Security

UK Special Forces soldiers' personal data was floating around WhatsApp in a leaked Army spreadsheet

Bizarre promotion practice leads to near-inevitable breach


Exclusive An astonishing data security blunder saw the personal data of Special Forces soldiers circulating around WhatsApp in a leaked British Army spreadsheet.

The document, seen by The Register, contained details of all 1,182 British soldiers recently promoted from corporal to sergeant – including those in sensitive units such as the Special Air Service, Special Boat Service and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment.

Special Forces soldiers’ identities are supposed to be protected from public disclosure in case terrorists target them or their families. Yet yesterday an Excel file was freely being passed around on WhatsApp groups after being leaked from inside the Ministry of Defence.

The spreadsheet detailed personnel posted to 18 Signals Regiment, the SAS and SBS' communications experts, and their specialisms

The document, which appeared to have last been modified late yesterday morning by a corporal working as a clerk for one unit's Regimental Career Management Officer (RCMO), was available for download on WhatsApp with no password protection or government protective markings such as “confidential” or “secret”.

To help protect UK Special Forces soldiers’ identities, whenever they enter the public eye they are always referred to by the MoD as serving with their former unit. So a paratrooper from that regiment’s 2nd Battalion who joins the SAS and is later decorated at Buckingham Palace for secretly smiting the Queen’s enemies is always named publicly as “Trooper Bloggs, 2 PARA”.

Yet the spreadsheet busted this convention by linking soldiers’ former and current units together, under separate headings of “capbadge” and “unit.”

The leaked spreadsheet included details of non-special forces units as well

Worst of all, as well as naming newly promoted senior non-commissioned officers, the spreadsheet disclosed their unique service numbers. These can be cross-referenced against public records to enable service histories to be traced – potentially outing former SF personnel years after they retire.

The spreadsheet’s only nod to privacy was a one-line warning that said: “NOT TO BE DISCLOSED BEFORE 0900 HOURS UK LOCAL 03 JUN 21.” Ironically, it appeared to have originated from a secretive Royal Marines unit.

Royal Marines Poole is the base of the Special Boat Service

A former Army source told The Register the practice of sharing newly promoted people’s personal details in a spreadsheet accessible by the entire 80,000-strong British Army was routine, but said: “Normally this is passworded and kept on the intranet.”

Details of soldiers posted to non-sensitive units were also viewable in the spreadsheet, which covered the entire Army: all units from the Army Air Corps to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

An Army spokesperson told The Register: “We are aware that the Corporal to Sergeant Promotion Board results have been obtained by some media outlets. The results of this Board are not due for release internally in MOD until 3rd June.”

He added: “The leak of this information to media outlets is being investigated by the MoD and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.” ®

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Antitrust battle latest: Google, Facebook 'colluded' to smash Apple's privacy protections

Amended Texas complaint alleges backroom efforts to maintain ad dominance

Several years ago, to deal with the competitive threat of header bidding – a way for multiple ad exchanges to get a fair shot at winning an automated auction for ad space – Google allegedly hatched a plan called "Jedi" to ensure that its ad exchange always won.

And in 2017, after Facebook announced plans to support header bidding, Google, it's claimed, struck a deal with Facebook – dubbed "Jedi Blue" – in which the two internet behemoths would "work together to identify users using Apple products," and set up "quotas for how often Facebook would win publishers’ auctions."

The Jedi project is described in an amended complaint, filed Friday, that expands the December 2020 antitrust claim against Google, brought by Texas, 14 other US states, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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Microsoft under fire again from open-source .NET devs: Hot Reload feature pulled for sake of Visual Studio sales

Windows giant has a funny way of 'loving' Free software

Microsoft has enraged the open-source .NET community by removing flagship functionality from open-source .NET to bolster the appeal of Visual Studio, not least against its cross-platform cousin Visual Studio Code.

The two key pieces in this latest unrest are this pull request in the open-source .NET SDK repository on GitHub, in which 2,500 lines of code implementing a feature called Hot Reload are removed from a tool called dotnet watch; and this blog post in which Principal Program Manager Dmitry Lyalin revealed "we’ve decided that starting with the upcoming .NET 6 GA release, we will enable Hot Reload functionality only through Visual Studio 2022."

Hot Reload is a feature whereby developers can modify source code while an application is running, apply the changes, and see the results in the running application. It speeds the development process because it is quicker than rebuilding the code, stopping the application, applying the changes, and then firing it up again.

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It's 'near-impossible to escape persistent surveillance' by American ISPs, says FTC

Watchdog finds dubious data gathering, illusory solicitations for consent

The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said many internet service providers are sharing data about their customers, in defiance of expectations, and are failing to give subscribers adequate choices about whether or how their data is shared.

The trade watchdog's findings arrived in the form of a report [PDF] undertaken in 2019 to examine the data and privacy practices of major US broadband providers, including AT&T Mobility, Charter Communications, Google Fiber, T-Mobile US, Verizon Wireless, and Comcast's Xfinity.

"[T]hese findings underscore deficiencies of the 'notice-and-consent' framework for privacy, especially in markets where users face highly limited choices among service providers," said FTC boss Lina Khan in a statement [PDF].

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While the iPhone's repairability is in the toilet, at least the Apple Watch 7 is as fixable as the previous model

Component swaps still a thing – for now

Apple's seventh-gen Watch has managed to maintain its iFixit repairability rating on a par with the last model – unlike its smartphone sibling.

The iFixit team found the slightly larger display of the latest Apple Watch a boon for removal via heat and a suction handle. Where the previous generation required a pair of flex folds in its display, the new version turned out to be simpler, with just the one flex.

Things are also slightly different within the watch itself. Apple's diagnostic port has gone and the battery is larger. That equates to a slight increase in power (1.094Wh from 1.024Wh between 40mm S6 and 41mm S7) which, when paired with the slightly hungrier display, means battery life is pretty much unchanged.

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Better late than never: Microsoft rolls out a public preview of E2EE in Teams calls

Only for one-to-one voice and video, mind

Microsoft has finally kicked off the rollout of end-to-end-encryption (E2EE) in its Teams collaboration platform with a public preview of E2EE for one-to-one calls.

It has been a while coming. The company made the promise of E2EE for some one-to-one Teams calls at its virtual Ignite shindig in March this year (https://www.theregister.com/2021/03/03/microsoft_ups_security/) and as 2021 nears its end appears to have delivered, in preview form at least.

The company's rival in the conference calling space, Zoom, added E2EE for all a year ago, making Microsoft rather late to the privacy party. COO at Matrix-based communications and collaboration app Element, Amandine Le Pape, told The Register that the preview, although welcome, was "long overdue."

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Recycled Cobalt Strike key pairs show many crooks are using same cloned installation

Researcher spots RSA tell-tale lurking in plain sight on VirusTotal

Around 1,500 Cobalt Strike beacons uploaded to VirusTotal were reusing the same RSA keys from a cracked version of the software, according to a security researcher who pored through the malware repository.

The discovery could make blue teams' lives easier by giving them a clue about whether or not Cobalt Strike traffic across their networks is a real threat or an action by an authorised red team carrying out a penetration test.

Didier Stevens, the researcher with Belgian infosec firm NVISO who discovered that private Cobalt Strike keys are being widely reused by criminals, told The Register: "While fingerprinting Cobalt Strike servers on the internet, we noticed that some public keys appeared often. The fact that there is a reuse of public keys means that there is a reuse of private keys too: a public key and a private key are linked to each other."

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Microsoft investor urges shareholders to vote for a deep dive into pay gap and harassment policies

More transparency and reporting needed, says Arunja Capital

Updated Accusations of harassment and concerns over pay gaps continue to dog Microsoft as shareholders were urged by investor Arunja Capital to vote for the software giant to release transparency reports.

The form PX14A6G filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission is sent to shareholders outlining why the sender wants them to vote a certain way. In this case, for a proposal to release a transparency report regarding the effectiveness of Microsoft's workplace sexual harassment policies, and another to have the company report on median pay gaps across race and gender.

Investment management firm Arunja Capital put forward the resolution earlier this year, stating: "Microsoft needs independent and transparent investigation of gender discrimination, [and alleged] sexual harassment by former CEO Gates and others."

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US drops tariff threat against nations who dished out digital taxes to American tech giants as OECD members hash out new deal

15% tax minimum to hit tech firms

The US government and administrations in Europe have come to an agreement that will drop the threat of tariffs in response to policies on digital services taxes (DSTs).

The Department of the Treasury announced the deal would mean Austria, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom could keep their DSTs while multinational rules negotiated with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) were introduced.

Back in June, nations where digital services taxes were deemed to disproportionately affect the US tech industry were threatened with 25 per cent tariffs on up to $2bn of their goods by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR). At the same time, it announced an immediate 180-day suspension of the tariffs so G20 and OECD nations had time to complete their negotiations on a global tax law, which would also hit tech companies.

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Nobody cares about DAB radio – so let's force it onto smart speakers, suggests UK govt review

Britain's anti Amazon and Google war gets a second front

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Under the guise of "protecting UK radio stations' accessibility" the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has published a report calling for smart speakers to rebroadcast domestic radio stations' output. The recommendation is as follows:

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IPSE: More than a third of freelancers have quit contracting since IR35 reforms

Exodus, movement of the people... to the Middle East or elsewhere

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This is according to the Association of Independent Professionals (IPSE) which found 35 per cent fewer freelancers among those it surveyed since 6 April when the government pushed through the delayed reform.

"This research shows the devastating impact the changes to IR35 have had on contractors, needlessly compounding the financial damage of the pandemic," said Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at IPSE. "Now, just when contractors are needed the most - amid mounting labour shortages across the UK and particularly in haulage - government decisions have drive out a third of the sector."

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New Relic guzzles down CodeStream to help devs jump straight from app error telemetry to offending code

'I can debug production from the IDE,' said CS boss Peter Pezaris

Observability company New Relic has acquired CodeStream, specialists in developer collaboration, with the aim being to connect observability data with code in the development environment.

CodeStream, founded in 2017 by Peter Pezaris, adds instant developer communication to coding environments. For example, a developer puzzling over some code written by a colleague can click next to that code, type a message to the other dev, and they will receive it either in the IDE if they happen to be working on the same project, or in a messaging tool such as Slack, complete with a reference to the code in question. They reply, and a discussion begins.

Although it may seem a small thing, given that they could just use Slack (or any number of other messaging services) directly, the context and convenience makes it a worthwhile collaboration tool. CodeStream also integrates with pull requests from GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, and issue management from Jira, Trello and others.

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