GCHQ: We can't track crims any more thanks to Snowden

Whinge, whine, sniffle, et cetera


The Snowden revelations harmed GCHQ’s ability to monitor the communications of crime lords, leading to some vanishing off the grid and the abandonment of other surveillance operations, sources have told a British newspaper.

Intelligence officers claim to be blind to more than a quarter of the actions of the UK’s worst crime gangs following changes by crooks in their communication methods, which spooks attribute to leaks by the former NSA contractor, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Spy bosses previously warned that the Snowden leaks affected their efforts to track terrorists, claims which are disputed by privacy activists. The Daily Telegraph, citing unnamed “senior security officials”, claims that GCHQ’s role in combating serious and organised crime has also been harmed.

Communication suppliers – historically willing facilitators of wiretapping – are “refusing to hand over evidence on the likes of drug smugglers or fraudsters” because they do not pose a “direct threat to life”, Telegraph security editor Tom Whitehead writes.

One unnamed major drug smuggling gang has supposedly been able to operate “unimpeded for the last year” after changing their operations last autumn, throwing GCHQ off the trail in the process. Plans to track other groups have either been abandoned early or shelved entirely because of concerns that formerly reliable bugging tactics are too easy to spot and might do more harm than good because they would act as a tip-off to targets that they are under surveillance.

A senior security official said: “Snowden has been very damaging to our work. We have specific evidence of where key targets have changed their communication behaviour as a direct result of what they have read.”

“They have moved to more secure forms of communication and we have been unable to assist the NCA (National Crime Agency). It takes longer to help law enforcement and because we only focus on the most serious, the top end networks, then the impact they have in the mean time is multiplied,” the unnamed official added.

Edward Snowden stole thousands of classified files that were leaked through his media collaborators, exposing the mass surveillance of Americans by the NSA as well as the tools and techniques of GCHQ. Spy bosses have repeatedly complained that terrorist suspects and child abuse networks had “gone dark” as a result of Snowden’s disclosures. Law enforcement figures on both sides of the Atlantic have complained that plans by Apple and Google to build improved encryption into smartphones is a gift to criminals, particularly terrorists and paedophiles. This same argument has now been extended to cover drug lords.

GCHQ works with the National Crime Agency to fight the most serious organised crime groups, including drug smugglers, human traffickers and child abusers. Gangs have moved to more secure communications as a direct result of the Snowden leaks, it's alleged.

“We have techniques that need to be protected,” the source told the Telegraph. “The choice is not to pursue a network and we have decided not to press ahead where there is a possibility of being detected.”

“Experts needed up to six weeks to ‘deliver the magic’ when tasked with tracking and monitoring targets”, the Telegraph reports, adding that the time need to crack communications had effectively trebled over recent months.

The reaction from privacy and security experts to previous gripes by spies about more secure communication methods being more widely used and available has been to respond that spies had brought these changes upon themselves. The latest gripes about serious crims improving their comms security had provoked a similar reaction, as well as scepticism about whether the claims can be taken at face value.

Prolific natsec tweeter Spy Blog said:

Others, such as security consultant Gareth Niblett, are puzzled by the “six weeks to de-cloak comms” claim.

®

Similar topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022