20 februarie 2020

Secret assets of companies with expertise in communications security

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These days, media has talked about a Swiss company specialized in communication’s security, Crypto AG, which collaborated with many countries for the encryption of secrete messages, which belonged to the Central Intelligence Agency from US and the German Intelligence Service. Getting access to 280 pages of secret documents, Washington Post and the German TV company ZDF say that after the Cold War, in 1995, CIA bought the quota of BND intelligence service from Crypto AG for about 17 million dollars, and US continues to control the company until 2018. It is not, however, the first time that Crypto AG got media’s attention: Baltimore Sun wrote about the Swiss company and CIA since 1995, but not connection was made. Debates around the topic have mainly focused on who Crypto AG was. But what if we ask ourselves ... who is Crypto AG? Or what’s left after the 2018 moment...

Sursă foto: Mediafax

Crypto.ch posted, on March 12th, the following announcement: “ Following the news reporting during the last days, we want to state: It is important to understand that although bearing a similar name, Crypto International Group has nothing to do with Crypto AG. Crypto International Group has a different owner, different management and a different strategy. There are no current relations between the two companies, and Crypto International Group certainly never had any relations with the CIA or the BND. The story published by SRF, ZDF, Washington Post is annoying. Currently, we are evaluating the situation and we will discuss about it when we will understand what this is about. Crypto International Group is a Swiss company which in 2018 bought the brand and other assets from Crypto AG. Crypto International Group is held by the Swedish citizen Andreas Linde”.

Who are these two companies? Are they really completely different?

In 2018, Crypto AG, based in Steinhausen, Zug, Switzerland, has announced that its will divide its international and national businesses in two new companies.  The international businesses were taken over by the Swiss entrepreneur Andreas Linde, then to be developed through Crypto International Group. The Swiss business was transferred to Crypto Schweiz AG as part of a management acquisition.

They said, at that time, that it is all about a way by which both companies will be consolidated and able to invest in technology and sells channels and, despite division, both will cooperate closely in the future, particularly in terms of products’ sells.

Crypto International AG, a Crypto International Group AB Sweden branch, has taken all the international relations with clients and will develop its offer and find complete cyber security solutions, besides the already existent portfolio in high-security encryption. “International businesses will consolidate even more their cryptographic offers and will develop a complete cyber security portfolio, adapted to the more and more complex needs of our international clients’ cyber security. In order to succeed in a new challenging strategic direction, the company will have to recruit experts from different areas” (Andreas Linde).

As for the new company, it wants to extend its products gamma so that to include larger cyber security solutions for the Swiss governmental market, closely cooperating with company’s affiliate, InfoGuard. “We have many ideas about how our long-term expertise will be applied to benefit the clients that have high-security demands in Internet-of Things applications” (Giuliano Otth).

Therefore, on January 24th, it was made an announcement according to which Crypto AG, an encryption equipment producer, has sold its Swiss activity through buyout to a management team led by Robert Schlup, Giuliano Otth and Thomas Meier.

Another announcement was related to InfoGuard, founded back in 1988, specialized in services and solutions in cyber security, part of Crypto group, which, starting with February 1st 2018, was going to implement a buyout management, to simplify the feature structures, and the team was led by Robert Schlup, Thomas Meier (InfoGUard AG CEO) and Giuliano Otth.

According to Thomas Meier, “with the new feature, InfoGuard can continue to develop its successful position as cyber security expert and can provide a long lasting growth. This allows the adaption to the changing market in a more directed and effective way and also clients’ support in a proper manner”.

But, who is Info Guard? The British website Glassdoor, one of the biggest recruiting and jobs websites in the world, makes the following description: Crypto, founded in 1952, offers different products and security services for the intelligence and communication systems. Its branch company, InfoGuard, offers intelligence security and banks training to assurance companies. The link Glassdoor offers is Crypto International Group.

In a 2005 article in the Swiss media (Thomas Meier: Fan of high security and high mountains), we are told that InfoGuard belongs to Crypto, one of the most important companies in intelligence security field and, particularly, in encrypting data, which sells IT security technologies to governmental agencies all over the world, for more than 50 years. Its affiliate company InfoGuard addresses trade companies, including, according to Thomas Meier, Swiss banks which are by far Europe’s leaders when it comes to security.

It was also revealed, in 2018, that the 150 employees, approximately 140 of them in Switzerland, will continue to work at the two new companies, and only a maximum of 14 employees to be laid off, but they will have support in finding a another job, Newplace GmbH in Lucerne being one of them.

Giuliano Otth, CEO of Crypto AG, became CEO of Crypto Schweiz AG, and Robert Schlup, chairman of the directors’ board of Crypto AG, took over the same position at Crypto Schweiz AG.

When making the transactions, Robert Schlup stated that he found himself in Andreas Linde "a true entrepreneur and a strong strategic partner, with a rich experience in information security". In fact, it seems that Andreas Linde and Giuliano Otth have known each other for a long time.

Andreas Linde became chairman of the directors’ board of Crypto International Group, and Anders Platoff, an experienced executive and former fighter pilot and officer in the Swedish Air Force, CEO of Crypto International Group.

Therefore, from January 2018, they were planning to start the activity on the market - instead of Crypto AG - Crypto Schweiz AG, Crypto International Group and ... InfoGuard.

Still, things are not that clear.

In the Swiss Trade Register, the company Crypto Schweiz AG appears only until June 2018, in its turn, from October 4, 2018, appearing CyOne Security AG, with the new name and new headquarters. Last registered: January 21, 2020, CyOne Security AG, a joint stock company.

Also, from the Trade Register, we also find that a The Crypto Group AG (from 2011 to 31.10.2019), transformed into TCG Legacy AG (declared on 11.12.2019) is in liquidation procedure (the last mentioned to that end, 3.01.2020). It might not be a connection, it's just a coincidence of names. And yet there is a connection: Robert Schlup, chairman of the directors’ board of Crypto AG/Crypto Schweiz AG, is mentioned as a liquidator.

And one more information: Crypto International Group, the new company that emerged after the disappearance of Crypto AG, is listed as such in the Register from February 2018, in January, appearing the company LFAM AG.

Not only does Crypto International Group deny any connection with Crypto AG, but the new owner and entrepreneur (crypto.ch) Andreas Linde thinks the same. The businessman claims that he only considered the allegations made, during time, against Crypto, a company he considered viable, a proof being brand’s acquisition, which, following the information that now comes to light, was, probably one of the stupidest decisions ever made in a career.

A long career in cyber security field

As Crypto International Group website tells us, Andreas Linde was manager of Advenica AB and co-founder of 4C Strategies, in 2000.

Advenica, founded by Andreas Linde's father, in the early 1990s, currently headquartered in Malmö and sales offices in Stockholm, Helsinki and Vienna, offers unique, advanced cyber-security solutions and expertise.

The company's products and services are used, first and foremost, by the defence industry, authorities and operators in critical infrastructure to protect critical information, Advenica being one of only four companies in the world with EU-approved VPN (Virtual Private Network) technology at the highest level of security. VPNs establish a direct virtual connection between the device and the internet, transmitting the data through an encrypted tunnel. Advenica's patented Three Domain Separation technology eliminates the threat of unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information by a VPN administrator or a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP).

Advenica offers its services in the military, government agencies, law enforcement, corporations and financial institutions. "The company is developing a well-established strategic cooperation with the authority in the development of high-tech cyber-security solutions for the protection of Swedish intelligence. We are a reliable provider in protecting our national security”- are Andreas Linde’s statements, when he was CEO of Advenica AB.

The other firm that has helped to consolidate Andreas Linde's career, 4C Strategies AB, offers solutions for risk management, audit, information technology recovery, critical infrastructure protection and incident and crisis management.

4C Strategies is the provider of Exonaut, a risk management software, an online risk management system, internal control, business processes control, corrective actions.

Exonaut software is used by the armed forces of several nations (including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand...Five Eyes!) to design, program and evaluate training, performance measurement and analysis data delivery that will facilitate order-level decision making. Exonaut is used also by NATO.

Having such experience, Andreas Linde's astonishment at the Washington Post disclosures does not seem to be quite justified.

As do the statements of Crypto International Group.

The fact that these statements are not exactly in line with the reality, can be observed by the formulation, in April 2018, of a recruitment announcement on the Swedish website, vakanser:

"The activity of Crypto International Group started in February 2018, and we are now recruiting a "head of development" who will build and manage the Development department of the new group.

Crypto International Group dates since the 1920s, Sweden, when textile engineer Arvid Damm founded a Swedish cryptology company. The business was taken over a few years later by the well-known Swedish, Boris Hagelin, who successfully transformed the small business into a global leader in the encryption industry. Now is the time for the next era in the history of Crypto AG, where we align our Swiss identity with the Swedish roots and make big leaps in the world of cyber security. The fusion of our unique expertise in cyber security is something that will be extremely valuable to our clients who understand the true value of protecting the nation and citizens from attacks."

People say that the 2018 transactions – whose value was not disclosed, estimates ranging from $ 50 million to $ 70 million - were designed to provide coverage for CIA's withdrawal from Crypto AG, so that the company's special employees to move to a new company isolated from the risks of espionage and with a secure income source. And the Swiss government is currently the only customer of CyOne Security AG.

It is also said that Crypto AG sell-off was managed by the same law firm in Liechtenstein that provided coverage for the sale of Hagelin to the CIA and BND, 48 years ago.

What we do know is that the Swiss government has confirmed opening an investigation into the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its German counterpart, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), with the Steinhausen firm.

Steinhausen, a city in the Swiss canton of Zug, considered the Silicon Valley's European block chain and crypto currencies.

Translated by Andreea Soare