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Bellingcat’s investigation into Navalny’s poisoning reveals extravagant developments in Russia’s data black market
Publié le 15 Décembre 2020
Les visages que nous vous montrons sont une escouade secrète d'assassins. Oui, oui, c'est comme dans un film, seulement dans la vraie vie. C'est plutôt plus cool que n'importe quel film.
Le cas de ma tentative de meurtre a été résolu. Nous connaissons les noms des tueurs - vrais et faux. Nous connaissons leurs adresses. Nous connaissons le lieu de travail: FSB. Nous connaissons les organisateurs et les clients.
C'est l'une des enquêtes les plus étonnantes jamais réalisées. Après l'avoir examiné, vous comprendrez pourquoi Poutine ment personnellement si désespérément à propos de mon empoisonnement.
Bellingcat’s work on the Navalny case originated from a previous investigation into Russian chemical weapons projects. Call metadata were analyzed for the telephone numbers used by two executives of SC Signal, an entity “involved in the development of new variants and application methods for nerve agents.”
Bellingcat found that these two executives had communicated with one of the FSB operatives reportedly involved in Navalny’s poisoning, as well as with his superiors, in the months preceding the event.
“With this information, we started our search, eventually finding a team of FSB officers and chemical weapon experts who had trailed Alexey Navalny since 2017.”
For example, Bellingcat used air booking databases to identify FSB agents who travelled across Russia to track Navalny and make attempts to kill him.
“Much of the information we used for our investigations could never be found in most Western countries, but in Russia, is readily available either for free or a fairly modest fee,” notes Bellingcat.
“A few hundred euros could — and does — provide you with months of phone call data for an FSB or GRU officer, allowing investigators to trace the intelligence services’ operations, identify the colleagues of research targets, and follow the physical tracks of spies across Russia and abroad.”
Porous data protection measures
Do Russia’sdemanding personal data lawsexist only on paper? Bellingcat believes Russian email providers, such as Mail.ru and Rambler, and social networks, such as Vkontakte, “are far less secure and privacy-focused than their Western equivalents, leading to frequent data leaks and robust search functions.”
Thus, “it only takes some creative Googling (or Yandexing) and a few hundred euros worth of cryptocurrency to acquire telephone records with geolocation data, passenger manifests, and residential data.”
This market to buy and sell data is thriving, generally involving “low-level employees at banks, telephone companies and police departments.” By manually fetching this data, and providing it to resellers or direct to customers may be caught and face criminal charges.
Meanwhile, automated services either within websites or through bots on the Telegram messaging service provide other batches of records, “circumventing the necessity of a human conduit to provide sensitive personal data,” notes Bellingcat.
“For example, to find a huge collection of personal information for Anatoliy Chepiga — one of the two GRU officers involved in the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter — we only need to use a Telegram bot and about 10 euros. Within 2-3 minutes of entering Chepiga’s full name and providing a credit card via Google Pay or a payment service like Yandex Money, a popular Telegram bot will provide us with Chepiga’s date of birth, passport number, court records, license plate number, VIN number, previous vehicle ownership history, traffic violations, and frequent parking locations in Moscow,” says Bellingcat, providing a sample of the baseline information provided.
Another investigation on the Russian data market waspublished in May 2019by Andrey Zakharov for the BBC’s Russian Service. The journalist was able to purchase his own passport file for about 2,000 rubles ($31 at that time) from a data seller on an online forum. Zakharov could also purchase accurate phone records for both himself and a family member for less than 10,000 rubles ($150).
As Navalnynotes sarcastically, much credit for the extravagant development of this black market is due to Russian lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, a fierce supporter of President Putin.