Did Russia spy on G-20 by handing out free thumb drives?

posted at 2:41 pm on October 31, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

It can’t be this easy, can it? The espionage spotlight shifted abruptly from US surveillance on allies to Russian snooping on fellow G-20 members in St. Petersburg last month.  According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Russians handed out swag bags to the ministers at the conference that included teddy bears, diaries, thumb drives, and smartphone cables.  The latter two, however, were later found to have some intriguing modifications:

According to the paper, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, had a debriefing with security officials after returning from St. Petersburg. The report was swiftly picked up by news agencies and newspapers in other countries.

The security team then conducted an examination of the thumb drives, which the Russians distributed as gifts to the 300 foreign delegates, who also received stuffed teddy bears, cups, diaries and cables to connect smartphones with computers, the Italian paper reported. Later, the European Council’s security office sent a report to Group of 20 participants, warning that some of the USB drives, as well as the cables, appeared to have been tampered with, Corriere della Sera said.

The European officials then handed the devices to German intelligence services, which conducted more tests and concluded that the sabotaged electronic equipment could be used to intercept data from computers and mobile phones. Corriere della Sera also reported that Italian secret service agents were still examining some of the devices distributed to Italy’s delegation.

In Brussels, a media official in Mr. Rompuy’s office declined to comment on Wednesday. “There are always measures in place to protect the infrastructure of the council and, as a rule, there is a cooperation with member states,” said the official, Nicolas Kerleroux. “But we won’t comment on any specific matter.”

No one at the conference was dumb enough to actually use them, were they? Or did they just figure that the country that has been run by a former KGB official for more than a decade could be trusted not to snoop on them now that they’re all friends?  After all, Putin gave Edward Snowden asylum for exposing those rotten Americans for collecting foreign signals intelligence with an agency that shares the collection with, er, most of the people in the room.  Or something.

On the other hand, we have to appreciate the old-school spycraft that went into this effort.  The US can tap into the Internet any time they like and has the resources for the brute-force method of data mining. Hiding devices in swag bags … that has the authentic ring of the Bond era, no?

Speaking of Snowden, he has a new gig:

Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer for former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, says his client has found a technical support job at a Russian website.

Kucherena told the RIA Novosti news agency Thursday that Snowden starts his new job on Friday. Kucherena declined to name the company that has hired Snowden but says it’s a major Russian website.

Will Russians trust Snowden with their personal and confidential information?


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…to fools who used them…

:):):)

Schadenfreude on October 31, 2013 at 2:43 PM

LOL, love the thread pic.

That’s kind of the same mental picture that I get with ComradeCare. Our posterior orifice is the computer, and ComradeCare is the teddy bear.

OhEssYouCowboys on October 31, 2013 at 2:45 PM

Will Russians trust Snowden with their personal and confidential information?

Only if he stores it on a thumb drive.

Gatsu on October 31, 2013 at 2:46 PM

Them Ruskies are such pranksters.

chewmeister on October 31, 2013 at 2:50 PM

That teddy photoshop is way cool :)

Schadenfreude on October 31, 2013 at 2:50 PM

Did the diaries come with a self addressed envelope to be sent back to the KGB?

tommer74 on October 31, 2013 at 2:51 PM

“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” — GWB, visionary…of obama’s legacy, unwittingly

Schadenfreude on October 31, 2013 at 2:52 PM

Obama used his to store pictures of LOL cats…and top secret nuclear launch codes.

tdarrington on October 31, 2013 at 2:52 PM

Will Russians trust Snowden with their personal and confidential information?

“What difference does it make, at this point?” — scumhag Hillary

Schadenfreude on October 31, 2013 at 2:53 PM

No one at the conference was dumb enough to actually use them, were they?

They gave them to the 300 foreign delegates. You know that some of them used them.

This is way beyond stupid.

INC on October 31, 2013 at 2:54 PM

It’s safer to visit porn sites than it is to use a Russian thumb drive.

Mark1971 on October 31, 2013 at 2:54 PM

Since Bambi, according to Biden, is no “tech geek,” he was probably just thrilled with his goodie bag. Uh-oh.

marybel on October 31, 2013 at 2:56 PM

About this Healthcare.gov site. Just one question.

Why has the NSA NOT shut down the website as a matter of national security?
I’m no expert in this but it seems to me that if nothing else is working, why do we turn a political blind eye to the security problems and assume that there are none.

Here are a few things that I have seen.
1. If you put any encrypted password into the “USER NAME” slot on sign in, it will display the password in the open. That can’t be good.

2. If you do get to sign in then the web site opens a port to ALL Government computers at the same time. A web site debugging program like the one that comes with “FireFox” will openly display all connections, access and port informations for all these other government computers. This can not be any good.

Why is the Government only concerned with their images here and not once addressed the issues of security.

My suggestion to everyone would be to stay far away from this site for some time to come.

jpcpt03 on October 31, 2013 at 1:52 PM

Excellent comment

Schadenfreude on October 31, 2013 at 2:57 PM

How the ipod preezie crashed

Schadenfreude on October 31, 2013 at 2:58 PM

They must have learned this tactic from the times I’ve given women teddy bears with nanny cams in them.

El_Terrible on October 31, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Kucherena declined to name the company that has hired Snowden but says it’s a major Russian website.

Known by it’s former acronym as “The KGB”.

GarandFan on October 31, 2013 at 3:03 PM

Will Russians trust Snowden with their personal and confidential information?

He is Soviet through and through.

Steve Eggleston on October 31, 2013 at 3:03 PM

Will Russians trust Snowden with their personal and confidential information?

What makes you certain that he isn’t QA for a porn site?

nobar on October 31, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Hopefully the Russians haven’t figured out this other trick I used to use.

They could call up the White House and tell them they won a free trip, and all they need to confirm Barack’s identity are super duper secret classified files.

El_Terrible on October 31, 2013 at 3:04 PM

No one at the conference was dumb enough to actually use them, were they?

I’ll put money on the ObamiNation delegation using a couple.

Steve Eggleston on October 31, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Just press the RESET button again.

Shy Guy on October 31, 2013 at 3:10 PM

I am disappointed in the KGB effort here. I would have expected them to hand out umbrellas to the guests, since that’s real “old school”.

RSbrewer on October 31, 2013 at 3:19 PM

I’m pretty sure this was a Doctor Who episode.

29Victor on October 31, 2013 at 3:26 PM

When I worked for a certain DON organization anyone traveling to China, Russia and a few other countries were forbidden from taking any electronic devices that had storage capabilities with them because we knew they would most likely be hacked in some way.

Johnnyreb on October 31, 2013 at 3:28 PM

How were they modified? How do you turn a phone data cable into some thing that will give you data? How do you modify a thumb drive to give you data if not in your possession. The only thing I can thing of is a app that installs onto a computer and then sends the data via the internet.

Dr. Frank Enstine on October 31, 2013 at 3:34 PM

Any official dumb enough to stick a thumb drive from Russia (or any foreign govt) into their computer should be fired. Duh!

Chessplayer on October 31, 2013 at 3:54 PM

How were they modified? How do you turn a phone data cable into some thing that will give you data? How do you modify a thumb drive to give you data if not in your possession. The only thing I can thing of is a app that installs onto a computer and then sends the data via the internet.

Dr. Frank Enstine on October 31, 2013 at 3:34 PM

Just before I left the AF in 2009 we were forbidden to use USB drives on govt computers. The Chinese were infecting GI’s USB drives with viruses on their home computers, then transferring it to work computers. Great way to get a trojan through the network gates. Made it a pain in the a** because our flight manuals were on USB drives. Had to go back to the paper version.

tdarrington on October 31, 2013 at 4:15 PM

How were they modified? How do you turn a phone data cable into some thing that will give you data? How do you modify a thumb drive to give you data if not in your possession. The only thing I can thing of is a app that installs onto a computer and then sends the data via the internet.

Dr. Frank Enstine on October 31, 2013 at 3:34 PM

There is space for auto-run code on a thumb-drive – it executes when the drive is inserted into into a computer, without the owner being notified or asked. So it’s a great vector for inserting a virus or worm. In fact, leaving a few infected thumb drives scattered around the parking lot of an office building is a classic technique for getting inside the firewall… someone is sure to pick one of them up, carry it to their desk, and plug it in “to see what’s on it”.

bofh on October 31, 2013 at 6:03 PM