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China bank fraud alert

The FBI sent out a warning this week about a new wave of cybercrime emanating from China after computer thieves stole $11 million from U.S. businesses.

"The FBI has observed a trend in which cybercriminals - using the compromised online banking credentials of U.S. businesses - sent unauthorized wire transfers to Chinese economic and trade companies located near the Russian border," the notice stated.

The alert, dated April 26, was first reported by the security website Dark Reading.

Computer security specialist Jeffrey Carr said the cyberfraud is "an entirely new tactic of using Chinese companies as an endpoint in ripping off U.S. businesses."

"Wire transfers directly made to Chinese companies by an attacker is an unusually aggressive tactic and probably shouldn't be taken at face value," he said.

The FBI said that since March 2010 the bureau had uncovered 20 cases involving the compromise of online banking credentials of small- to medium-sized U.S. businesses.

The credentials were used by criminals for wire transfers of money to Chinese companies. The companies were not identified by name, but most Chinese companies are wholly or partly state-owned.

"As of April 2011, the total attempted fraud amounts to approximately $20 million; the actual victim losses are $11 million," the alert stated.

The FBI notice is unusually detailed and indicates that Chinese hackers, many of whom have been linked to Chinese government entities, are engaged in cybercrime, in addition to widespread intelligence gathering and theft of data by computer.

The Chinese bank fraud was done by either "phishing" - obtaining confidential passwords by deceit - or through prompting employees of a targeted company to visit a malicious website that then infects their computers and takes them over remotely. In one case, a target computer hard drive was erased by hackers to stymie investigators, the FBI said.

The malware collected the user's bank transfer data, which then is used to make unauthorized transfers of funds to intermediary banks in New York and, finally, to "the Chinese economic and trade company bank account."

"The intended recipients of the international wire transfers are economic and trade companies located in the Heilongjiang province in the Peoples Republic of China," the notice said.

The companies appear to be official provincial government firms that use official names of Chinese port cities. The cities include Raohe, Fuyuan, Jixi City, Xunke, Tongjiang and Dongning, and the company names include "economic and trade," "trade" and "LTD."

The malicious software involved Zeus, Backdoor.bot and Spybot, which secretly steal passwords and bank transfer codes.

The FBI warned banks to notify customers about the Northeast China bank fraud in the designated cities and to closely monitor fund transfers there. The bureau said it could not identify the hackers and did not know whether the Chinese companies were the final deposit point for the stolen funds.

Missile-warning satellite

The Air Force is set to launch the first of a new generation of four infrared satellites capable of detecting hot spots such as missile launches from thousands of miles in space.

The first GEO-1 Space-Based Infrared System satellite, called SBIRS, will be launched May 6 atop an Atlas V booster from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Brig. Gen. Roger Teague, the Air Force's space-based infrared systems director, said the launch is "the dawn of a new era in persistent overhead surveillance."

The maneuverable, $1.2 billion satellite is the first of four new high-tech sensors. It will conduct orbit tests and six engine firings before reaching geosynchronous orbit 26,199 miles above Earth.

Its mission from launch until it is fully operational in October 2012 will be to watch for missile launches around the world. It also is part of U.S. missile-defense systems and will provide what the military calls "technical intelligence and battle-space awareness" around the world.

"The SBIRS system will remain the gold standard for missile warning," Gen. Teague said in a conference call with reporters, noting that the infrared sensors are "the backbone of the important mission that we do, that our nation needs to provide that early warning of hostile missile intent and threats around the world for our nation and our allies."

Gen. Teague said GEO-1 is "so much more sensitive" than other satellites used for missile warning, including the Defense Support Program constellation of satellites.

"We can see much more, much earlier, much sooner ... many dimmer targets than we ever could before," he said, declining to elaborate because of concerns about classified information.

The new satellite also will provide new power for spying on battlefields and on the technical specifications of foreign missiles and other heat-producing systems, he said.

"It's how fast can I process information that the sensor is detecting, and how quickly can I disseminate that information to battlefield commanders? That's the real power of this system and the capabilities that we'll have," Gen. Teague said.

Manufactured by Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin, GEO-1 uses sophisticated scanning sensors. It will monitor "missile launches and natural phenomena across the Earth, while the staring sensor will be used to observe smaller areas of interest with enhanced sensitivity," the company said in a statement.

IED dogs of war

The Pentagon is developing a new dog for the battlefield. This canine will be able to sniff out hard-to-detect, buried improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are increasingly maiming and killing troops in Afghanistan.

For currently deployed dogs - and electronic sensors - such fertilizer-based homemade explosives are difficult to find.

The Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) decided to train its own specialized kennel of sniffers before sending them to war in September.

"The JIEDDO dog program is solely focused on the current threat in Afghanistan to detect homemade explosives off leash," spokeswoman Irene Smith told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

"There are other military working dogs who are trained off a [Defense Department] scent list, allowing them to be deployed around the world. JIEDDO's dog program is specifically tailored to [Afghanistan] ... This is a unique capability from the other military working-dogs programs."

The agency is working with a number of breeds in addition to the ubiquitous, human-friendly Labrador retriever.

"There is a debate on which dog is best for detecting explosives," Ms. Smith said.

Sending super dogs to Afghanistan is one of several moves JIEDDO is making in response to an increase in the number of pressure-activated IEDS buried around villages by the Taliban to attack Marines and soldiers approaching on foot.

China's Fiji gambit

A State Department cable made public this week highlight's China's efforts to co-opt the government of the remote South Pacific island of Fiji using what the cable called "checkbook diplomacy."

The 2009 cable quoted an official from Fiji's military regime as saying the island nation, located some 1,700 miles from Australia and 1,200 miles from New Zealand, is viewed by the Chinese as "an important partner, noting that China valued Fiji as a useful transit point and for its proximity to important shipping lanes."

The official said China has wide influence in Fiji because of its assistance, trade and investment ties and noted that "the Chinese government was providing Fijian government officials with training on a range of skills in China," including "training military officials, a practice that began after the 2006 coup."

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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