Tag Archives: Cyber

Cyber Saturday—Facebook’s ‘War Room’ Is a Marketing Ploy
October 21, 2018 12:00 am|Comments (0)

In response to mounting criticism from consumers, citizens, and lawmakers, Facebook is pursuing a public relations blitz. The media giant wants to change people’s perceptions about how it is handling the scourge of misinformation and concomitant threat to elections presented by its websites and apps.

Enter the “war room.” Facebook invited journalists from a number of publications—Fortune included—to visit a cramped conference room on the company’s Menlo Park campus inside which a squad of 20-or-so employees is tasked with valiantly defending democracy around the globe—from the U.S., to Brazil, and beyond. The walls and desks are cluttered with video screens and computer monitors. Around them, Facebook’s freedom fighters huddle, clattering away on their keyboards, stemming a tide of malicious, politically-motivated influence campaigns.

One moment in Fortune reporter Jonathan Vanian’s account of the war room made me grin widely. A Facebook executive, Samidh Chakrabarti, director of elections and civic engagement for the company, tells Vanian that having everyone in the same room allows for “face-to-face” communication and quick decision-making. A few paragraphs later, we learn why Facebook does not plan to invite collaborators from other misinformation-besieged Silicon Valley companies, like Twitter and Reddit, to take seats in the room. It is easier for these groups to collaborate “virtually” rather than physically, says Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy. Hmm…

Facebook’s war room seems, to this columnist, like a PR stunt. It is reminiscent of the cybersecurity fusion centers that banks and other companies set up to dazzle visitors. Such displays are “mostly for show,” as Jason Witty, chief information security officer at U.S. Bank, told the New York Times for an unrelated story about such flashy workspaces. They, you know, look cool.

I do not mean to denigrate Facebook’s efforts entirely. To be fair, the company is trying to address the many problems that plague its platforms. And the war room does serve an important purpose: making the company’s behind-the-scenes battles more tangible for its own employees, for regulators, and for the public. Hopefully it does help quench disinformation.

Still, the tidy image of the war room comes across as a bit of marketing misdirection. After all, the walls of this room extend far, far beyond Menlo Park. Ask any journalist. As the Times’ editorial board notes in a recent op-ed, Facebook effectively relies on news reporters as an army of unofficial, unpaid, outsourced content moderators, helping to root out spammers, trolls, and propagandists. Companies like Facebook “have all the tools at their disposal and a profound responsibility to find exactly what journalists find—and yet, clearly, they don’t,” the Times writes.

Indeed, the real war room has no walls.

***

Last week I warned readers about the many ways Bloomberg Businessweek’s recent report about Chinese spy chips smells foul. Just yesterday Apple CEO Tim Cook took the unprecedented move of personally calling for Bloomberg to retract the story. So far Bloomberg has not backed down. We’ll continue to track this story and its fallout.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

robert.hackett@fortune.com

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

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Pentagon slow to protect weapon systems from cyber threats: U.S. agency
October 10, 2018 12:00 am|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon has been slow to protect major weapon systems from cyber attacks and routinely found critical vulnerabilities that hackers could potentially exploit in those systems, a federal government report said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a watchdog unit of Congress, said in a 50-page report that the Pentagon found “mission-critical cyber vulnerabilities in systems” under development.

“Using relatively simple tools and techniques, testers were able to take control of systems and largely operate undetected, due in part to basic issues such as poor password management and unencrypted communications,” the report said.

Some program officials told GAO that the weapon systems were secure and discounted some test results as “unrealistic.”

While the Pentagon plans to spend about $ 1.66 trillion to develop major weapon systems, the report found, it had only recently taken steps to improve cyber security.

Cyber security has been receiving increasing attention among U.S military and intelligence officials.

Last week, Western countries issued coordinated denunciations of Russia for running what they described as a global hacking campaign, targeting institutions from sports anti-doping bodies to a nuclear power company and the chemical weapons watchdog.

In some of the strongest language aimed at Moscow since the Cold War, Britain said Russia had become a “pariah state.”

The United States said Moscow must be made to pay the price for its actions. Their allies around the world issued stark assessments of what they described as a campaign of hacking by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency.

“Due to this lack of focus on weapon systems cybersecurity,

(Department of Defense) likely has an entire generation of systems that were designed and built without adequately considering cybersecurity,” the report said.

Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by David Gregorio

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Cyber Saturday—Apple iPhone Phishing Trick, Zscaler as Best Tech IPO, Facebook Fails
June 9, 2018 6:14 pm|Comments (0)

Good morning, Cyber Saturday readers.

A month ago I was milling about a hotel room in New Orleans, procrastinating my prep for on-stage sessions at a tech conference, when I received a startling iMessage. “It’s Alan Murray,” the note said, referring to my boss’ boss’ boss.

Not in the habit of having Mr. Murray text my phone, I sat up straighter. “Please post your latest story here,” he wrote, including a link to a site purporting to be related to Microsoft 365, replete with Microsoft’s official corporate logo and everything. In the header of the iMessage thread, Apple’s virtual assistant Siri offered a suggestion: “Maybe: Alan Murray.”

The sight made me stagger, if momentarily. Then I remembered: A week or so earlier I had granted a cybersecurity startup, Wandera, permission to demonstrate a phishing attack on me. They called it, “Call Me Maybe.”

Alan Murray had not messaged me. The culprit was James Mack, a wily sales engineer at Wandera. When Mack rang me from a phone number that Siri presented as “Maybe: Bob Marley,” all doubt subsided. Jig, up.

There are two ways to pull off this social engineering trick, Mack told me. The first involves an attacker sending someone a spoofed email from a fake or impersonated account, like “Acme Financial.” This note must include a phone number; say, in the signature of the email. If the target responds—even with an automatic, out-of-office reply—then that contact should appear as “Maybe: Acme Financial” whenever the fraudster texts or calls.

The subterfuge is even simpler via text messaging. If an unknown entity identifies itself as Some Proper Noun in an iMessage, then the iPhone’s suggested contacts feature should show the entity as “Maybe: [Whoever].” Attackers can use this disguise to their advantage when phishing for sensitive information. The next step: either call a target to supposedly “confirm account details,” or send along a phishing link. If a victim takes the bait, the swindler is in.

The tactic apparently does not work with certain phrases, like “bank” or “credit union.” However, other terms, like “Wells Fargo,” “Acme Financial,” the names of various dead celebrities—or my topmost boss—have worked in Wandera’s tests, Mack said. Wandera reported the problem as a security issue to Apple on April 25th. Apple sent a preliminary response a week later, and a few days after that said it did not consider the issue to be a “security vulnerability,” and that it had reclassified the bug as a software issue “to help get it resolved.”

What’s alarming about the ploy is how little effort it takes to pull off. “We didn’t do anything crazy here like jailbreak a phone or a Hollywood style attack—we’re not hacking into cell towers,” said Dan Cuddeford, Wandera’s director of engineering. “But it’s something that your layman hacker or social engineer might be able to do.”

To Cuddeford, the research exposes two bigger issues. The first is that Apple doesn’t reveal enough about how its software works. “This is a huge black box system,” he said. “Unless you work for Apple, no one knows how or why Siri does what it does.”

The second concern is more philosophical. “We’re not Elon Musk saying AI is about to take over the world, but it’s one example of how AI itself is not being evil, but can be abused by someone with malicious intent,” Cuddeford said. As we continue to let machines guide our lives, we should be sure we’re aware how they’re making decisions.

Have a great weekend—and watch out for imposters.

Maybe: Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

robert.hackett@fortune.com

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’sdaily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

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Cyber researchers, Ukraine warn of possible Russian attack
May 23, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

TORONTO/KIEV (Reuters) – Hackers have infected at least 500,000 routers and storage devices in dozens of countries, some of the world’s biggest cyber security firms warned on Wednesday, in a campaign that Ukraine said was preparation for a future Russian cyber attack.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it was investigating the malware, which targets devices from Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear Inc (NTGR.O), TP-Link and QNAP, advising users to install security updates.

Ukraine’s SBU state security service said the activity showed Russia was readying a large-scale cyber attack ahead of the Champions League soccer final, due to be held in Kiev on Saturday.

“Security Service experts believe the infection of hardware on the territory of Ukraine is preparation for another act of cyber-aggression by the Russian Federation aimed at destabilising the situation during the Champions League final,” it said in a statement.

Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O), which has been investigating the threat for several months, has high confidence that the Russian government is behind the campaign, according to Cisco researcher Craig Williams. He cited the overlap of hacking code with malware used in previous cyber attacks that the U.S. government have attributed to Moscow.

Cisco, which uncovered the campaign several months ago, alerted authorities in Ukraine and the United States before going public with its findings about the malware it dubbed VPNFilter.

It also shared technical details with rivals who sell security software, hardware and services so they could issue alerts to their customers and protect against the threat.

Cisco described the mechanisms that the malware uses to hide communications with hackers and a module that targets industrial networks like ones that operate electric grids, said Michael Daniel, chief executive officer of Cyber Threat Alliance, a nonprofit group.

Slideshow (3 Images)

“We should be taking this pretty seriously,” said Daniel, whose group’s 17 members include Cisco, Check Point Software Technologies Ltd (CHKP.O), Palo Alto Networks Inc (PANW.N) and Symantec Corp (SYMC.O).

Cyber security firms, governments and corporate security teams closely monitor events in Ukraine, where some of the world’s most costly and destructive cyber attacks have been launched.

They include the first documented cases where hacks have caused power outages and the June 2017 NotPetya cyber attack that quickly spread around the world, causing network outages that lasted weeks at some companies. Victims included Beiersdorf AG (BEIG.DE), FedEx Corp (FDX.N), Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N), Mondelez International Inc (MDLZ.O) and Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc (RB.L).

Cisco said it does not know what the hackers have planned. The malware could be used for espionage, to interfere with internet communications or launch a destructive attack like NotPetya, according to Williams.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Russia has denied assertions by nations including Ukraine and Western cyber-security firms that it is behind a massive global hacking program that has included attempts to harm Ukraine’s economy and interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

VPNFilter has infected devices in at least 54 countries, but by far the largest number is in Ukraine, according to Cisco.

Netgear representative Nathan Papadopulos said the company was looking into the matter. He advised customers to make sure their routers are patched with the latest version of its firmware, disable remote management and make sure they have changed default passwords shipped with the device.

A Linksys spokeswoman had no immediate comment. MikroTik, TP-Link and QNAP could not be reached.

Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toron to and Pavel Polityuk in Live; Writing by Jim Finkle and Jack Stubbs; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jeffrey Benkoe

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Homeland Security unveils new cyber security strategy amid threats
May 15, 2018 6:02 pm|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday unveiled a new national strategy for addressing the growing number of cyber security risks as it works to assess them and reduce vulnerabilities.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Department of Homeland Security emblem is pictured at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) located just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia September 24, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

“The cyber threat landscape is shifting in real-time, and we have reached a historic turning point,” DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement. “It is clear that our cyber adversaries can now threaten the very fabric of our republic itself.”

The announcement comes amid concerns about the security of the 2018 U.S. midterm congressional elections and numerous high-profile hacking of U.S. companies.

“The United States faces threats from a growing set of sophisticated malicious actors who seek to exploit cyberspace. Motivations include espionage, political and ideological interests, and financial gain,” according to the 35-page report reviewed by Reuters before its public release. “Nation-states continue to present a considerable cyber threat. But non-state actors are emerging with capabilities that match those of sophisticated nation-states.”

The report noted that by 2020 more than 20 billion devices are expected to be connected to the internet. “The risks introduced by the growing number and variety of such devices are substantial,” it said.

Nielsen said the government “must think beyond the defense of specific assets — and confront systemic risks that affect everyone from tech giants to homeowners.”

The report also noted the 2015 intrusion into a federal agency resulted in the compromise of personnel records of over 4 million federal employees and in total impacted nearly 22 million people.

The DHS report said the agency “must better align our existing law enforcement efforts and resources to address new and emerging challenges in cyberspace, to include the growing use of end-to-end encryption, anonymous networks, online marketplaces, and cryptocurrencies.”

Nielsen will testify Tuesday at a Senate hearing.

In March, Nielsen said the department was prioritizing election cyber security above all other critical infrastructure it protects, such as the financial, energy and communications systems.

U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly warned that Russia will attempt to meddle in the 2018 contests after doing so during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Nielsen said that more than half of U.S. states have signed up for the agency’s cyber scanning services, designed to detect potential weaknesses that could be targeted by hackers.

DHS said in 2016 that 21 states had experienced initial probing of their systems from Russian hackers in 2016 and that a small number of networks were compromised, but that there was no evidence any votes were actually altered.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler

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Cyber Saturday—What Readers Had to Say About My Rejection of DNA Testing
May 5, 2018 6:07 pm|Comments (0)

Good morning and happy cyber Cinco de Mayo, dear readers.

I received an abundance of thoughtful responses to my essay on rejecting consumer DNA tests last weekend. In lieu of a column, I’ve reproduced a selection of the several dozen well-considered comments that landed in my inbox. I hope you enjoy the variety of perspectives and insights as much as I did. (I have stripped out the identities of the authors—for privacy reasons, of course.)

KA: “While I understand your reticence, I believe as a human race we need to share genomic and other data to move forward. I’ve been in the precision medicine space for 18 years, and the only way to see it reach maximum potential is if we break down silos for information sharing globally.”

EM: “I think it is likely too late for you to refuse. It is most likely that a relative of yours—whether close or distant—has already chosen to test his or her DNA, and has shared the extended family tree that includes you.”

MP: “I don’t blame you. I do however believe that sooner or later we all will have to do it if only to have access to future healthcare (personalized medicine is coming faster than anyone thought would) and that somewhere a national genetic repository will soon exist.”

KS: “I was a fencesitter veering towards disagreeing until I read your mention of TOS [Terms of Service]. Decoding TOS can often be harder than decoding the DNA. DNA Testing is simply not worth the effort. So, now I agree!”

ML: “I did ancestry.com about a year ago and have had several moments of regret since—especially on the heels of this story. Maybe I’m a little paranoid too but I often think about what things could look like if someone like Hitler had access to our DNA records. Yikes.”

JP: “I can think of no more elegant way for the NSA (or similar group) to collect DNA information on millions of people than to own one of the ‘23 and me’ type companies.”

JR: “Just take the implications of this data in the hands of a totalitarian government, a greedy and maligned corporation, a foreign power. Bad, bad, bad.”

EF: “Everyone keeps asking me why I don’t want to know my ancestry and now I will forward them this newsletter.”

In case you didn’t catch last weekend’s essay (or EF’s forward), you may read the piece here. Thank you to everyone who wrote in and offered an astute viewpoint, personal experience, or opinion. What a pleasure it is to have so many attentive, engaged subscribers to this newsletter. I wonder if there’s a gene behind that.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

robert.hackett@fortune.com

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’sdaily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

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Cyber Saturday—Why I Refuse DNA Testing
April 28, 2018 6:01 pm|Comments (0)

Crypto wars redux. A former top Microsoft executive, Ray Ozzie, has unveiled a technical proposal designed to enable law enforcement to gain unencrypted access to the data stored on criminal suspects’ phones. Cryptographers and cybersecurity professionals blasted the schema as being no better than earlier suggestions involving so-called key escrow, which they argue is too hard to secure in practice. As one cybersecurity pro, Rob Graham, put it in a post, “We know how to make backdoors, we just don’t know how to secure them.”

In the penalty box. The Securities and Exchange Commission fined Yahoo—well, the business formerly known as Yahoo—$ 35 million for failing to promptly disclose a massive 2014 data breach that affected hundreds of millions of user accounts. The penalized company, since renamed Altaba, has agreed to settle the charges and pay the specified amount. Altaba was created amid Yahoo’s sale to Verizon as a vehicle for stakes in Yahoo Japan and Alibaba.

Hotlanta. The city of Atlanta set aside $ 2.6 million to recover from a recent ransomware attack that crippled its computer systems. Costs included fees for incident response from the security firm Secureworks, advisory services from consulting firm Ernst & Young, and crisis communications from PR agency Edelman. The hackers originally demanded $ 50,000 in Bitcoin.

Escaping unscathed. Despite Facebook’s data controversies, the company posted profits of $ 12 billion for its first quarter of the year. The Cambridge Analytica scandal and #DeleteFacebook campaign apparently had minimal impact on the business. Executives at the company said they do not expect to be adversely impacted by the onset of the data privacy regime known as GDPR in Europe either.

To catch a predator. As mentioned in the essay above, an investigation to identify the Golden State Killer, the culprit behind a series of rapes and murders in the ’70s and ’80s, came to a close this week. The cops have arrested and accused Joseph James DeAngelo, 72. The investigators used an open source database of genetic information, GEDmatch, to find a partial DNA match that led them to DeAngelo. The tactic raises privacy concerns about sharing genetic information with genealogical services online.

Speaking of forensic criminology, you can call this suspect Jane “D’oh!”.

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Cyber Saturday—Big Tech’s Cryptocurrency Conspiracy
April 7, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

Good afternoon, Cyber Saturday readers.

On this week’s episode of Balancing The Ledger, Fortune’s new show covering the future of finance, my colleague Jen Wieczner and I chatted with David Pakman, a partner at the venture capital firm Venrock, about the hardline approach tech giants are taking against the nascent cryptocurrency industry.

To wit: Facebook, Alphabet’s Google, and Twitter have all blacklisted cryptocurrency-promoting advertisements on their platforms this year. Google said Monday it would forbid extensions that “mine” cryptocurrency from its Chrome Web Store. And MailChimp, a purveyor of email newsletters, put the kibosh on dispatches that self-interestedly hawk virtual moneys. (If you’re seeking a responsible replacement, I might recommend our upcoming Ledger newsletter; sign up here.)

Presumably, the Internet behemoths—who have been facing increased scrutiny from the public and regulators in recent months—are reacting harshly to appease a growing chorus of critics. An apologist might say that these companies are simply trying to protect consumers from scams. (The field abounds with swindlers, yes.) But could there be an ulterior motive behind Big Tech’s blanket bans?

“It’s just a little bit too convenient for my taste to see a platform ban an entire ecosystem, or an entire market segment, just because they don’t want to spend the time figuring out who the bad actors are,” Pakman told me.

“We’re talking about highly centralized platforms who, in theory, have the most to lose from the advent of decentralized technologies and platforms,” Pakman said. “It kind of underlines the point of why alternative structures for platforms are needed, because on a whim a single platform can ban an entire market.”

Conspiratorial as it may sound, Pakman has a point. Whether Big Tech is conscious of the biases it possesses or not, there’s no denying the incumbents have an interest in smothering a would-be usurper in its crib. Cryptocurrencies, which proponents expect one day could decentralize Internet services, like social networking, search, and more, pose a legitimate, if early, threat to today’s tech business models.

“The space should be cleaned up, but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that there’s incredible innovation happening,” Pakman said. “We hope they don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

We hope so too. Have a great weekend; I’ll be sipping the last dregs of the ski season on a mountain in Vermont.

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

robert.hackett@fortune.com

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

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Games organizers confirm cyber attack, won't reveal source
February 11, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Pyeongchang Winter Olympics organizers confirmed on Sunday that the Games had fallen victim to a cyber attack during Friday’s opening ceremony, but they refused to reveal the source.

The Games’ systems, including the internet and television services, were affected by the hack two days ago but organizers said it had not compromised any critical part of their operations.

“Maintaining secure operations is our purpose,” said International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman Mark Adams.

“We are not going to comment on the issue. It is one we are dealing with. We are making sure our systems are secure and they are secure.”

Asked if organizers knew who was behind the attack, Adams said: “I certainly don’t know. But best international practice says that you don’t talk about an attack.”

The Winter Games are being staged only 80km (50 miles) from the border with North Korea, which is technically still at war with the South since their 1950-1953 war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

The two teams marched together at an Olympics opening ceremony for the first time since 2006.

South Korea has been using the Pyeongchang Games to break the ice with the reclusive North, which has been trading nuclear threats with the United States recently.

“All issues were resolved and recovered yesterday morning,” Pyeongchang organizing committee spokesman Sung Baik-you told reporters.

“We know the cause of the problem but that kind of issues occurs frequently during the Games. We decided with the IOC we are not going to reveal the source (of the attack),” he told reporters.

Russia, which has been banned from the Games for doping, said days before the opening ceremony that any allegations linking Russian hackers to attacks on the infrastructure connected to the Pyeongchang Olympic Games were unfounded.

“We know that Western media are planning pseudo-investigations on the theme of ‘Russian fingerprints’ in hacking attacks on information resources related to the hosting of the Winter Olympic Games in the Republic of Korea,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.

“Of course, no evidence will be presented to the world.”

Cyber security researchers said in January they had found early indications that Russia-based hackers may be planning attacks against anti-doping and Olympic organizations in retaliation for Russia’s exclusion from the Pyeongchang Games.

Stakeholders of the Olympics have been wary of the threat from hacking and some sponsors have taken out insurance to protect themselves from a cyber attack. [nL4N1PX1HV]

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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U.S. announces arrests in $530 million cyber identity fraud scheme
February 7, 2018 6:15 pm|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday announced indictments of 36 people in a global internet identity theft scheme that caused more than $ 530 million in losses to consumers, businesses and financial institutions.

International law enforcement authorities arrested 13 defendants from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Kosovo and Serbia.

“Today’s indictment and arrests mark one of the largest cyberfraud enterprise prosecutions ever undertaken by the Department of Justice,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by David Alexander

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