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Chinese Facial Recognition System That Can Detect Ethnicity Has Been Storing Data In Unprotected Online Databases

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A Chinese company built a facial recognition system that can detect ethnicity.

In the age of technology, surveillance cameras, and facial recognition technologies, it is easy to be anxious about being watched by different forces – may it be the governments, the police, or corporations. The rise of facial recognition technology has opened discussion relating to someone’s right to privacy and how the technology can be used against private citizens by people or organizations with abusive intents.

Nonetheless, as the world focuses on government-chartered facial recognition efforts, there is a private company in China that has been running a facial recognition system that tracks people in the streets, and it appears to be unregulated, and some argue that it is illegal.

The facial recognition system was built by a company named北京图铭视界科技有限公司 (Beijing Photo Ming Vision Technology Co., Ltd) and had been operating in Beijing and the province of Henan. The system was discovered by a tech researcher named Victor Gevers from GDI Foundation and found out that the company has been hosting the data in unsecured databases all over the internet.

Screenshot of the data found in the unsecured database. Image from @0xDUDE / Twitter

Gevers, who has been responsible for disclosing numerous unprotected databases that he has found online, said in a tweet that the system is named as 图铭人像大数据平台 (Figure Portrait of the Big Data Platform). The tech experts discovered the questionable facial recognition system after researching unprotected databases from China.

According to Victor Gevers, the facial recognition platform “uses an unsecured Elasticsearch, MongoDB & Tiandy network cameras with default credentials connected to the internet.” He also added that the system had been connected to the internet since December 2018. This could mean that the facial recognition data generated by the facial recognition system that the company has built was open to the public for the last six months.

“Behind one IP address, multiple services were running from different vendors,” Gevers noted suggesting that all the data from the three database hosting platforms were connected to one single entity that the researcher was later able to identify as the 北京图铭视界科技有限公司 (Beijing Photo Ming Vision Technology Co., Ltd). The tech expert warns that the system was able to detect faces of people even if they are wearing something that covers their facial features like hats.

“It detects if people are wearing hats, beards, and [sun]glasses,” he added.

Another interesting discovery in the facial recognition system is that it was able to detect vital information of people including their ethnicities. In the database, one particular ethnicity was listed called 维族 (Uyghur). While the researcher was able to provide proof of his discovery, one specific Twitter user in the comments questioned why Gevers was only disclosing that the system is explicitly targeting the Uyghurs and not other ethnicity.

Nonetheless, the tech expert said that the identity of who is responsible for the implementation of the facial recognition system but all the databases he found to point to a single one IP address. No information of who this IP address belongs to. While he disclosed the company that developed the system, he clarified that it is possible that the one implementing the system now could be a different company altogether.

In the past, Gevers was also responsible for disclosing other Chinese databases that could potentially put citizens’ privacy in harm’s way. A few months ago, he revealed that a database exists in China through a MongoDB that includes the private and identifiable information of Chinese women including their names, phone numbers, addresses, and “breed ready” status. Following an investigation by his team, they were able to confirm that the database was owned by a university that only accidentally uploaded the database only due to ISP problems.

Gevers also previously disclosed a database that included the transaction information of millions of Alipay’s, a financial service company based in China, users. The disclosure opened the conversation on whether financial institutions and service providers are selling their users’ transaction data to third parties. The allegation was later denied by Alipay to Z6Mag saying that they are not selling the data to anyone, and one possible reason that a third party holds a copy of their users’ transaction information is that those data were personally given up by the users themselves as a requirement for an online loan service that they are applying for. /apr

A Consumer Tech and Cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

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Cybersecurity

Indictment Against Hackers Involved In Anthem Data Breach Unsealed

Two men are indicted for allegedly part of a group of hackers from China linked in the Anthem Insurance data breach in 2015. Click To Tweet

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Twor men are indicted for allegedly part of a group of hackers from China linked in the Anthem Insurance data breach in 2015.
The indicted individuals are allegedly part of a group of hackers from China linked in the Anthem Insurance data breach in 2015. Photo: Tim Reckmann | a59.de | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Two men were indicted in the U.S. in connection with the data breach at the health insurance company, Anthem, that siphoned more than 78.8 million customer and employee records between 2014 and 2015.

The Justice Department recently unsealed an indictment against two people who prosecutors say are part of a sophisticated hacking network group, based in China that was behind not only in Anthem data breach, but also the attacks against three other US businesses.

While the Justice Department did not name the said Chinese hacking group victimized the three other businesses who they said, they said that these companies were “data-rich.” One was a technology business, one was in necessary materials, and the third was in communications. They said that all of these three companies store a substantial amount – and some confidential – of data on their servers and data networks.

The suspects are 32-year-old Wang Fujie with the Western name of “Dennis” and another one that until now remained unnamed. The Justice Department could not find the real name of the unnamed man but said that he goes by various online nicknames such as “Daniel Jack,” “Kim Young” and “Zhou Zhihong.”

The charges are one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and related activity in relation to computers and identity theft, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and two counts of intentional damage to a protected computer.

According to the indictment documents, the hacker group where Dennis and the unnamed man belongs have carried out attacks using “sophisticated techniques” including spearphishing and malware from February 2014 and up until around January 2015.

They allegedly sent tailored spearphishing emails with links to malware and sent them to employees at the target companies. Once the targeted employee opened the email, the system would get affected by the malware that would later plant a backdoor Trojan that gives the hackers remote access via their command and control servers.

Wang is also accused of having set up the servers, hosted in California and Arizona that were used in the Anthem attacks.

The cyber attack suffered by the insurance company has had them cough up large amounts of money as settlement, making it the most significant data breach settlement ever. In 2017, the company agreed to pay $115 million to settle a class action suit over the breach.

The Anthem attack is also the most massive health insurance data breach, and the amount of data lost to the hackers dwarfed the biggest data breaches in the following years with 11 million breached at Premera and 10 million from Excellus.

The DOJ through a press release and Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski called the hacking event as “unprecedented.”

“The allegations in the indictment unsealed today to outline the activities of a brazen China-based computer hacking group that committed one of the worst data breaches in history. These defendants allegedly attacked U.S. businesses operating in four distinct industry sectors and violated the privacy of over 78 million people by stealing their PII. The Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners are committed to protecting PII, and will aggressively prosecute perpetrators of hacking schemes like this, wherever they occur.”

Meanwhile, another set of indictments were released by the Justice Department against European hackers over the hacking of different private and public institutions in the United States. Ten individuals were charged with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The ten people who were charged were allegedly involved in the malicious software attacks that infected tens of thousands of computers and caused more than $100 million in financial losses, the US and European authorities announced Thursday.

According to the officials who filed the charges, the malware, which enabled cybercriminals and hackers from Eastern Europe infiltrate computer systems remotely and siphon funds from victim’s bank accounts, targeted companies and institutions across all sectors of American life.

The victims of the malware attacks included a Washington law firm, a church in Texas, a furniture business in California and a casino in Mississippi.

The investigation started following the dismantling of a network of computer servers, known as Avalanche, which hosted more than two dozen different types of malware. The Justice Department had successfully taken their operation apart in 2016.

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Cybersecurity

Winnti For Linux: Researchers Found Linux Variant Of Malware Used By Chinese Hackers In 2015

A Linux version of Winnti malware was discovered by tech researchers from Chronicle. The malware was used in 2015 by Chinese hackers. Click To Tweet

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A Linux version of Winnti malware was discovered by tech researchers from Chronicle. The malware was used in 2015 by Chinese hackers.
The discovered Linux malware bears significant similarities with its Windows counterpart. Photo: Christiaan Colen | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Linux systems are cybersecurity kings, but on a historic first, tech researchers have found a variant of a widespread malware, a favorite of Chinese hackers, have been discovered in a Linux system.

The discovery was made by researchers from the Chronicle, Alphabet’s cybersecurity department. The researchers revealed that they found a Linux variant of the Winnti malware that works as a backdoor on infected hosts, granting attackers access to compromised systems. It was the malware used by Chinese hackers in the high-profile cybercrime against a Vietnamese game company in 2015.

Chronicle researchers said that they discovered the malware following the news that Bayer, one of the biggest pharma company in the world, had been hit by Chinese hackers, and the Winnti malware was discovered on its servers.

After the team scanned Bayer’s system using its VirusTotal platform, they found what appeared to be a Linux variant of the Winnti, dating back to 2015 when it was first used by Chinese hackers to attack a Vietnamese gaming company.

According to the Chronicle, the malware that they have discovered comes in two parts: a rootkit to disguise the malware in the infected host and the actual backdoor Trojan. Further analysis the discovered Linux variant of the Winnti malware bears a lot of similarities to the malware’s Windows version. Other connections with the Windows version also included the similar way in which the Linux variant handled outbound communications with its command-and-control (C&C) server — which was a mixture of multiple protocols (ICMP, HTTP, and custom TCP and UDP protocols).

“As with other versions of Winnti, the core component of the malware doesn’t natively provide the operators with distinct functionality. This component is primarily designed to handle communications and the deployment of modules directly from the command-and-control servers. During our analysis, we were unable to recover any active plugins. However, prior reporting suggests that the operators commonly deploy plugins for remote command execution, file exfiltration, and socks5 proxying on the infected host. We expect similar functionality to be leveraged via additional modules for Linux,” said the researchers in their comprehensive report.

Lastly, the Linux version, just like the Window’s version, also has the ability for Chinese hackers to initiate communication with the infected host without going through the C&C servers – distinct characteristics in Windows Winnti.

“This secondary communication channel may be used by operators when access to the hard-coded control servers is disrupted,” Chronicle researchers said in a report published last week.

While infecting Linux systems is something already done especially by American and Russian hackers, it is also extremely rare, as pointed out by the Chronicle.

“Clusters of Winnti-related activity have become a complex topic in threat intelligence circles, with activity vaguely attributed to different codenamed threat actors. The threat actors utilizing this toolset have repeatedly demonstrated their expertise in compromising Windows-based environments. An expansion into Linux tooling indicates iteration outside of their traditional comfort zone. This may indicate the OS requirements of their intended targets, but it may also be an attempt to take advantage of a security telemetry blindspot in many enterprises, as is with Penquin Turla and APT28’s Linux XAgent variant,” added Chronicle.

Meanwhile, malware have become one of the most common tools to attack computer systems, even those of public institutions. A few days ago, ten Europeans were indicted for the malware attacks that have victimized several businesses and government agencies in the U.S.

The ten people who were charged were allegedly involved in the malicious software attacks that infected tens of thousands of computers and caused more than $100 million in financial losses, the US and European authorities announced Thursday last week.

The victims of the malware attacks included a Washington law firm, a church in Texas, a furniture business in California and a casino in Mississippi.

The charged individuals are now facing conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The investigation started following the dismantling of a network of computer servers, known as Avalanche, which hosted more than two dozen different types of malware. The Justice Department had successfully taken their operation apart in 2016.

Officials reveal that the malware in the current court case has infected more than 41,000 computers by disguising as legitimate messages or invoice and was sent as spam emails. Once the email was opened, hackers will be able to record all keystrokes in the infected computer, sweeping data like baking information and wire money away from the victim’s account.

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Cybersecurity

10 European Cybercriminals Charged For Malware Attacks In The US

European and US Officials collaborated to pin down ten individuals in connection with the ransomware attacks in the US. The charges include facing conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud and conspiracy… Click To Tweet

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European and US Officials collaborated to pin down ten individuals in connection with the ransomware attacks in the US.
European and US Officials collaborated to pin down ten individuals in connection with the ransomware attacks in the US. Photo: Christian Cohen | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The tech world has agreed that ransomware and malware are becoming one of the most prolific cyber attacks in recent (more…)

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