From Lulz to Global Espionage: The Age of the Cracker
It seems that 2011 is turning into the year of the cracker. Between Anonymous, Lulzsec, and the ongoing wave of espionage being carried out by nation states, we have begun to see just how serious a threat cacking really is. Of course both of these groups of attacks have greatly differing motives as well as means. Lulzsec, well, is doing it for the Lulz and the others such as nation states or criminal gangs, are doing it for political, financial, or personal gains. In this post I will cover all three groups and their motives as well as means.
Lulzsec is a splinter group of Anonymous who for all intents and purposes, have decided to carry out raids on any and all sites that they feel need their attention. This could be simply a process of finding the lowest hanging fruit and exploiting it or, there may be some further agenda that they have yet to explain fully. So far though, we have the simple explanation of “They are doing it for the Lulz”
Lulzsec really began their efforts with focusing their full attention on Sony Corp. Sony pissed them off by attempting to prosecute a coder/hacker/reverse engineer named GeoHotz. Geohotz managed to tinker with some Sony code and they went out of their way to try and destroy him. It’d be one thing if he was being malicious, but Geohotz was not.. Instead Sony was. This caused a great backlash in the hacker community against Sony, and though they came to an agreement with Geohotz, Lulzsec decided they needed some attention.
After numerous attacks on Sony that netted Lulzsec much data and showed just how poor Sony was at protecting their client data, Lulzsec decided to take their show on the road so to speak. They began their new campaign with “The Lulz Boat” which set sail for #fail as they say. Soon the Lulz were epic and the target scope began to open up. Lulzsec attacks began to show up on Pirate Bay as well as on pastebin where they would dump the data from their attacks and laugh at the targets poor security.
What once seemed to be revenge has now morphed into a free for all of potential piratical actions for unknown reasons by Lulzsec. Of late, they also seem to be profiting from their actions by donations of bitcoins as well as perhaps other help from the masses who enjoy their antics. It is hard to tell exactly what the agenda seems to be for Lulzsec as it is still evolving…
Meanwhile, their actions have risen the ire of not only the likes of Sony, but now the governments of the world as well as their law enforcement communities. Who knows how long it will be before they are collared or if they will be at all.
Nation State Actors:
The ‘Nation State Actors’ may well be the most sophisticated group here. Many of you likely have heard the term APT, and this group would be the core of the APT. Those nations that have the means to use assets at their disposal to make long term and concerted attacks against their targets. This is the real meaning of APT (Advanced Persistent Threats)
What we have seen in these last few months is either an escalation on their part, or, we are just now catching on to their attacks by actually paying attention to information security. I am not sure which it is really, but, I lean toward there being more attacks as the programs developed by certain countries have solidified and spun up. As you have seen here, I have made much mention of China as being the culprit in many of the attacks recently. I stand by that assessment, but one must not forget other countries like Russia or Israel for APT attacks.
This all of course is just a natural progression from the old school espionage with physical assets in the field to a digital remote attack vector. As we have gotten wired, so has the espionage game. In the case of the wired world, unfortunately, much of the security that would usually surround assets in the old days, are not put into place in the digital. Why is this? It could be a lack of understanding, or, it could also be that the technology has outpaced the security values that they require to protect the data within.
Either way, hacking/cracking has now become a tool of war as well as intelligence gathering. It’s just a fact of life today and unfortunately the vendors and users have not caught up on means to protect the assets properly.
This is where the APT, Lone crackers, Companies, and Nation States meet. All of these groups use hacking/cracking as a means to an end. In the case of nation states, they are often looking to steal IP from companies. Often times that IP happens to be from defense contractors. This is a dual use type of technology both for war as well as any technology taken could further their own in many other ways.
In today’s world, you have all of these players using attacks to steal data for themselves, or their masters. The recent attacks on Lockheed are just this, APT attacks, likely by China engaged to steal IP on military hardware and technologies to augment their own and compete not only on the battlefield but also economically.
Other attacks are likely un-noticed and carried out by single aggressors or small teams that hire themselves out for this purpose. These are the civilian equivalent of the nation state spies and often can be contracted by nation states or other companies to carry out the work. In fact, this has become a boutique niche for certain individuals and companies in the ‘private intelligence’ arena. For this type of actor, I suggest reading ‘Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy’
This brings me to the criminal gangs. These are most commonly from the Eastern Block (The former Soviet Union) and they too often work tacitly for the government. In the case of Russia, there is a large amount of governmental complicity with the gangs. This is because much of the Russian government is made up of Russian mob types or, are paid handsomely by them for complicity.
Much of the crimeware trojans out there are Russian (Ukraine) made and the money that they steal from their quick hits goes to the East. Just by looking at the news, you can see how many ATM skimming attacks have money mules hired by the Russians and how often the money makes its way there. An interesting convergence here is also the connection between the Chinese in some cases and the Russians working together. There was a spate of Russian run botnets that had Chinese involvement as well as Russian servers/sites showing up in China recently.
With the synergy of the Russian and the Chinese malware makers working together, we will have a level of attacks that will only escalate as they learn from each other and perfect their methods. Meanwhile, they are robbing places blind by stealing PII data to create identities with as well as just transferring large sums of money digitally from banks that lately seem to be getting off for not performing the due diligence of security on behalf of their clients.
When The Players All Meet:
It seems that in the end all of the players meet at the nexus of digital crime. Whether its stealing data for profit, or as an act of patriotism for a nation state, all of the players work within the same digital playground. As the technologies meet, so do the players and it is likely there will be bleeding together of means and opportunity.
In the case of Lulzsec, it has yet to be determined what they really are all about other than the laughs. As they were once a part of Anonymous, one might think they might have a political agenda, but they have said otherwise. However, some of their actions speak to a more political bent than anything else. The recent attack on the senate websites seems to belie at least some politics at play as they stated they didn’t like them very much.
More importantly though, it is the response by the nation states and their law enforcement groups that will be interesting. For groups like Lulzsec, they are now passing from the nuisance category into perceived enemies of the state. Once they start attacking government and military targets with their lulz, then they are likely to see a more hardened response from intelligence agencies as well as the likes of the FBI.
Once the laws and the enforcement agencies catch up with the technology, then we are going to see some interesting times…