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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky may not have listened when President Donald Trump asked him to dig up some dirt on his political rival Joe Biden in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid — but the Kremlin was apparently all ears.
The same Russian government hackers who broke into the Democratic National Committee in 2016 successfully breached the network of Ukrainian gas company Burisma at the end of 2019, according to a bombshell new report from California cybersecurity company Area 1.
Burisma, which has yet to comment on the report, is the gas company where Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, sat on the board of directors for five years. Trump has repeatedly made allegations that the former vice president used his power to bury corruption investigations against his son in Ukraine. But all claims have been shown to be baseless.
The hacks took place in November and December, at the height of the impeachment scandal in Washington, and targeted subsidiaries of Burisma. The method and timing immediately drew comparisons with the breach of the DNC in the lead-up to the 2016 election, which led to the leak of sensitive emails by Wikileaks.
While some have questioned the quick attribution of the attack to Russia, Area 1 CEO Oren Falkowitz told VICE News he’s “100% sure” where the attack came from.
“If you think that some random schmo just magically put their finger on the internet to pick this company out of all companies, you’re not really using your brain,” Falkowitz said
Russian hackers used phishing campaigns to trick employees of Burisma and its subsidies into giving up their account credentials, according to Area 1’s report. And because all companies shared a central email server, gaining access to one meant a hacker would have had access to them all.
Area 1 doesn’t know what the hackers were looking for or if they accessed any data, but the breach raises the possibility that the Kremlin obtained personal communications related to Hunter Biden.
On New Year’s Eve, Falkowitz, a former NSA hacker, got a call from one of his colleagues who had found a new Russian email phishing campaign.
A day later, Falkowitz realized that all the companies being targeted by the campaign were Ukrainian energy companies, and further investigations found they were all linked to Burisma.
Over the next couple of weeks, Falkowitz and his colleagues tracked a campaign that built fake websites designed to look almost identical to the real websites of the companies.
One site belonged to KUB-Gas LLC, whose website URL is kub-gas.com.ua. The hackers built an identical site using the URL kub-gas.com, a sleight of hand designed to trick victims into handing over their credentials. Such a small alteration to the URL would be spotted by very few people according to Falkowitz.
“If you’re an employee at a company, let’s be realistic, would you know that your company doesn’t own the dot com?” Falkowitz said. “That’s absurd.”
The hackers also mimicked the business tools their victims used, such as SharePoint, to trick them into sharing usernames and passwords and then leveraged those stolen details to conduct even more attacks.
These attacks are designed to circumvent any cyber security training companies like Burisma might get their employees to conduct.
“They went after all of the subsidiaries and partners simultaneously,” Falkowitz said. “So once you get someone’s username and password you can then use those accounts to launch even further phishing attacks and those become even more authentic, and so training is absolutely the opposite of what stops these types of campaigns.”
Who are the hackers?
Hackers linked to Russia’s Main Directorate of Military Intelligence, or GRU, conducted the attack, according to Area 1. The group, also known as Fancy Bear, is the same one that attacked the DNC andHilary Clinton’s campaign in 2016.
Along with the hackers, a number of factors link the 2016 attack with last year’s breach.
“It is fair to compare them in the sense that both were perpetrated by the same cyber actor, in this case, the Russian government,” Falkowitz said. “It is fair to compare them in the sense that both of them started with phishing campaigns. It’s fair to compare them in the sense that their timing, as related to U.S. elections, is certainly more than circumstantial.”
The attacks began in November when the House impeachment inquiry was underway, and the news of the breach comes as the House prepares about to send the articles to the Senate, where President Trump’s trial will start.
While some experts have urged caution about attributing the attack so quickly, others at cybersecurity companies FireEye and ThreatConnect have backed up Area 1’s claim about Russian involvement. But both have hedged their conclusions about whether Burisma’s email server was breached.
Area 1 co-founder Black Darche told Reuters that the company has unpublished information that links the attacks to a specific GRU officer in Moscow.
What data were compromised?
Area 1’s report claims only that the hackers breached the email server belonging to Burisma. It does not speculate on what information the hackers may have done once inside the system.
But if Russian hackers did successfully breached Burisma’s network, they could have obtained communications from, to, or about Hunter Biden, who served on Burisma’s board of directors between 2014 and 2019, sparking fears that they could use the information to disrupt the 2020 presidential election.
In 2016, the stolen DNC and Clinton emails were leaked to Wikileaks and the media via the online persona of Guccifer 2.0, who turned out to be a cutout of the GRU. But if the Burisma hackers are hoping to stage a repeat of what happened in 2016, it may be months before any information is leaked.
“There’s usually a big gap between when you see the attack initially become successful to then maybe what’s revealed as the damage” Falkowitz said.
What has the reaction been?
Burisma has yet to comment on the attack, though one source told Reuters that the company’s website had been subject to multiple break-in attempts over the past six months. The source did not provide further details.
Joe Biden’s campaign has not reacted to the hack on Burisma directly but used the opportunity to criticize the president for failing to stop Russian influence in U.S. elections.
“Any American president who had not repeatedly encouraged foreign interventions of this kind would immediately condemn this attack on the sovereignty of our elections,” a spokesman for his campaign told Reuters.
The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, who has led the impeachment inquiry into Trump, said on Monday night that he only learned of the breach of Burisma when he read it in the New York Times, adding that “it does not at all surprise me.”
“This is indeed what Bob Mueller warned of in his testimony that the Russians would be at this again,” Schiff told MSNBC. “FBI Director Wray said the same thing, and they appear, if this reporting is correct, to be in the middle of another hacking and potentially dumping operation.
Cover image: Fancy Bears website releases data on the USA and Canada’s plot against the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Alexey Malgavko/Sputnik via AP
Chinese city stops outbound flights, trains to fight virus
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese state media say the city of Wuhan is shutting down outbound flights and trains as the country battles the spread of a new virus that has sickened hundreds and killed 17. The official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday that the city also asked people not to leave Wuhan without specific reasons.…
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese state media say the city of Wuhan is shutting down outbound flights and trains as the country battles the spread of a new virus that has sickened hundreds and killed 17.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday that the city also asked people not to leave Wuhan without specific reasons.
The state-owned People’s Daily newspaper said in a tweet that no one would be allowed to leave the city starting at 10 a.m. and that train stations and the airport will shut down. It said that city buses, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses would also be temporarily closed, citing Wuhan authorities.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization said it had put off deciding whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency and asked its expert committee on the issue to continue their meeting for a second day Thursday. The organization defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
Chinese health authorities urged people in the city of Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings, after warning that a new viral illness that has infected more than 400 people and killed at least 17 could spread further.
The appeal came as the World Health Organization convened a group of independent experts to advise whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.
The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, the center of the outbreak. Seventeen people have died, all in Hubei province, since the outbreak emerged in its provincial capital of Wuhan late last month, officials announced Wednesday night. They said the province has confirmed 444 cases there.
“There has already been human-to-human transmission and infection of medical workers,” Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said at a news conference with health experts. “Evidence has shown that the disease has been transmitted through the respiratory tract and there is the possibility of viral mutation.”
The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people. Some experts have drawn parallels between the new coronavirus and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus that does not spread very easily among humans and is thought to be carried by camels.
But WHO’s Asia office tweeted this week that “there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission,” which raises the possibility that the epidemic is spreading more easily and may no longer require an animal source to spark infections, as officials initially reported.
Authorities in Thailand on Wednesday confirmed four cases, a Thai national and three Chinese visitors. Japan, South Korea, the United States and Taiwan have all reported one case each. All of the illnesses were of people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.
“The situation is under control here,” Thai Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters, saying there are no reports of the infection spreading to others. “We checked all of them: taxi drivers, people who wheeled the wheelchairs for the patients, doctors and nurses who worked around them.”
Macao, a former Portuguese colony that is a semi-autonomous Chinese city, reported one case Wednesday.
Some experts said they believe the threshold for the outbreak to be declared an international emergency had been reached.
Dr. Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University, said there were three criteria for such a determination: the outbreak must be an extraordinary event, there must be a risk of international spread and a globally coordinated response is required.
“In my opinion, those three criteria have been met,” he said.
In response to the U.S. case, President Donald Trump said: “We do have a plan, and we think it’s going to be handled very well. We’ve already handled it very well. … we’re in very good shape, and I think China’s in very good shape also.”
In Wuhan, pharmacies limited sales of face masks to one package per customer as people lined up to buy them. Residents said they were not overly concerned as long as they took preventive measures.
“As an adult, I am not too worried about the disease,” Yang Bin, the father of a 7-year-old, said after buying a mask. “I think we are more worried about our kids. … It would be unacceptable to the parents if they got sick.”
Medical workers in protective suits could be seen carrying supplies and stretchers into Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some of the patients are being treated.
Travel agencies that organize trips to North Korea said the country has banned foreign tourists because of the outbreak. Most tourists to North Korea are either Chinese or travel to the country through neighboring China. North Korea also closed its borders in 2003 during the SARS scare.
Other countries have stepped up screening measures for travelers from China, especially those arriving from Wuhan. Worries have been heightened by the Lunar New Year holiday rush, when millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad.
Officials said it was too early to compare the new virus with SARS or MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, in terms of how lethal it might be. They attributed the spike in new cases to improvements in detection and monitoring.
“We are still in the process of learning more about this disease,” Gao Fu, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said at the news conference.
Gao said officials are working on the assumption that the outbreak resulted from human exposure to wild animals being sold illegally at a food market in Wuhan and that the virus is mutating. Mutations can make it spread faster or make people sicker.
Jiao Yahui, a health commission official, said the disease “will continue to develop. It has developed different features compared with the early stage, and the prevention and precautionary measures need to change accordingly.”
One veteran of the SARS outbreak said that while there are some similarities in the new virus — namely its origins in China and the link to animals — the current outbreak appears much milder.
Dr. David Heymann, who headed WHO’s global response to SARS in 2003, said the new virus appears dangerous for older people with other health conditions, but doesn’t seem nearly as infectious as SARS.
“It looks like it doesn’t transmit through the air very easily and probably transmits through close contact,” he said. “That was not the case with SARS.”
Health officials confirmed earlier this week that the disease can be spread between humans after finding two infected people in Guangdong province in southern China who had not been to Wuhan.
Fifteen medical workers also tested positive for the virus, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has said. Fourteen of them — one doctor and 13 nurses — were infected by a patient who had been hospitalized for neurosurgery but also had the coronavirus.
“This is a very profound lesson, which is that there must not be any cracks in our prevention and control,” Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said about the infections of the medical workers in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV.
Experts worry in particular when health workers are sickened in outbreaks by new viruses, because it can suggest the disease is becoming more transmissible and because spread in hospitals can often amplify the epidemic.
The Lunar New Year is a time when many Chinese return to their hometowns to visit family. Li, the health commission official, said measures were being taken to monitor and detect infected people from Wuhan, and that people should avoid going to the city, and people from the city should stay put for now.
Associated Press journalists Dake Kang and Emily Wang in Wuhan, China; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok, Thailand; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Maria Cheng in London; Yanan Wang in Beijing and Alice Fung in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
China virus death toll jumps to 17, officials say avoid epicentre city
Beijing (AFP) – The death toll from a new SARS-like virus that has infected hundreds in China rose to 17 on Wednesday, as authorities urged people to steer clear of the city at the centre of the outbreak. The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed…
Beijing (AFP) – The death toll from a new SARS-like virus that has infected hundreds in China rose to 17 on Wednesday, as authorities urged people to steer clear of the city at the centre of the outbreak.
The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission announced measures to contain the disease — including sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.
In Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, large public events were cancelled and international football matches were moved to a new location. Visitors were urged to stay away, while residents were advised to not to leave the central city, which is home to 11 million people.
“If it’s not necessary we suggest that people don’t come to Wuhan,” Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV.
The illness is mainly transmitted via the respiratory tract and there “is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease”, health commission vice minister Li Bin told a news conference in Beijing.
More than 500 cases have now been reported, with the majority in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.
The virus has now infected at least 444 people in Hubei province alone, said provincial officials at a press conference, adding that the death toll had risen from nine to 17.
Major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing have also reported cases, as well as provinces in northeastern, central, and southern China.
The World Health Organization started an emergency meeting Wednesday to decide whether or not to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has now been detected in the United States, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Macau.
The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the SARS epidemic, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the illness and the potential to implement quarantine measures.
But they still have not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.
“We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease,” Li said, adding that “the cases are mostly linked to Wuhan”.
Countries have intensified efforts to stop the spread of the pathogen — known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Passengers are facing screening measures at five US airports and a host of transport hubs across Asia. Britain and Italy on Wednesday also announced enhanced monitoring of passengers from Wuhan.
– Virus source –
A prominent expert from China’s National Health Commission confirmed this week that the virus can be passed between people.
However, animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak.
A Wuhan market is believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak.
A price list circulating online in China for a business there lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies and rats. It also offered civets, the animal linked to SARS.
“We already know that the disease originated from a market which conducted illegal transaction of wild animals,” said Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention.
He said it was clear “this virus is adapting and mutating”.
Hong Kong and British scientists have estimated that between 1,300 and 1,700 people in Wuhan may have been infected.
– Containment –
Health authorities are urging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid crowded places, get plenty of fresh air and wear a mask if they have a cough.
Anyone with a cough or fever was urged to go to hospital.
In Wuhan, city authorities made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places on Wednesday, according to state-run People’s Daily.
In response to skyrocketing demand for masks — which were starting to sell out at pharmacies and on some popular websites — China’s industry and information technology ministry said it would “spare no effort in increasing supply”, state media reported.
“These days, I wear masks even in places that are not too crowded, although I wouldn’t have done so in the past,” said Wang Suping, 50, who works at a Beijing arts school.
At the capital’s main international airport, the majority of people were wearing masks.
Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had agreed to allow staff to wear surgical masks on mainland China flights, and that passengers from Wuhan would be offered masks and antiseptic wipes.
In Wuhan, police were conducting vehicle spot checks for live poultry or wild animals leaving and entering the city, state media said.
Officials also screened people on roads, the airport and the train station for fever.
The local government has cancelled major public activities and banned tour groups from heading out of the city.
Women’s Olympics football qualifiers scheduled for February 3-9 in Wuhan have been moved to the eastern city of Nanjing.
Fact Check: Adam Schiff Falsely Claims Trump Conditioned Meeting, and Aid, on Investigations | Breitbart
CLAIM: President Donald Trump withheld a White House meeting, and military aid, from Ukraine until it agreed to announce investigations. VERDICT: False. There is no direct evidence of that in the entire House record. Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) laid out the case against President Trump in opening arguments on Wednesday in…
CLAIM: President Donald Trump withheld a White House meeting, and military aid, from Ukraine until it agreed to announce investigations.
VERDICT: False. There is no direct evidence of that in the entire House record.
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) laid out the case against President Trump in opening arguments on Wednesday in the Senate impeachment trial. The core of his claim was that Trump withheld a White House meeting from new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as essential military aid, unless and until Ukraine announced investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 interference in the U.S. election.
Every part of that claim is untrue, and directly contradicted by the evidence that emerged in the House’s own inquiry.
Schiff is clearly relying on the testimony of U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, who made the surprise announcement in his prepared statement for the public impeachment inquiry in the House Intelligence Committee that there had been a “quid pro quo” — a White House meeting in exchange for an announcement of investigations.
Under questioning, however, Sondland admitted that he had no direct knowledge of a “quid pro quo.” In fact, he testified that when he asked President Trump what he wanted from Ukraine, he said “nothing” and “no quid pro quo.”
Moroever, as the transcript of Trump’s first call with Zelensky in April showed, the president had already invited Zelensky to the White House with no conditions whatsoever — a fact that Schiff neglected to mention in the Senate.
As for the second call, there was never any discussion of withholding aid, or of the 2020 presidential election. The U.S. aid that was temporarily withheld was “security assistance” — not the all-important Javelin anti-tank missiles, which Trump provided earlier (and President Barack Obama had not). The hold had to do with future funding and had no effect on the flow of funds to Ukraine during the summer of 2019, when the temporary hold was in place.
(It is also odd how gung-ho Schiff and his colleagues have suddenly become about helping Ukraine resist Russia when they were silent when President Obama appeased Russia for years and denied aid to a Ukraine under attack.)
As numerous witnesses testified, and as the Ukrainian president and his aides have since said repeatedly, Ukraine was never aware — at least on the senior level — of the hold on aid, nor did they feel any pressure from Trump.
And the aid was delivered in September — before the deadline — without any announcement of investigations.
The president did ask about investigations, but it is untrue that all he was interested in was an “announcement.” One possible reason for an announcement — alluded to in the testimony — was that there was no confidence that Ukraine would undertake the investigations unless it had committed to doing so publicly. Lev Parnas, a witness whom the House Democrats wish to call though he is facing federal indictment, made a similar suggestion on CNN last week.
In sum: there is not one bit of direct evidence to substantiate Schiff’s central claim. The impeachment should fail.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
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