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Cyber Newsletter (#2) – October 2023

UNSG and ICRC push for stricter controls on military AI

The UN and ICRC have united to address the pressing issue of military AI. On October 5th, the UN initiated negotiations for a binding instrument to regulate Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS) by 2026. Concerns include the ability of military AI to adhere to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and questions of accountability for AWS incidents. Security worries center on the disruption of deterrence mechanisms, potentially causing global instability and increasing the risk of a first-strike incentive. This has become an even pressing issue due to  the rapid advancements in AI. The UNSG and ICRC advocate banning fully autonomous lethal applications and imposing restrictions on non-lethal military AI. Challenges include the emerging ‘AI arms race,’ which could reshape warfare and provide military advantages. Unlike past technologies, AI development is mainly driven by the civilian sector, making government control difficult. International cooperation is vital to address these complex issues responsibly.

Hackers lure Israelians data using a fake rocket alerts app

In a recent cyberattack, pro-Palestinian hacktivist group AnonGhost exploited a vulnerability in the “Red Alert: Israel” app developed by Kobi Snir. This allowed them to intercept user requests, expose servers, and send false alerts, including alarming messages about a “nuclear bomb”. The breach was not only invasive but also raised concerns about the panic such fake alerts could cause. The hackers employed domain impersonation, using “hxxp://” to mimic the legitimate “hxxp://” domain. This deceptive tactic facilitated their actions without immediate detection. The website hosting the malicious file was created on October 12, 2023, but has now been taken down. 

FBI and Europol cooperation success: Ragnar Locker ransomware gang taken down

In a remarkable example of international collaboration, Europol and the FBI effectively dismantled the notorious ransomware group RagnarLocker on October 19, 2023. The operation marked a significant milestone in the fight against cybercrime, underscoring the power of global law enforcement cooperation. RagnarLocker had gained infamy for its unyielding stance, frequently rejecting negotiations and conducting high-reward attacks, such as the audacious $4.5 million assault on CW Travel in 2020. During this joint operation, a senior executive of the group was apprehended in France, and their showcase darknet website was seized, disrupting their illicit activities. This victory builds upon an earlier achievement in 2023 when the FBI and Europol collaborated to dismantle another cyber threat, the Hive hackers. These collaborative efforts between the FBI and Europol reflect a growing EU-USA alliance in the realm of cyber operations. As the cyber threat landscape evolves, cross-border cooperation among law enforcement agencies becomes increasingly crucial to combat the adaptable tactics of cybercriminals. 

EU probes X in test of new tech rules: pressure on Tiktok & Meta

The EU is investigating disinformation on Elon Musk’s platform, X, under new tech regulations. The probe was initiated by EU industry chief Thierry Breton, who criticized TikTok and Meta for not doing enough to combat disinformation during the Israel-Hamas conflict. Therefore, X has been singled out as a possible source of disinformation. Therefore, Breton’s action aims at putting pressure on TikTok and Meta to comply with the Digital Services Act (DSA) by removing illegal and harmful contents. X CEO Linda Yaccarino claimed the platform had taken measures to remove content and deactivate Hamas-affiliated accounts while Elon Musk argued that specific examples of disinformation weren’t provided by the EU. X had until October 18 to provide information on its crisis response protocol and until October 31 to address DSA concerns. Musk’s actions have complicated content tracking, and if X is found guilty of DSA violations, it could face fines of up to 6% of its global turnover. Breton also called on TikTok to intensify efforts to remove harmful content within 24 hours. 

French signs the treaty on the Western Balkans Cyber Capacity Centre

In a significant move, France, along with key leaders, signed a treaty during the Berlin Process summit in Tirana on October 16, 2023, granting the Western Balkans Cyber Capacity Centre (WB3C) international organization status. This reflects France’s dedication to enhancing the region’s cyber resilience, a commitment further reinforced during the European Political Community (EPC) summit in Granada on October 5, 2023. The WB3C, expected to be established by 2025, will focus on cybersecurity training and combating cybercrime, fostering cooperation among Western Balkan nations and international partners. This initiative aligns with the Berlin Process’s spirit, which seeks to deepen ties between the Western Balkans and the European Union, addressing evolving cybersecurity challenges for a safer digital landscape in the region and beyond. 

Ransomware, Russian national suspected of belonging to the Ragnar Locker group arrested
Czech Republic 

A Russian national suspected of involvement in the Ragnar Locker ransomware group, responsible for over 150 cyber-attacks, including on CMA-CGM, was arrested in the Czech Republic. The arrest took place at Roissy airport during a Europol-coordinated international operation, which began in 2020 and resulted in server seizures across Europe and cryptocurrency confiscations. Such arrests of core hacker group members are rare and mark a significant success for European law enforcement. This operation is expected to disrupt Ragnar Locker’s activities and underscores the EU’s commitment to combating cybercrime.