Facebook taps London police to track terror livestreams

Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Neil Basu speaks to the media after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, last year. (Reuters)
Updated 17 September 2019

Facebook taps London police to track terror livestreams

  • London’s Metropolitan Police said the initiative will see it start providing Facebook in October with footage of training by its forearms command unit
  • The Christchurch attack images were broadcast live for 17 minutes — and remained online for a further 12 minutes — before Facebook was alerted by a user and took it down

LONDON: Facebook on Tuesday teamed up with the London police to help its artificial intelligence tools track livestreams of terror attacks such as the New Zealand mosque massacre.
In March, a self-professed white supremacist used a head-mounted camera to broadcast live footage on Facebook of him attacking two mosques in the city of Christchurch.
Facebook and platforms such as YouTube came under intense criticism for initially failing to detect the broadcast and then struggling to take down its uploads that proliferated online.
New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and other world leaders in May launched a “Christchurch Call to Action” against online extremism — a campaign Facebook and other major platforms quickly joined later that month.
The California-based social media behemoth said Tuesday it was in the process of updating its policies for dealing with extremism and online hate.
“Some of these changes predate the tragic terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, but that attack, and the global response to it in the form of the Christchurch Call to Action, has strongly influenced the recent updates to our policies and their enforcement.”
London’s Metropolitan Police said the initiative will see it start providing Facebook in October with footage of training by its forearms command unit.
The videos will be captured on body cameras provided by Facebook that officers wear during exercises.
This will help Facebook “capture the volume of images needed to train our machine learning tools,” the company said.
“This will mean our AI tools will be able to more accurately and rapidly identify real life first person shooter incidents and remove them from our platform.”
The London police said its footage will be combined with video Facebook is already using from law enforcement agencies in the United States.
This technology will “also significantly help prevent the glorification of such acts and the promotion of the toxic ideologies that drive them,” Britain’s Special Operations assistant commissioner Neil Basu said.
The Metropolitan Police said Facebook decided to ask London for help because it has created the world’s first counter-terror Internet response team focused on online hate.
The speed with which the videos spread and Facebook’s initial inability to track them all down redoubled public and government scrutiny of the world’s biggest social media company.
The Christchurch images were broadcast live for 17 minutes — and remained online for a further 12 minutes — before Facebook was alerted by a user and took it down.
Yet millions of upload and shares continued to spread online for days.
Facebook on Tuesday defended its track record but conceded that “bad actors will continue to try to get around our systems.”
It reported banning 200 white supremacist organizations and removing 26 million “pieces of content” or terrorist organization such as the Islamic State.
Facebook said Tuesday that it was also expanding to Australia and Indonesia a US program in which users who search for extremist content on the platform are directed to a special support group.
The US group was “founded by former violent extremists that provides crisis intervention, education, support groups and outreach,” Facebook said.


Hackers acting in Turkey’s interests believed to be behind recent cyberattacks

Updated 27 January 2020

Hackers acting in Turkey’s interests believed to be behind recent cyberattacks

  • The attacks involve intercepting Internet traffic to victim websites
  • Intelligence suggests the attacks bear the hallmarks of Turkish interests

LONDON: Sweeping cyberattacks targeting governments and other organizations in Europe and the Middle East are believed to be the work of hackers acting in the interests of the Turkish government, three senior Western security officials said.
The hackers have attacked at least 30 organizations, including government ministries, embassies and security services as well as companies and other groups, according to a Reuters review of public Internet records. Victims have included Cypriot and Greek government email services and the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, the records show.
The attacks involve intercepting Internet traffic to victim websites, potentially enabling hackers to obtain illicit access to the networks of government bodies and other organizations.
According to two British officials and one US official, the activity bears the hallmarks of a state-backed cyber espionage operation conducted to advance Turkish interests.
The officials said that conclusion was based on three elements: the identities and locations of the victims, which included governments of countries that are geopolitically significant to Turkey; similarities to previous attacks that they say used infrastructure registered from Turkey; and information contained in confidential intelligence assessments that they declined to detail.
The officials said it wasn’t clear which specific individuals or organizations were responsible but that they believed the waves of attacks were linked because they all used the same servers or other infrastructure.
Turkey’s Interior Ministry declined to comment. A senior Turkish official did not respond directly to questions about the campaign but said Turkey was itself frequently a victim of cyber attacks.
The Cypriot government said in a statement that the “relevant agencies were immediately aware of the attacks and moved to contain” them. “We will not comment on specifics for reasons of national security,” it added.
Officials in Athens said they had no evidence the Greek government email system was compromised. The Iraqi government did not respond to requests for comment.
The Cypriot, Greek and Iraqi attacks identified by Reuters all occurred in late 2018 or early 2019, according to the public Internet records. The broader series of attacks is ongoing, according to the officials as well as private cybersecurity investigators.
A spokeswoman for the UK’s National Cyber Security Center, which is part of the GCHQ signals intelligence agency, declined to comment on who was behind the attacks. In the United States, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on who was behind the attacks and the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not respond to a request for comment.

Hijacked
The attacks highlight a weakness in a core pillar of online infrastructure that can leave victims exposed to attacks that happen outside their own networks, making them difficult to detect and defend against, cybersecurity specialists said.
The hackers used a technique known as DNS hijacking, according to the Western officials and private cybersecurity experts. This involves tampering with the effective address book of the Internet, called the Domain Name System (DNS), which enables computers to match website addresses with the correct server.
By reconfiguring parts of this system, hackers were able to redirect visitors to imposter websites, such as a fake email service, and capture passwords and other text entered there.
Reuters reviewed public DNS records, which showed when website traffic was redirected to servers identified by private cybersecurity firms as being controlled by the hackers. All of the victims identified by Reuters had traffic to their websites hijacked — often traffic visiting login portals for email services, cloud storage servers and online networks — according to the records and cybersecurity experts who have studied the attacks.
The attacks have been occurring since at least early 2018, the records show.
While small-scale DNS attacks are relatively common, the scale of these attacks has alarmed Western intelligence agencies, said the three officials and two other US intelligence officials. The officials said they believed the attacks were unrelated to a campaign using a similar attack method uncovered in late 2018.
As part of these attacks, hackers successfully breached some organizations that control top-level domains, which are the suffixes that appear at the end of web addresses immediately after the dot symbol, said James Shank, a researcher at US cybersecurity firm Team Cymru, which notified some of the victims.

Victims
Victims also included Albanian state intelligence, according to the public Internet records. Albanian state intelligence had hundreds of usernames and passwords compromised as a result of the attacks, according to one of the private cybersecurity investigators, who was familiar with the intercepted web traffic.
The Albanian State Information Service said the attacks were on non-classified infrastructure, which does not store or process any “any information classified as ‘state secret’ of any level.”
Civilian organizations in Turkey have also been attacked, the records show, including a Turkish chapter of the Freemasons, which conservative Turkish media has said is linked to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen accused by Ankara of masterminding a failed coup attempt in 2016.
The Great Liberal Lodge of Turkey said there were no records of cyber attacks against the hijacked domains identified by Reuters and that there had been “no data exfiltration.”
“Thanks to precautions, attacks against the sites are not possible,” a spokesman said, adding that the cleric has no affiliation with the organization.
The cleric has publicly denied masterminding the attempted coup, saying “it’s not possible,” and has said he is always against coups.
A spokesman for Gulen said Gulen was not involved in the coup attempt and has repeatedly condemned it and its perpetrators. Gulen has never been associated with the Freemason organization, the spokesman added.