July 6 (Reuters) – The heads of MI5 and FBI warned of the growing long-term threat posed by China to UK and U.S. interests, in their first joint appearance on Wednesday.
MI5 Director General Ken McCallum said the service has already “more than doubled our previously-constrained effort against Chinese activity of concern,” adding it was running seven times as many investigations as in 2018.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the Chinese government “poses the biggest long-term threat” to economic and national security, for the UK, the U.S. and allies in Europe and elsewhere.
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“The Chinese government is trying to shape the world by interfering in our politics (and those of our allies, I should add),” Wray said, saying Beijing had directly interfered in a Congressional election in New York this year, as it did not want a candidate who was a critic and former protester at Tiananmen Square to be elected.
Wray warned that the Chinese government “poses an even more serious threat to Western businesses than even many sophisticated businesspeople realize,” and is “set on stealing your technology.”
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The Chinese governement’s hacking program is “bigger than that of every other major country combined,” according to Wray.
Over the past year, the UK has shared intelligence with 37 countries to help them defend against cyber espionage, McCallum said, adding that in May they had disrupted a sophisticated threat targeting critical aerospace companies.
Speaking about Taiwan, which China regards as a province, Wray said that China may try to forcibly take it over and if that were to happen, “it would represent one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen.”
“The widespread Western assumption that growing prosperity within China and increasing connectivity with the West would automatically lead to greater political freedom has, I’m afraid, been shown to be plain wrong,” McCallum said.
“The allegations against China by U.S. and UK intelligence officials are completely groundless and the so-called cases they listed are pure shadow chasing,” a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the UK said, in response to a question about the comments made by McCallum and Wray.
The spokesperson said that China urged both the countries to “have a clear understanding of the trend of the time, abandon the Cold War mentality which has long gone out of date, stop spreading “China threat”, and stop creating confrontation and conflicts.”
Speaking at MI5 headquarters in Thames House, London, both the security services heads gave numerous examples of issues linked to China, asking an audience which included businessmen and academics to be cautious and encouraging them to partner with the FBI and MI5 so they can have the appropriate intelligence about this threat.
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Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Assaults at stores have been increasing at a faster pace than the national average. Some workers are tired of fearing for their safety.
There was the customer who stomped on the face of a private security guard. Then the one who lit herself on fire inside a store. The person who drank gasoline and the one who brandished an ax. An intoxicated shopper who pelted a worker with soup cans. A shoplifter who punched a night manager twice in the head and then shot him in the chest.
And there was the shooting that killed 10 people, including three workers, at the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colo., in March 2021. Another shooting left 10 more people dead at a Buffalo grocery store last month.
In her 37 years in the grocery industry, said Kim Cordova, a union president in Colorado, she had never experienced the level of violence that her members face today.
F.B.I. said, more than half the so-called active shooter attacks — in which an individual with a gun is killing or trying to kill people in a busy area — occurred in places of commerce, including stores.
“Violence in and around retail settings is definitely increasing, and it is a concern,” said Jason Straczewski, a vice president of government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation.
Tracking retail theft is more difficult because many prosecutors and retailers rarely press charges. Still, some politicians have seized on viral videos of brazen shoplifting to portray left-leaning city leaders as soft on crime. Others have accused the industry of grossly exaggerating losses and warned that the thefts were being used as a pretext to roll back criminal justice reforms.
“These crimes deserve to be taken seriously, but they are also being weaponized ahead of the midterm elections,” said Jonathan Simon, a professor of criminal justice at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School.
While the political debate swirls about the extent of the crime and its causes, many of the people staffing the stores say retailers have been too permissive of crime, particularly theft. Some employees want more armed security guards who can take an active role in stopping theft, and they want more stores to permanently bar rowdy or violent customers, just as airlines have been taking a hard line with unruly passengers.
Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer, did not respond to requests for comment.
Some unions are demanding that retailers make official accommodations for employees who experience anxiety working with the public by finding them store roles where they don’t regularly interact with customers.
it was revealed that the retailers were hounding falsely accused customers.
The industry says it is putting much of its focus on stopping organized rings of thieves who resell stolen items online or on the street. They point to big cases like the recent indictment of dozens of people who are accused of stealing millions of dollars in merchandise from stores like Sephora, Bloomingdale’s and CVS.
But it’s not clear how much of the crime is organized. Matthew Fernandez, 49, who works at a King Soopers in Broomfield, Colo., said he was stunned when he watched a thief walk out with a cart full of makeup, laundry detergent and meat and drive off in a Mercedes-Benz S.U.V.
“The ones you think are going to steal are not the ones doing it,” he said. “From high class to low class, they are all doing it.”
Ms. Barry often gives money to the homeless people who come into her store, so they can buy food. She also knows the financial pressures on people with lower incomes as the cost of living soars.
When people steal, she said, the company can write off the loss. But those losses mean less money for workers.
“That is part of my raise and benefits that is walking out the door,” she said. “That is money we deserve.”
PARIS — Declaring that their work has become increasingly dangerous because of the government’s failure to address France’s underlying social problems, thousands of police officers protested in Paris on Wednesday in a show of force that left politicians scrambling.
Police union leaders demanded tougher laws for violence against officers and stiffer sentences against convicted criminals as thousands massed in the rain in front of the National Assembly, issuing warnings to political leaders who were present but were not invited to speak.
“Your presence is an important sign,’’ Fabien Vanhemelryck, the secretary general of Alliance Police, a right-leaning union whose members appeared to dominate the protest, said from a stage next to a giant screen. “It must not be a sign of future elections, but a wake-up call, a sense of responsibility, of change and a return to safety.’’
The protest, organized by 14 police unions, came after the recent killings of an officer and a police employee, even as pressure has been mounting to reform a force often criticized for its brutal tactics and racist behavior.
theme of crime already dominating the political debate a year before the presidential election, the protest drew leaders from nearly all of France’s political parties. The criticism of official policy put the government of President Emmanuel Macron in an awkward situation and threatened to overshadow a rare nugget of good news on Wednesday, as restaurants and cafes partially reopened nationwide after months of pandemic restrictions.
Gérald Darmanin — the powerful interior minister and head of the national police — joined the demonstration as officers called out to him, “We need your help.’’
In a rare instance of a minister joining a demonstration critical of his own government, Mr. Darmanin said he was simply expressing his solidarity while political rivals said he was effectively protesting against himself. Mr. Darmanin has spearheaded the government’s efforts to fend off a challenge from Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader and Mr. Macron’s main challenger.
issue of crime has directly affected the fortunes of French politicians and parties in the past two decades, and is expected to do so again in the coming months, as France tries to pull itself out of the ravages caused by the pandemic. On Wednesday, some political figures on the left joined the protest and talked tough on crime, even though the government’s statistics do not show the kind of criminality conjured by politicians.
Fabien Jobard, a political scientist specializing on the police.
Protesters began by paying hommage to Eric Masson, an officer killed in the southern city of Avignon during an antidrug operation, and Stéphanie Monfermé, a police employee killed in a terrorist attack at a police station in the city of Rambouillet, near Paris.
The number of police officers injured while on duty has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, jumping from 3,842 in 2004 to 6,760 in 2019, during a year marked by violent Yellow Vest protests, according to figures from the interior ministry.
Mr. Macron has recently stepped up efforts to respond to police concerns. He pledged to recruit 10,000 additional police officers by the end of his current five-year term and went on a ride-along with officers in a drug-dealing area of the city of Montpellier.
pushing back on proposals to reform their methods, such as banning chokeholds, and to open themselves up to greater scrutiny for racism. Police unions also recently broke off monthslong talks with the government on potential reforms.
Controversies over deadly and brutal police interventions sparked widespread protests against the police last year. A contentious security law empowering the police drew thousands of protesters to the street as video footage revealed the brutal beating of a Black music producer, Michel Zecler, inside his own Paris studio by officers.
recent poll showed that 27 percent of respondents said they regarded the police with “anxiety’’ or “hostility.’’
“The police play a very strong role in protecting the political regime in France,” Mr. Jobard, the police expert said, adding that they often “feel that politicians are using them as a firewall, as a shield.”
Despite the intensifying debate on insecurity, crime in France rose in the 1970s through the mid-1980s before declining and stabilizing. Government data show that nearly all major crimes are now lower than they were a decade or three years ago.
France’s per capita homicide rate — 1.16 per 100,000 people in 2018 — was about the same as most parts of Britain, according to data from the European Commission, while Germany’s rate was 0.76. France’s rate was far lower than that of the United States, which was five per 100,000 people in 2018, according to F.B.I. data.
President Biden said on Monday that the United States would “disrupt and prosecute” a criminal gang of hackers called DarkSide, which the F.B.I. formally blamed for a huge ransomware attack that has disrupted the flow of nearly half of the gasoline and jet fuel supplies to the East Coast.
The F.B.I., clearly concerned that the ransomware effort could spread, issued an emergency alert to electric utilities, gas suppliers and other pipeline operators to be on the lookout for code like the kind that locked up Colonial Pipelines, a private firm that controls the major pipeline carrying gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from the Texas Gulf Coast to New York Harbor.
The pipeline remained offline for a fourth day on Monday as a pre-emptive measure to keep the malware that infected the company’s computer networks from spreading to the control systems that run the pipeline. So far, the effects on gasoline and other energy supplies seem minimal, and Colonial said it hoped to have the pipeline running again by the end of this week.
The attack prompted emergency meetings at the White House all through the weekend, as officials tried to understand whether the episode was purely a criminal act — intended to lock up Colonial’s computer networks unless it paid a large ransom — or was the work of Russia or another state that was using the criminal group covertly.
the Washington, D.C., Police Department, have also been hit.
The explosion of ransomware cases has been fueled by the rise of cyberinsurance — which has made many companies and governments ripe targets for criminal gangs that believe their targets will pay — and of cryptocurrencies, which make extortion payments harder to trace.
In this case, the ransomware was not directed at the control systems of the pipeline, federal officials and private investigators said, but rather the back-office operations of Colonial Pipeline. Nonetheless, the fear of greater damage forced the company to shut down the system, a move that drove home the huge vulnerabilities in the patched-together network that keeps gas stations, truck stops and airports running.
A preliminary investigation showed poor security practices at Colonial Pipeline, according to federal and private officials familiar with the inquiry. The lapses, they said, most likely made the act of breaking into and locking up the company’s systems fairly easy.
executive order in the coming days to strengthen America’s cyberdefenses, said there was no evidence that the Russian government was behind the attack. But he said he planned to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia soon — the two men are expected to hold their first summit next month — and he suggested Moscow bore some responsibility because DarkSide is believed to have roots in Russia and the country provides a haven for cybercriminals.
“There are governments that turn a blind eye or affirmatively encourage these groups, and Russia is one of those countries,” said Christopher Painter, the United States’ former top cyberdiplomat. “Putting pressure on safe havens for these criminals has to be a part of any solution.”
Colonial’s pipelines feed large storage tanks up and down the East Coast, and supplies seem plentiful, in part because of reduced traffic during the pandemic. Colonial issued a statement on Monday saying its goal was to “substantially” resume service by the end of the week, but the company cautioned that the process would take time.
mounted a not-so-secret effort to put malware in the Russian grid as a warning.
But in the many simulations run by government agencies and electric utilities of what a strike against the American energy sector would look like, the effort was usually envisioned as some kind of terrorist strike — a mix of cyber and physical attacks — or a blitz by Iran, China or Russia in the opening moments of a larger military conflict.
But this case was different: a criminal actor who, in trying to extort money from a company, ended up bringing down the system. One senior Biden administration official called it “the ultimate blended threat” because it was a criminal act, the kind the United States would normally respond to with arrests or indictments, that resulted in a major threat to the nation’s energy supply chain.
By threatening to “disrupt” the ransomware group, Mr. Biden may have been signaling that the administration was moving to take action against these groups beyond merely indicting them. That is what United States Cyber Command did last year, ahead of the presidential election in November, when its military hackers broke into the systems of another ransomware group, called Trickbot, and manipulated its command-and-control computer servers so that it could not lock up new victims with ransomware. The fear at that time was that the ransomware group might sell its skills to governments, including Russia, that sought to freeze up election tabulations.
On Monday, DarkSide argued it was not operating on behalf of a nation-state, perhaps in an effort to distance itself from Russia.
“We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics, do not need to tie us with a defined government and look for our motives,” it said in a statement posted on its website. “Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society.”
The group seemed somewhat surprised that its actions resulted in closing a major pipeline and suggested that perhaps it would avoid such targets in the future.
“From today we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future,” the group said, though it was unclear how it defined “moderation.”
DarkSide is a relative newcomer to the ransomware scene, what Ms. Neuberger called “a criminal actor” that hires out its services to the highest bidder, then shares “the proceeds with ransomware developers.” It is essentially a business model in which some of the ill-gotten gains are poured into research and development on more effective forms of ransomware.
The group often portrays itself as a sort of digital Robin Hood, stealing from companies and giving to others. DarkSide says it avoids hacking hospitals, funeral homes and nonprofits, but it takes aim at large corporations, at times donating its proceeds to charities. Most charities have turned down its offers of gifts.
One clue to DarkSide’s origins lies in its code. Private researchers note DarkSide’s ransomware asks victims’ computers for their default language setting, and if it is Russian, the group moves along to other victims. It also seems to avoid victims that speak Ukrainian, Georgian and Belarusian.
Its code bears striking similarities to that used by REvil, a ransomware group that was among the first to offer “ransomware as a service” — essentially hackers for hire — to hold systems hostage with ransomware.
“It appears this was an offshoot that wanted to go into business for themselves,” said Jon DiMaggio, a former intelligence community analyst who is now the chief security strategist of Analyst1. “To get access to REvil’s code, you’d have to have it or steal it because it’s not publicly available.”
DarkSide makes smaller ransom demands than the eight-figure sums that REvil is known for — somewhere from $200,000 to $2 million. It puts a unique key in each ransom note, Mr. DiMaggio said, which suggests that DarkSide tailors attacks to each victim.
“They’re very selective compared to most ransomware groups,” he said.