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Electronic Jihad – The New Terrorism?

In cyber security, cyber terrorism, cyber threats, Defense, Global Economy, Intelligence, Iran, Israel, Libya, multinational corporations, North Korea, Syria, Terrorism on May 24, 2014 at 6:55 am

cyber hoodie pic

March 2014 marked the hacking of 12 Indonesian Government websites by unknown hackers made up of both adventure enthusiasts and radicals. Apart from giving the hackers visibility, the episode crippled critical components of Indonesian government’s daily functioning where e-Governance is depended upon so much. This does not appear to be an isolated episode but enumerates scores of other recent transnational cyber attacks performed by non-state actors for a larger ideological goal.  This new era of ‘Cyber Jihad’ has far reaching implication, and if fully realized, would further underscore the magnitude of threats that it presents to practically every industry and government sector around the world.

The Edge will be presenting a three part series on what some cyber officials are calling the ‘Electronic Jihad’, and how it is shaping the landscape for this new battleground of international terrorism.

PART I – The New Cyber Warriors and their Tactics

Although the traditional purveyors of cyber attacks – states like China, Iran and their supporters continue to dominate state sponsored activities across the global cyber sphere, the existences groups of irregulars and non state actors – script kiddies, anarchists, hacktivists, hostile insiders, criminal elements and independent enthusiasts have added additional challenges, more lethal and ominous for legitimate Governments and multinational corporations to combat than could have been imagined.  The current state of cyberspace warfare will move to control every spectrum of a conventional battlefield – space, energy & power, economic and finance. This lays out an eerie scenario when a state or multinational is presented with evidence that weapons of cyber warfare are available to any warrior in the cyber world and they are available in the public domain.

In the field of intelligence and counter terrorism, capability assessments form an essential part of gaging the threat. Such assessments provide astonishing outcomes, especially when presented with inputs about a power system being attacked such as the case in the US by a cyber jihadist group.  This input was as early as January 2014, at a time when government agencies and regulators around the world have worked tirelessly to institute stringent control measures, cyber security monitoring and information security audits to defend against these very attacks.  Infiltrating these perimeters and conducting attacks on a critical infrastructure demonstrates the extent and capability being harnessed by cyber jihadists.

Counter terror operations are now challenged with the concept of identifying ‘cyber trade craft’, cyber radicalization, and recruitment.  The entire cycle of Spotting, Recruiting and Developing an agent for these activities can be comfortably performed from the confines of one’s home.  Blogs like Jhuf.net (Jamia Hafsa Urdu Forum) and Al Ansar.info have been critically tracking developments in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and using these issues to motivate members to fight against intruding western government and corporations.  Membership in the cyber realm is usually a virtual walk-in or referral, in which case both can be entertained using pseudonyms.  As a result, we have a potential candidates in the terror recruitment cycle being indoctrinated to fight in the cyber space, and have his/her identity concealed which keeps the original identity intact.  Ironically, these very recruits are corporate employees, information technology experts, businessmen, educated youths in the real-world.  We thus have the creation of an educated breed fighting a radical cause in an open world notoriously shrouded by fake IP addresses.  Through the creation of fake social media profiles, recruiters are able to conduct targeting, spotting and assessing operations for indoctrination.  Through the use of such tactics as  cyber ‘Dead drops’ – where confidential messages are passed in the cyber world and the use of image and text files, they are able to communicate without the possibility of it being detected.  A bomb attack in Tel Aviv back in January 2013 had traces of planning activities left in the cyber world when jhuf.net members posted a message in .jpg format highlighting the plans to attack Tel Aviv.  This was made more scrupulous by the use of codes in the image or text files.  Agencies tracking keywords to identify a possible attack would have missed the inconspicuous text hiding superficially in an image format.  In the real world, recruitments for these causes is prone to being intercepted by security agencies.  However, cyber ‘handling’ accomplishes not just recruitment but also indoctrination, financing and tasking for a potential acts without ever having a handler and agent come in contact. 

How big is the challenge to secure global cyber infrastructure?  It’s huge and growing by the second.  As new users and new technologies take hold, the scale of the battlefield expands exponentially.  Join us next month for Part II as we examine other players, threats and the tactics being employed by this new breed of terrorists.

Lebanon: The Syria Playbook

In Defense, FYI - For Your Intelligence, Intelligence, International, International Trade, Israel, Libya, Terrorism, Uncategorized on December 29, 2013 at 4:37 am

LebSyrFlagWith Assad continuing to make his stand against Western backed forces and various jihad extremist groups in Syria, he has pulled an old play out of the go-to playbook for his regime. He has elected to use his faithful ally Hezbollah to open a new front. As Syria continues to sink into its current battlefield quagmire at home, taking out another high level politician in Beirut expands the scope of his operations, and provides relief through distraction. And with the assassination of the Hezbollah leader earlier this month, it all comes across as a justification on the part of Hezbollah. But make no mistake, this is the same MO as with previous assassinations and it will have Syria’s prints all over it.

The real issue is how US foreign policy is allowing for the war to spread, the empowerment of extremist groups to grow and for old and new terrorism breeding grounds to flourish. Libya and Syria are key examples, and indicators are that Iraq is beginning to follow suit. Here’s what the international media is reporting to support this.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/mohamad-chatah-lebanese-ex-minister-killed-in-beirut-bombing-1.2476861

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303799404579283692798835878

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/175614#.Ur6ZlrRfu_g

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304451904579237323053994120

While U.S. lawmakers work the budget, Russia quietly resumes charging Iranian nuke site

In Intelligence, Iran, Israel, missile defense, nuclear, Russia, U.S. on April 10, 2011 at 1:34 am

Iran reloads fuel into Bushehr n-plant

As we watched the left hand move back and forth, the right hand took a swing.  Our friends the Russians in true fashion, used the cover of the U.S. budget debate to begin reloading nuclear fuel in Iran’s Bushehr reactor.  As you remember, last year we reported on the computer virus that shutdown the plant.  Well, the Russians are determined to make the Iranians a nuclear power in the Middle East, even though it will probably not serve them well.  And while our media and the administration were aware of this, it has been given the attention we would expect from this alliance of deceit.  This will come back to haunt us.

PERSPECTIVE VIEW: Why Hasn’t Israel Attacked Iran? Who Says It Hasn’t?

In FYI - For Your Intelligence, Iran, Israel, nuclear, Nuclear Arms on September 23, 2010 at 6:37 pm
In mid-August 2010, the former American Ambassador to the UN John Bolton declared Israel had only eight days to attack Iran’s nuclear program before it went active.  That was cause for alarm for many, yet the Israeli political leadership stayed quiet.  Now, rumors are popping up on the internet that a dangerous virus might have infected the Iranian program, possibly ruining 3,000 centrifuges at the Iranian Natanz nuclear facility.  The “Stuxnet” virus is said to be incredibly complex and malicious, too much so to be created without the help of a nation-state.  If these rumors prove correct, it’s possible that Israel might have significantly degraded Iran’s nuclear ambitions without ever firing a shot….and more importantly, if it’s able to maintain plausible deniability, avoid suffering severe consequences to its territory or people.  Industry insiders are claiming that this malware might be a game-changer – showing code-writers could destroy critical infrastructure nodes without any active measures taken from the inside to initiate such an attack.  
CONTRIBUTOR:  INFINITE REACH is a former U.S. Intelligence Analyst and a contributor to the FORESIGHT Perspective.  We appreciate his insightful observations and look forward to hearing from him periodically.  Thanks INFINITE for the great piece!

PERSPECTIVE VIEW: Thinking Ahead – Corporate Contingency Strategies for the Middle East

In FYI - For Your Intelligence, Global Economy, International Trade, Iran, Israel, Terrorism, U.S. Economy on September 20, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Strategic thinkers and planners in government and international business have long had a lot to consider regarding the Middle East.  Weighing the range of complicated and overlapping issues – such as oil resources, water rights, military power, religious conflict, territory disputes, economic and educational disparities, foreign alliances,  to name a few – it is daunting to devise contingency strategies in preparation for the potential of changed circumstances. By 2010, a host of new military and weapons-related issues have emerged, the most problematical being Iran’s steady and stealthy pursuit to secure the capability to construct and deliver nuclear weapons.

Various scenarios can be envisioned if Iran uses its enrichment sites to produce weapons-grade products from nuclear material shipped to Iran by Russia (and possibly other countries) after incorporating technology and materials likely obtained from China, North Korea and others to develop a deliverable weapons system.  Logically, corporations and governments with strong interests in the region should plan what they will do in the event the nuclear situation in the region is changed given the impact on political and economic issues.  Clearly, Israel would be under greater threat from a nuclear- armed Iran given Tehran’s past posturing about the destruction of Israel, the links between Iran and Hamas/Hezbollah, the stresses within the Iranian regime, and its leaders’ need for organized diversion at home to distract from domestic problems.   Two core questions emerge: what would Israel do about a nuclear-armed Iran, and how should businesses and governments prepare to adjust their strategies in response to likely scenarios?  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program is central to protecting and defending Israel.  Therefore, strategic planners must consider that Israel will, in some way, halt Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons perhaps with an overt air strike or covert sabotage — with or without the tacit acceptance of the United States and other international players.

 Taking these thoughts a step farther, if Israel acts unilaterally to destroy Iranian nuclear weapons development, then much of the Middle East calculus in oil, business, foreign policy and military dynamics will change rapidly.  Against this backdrop, the time to think through options and develop contingency plans for various scenarios is now while there is still time to weigh carefully alternatives and reasonable options.  While government and military planners constantly consider all options as a matter of course, corporations, both large and small, are often less equipped or inclined to consider alternatives before events actually demand change.  Best intelligence (and business) practices suggest that corporate leaders and strategists (calling upon internal and external resources) should consider likely Israeli-Iranian scenarios and their outcomes.  With such analyses in hand, corporate managers can quietly work, if necessary with other professionals, to solidify corporate contingency strategies in advance of a potentially altered Middle East landscape.  Now is the time for contingency planning.

CONTRIBUTOR:  OptionsInt is our newest contributor.  They are a security consulting firm made up retired U.S. intelligence officers with years of worldwide operational experience.  They currently use their expertise to consult with U.S. corporations and government on matters of operational security training and support.  We appreciate their insightful observations and look forward to hearing more from them periodically.

Russia and its defense of Iran; taking on the IAEA

In Caucasion region, Defense, Georgia, Intelligence, Iran, Israel, Russia on September 8, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Iran nuclear report raises new fears

Russia S-300 air defense systems to Iran

Iran: P5+1 talks failure \’only natural\’

The Attack on Syria\’s al-Kibar Nuclear Facility

Georgia Says Russia Deployed S-300 Missiles In South Ossetia

The new IAEA report says it all.  Iran continues to thwart inspections, avoid disclosures, and basically puts its finger in the eye of the IAEA.  Anyone familiar with this issue could have seen this coming a mile away.  Now we are finding out that, there was a better chance to stop Iran in its tracks eight months to a year ago when Russia first began deploying the S-300 mobile air defense systems.  While outside of Iran, Russia has establish another line of defense to compliment the Tor-M1 air defense systems provided to the Iranians earlier this year (yes, this year) that are currently guarding the nuke sites inside Iran.   Engagement with Iran through the P5+1 talks which have been going on since 2008 has seen no results and has only provided the Iranians and Russians the time they needed to set up this defense systems.  In addition the U.S. government was aware of these weapons systems and Russia’s intentions to bring them into the Iran nuke situation since 2008.  The delivery of the Tor-M1s earlier this year and the S-300 deployments should have been the cut-off for action.  Up to that point, Russia had an out and Iran was on its own.  Now with the weapons systems embedded in Abkhazia and Georgian reports of them also being placed in S. Ossetia, the task for any country to stop this nuclear arms race in the Middle East being promulgated by Russia has become even greater.

Now, if it is any consolation the Israelis have already probed the Russian Tor-M1 systems in the attack on the al-Kibar Nuclear Facility in Syria back in 2007.  They have shown success in countering them.  That being the case, it was just Syria they were attacking.  An attack on Iran now becomes something much greater.  No wonder Iran takes no pause in undermining the IAEA.

From Iraq to Israel: US arms stockpiles grow

In Defense, Iran, Israel, U.S. on September 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Israel to use stockpiled US arms

Alleged Weapons Transfer Threatens Mideast Status Quo

As U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq and military resources are directed toward Afghanistan, other activities are taking place in the periphery.  DOD reported earlier this year that US weapons stockpiles in Israel were expanding and that the Obama administration was authorizing Israel use of these weapons in case of emergency.  Of course, this has been standard practice for past administrations over several decades.  The new development in this case comes on the heels of the end of US combat operations in Iraq and includes the transfer of the leftover U.S. weapons from the Iraq combat theatre to the Israeli military.  Now at first blush this may not appear significant.  However, it is noteworthy at a time when Israel is planning its next move to deal with Syria and possibly Iran.   As Syria continues to arm Hezbollah and Russia continues to arm Syria, Israel may need these arms sooner than expected.

Dead spy, weapons sales, and a covert war – connecting the dots

In Intelligence, Iran, Israel, military, Russia on September 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Top Russian spy body washes up after swimming accident

Israel accused of waging covert war across the Middle East

 Despite Israeli protests Russia won’t halt arms sale to Syria 

The decomposed body of the deputy head of Russia’s military intelligence organization (GRU) recently washed ashore in Turkey after reportedly coming up missing in the Syria resort area of Latakia.   This area also hosts the Russian Black Sea fleet facility at the Port of Tartus, used to support Russian operations in the Middle East.  So with this in mind and observing the recent statement by the Kremlin to continue sales of advanced missile systems to Syria, one can see the dots starting to come together.  Add this to the fact that Russia continues to provide fuel for the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran and that Israel was a big part of training and arming the Georgia military which continues to be a sore issue to the Kremlin, and the stage is set for covert operations of a Mossad type.  It sure reads well.