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World View: Deep Saudi-Lebanon Crisis Widens the Mideast’s Sectarian Fault Line

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Deep Saudi-Lebanon crisis widens the Mideast’s sectarian fault line
  • Hackers steal thousands of employee W-2 tax documents from Seagate Inc.
  • Bangladesh bank says hackers stole $100M from its New York Fed account

Deep Saudi-Lebanon crisis widens the Mideast’s sectarian fault line

Hezbollah supporters in south Lebanon carry Hezbollah and Lebanese flags (Reuters)
Hezbollah supporters in south Lebanon carry Hezbollah and Lebanese flags (Reuters)

On Monday, an official delegation from Lebanon was denied a visa to travel to the Saudi Arabia’s ally United Arab Emirates (UAE) amid reports that Saudi Arabian Airlines has ordered a stop in ticket sales to Lebanon.

This is only the latest in a string of increasingly bitter blows to the relationship between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Last month, Saudi Arabia announced it was cutting $4 billion in aid to the Lebanese army and security forces, a decision that could severely cripple Lebanon’s economy at a time when it’s already reeling from having to host millions of Syrian refugees, to the point where there is one refugee for every 3 or 4 Lebanese.

The heart of the Saudi dispute with Lebanon is Hezbollah, which is recognized as a Shia terrorist group by the West, funded and supported by Iran and committed to the destruction of Israel, but is also a powerful political force in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and Lebanon got along well for years, as long they could agree that Israel was the bad guy. But things started deteriorating in 2011 when Syria’s Shia/Alawite president Bashar al-Assad started attacking innocent Sunni protesters as if they were cockroaches to be exterminated, and Hezbollah’s militias began fighting in Syria in support of al-Assad’s army.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Iran has also been deteriorating rapidly. Iran’s nuclear deal with the west, which removed sanctions and freed billions of dollars to be returned to Iran, has infuriated the Saudis, who believe that Iran will use the money to provide further funding to Hezbollah and to fund Saudi Arabia’s Houthi enemies in Yemen. Undoubtedly, the new availability of this money to Iran is one of the motivations for ending aid to Lebanon, since presumably Iran will be forced to use some of the freed sanction money to replace the missing Saudi aid money.

In January, Saudi Arabia executed 47 people who had been convicted of terrorism: 46 alleged Sunni terrorists and one alleged Shia terrorist, Mohammad Baqir Nimr al-Nimr, a cleric well respected in Iran. The execution triggered mass Shia protests throughout the Mideast and even in Shia communities in India and Pakistan, and the firebombing of the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran, and several other Arab countries followed, but Lebanon refused to do so, further infuriating the Saudis.

Then last Wednesday, the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of six Arabian Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia, formally declared Lebanon-based group Hezbollah to be a terrorist group, and began to take steps to blacklist Lebanon, including asking tourists not to visit Lebanon. However, two Sunni Arab states, Algeria and Tunisia, opposed the blacklisting.

The situation has become extremely alarming. With the unprecedented deterioration in the ties between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, Lebanon’s prime minister Tammam Salam took the extraordinary step of asking Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah to stop making verbal attacks on the Saudis:

Hezbollah played a role in resisting Israel before going abroad and interfering in the affairs of other countries [referring to Syria]. I call on Sayyed Nasrallah to stop attacking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. …

I tell the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, that the historic ties between us and them will continue and will remain strong and we are exerting efforts to consolidate them.

We admit that a mistake has happened and has strained the relation between us and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries [referring to the refusal of Lebanon to condemn Iran’s firebombing of the Saudi embassy in Tehran]. We have not been successful in implementing the dissociation policy in a proper manner. ,,,

The current government cannot compel any group to do anything and consensus must govern all issues. …

We will not allow Lebanon’s collapse and I don’t think that the GCC states do not want the presence of a government in Lebanon although they have the right to address remarks to us.

We cannot unravel the relation we have now in the cabinet [referring to Hezbollah’s presence in the cabinet] because that would subject Lebanon to collapse.

The relationship is becoming increasingly toxic. In recent days, Arab coalition spokesman Ahmad Al-Asiri wrote on his Facebook page:

[Saudi Arabia] respects Lebanon’s sovereignty over its territory, but if the need arises, we will target any organization that poses a direct threat to Arab national security, while coordinating [our actions] with the countries in which these organizations are located.

As we’ve been saying since 2003, Generational Dynamics predicts that the Mideast is headed for a major regional war between Arabs and Jews, between Sunnis and Shias, and between various ethnic groups. It seems now that every week brings this prediction a major step closer. Memri and Al Bawaba (Palestine) and Naharnet (Lebanon)

Hackers steal thousands of employee W-2 tax documents from Seagate Inc.

Seagate Inc. has confirmed that the W-2 tax documents of several thousand current and former employees of the company ended up in the hands of fraudsters after an employee fell victim to a phishing attack.

I read stories like this almost every day. Hackers get into company databases and steal trade secrets or customer credit card information. It could be any kind of information that could be traded for money. I decided to write about this one because I thought that the angle of acquiring W-2 tax form information was interesting.

What almost all of these kinds of hacker attacks have in common is that they begin with a “phishing” or “spear phishing” attack. If you’re not familiar with these terms, you really should be.

A phishing attack is less a computer attack than a human on human attack, with the objective of getting you to click on something dangerous. A phishing attack is straightforward: The attacker sends out a million e-mail messages promising money or sex or a wrinkle free face or a cure for cancer or a Hawaiian vacation or reverse brain aging, and all you have to do is click on this link. (I read that list off some of the most recent messages in my spam folder.)

A spear phishing attack is far more sophisticated. The attacker spends several days gathering information about you personally by searching through the internet. They’ll check your Facebook page and everything else they can find, to collect a portfolio of information about you. They’ll know who you are, they’ll know your family, your boss, your coworkers and your job. They’ll use that information to carefully craft an e-mail message designed to trick you into thinking it’s a real message. “Frank, download the attached report, check it over, and send it to Marty for approval. Thanks.” If you’re fooled, then the attack has succeeded.

That’s the first part of the attack. Once you’ve clicked on the malicious link, then any of several things can happen:

  • You may go to a web site that can infect your computer. This is called a “watering hole attack,” because it’s like poisoning a watering hole in Africa, so that all the animals that go to drink from it die.
  • You might download an executable that turns your computer into a “bot” that can be remotely and invisibly controlled by the hacker.
  • The executable might encrypt all your data files, and then give you instructions for paying $1,000 to get them decrypted. This is called a “ransomware” attack.
  • The executable might give the hacker access to your company’s entire network and databases. The hacker then downloads information a little bit at a time every day, so it won’t be noticed, even if it goes on for months. This is how the Chinese military has obtained trillions of dollars’ worth of commercial and military secrets.
  • The hacker may simply destroy everything on your hard disks, because the hacker is a sexually frustrated teen working in a basement in Russia who gets off on destroying people’s hard disks.

According to the statement by Seagate:

The information was sent by an employee who believed the phishing email was a legitimate internal company request. When we learned of the incident, we immediately notified the IRS which is now actively investigating it along with federal law enforcement. At this point we have no information to suggest that employee data has been misused, but caution and vigilance are in order. We deeply regret this mistake and we offer our sincerest apologies to everyone affected.

Since the breach only came to light on March 1, it is likely that the hackers haven’t had time yet to do much with the information from thousands of W-2 tax forms. The hackers could sell it to other hackers, who could then use it for identity theft.

Seagate claims it’s in the process of making changes to prevent future incidents. Haha, this is funny. In the recent past, I advised a company to encrypt the social security numbers in their database, and told them how to do it easily, so that if the data is stolen, it would be useless to a hacker. But the harsh reality is that protecting social security numbers doesn’t generate any new sales, so most companies ignore all warnings until the data is stolen. Then the company puts out a statement saying that they’re in the process of making changes to prevent future incidents. Haha.

As I said, I read stories like this all the time, and those are only a small fraction of the actual corporate breaches, since most companies keep the breach from the press. I know that nobody’s going to pay attention to this, but I’ll write it anyway: If you have responsibility for a corporate database containing such things as names, addresses, social security numbers, medical information, and so forth, then put other things on hold and immediately launch a project to encrypt each critical data element, even it means losing a few sales. Haha. Security Week and Ars Technica

Bangladesh bank says hackers stole $100M from its New York Fed account

The Bangladesh Central Bank blamed the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for a lack of security that made it easy for the unidentified hackers to steal $100 million from its bank account. The money has been traced as far as a casino in the Philippines, before most of it disappeared. New York Post

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, UAE, Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC, Hezbollah, Iran, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Mohammad Baqir Nimr al-Nimr, Algeria, Tunisia, Tammam Salam, Ahmad Al-Asiri, Facebook, Seagate Inc., phishing, spear phishing, waterhing hold, ransomeware, Bangladesh Central Bank, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
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