Friday, April 21, 2017


A weekly newsletter to which I subscribe regularly includes links to three distinctive essays, termed THE READING LIST, in online magazines I rarely follow. I don't read all of the linked articles unless the title is tantalizing enough. This past week's missive references this article, The hunt for Russia’s most powerful hacker. (Anything tech-related usually is enough for me to dig in.)

The exploits of this adept hacker include breaking into various financial networks all over the globe, yielding billions of dollars for the network he and his team built. The acts were not just criminal, but there are more than hints of involvement of some eastern European governments with more than financial payoff.  

Author Garrett M. Graff begins...
ON THE MORNING of December 30, the day after Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2016 US election, Tillmann Werner [a researcher with the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike] was sitting down to breakfast in Bonn, Germany. ... 
Werner saw that the White House had targeted a short parade’s worth of Russian names and institutions ... His eyes locked on one name buried among the targets: ["EMB" herein].
The author then unravels the discovery of sequences of bank robberies accomplished by bots, malware, and viruses, as well as multiple withdrawals of small amounts of cash from illegally-created accounts by "mules" cleverly recruited to receive a cut of each withdrawal. 

Paragraph after paragraph unravels the fabric of the elaborate network of sophisticated software designed for very specific, but repeatable and adaptable exploitation of financial accounts from a wide variety of vulnerable institutions. The investigators make some discoveries of the network structure, but while attempting to take down a key server, discover unanticipated backup servers. Eventually, however, the identity of the author of the schemes is revealed, with some help from social networks and much of the software network is brought down. But, more ominously, there are hints of involvement of governments which not only benefit financially, but utilize parts of the network for more surreptitious goals. The sources which the author utilized are apparently unaware of the current location of EMB or what new effort in which he might be involved.

The EMB story is as revealing as it is dramatic. (When will Benedict Cumberbatch star in a movie about it?) However, where is the Trump-Russian connection? 

This elusive EMB is certainly appalling yet fascinating -- a worthy subject of more investigation. The tantalizing nugget of possible involvement with the Trump campaign -- that would make the time spent in reading the piece worthwhile except that, within the fourth paragraph from the bottom: 
According to US intelligence sources, the government does not, in fact, suspect that [EMB] took part in the Russian campaign to influence the US election.
I feel robbed, not so much for wanting any connection between the campaign to exist (I would hope there was no such bond), but expecting that the full article would be about such a possibility (at least trying to find evidence which bears on the question). Trump-Russia is not the story. 

A fascinating story incorporates an early teaser that is ultimately irrelevant to that which the author elaborates. At least the title, "The hunt for Russia’s most powerful hacker," is a more accurate description.

There is a more fundamental question: why was EMB's name on the Obama White House list?  (Anyone for another conspiracy?)

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