According to the French Magazine “L’Express” earlier in May some computers in the offices of former France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy have been victims of a targeted attack carried via a Flame variant.
What is surprising is not (only) the fact that this is the first known case of a Flame infection out of the Middle East, but most of all the fact that the malware was allegedly implanted by U.S. Hackers.
The attack was successful and, according to the French magazine, the attackers were able to get to the heart of French political power, harvesting the computers of close advisers of Nicolas Sarkozy and obtaining “secret notes” and “strategic plans”.
The attack model resembles a spy story: the attacker crafted a false profile on Facebook (a bogus friend of someone who worked for the president’s office) and successfully used that profile to contact (and compromise) personnel working at the President’s Office (The Elysèe).
After contacting the unaware victims, the attacker sent them a malicious link to a fake Elysée webpage, where they entered their real login and password details that the attacker used to hack into the network and spread the Flame variant.
The reasons of the attack are unknown.
Examples in which political news provide hints for Information Security are happening too often (think for instance to the UK Phone Hacking Scandal). The latest comes from the affair involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his alleged sexual encounter with a maiden during the horrible day of May, 14th 2011. The details which are being disclosed on that story show that the BlackBerry owned by DSK played a crucial role in the event, both because it had likely been hacked, and because it was used as a decoy to catch DSK at the airport.
All the traditional ingredients of Mobile Security are mixed up in this story: a device used for both personal and business purposes, which is hacked and whose stolen information is used to harm the victim.
The details were given on Friday, the 25th of November, when Financial Times published an anticipation of an investigation carried on by the journalist Edward Epstein to be published in full by the New York Reviews of Books. The investigation tells with an unprecedented level of details the two hours that sank Dominique Strauss-Kahn and wrecked his political career on May, 14th 2011 during his stay at the Sofitel New York Hotel, and the alleged sexual assault encounter with Nafissatou Diallo, the maid he had encountered in the presidential suite.
DSK was then head of International Monetary Fund and leading Socialist Contender against Nicolas Sarkozy (well ahead him in opinion polls) for the French Presidential Election in April 2012. As known the aftermaths of the scandal (although all the charges were dismissed by the prosecutor on August 23rd, 2011) destroyed his political ambitions for the rush at the French Presidential Chair.
The account of Edward Epstein reveals several shadow zones which seem to support the hypothesis according to which DSK was the victim of a plot (for instance the strange visits of Nafissatou Diallo to room 2820, a room on the same floor of the Presidential Suite borrowed by DSK, whose occupant’s identity was never released by Sofitel on grounds of privacy).
You may guess at this point what this history has to deal with Information Security. Well, it has much to deal with, since one of the Shadow Zones just concerns one of DSK’s Blackberry cell phones, the one he called IMF Blackberry, used to send and receive texts and e-mails for both personal and IMF business, which DSK believed had probably been hacked, and which has not been found since then. Moreover the lost BlackBerry was used as a decoy to catch him on board of Flight 23, few minutes before living for Paris.
If you think the mobile security risks are exaggerated and the promiscuous use of mobile devices for personal and professional purposes is not harmful and do not constitute a security hazard, you should better read the following lines.
The account of Mr. Epstein tells that, the morning of May, the 14th, DSK had received a text message from Paris from a woman friend temporarily working as a researcher at the Paris offices of the UMP, Sarkozy’s political party. The message warned him that at least one private e-mail he had recently sent from his BlackBerry to his wife, had been read at the UMP offices in Paris. It is unclear how the UMP offices might have received this e-mail, but if it had come from his IMF BlackBerry, he had reason to suspect he might be under electronic surveillance in New York.
At 10:07 AM he called his wife in Paris on his IMF BlackBerry, telling her of his problem. He asked her to contact a friend who could arrange to have both his BlackBerry and iPad examined by an expert. An exam that would never happen for his Blackberry…
The call records show that DSK used his IMF BlackBerry for the last time at 12:13 PM to tell his Daughter Camille he would be late for lunch. This happened approximately 7 minutes after the maiden entered his room, which occurred at 12:06 PM according to Hotel key records, and most of all after the controversial encounter, likely occurred in this Time Interval, which is still a matter of dispute.
DSK realized his IMF BlackBerry was missing only nearly two hours later, at 14:15 PM while going to the Airport in taxi. At the beginning he believed he had left the cellphone to the Restaurant and immediately called his daughter (with a spare mobile phone) asking her to go back there for a check. The footage at the Restaurant shows that she effectively went there looking for the lost object. Of course she was not able to find it and at 14:28 PM she sent him a message indicating she could not find it.
At 15:01 PM, while approaching the airport, DSK was still attempting to find his missing phone, calling it from his spare with no answer. According to the records of the BlackBerry company, the IMF device had been disabled at 12:51 PM.
At 15:29 PM, he called the hotel from the taxi, indicating his room number and giving a phone number, so that he could be called back, in case his phone was found.
Thirteen minutes later he was called back from a hotel employee who was in the presence of a police detective. The hotel employee falsely told him that his phone had been found and asked where it could be delivered. DSK told him that he was at JFK Airport and that he had a problem since his flight left at 4:26 PM. He was reassured that someone could bring it to the airport in time, so he gave her the Gate and Flight number which allowed the police to call DSK off the plane and take him into custody at 4:45 PM.
DSK’s BlackBerry is still missing and the records obtained from BlackBerry show that the missing phone’s GPS circuitry was disabled at 12:51 PM. Probably the cell phone was “lost” inside the Sofitel, for sure this occurrence has prevented DSK to verify if he was under surveillance or not.
The reasons why DSK was so concerned about the possible interception of his messages on this BlackBerry are not clear even if Epstein suggests a couples of scenarios. The phone could contain some embarrassing information related to the scandal occurred to Carlton Hotel in Lille where high-class escort women were allegedly provided by corporation to government officials (I believed this kind of affair only happened in Italy) (DSK denies that he was connected to the prostitution ring.). Otherwise his concern could also derive from other matters, related to his IMF role, such as the sensitive negotiations he was conducting for the IMF to stave off the euro crises.
Still doubtful about Mobile Security Risks?