back to article UK surgeon suspects his PC was hacked to target Syrian hospital

A British surgeon whose instructions over the internet helped to guide operations in war-torn Aleppo fears his PC was hacked in order to target a makeshift hospital that was subsequently bombed. Consultant David Nott gave remote instructions via Skype and WhatsApp that helped doctors in Syria carry out operations. Footage of …

  1. Geronimo!

    Rather far fetched...

    ... since an operating theatre isn't something you move from room to room in a hospital.

    And even though the country is in ruins at the moment: I am quite sure, that there will be plans of the hospital as such. Some architect will have drawn something, there will be some office / governmental institution of sorts that have this data on paper / file somewhere.

    No need to go through the hassle of hacking someone in UK to get a hold of the IP address of the other side etc. etc. etc.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Rather far fetched...

      Some architect will have drawn something, there will be some office / governmental institution of sorts that have this data on paper / file somewhere.

      The article states the hospital has been bombed 17 times, so unless it was FIRST bombed during Dr Notts communications with them, then I'd say your proposal is far more likely to be right than a hacked device compromising the location.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Rather far fetched...

      I suspect the good doctor is feeling loss and guilt over this. If the locals know where the hospital is/was, than it's pretty straight forward for someone to go there and get the coordinates.

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: Rather far fetched...

        This did seem more like survivor guilt than hard evidence. Maybe if Russian bunker busters had hit Surrey rather than Syria.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. x 7

      Re: Rather far fetched...

      these are makeshift ad-hoc hospitals lashed up in any kind of building they can find which still has a roof left on it. Don't let your concepts of a western hospital bias your thinking

      These people are trying to work in the wrecks of bombed out buildings, with little remaining infrastructure. They will have moved away from the established hospital grounds precisely because of the targeting and will be working from "shadow" hospitals.

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    "Frankly it's amazing that any form of comms works in these areas under these conditions but it's difficult not to conclude that the Syrian government can access the metadata needed to pinpoint mobile numbers and IP addresses."

    The rebels still use Syrian Telecom and their mobile services and their infra continues to function even across front lines (it will be interesting to understand how the hell do they bill the rebels).

    Syrian telecom have more than enough metadata to pinpoint the location down to several meters accuracy. His computer would have been of interest purely from a correlation perspective - "Site A talks via Skype to Site B" to be compared with the flows on the Syrian Telecom CG-NAT. However, even for that they do not need to hack his PC. There is plenty of easier targets (like other handsets) to hack and track.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > (it will be interesting to understand how the hell do they bill the rebels).

      I have no experience of Syria specifically but you may be surprised by how much conflict life resembles non-conflict life. For the vast majority of people it is 95% going about your daily business same as anywhere else.

      Of course, it is the other 5% that makes a good front page picture, so that's what you get to see if you're not in the conflict area.

  3. Gordon Pryra

    Why bother?

    I am pretty sure that the Syrian Government know where the hospitals are in Syria without hacking someones Skype session in England

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why bother?

      Indeed, why bother? The purpose of this story is push the claim the the evil Syrians or Russians are actually targeting hospitals. This claim, without any evidence, will be bundled together with other evidence-free claims as absolute proof of the maliciousness of those we don’t like.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Why bother?

        push the claim the the evil Syrians or Russians are actually targeting hospitals

        And the empirical evidence on the ground says that they do. The conventional hospitals were all aggressively bombed (despite the Assad regime knowing exactly what they were) and then the temporary hospitals were also bombed.

        Neither of thos actions were by mistake.

  4. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Why go through all that bother when you can just bomb places where there are concentrations of mobile devices?

  5. Martin Milan

    Hmm...

    First of all, we're talking about an improvised, battlefield hospital. You're not going to find it in Hospitals Weekly, and I doubt the building's architect had the slightest clue what it would eventually end up being used for...

    Dr. Nott has appeared as a guest on Radio 4's PM programme several times, offering testimony of what is going on out there... We're talking about a very brave guy who has put his balls on the line for people he doesn't know for several years. If there is such a thing as a genuine war hero, then this guy is about as close as you could get...

    The real story here is not how the coordinates were obtained (and I agree this might not be how Dr. Nott thinks), but what kind of power would bomb its own injured civilians like this. We also need to look at who actually pulled the trigger - was it a Syrian jet, or a Russian one? Whichever was involved, it was a war crime and those involved should answer for their actions.

    1. Velv Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Hmm...

      "improvised, battlefield hospital"

      This is not a pop-up thing that moves from building to building on a daily basis. There's a lot of equipment which takes time and resources to move, and "spies" tend to notice that sort of thing. And even if it was moving regularly, you do kind of need to tell people where it is if you expect them to use it

      "what kind of power would bomb its own injured civilians"

      Christians and Muslims

      1. Gordon Pryra

        Re: Hmm...

        "what kind of power would bomb its own injured civilians"

        Christians and Muslims

        Awesome line

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Hmm...

          Awesome line

          No - kneejerk line that focuses on labels rather than underlying human nature..

      2. Martin Milan

        Re: Hmm...

        It's also not a place that stays static... They have been bombed before... David Nott, before this incident, has had his surgeons killed before...

        As for the "What kind of power?" question, you're right of course. People are prepared to do this. Even supposedly religious people. We now need to see they are punished.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Hmm...

          People are prepared to do this. Even supposedly religious people

          I'm not sure that (in the current discussion) Assad and Putin can really be classified as 'religious'. Unless the religion is self-interest and the willingness to cling onto power by killing everyone who opposes them..

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Hmm...

        Christians and Muslims

        And communists, facists, Buddists, Hindus, capitalists, anarchists etc etc..

        In short - human beings who are more interested in their own power rather than peoples lives. Who are present in pretty much every grouping of humans.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Hmm...

        Both regimes have ALLWAYS been evil bastards, this however has never stopped us accepting their money, nor taking their help to win political power (and some extra cash)

        Err.. Let me fix it for you: ALL regimes have ALLWAYS been evil bastards, this however has never stopped us accepting their money, nor taking their help to win political power (and some extra cash)

        If you think that the other participants like the Al Qaeda offshoots on Qatari and Sauid payroll, Turks and their arab puppets, our own puppets from the Iraqi side, Hezbollah, Iran, etc are any better you are very wrong.

        The only sympathy we should have in the whole conflict should be with the YPG - the Kurds. They are the ONLY ones that have a value system which is even remotely comparable to ours. Yeah, I know, bad for inter-NATO member relations. Even worse to naso-rectal orientation to our primary gas and oil suppliers and primary Eurofighter shoppers.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hmm...

          Is this the city that we dropped white phosphorus on. But claimed that since we dropped it indiscriminately from 30,000ft we weren't "targeting" civillians so it wasn't a war crime?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EXIF data?

    My money is on the exif data from a picture of him stood outside the hospital

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: EXIF data?

      Not him, he wasn't there, but maybe someone else who was slipped that way. There are too few known details to guess though but he shouldn't blame himself.

      Here is an idea, maybe some Reg reader closer to Surrey could offer him some computing security advice? If only to assuage him of responsibility.

      1. woodcruft

        Re: EXIF data?

        I think the good doctor might know his arse from his elbow when it comes to anatomy but when it comes to computer security? Probably not so much.

        He would also be better employed trying to stop people blowing up other people with high explosive, rather than stitching up the bits afterward.

        But then medics have never been particularly keen on preventative medicine. No glory (or money) in it.

        I was also glad to read the other day in the MSM that our brave boys along with our American master^H^Hallies armed with our super-smart missiles have flown over 4000 sorties and not killed or maimed one civilian.

        Shove that in your pipe and smoke it ,Mr Assad and Mr Putin!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: EXIF data?

          "4000 sorties and not killed or maimed one civilian."

          Of course that is a bit easier to achieve when you define anybody over the age of 14 as a combatant unless proved otherwise; and even then, are you going to inform on your own side?

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: EXIF data?

      Quick search shows on Google - all images on first result page are photoshopped, no location exif info.

      So while feasible, not likely. Nobody publishes the images without doctoring them quite a bit. At least this is what the EXIF data says.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The details are a bit light"

    But who cares when you can scaremonger about THE RUSSIANS, eh?

    "Frankly it's amazing that any form of comms works in these areas under these conditions"

    Amazing, isn't it? The "rebels" seem to have first rate internet at all times. Either Evil Assad is really generous about not shutting down infrastructure in disputed areas or someone has a nice satcom connection. Ever wonder who coughs up the cash for that?

    "The M10 hospital has been bombed at least 17 times."

    Syria, a land covered in hospitals that just walk it off. Russia, maker of bombs that just don't work.

    I wonder, is there anyone investigating Dr. Nott for supporting what are likely terrorist factions? Just because our govs do it doesn't mean we can, or can we?

    Also, maybe Dr. Nott can lend a hand to Damascus these days. Just yesterday, over 40 people were murdered by "rebel" shelling. People are still picking up their kids in handy pieces. You might have missed it, our media seems rather preoccupied with pushing more relevant "stories" like this.

    1. woodcruft

      Re: "The details are a bit light"

      AC says:

      "I wonder, is there anyone investigating Dr. Nott for supporting what are likely terrorist factions? Just because our govs do it doesn't mean we can, or can we?"

      Don't be silly. It's fairly likely that the doc is a British intelligence 'asset'. Pretty good cover doing surgery and right where the action is, which is where you want eyes on the ground afterall.

      I'm talking as someone whos uncle worked for military intelligence during the war whilst a medical student. Involved rounding up GIs who had gone awol from their regiments which were then parked up waiting for D-Day.

      What would you do as a GI? Hang around in camp and wait to eventually get shot at on a Normandy beach or do a bunk to Soho and live it large with 'hookers and coke'?

      Part of my uncle's job was to make the former rather than the latter seem like the more attractive option. I think you get the picture...things wouldn't have ended too well for the guys who went awol.

      Someone mentioned the Hippocratic oath. My uncle qualified around the end of the war and was soon sent to Malaya but not as a medic but 'acting' Major in a 'regular' regiment. Job description can best be described as: 'enhanced' interrogation of captured Chinese guerillas.

      His medical knowledge would have come in handy then but not for healing purposes; rather the opposite, in fact. My uncle's Hippocratic oath got put on the back-burner at that time...right next to the Geneva Conventions.

      Nobody has won a war by namby pambying about. You go all in. Always.

      Which is why I don't have a lot of time for this "Our guys are the good guys" load of old pony which is regularly trotted out - especially by politicians, who tend to like to shout their encouragement from a comfy office located safely behind the frontline.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "intel asset" (and I don't mean '386)

        any SE search for the terms "dr david nott & hamish de bretton-gordon" get many hits, they seem to have been pardners for quite a while. Hamish is an ex-mil UK intel (from many open sources) as well as THE go-to media stirrer for NBC/CBRN should that flag ever fly close to home, or in Syria.

        hope that the pair do actually, on balance, save some lives . that would be nice, but there is a war happening, and I don't mean just in the ME.

      2. x 7

        Re: "The details are a bit light"

        " It's fairly likely that the doc is a British intelligence 'asset'. "

        Accusations like this are better left unsaid, especially when Russia is involved

        1. woodcruft

          Re: "The details are a bit light"

          "Accusations like this are better left unsaid, especially when Russia is involved"

          I suppose you think that now some dingbat (ie. me) has speculated on the 'net that the Dr maybe a British intelligence asset, it's just a matter of time before Putin's men hunt Dr. Nott down and exterminate him, Salisbury-style.

          I'll double down. I also think our Royal family are actually alien lizards.

          I give you: Camilla...and yet you require more proof?!!

          You obviously haven't been following the news lately. A very reliable publication that I read, the 'Daily Hate', has been indicating heavily for the past week that what I say is as things currently stand.

          It's just a matter of time before the Royals are dealt with by MI5 and you will see some heads with familiar faces planted on the railings outside Buck House.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "The details are a bit light"

            Putin HIMSELF will manifest from a strange mist and then proceed to rain down vengeance on the guy,

  8. Ogi
    Meh

    "I wonder, is there anyone investigating Dr. Nott for supporting what are likely terrorist factions? Just because our govs do it doesn't mean we can, or can we?"

    Of course you can.

    The phrase "One mans terrorist is anothers freedom fighter" comes to mind. It can be read as each individual, but it also applies to an entire state.

    For example, If Turkey sees the Kurds as terrorists and is bombing them to pieces, then it is fine for citizens of Turkey to support that effort, in any way possible. Those who support the Kurds in Turkey will be labelled terrorists or terrorist sympathisers, and in some cases have already been sent to prison.

    However if another country does not see the Kurds as terrorists, then that countries citizens are free to support the Kurds, without fear or arrest or prison.

    (However don't go traveling to any countries that do see them as terrorists, as you could be arrested as a terrorist sympathiser under anti terror laws).

    Of course, as you can see with the situation with Turkey and NATO, when two opposing opinions on whether a group are terrorists clash between allies, odd things result (like NATO shipping weapons to Kurds, to fight a NATO member, who themselves buy NATO weapons). In that scenario the only people happy are the defense industries.

    The UK does not see the "rebels" in Syria as terrorists, so it is perfectly fine and legal for the Dr to support them as much as he likes. Sure, if he went to Syria, he may be in trouble with the law as a terrorist sympathiser, but within the UK it is perfectly fine.

    It isn't like Syria is going to declare war on the UK for supporting terrorism or harboring terrorists, and any attempts by Syria to extradite people like the Dr. on anti-terrorism laws would most likely be laughed at.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The phrase "One mans terrorist is anothers freedom fighter" comes to mind.

      The thing is that "terrorism" is a tactic, whilst "freedom" is a political aim. Thus of course freedom fighters could bomb civilians in a terrorist campaign, and either side might then focus on the positive (yay, freedom!) or the negative (boo, terrorism!) as suits their agenda.

      This does not mean that /all/ freedom fighters are terrorists - one might fight for freedom without resorting to terror (e.g. Ghandi, perhaps); or that all that all terrorists are freedom fighters - one can terrorize without wanting anyone to be free (ISIS, perhaps).

      "One mans terrorist is another's freedom fighter" is a nice slogan, but I'm not really sure how helpful it is - it just seems to aim to tar either freedom fighters, or excuse terrorism... or, worse, stand in as a useless placeholder for any kind of meaningful debate about the different aims or methods of the protagonists.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The phrase "One mans terrorist is anothers freedom fighter" comes to mind.

        Re: AC

        I'll go with useless placeholder. We are talking about drug crazed religious nutjobs who like to cut off peoples heads in the street, backed by enormous amounts of foreign money. A lot of which from the pockets of EU taxpayers.

        It is immensely upsetting that after seven(!) years people are still not able to see through the fog and will try and argue from a relativist position.

  9. Jay Lenovo Silver badge

    Hippocratic Scorecard

    Doctors desire to save lives, all kinds of lives. Getting more people killed in the attempt to practice it, is a losing proposition, as goes Dr. Nott's story

    Doctors will be doctors, so we must "deal with" the collateral lives saved as much as the warring parties excuse the collateral lives lost.

    Bullets or Band-Aids, everyone chooses their weapon of righteousness.

  10. Walter Bishop Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Hospitals targeted in war-torn Aleppo

    "Dr Nott reckons his computer was then targeted by hackers seeking to pinpoint the M10 hospital, the Daily Telegraph reports. Less than a month later, the hospital was destroyed by a bunker buster-type bomb allegedly dropped by Russian warplanes."

    Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin are totally evil and only ever target injured civilians in hospitals. And the only thing to protect us from such is the good ole US of A and moms apple pie. Here's some more serious reporting: link

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hospitals targeted in war-torn Aleppo

      They have no choice but to target hospitals as hospitals make up 86,7 % of the buildings within the contested areas, the rest being mostly schools and animal shelters. Syria used to have an incredible healthcare system. It has nothing at all to do with hospitals and schools making great strongholds and barracks. Also, no journalists ever visited such sites, say in liberated Aleppo, showing how certain medical freelancers were housed right next to certain moderate headchoppers. It is sad, really.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hospitals targeted in war-torn Aleppo

      >Here's some more serious reporting

      With a URL pointing to Ubend. Somewhere that will only ever allow videos that contain the Truth, the whole Truth and anything but the Truth.

      Pull the other one.

  11. IHateWearingATie
    Mushroom

    Did think this was unlikely when I read the story in the Telegraph (yes yes, I read the Torygraph - I go there for the Matt and Alex cartoons, honestly). From the article there would seem to be no evidence of a hack, just his suspicions that you can get 'co-ordinates' from a skype chat.

    Probably a mix of triangulated cell phone, satellite imagery and maybe a snitch on the ground to help them properly target the operating theatre :(

  12. rmason Silver badge

    Poor fella.

    Poor chap.

    I hope someone he believes can have a talk about literally every and any other way of this happening is more likely than him/skype being involved.

  13. x 7

    Those of you who say the Doctor is exaggerating, should read this from 2012

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/satphones-syria-and-surveillance

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21506-assad-masses-syrian-cyber-army-in-online-crackdown/

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