(Greek: κρυπτεία / krupteía, from κρυπτός / kruptós, “hidden, secret things”)

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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.

Nothing else.

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”

*blink blink*

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.


Operation: NIGHT DRAGON Nothing New, but It Bears Some Repeating

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Night Dragon Chinese hackers go after energy firms

Latest revelations from McAfee highlight large scale covert attacks emanating from the region
Phil Muncaster, 10 Feb 2011

Just over a year after the Operation Aurora Chinese hacking revelations shook the world, security vendor McAfee has uncovered another large-scale, covert and targeted attack likely to have originated in the region, dubbed Night Dragon.

Dating possibly as far back as four years ago, Night Dragon attacks are aimed specifically at global oil, energy and petrochemical companies with the aim of harvesting intelligence on new opportunities and sensitive operational data which would give a competitive advantage to another party.

The attacks use methodical but far from sophisticated hacking techniques, according to McAfee’s European director of security strategy, Greg Day.

First the hackers compromise extranet web servers using a common SQL injection attack, allowing remote command execution.

Commonly available hacking tools are then uploaded to the compromised web servers, allowing access to the intranet and therefore sensitive desktop and internal servers.

Password cracking tools then allow the hackers to access further desktops and servers, while disabling Internet Explorer proxy settings allows direct communication from infected machines to the internet, said McAfee.

The hackers then use the specific Remote Access Trojan or Remote Administration Tool (RAT) program to browse through email archives and other sensitive documents on various desktops, specifically targeting executives.

Night Dragon hackers also tried spear phishing techniques on mobile worker laptops and compromising corporate VPN accounts in order to get past the corporate firewall and conduct reconnaissance of specific computers.

Although there is no clear evidence that the attacks were carried out by the state, individuals or corporations, there are clear links to China, said McAfee.

For example, it was from several locations in China that individuals ” leveraged command-and-control servers on purchased hosted services in the US and compromised servers in the Netherlands”, said the security vendor in a white paper entitled Global Energy Cyberattacks: Night Dragon (PDF).

In addition, many of the tools used in the attacks, such as WebShell and ASPXSpy, are commonplace on Chinese hacker sites, while the RAT malware was found to communicate to its operator only during the nine to five working hours of Chinese local time.

McAfee said that researchers had seen evidence of Night Dragon attacks going back at least two years.

“Why is it only now coming to light? Well, the environments and security controls these days are so complex it is very easy for them to slip under the radar of visibility,” Day explained.

“Only really in the last few weeks have we been able to get enough intelligence together to join the dots up, so our goal now is to make the public aware.”

Day advised any company which suspects it may have been targeted to go back and look through anti-virus and network traffic logs to see whether systems have been compromised.

Low level day-to-day problems can often be tell-tale signs of a larger, more concerted attack, he added.

William Beer, a director in PricewaterhouseCooper’s OneSecurity practice argued that the revelations show that traditional defences just don’t work.

“The cost to oil, gas and petrochemical companies of this size could be huge, but important lessons can be learned to fend off further attacks,” he added.

“More investment and focus, as well as support and awareness of the security function, is required from business leaders. Across companies of any size and industry, investment in security measures pays for itself many times over.”

Lately there has been a bit of a hullabaloo about Night Dragon. Frankly, coming from where I do having been in the defense contracting sector, this is nothing new at all. In fact, this is just a logical progression in the “Thousand Grains of Sand” approach that the Chinese have regarding espionage, including the industrial variety. They are patient and they are persistent which makes their operations all the more successful against us.

The article above also has a pdf file from Mcaffee that is a watered down explanation of the modus operandi as well as unfortunately, comes off as a sales document for their AV products. Aside from this, the article and pdf make a few interesting points that are not really expanded upon.

1) The attacks are using the hacked systems/networks own admin access means to exfiltrate the data and escalate access into the core network. This has effectively bypassed the AV and other means of detection that might put a stop to a hack via malware.

2)  The data that the Chinese have exfiltrated was not elaborated on. Much of the data concerns future gas/oil discovery. This gives the Chinese a leg up on how to manipulate the markets as well as get their own foot in the door in places where new sources of energy are being mined for.

All in all, a pretty standard operation for the Chinese. The use of the low tek hacking to evade the tripwire of AV is rather clever, but then again many of us in the industry really don’t feel that AV is worth the coding cycles put into it. Nothing too special here really. Mostly though, this gives more insight into a couple of things;

1) The APT wasn’t just a Google thing

2) Energy is a top of the list thing, and given the state of affairs today with the Middle East and the domino effect going on with regime change, we should pay more attention.

Now, let me give you a hint at who is next… Can you say wheat? Yep, take a look at this last year’s wheat issues.. Wouldn’t be surprised if some of the larger combines didn’t have the same discoveries of malware and exfiltration going on.


SPOOK COUNTRY 2011: HBGary, Palantir, and the CIRC

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The establishment of a Corporate Information

Reconnaissance Cell (CIRC) will provide Hunton &

Williams LLP with a full spectrum capability set to

collect, analyze, and affect adversarial entities and

networks of interest.

From: Team Themis pdf

CIRC: The New Private Intelligence Wing of (insert company name here)

The HBGary debacle is widening and the players are beginning to jump ship each day. The HBGary mother company is disavowing Aaron Barr and HBGary Federal today via twitter and press releases. However, if you look at the email spool that was leaked, you can see that they could have put a stop to Aaron’s game but failed to put the hammer down. I personally think that they all saw the risk, but they also saw the dollar signs, which in the end won the day.

What Aaron and HBGary/Palantir/Berico were offering was a new kind of intelligence gathering unit or “cell” as they called it in the pdf they shopped to Hunton & Williams LLP. Now, the idea and practice of private intelligence gathering has been around for a very long time, however, the stakes are changing today in the digital world. In the case of Hunton, they were looking for help at the behest of the likes of Bank of America to fight off Wikileaks… And when I say fight them off, it would seem more in the sense of an anything goes just short of “wet works” operations by what I see in the spool which is quite telling.

You see, Wikileaks has made claims that they have a certain 5 gig of data that belonged to a CEO of a bank. Suddenly BofA is all set to have Hunton work with the likes of Aaron Barr on a black project to combat Wikileaks. I guess the cat is out of the bag then isn’t it on just who’s data that is on that alleged hard drive huh? It would seem that someone lost an unencrypted drive or, someone inside the company had had enough and leaked the data to Wikileaks. Will we ever really know I wonder?

Either way, Barr et al, were ready to offer a new offering to Hunton and BofA, an intelligence red cell that could use the best of new technologies against Anonymous and Wikileaks. Now, the document says nothing about Anonymous nor Wikileaks, but the email spool does. This was the intent of the pitch and it was the desire of Hunton and BofA to make both Anonymous and Wikileaks go away, for surely if Wikileaks were attacked Anonymous would be the de facto response would they not?

A long time ago William Gibson predicted this kind of war of attrition online. His dystopian world included private intelligence firms as well as lone hackers out there “DataCowboy’s” running the gamut of corporate intelligence operations to outright theft of Pharma-Kombinat data. It seems that his prescient writings are coming into shape today as a reality in a way. With the advent of what Barr and company wanted to offer, they would be that new “cowboy” or digital Yakuza that would rid clients of pesky digital and real world problems through online investigation and manipulation.

In short, Hunton would have their very own C4I cell within their corporate walls to set against any problem they saw fit. Not only this, but had this sale been a go, then perhaps this would be a standard offering to every other company who could afford it. Can you imagine the bulk of corporations out tehre having their own internal intelligence and dirty tricks wings? Nixon, EH Hunt, and Liddy would all be proud. Though, Nixon and the plumbers would have LOVED to have the technology that Aaron has today, had they had it, they may in fact have been able to pull off that little black bag job on Democratic HQ without ever having to have stepped inside the Watergate

The Technology:

I previously wrote about the technology and methods that Aaron wanted to use/develop and what he was attempting to use on Anonymous as a group as the test case. The technology is based on frequency analysis, link connections, social networking, and a bit of manual investigation. However, it seemed to Aaron, that the bulk of the work would be on the technology side linking people together without really doing the grunt work. The grunt work would be actually conducting analysis of connections and the people who have made them. Their reasons for connections being really left out of the picture as well as the chance that many people within the mass lemming hoards of Anonymous are just click happy clueless folks.

Nor did Aaron take into account the use of the same technologies out there to obfuscate identities and connections by those people who are capable, to completely elude his system altogether. These core people that he was looking to connect together as Anonymous, if indeed he is right, are tech savvy and certainly would take precautions. So, how is it that he thinks he will be able to use macroverse data to define a micro-verse problem? I am steadily coming to the conclusion that perhaps he was not looking to use that data to winnow it down to a few. Instead, through the emails, I believe he was just going to aggregate data from the clueless LOIC users and leverage that by giving the Feds easy pickings to investigate, arrest, and hopefully put the pressure on the core of Anonymous.

There was talk in the emails of using pressure points on people like the financial supporters of Wikileaks. This backs up the statement above because if people are using digital means to support Wikileaks or Anonymous they leave an easy enough trail to follow and aggregate. Those who are friending Facebook support pages for either entity and use real or pseudo real information consistently, you can easily track them. Eventually, you will get their real identities by sifting the data over time using a tool like Palantir, or for that matter Maltego.

The ANONYMOUS names file

This however, does not work on those who are net and security savvy.. AKA hackers. Aaron was too quick to make assumptions that the core of Anonymous weren’t indeed smart enough to cover their tracks and he paid the price as we have seen.

The upshot here and extending what I have said before.. A fool with a tool.. Is still a fool.

What is coming out though more each day, is that not only was Aaron and HBGary Fed offering Palantir, but they were also offering the potential for 0day technologies as a means to gather intelligence from those targets as well as use against them in various ways. This is one of the scarier things to come out of the emails. Here we have a company that is creating 0day for use by intelligence and government that is now potentially offering it to private corporations.

Truly, it’s black Ice… Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of their 0day offerings wasn’t already called that.

The INFOSEC Community, HBGary, and Spook Country:

Since my last post was put on Infosecisland, I had some heated comments from folks who, like those commenting on the Ligattleaks events, have begun moralizing about right and wrong. Their perception is that this whole HBGary is an Infosec community issue, and in reality it isn’t. The Infosec community is just what the shortened name means, (information security) You all in the community are there to protect the data of the client. When you cross the line into intelligence gathering you go from a farily clear black and white, to a world of grays.

HBGary crossed into the gray areas long ago when they started the Fed practice and began working with the likes of the NSA/DOD/CIA etc. What the infosec community has to learn is that now the true nature of cyberwar is not just shutting down the grid and trying to destroy a country, but it also is the “Thousand Grains of Sand” approach to not only spying, but warfare in general. Information is the currency today as it ever was, it just so happens now that it is easier to get that information digitally by hacking into something as opposed to hiring a spy.

So, all of you CISSP’s out there fighting the good fight to make your company actually have policies and procedures, well, you also have to contend with the idea that you are now at war. It’s no longer just about the kiddies taking credit cards. It’s now about the Yakuza, the Russian Mob, and governments looking to steal your data or your access. Welcome to the new world of “spook country”

There is no black and white. There is only gray now.

The Morals:

And so it was, that I was getting lambasted on infosecisland for commenting that I could not really blame Anonymous for their actions completely against HBGary/Aaron. Know what? I still can’t really blame them. As an entity, Anonymous has fought the good fight on many occasions and increasingly they have been a part of the mix where the domino’s are finally falling all over the Middle East presently. Certain factions of the hacker community as well have been assisting when the comms in these countries have been stifled by the local repressive governments and dictators in an effort to control what the outside world see’s as well as its own people inside.

It is my belief that Anonymous does have its bad elements, but, given what I know and what I have seen, so does every group or government. Take a look at our own countries past with regard to the Middle East and the CIA’s machinations there. Instead of fighting for a truly democratic ideal, they have instead sided with the strong man in hopes of someday making that transition to a free society, but in the meantime, we have a malleable player in the region, like Mubarak.

So far, I don’t see Anonymous doing this. So, in my world of gray, until such time as Anonymous does something so unconscionable that it requires their destruction, I say let it ride. For those of your out there saying they are doing it for the power and their own ends, I point you in the direction of our government and say this; “Pot —> Kettle —> Black” Everyone does everything whether it be a single person or a government body out of a desired outcome for themselves. Its a simple fact.


We truly live in interesting times as the Chinese would curse us with. Today the technology and the creative ways to use it are outstripping the governments in ability to keep things secret. In the case of Anonymous and HBGary, we have seen just how far the company was willing to go to subvert the laws to effect the ends of their clients. The same can be said about the machinations of the government and the military in their ends. However, one has to look at those ends and the means to get them and judge just was it out of bounds. In the case of the Barr incident, we are seeing that true intelligence techniques of disinformation, psyops, and dirty tricks were on the table for a private company to use against private citizens throughout the globe.

The truth is that this has always been an offering… Just this time the technologies are different and more prevalent.

If you are online, and you do not take precautions to insure your privacy, then you lose. This is even more true today in the US as we see more and more bills and laws allowing the government and police to audit everything you do without the benefit of warrants and or by use of National Security Letters.

The only privacy you truly have, is that which you make for yourself. Keep your wits about you.


HB Gary: Hubris, Bad Science, Poor Operational Methodology, and The HIVE MIND

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Algorithms, Social Networks, and COMINT:

When I had heard that HB Gary had been popped and their spool file was on PB I thought that it was unfortunate for them as a fairly well known company. Once the stories started coming out though with the emails being published online, I began to re-think it all. It seems that Aaron Barr really fucked the pooch on this whole thing. He primarily did so due to his own hubris, and for this I cannot fault Anonymous for their actions (within reason) in breaking HB Gary and Barr’s digital spine.

It seems that Barr was labouring not only a flawed theory on tracking social networks, but also in that he planned on selling such a theory and application to the government. One notion was bad, and the other was worse. First off though, lets cover the science shall we? Barr wanted to track users on social networks and show connections that would lead to further data on the users. The extension that he was trying to make was obtaining actual real names, locations and affiliations from disparate sources (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, IRC, etc) While this type of data gathering has been done in the past, it has not usually been culled from multiple sources automatically electronically and then strung together to form a coherent pattern. In short, Barr was wanting to create software/scripts to just scrape content, and then try to connect the dots based on statistics to tie people to an entity like Anonymous. The problem, and what Barr seemed to not comprehend, is that the Internet is a stochastic system, and as such it is impossible to do what he wanted with any kind of accuracy. At least in the way he wanted to do it, you see, it takes some investigation skills to make the connections that a scripted process cannot.

This can be seen directly from the article snippet below where the programmer calls Barr on his flawed logic in what he was doing and wanted to do.

From “How one man tracked down Anonymous and paid a heavy price

“Danger, Will Robinson!”

Throughout Barr’s research, though, the coder he worked with worried about the relevance of what was being revealed. Barr talked up the superiority of his “analysis” work, but doubts remained. An email exchange between the two on January 19 is instructive:

Barr: [I want to] check a persons friends list against the people that have liked or joined a particular group.

Coder: No it won’t. It will tell you how mindless their friends are at clicking stupid shit that comes up on a friends page. especially when they first join facebook.

Barr: What? Yes it will. I am running throug analysis on the anonymous group right now and it definately would.

Coder: You keep assuming you’re right, and basing that assumption off of guilt by association.

Barr: Noooo….its about probabilty based on frequency…c’mon ur way smarter at math than me.

Coder: Right, which is why i know your numbers are too small to draw the conclusion but you don’t want to accept it. Your probability based on frequency right now is a gut feeling. Gut feelings are usually wrong.

Barr: [redacted]

Coder: [some information redacted] Yeah, your gut feelings are awesome! Plus, scientifically proven that gut feelings are wrong by real scientist types.

Barr: [some information redacted] On the gut feeling thing…dude I don’t just go by gut feeling…I spend hours doing analysis and come to conclusions that I know can be automated…so put the taco down and get to work!

Coder: I’m not doubting that you’re doing analysis. I’m doubting that statistically that analysis has any mathematical weight to back it. I put it at less than .1% chance that it’s right. You’re still working off of the idea that the data is accurate. mmmm…..taco!

Aaron, I have news for you, the coder was right! Let the man eat his taco in peace! For God’s sake you were hanging your hat completely on scrape data from disparate social networks to tie people together within a deliberately anonymous body of individuals! Of course one could say that this is not an impossible feat, but, one would also say that it would take much more than just gathering statistical data of logins and postings, it would take some contextual investigation too. This was something Barr was not carrying out.

I actually know something about this type of activity as you all may know. I do perform scraping, but, without real context to understand the data (i.e. understanding the users, their goals, their MO, etc) then you really have no basis to predict what they are going to do or really their true affiliations. In the case of jihadi’s they often are congregating on php boards, so you can easily gather their patterns of friendship or communications just by the postings alone. Now, trying to tie these together with posts on other boards, unless the users use the same nick or email address, is nearly impossible.

Just how Aaron Barr was proposing to do this and get real usable data is beyond comprehension. It was thus that the data he did produce, and then leak to the press enraged Anonymous, who then hacked HB Gary and leaked the data in full claiming that none of the data was correct. Either way, Aaron got his clock cleaned not only from the hack (which now claims to have been partially a social engineering attack on the company) but also from the perspective of his faulty methodologies to harvest this data being published to the world by Anonymous.

OSINT, Counter-Intelligence, and Social Engineering:

The real ways to gather the intelligence on people like Anonymous’ core group is to infiltrate them. Aaron tried this at first, but failed to actually be convincing at it. The Anon’s caught on quickly to him and outed him with relish, they in fact used this as an advantage, spurring on their own efforts to engineer the hack on HB Gary. Without the right kind of mindset or training, one cannot easily insert themselves in a group like this and successfully pull of the role of mole or double agent.

In the case of Anonymous though, it is not impossible to pull this off. It would take time and patience. Patience it seems that Aaron Barr lacked as much as he did on scientific and mathematical method where this whole expedition was concerned. Where his method could have been successful would have only come from the insertion of an agent provocateur into the core group to gather intel and report back those connections. Without that, the process which Aaron was trying would have yielded some data, but to sift through it all with interviews by the FBI and other agencies would have become ponderous and useless in the end.

It is my belief that there is a core group of Anon’s as I have said before. Simply from a C&C structure, there has to be an operational core in order for there to be cohesion. This can be seen in any hive structure like bees, there are drones, and there is a queen. A simple infrastructure that works efficiently, and in the case of anon, I believe it is much the same. So, were one looking to infiltrate this core, they would have a bit of a time doing so, but, it could be done. Take out the core, and you take out the operational ability of the unit as a whole to be completely effective. To do this though, one should be able to understand and apply the precepts of counter intelligence warfare, something Barr failed to grasp.

In the end.. It bit him pretty hard in the ass because he was in a hurry to go to press and to sell the ideas to the military industrial complex. Funny though, the real boys and girls of the spook world would have likely told him the same thing I am saying here… No sale.

Oh well… Arron Icarus Barr flew too close to the anonymous sun on wings made from faulty mathematical designs and burned up on re-entry.


Talk on Chinese Cyber Army Pulled From Black Hat: Nothing To See Here… Move Along…

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“Operation Aurora, GhostNet, Titan Rain. Reactions were totally different in the US and in Asia. While the US media gave huge attention, Asia find it unbelievable and interesting, that cyber warfare and government-backed commercial espionage efforts that have been well established and conduced since 2002, and have almost become a part of people’s lives in Asia, caused so much “surprise” in the US.

Here we’ll call this organization as how they’ve been properly known for the past eight years as the “Cyber Army,” or “Wang Jun” in Mandarin. This is a study of Cyber Army based on incidences, forensics, and investigation data since 2001. Using facts, we will reconstruct the face of Cyber Army (CA), including who they are, where they are, who they target, what they want, what they do, their funding, objectives, organization, processes, active hours, tools, and techniques.”

Full article Here:

“We’ve been hacked! Oh wait, you’re in Paris… You can’t help us.. CLICK”

Color me not surprised to see that this talk was yanked off of the BlackHat schedule. This is specifically in light of the fact that the presenter is from Taiwan, a protectorate of China and likely if the talk went ahead, then the speaker and his company would have been sanctioned by the Chinese government. Though, it could be that there are other players here that may not want some bits of information out in the open but who’s to say at this juncture? Suffice to say that something in this iteration (and there have been others of this same talk given) got them spooked.

The other comment that struck me was the red text above that mirrors what I have been saying all along since the whole Google APT thing erupted onto the media stage here in the states.

This is nothing new.

The Chinese have been at this for some time just as other countries had been doing the same thing. It is just perhaps the scale and the persistence that has been the key to the difference here. The Chinese have the 1000 grains of sand approach that is culturally specific to them. They took that notion, the game of “Go” and and what they learned from Sun Tzu then applied it to their cyber warfare/inforwar stratagem. Its only a natural progression really given their culture and history. What really takes me aback is just how little the West (ala the US) seems to be so ignorant of this that it has me wondering just what navel they have been gazing at all of this time while the Chinese ate our collective lunches.

So here we are, months later after the Google revelations and years after the successful attacks that no one dare name for fear of national security or perhaps national egg on the collective national face with regard to incursions in the past on sensitive networks. You see, yes Virginia, there have been other incursions and much more has been stolen via networking infrastructure as well as HUMINT by the likes of China in the past. Its just that its either classified, hush hush, or, more likely, the targets have no idea that they had been compromised and their data stolen. It’s all just a matter of the security awareness that we have had.. Well, where that has been nationally has been in the toilet really, so extrapolate from that the amount of data that has been stolen ok? Lets use the JSF as an example of this as its been in the news.

Trending Lately.. APT+JSF = Chinese Love

Now, given that this type of talk has been the “du jour” lately on the security and government circuit, lets move the target further out and to the left a bit ok? I have been noticing something in the news that has direct connection to my last employer, so I will be judicious with my speech here.. How shall I start….

Ok… Lets name the players…

Lockheed Martin: Hacked and about 2TB of data taken out of the systems… Inclusive on the JSF project

(Undisclosed company that makes hot object integral to flight) : Nothing in the news…. wink wink nudge nudge..

The FAA: Hacked and back channeled through trusted networks into Lockheed and ostensibly other companies

The JSF itself.. Well the congress wants to keep the program afloat while the main military brass want to kill it. You see, its been compromised already and I suspect well enough, that the technical advantages that it was supposed to have, are pretty much gone now. You see, all those hacked systems and terabytes of data exfiltrated out were enough to compromise the security of the ship herself and give the enemy all they needed to defeat her “stealth” systems.

Somewhere in China there’s a hangar, a runway, and a Chinese version of the JSF sitting on the tarmac doing pre-flight I think.

So the latest scuttlebut out there with regard to the cost overruns and the problems with the JSF are just one part of the picture I think. Sure, there is political intrigue and backstabbing going on too, but, were I the military and my new uber plane was no longer uber, nor cost efficient, I would be killing it too and looking for something else to use in theater.

So how did this happen?

Causality: Trusted Networks, Poor Planning, Poor Technical and Procedural Security, and The Human Equation

The method of attack that compromised the networks in question involved a multi-layer strategy of social hacks as well as technical ones. The Chinese used the best of social engineering attacks with technical precision to compromise not only the more secured networks, but also to use trust relationships between companies working on the JSF to get the data they wanted. You see, all of these companies have to talk to each other to make this plane. This means that they will have networked connections either via VPN or directly within their infrastructures to pass data. By hitting the lesser secured network/company/individuals they can eventually escalate privilege or just hop right onto the networks that they want in a back door manner.

Hit the weakest point and leverage it.

In the case of the JSF, the terabytes of data were never really elaborated on but I can guess that not only was it flight traffic data, but integrally, the flight recording data concerning all of the systems on board as the plane was tested. Inclusive to this, if the APT got further into Lockheed and other companies that make the plane, they might have data on the level of actual CAD drawings of parts, chemical analysis and composition details, as well as the actual code written to operate the systems on board the plane for it to function.

In short, all of the pieces of the puzzle on how to make one.

Sure, there must be gaps, I am sure that they did not gain access to some ITAR/EAR data but, given the nature of the beast, they can infer on some things and in other areas perhaps get analogous or dual use technologies to fill in the gaps. The two terabytes are the only terabytes that we “know of” or shall I say allowed to be known of. It is highly likely that that data is not the only stuff to be taken. Its just a matter of finding out if it has.. And in some cases, they can’t even tell because of the poor security postures of those companies involved.

The reasons for these companies (with the exception of Lockheeds) lack of insight into their security is simply because they have not been corporately aware enough to care about it… Yet. Perhaps now they are getting better post the hacks on Lockheed and others, but it has been my experience that even after a big hack is exposed in the news, many corporate entities take a “it can’t happen to me” attitude and go on about BAU until they get popped and put on the news. What’s more, the Chinese know this and use it to their advantage utterly.

You see, its not just all about super technical networking. It’s also because they don’t even have solid policies, procedures, response plans, and other BASIC security measures in place or being tested and vetted regularly. This negates the super cool technical measures that they might have bought from the likes of IBM and CISCO because Johnny Bonehead C level exec says he MUST have a 4 character password and ADMIN access to his machine.

All against policy… If they do indeed have one on that…

Failure is imminent unless the sum of the parts are in working order. This means the dogma of policy, security education, incident response, RBAC, etc, the CIA triad are in place and have acceptance from the upper echelon of the company. All too often this is not the case and thus easy compromise occurs.

Circling Back To The BlackHat Talk:

Ok, circling back now after my diatribe… My bet is that both parties (China and US) did not want this talk to go on depending on the data that was within. Some red faces would likely have ensued and or would have given people ideas on where to attack in future also. It’s a win win for all concerned if the talk was made to go away and well, it did didn’t it? Unless this guy says he quits his job, moves away from Taiwan and then gives the talk anyway. I doubt that is going to happen though.

In the end, the cyber “war” has been going on for years… Well more like cyber “espionage” but in todays long view I see them as the same thing. After all, a good cyber warfare strategem includes compromise of key systems and data in order to make them useless at the right time.

The Cyber War has been raging since the 90’s. It’s just that the American people and media have only recently heard of the “internents” being vulnerable.

Wakey wakey…


Auditing Career: Dealing with Mentally Unstable Managers

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My Psychologist friend jokingly suggested that auditors receive training  on how to interact with people suffering with  Attention Deficit Disorders, bipolar disorders and in group dynamics in the corporate environment.    A company’s culture is a very complex organism.   Even the smallest places have complicated political and social layers (silos) that have nothing to do with the official roles and functions performed by individuals and shown in organizational charts.    Decisions in organizations, anyone who is observant will confirm, are not always made based on logic, business reasoning, policies, controls, and/or the need to comply with external regulations.  They are often made based on fear, anger, sexual attraction, insecurity, jealousy, greed, hate, prejudices and confusion. Because of these things, it is easy for mentally unstable people to “hide” in the open.   In many organizations these behaviors are sheltered because those at the top benefit from that sort of culture.

I love this line that I have highlighted, because really, its the basis of 99% of the decisions made in corporations. Much of that decision making process on the lower levels (operations) are made for the more base desires founded within the daily sloth of individuals that comprise the management set.


The thrust of this article is predicated on the idea that many people in positions of management are in fact potentially mentally ill, or show signs of such behavior. I can see some of that, but that is not the case all of the time. This article does not take into account the sloth and greed factors as much as they should be I think on a gross product level within American corporations. Sure there is a lot of greed, but, the closer assessment I have made has been that no one wants to be responsible and would rather just have a “good day” and go home after a solid 7.5 hours of internet surfing.

Other areas of concern would be ineptitude, negligence, lack of capacity for comprehension, and general lacksadazical attitudes on the parts of many where these matters (security/audit) are concerned. These are also backed by the near absolute lack of real follow through by entities to fine and or censure companies that do not comply with regulations and really audit companies well to assure they are doing their part.

So, lacking any real negative re-enforcements, the masses fall into a complacency that allows for such behaviors and feelings of entitlement on the part of managers etc. Also, because of the varying morays of corporations, it is also possible to maximize the behavior because the “manager” is God in the org and can do nothing wrong. If they want that open pipe to the internet to surf YouTube and have a sub standard (and against written corporate policy) password as well as no hard drive encryption to boot, then BY GOD they should have it because they are “management”

In a word, I would say that much of corporate America is “dysfunctional” and needs a good spanking as well as be sent to bed without supper! Or maybe, just maybe some more and REAL oversight in how they do their business should be carried out. Much like we are now seeing with the whole issues with Goldman Sachs and their cavalier attitudes on selling “pure intellectual masturbation” to the masses, thus crashing the economy.


On the other hand, were you to take these features into account when you are auditing a company (more to the point penetrating one) then you could use all of these features in your attack. So, remember, always look at not only the threatscape, but also the psy-scape for your openings. Open your ears and take mental notes, because that sub standard password and other breaking of the rules could get you in much further much faster than by having to gain a toehold elsewhere kids.


William Gibson’s Future is Here: Keiretsu’s, Phramacom’s, Kombinats, and Private Intelligence

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World View Change:

I just finished reading “Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy” by Eamon Javers moments ago and it has had me thinking for some time now about the private intelligence business. Of course I believe that in many ways, the last 10 years or so of my career has been in an analogous business, that of “Information Security”, a euphemism that covers a portion of what I do on a regular basis for clients by checking their security and trying to circumvent it to steal their data.

Of course in my case and others, we are asked to do so by the targets themselves and to recommend fixes for anything that we find.

However, it seems that since at least the 2000’s a boutique business model for “Private Intelligence” has burgeoned around the globe and now it seems to be at its height in this current economic climate. After all, if you as company A can get an edge on company B by hiring some old intelligence warhorses to spy on B, then all the better eh? I mean, in today’s ethically “gray” world, what’s to stop you? Governmental regulation? HA!

Once, long ago, I was an altruistic sort and believed not only in my government but also in business’ and people’s desire to do the “right thing” Now, 13 years later, I have come to the conclusion that there are no companies, nor people out there who are genuinely looking to do the right thing. After working for fortune 500 companies as well as smaller ones, I am now aware that the only motivation that they all have is to “get ahead” or to “have a good day and not rock the boat” as my last employer proved out in spades.

In short, I have come to the conclusion that there is no black and white.. Only gray areas in which we can choose to hide and learn to live with ourselves.

In the business of “Corporate or Private Intelligence” one can make a good living as long as they don’t suddenly grow a conscience about exactly who they are surveilling or gathering intel on as well as to whom they are providing it to. Though, often these entities who are paying the bill have a middle man (aka a law firm) hiring you out to do the work so as to have a blind spot vis a vis “confidentiality” agreements. So you may never really know what you are up to in the grand scheme. However, in my new world view, I should feel indifferent I think about the whole thing because the base truth is that each of the parties involved (being watched and paying for the service) both likely subscribe to the morays of our current corporate and governmental environment…

“What’s in it for me?”

Stepping Into the Forest of Mirrors:

So it has come that in today’s world, the intelligence agents MUST be technically savvy in order to work. I have seen the articles online about how the CIA and MI5/MI6 have begun large recruitment drives for individuals with technical backgrounds in computing. The problem though that they have is this, their pay grades suck and in today’s world too few are true believers in God and Country. So the private sector seems to be the most logical choice for anyone who wants to make a living and have enough to actually retire when they are too old to work any more.

Of course in the book a chapter is devoted to the idea that many of the agents out there today at the CIA are now “allowed” to moonlight as long as they tell the agency and get approval to do so. I guess in order to keep talent, the CIA decided it was best to allow these activities as long as they were not compromising any operations… Makes sense, after all the largest GS salary one can really get tops out at just over $100,000.00… Not much in today’s salary base huh? So it would seem that many are getting the training from the CIA and other agencies then moving on to the private sector.

Meanwhile, that private sector is not sipping at the private intelligence spigot, they are gulping it down. It seems that not only nation states are the main recipient of corporate intelligence any more. Instead, its the idea of conglomerates and corporations practicing business as war in the best of traditions that harken back to the “Keiretsu” and Sun Tzu. Perhaps my assessment of American business was slightly off in one of my last posts?

Nah, I think instead that they are all practicing this means of corporate warfare, but lack the stability nor forward thinking of the Japanese Keiretsu model. It’s corporate spy vs. spy and the only ones to really profit are the spies themselves. In this I find a certain comfort really, because frankly, the corporations that I have been inside of, do not deserve to get ahead due to their sloth and lack of forward thinking. A certain intransigence and laziness pervades most companies where it comes to being able to fend off such attacks as those used in corporate digital warfare and frankly, its their own fault.

So, where does that leave me? It leaves me thinking that to really make a living and to maximize my talent use, it would be better to walk away from trying to teach these companies anything about securing their data and instead use their weaknesses against them working for such a firm as the Trident Group or any number of others out there. Perhaps to even just start my own agency. After all, who’s job in corporate America is safe today? By being a good soldier and doing your all do you really get any consideration from the company you work for?

Think about it.

Final Analysis:

In the end, I found this book to be quite enlightening. I was rather surprised by the last pages where the author tried to put forth the idea that all corporate intelligence firms should register with the government (ala the SEC) to work. I think he was smoking the proverbial crack pipe when he put that to paper, but I understand his altruistic thrust there. Eamon, that will never happen and it won’t because if you register these places their cover is blown. How would an agency of that type ever really work if the government has them and their employees registered in an ever so safe SQL database on an insecure server somewhere huh?


If you get the chance, read the book. You too will be enlightened as to what is going on out there in the world today. You will not see things in black and white any more, that’s for sure. Oh, and if you are a William Gibson fan, you will undoubtedly have to stop yourselves and think “Shit, he predicted things to the T again!”