Authorities at the Liberian Telecommunication Authority (LTA), the regulatory arm of the country’s telecommunication industry appears to have totally ignored reports of cyber-attack that was launched against the Lonestar Cell Company in late 2016 and early 2017.
The attack caused the company’s revenue to take a nose dive, although others have argued that the company was already losing revenue before the attack was launched. This also caused reduction in government’s revenue in terms of taxes.
As if that was not enough, the LTA has remained mute almost two weeks after a British court sentenced one of its citizens to jail for hacking the LoneStar Cell internet services here, an act that disrupted the country’s internet services.
The BBC reported on Saturday January 12, 2019, that an English commercial court convicted British national Daniel Kaye to 32 months in jail after he pleaded guilty that he was hired by a Cellcom (now Orange) operative to launch a cyber-attack on LoneStar in 2016.
There are reports within the corridors of LTA suggesting that authorities there are playing hands off to this ongoing issue simply because Lonestar Cell MTN did not file a formal complaint during the time of the attack and therefore they remained arms folded as they watch the two companies to destroy each other.
But sources within the LTA told this paper last week that LoneStar Cell MTN had complained just around the same time that their network was being attack but did not know where the attack was coming from. The source said even the British Ambassador to Liberia went to the LTA headquarters during the time of the attack to help that body.
LTA’s in action to come up with a formal comment on the issue is raising eyebrows as to whether officials at the regulatory body have failed to realize the magnitude of such attack on a company dully registered and operating under its watch or better still the dangerous signal its sending out there to the public as a result of its silence over such a national security issue.
Orange issued a statement two days following the conviction of Kaye indicating that it has launched its own investigation into the matter, while Lonestar Cell MTN also issued a statement indicating that it had filed a lawsuit against Orange, Cellcom and some individuals who may have had link with Cellcom as at the time of the cyber-attack.
On Monday a group of individuals besieged the front view of the offices of Orange, accusing the company of engaging into acts that were undermining the country’s economy.
These development have come at the time there is an ongoing GSM war between both companies and yet LTA remains silent. It is yet to issue any statement as it relates to this ongoing fracas that could undermine the viability of GSM operations in the country.
A questionnaire sent to the LTA concerning this and other developments within the Liberian telecommunication industry remain unanswered, despite several follow up calls.
It could be recalled that on Saturday January 12, the BBC reported that British cyber-criminal, Kaye admitted attacking Lonestar Cell MTN network something which inadvertently ended up crashing Liberia’s internet – in 2016, according to the BBC.
Kaye, 30, remains at the heart of a major international investigation into hundreds of acts of cyber sabotage around the world.The National Crime Agency says Kaye is perhaps the most significant cybercriminal yet caught in the UK.
Jailing Kaye for 32 months at Blackfriars Crown Court in London, Judge Alexander Milne QC said Kaye had committed a “cynical” financial crime.He added: “Paradoxically, what is urged on your behalf is that you are an intelligent young man who knows what your powers can do.”But that makes it all the more worrying that you used your abilities to carry out this attack.”
Kaye wept as he was taken down.
Kaye, from Egham in Surrey, is a self-taught hacker who began selling his considerable skills on the dark web – offering individuals opportunities to target and destroy their business rivals.According to court papers, Kaye was hired in 2015 to attack Lonestar, Liberia’s leading mobile phone and Internet Company, by an individual working for Cellcom, its competitor.
There is no suggestion that Cellcom knew what the employee was doing – but the individual offered Kaye up to $10,000 (£7,800) a month to use his skills to do as much as possible to destroy Lonestar’s service and reputation.
Robin Sellers, prosecuting, told Blackfriars Crown Court that in November 2016 Kaye had built a “botnet” – a particularly powerful form of cyber-attack that is designed to overwhelm a target’s systems, making it impossible to carry out normal business. This type of attack is known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS). It is different to a ransom demand that locks up systems, such as the “Wannacry” attack on the NHS.
What did Kaye’s botnet do?
The weapon, known as “Mirai #14” worked by secretly hijacking a vast number of Chinese-made Dahua webcams, which are used for security in homes and businesses around the world.
He identified that the cheap cameras and other similar equipment had a security flaw – and he exploited that to take over the devices without owners knowing.That meant he could turn them into what amounted to a “zombie” cyber army to attack his target.
In November 2016, working secretly out of Cyprus and controlling the botnet via his mobile phone, Kaye ordered it to overwhelm Lonestar’s systems.On his command, hundreds of thousands of the webcams began firing data requests at Lonestar Cell MTN.The system began to struggle to manage the demands and parts of the infrastructure crashed.
He then tried to pull in additional firepower by sending further attacks from Germany, where he had sought to hijack part of Deutsche Telekom’s national infrastructure.Researchers found that at the peak of the attack, the Mirai #14 code had compromised about one million devices worldwide.
In Liberia, mobile phone users began to see their devices go offline.The company called in cyber security consultants who attempted to repel the attack, but by that point it was too late because the botnet ran out of control.The National Crime Agency spearheaded the investigation
What charges did Daniel Kaye admit?
Making the Mirai #14 botnet for use in a Computer Misuse Act 1990 offence Launching cyber attacks against Lonestar in Liberia – another crime under the Computer Misuse Act Possessing criminal property – relating to $10,000 found on him when he was arrested At the time, Liberia’s internet was dependent on both a small number of providers and a relatively limited Atlantic cable. European nations, by comparison, have a vastly more secure internet because traffic can reach users through many different connection routes.
Kaye had sent so much traffic at Lonestar, the entire national system jammed.According to investigators, the country’s internet repeatedly failed between 3 November and 4 November 2016 – disrupting not just Lonestar but organisations and ordinary users up and down the state.
This is believed to be the first time that a single cyber attacker had disrupted an entire nation’s internet – albeit without intending to do so.Hack attacks cut internet access in Liberia In written submissions to the court, Babatunde Osho, Lonestar’s former chief executive, said Kaye’s criminality had been devastating.
“The DDOS perpetrated by Daniel Kaye seriously compromised Lonestar’s ability to provide a reliable internet connection to its customers,” said Mr Osho.”In turn, Mr Kaye’s actions prevented Lonestar’s customers from communicating with each other, obtaining access to essential services and carrying out their day-to-day business activities.
“A substantial number of Lonestar’s customers switched to competitors.”In the years preceding the DDOS attacks, Lonestar’s annual revenue exceeded $80m (£62.4m). Since the attacks, revenue has decreased by tens of millions and its current liabilities have increased by tens of millions.”
How did investigators catch Kaye?
Kaye was already suspected of being behind the attack – and he was arrested when he returned to the UK on holiday in February 2017.
He was carrying $10,000 which the National Crime Agency says was part of the payments he received for the Lonestar attack.
Germany asked for Kaye to be extradited – and later that year he was convicted in a Cologne court of interfering with the Deutsche Telekom system. More than 124,000 Deutsche Telekom customers had seen their services crash – including Cologne’s main sewage facility.
The German authorities then extradited Kaye back to the UK to face the far more serious Liberia charges – because British law allows a cyber-criminal to be prosecuted for an offence anywhere in the world.
By this time, National Crime Agency cyber specialists had also linked Kaye’s Mirai #14 botnet to attacks against three British banks – Lloyds, Barclays and Halifax – in January 2017.
By Othello B. Garblah