Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fake White House holiday e-mail is cyber attack

WASHINGTON – It looked like an innocent e-mail Christmas card from the White House.
But the holiday greeting that surfaced just before Christmas was a ruse by cybercriminals to steal documents and other data from law enforcement, military and government workers — particularly those involved in computer crime investigations.
Analysts who have studied the malicious software said Tuesday that hackers were able to use the e-mail to collect sensitive law enforcement data. But so far there has been no evidence that any classified information was compromised.
The targeted e-mail attack comes as the federal government is desperately trying to beef up its cybersecurity after the release of thousands of State Department cables and military documents by the WikiLeaks website. Federal authorities want to improve technology systems and crack down on employees to prevent the theft or loss of classified and sensitive information.
The red holiday e-mail card, with its brightly decorated Christmas tree, prompted recipients to click on a link, which would then download the ZueS malware — a well-known malicious code that is often used to steal passwords and other online credentials, primarily to poach Internet banking information. The malware was created several years ago and is widely available for criminals to acquire and adapt. It has been used to steal millions of dollars.
In this case, however, the code downloaded a second payload that is designed to steal documents from the recipient's computer, accessing Microsoft Word and Excel files.
Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence for Atlanta-based SecureWorks, a computer security consulting company, said the attack was somewhat small and targeted to a limited number of groups with law enforcement, military and government affiliations.
It was small enough, he said, to suggest that is was sent out manually and not by a large network of infected computers. He said it was not large enough to be picked up by cybersecurity spam traps or sensors.
Alex Cox, principle research analyst for NetWitness, a cybersecurity firm in northern Virginia, said the e-mail was sent out just a day or so before Christmas, delivered by a control server in Belarus. He and Jackson said they believe this ZueS version was created by the same people who launched a similar but much larger attack last February.
Cox, who discovered the ZueS-infected malware last year when it infected at least 74,000 computers, said it's hard to determine how many people were affected or how many documents were stolen in this latest attack.
Jackson said at the hackers stole at least several gigabytes of data.
Analysts learned of the e-mail attack last week and have spoken with federal authorities about it.
Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said officials are aware of the ZueS e-mail and are monitoring it along with other similar malware attacks that have been tracked for some time.
Cox and Jackson would not disclose details on who was attacked or what documents may have been compromised but agreed that the hackers probably were after the documents, rather than any banking or financial passwords.
One theory, said Jackson, is that the hackers were looking for information about law enforcement cases and investigative techniques related to cybercrime so that they could sell it to other criminals.
The e-mail attack, however, underscores the continuing vulnerability of government workers and their computer systems to versions of the ZueS malware. Hackers can easily tweak the code each time so that it does not trigger antivirus software.
"Criminals have found that if they change the files in small ways it can slip past antivirus software," said Jackson.
While ZueS-related attacks are fairly common, this latest one stood out because of the use of the White House connection to lure recipients in and the targeted way it went after law enforcement, analysts said.
One U.S. official said that the code was rather poorly written. The hackers could only get easily accessible documents and not those filed deep within layers of folders on the hard drive, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations.

Cash-strapped Cuba moves ahead with job cuts

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba began the process of laying off thousands of workers on Tuesday, according to a top union official, as one of President Raul Castro's central reforms to the communist island's economy picked up steam.
It was not clear if dismissal of the state employees had begun immediately or if several ministries were starting to decide who should go. The government has said it plans to cut 500,000 workers from its bloated payrolls by March.
"It is up to us to be the guarantors of the labor restructuring, which will begin (on Tuesday)," said the head of the Cuban Workers Federation, Salvador Valdes Mesa, according to state-run Radio Rebelde.
He said the union would oversee the layoffs, initially targeting workers at the Sugar, Agriculture, Construction, Public Health and Tourism ministries, to assure they are conducted without "violations, paternalism, favoritism and any other negative tendency."
The job cuts are part of Castro's overhaul of Cuban communism aimed at ending the Caribbean island's chronic economic problems.
Cuba, hit hard by 2008 hurricanes and the global financial crisis, is short of cash and has had to slash imports, freeze local bank accounts of foreign businesses and default on payments to creditors in the past two years.
Castro wants to reduce the state's role while maintaining control of an economy that will have a bigger private sector and less state spending.
In most cases, laid off workers will be offered other jobs, which they can accept or turn down.
Plans call for about 200,000 of the laid-off workers to shift to employee-run cooperatives converted from businesses currently operated by the state.
The government also has begun issuing 250,000 new licenses for self-employment. For the first time, the self-employed will be allowed to hire workers.
Cubans receive social benefits such as free healthcare and education, but earn on average the equivalent of about $20 a month.
A second round of cuts will be conducted later, with at least 500,000 more workers slated to be removed from state payrolls over the next few years.
The union must "convince (workers) of the need for these measures for the country's economy, with the security that ultimately no one will be left unprotected," Valdes said.
Officials have said the government began cutting jobs as early as October, shortly after Castro announced his reform package.
It was rumored, but not confirmed, that layoffs were postponed for a time while the self-employment licensing program was being set up because the government was wary of creating too much social dislocation.
Workers at the Agriculture and Sugar ministries said on Tuesday they had been told meetings about the layoffs would begin this week.
The government has said ministry and labor functionaries will determine which workers are worth keeping, based on their productivity.
"We know that if there's no productivity, there's never going to be a raise in salaries. So it's a necessary measure that has to be understood," said Mayda Vega, an office manager in the Agriculture Ministry.
"I imagine it will be a gradual process and not traumatic," she said.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Tom Brown)

Cuban regime becomes effective new political - administrative division

Artemis Village
GDC, January 05 - From the first of January this year Cuba has 15 provinces, one more than they were before. Havana province, or country Havana, is now divided into two new ones: Artemis and Mayabeque.
Local media said the new division will "enhance operation of each of the organs and institutions of government, as well as political and mass organizations, under the principle rational structures in the use of labor and templates leaders, officials, specialists, technicians and administrative and service workers. "
It is not the first time that the Cuban regime establishes a new political - administrative division. Already did before, in 1977, when the five traditional provinces of the republic became fourteen.
The village of Artemis will be the capital of the province of the same name. San Jose de las Lajas, in turn, will be the capital of Mayabeque.
Sage from a large number of attackers at Headquarters Moncada, armed action in 1953 planned development and Fidel Castro against a Republican army garrison. That was the reason, according to local media, to consider the town as the new provincial capital.
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From January 1, eliminating the cleaning and hygiene items of ration books. The Cubans must acquire real price of products which were subsidized, but no increase in wages.

Through ration book, Created in 1962, Cuban autoriades distributed among the population basket of food and basic necessities at prices below market rates to keep wages frozen for 52 years.
Last year reduced the amount of salt and beans and potatoes were excluded, peas and snuff. So the announcement last Wednesday of the soap, detergent and toothpaste will lose their subsidies was not taken with surprise. However, hitting the pocket of the Cubans, who came in droves to find these products, before their value increases up to 2,000%.

The island reached by 2011, 52 th anniversary of the socialist revolution undergoing a process of economic change that seeks to "upgrade" the socialist model and culminating in the sixth congress of the Communist Party  of Cuba (PCC), to be held from 16 to 19 April and will first in 14 years.

In a speech before Parliament on 18 December Raul Castro urged to rectify "errors" in the island's economic model and stated that it depends on the survival of socialism in the country.

The process includes cutting more than half a million jobs in the bloated state sector and issuing licenses for opening of small private businesses in 178 offices.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011 10:35 -