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cyberattack

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WhatsApp Sues NSO Group

WhatsApp is suing the Israeli cyberweapons arms manufacturer NSO Group in California court:

WhatsApp’s lawsuit, filed in a California court on Tuesday, has demanded a permanent injunction blocking NSO from attempting to access WhatsApp computer systems and those of its parent company, Facebook.

It has also asked the court to rule that NSO violated US federal law and California state law against computer fraud, breached their contracts with WhatsApp and “wrongfully trespassed” on Facebook’s property.

This could be interesting.

EDITED TO ADD: Citizen Lab has a research paper in the technology involved in this case. WhatsApp has an op ed on their actions. And this is a good news article on how the attack worked.

EDITED TO ADD: Facebook is deleting the accounts of NSA Group employees.

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Hackers Expose Russian FSB Cyberattack Projects

More nation-state activity in cyberspace, this time from Russia:

Per the different reports in Russian media, the files indicate that SyTech had worked since 2009 on a multitude of projects since 2009 for FSB unit 71330 and for fellow contractor Quantum. Projects include:

  • Nautilus — a project for collecting data about social media users (such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn).

  • Nautilus-S — a project for deanonymizing Tor traffic with the help of rogue Tor servers.

  • Reward — a project to covertly penetrate P2P networks, like the one used for torrents.

  • Mentor — a project to monitor and search email communications on the servers of Russian companies.

  • Hope — a project to investigate the topology of the Russian internet and how it connects to other countries’ network.

  • Tax-3 — a project for the creation of a closed intranet to store the information of highly-sensitive state figures, judges, and local administration officials, separate from the rest of the state’s IT networks.

BBC Russia, who received the full trove of documents, claims there were other older projects for researching other network protocols such as Jabber (instant messaging), ED2K (eDonkey), and OpenFT (enterprise file transfer).

Other files posted on the Digital Revolution Twitter account claimed that the FSB was also tracking students and pensioners.

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First Physical Retaliation for a Cyberattack

Israel has acknowledged that its recent airstrikes against Hamas were a real-time response to an ongoing cyberattack. From Twitter:

CLEARED FOR RELEASE: We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work.

HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed. pic.twitter.com/AhgKjiOqS7

­Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 5, 2019

I expect this sort of thing to happen more — not against major countries, but by larger countries against smaller powers. Cyberattacks are too much of a nation-state equalizer otherwise.

Another article.

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What Happened to Cyber 9/11?

A recent article in the Atlantic asks why we haven’t seen a”cyber 9/11″ in the past fifteen or so years. (I, too, remember the increasingly frantic and fearful warnings of a “cyber Peal Harbor,” “cyber Katrina” — when that was a thing — or “cyber 9/11.” I made fun of those warnings back then.) The author’s answer:

Three main barriers are likely preventing this. For one, cyberattacks can lack the kind of drama and immediate physical carnage that terrorists seek. Identifying the specific perpetrator of a cyberattack can also be difficult, meaning terrorists might have trouble reaping the propaganda benefits of clear attribution. Finally, and most simply, it’s possible that they just can’t pull it off.

Commenting on the article, Rob Graham adds:

I think there are lots of warning from so-called “experts” who aren’t qualified to make such warnings, that the press errs on the side of giving such warnings credibility instead of challenging them.

I think mostly the reason why cyberterrorism doesn’t happen is that which motivates violent people is different than what which motivates technical people, pulling apart the groups who would want to commit cyberterrorism from those who can.

These are all good reasons, but I think both authors missed the most important one: there simply aren’t a lot of terrorists out there. Let’s ask the question more generally: why hasn’t there been another 9/11 since 2001? I also remember dire predictions that large-scale terrorism was the new normal, and that we would see 9/11-scale attacks regularly. But since then, nothing. We could credit the fantastic counterterrorism work of the US and other countries, but a more reasonable explanation is that there are very few terrorists and even fewer organized ones. Our fear of terrorism is far greater than the actual risk.

This isn’t to say that cyberterrorism can never happen. Of course it will, sooner or later. But I don’t foresee it becoming a preferred terrorism method anytime soon. Graham again:

In the end, if your goal is to cause major power blackouts, your best bet is to bomb power lines and distribution centers, rather than hack them.

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How to Punish Cybercriminals

Interesting policy paper by Third Way: “To Catch a Hacker: Toward a comprehensive strategy to identify, pursue, and punish malicious cyber actors“:

In this paper, we argue that the United States currently lacks a comprehensive overarching strategic approach to identify, stop and punish cyberattackers. We show that:

  • There is a burgeoning cybercrime wave: A rising and often unseen crime wave is mushrooming in America. There are approximately 300,000 reported malicious cyber incidents per year, including up to 194,000 that could credibly be called individual or system-wide breaches or attempted breaches. This is likely a vast undercount since many victims don’t report break-ins to begin with. Attacks cost the US economy anywhere from $57 billion to $109 billion annually and these costs are increasing.

  • There is a stunning cyber enforcement gap: Our analysis of publicly available data shows that cybercriminals can operate with near impunity compared to their real-world counterparts. We estimate that cyber enforcement efforts are so scattered that less than 1% of malicious cyber incidents see an enforcement action taken against the attackers.

  • There is no comprehensive US cyber enforcement strategy aimed at the human attacker: Despite the recent release of a National Cyber Strategy, the United States still lacks a comprehensive strategic approach to how it identifies, pursues, and punishes malicious human cyberattackers and the organizations and countries often behind them. We believe that the United States is as far from this human attacker strategy as the nation was toward a strategic approach to countering terrorism in the weeks and months before 9/11.

In order to close the cyber enforcement gap, we argue for a comprehensive enforcement strategy that makes a fundamental rebalance in US cybersecurity policies: from a heavy focus on building better cyber defenses against intrusion to also waging a more robust effort at going after human attackers. We call for ten US policy actions that could form the contours of a comprehensive enforcement strategy to better identify, pursue and bring to justice malicious cyber actors that include building up law enforcement, enhancing diplomatic efforts, and developing a measurable strategic plan to do so.

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Future Cyberwar

A report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies looks at surprise and war. One of the report’s cyberwar scenarios is particularly compelling. It doesn’t just map cyber onto today’s tactics, but completely reimagines future tactics that include a cyber component (quote starts on page 110).

The U.S. secretary of defense had wondered this past week when the other shoe would drop. Finally, it had, though the U.S. military would be unable to respond effectively for a while.

The scope and detail of the attack, not to mention its sheer audacity, had earned the grudging respect of the secretary. Years of worry about a possible Chinese “Assassin’s Mace” — a silver bullet super-weapon capable of disabling key parts of the American military — turned out to be focused on the wrong thing.

The cyber attacks varied. Sailors stationed at the 7th Fleet’ s homeport in Japan awoke one day to find their financial accounts, and those of their dependents, empty. Checking, savings, retirement funds: simply gone. The Marines based on Okinawa were under virtual siege by the populace, whose simmering resentment at their presence had boiled over after a YouTube video posted under the account of a Marine stationed there had gone viral. The video featured a dozen Marines drunkenly gang-raping two teenaged Okinawan girls. The video was vivid, the girls’ cries heart-wrenching the cheers of Marines sickening And all of it fake. The National Security Agency’s initial analysis of the video had uncovered digital fingerprints showing that it was a computer-assisted lie, and could prove that the Marine’s account under which it had been posted was hacked. But the damage had been done.

There was the commanding officer of Edwards Air Force Base whose Internet browser history had been posted on the squadron’s Facebook page. His command turned on him as a pervert; his weak protestations that he had not visited most of the posted links could not counter his admission that he had, in fact, trafficked some of them. Lies mixed with the truth. Soldiers at Fort Sill were at each other’s throats thanks to a series of text messages that allegedly unearthed an adultery ring on base.

The variations elsewhere were endless. Marines suddenly owed hundreds of thousands of dollars on credit lines they had never opened; sailors received death threats on their Twitter feeds; spouses and female service members had private pictures of themselves plastered across the Internet; older service members received notifications about cancerous conditions discovered in their latest physical.

Leadership was not exempt. Under the hashtag # PACOMMUSTGO a dozen women allegedly described harassment by the commander of Pacific command. Editorial writers demanded that, under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, he step aside while Congress held hearings.

There was not an American service member or dependent whose life had not been digitally turned upside down. In response, the secretary had declared “an operational pause,” directing units to stand down until things were sorted out.

Then, China had made its move, flooding the South China Sea with its conventional forces, enforcing a sea and air identification zone there, and blockading Taiwan. But the secretary could only respond weakly with a few air patrols and diversions of ships already at sea. Word was coming in through back channels that the Taiwanese government, suddenly stripped of its most ardent defender, was already considering capitulation.

I found this excerpt here. The author is Mark Cancian.

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