Operations security (OPSEC) is a term originating in U.S. military jargon, as a process that identifies critical information to determine if friendly actions can be observed by adversary intelligence systems, determines if information obtained by adversaries could be interpreted to be useful to them, and then executes selected measures that eliminate or reduce adversary exploitation of friendly critical information
I would take this definition further to include the tactics and methods of protecting your information from being compromised by the adversary. Compromise not only by technical means but also social and other means as well. (i.e. giving that information to the wrong people by being too trusting or careless with it) Given the focus I have seen online and in the media about “secure communications” by technologies that may or may not be worth trusting. I just can’t help but feel that the majority of people out there today concerned about their privacy or their security in communications will utterly fail in the end because they lack OPSEC awareness to start. Here are some key concepts for you all to consider as you download your new fresh install of TAILS with a vulnerable i2p instance and begin to wonder about the security of the product.. I will give you a hint… Unless you consider all these things you will fail at your security machinations.
Technology and OPSEC:
So you have a Laptop you bought new from your vendor and you have downloaded TAILS so you are good to go right?
Consider these things before you begin your super sekret affair online…
- Can you trust that that laptop doesn’t have some extra chips or other hardware installed? Have you taken it apart to see?
- Are you even capable of looking at the mainboard and determining what if anything does or does not belong there?
- Do you in fact own the pipe, the DNS, the router, or anything from the cable modem on your desk provided to you by the cable company? If not, then how do you know that the network is not already compromised?
- The same goes for the hardware router provided to you as well as the COTS Linksys router you bought
- Can you trust the supply chain of the TAILS instance you downloaded to start with?
- Can you sift through the code of that TAILS instance yourself to check if there is rogue code that allows for compromise and surveillance?
- Can you truly say you are a master of your GPG/PGP public and private keys and processes to encrypt and send email to one another?
- Can you say that you securely transmitted your keys to the other party in the first place? Or that your private key is not already compromised from an end point CNE attack?
All of these things are compromise-able and no one is a master of all things. Unless you build your own laptop from the ground up with hardware you checked at every step AND you never let it out of your sight then you cannot say that the supply chain has not been tampered with. Thus your security measures are potentially void.
The same can be said about the operating system on the laptop. Did you code it? Have you vetted it yourself? Sure there is open source but really, unless you do this yourself how can you be sure? You can’t really so you have to have a measure of trust that it’s safe. But hey, now we are talking about nation state efforts to listen in and watch everything you do online so really it’s game over right?
There is no sure thing here. So you have to take this stance from the start that you are likely already compromised. You can now either attempt to game the system and have some modicum of security by using OPSEC and technical means or you can just say fuck it and not care. If you are in the former category then you can move on in this post and perhaps consider some other things you need to protect your secrets. If not, you can stop here and go back to your blue pill existence.
Nation State Surveillance and YOU:
So you have decided to read on.. Gut gut…
OPSEC is more than just technical means. As you can see from the above nothing technical can really truly be trusted. Just as no one really can be trusted in reality. I am willing to bet many of the LulZSec gang trusted Sabu didn’t they? I mean after all they made some stellar OPSEC failures in trusting him that ended up with them in prison now right? They also had technology fails too, I mean Sabu was pinched when he logged into an IRC without a proxy with his own IP so there ya go. It was partly technical failure and partly human failure. Had there been a bulletproof technology to obfuscate himself Sabu would not be in the witness protection plan now and the kidz would not be in the pokey right?
So let’s consider some other things outside of the technical 0day and hackery bullshit.
POSIT: The technology is already owned and there is nothing you can do about it.
CONSEQUENCE: All your communications even encrypted by these means are compromised
RESULT: Nothing you do or say should be trusted to be secure
So what do you do then? Do you just give up? Or do you try other means in a layered approach to protect your security? Let me give you a hint; “it’s the latter” However you have to be diligent and you have to follow some ground rules. Given that the documents from the Snowden trove show that if you just use crypto for your communications, no matter how banal, you are now a target of interest and collection you have to consider using the Moscow Rules as a daily routine.
Now does this mean you are really an enemy of the state and in grave danger? No. However, the precedent has been set that we are all under scrutiny and at the whim of whatever algorithm that flags us for traffic on the wire as well as any analyst who might take an interest in you. What’s worse is that many times one might find themselves under suspicion for who they talk to or what they may say online in today’s world and this is where we all should be very afraid. The Fourth Amendment is in tatters kids and what the state considers as papers or personal items does not consist presently of your phone or your computer files according to many in power.
It’s Moscow Rules:
- Assume nothing.
- Murphy is right.
- Never go against your gut; it is your operational antenna.
- Don’t look back; you are never completely alone.
- Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
- Go with the flow, blend in.
- Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
- Any operation can be aborted. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
- Maintain a natural pace.
- Lull them into a sense of complacency.
- Build in opportunity, but use it sparingly.
- Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
- Don’t harass the opposition.
- There is no limit to a human being’s ability to rationalize the truth.
- Pick the time and place for action.
- Keep your options open.
- Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.
- Don’t attract attention, even by being too careful
So there you have them. This is most likely a fictional list that was used in some book or other but the CIA and the Spy museum seem to have grabbed these as useful. These come obviously out of the old days of Spying in Moscow. Which coincidentally had so much surveillance on their native populace that I have begun to feel a strange sense of deja vu lately about our own affairs of state. Of course we don’t have the omnipresent fear of being disappeared.. Oh.. Wait.. Never mind…
Ok so we don’t really get disappeared so often but we can be taken into custody, our things searched, and our lives ruined by the government all on alleged information that you cannot see because it’s been marked as “Secret” with a handy NSL attached. I guess maybe that is a kind of disappearing huh? Not exactly to the Gulag Archipelago but close enough to ruin you. I know some of you out there probably just thought I put on my tinfoil hat there but I have personally seen this shit in action and it ain’t pretty.
Anyway, back to the purpose here, OPSEC is what you need to practice and you have to make it second nature if you want to keep your secrets secret. Unfortunately if you are in the sights of the nation state then you are pretty much fucked. However, you CAN make it more difficult as long as you are diligent and smart about it. So here’s the short and sweet of OPSEC for you:
- Trust cannot be implicit in technology or people
- Study up on disinformation and other obfuscation techniques and use them as a kind of chaff to protect your real comms
- Understand the adversary, their motives, their techniques, and their weaknesses
- If you use a technology be sure that you are it’s master
- Secrets are secret (First rule of Fight Club) keep them that way
- COMPARTMENT THE EVERYTHING!
- Layer your encryption techniques and if possible use a OTP
- Go read up on TSCM
- Go read up on Counter-Surveillance techniques
- If they can’t get at you technically they will send in assets to get close to you
- If they can’t get assets close to you they will use your friends
- If they can’t get your friends, assets, technical measures to work they will go after you in other ways (think legal issues)
I bet some of you are thinking I am a real paranoid freak right now. Well, welcome to the new age of the surveillance state kids. Get used to it. YOU wanted to play this game and now you are. Welcome to the big leagues.
This last weekend was HOPE X held by the 2600 at the usual crumbling and fetid Hotel Pennsylvania. This go around I decided to attend because of the promise of all the talks surrounding the nation state surveillance today and a virtual visit from the Snowman himself. I booked my room at the Penn (I know.. bad idea really) and went in on Friday for the three days. What I got from attendance mostly was a sense of how crappy the Penn is again as well as how rough edged and lackluster the HOPE conferences have been over time. I also got to see my Twitter feed load up on hate for the con alongside the political tweets for and against it as well.
I left the con on Sunday morning with the final feeling being “Meh” Of course this could be said about most con’s for me now anyway. I said it on Twitter and I will repeat it here for you all.
“HOPE X = MORAL FAGS / DEFCON = Drink and then drink some more #hallwaycon”
That about sums up my feelings about conferences of late. Hope though was rather terrible.
So back to the whole politicizing of the con. 2600 has always been more political so you kind of have to expect that. However, this year after the Snowden revelations and the actual visit by Snowden via Skype one was left with a sense of impotence due to the conferences lack of cohesion. It’s true that the nation states of the world are spying on us all. The NSA is drift netting all of the data on the networks it can and saving it for a rainy day. Abuses are happening and governments are lying but even after Snowden’s discussion with Ellseburg I was left with a sense that nothing said was empowering.
Snowden exhorted the hackers to rise up and create better software and crypto which to me is something we all have been saying all along in the security community right? I mean if not saying make better crypto then we have been at least saying “USE IT!” right? Overall though, nothing really new came out of this discussion other than the usual cognitive re-assertions that Snowden did what was right and that we are all now living in a surveillance state. While I agree with this assessment for the most part I also did not feel at all energized by this talk.
Overall I was not impressed by much at Hope and would agree with many who say it is a crappy con. Some may say though it is what you make of it. In that vein I will say that the Veal I had in Little Italy was fantastic but the restaurant failed on the seconds of bread. No, really, the Veal was a highlight. The conference did not teach me anything new and interesting and the venue really did not lend itself to any kind of flow for traffic so it was harder to attend anything you wanted to because you just could not get there. In fact my most prevalent thought each day was “FUCK I HOPE THERE ISN’T A FIRE! CUZ WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE!” That hotel needs to be torn down and something else built there… Seriously.
So on goes the politics of hacking… I personally believe things need to be done but generally I did not feel that this con did anything in the way of inspiring anything in me but a low level of “get me the fuck outta here”
Video of BsidesLV: HERE
It seems not a day goes by without some new Panda or Kitten or other supercilious named actor come from the FireEye’s, Mandiant’s and the Crowdstrikes of the world. This morning a new “campaign” was announced by Symantec and backstopped by FireEye (saffron rose) and Crowdstrike (flying kitten) ..This one though has malware being named “Mysayad” because they “think” the writing and the changes show a tie in back to the flying saffron rose kitten. After reading the alert from Symantec and doing a little digging myself my head nearly exploded once again. Why? Well, because the attribution was weak and contained a lot of supposition.
I have railed about his before and in fact I did a presentation on the whole issue at BsidesLV a while back.. (see above links) My issue is why bother with the attribution anyway? Are these companies actually helping their clients with these details or not? Are they in fact digging into the whole picture of the actor and what they are looking for with the client who may be the target? Not so much that I have seen. You get a report with all the sexy sexy buzzwords and lingo and that’s it. No real help in dealing with the clients issues and it makes me have a headache.
So here ya go.. My presentation and my ideas on how it should all work. Take this and think about what you are getting as a client of these companies. Those of you working at the companies I am railing against should also perhaps think a moment or two on just what is the efficacy of what you are all doing. Are you in fact a new arm of law enforcement? I only ask because the only ones really interested in this data and can make it actionable are LE or the IC so who are you really selling to here?
Just my beef…
Recent news shows that an arrest has been made in a Chinese industrial espionage campaign that started around 2009 and resulted in larger dumps of data being taken from Boeing as well as other defense base aligned companies. Stephen Su aka Stephen Subin aka Su Bin was arrested in Canada after an affidavit was put in by the FBI giving evidence that SuBin and two others had broken into Boeing and other companies stealing data on the C-17 as well as F22 Raptor and JSF projects.
While the affidavit says a lot in a roundabout way on what the FBI considered evidence for the arrest there is a gap in just how the FBI came upon this guy and his co-conspirators in the first place. There is no mention of what tip may have led the FBI to obtain the email records of SuBin at Gmail and Hotmail as well as it seems the emails of the UC1 and UC2 at Gmail as well. Perhaps the data came from something like Xkeyscore or PRISM? I don’t think that that is likely but one has to ask the question anyway.
Aside from that lack of genesis for the FBI investigation the affidavit is quite detailed as to the back and forth with the UC’s and SuBin. There are file names and screen shots of data that was passed back and forth as well as email addresses and snippets of the emails themselves. Of more note though is a timeline and a operational details that SuBin and his team were using in order to carry off the espionage and this is very interesting. SuBin and the team were taking a more hybrid approach to the industrial espionage that we commonly don’t get to see or hear about in the current throes of APT madness.
This case of espionage is different from the usual APT stories you hear today on the news. The reason for this is that the players here may or may not have ties back to those directorates and groups that APT come from. Or, they may not. The affidavit is unclear (perhaps deliberately so) on the two UC’s connections to any of the APT activities we have all heard about but they do use the same techniques that we have heard being used by APT actors.
What is different though is the use of human assets (i.e. SuBin) as a targeter for the hackers to hone in on specific files and architectures/companies/people. This is where this becomes more of a classic MSS (Ministry of State Security) operation than the ongoing attacks we have been seeing in the news since APT became a household term. Now, whether or not SuBin is actually a trained agent or just an asset is the sixty four thousand dollar question in my book. There are allegations in the affidavit that to me, looks like he could be either. Su talks about making money on the data he has been helping to steal which makes him look like a freelancer. Meanwhile there are other aspects that make it seem more like he is a true asset for MSS. I am still not quite sure myself and perhaps someday we will hear more on this from the FBI.
A common thread in much of the MSS’ (中华人民共和国国家安全部) playbook for industrial espionage is the use of human sources that are either naturalized citizens of another country. (i.e. Americans or in this case one who was about to be Canadian) In the case of SuBin, he had his own company in China that worked with wiring in airframes. This is a perfect cutout for the MSS to get an asset with access to Western companies that may be doing business with them. In the case of Lode-Tech (Su’s company) there was evidence from the 2009 documents (emails) that showed that his company was sharing space with Boeing at an expo which likely began this whole espionage exploit.
Now another fact that seems to emerge from the affidavit is that these guys were just using Gmail and other systems that are not the most secure. I do know that in some cases the APT also use these email systems but these guys seem to be pretty open with their exchanges back and forth. This to me means that they were not professional’s for the most part. I can come down on both sides here as well after having seen some of the flagrant OPSEC failures on the part of APT in the past. Generally though my feeling is that these guys were a little too loose with their OPSEC to be professional MSS operators and may in fact all have been contractors.
On the other hand though these guys had some tradecraft that they were following and these likely worked pretty well. In the image below you can see how they were hand carrying some data to Macao and Hong Kong in order to bypass certain “diplomatic issues” as they say. Additionally, the surveillance portion (which is the first time this has come up with the APT type of activity) has ever been mentioned. In the case of SuBin, he had access to Boeing itself (an assumption as none is directly mentioned in the affidavit) via his company ostensibly and thus had a presence that a hacker is lacking in remote APT activities.
So you can see how this is a hybrid operation and something we don’t often get to see. Could this be the new paradigm in industrial espionage? Frankly this is something I would have thought was going on all along given what I know of Chinese espionage as well as having done assessments in the past that included a physical attack portion. By synergizing the APT hacking with MSS old school tradecraft these guys were pretty successful (65 gig of targeted data from Boeing alone) and maximized insider knowledge of what to look for with technical hacking exploits. If you think about it how many companies do business with China? Now ponder how much access those companies may have to networks and people in those companies… Yeah.
These are tried and true practices on the part of the MSS as well as other intelligence agencies the world over so we have to pay attention to this stuff as well as worry about the common phishing emails that come in waves as well. Overall I think that the US needs to be a bit more self aware of all of these types of activities and methods to protect their environments but to do so I imagine will be a tough sell to most corporations.
Advanced Persistent Espionage:
What this all means is the following; “Industrial espionage doesn’t just mean APT phishing emails blindly coming at you. It also means that there may be actual people and companies that you are working with that are actively gathering your data for sale as well” Another recent incident involves Pratt & Whitney with a naturalized American Iranian who stole a lot of physical documents as well as seemingly had emailed data out of their environment to Iran as part of a sale. You have to remember it’s not just all electrons boys and girls.
However, the hybridization of the methods of APT and traditional tradecraft is just beginning. I think that the Chinese have seen the light so to speak and will start to leverage these things more as the US continues to put pressure on them concerning APT attacks. The MSS will get more and more cautious and work smarter as they continue to be persistent in their espionage activities. The Russians are already pretty good at this and they leverage both now. It’s time I guess that the Chinese have decided to look to their Russian friends and steal a bit from their playbook as well.
Bitcoins for Jihad Isn’t New
A recent article that is making the rounds is decrying a new paradigm for jihad in that @abualbawi is calling for funding through Bitcoin and Darkwallet. I was sent the article and I took a look at the PDF that *was* located on this guy’s site but overall this is not as interesting or scary as the media would like to make it out to be. Why isn’t it scary you ask? Well, primarily because having been in the world of monitoring these jihobbyists I don’t find on average that they are that tech savvy. In fact, I haven’t seen a really tech savvy one since Irahbi007 back in the day but that is just my opinion.. *by the way he wasn’t a mental genius either*
This type of fund raising has been going on for some time in the Darknet *to what end I am not really sure* but as you will see below actual funds were transfered in the darknet to that wallet and taken out circa 2012 and recently more has been added. Of course to date, the above Darknet site (pictured at top of page) is the ONLY one of it’s kind that I am aware of but this would not preclude others passing bitcoins in the background to send to certain players in the global jihad. So this pdf and the rationalization for the use of kuffar technologies is in fact new and novel really for Abu and his pals at ISIS I will give them that.
It also seems that Abu is trying to horn in on the old and tired “Jihadi Magazine” with his AL-KHALIFA but hey, a jihadi media mogul has to start somewhere right? Interestingly Abu has decided to remove the bitcoin pdf from his galley but I luckily got it before it was gone. The notion though that Abu has in mind is that there is no real way to de-anonymize a Bitcoin transaction and, well, that isn’t completely true. So yeah, it may be tough but you also have to factor in bad OPSEC on the part of the players as well as possible technical attacks against the system that could in fact let the other guy know who you are.
… By the way.. Abu, umm it is Abu right? Or is it Bobihnd? You guys seem to have the same UID for Twitter and talk to the same people… Perhaps I am just not caffeinated enough. Nope nope nope.. I was not caffeinated enough. There is telling tidbits that they are one in the same or close but I cannot prove this out.. Yet.
Anywho… Back to the issue of Bitcoin, Darkwallet’s, and anonymity. I expect that you guys will have some large hurdles here to get the funds flowing for your caliphate. I just can’t imagine Al-Baghdadi being all over this either. He doesn’t strike as a real “techie” ya know? I could however see the likes of the House of Saud maybe tossing some money at some GPU time but really, this is an untenable posit for funding your jihad Abu. I mean how many Western jihobbyists are going to rent bot time to mine or mine these things at home just to give to you and yours?
The First Attempt On The Darknet Did Raise Money
On the other hand… The site I mentioned in the Darknet? Yeah as you can see above they had about 1200 bucks in there at one point. You have to notice though it wasn’t a lot of bitcoins but instead it was the inflation that was happening at the boom time that gave it the bump. Of course they cashed that shit out toot sweet and I suspect bought a nice Macbook Air, not an AK-47 or a ticket to Syria. So yeah, the idea is not new mainstream media and so far it has not made a huge amount of money so it should not be a booga booga booga news headline mmmkay? Nothing to see here.. Move along…
Next I will cover the hullabaloo over ISIS/AQ using TAILS OMG!
GLOBAL THREAT INTELLIGENCE ASSESSMENT JUNE 2014
In the month of June 2014 there were 3 top breaches that caused a loss of data within the range of 242,908 personal records. This is just one aspect of loss due to compromises due to criminal activities as well as state actors today within the realm of hacking. This report is being presented to you to give insight into what is happening in the world today and this last month online and in corporations where information security is involved.
This month has seen more activities from not only nation state actors but also defenders within the US working towards stopping them. Crowdstrike, Fireeye, and others have put out reports on actors and methods that are currently attacking infrastructures both private and public. In this report you will see some of the highlights from global events that is germane to your understanding of the threatscape today.
- OpenSSL had another vulnerability found that could cause compromise of people’s credentials.
- Iranian hackers attempted to socially engineer and spearphish numerous defense base users with LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter
- A social engineering campaign was launched against the author of this report via LinkedIn in an attempt at intelligence gathering
- The Russian state has allegedly launched attacks using the HAVEX RAT which attacks SCADA and ICS systems (Energy Sector)
- The Syrian Electronic Army attacks Reuters website and defaces it in an propaganda campaign
- The Dyreza RAT bypasses SSL sessions by stealing credentials and is attacking larger bank users
- ANONYMOUS is planning an OP on ISIS funding states
- ISIS/ISIL leveraging Twitter for propaganda and recruitment purposes
- SEA (Syrian Electronic Army) Compromises and defaces Reuters website
Post the Heartbleed vulnerabilities disclosure, attackers have been working on other vulnerabilities within the code for SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption. This is the encryption that protects internet traffic and has been the standard for many years. As of June 5th a new vulnerability was released and has been since patched in the code by the makers of SSL.
The attack allowed for a “Man in the Middle” attack that could have led to decryption of traffic and loss of credentials and data. This means that an intermediary machine would have to be in the middle of the traffic for this to work. This attack is feasible and it has been recommended that all instances within your environment that are vulnerable to this should be patched as soon as practicable.
The attack can only be performed between a vulnerable client *and* server. OpenSSL clients are vulnerable in all versions of OpenSSL. Servers are only known to be vulnerable in OpenSSL 1.0.1 and 1.0.2-beta1. Users of OpenSSL servers earlier than 1.0.1 are advised to upgrade as a precaution
This attack though and Heartbleed show an inherent security problem with commonly used protocols or software like this due to the prevalence of use and the level of compromise that could come from exploiting this type of bug.
Social Engineering via LinkedIn: NEWSCASTER
On May 28th iSight Partners put out a report on an alleged Iranian phishing and social engineering campaign that used some common tactics for APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) actors. This campaign started in or around August 2013 and continued up until the roll up after this report was put on the internet.
The site above posed as an on air radio station as well as a news site catering to topics that defense base individuals would be interested in. In tandem with this or at least in parallel, the adversary also created a group of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIN to socially engineer targets and backstop the fictitious site.
The parallell attack consisted of socially engineering employees and heads of departments up to and including high level brass in the military and C level exectuives from places like Pratt & Whitney and other companies that make defense hardware. Once users had accepted LinkedIN requests or Facebook requests they would be enticed to go to the Newsonair site to read the news and perhaps listen online. The links sent to the targets would then be drive by sites for infection or simple sites that requested users credentials to enter their site for content. These attempts would then perhaps net the adversary the users credentials to Outlook (one particular attack was a page that presented an outlook login) and thus compromising their email as well as perhaps other access such as VPN (depending on implementations)
According to the iSight report the gambit of socially engineering people via Facebook and LinkedIN worked well enough to gather approximately two thousand users “friending” or adding the fictitious (cutout) accounts that the adversary had created to mine for access. Given the numbers accredited to have been within the friends/linkedin connections it is a high probability that the adversary had at least some insight into the workings of their targets habits and perhaps even may have elicited access through the drive by attacks as well as perhaps SE data from unaware targets.
This campaign is not important or of note in its modus operandi generally as APT goes but it is an object lesson that should be heeded. The melding of the SE with the drive by attacks show how easy it is to attempt to get users to compromise their systems as well as their personal/corporate data through social media attacks.
Where this may in fact be an Iranian actor (not nation state but instead a hacker/group in Iran looking to carry out a campaign under the rubric of political fervor) we have also seen actors like the Lampeduza Republic (carders who attacked Target) use the same APT tactics to affect their goal of stealing PCI data.
Given that social media is so prevalent today, it is a given that campaigns are ongoing within the space and that our users as well as our executives could fall prey to these attacks by other adversaries than APT (Nation-state or other) As such we should insure that our education on Phishing as well as Social media attacks and SE should continue if not actually expand. This is the current and future of pivot attacks that will continue to be the means by which attackers break into companies and extract data.
Another factor to take into account is the endpoint where traffic is going on the internet. In the case of newsonair the IP space was located physically in DFW (Texas) but the end point of the data trail leads to Iran and a server within the Islamic Republic. IDS and SIEM can help to determine traffic patterns to such places outside of the country and should be leveraged to determine where data is ex-filtrating to. In the case of this team the SIEM and IDS solutions actually caught the traffic (hits on sites) as well as malware telemetry and remediation tools stopped the malware from compromising machines.
Social Engineering via LinkedIn: Personal Account
I personally received this invite from an alleged recruiter. Upon inspection of the account I found that the user had inconsistencies in their profile and began digging into it. Once I took the headshot and put it into an image search engine I was able to determine that the person in it certainly was not the person they claimed to be in LinkedIn.
By using the email address attached to the account I was able to then look up the metadata on the real person behind the account. This person does live in Alaska and purportedly works for a telco there. Having tracked him further using the email account provided in the LinkedIn profile I was able to track much of his life because he had placed it all online for anyone to see. This included an arrest report in 2013 for being drunk and trespassing in a residence.
The analysis for this incident follows much of what is discussed in the NEWSCASTER report. The takeaway is that your social media profile can lead to corporate or personal compromise. Care should be taken as to what you share and with whom on such sites as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc as they can be used to create a dossier on you for further attacks.
In the case of this attempt, the user had poor OPSEC (Operational Security) and thus his legend (cover story) lacked credibility as well as leaving bread crumbs to follow easily to his real name and location. I personally do not list the companies I am employed by because of such attacks and leakage of information that would be counter to security. As such, this attacker was looking for what he had hoped was a target with entre into the government and military spaces that I listed in past jobs that I had had.
** Note at 6am 6/30/14 the user had 109 connections within the federal and MIL space**
HAVEX RAT (Russia)
The HAVEX RAT (Remote Access Tool) has been leveraged by Russian APT to attack specific industries that now include power systems and energy companies. This actor group has modified the RAT and their modus operandi to attack SCADA and ICS systems (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) in hopes of perhaps carrying out supply chain attacks on those systems. This is the 43rd iteration of this RAT tool in use by this actor (RU) This group also has used the “LightsOut Exploit Kit” watering hole attack as well to carry out attacks (http://pastebin.com/qCdMwtZ6) according to MalwareMustDie and Cisco.
**Crowdstrike designates this group “Energetic Bear” and currently this month showed them to be active and being reported on by the press.**
**Further analysis by Symantec HERE having named it DRAGONFLY**
This group of alleged Russian attackers has been active for some time now (circa 2012) and have been seeking data from systems within the energy sector. Given that Russia is a large player in the energy sector it is easy to assume that their motives are for state/private consumption within the energy space. The attacks have been not only on US assets but also on French and other countries companies that they have interests in. As a whole, this group is believed to be nation state but it can be seen as perhaps a co-owned endeavour on the part of the state and the oligarchs who run the large petro and other energy concerns within the former USSR.
With the advent of the HAVEX RAT’s SCADA/ICS functionality though it can be an assumption that attacks on those systems could be used in ways that could help the Russian state’s prices on energy consumables as well as further other deeper state desires of the Putin government. An attack by an adversary with a horse in the game and geopolitical with monetary repercussions on the supply chains of certain competitors would place the Russian government in a better position globally if not regionally.
(DYREZA) SSL BYPASS RAT
Dyreza is a new RAT that has a special method of gathering intelligence. This malware performs an SSL bypass allowing credentials to then be passed in the clear as a kind of man in the middle attack. It in fact steals the credentials in the targets browser thus nullifying the encrypted session altogether. Currently the primary targets of this malware/RAT have been Bank of America, Natwest, Citibank, RBS, and Ulsterbank. This malware campaign also has been cited to have an adversary set that is planning on turning this into a malware as a service model of business. They have set up money “mules” and are seeking to make this a global campaign that one can buy into as a full pipeline from compromise to money movement and laundering.
While this RAT and group (Assumed to be Russian with the naming of Dyreza) are ambitious they have failed to program encrypted comm’s into their model thus SIEM and IDS traffic will easily capture and stop their activities. While their approach is novel, they are not as yet a true threat to a larger swath of corporations due to their technical limitations. It is also assumed that these new players are attempting to cash in on the void that was left by the GoZeus takedown recently. Until such time as they next iteration includes encrypted C&C this group should not be considered a major threat actor.
Crowdstrike reported on a new PLA unit active online today attacking corporations and government entities naming the unit (Unit 61486) as well as some of the players involved by name. In what is called OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) the Crowdstrike team reported on the actual names of PLA members who comprise this unit including pictures and personal details. Crowdstrike is calling this group “Putter Panda” and they are primraily attacking the government, defense, and technology research sectors.
PLA Unit 61486 focuses their exploits against popular productivity applications such as Adobe Reader and Microsoft Office to deploy custom malware through targeted email attacks (i.e. SpearPhishing)
**Currently there are 13 groups/cells within the Chinese PLA active today as APT (Advanced Persistent Threats)**
Attribution is a troublesome thing in hacking and cyber warfare but the data presented by Crowdstrike is compelling enough to say that they in fact were right. However, the usefulness of such reports is called into question as relations with China sour and the legalities surrounding all of this preclude any solid action of merit. In the case of the Putter Panda report and their doxing of the PLA players it may be a moot point. Outing these players will not necessarily change their tactics as we have seen from the Mandiant reporting on CN activities in the past. In the case of the Mandiant report those actors changed some of their activities but on the whole they fell back into the same practices.
On the legal front outing such sources of attacks also may in fact lead to some sort of naming and shaming at a political level that the US may leverage but I personally unsure of it’s efficacy. As we have seen to date the US and the globe lack the proper legal means to attack these problems as well as politically there are no common grounds for countries to apply warfare as separate from civil actions taken by individuals perhaps at the governments behest. In the case of the PLA they are military however, many of their proxy actors are private citizens that are motivated by patriotism and perhaps monetary incentives to carry out these attacks.
On the whole this is just another common APT group within the arcology of Chinese APT who’s OPSEC (Operational Security) was lacking and thus they re-used information or aligned information and backstopping for their campaigns with personal data. This allowed OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) analysts to easily follow Wang Dong’s trail back to his own personal accounts with photographs etc. While this is a marketing coup for Crowdstrike the efficacy as mentioned above is still questionable on outing these players.
Iran (See above NEWSCASTER campaign)
Russia(See above HAVEX RAT campaign)
Syria/SEA (Syrian Electronic Army)
The SEA attacked and compromised the Reuters website on June 22nd 2014. This attack followed the usual protocol of defacement by the Syrian Electronic Army and its leader Th3Pr0. The SEA is a group that has formed to fight on the web in a propaganda war of web defacements for the Assad regime. It seems that this hack against the Reuters site was carried out via an attack on a third party vendor who had access to key systems. Someone from SEA fooled a company employee, into giving up their password and then used the access to Taboola’s Backstage platform to change the header in the Reuters widget, and thus to deface the page.
It is debated whether or not the SEA is considered to really be a nation state actor or not. As yet it is indeterminate if the SEA has backing from the Assad regime (i.e. money and support) but is something that should be watched and thought about. Such instances of anarchy and propaganda online are much more common post the Anonymous and LulzSec incidents from 2010 on and the model is now popular with online movements.
For the most part SEA’s attacks are more propaganda than anything on the level of espionage or acts of warfare. It is debatable whether or not SEA is really capable of much more than defacements but it may also be that the actors within this group may have been holding back on more serious actions. Given their penchant for SE attacks to gather access it is very possible that they could carry out more devastating attacks against their targets internal systems.
It is the recommendation of this assessment that a little of both applies here.
ANONYMOUS: OP: NO2ISIS
Anonymous has announced that it plans on attacking ISIS/ISIL funding sources and state backers. In an operation they are calling OP: NO2ISIS Anonymous claims they will be attacking the sources of funding for the group that is presently taking over large sections of Iraq. The three primary targets of Op: No2ISIS will be Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar but may include other targets as they get intelligence implicating other countries or individuals.
Anonymous plans to attack these sources of funding because they claim that ISIS is not something they can attack online as they are fighting a ground war in Iraq and Syria. Another reason that the Anonymous collective has targeted ISIS is because ISIS took over the account @theanonmessage (an Anon account) and feels that this operation would suffice for retribution against the newly minted terrorist organization. It is not possible to know what real damage Anonymous can have against the funding of ISIS nor perhaps against ISIS itself due to the primary modus operandi of distributed denial of service may or may not have any effect on those targeted.
It is of note that Anonymous feels moved to target the funding structure of ISIS for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a frontal attack on ISIS, as they say in their media is hard because ISIS is in fact fighting a ground war in Iraq. However, ISIS does use Twitter and other social media very effectively in a propaganda and recruitment war and this could be attacked rather easily by a group such as Anonymous. This cognitive dissonance on the part of the Anon’s makes them look a bit more impotent than they would like on the whole and this operation will likely hardly be a win in any book against ISIS or their funding feeds. This operation will likely have little to no effect on ISIS nor their funding and it is the opinion of this assessment that Anonymous would be better served by attacking the ISIS media wing instead. By degrading the ISIS capabilities for propaganda and recruitment Anonymous might play a better role within the GWOT.
PSYOPS & PROPAGANDA
ISIS/ISIL (Islamic State of Nineveh)
The ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has been in a media jihad for some time now and it has accelerated this campaign with the current takeover of sections of Iraq that it has been carrying out. ISIS has a media arm that has been using social media such as Twitter (as seen above) to leverage the internet in a propaganda war as well as a recruitment drive. The group has not only been using twitter with individual accounts but also has created a twitter application that allowed the terrorist organization to use other accts to geometrically reach a larger audience. The tool would be loaded on to user systems and had an API function that allowed the user to put in their credentials and authorize the app to post ISIS jihadi media posts to all of the followers of that account.
ISIS has been rather novel in their use of Twitter online. Their creation of an application to bypass Twitter’s own systems is interesting to see as well as it’s inherent means of doubling or quadrupling their messages getting out through proxy accounts. (i.e. users allowing themselves to be the conduit of the media jihad) As a means of propagandizing their war in Iraq as well as a tool for recruitment (which has been rising since their campaigns both digitally and on the ground have taken off) ISIS has harnessed the internet and social media in a way that the old guard of Al Qaida never did. This is clearly an advance and should be noted not only from the position of the GWOT but also any other movement that might learn from ISIS and begin their own propaganda wars using social media as the primary medium.
MILITARY FACEBOOK PSYOPS TESTING
Facebook has recently published a 2012 study in the March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was to determine whether it could alter the emotional state of its users and prompt them to post either more positive or negative content, the site’s data scientists enabled an algorithm, for one week, to automatically omit content that contained words associated with either positive or negative emotions from the central news feeds of 689,003 users. This study found that it could manipulate those users emotions to a certain degree by said manipulation.
According to an abstract of the study, “for people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people’s status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive. When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.” The study was partially funded by the Army Research Office — an agency within the U.S. Army that funds basic research in the military’s interest according to a press release from Cornell University.
While this type of testing is a normative thing within the psychology sphere, the problem that many have latched onto is that the US military funded this one. The assessment of this story and the study itself does lead one to believe that on the whole the military as well as Facebook have some ethical questions to face about this. Facebook surely is looking to manipulate their users for purposes of sales and the synergy of that in tandem with the military’s desire for PSYOPS tools is rather assured. By using social media like Twitter or Facebook, the millitary as well as other actors could manipulate populaces en mas with these techniques and this is a dangerous precedent to set.
GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS:
Overall this report has been put together to show a high level approach to global trends in threats online. The actors are varied from criminal syndicates, to nation state actors and spies, to global jihadist movements abroad. Truly the internet and computers have brought a new and very extensible means of espionage, terror, and manipulation of peoples through social media, hacking, and other means within the digital realm.
As we have been seeing the technologies are becoming easier to master for many to use guerrilla tactics and unconventional warfare online to further their goals. Whether that be a nation state like Russia using malware to effect the supply chains of other nation states energy companies or Ukrainian syndicates seeking to steal masses of personal data along with credit card numbers and pins we are seeing a change in paradigms digitally. All of the attacks written about in this report are fodder for the reader to consider the technological landscape today and the types of attack methods as well as goals that predicate them.
The takeaways from this June report are the following bullet points:
- Social engineering has always been a staple but now that social media is in the mix it’s use is much more devastating to organizations
- Malware tools are constantly being upgraded or created anew with various attack vectors that leverage phishing/spearphising/ and social media attacks
- Globally, intelligence gathering techniques are no longer solely the purview of nation state actors and their spy agencies alone.
- Propaganda and misdirection are becoming more popular not only with nation state actors but also terrorists and criminal gangs
PDF VERSION OF THIS DOCUMENT HERE
APPENDIX A: LINKS