Category Archives: world

Moody’s reviews Belgian regions for downgrade

(AP)� BRUSSELS — Belgium’s financial troubles appeared to mount Monday as Moody’s Investors Service announced it was putting the country’s three regions on review for a possible downgrade, along with three of their government-related issuers.

The news followed Friday’s announcement that Moody’s was putting the country’s Aa1 ratings on review for possible downgrade, in part because the country was about to pay a significant sum to prop up the French-Belgian Dexia bank.

Over the weekend, Belgium agreed to buy the bank’s Belgian subsidiary for $4 billion ($5.4 billion) as part of a restructuring of the lender amid a liquidity squeeze.

Moody’s said late Monday it was placing the regions and the government-related issuers on review in part because of their possible exposure to losses stemming from the Dexia restructuring.

The country’s three region’s are the Dutch-speaking Flemish region, the French-speaking Walloon region, and the bilingual Brussels-capital region.

Beyond the crisis over Dexia bank, Belgium also worries investors because for more than a year its feuding regions have been unable to agree on a governing coalition able to make long-term financial decisions.

Belgium has been ruled in the meantime by a caretaker government. However, in the past few weeks, negotiators have appeared to be edging closer to forming a long-term governing coalition.

Moody’s said the review for possible downgrade of the government issuers — Aquafin NV, Societe Publique de Gestion de l’Eau and Fiwapac — reflected their strong links with their sponsoring governments, namely, the regions of Flanders and Wallonia.

Moody’s defines a government-related issuer as “an entity with full or partial government ownership or control, a special charter, or a public policy mandate from the national or local government.”

via Moody’s reviews Belgian regions for downgrade – CBS News.

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Trojan opened door to Skype spying

(CNET) A German hacker group says it has found a Trojan backdoor program designed for spying on Skype communications that it alleges was used for surveillance by German law enforcement officials but which also has flaws that put the infected computer at risk of serious attack by others.

“The largest European hacker club, ‘Chaos Computer Club’ (CCC), has reverse-engineered and analyzed a ‘lawful interception’ malware program used by German police forces,” the CCC wrote in a post on its Web site today. “The malware can not only siphon away intimate data but also offers a remote control or backdoor functionality for uploading and executing arbitrary other programs. Significant design and implementation flaws make all of the functionality available to anyone on the Internet.”

The group analyzed the code after receiving a sample from German lawyer Patrick Schladt, who says his client was under investigation on suspicion of illegal export of pharmaceuticals, according to a report on German news site Heise Online.

Schladt alleges that the Trojan was installed on his client’s computer when it passed through customs at the Munich Airport. After his client was charged, Schladt then contacted the CCC, which discovered the program on his client’s hard drive after using forensic software to restore deleted malware files, writes Graham Cluley of Sophos in a blog post.

The malware–dubbed the “State Trojan” or “R2D2” for a string of characters embedded inside the code–is capable of monitoring Skype, Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger communications, as well as logging keystrokes in Firefox, Internet Explorer and other browsers; taking screen captures; and of being updated, according to the reports.

While German authorities can snoop on suspected criminals, they need court permission to do so and any spyware used can not alter code on a suspect’s computer and additional functionality can not be added to it.

The State Trojan violates German law because it can receive uploads of programs from the Internet and execute them remotely, the CCC alleges.

“This means, an ‘upgrade path’ from (lawful spyware) to the full State Trojan’s functionality is built-in right from the start. Activation of the computer’s hardware like microphone or camera can be used for room surveillance,” the CCC post says. “The government malware can, unchecked by a judge, load extensions by remote control, to use the Trojan for other functions, including but not limited to eavesdropping.”

The malware could be used to plant evidence on the target’s computer and delete files, therefore completely obstructing justice, but it also has “serious security holes” in it that open the computer up to attack by others and put the law enforcement agency that is controlling the malware at risk, the CCC said.

“The screenshots and audio files it sends out are encrypted in an incompetent way, the commands from the control software to the Trojan are even completely unencrypted,” the post says. “Neither the commands to the Trojan nor its replies are authenticated or have their integrity protected. Not only can unauthorized third parties assume control of the infected system, but even attackers of mediocre skill level can connect to the authorities, claim to be a specific instance of the trojan, and upload fake data. It is even conceivable that the law enforcement agencies’ IT infrastructure could be attacked through this channel.”

The CCC said it has informed the German Ministry of the Interior about its findings. “They have had enough time to activate the existing self destruct function of the trojan,” the group said.

At a news conference today, German federal government spokesman Steffen Seibert said officials were investigating the matter. “We are taking (the allegations) very seriously,” he said, according to a report on the Monsters and Critics Web site. “We will need to check all systems thoroughly.”

A confidential memo released by WikiLeaks in early 2008 showed communications between German state law enforcement and a German firm, DigiTask, that makes software that can be used for monitoring Skype communications.

Seibert said the software in question was three years old and had not been used by federal officials, according to the Monsters and Critics report. DigiTask lawyer Winfried Seibert (same last name as the government spokesman) said the company had developed programs for authorities in Germany, but wasn’t sure if it was responsible for the program analyzed by the CCC, according to an IDG News Service report.

Cluley notes that it is not really possible to prove who authored the malware, which targets Windows computers, but suspects that even if the federal officials in Germany weren’t involved in the malware, officials in one of the German states were. “It’s pretty likely that this is something that was done under the auspices of German authorities,” he said in a phone interview with CNET today.

via Trojan opened door to Skype spying – CBS News.

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Afghanistan Routinely Tortures Prisoners: UN

A UN investigation has uncovered “a compelling pattern … of systemic torture and ill-treatment” in Afghan prisons, with prisoners reporting being beaten and shocked with electrical cables, hung by their hands, and having their genitals twisted until they passed out, the New York Times reports. Nearly half of all detainees of the National Directorate of Intelligence reported such abuse, as did a somewhat smaller portion of those held by the national police.

The interrogation methods are “unacceptable by any standard of international human rights law,” the report says. NATO has already stopped handing prisoners over to Afghan authorities based on an earlier draft of the report, and US laws may force America to cut funding for Afghan security forces. The Afghan government does not officially condone torture, and promises to improve. But its intelligence service denies much of the report—though it admits there might be “deficiencies” in its handling of detainees.

via Afghanistan Routinely Tortures Prisoners: UN – ‘Even stones confess here,’ one guard said; Kabul promises reform.

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Dozens Killed in Syrian Clashes

At least 31 people were killed across Syria in a series of shootings on Sunday, Syrian activists say.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) they included 14 civilians and 17 security personnel, reports the BBC.

Seven civilians died in the central city of Homs and the troops were killed in clashes with mutinous soldiers refusing to shoot on protesters, they said. There is no confirmation.

Nearly 3,000 people have died since the protests began in March, the UN says.

“It was like a war scene in Homs where blasts and sound bombs were heard all over town, with heavy machine-guns also being fired,” a statement from the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), which organises protests on the ground, said.

“A lot of homes were destroyed… Security agents and pro-regime militias prevented ambulances from evacuating the wounded,” the LCC said.

The SOHR said the suspected deserters had killed eight soldiers in simultaneous attacks on three army posts in the northern province of Idlib.

Last week, the United Nations human rights office said the death toll in Syria had risen to more than 2,900 people since the pro-democracy protests began.

via Activists: Dozens Killed in Syrian Clashes, Articles | THISDAY LIVE.

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