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Security

The FBI’s email system was hacked to send out fake cybersecurity warnings

Hackers targeted the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) email servers, sending out thousands of phony messages that say its recipients have become the victims of a “sophisticated chain attack,” first reported by Bleeping Computer. The emails were initially uncovered by The Spamhaus Project, a nonprofit organization that investigates email spammers.

The emails claim that Vinny Troia was behind the fake attacks and also falsely state that Troia is associated with the infamous hacking group, The Dark Overlord — the same bad actors who leaked the fifth season of Orange Is the New Black. In reality, Troia is a prominent cybersecurity researcher who runs two dark web security companies, NightLion and Shadowbyte.

As noted by Bleeping Computer, the hackers managed to send out emails to over 100,000 addresses, all of which were scraped from the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) database. A report by Bloomberg says that hackers used the FBI’s public-facing email system, making the emails seem all the more legitimate. Cybersecurity researcher Kevin Beaumont also attests to the email’s legitimate appearance, stating that the headers are authenticated as coming from FBI servers using the Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) process that’s part of the system Gmail uses to stick brand logos on verified corporate emails.

The FBI responded to the incident in a press release, noting that it’s an “ongoing situation” and that “the impacted hardware was taken offline.” Aside from that, the FBI says it doesn’t have any more information it can share at this time.

According to Bleeping Computer, the spam campaign was likely carried out as an attempt to defame Troia. In a tweet, Troia speculates that an individual who goes by the name “Pompompurin” may have launched the attack. As Bleeping Computer notes, that same person has allegedly tried damaging Troia’s reputation in similar ways in the past.

A report by computer security reporter Brian Krebs also connects Pompompurin to the incident — the individual allegedly messaged him from an FBI email address when the attacks were launched, stating, “Hi its pompompurin. Check headers of this email it’s actually coming from FBI server.” KrebsOnSecurity even got a chance to speak with Pompompurin, who claims that the hack was meant to highlight the security vulnerabilities within the FBI’s email systems.

“I could’ve 1000 percent used this to send more legit looking emails, trick companies into handing over data etc.,” Pompompurin said in a statement to KrebsOnSecurity. The individual also told the outlet that they exploited a security gap on the FBI’s Law Enforcement Enterprise (LEEP) portal and managed to sign up for an account using a one-time password embedded in the page’s HTML. From there, Pompompurin claims they were able to manipulate the sender’s address and email body, executing the massive spam campaign.

With that kind of access, the attack could’ve been much worse than a false alert that put system administrators on high alert. Earlier this month, President Joe Biden mandated a bug fix that calls for civilian federal agencies to patch any known threats. In May, Biden signed an executive order that aims to improve the nation’s cyber defenses in the wake of detrimental attacks on the Colonial Pipeline and SolarWinds.



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Categories
AI

Google’s AI flood warnings now cover all of India and have expanded to Bangladesh

Google says its flood prediction service, which uses machine learning to identify areas of land prone to flooding and alert users before the waters arrive, now covers all of India and has expanded to parts of Bangladesh as well.

The search giant launched the tool in 2018 for India’s Patna region, but it says it’s been slowly increasing coverage in coordination with local government. In June, it hit the milestone of covering all the worst flood-hit areas of India. The company says this means some 200 million people in India and 40 million people in Bangladesh can now receive alerts from its flood forecasting system.

In addition to expanding coverage, Google is testing more accurate forecasts and has updated how its alerts appear on users’ devices. The company says it’s now sent over 30 million notifications to users with Android devices.

Google’s new flood alerts offer information in some areas about the depth of the waters.
Image: Google

Google has long been interested in providing warnings about natural disasters and national emergencies like floods, wildfires, and earthquakes. Many of these are handled through its Public Alerts program. Just last month, the company launched a new service that turns Android devices into a network of seismometers, leveraging the accelerometers inside phones and tablets to detect the vibrations from earthquakes and send alerts to users.

In the case of flood forecasting, though, Google isn’t using information from customers’ devices. Instead, it draws on a mix of historical and contemporary data about rainfall, river levels, and flood simulations, using machine learning to create new forecast models.

Google says it’s experimenting with new models that can provide even more accurate alerts. Its latest forecast model can “double the lead time” of its previous system, says the company, while also providing people with information about the depths of the flooding. “In more than 90 precent of cases, our forecasts will provide the correct water level within a margin of error of 15 centimeters,” say Google’s researchers.

A study of Google’s forecasts in the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin carried out with scientists from Yale found that 70 percent of people who received a flood alert did so before flood waters arrived, and 65 percent of households that received an alert took action. “Even in an area suffering from low literacy, limited education, and high poverty, a majority of citizens act on information they receive,” write the researchers. “So, early warnings are definitely worth the effort.”

They noted that problems with using smartphone alerts still remained. The main issues are simply lack of access to smartphones and lack of trust regarding technological warnings. Survey respondents the researchers spoke to said they preferred to receive warnings from local leaders and that sharing them via loud speakers and phones calls was still desirable.

A photo from Yale researchers shows Google’s flood forecast service in use on the ground.
Image: Google

Google says it’s looking into these problems and has started a collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It hopes to share its flood forecasts with these organizations who can then disseminate the information through their own networks.

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