Tech Roundup, May. 29, 2020 | The story of Brazil’s legendary hacker VandaTheGod

. May 29, 2020
vandathegod hacker Image: Golden Sikorka/Shutterstock

You are reading The Brazilian Report’s weekly tech roundup, a digest of the most important news on technology and innovation in Brazil. This week’s topics: the movement against fake news funders, broadband’s growth in Brazil, and the story of the Brazilian hacker who got exposed via social media after invading almost 5,000 websites across the world.

From saving the Amazon to extorsion: the story of Brazilian hacker “VandaTheGod” 

Cybersecurity firm Check Point uncovered the identity of Brazilian hacker VandaTheGod, who invaded 4,820 websites in over 40 countries, including pages from at least seven national governments. The hacker had been conducting data theft operations since 2013.

</p> <p><strong>Bonfire of Vanities</strong>. VandaTheGod was known for bragging about his hacking abilities on social media, but was not too good at covering up his traces. The longstanding exposure on social media and forums allowed Check Point’s researchers to track the hacker by finding the registers of an email account published on a forum.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>By analyzing screenshots he posted on several social media accounts, the researchers found a Facebook profile in the Uberlândia area in Minas Gerais that included the same pictures as VandaTheGod’s anonymous accounts.&nbsp;</li><li>Check Point says it has handed over all evidence to the authorities. Reached by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, the company says it will not provide further detail as it must keep it under secrecy due to legal issues.</li></ul> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="447" src="" alt="hacker vandathegod" class="wp-image-40969" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1450w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>VandaTheGod: Seven years as a hacker activist</figcaption></figure> <p><strong>Background.</strong> VandaTheGod began as a hacktivist, using a method called defacing to post messages and images on webpages owned by the Brazilian government in order to raise awareness of deforestation in Amazon, among other social causes. Eventually, “the hacker crossed the fine line between hacktivism and cybercrime by stealing banking credentials and leaking personal data, among other activities”, said Lotem Finkelstein, Check Point’s director of intelligence against cyber threats, in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>One of VandaTheGod’s most famous assaults happened when he stole personal data from 1 million patients from New Zealand’s medical centers, which he tried to sell for USD 200 on social media.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters. </strong>Brazil is often thought of as a <a href="">vulnerable country for hacking</a>, as 85 percent of Brazilians have already experienced a threat or cyber event or known people that have, according to cybersecurity company <a href="">Unisys</a>. Uncovering the criminals may be a step in weakening cybercrime chains; VandaTheGod himself claimed to be part of a group called the &#8220;Brazilian Cyber Army.&#8221; </p> <ul><li>On their Facebook and Twitter accounts, the hacker group bragged about hacking government websites and posted several political messages, like calling for the ousting of former president Michel Temer in 2017 or the 2018’s Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan “our flag will never be red.”</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Are boycotts the best tool against fake news?</h2> <p>&#8220;One week. 300,100 followers. Something is happening down in Brazil with [Sleeping Giants BR], y’all.&#8221; That tweet was posted on May 26 by Sleeping Giants, an account created four years ago in the U.S. by marketing copywriters who wanted to warn companies that posted ads on far-right website Breitbart (as well as other disinformation channels).</p> <ul><li>Its Brazilian understudy is already making a mark, less than two weeks after being created.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Most online ads are run through automated systems such as Google AdSense. They target consumers based on who they are, what they like (or do not like), and which websites they visit. That information is obtained through “cookies,” which are small files websites place on a visitor’s computer, allowing them to obtain personal data about that specific user. Last year, Google Ads was the second highest-grossing media format bought by ad agencies in Brazil, representing 25 percent of all ad money in the country.</p> <ul><li>Advertisers, however, have some agency in the process. They can block certain websites from running their ads, and that’s what Sleeping Giants hopes to do — drying up the revenue of misinformation or extremist channels. It worked in the U.S. and might prove to be effective in Brazil too.</li></ul> <p><strong>Impact.</strong> The following social media stirr brought the attention of brands such as tech company Dell and appliance-maker Brastemp (owned by Whirlpool Latin America), which was even called a “<a href="">communist company</a>” after suspending ads from Jornal da Cidade.</p> <p><strong>Public money.</strong> Sleeping Giants BR’s efforts became a legal matter after the website warned state-owned bank Banco do Brasil about advertising in Jornal da Cidade, a far-right disinformation channel. The bank initially informed the public that it would suspend advertisements on the website, but then revoked the decision, claiming the platform they had been using already vets websites. Banco do Brasil added it does not discriminate against media outlets based on their editorial content.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>However, the Federal Accounts Court decided to <a href="">forbid the bank</a> from advertising on unreliable websites, also claiming that President Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Carlos Bolsonaro, and Press Secretary Fabio Wajngarten were unduly interfering in the bank’s communication department.</li></ul> <p><strong>Where it hurts.</strong> According to Sleeping Giants BR, the movement was able to <a href="">interrupt </a>a annual revenue stream of BRL 340,000 into misinformation channels in less than two weeks, gathering the support of over 150 companies to their cause.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Bottom line.</strong> Fake news has emerged as a major threat to democracies around the world. This week, the Supreme Court launched an <a href="">operation against far-right</a> bloggers, influencers, businessmen — and even members of Congress —&nbsp;who spread fake news.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Broadband expands in Brazil, but still far from the goal</h2> <p>Anatel, the Brazilian telecommunications regulator, <a href="">released</a> the numbers of connections in Brazil in the first quarter of 2020. Broadband was the only service to post a positive performance, growing 3.7 percent in comparison to the same period in 2019, to 33 million contracts, outpasseing fixed telephony contracts for the first time. The performance was <a href="">spurred by small providers</a>, which have increased their market share to almost one-third of the market. But in spite of the advances, only 47.4 percent of Brazilian homes have fixed broadband services.</p> <p><strong>Planning for the future.</strong> As an effort to expand the basic infrastructure for <a href="">5G technology</a>, Anatel has updated its Strategic Plan 2015-2024, establishing that access to broadband (fixed or mobile) must increase from the current 75 percent to 91 percent of Brazilian homes by the end of 2023. Anatel also aims to make telecom operators increase the fiber network coverage from 4,012 cities to 4,883. Moreover, the average speed in fixed broadband should increase from 45 Mbps to 150 Mbps.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> 5G technology is considered the next frontier of technology, allowing advances such as 4.0 industry or autonomous driving. While it is pivotal for the country’s growth over the next decades, infrastructure to support it <a href="">has been one of the roadblocks</a> as Anatel has recently admitted that satellite TV antennas may interfere with the 5G signal range.</p> <p><em>— Brenno Grillo</em></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Take note</h2> <ul><li><strong>Fintechs. </strong>Brazilian fintech a55, which focuses on small- and medium-sized companies, obtained USD 5 million in a new fundraising round led by Santander InnoVentures, a USD 200 million venture fund owned by the Spanish bank. The round marks the second million dollar investment in the company, which has already received USD 3 million in resources from local and foreign investors last year, <a href="">reports</a> newspaper Valor. The investment is also the fourth operation of InnoVentures in Latin America.</li><li><strong>Pix. </strong>Brazil’s Central Bank <a href="">informed</a> that, so far, <a href="">109 financial institutions</a> have applied to be the first to use the new instant payment system Pix, which will allow bank transfers to be completed within seconds <a href="">using QR codes</a>, both on a peer-to-peer and a B2B basis. The list includes private behemoths as Bradesco bank, state-owned Caixa, and fintechs as Digio and Nubank. The application date expires on June 1 and then companies will proceed with tests until November 2020, when the system is expected to become available.</li><li><strong>WhatsApp. </strong>The Brazilian Supreme Court interrupted the trial which will decide on whether courts have the right to block message applications in the country, after Justice Alexandre de Moraes took the case under advisement. The trial happens five years after justices prevented WhatsApp from working in Brazil on three occasions, in an attempt to force the company to provide evidence for ongoing investigations. Justice Rosa Weber, the trial’s rapporteur, has voted against the blocks, saying that the Constitution ensures the privacy of mailing on physical or digital media.</li><li><strong>Heartbeats. </strong>Anvisa, Brazil’s Health Surveillance Watchdog, has <a href=",278e025eafcd09aeb14a237088bff9adot4cz7x3.html&#93;">cleared</a> the heart monitoring apps of Apple Watch in Brazil, although warned that they do not replace medical exams. The function will be available on Apple Watch Series 4 e Series 5, reports.</li><li><strong>Enem.</strong> After <a href="">several glitches</a>, the Education Ministry concluded the application process for Enem, the National University Entrance Exam this week, receiving 6.1 million applications. This year, the exam stirred controversy as students and education-related initiatives have pushed to postpone it, in order to give them more time to prepare and adapt to online classes, while Education Minister Abraham Weintraub did not see it as necessary. However, according to a <a href=";utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=newsfolha">report</a> by <em>Folha de S.Paulo</em>, only 34 percent of the students that applied to the test in 2018 had internet at home, adding news hardships to a share of the population trying to keep up with their studies this year.

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Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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