Geopolitical and Cybersecurity Weekly Brief – 5 October 2021

In the Americas, the central bank in Venezuela carried out a currency recalibration in a bid to simplify transactions and counter hyperinflation. However, the move is unlikely to affect the growing usage of the US Dollar and address the extremely high inflation rate. Diplomatic ties between Canada, the US and China will remain tense despite the reciprocal release of prisoners. Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou left Canada after nearly three years of house arrest and China released Canadian nationals Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who had been arrested on espionage charges.

A luxury department store chain, Neiman Marcus, has reported a cyber incident in which attackers are said to have stolen the PII of around 4.6 million customers. Investigations indicate that the incident took place in May 2020.

In Asia, power rationing and forced reductions in factories in China are expanding amid electricity supply issues and a drive to enforce environmental regulations. Local governments have ordered the power curbs to avoid missing targets for reducing energy and emissions intensity. On 24 September, China’s foreign ministry issued a ‘fact sheet’ that it characterised as a ‘criminal record’ for the US’ attempts to meddle with Hong Kong affairs and support anti-China troublemakers. The document catalogued more than 100 ‘violations of basic norms governing international relations’.

In Europe, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó announced on 27 September that Hungary’s state-owned power company MVM Group had signed a 15-year gas purchase contract with Russian energy firm Gazprom. The gas from Russia will arrive in Hungary via routes bypassing Ukraine, whose authorities expressed surprise and disappointment at the deal. In Germany, car manufacturer Opel announced on 30 September that it will temporarily shut down a plant in the eastern city of Eisenach until at least the start of 2022. The official reason given behind the decision was the global shortage in semiconductors due to supply-chain disruption, which was exacerbated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Following last week’s announcement that the Lithuanian government had advised its citizens to ‘throw away’ phones made by the Chinese company Xiaomi due to the presence of built-in censorship functionality, the German Federal Office for Information Security has announced that it is to launch an investigation into the security of mobile phones produced by several Chinese manufacturers.

In the Middle East and Central Asia, the Iranian government ended a four-month ban on cryptocurrency mining on 1 October. This has paved the way for an acceleration of cryptocurrency mining activity and a related surge in energy consumption. Canada-based Centerra Gold Inc. filed an application for urgent interim measures in its arbitration hearing against the government of Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyzaltyn JSC (JSC), the state-owned mining company and Centerra’s largest shareholder. The measure was taken to address critical operational and safety issues at the Kumtor Mine.

Two Chinese state-sponsored threat groups, Calypso and RedFoxtrot, have stolen data from the mail servers of a major Afghan telecom provider, Roshan. There have been four distinct infiltrations within the last year, with data exfiltration spiking during the Taliban’s recapture of the country.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, French President Emmanuel Macron strongly denounced a recent statement made by Mali’s Interim Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga on 30 September. Macron described Maïga’s accusation that France was abandoning Mali as ‘a disgrace and was dishonouring what is not even a government’ which has ‘resulted from two coup d’etats’. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry declared seven high-ranking UN officials personae non-gratae, giving them 72 hours to leave the country. The individuals include one official each from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and five from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). MOFA accused them of meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

A new APT group, dubbed ChamelGang, has targeted multiple private and public sector organisations worldwide, leveraging vulnerabilities in internet-facing systems. Alongside two Russian companies, a fuel and energy firm and an aviation production company, ChamelGroup also targeted 13 others. These were located across nine other countries. It is likely to be state-sponsored.

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