of a computer system used in an intrusion of this magnitude.

Still going strong, the operation continues to invade and monitor more than a dozen new computers a week, the researchers said in their report, “Tracking ‘GhostNet’: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network.” They said they had found no evidence that United States government offices had been infiltrated, although a NATO computer was monitored by the spies for half a day and computers of the Indian Embassy in Washington were infiltrated.

The malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information, but “whaling” for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not know if this facet has been employed.

The researchers were able to monitor the commands given to infected computers and to see the names of documents retrieved by the spies, but in most cases the contents of the stolen files have not been determined. Working with the Tibetans, however, the researchers found that specific correspondence had been stolen and that the intruders had gained control of the electronic mail server computers of the Dalai Lama’s organization.

The electronic spy game has had at least some real-world impact, they said. For example, they said, after an e-mail invitation was sent by the Dalai Lama’s office to a foreign diplomat, the Chinese government made a call to the diplomat discouraging a visit. And a woman working for a group making Internet contacts between Tibetan exiles and Chinese citizens was stopped by Chinese intelligence officers on her way back to Tibet, shown transcripts of her online conversations and warned to stop her political activities.

The Toronto researchers said they had notified international law enforcement agencies of the spying operation, which in their view exposed basic shortcomings in the legal structure of cyberspace. The F.B.I. declined to comment on the operation.

Although the Canadian researchers said that most of the computers behind the spying were in China, they cautioned against concluding that China’s government was involved. The spying could be a nonstate, for-profit operation, for example, or one run by private citizens in China known as “patriotic hackers.”

“We’re a bit more careful about it, knowing the nuance of what happens in the subterranean realms,” said Ronald J. Deibert, a member of the research group and an associate professor of political science at Munk. “This could well be the C.I.A. or the Russians. It’s a murky realm that we’re lifting the lid on.”


Welcome back Discovery!

Space Shuttle Discovery Returns Home
Sat, 28 Mar 2009 02:15:16 PM CDT

Space shuttle Discovery rolled to a stop at Kennedy Space Center, completing its 13-day journey of more than 5.3 million miles in space.

The post-landing news conference is set for approximately 5:15 p.m. EDT and will air live on NASA Television. The participants are Bill Gerstenmaier, LeRoy Cain and Mike Leinbach. The crew's return to Houston's Ellington Field is expected about 5 p.m. Sunday.

STS-119 was the 125th space shuttle mission, the 36th flight for Discovery and the 28th shuttle visit to the station.

Shuttle lands after first try scrubbed

Shuttle lands after first try scrubbed: "NASA engineers announced they have set 3:13 p.m. Saturday as the time for the space shuttle to land at Kennedy Space Center.




Waveoff!: "

Mission managers have waved off the space shuttle Discovery from its first landing opportunity at Kennedy Space Center, deciding to wait another orbit to give iffy weather at the Florida landing site time to get better.

A cloud deck and head- and crosswinds gusting out of limits at the KSC shuttle landing strip forced the waveoff.

blog post photo

Clouds from 2,700 to 4,000 feet were moving into the area, and crosswinds were gusting too high for a safe landing. Mission Control Center-Houston said meteorologists considered chances better for an attempt later.


(Via On Space.)

Russia Building New Nuke Subs

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russia will build at least six nuclear-powered submarines with long-range cruise missiles for its navy, a source in the Russian Defense Ministry told the Itar-Tass news agency.

The missiles can potentially carry low-capacity tactical warheads, the news agency reported Friday.

"These supersonic, highly maneuvering missiles are designed for strikes on aircraft carriers of the enemy if the latter poses a direct threat to Russia's security," the unnamed source told Itar-Tass. "The missiles can be launched at the most important coastal facilities."

The source added, "Despite the construction of a new nuclear submarine with new missiles, Russia intends to observe firmly international arms control agreements on equal terms with other countries."

The Severodvinsk-class submarines are being built at the Sevmash shipyard, the center of Russian nuclear submarine production, according to Global Security's Web site.

The new subs will be put into service for the Russian navy in 2011, the source told Itar-Tass.

Russia will finance the construction of the new submarine with long-range cruise missiles, First Deputy Chief of the Navy's General Staff, Vice-Admiral Oleg Burtsev told Itar-Tass.


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