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QNA

Qatar’s Emir at Wednesday’s military graduation ceremony

Officials in Qatar have launched an investigation into this week’s hacking of its official news agency.

QNA published false reports attributed to the Emir and Foreign Minister on Wednesday night.

The remarks expressed support for Israel and Iran and criticized key Qatar allies such as Saudi Arabia and the US.

Abraham Puthoor/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Officials in Doha have denied the veracity of all the statements. They also temporarily suspended QNA’s online services as a precautionary measure.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the attack a “shameful cybercrime” that “was instigated and perpetrated with malicious intent.”

It added in a statement that the government is working to track down and prosecute whoever was behind the breach, which caused widespread confusion in the GCC due to the inflammatory nature of the comments.

Political fallout

Many took the remarks at face value, and there have been heated debates on social media about them.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia even temporarily blocked digital access to Al Jazeera inside their countries, the network confirmed.

Qatar has been trying to contain the political fallout of the false reports.

But yesterday, officials said they were “surprised” that some media outlets continue to publish and comment on the fake news, even though the country called them baseless.

Some are saying Gulf tensions have not been this high since 2014. At that time, Saudi, the UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Doha for political reasons.

The issue was eventually resolved, and fences have been on the mend since then.

Security

Politics aside, many security experts are urging Qatar to boost security to protect against future attacks.

In a statement to Doha News, Donna Mayers, senior associate at law firm Pinsent Masons Qatar, said “more needs to be done” in this regard across the GCC, despite shrinking budgets.

Pixabay

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

She added:

“Cybercrime poses an increasing threat, not only to individual businesses but also to a country’s national security and critical infrastructure in sectors such as energy, banking, health and ICT.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but we urge companies to prepare for the worst-case scenario by implementing processes and plans to deal with this and using simulated attacks to educate and prepare their workforce.”

Thoughts?

QNA

Qatar’s Emir

An “unknown entity” has hacked Qatar’s official news agency, and is responsible for publishing a false statement attributed to the Emir, the Government Communications Office (GCO) has said.

QNA’s website was down for several hours after the incident, which appeared designed to harm Qatar’s relationship with its Gulf peers.

Hackers also temporarily took control of the news agency’s Twitter account in the middle of the night.

Tweets from hackers (in Arabic, shown in English via Google Translate)

In Arabic, it posted three tweets purportedly from Qatar’s foreign minister.

It cited him as ordering Gulf ambassadors to leave the country within 24 hours. The tweets also claiming that GCC nations were plotting to discredit Qatar.

Those messages have since been removed, and been refuted as false by officials.

Fake statements from the Emir

Earlier last night, the hackers published a QNA story that carried fabricated quotes from Qatar’s Emir, who spoke at a military graduation yesterday.

The GCO said the report “has no basis whatsoever.” Picked up by Al Arabiya and other outlets, it cited Sheikh Tamim as telling the crowd that Qatar has “tensions” with the new US administration.

The Emir is also falsely quoted as saying that “there is no wisdom in harboring hostility toward Iran” and that relations with Israel are “good.”

QNA’s original story does not contain any of those remarks, however.

Instead, it merely described the graduation ceremony. It began with the National Anthem and included a parade, as well as various military performances.

In terms of comments made by the Emir, it only quoted Sheikh Tamim as hailing National Service training, which first became compulsory for Qatari men in 2014.

One event attendee told Doha News that the Emir did not make any political remarks, and instead focused on congratulating all of the graduates.

Cybersecurity

In its statement about the hack yesterday, the GCO said that it was investigating the matter. It added that all of those responsible for the breach would be held accountable.

This is not the first time hackers have targeted Qatar.

QF hack in 2013, by Bashar Al Assad supporters

Last year, more than 1,200 names, phone numbers and bank passwords of Qatar National Bank (QNB) customers were leaked online by an unknown entity.

Qatar has also been the victim of several high profile Domain Name System Services (DNS) attacks in recent years, as well as hacks on social media accounts of big organizations such as Qatar Foundation.

The country has been shoring up its cyber-defenses in recent years. But hackers are also becoming smarter about how they infiltrate their targets.

Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Elysia Windrum

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The names, phone numbers, bank passwords and other sensitive information of what appears to be a large number of Qatar National Bank (QNB) customers has been leaked on a file-sharing website and is spreading rapidly through social media.

Among those affected are journalists and staff with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network.

The leak also includes files that purport to contain information about Qatar secret service agents and staff at other local banks, police, security and members of the country’s ruling family.

It is unclear who leaked the information or why.

The 1.4GB file that was uploaded online today contains nine main folders, some of which are named “Al Jazeera,” “Al Thani,” “Defence and etc,” “SPY, Intelligence,” and “Mukhabarat,” which is Qatar’s intelligence service.

Screen shot of file directory of leaked files

Doha News

Screen shot of the file directory of the leaked files

In a statement on its website today, QNB said:

“It is QNB Group policy not to comment on reports circulated via social media. QNB would like to take this opportunity to assure all concerned that there is no financial impact on our clients or the Bank.”

It added that it was deploying “the strongest measures possible to ensure the integrity of our customers’ information” and that it will further investigate the matter “with all concerned parties.”

Al Jazeera details

The Al Jazeera folder contains 29 separate files on staff members, while a spreadsheet includes the personal details of more than 1,200 people and organizations.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Paul Keller/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A number of Al Jazeera staff told Doha News that much of the data contained in their section of the files is correct.

Gordon Hickey, who left Al Jazeera English last July, told Doha News that a friend had called him this afternoon to tell him that his bank account and passwords were available on a public website – and that he had the word “SPY” attached to his folder.

“He was kind of joking, but he did ask whether I was a spy,” Hickey said. “This could have serious implications for me traveling. It’s not a nice thing.”

Hickey – who has now changed all of his passwords – expressed surprise that the data included his Twitter account details, as well as his bank account number and passwords.

Meanwhile, one beIN staffer said she only found out about the leak when she was contacted by Doha News.

She said that this morning, she received a text message saying someone had tried to access her QNB account without her permission. She added that she called QNB to ask what had happened, but was assured that there was no cause for alarm.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Nick Olejniczak/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

She told Doha News that she was very worried about whether anyone else had managed to take money out of her account, and was also concerned about the label “SPY” that appeared next to her name.

“Why didn’t the bank tell me about this? And what do I do now to stop people seeing this data?” she said.

Another Al Jazeera journalist, Bernard Smith, said he discovered the leaked files this afternoon and called QNB.

“The details they had for me were mostly correct – I had changed my credit cards just a few months ago after losing them, but other information such as my passwords and contact details were all accurate.

I was very shocked to see my details online.”

Smith said that the QNB representative he spoke to confirmed the bank was aware of the data breach, but not the scale of it.

Other Al Jazeera staffers who did not wish to be named similarly confirmed that the majority of their details were accurate, although some information such as phone numbers and other data were either incorrect or out-of-date, they added.

However, one journalist featured in the Al Jazeera folder told us that he was not a QNB customer.

Social media links

The documents do not only include bank account details and passwords, but also photographs of the affected people and links to their social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Shehan Peruma/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In the file marked “SPY, Intelligence,” there are also photographs and Facebook accounts of their family members.

Speaking to IBTimes, Simon Edwards, cybersecurity expert with Trend Micro, said this data likely did not come from QNB:

“Rather, the perpetrator used the data held by the bank to then build up profiles of further targets.”

Meanwhile, the files also identify one man as “Defence, SPY (MI6),” alongside social media links to what the files suggest are his spouse and his friends, and family photos. MI6 is the UK’s foreign intelligence agency.

And in a file marked “Mukhabarat,” there are the personal details of 562 people, supposedly members of Qatar’s intelligence service.

Finally, the “Defense” folder contains 42 separate sub-folders with details marked as being part of Qatar’s “Ministry of Defense,” “Defense,” and “United Army.”

Thoughts?