Monday, December 10, 2012

Who hacked the ICT chairman's computer?

When the UK Guardian and other newspapers first published the wikileaks material on the US embassy cables, attention was not just focused on their extraordinary content, but also on how wikileaks got the cables in the first place.

And as we all now know Bradley Manning is now detained by US authorities.

The International Crimes Tribunal recordings/e-mails are obviously not of the same import as the Wikileaks cables (though not without some significance of course in Bangladesh, and to the war crimes trials in particular). In addition, the Economist has not even yet published substantively on their content (though a Bangladesh newspaper has published transcripts of some material).

However, it is necessary to ask some questions about how confidential personal communications between a judge and a legal academic could have been recorded/hacked and how this information got in the hands of the Economist.

Of course, ones view about the person(s) responsible for the recording (as with one opinions about Bradley Manning) depends where your sympathies lie; if you are a keen supporter of the tribunals, the 'hacker' may be viewed simply as a criminal who has intercepted private communications of a sitting judge in gross contempt of court. But, for critics of the tribunal, this person may well be seen as a hero who has exposed something in the greater public interest

Here are ten initial points.

1. Security experts tend to claim that whilst e-mail communications are relatively easy to hack, Skype conversations are not. Moreover Skype conversations are not archived on either of the computers involved in the conversation, so that they any recording had to be made at the time when they were made.

2.  So in relation to the Skype calls, it appears there are the following options: (a) one/both of the computers used by the chairman and Ziauddin contained software that allowed Skype conversations to be recorded when they took place; (b) the rooms where the skype conversations occurred were bugged; (c) someone else in the room where the conversations took place was recording them.

3.  It is possible that the person responsible for the recording could well be someone trusted by the ICT chairman or Ziauddin; however it is equally possible that something more audacious has been undertaken involving more sophisticated bugging or hacking.

4. The Economist says that it did not procure or pay for this material; that the information was given to them. This must be taken at face value.

5. The person who hacked may well be different from the person who gave the information to the Economist. So the 'hacker' could have given/sold the material to a third party, who then gave it to the Economist.

6. The Economist was surely not the source for the Bangladesh newspaper Amar Desh receiving the material. There is no way that the Economist would have shared its scoop with any other media outlet, yet alone a Bangladesh one. So either the 'hacker' or a third party is the source of the information to Amar Desh.

7. What role have the defense lawyers in all this? Clearly, the 'hacking' and the material obtained very much serves their interests. Though that does not mean that they necessarily were involved in all this - at the same time it is difficult to believe that this all came as a total surprise to them. At the very least, it is reasonable to assume the material flowed through them in some way before it got into the hands of the Economist. And perhaps they were more deeply involved. They have made no comment on this aspect so far.

8. I have asked the defense lawyers a series of questions on their role if any in the 'hacking' and in providing information to the Economist, and have been told that they will respond to the queries at a later stage after the publication of the Economist article. The questions that I have asked are as follows:
- Can you comment on whether any member of the ICT defense team in Bangladesh was responsible for recording/hacking the e-mails/skype calls relating to conversations/ messages of the ICT chairman currently in the hands of the Economist? 
- If not, can you comment on whether any other member of the ICT defense team in Bangladesh knows how the material was hacked/recorded? 
- Can you comment on whether, prior to 4 December, any member of the ICT defense team in Bangladesh saw any of the material that is in the hands of the economist and if so how did that came about? 
- Can you comment on whether any member of the local or international defense team had any role in bringing the material to the attention the Economist, and if so in what way?
9. Whilst the defense may have much to gain by the publication of this material, there are at the same time significant risks. The focus could move from the content of what was recorded, onto what involvement, if any, they had in the obtaining of the confidential material.

10. The person who hacked/recorded the conversations/e-mails will likely to have committed a criminal offense under Bangladesh law as will anyone who procured the offense. Without pre-judging the situation, there are legitimate questions to be asked of the defense legal team about their involvement in all this. As lawyers, they also have a higher set of professional standards to follow which include particular responsibilities towards the tribunal.

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