Israel Cyber-Attack Bombing, New Google Privacy Settings, Traditional Mail Blackmail Scam

This is your Shared Security Weekly Blaze for May 13th 2019 with your host, Tom Eston. In this week’s episode: Israel bombs a building in retaliation for a cyber-attack, Google adds more privacy settings, and a new blackmail scam that uses traditional mail.

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Hi everyone, welcome to the Shared Security Weekly Blaze where we update you on the top 3 cybersecurity and privacy topics from the week. These podcasts are published every Monday and are 15 minutes or less quickly giving you “news that you can use”.

In breaking news last week it was reported that the Israeli Defense Force, or also known as the IDF, launched an airstrike on the Palestinian Hamas military intelligence headquarters which apparently was the source of an attempted cyber-attack directed towards Israeli targets. The IDF on Twitter said quote “We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work. HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed” end quote. No further information or statement from the IDF has since been released.

All I can say is, that escalated quickly and that this is the first time that I’ve heard of an actual real-time military strike in response to a cyber-attack. Now the US has done similar attacks in the past, using drones to target a ISIS hacker in 2015 and a British citizen who leaked information about US personnel online. However, those two attacks seemed to be planned out well in advance and were not an immediate response like the one just done by Israel.

Now whether you agree with this response or not, it does set an interesting precedent that cyber-attacks could result in a military response especially between two nation states. I don’t know if we’ll see anything like this happen between two major superpowers like the US and Russia, even though there is apparently a lot of evidence that Russia has conducted cyber-attacks on the US. This is, of course, according to the US intelligence community. Now just remember folks, attribution is hard.

In a surprise move last week, Google announced that it will be rolling out a feature that will allow users to delete some activity data like location history as well as web and app activity. Google users can also choose if they want this activity data saved for either 3 or 18 months, after which any old data will automatically be removed on a continual basis. Not going away is the current ability to manually delete your location history and app activity data.

Now we all know that Google uses your data to recommend you various things like ads and other things based on your search queries and all the data you happen to give all the different Google products that you use. Given the recent privacy uprising over Facebook and even Google’s own grilling by Congress over their policy over user location tracking and data practices back in March, it should be no surprise that Google is now backtracking and finally allowing users more control over their data.

I know it’s hard to remove yourself from Google services. Especially ones like Gmail and Google search which are in fact probably the best email and search engines out there. Sure, there are alternatives that we’ve talked about on the podcast but with the increasing concern over how large tech giants like Google are using our data, while not giving us a lot of control over it, are you ready to kick Google to the curb? Or do you think Google is started to change because of the new pressures governments and all of us users are putting on them.

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This past week I was made aware of a local news story about letters that were being sent to residents of a neighboring community which attempted to blackmail people for bitcoin. The letters, which came in stamped envelopes with no return address, had the massage that they were working a job around your area and stumbled across your misadventures. The lengthy letter goes on to say that there were only two options, that you can either choose to ignore the letter, in which case your wife and all of their friends and neighbors would become aware of your misdeeds or that you pay $20,600 in bitcoin as a “confidentiality fee”. Check out our show notes to read this very entertaining letter but based on the details, it seems that these victims may have been specifically targeted based on their age and location. Now some of the details, like names and address in the letter, were removed but even with some bad grammar in the letter it still leads me to believe that publicly available information through Open Source Intelligence techniques were used to target these individuals. I would also suspect that this is a scammer from outside of the local area, possibly overseas and not in the US.

I typically will talk about computer or phone based scams on the podcast but this one uses the regular mail and reminds me of one several years ago where scammers were leaving blackmail letters like this one on people’s car windows. This is just another example that shows scams like these can show up in many different types of non-technology formats, and not just email.

That’s all for this week’s show. Be sure to follow the Shared Security Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest news and commentary. If you have feedback or topic ideas for the show you can email us at feedback[aT]sharedsecurity.net. First time listener to the podcast? Please subscribe on your favorite podcast listening app such as Apple Podcasts or watch and subscribe on our YouTube channel.  Thanks for listening and see you next week for another episode of the Shared Security Weekly Blaze.

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