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The feds continue their reckoning with the cryptocurrency industry. CISA lays out accusations of Russian espionage on DOD contractors. And we highlight big news features about the Turla group and the NSO Group. This is CyberScoop for February 17.

DOJ beefs up on crypto

The U.S. government continues to beef up its ability to investigate, disrupt and prosecute cybercrime, particularly with respect to cryptocurrency, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Thursday. Speaking to the Munich Cyber Security Conference, Monaco said the department's National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team — now up to a dozen prosecutors — is getting its first director: Eun Young Choi, a seasoned cybersecurity prosecutor. Monaco also said the FBI is forming a "Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit" to gather crypto experts to aid investigations and train the wider FBI, and that the DOJ is also launching an International Virtual Currency Initiative to continue the work of international law enforcement coordination on prosecutions and disruption of crimes involving cryptocurrencies. AJ Vicens reports.

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CISA warns of breaches at some defense contractors

Information from defense contractors doesn't have to be top-secret to be of great interest to foreign adversaries. The latest example came Wednesday from CISA, the FBI and the NSA, which warned that "Russian state-sponsored cyber actors" had exfiltrated emails and other data from companies that handle sensitive but unclassified information as part of their work for the Department of Defense. The targets included projects involving weapons development, computer systems, intelligence-gathering technology and more, according to the alert. Joe Warminsky has more.

Who are Vlad and Urik?

Cybersecurity researchers have long tied the advanced persistent threat (APT) group known as Turla to the country’s Federal Security Service, or FSB. The ties are now clearer than ever, given a new report by two German news organizations that examines the trail of digital breadcrumbs left by hackers known to researchers as Vlad and Urik. Investigative reporters with broadcasting groups Bayerischer Rundfunk and Westdeutscher Rundfunk call the group Snake, and they explain how clues in the APT’s code led them to some answers. Read more.

The origin of the pressure building on NSO Group

The recent cascade of government and legal action against controversial Israeli spyware company can be traced to one woman, Reuters reports: Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. Al-Hathoul, upon receiving release from jail in 2021 on charges that she had harmed national security, got an alert from Google saying that state-sponsored hackers had tried to infiltrate her Gmail account. She took that, and her fears that her iPhone had also been hacked, to Citizen Lab, which divined more about what was going on. "Security researchers say the al-Hathloul discovery was the first to provide a blueprint of a powerful new form of cyberespionage," Reuters reported. Read on.

Lives ‘saved and taken’ with Palantir software

“We understand that all technology, including ours, is dangerous, and that software can be used as a weapon,” Palantir CEO Alex Karp wrote this week to the big-data company’s shareholders, adding that lives have both been “saved and taken” with help from Palantir products. The company has come under scrutiny for partnering with the government, but Karp has routinely defended that work Most recently, Palantir won a $116 million U.S. Army contract that extended its connection with the Vantage operations and decision-making platform. FedScoop’s Jackson Barnett reports.

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