My thanks to Midas PR for my spot on this tour; I just couldn’t squeeze in another read, hence the Book Extract for this one – however, having read that and finding it rather fascinating I may just come back to this one at a later date!
A thrilling, insightful and entertaining account of hacking past and present – a subject that should concern everyone – from a leading voice in the world of cybersecurity.
On 4 May 2000, an email that read ‘kindly check the attached LOVELETTER’ was sent from Philippines. Attached was the first global virus that would go on to paralyse banks, broadcasters and businesses worldwide.
The age of Crime Dot Com had begun.
In the first book covering the whole of cybercrime past and present in a digestible way, investigative journalist Geoff White explores the astonishing development of hacking – from its conception in America’s hippy tech community in the 1970s, through its childhood among the ruins of the Eastern Bloc, to its coming of age as the most pervasive threat to our digital world. Drawing a well-informed, intelligent and easy-to-understand picture, he takes his readers inside the workings of real-life cybercrimes, revealing how the tactics employed by high-tech crooks are being harnessed by nation states to target
voters, cripple power networks and prepare, even, for cyber-war.
Unmasking the hacker behind the first global virus in history, the Love Bug, whose identity remained hidden for 20 years, the book hit the headlines worldwide earlier this year.
One of the most fascinating chapters from the book, where Geoff uncovers how North Korean hackers stole $81m from Bangladesh Bank, is currently being turned into a 10-part BBC podcast.
From Anonymous to the Dark Web, Ashley Madison to the 2016 US Presidential Election, Crime Dot Com is a thrilling, dizzying and terrifying account of hacking, past and present, and of what the future has in store and how we might protect ourselves from it.
Tags: computer security, online safety & piracy
- Format: ebook, hardcover
- Size: 262 pages
- Publisher: ReaktionBooks
- Publication Date: 10 August 2020
- Links: Goodreads
- amazon uk
HACK THE VOTE
After months of speculation, on 16 June 2015 Donald J. Trump finally announced his intention to run for the office of president of the United States. His descent on the golden
escalator to a press conference in the basement of Trump Tower in New York presaged America’s headlong tilt into a new and bewildering form of politics.
The photos show that the event was attended by several hundred people, compared to the thousands who attended his later rallies. In those early days, many regarded his candidacy as a sideshow and believed he would never make it into the Oval Office.
But his campaign not only became one of the most controversial and compelling in modern history; it proved to be the testing ground for a shocking and insidious new form of online propaganda, one that brought to a peak the strategic leaking and media
manipulation tactics that had been honed in the cyberattacks of the preceding years.
Even before Trump announced his candidacy, tech security was proving an explosive issue in u.s. politics: Hillary Clinton had been forced to admit that, as Secretary of State under Barack Obama in 2009, she had stored all her work emails on a personal computer server, reportedly in the basement of the family home in Chappaqua, New York state. It was a decision that turned into a rolling pr disaster, buffeting the veteran Democrat’s slick campaign, particularly when it emerged that a small number of classified messages passed through the non-government system she set up. The more details that came out, the more weight grew behind allegations of a cover-up, dismissed by Clinton but quickly weaponized by her opponents. Trump made hay with the accusation, using it to stoke his argument that Clinton was duplicitous, and part of the ‘swamp’ of Capitol Hill lifers. The controversy became a thorn in the side of Clinton’s camp right up to polling day. The fbi flipflopped over whether to pursue a prosecution until just two days before the election. For a campaign that was meant to run on rails, such last-minute headlines were a disaster.
But even without Trump’s brickbats and the email controversy, the Democrats were struggling with internal divisions. A bitter rivalry had emerged between supporters of Washington stalwart Clinton and her iconoclastic, left-leaning rival, Bernie Sanders. As they prepared for the Convention that would decide between the two candidates, the waters were choppy for the Democratic Party. What they didn’t know was that they were sailing into a perfect storm. A deadly combination of hacker rivalry and online dissemination was about to hit the Democrats, and their vulnerable computer security made them sitting ducks.
Although it only became public in summer 2016, the hacking of the Democrats was probably well underway even as Trump was declaring his candidacy the year before. From at least summer 2015, hackers were inside the Democrats’ networks, according to
the security company that eventually uncovered their presence. As we have seen, cyber investigators often recognize hacking groups by the software they use, which becomes a kind of digital calling card. The tools that breached the Democrats’ systems had a very long history. They were first spotted back in 2008. As Russia battled with a rebellion in Chechnya, researchers discovered a new set of viruses targeting pro-Chechen campaigners. The researchers called the hacking group Cozy Duke, because one of its hacking tools was called Cozer, and it used file names with the prefix ‘dq’.
By 2013, Cozy Duke was hacking victims in Ukraine, Hungary and Poland (where the U.S. was negotiating the placement of missile bases). The targeting of anti-Russian interests led many to suspect Cozy Duke was a Russian operation. Added to which, the Cozer tool didn’t look like a run-of-the-mill virus. It was stealthy, effective and constantly refined by what looked like a single group with impressive skills and considerable resources. The hacking tool may have been sophisticated, but the delivery mechanism was depressingly familiar: the virus arrived in phishing emails containing dodgy attachments with titles such as ‘Ukraine’s Search for a Regional Foreign Policy’. When a victim opened the attachment, the virus would be triggered, and the Dukes were given full covert access to their computer.
By summer 2014, the Cozy Duke group was ready to take on its biggest target yet: the u.s. government. But unknown to the hackers, they were being watched. According to Dutch media, the Netherlands’ intelligence agencies had hacked into Cozy Duke’s operation. They reportedly traced the group back to a university building near Moscow’s Red Square.
If Cozy Duke’s choice of victims wasn’t enough to convince security watchers that it was a Russian operation, the Dutch spies’ access seemed to provide the smoking gun. They even managed to hack into the security cameras in Cozy Duke’s building, according
to the Dutch reports, gathering footage of the hacking group as they clocked in for work. Western intelligence agencies assessed that Cozy Duke was led by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the svr. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman dismissed
the reports as fuelling ‘anti-Russian hysteria in the u.s.’
As Dutch intelligence watched, they gained a worrying insight: Cozy Duke had managed to plant its viruses on computers within the White House, the State Department and the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The group was ready to strike at the very heart of the u.s. government.
As the Dukes geared up to strike in November 2014, the Dutch informed u.s. intelligence agencies of an imminent attack. What ensued was the cyber equivalent of an urban shoot-out. The hackers tried to activate their viruses, issuing commands to grab
information. The u.s. defenders would cut off access to the server that was issuing the commands, only to see fresh instructions coming from another infected server. The battle lasted 24 hours and shut down State Department email for days.
Eventually, the u.s. side won, but at a cost. Dutch spies were reportedly shut out of the Cozy Duke network, cutting off their access to its computers and office cctv cameras. But the hacker group was far from giving up after this setback. By summer 2015 they were back in action, this time inside the Democratic Party. And they might well have remained there were it not for a series of slip-ups by a rival hacking group.
As the election clock ticked down, it still wasn’t clear whether Clinton or Sanders would be the Democrats’ nominee for the White House. But the political rivalry was about to be detonated by a hack that would eviscerate the party and arguably change the course of u.s. history. And the sad thing is, the victims had been given months of warning.
Investigative journalist Geoff White has covered technology for BBC News, Channel 4 News, Audible, Forbes online and many others. He has written and presented two major podcast series for Audible: Artificial Intelligence: Friend or Foe? and The Dark Web, as well as his own podcast series, Cybercrime Investigations. He is the co-creator of The Secret Life of Your Mobile Phone, a live, interactive phone hacking stage performance which was a sell–out hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017, and has been performed at music festivals, political conferences and for corporate clients. For Channel 4 News he created the Data Baby project, a unique experiment which used a fictional online identity to expose how our personal data is being used – and abused – online.
PRAISE FOR CRIME DOT COM
“Brilliantly researched and written” – Jon Snow, Channel 4 News
“A comprehensive and intelligible account of the elusive world of hacking and cybercrime over the last two decades…Lively, insightful and, often, alarming”
– Ewen MacAskill, Guardian
“Geoff White is one of the most authoritative reporters on cybercrime, and Crime Dot Com is an informative, accessible and entertaining tour of the cyber underworld”
– Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC News
“Geoff White writes with insight and flair about a subject that concerns everyone or should do. Criminals, hooligans, hostile state actors and terrorists attack our computers and networks every minute of the day…Crime Dot Com joins the dots, painting a well-informed, easy-to-understand picture” – Edward Lucas,
author of Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West
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