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Archive for November 3rd, 2016

A Detroit FBI Agent Talks About the Growing Menace of Ransomware

Jason Bilnoski: " These people are very sophisticated and very technical."

Jason Bilnoski: ” These people are very sophisticated and very technical.”

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

DETROIT — Someone hacked into the computer system at the city-run Lansing Board of Water & Light last  April 25,, froze certain files and demanded that the utility pay a ransom to regain access.

Things are back to normal, but the city paid nearly $2 million to address the issue and upgrade its security system, according to the Lansing State Journal. A utility official indicated the hack came from Eastern Europe.

Stephen Serkaian, a spokesman for the utility, declined to comment to Deadline Detroit on Friday about rumors that the utility paid “thousands of dollars” in ransom to regain control of its corporate internal communication, emails and functions for billings. No utility services or customer-employee information was compromised, he said.

The utility was target of the growing problem called ransomware in which hackers encrypt files, freeze access to computers of private and public companies and individuals and then demand a ransom that can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Once paid, the hackers release the files, but not always. Sometimes they collect the money, but release just some, but not all.  Sometimes they take the money and don’t release any.

It’s growing problem in Michigan and elsewhere around the country. So far this year, there have been more than 1,300 incidents reported in Michigan alone, according to the FBI, which pegs the costs of ransom payouts, fixes and computer security upgrades in the state at about $2.6 million to date. Many of the culprits come from Eastern Europe.

In the case of the Lansing utility, the Detroit FBI, which covers Michigan, declined to comment on the case, only to say that no one to date has been charged. The utility says that the FBI and Michigan State Police are investigating the matter.

The FBI advises against paying ransoms, and urges companies and individuals to back up systems and implement proper security. (Guidance is here).

Ticklethewire.com recently sat down with FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jason F. Bilnoski, head of the bureau’s Detroit Cyber Squad. This interview was also published in Deadline Detroit.

The following interview was trimmed for brevity. The questions has been edited for clarity.

DD: When did ransomware first come on the scene?

Bilnoski: Ransomware has been around for years now, since the early 90s, but ransomware has become prevalent in the last few years. As with in any criminal scheme, when actors realize that It works, they pick up with their activities.

DD: Basically, how does someone hack into a system?

Bilnoski: Ransomware traditionally used to be a spear phishing campaign or phishing campaign. It used to be wide open. You’d send a company a spam email or spoofed email of sorts to everyone in the company. But over the past few years they’ve become very targeted and very precise. It’s extremely hard for those on the victim end of the side to understand: Is this a legitimate email with a legitimate file from, say, my CEO, my supervisor? Or is it a spoofed or a malicious file or malicious link?

DD: Is that primarily how hackers get in the system?

Bilnoski: Absolutely. No matter how we educate our employees within the private sector, the studies have shown that somebody within the organization is unfortunately going to click on that link.

DD: How does that work after that?

Bilnoski: That malware takes over the system usually without the user knowing initially, and at some point to where they no longer have access to their file or network. In some cases they have a message that pops up on their computer screen, saying basically “your system has been hacked, you need to pay a certain amount of money by a certain time or you will no longer get access to your system.”

DD: The money payment. How does that work?

Bilnoski: Over the years it has gotten more sophisticated and harder for law enforcement because of use of anonymizers. Specifically, Bitcoin is one of these electronic currencies that is very hard for law enforcement to follow and track due to the use of it being anonymized through the system. Bitcoin is the primary means of paying ransoms. And Bitcoin can fluctuate in value.

bitcoin_23672

 DD: What is the value of a Bitcoin?

Bilnoski: It changes daily. I believe at last check it was somewhere around $200 to $250 a Bitcoin.

DD: What have you seen in Michigan so far this year:

Bilnoski: I think we’ve had over 1,300 cases reported in Michigan to date this year. 1308 to be exact. So far, the adjusted loss is a little over 2 ½ million dollars for corporations and organizations.

DD: When you say adjusted loss, is that ransom payments?

Bilnoski:  Adjusted loss is initial demands and also the financial losses of a company, certain mitigation efforts, whether or not the company is taken off line.

DD: What do you see in terms of actual payments? 

Bilnoski: I don’t want to get into specific payments for simple reasons: I don’t want to put fictitious numbers in an actor’s mind, but it could be a very small number. What we do advocate is that companies and organizations do not pay the ransom, just like we would advocate on any other type of extortion or ransom scheme. The problem paying is that it encourages additional actors, it encourages additional victims and there’s no way of guaranteeing that a victim organization will have their files released if they pay that ransom.

Read more »

Alleged Weiner Victim Lashes Out at FBI Director’s Politicization of the Case

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The 15-year-old girl who accused former Congressman Anthony Weiner of sending sexually explicit messages criticized the FBI director’s handling of the case.

The teenager said she has been bombarded by reporters since James Comey sent a letter to Congressional Republicans about a possible connection between Weiner’s emails and the previously concluded Hillary Clinton investigation, BBC reports.

“Why couldn’t your letter have waited until after the election, so I would not have to be the center of attention the last week of the election cycle?” the teenager asked Comey in an open letter.

“Every media outlet from local to national has contacted me and my family to get my ‘story'”, she wrote.

The teenager said it was irresponsible of Comey to make the announcement since there was no evidence yet that any of the communications were connected to the Clinton probe.

President Obama Criticizes FBI for Peddling Innuendo in Clinton Probe

president obama- white house photoBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

President Obama criticized FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation Wednesday, despite his insistence that he does not comment on federal investigations.

During a rally in Chapel Hill, N.C., Obama said the “fate of the world is teetering” on the presidential election, the New York Times reports. 

“We don’t operate on incomplete information,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with NowThis News. “We don’t operate on leaks. We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.”

Obama suggested the FBI violated its own guidelines by peddling innuendo in a letter to Congress last week.

Obama said he trusts Clinton.

“I know her. And I wouldn’t be supporting her if I didn’t have absolute confidence in her integrity.”

FBI Investigates Fire at Black Church Where ‘Vote Trump’ Tagged on Side

2000px-washington_county_mississippi_incorporated_and_unincorporated_areas_greenville_highlighted-svgBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI is investigating a fire that tore through a black church in Mississippi that was scrawled with the message, “Vote Trump,” in silver spray paint.

The bureau’s civil rights investigation is in coordination with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations.

The suspicious fire Tuesday night caused heavy damage to the 200-member Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi, the New York Times reports. 

Mayor Errick Simmons described the fire and graffiti as a “heinous, hateful, cowardly act.”

“We consider it a hate crime … because of the political message which we believe was intended to interfere with worship and intimidate voters,” Simmons said. “This act is a direct assault on people’s right to freely worship.”

The FBI said it’s working with all levels of law enforcement.

“The FBI Jackson Division is aware of the situation in Greenville, and we are working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed,” state FBI spokesman Brett Carr said in an email.

Trump Once Again Singles Out NBC Reporter Who Needed Secret Service Protection

donald trump rallyBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Donald Trump verbally attacked NBC reporter Katy Tur during a campaign rally for the third time this election season, even after the Secret Service had to protect her from violence by fans of the GOP nominee.

During a rally in Miami on Wednesday, Trump blasted the media once again and then narrowed his focus to Tur, who has been reporting on the GOP nominee side his presidential bid last summer, the New York Daily News reports. 

“We have massive crowds, there’s something happening. They’re not reporting it. Katy, you’re not reporting it, Katy,” he leered, pointing at Tur who was standing on a press riser. “But there’s something happening, Katy. There’s something happening, Katy.”

The Daily News wrote:

Trump’s ostensible vendetta against Tur started last December when he called her a “third-rate journalist” during a campaign rally, prompting the crowd to hurl loud insults at the 33-year-old reporter. Trump was then back at it again during a July press conference when he bluntly told Tur to “be quiet” after she tried to ask him a question.

Tur wrote an essay in April describing how Secret Service had taken steps to protect her after Trump’s initial outburst.

“It’s unlikely that any of Trump’s future attacks will be as scary as what happened in Mount Pleasant (in December), where the crowd, feeding off Trump, seemed to turn on me like a large animal, angry and unchained,” she wrote in the Marie Claire essay. “It wasn’t until hours later, when Secret Service took the extraordinary step of walking me to my car, that the incident sank in.”

WikiLeaks: DOJ Official Tipped Off Clinton Campaign about Email Filing

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A top Justice Department official tipped off Hillary Clinton’s campaign about new developments in the investigation over her email use as a secretary of state, according to hacked emails by WikiLeaks.

Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik provided a “heads up” in an email to Clinton campaign chairman John Pedesta, Politico reports.

The email came from Kadzik’s personal account, which was titled “Heads up.”

“There is a [House Judiciary Committee] oversight hearing today where the head of our Civil Division will testify. Likely to get questions on State Department emails. Another filing in the FOIA case went in last night or will go in this am that indicates it will be awhile (2016) before the State Department posts the emails.”

Pedestal passed on the emails to top Clinton aides, saying, “Additional chances for mischief.”

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