Counterintelligence, False Flags, Disinformation, and Network Defense
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Threat Intelligence, Counterintelligence, and Corporate | Nation State Espionage
“Threat Intelligence”, a term that is just behind the oft used “Cyber” and God forbid, “Cyber” is all too often put in front of it as well to add more oomph for sales people to sell their brand of security snake oil… “But wait there’s more!” We also have other spook terms being kluged into the INFOSEC world now because, well, it’s cool to those cyber warriors out there. I know, I sound jaded and angry, which, yes, yes, I am, but… Well, it’s just gone completely off the rails out there. I hear people talking about these topics as if they know what they are talking about even with the exceedingly limited scope of digital security matters (i.e. hacking/forensics/defense)
I would like to clear the air here a bit on these terms and how they do really apply to the world of INFOSEC that we in this business now find ourselves in, one littered with military and spook terms that you may not be really familiar with. First off, lets look at the terms that have been thrown around here:
Threat Intelligence: In the spook world, this is the gathering of intelligence (HUMINT/MASINT/SIGINT etc) to determine who has it in for you and perhaps how they plan on getting at you.
Counterintelligence: Spies who hunt other spies (Mole Hunts etc)
Espionage (Nation State and Other) The umbrella under which this whole rubric exists. Nation state and other have the component of “Industrial” as well (i.e. IP theft)
Ok, so, where once we used to only have people in three letter agencies worried about “ThreatIntel” we now have the INFOSEC community looking at “threats” to their environments and calling it “Threat Intelligence” now. While it’s a cool name, does it really apply? What was it before the whole APT thing broke as well as the cyberwar-palooza we have today? For the most part, I can see only half of the term applying to any non state entity or three letter agency and that is of what “threats” are out there today. This means what exploits and pieces of malware are out there that your environment would be susceptible to.
That is unless you suddenly have a company that has decided to launch its own “Intelligence arm” and yes, this has happened, but usually only in larger companies with defense contracts in my experience. Others though, have set them up, like Law firms, who then hire out ex spooks to do the work of counterintelligence as well as intelligence gathering to have an edge over everyone else. Perhaps this is bleeding out into other areas as well in corporate America huh? The point here for me is that unless you have an intelligence arm (not just INFOSEC) you should not be using the term “Threat Intelligence” as an encompassing statement of “there’s malware out there and this is what it is” Point blank here, IF YOU AREN’T DETERMINING WHO YOUR ADVERSARY IS AND WHAT THEIR PLAN IS… IT”S NOT THREAT INTELLIGENCE.
Looking at IP’s on an SIEM and reacting to a triggered event is not threat intelligence. It’s INCIDENT RESPONSE. It’s AFTER THE GOD DAMN FACT OK?
So, stop trying to make it sound cooler than it really is people. To further this idea though, we still have “Counterintelligence” which FOR FUCKS SAKE I have personally seen in a title of a complete MORON at a large company. This fucker sits around all day looking at his stock quotes though, see, it’s just a cool title. It has no meaning. UNLESS you really have an operational INTELLIGENCE UNIT in your company.
*Look around you.. Do you? If not then STFU*
If you do have a real intelligence wing in your org that carries out not only COUNTERINTEL/INTEL/HUMINT/THREATINTEL then more power to you. If not, you’re deluding yourselves with militaristic terms and cyberdouchery… Just sayin.
However, the way things are going with regard to the world, I should think that you might see more of these kinds of intelligence arms springing up in some of the larger corporations of the world. It’s a rough world and the fact that everything is networked and global has primed the pump for these kinds of activities to be a daily operations tool. It’s now the blurring of the lines between what nation states solely had the control and aegis over to now its becoming privatized and incorporated.
William Gibson saw it.. Phramacombinats and all.
False Flags and Disinformation Campaigns
Which brings me to the next level of affairs here. When I was on the DEFCON “Fighting Monsters” panel, I made some statements that seem to have come to pass. I spoke about how Anonymous would have to worry about “False Flags” against their name as well as expand upon the idea that Pandora’s box had been opened. Nothing on the internet would really be the same because we all had moved into the “spook world” by the actions of Anonymous as well as things like Stuxnet. The lines had been blurred and all of us net denizens need to be aware that we are all pawns in a series of greater games being played by corporations and governments.
Since then, we have seen many disinformation campaigns (think sock puppets on social media, fake news stories, rumours, etc) as well as false flag actions where Anonymous may have been blamed or named for actions that the core did not carry out. So many times since then we have seen Anonymous attempt to set the record straight, but, like I said before, who’s gonna believe them because they are “anonymous” and disparate right? Could be anyone… Could be them… And with previous actions, are they to be trusted when they say they did not do it? See, the banner thing (hive mind) has a tremendous proclivity for severe blowback as they have learned.
What’s sauce for the goose though, is also good for the corporate, political, private gander right? How many Acorn operations do you need to see happening in the election cycle to realize that this has been going on for some time and that, now, with the internet, its easier to perform these kinds of operations with a very small group with minimal effort as well? Pandora’s box was not only opened, it was then smashed on the floor and what was once contained inside has been forever unleashed upon us all.
Now, going back to you INFOSEC people, can you then foresee how your companies reputation or security could be damaged by false flag operations and disinformation? A recent example may in fact be the attack purported to be on against Josh Corman of Akamai because he said some things that “some” anonymous players did not like. Were they really out to get him? Were they doing this out of outrage or was there another goal here? What you have to ask yourselves is, what is my company and it’s employees susceptible to in this area? Just as well, this also applies to actual attacks (DDoS etc) they could be signal to noise attacks. While the big attack is going on, another team could be using the fog of war to sneak into the back door silently and un-noticed.
See where I am going there?
In the case of Josh, do they want to D0X him or do they want to force Akamai to maybe flinch and let him go because of bad press, and potential attacks on their infrastructure and management?
Ponder that…There are many aspects to this and you have to have a war mentality to grasp it at times. Not all attacks frontally are the real attack today. Nor are all attacks on players what they may seem to be in reality, the adversaries may in fact have a longer game in mind.
Network Defense and Network OFFENSE
Ok, so back to reality today with many orgs and their INFOSEC programs. You are looking to defend your network and frankly you need not have “cool” names for your program or its players. What you need is to be mindful of your environment and pay attention to the latest attacks available that would affect it. Given today’s pace though, this makes just about everything suspect. You can get yourself an IDS/IPS, an SIEM, Malware protection, and all kinds of things, but, unless you know where shit is and what it is, you lose the big game. So, really, threat intelligence is just a cool name for an SIEM jockey today.
Like I said, unless you are doing some real adversary profiling and deep inspection of attacks, players, motivations etc, you are not doing THREATINTEL. You are minding the store and performing network defense… i.e. your job.
Now, on the other end of the spectrum lately, there have been certain douchenozzles out there saying that they can sell you services to protect your org with “OFFENSE”
Offense you say? Is this some new form of new SPECWAR we aren’t aware of? Firms like the more and more vaporware company “Crowdstrike” seem to be offering these kinds of services, basically mercenaries for hire, to stop those who would do you harm. What means are they going to employ here? Obviously performing what they see as intelligence gathering, but then what? Once you have attribution will there then be “retribution” now like so many Yakuza centric stories in Gibson novels? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see this as viable nor really any kind of a good idea whatsoever… Leave it to the three letter agencies.
Alas though, I fear that these companies and actions are already at work. You can see some of that in the link above to the book I reviewed on private intelligence and corporate espionage. Will your data be a part of a greater corporate or government conspiracy? Some black ops mumbo jumbo over your personal information perhaps? Part of some retribution for some attack perceived to have happened to company A by company B?
Welcome to the shadows and fog of espionage kids.
Going “Off The Reservation”
Overall, I guess I just wanted to lay some things out there and get people’s heads around the amount of douchery going on today. We collectively have gone off the reservation post 9/11 with PII, Privacy (lack thereof) and hacking. That entities like Anonymous came to be and now see the governments and corporations of the world as dark entities isn’t so hard to see when you look at the crap going on out there. What we saw in Team Themis was just one small spec in a larger “Cyber Beltway Banditry” going on today. Look to the other side where you have Fusion centers with private INTEL gathering capacities tossing out absolute crap yet spending BILLIONS of dollars and, well, there you have it.
Monkeys with digital guns.
We are off the reservation already and it’s every man (or woman) for him or herself.
In the end though… If you have a title that says something like “CHIEF INTELLIGENCE OFFICER” on it, you’d best be at a three letter agency.. If not, then you are deluding yourself with EPIC DOUCHERY.