Archive for the ‘CounterIntelligence’ Category
Insider Threat SNOWDEN:
The insider threat has always been and always will be the bigger of the threats or so the aphorism goes. In reality it certainly seems to be the case in the Snowden affair and the NSA is still stinging from it as I write this. Snowden leveraged his administrative access where he could and used technical and social means as well to gather the information and access he wanted to ex-filtrate out of Ft. Meade. Since Snowden was so successful and the NSA and IC has been blindsided by the ease of the attack and their stunning lack of controls the government and IC has been re-thinking their security around insider threats. Since much of today’s technology allows for ease of access and people tend to be the weakest link in the security chain (on average) the NSA is looking to more proactive controls against this type of exploit. Since they failed logically and technically to stop an insider attack I assume that they are in a real bind trying to assert control over not only the data they house but also the custodians of that data and architecture as well.
The Insider Threat Has Always Been The Largest:
Since the dawn of time the insider threat has always been a go to if possible in waging war against anyone. The Trojan Horse for example is the greatest use of the “insider” by placing outsiders inside and making the opposition the method of their own doom. Insiders though are commonly traitors or spies (sleeper or other) inserted or bought to work for the opposition to gain access inside the confines of the sanctum. In the case of hacking and digital malfeasance this often times takes the shape of an insider who feels they have been wronged in some way and either steals IP or destroys operations within a company or org to cause great damage. What has come to light though over the years and now has been brought to the fore are the psychological and social cues or traits that make a person more likely to be an insider threat.
In the case of espionage the recruitment of spies really is the tale of an insider threat. What makes someone become an asset for a service like the CIA? Within the IC (CIA) a lot of time was spent on the psychology of recruitment and handling of assets. MICE was the standard by which the CIA handled recruitment and handling up until recently when a new paradigm was put forth (RASCLS) which is much more reciprocal instead of just carrot and stick. Where all of this touches on insider threats though in the common vernacular of INFOSEC is where the motivation lies for someone’s actions. In a paper put out recently called “Inside the Mind of An Insider” the focus is on technologists and insider attacks that they have or may carry out and their personal motivations as well as proclivities to do so within the tech sector. I however would assert that this take is only a sub header within the larger umbrella of motivations and actions that an insider whether or not they are a spy or just an aggravated tech worker would have or carry out.
in the paper (cited above in picture at top) the writers lay out the “six characteristics” that coincidentally make up much of the same ideals and motivations that you will find in a recruit-able asset within the IC sphere. In fact, I would assert as well that if in fact Snowden were at all contacted by an outside security services to do what he did, these motivations would have been leveraged within him as well. What it all comes down to human nature. We are all subject to wants and desires as well as feelings of being under appreciated or not appreciated at all in our daily lives. This makes anyone potentially an insider whether they self activate or are handled by someone.
Countermeasures And Technologies:
The NSA though has been working on some technical means of detection and deterrence of an insider attack where other logical means have failed. These consist of programs that monitor behaviour patterns of users and access as well as I can only assume their outside activities such as internet access, browsing, and comments on sites. Can such programs really detect accurately the mind of a person and their motivations to lock down on them as a potential threat? I am sure that the technology is getting much better at this heuristic behaviour detection so sure but I don’t think it will be infallible however. I also suspect that it will also mark people as bad actors when in fact they may never even entertain the thought of actually carrying out some plan against the NSA or whatever company that might employ such tech. I would also assume that the people at the NSA will be undergoing more frequent and rigorous Poly sessions as well as perhaps psychological profiling which does not bode well for many I think who want to feel as though they are part of a team. Generally the job is stressful enough when you cannot talk about anything you do and are always fearing that you might slip at some point and give away information that you shouldn’t. The psychological stress of cleared life is hard and this will all just make it a little harder in the post Snowden world.
Whether you call it an “insider threat” or a spy, saboteur, or insurgent the same psychology applies. People are motivated by things that are personal to them. Desires they have for money, power, or fame as well as a myriad of other reasons for their actions. To attempt to detect and deter this activity will be quite the undertaking and hard enough in the classified world. Now imagine that you are not a cleared individual but instead an corporate employee, how are you going to feel about such activities and programs attempting to tell whether or not you might turn on the company and damage their servers? I somehow doubt that many corporations will undertake the threat modelling here for insider threats as seriously as the NSA but I can see where some might want some insight. We already have things like Websense and IDS/IPS/SIEM tech that follows traffic but with the advent of the likes of Facebook, how long will it be until they offer a service that tracks users behaviour and sells it to your security department? If companies are sufficiently worried about their insider threats then they will begin profiling and putting in countermeasures.
Welcome to the brave new world…
THE SNOWDEN AFFAIR:
Since the revelations began and the man without a country odyssey started all of our lives have changed at a fundamental level regarding our digital and private lives. The now million plus document trove is being parsed out by Glen Greenwald and others for the public to get a look into the inner workings of the state surveillance apparatus much to the consternation of the IC as well as the government and the dismay of the public. However you look upon Mr. Snowden and his choice you have to admit that the information does lend an insight into the great potential for abuse of the apparatus that the NSA has put together no matter what they may tell you they are doing or not doing to protect us. You see the point is no matter what alleged safeguards and altruism may lie within the apparatus and it’s employees it’s still ripe for abuse that will never see the light of day because it’s all classified and codified by the government. This is the point of the exercise as I see it from Mr. Snowden’s point of view and the aegis behind his doing what he did. Of course from day one darker minds would make assertions that there were darker geopolitical machinations at play and this was all just a dastardly plan to destroy us as a country. Of course as the passion play played out it was first China, the go to country for all our woe’s of late (APT etc) but as time wore on and Snowden found a perch in Russia, it’s now “clear” to some in the government that the plot was in fact Russian all along.
Mike Rogers has been the bell ringer on the idea that Snowden from the get go was in fact a handled and groomed asset by a foreign power. His most recent bellowing without any real evidence is that Snowden was in fact an asset for Russia from the start and furthermore that all of this was done to damage the US and seek primacy once again on the international stage. Of course as I mentioned already Mike cannot offer any evidence and he alludes to “secrecy” of the data but in reality until you have proof that you can emphatically state and present the people it’s all just wild speculation and a form of conspiracy or propaganda in and of itself. While it is possible that Snowden was from the start an asset of the
KGB FSB, the evidence thus far for motive, methods, and follow through are somewhat thin and I cannot go on the record as thinking he was handled from the start by Russia or any other nation state. The fact that Snowden ended up in Russia at Sheremetyevo may in fact be because of the machinations of Assange and Wikileaks brokering the deal to get him there and then to get him allowed into the country not as a plan all along. There is more evidence to say that this is in fact the case then there is of any KGB FSB actions.
Using the paradigm of “Occam’s Razor” here let’s run through the possibilities on whether or not the claims being made by Mike Rogers and others out there that this was a carefully planned operation that cultivated Ed Snowden to become the largest leaker in history.
- Ed Snowden is a naive individual who became through a sequence of events, an administrator within the IC networks and began to see things he thought were illegal and immoral
- He used his knowledge of hacking and technologies to accumulate data through his own administrative access and social engineering
- Once he saw the data he decided to leak all that he could and after seeing what happened to Manning made a plan to go to a country that in all the spy novels is easy to infiltrate and ex-filtrate out of
- The NSA itself had poor OPSEC and threats from insiders were poorly covered thus making this possible (proven to be the case)
- The NSA could not even keep track of internal access and exploitation (proven to be the case)
- He contacted the press and was turned down by some until he met Greenwald and Poitras who then planned with him how to release the data and to firewall Snowden off
- While in HK it became clear he could not stay there once the NSA/USA/UKUSA and other apparatus began working in the background to extradite him
- Poitras, Greenwald, and then Wikileaks ex-filtrated Snowden out of HK and to Russia where a brokered interim solution of the airport no mans zone was at least possible
- Snowden is a prize for the
KGBFSB after the fact from not only an intelligence perspective but also a political one that thumbs its nose at the US (a win win for Putin)
- Edward Snowden was a carefully orchestrated long term asset by the
KGBFSB trained by them to infiltrate the NSA and then use his domain admin/root access to steal them blind, exploiting their logical and technical vulnerabilities who they then ex-filtrated to HK and to Russia as a smoke screen for their own operational cover
- Snowden was handled by
KGBFSB for years while coming up the ranks as an UN-credentialed cleared individual clearly taking advantage of the US’ lax clearance and oversight process post 9/11
- Snowden was in contact with Russia from the start and is a consummate operator perhaps even a cleverly created cutout sleeper agent
- Once gathering all the data Snowden then passed it to Russia for them to digest and then leak to the world to cover their own operations and shame the US
- Snowden is now a hero of the state in Russia and will get a hero’s treatment with access to all that Russia can offer in the post Soviet Oligarchy (inclusive Anna Chapman visits)
Hmmm is it just me or does the razor only really cut one way?
My take on the whole affair is that Snowden was not a paid/cultivated/handled asset of the
KGB FSB nor do I think that he was aided in any way by Russia in carrying out this leak/exploit. What I do think is that he is naive but also that what he was seeing, what we are all now seeing today in the news made him feel that the accumulation of power in a central secret body was anathema to freedom and the American ethos. As we have seen in the news there have been many things that the government has allowed, even shall we say promulgated, that are clearly violations of the US Constitution no matter the inveigling that might occur by those in power as to it’s legality. So I for one can see why someone like Snowden might do what they did outside of their own propensities for spy novels and a sense of right and wrong.
The realities are that no matter the attestations by those running the programs and their need to use them, there is always a chance of their abuse and subsequent burial of the facts through classifications and National Security letters as we have seen these last years. Were egregious abuses happening and are they still today? I am sure there are some, after all this is nothing new and all you need do to confirm that is Google “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” or look just to recent history with the Plame Affair to see how abuses can and have happened. So is it really outside the pale for someone with a conscience and perhaps an overactive imagination to think that great wrongs are being committed in all our names? I think that while there may have been no abuses “may” I also think that the capacity for abuse and the infrastructure to hide them is easily seen within the current architecture of the IC apparatus of the NSA and their programs. After all, if you want to ask about the idea that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, I ask you to tell me just exactly how you feel every time you go through a TSA checkpoint at the airport today.
Finally, I would also like to touch on the idea that the governments own hubris and now embarrassment is firing the boilers on this whole blame game that Snowden is in fact a handled asset of the Russians. I think that the NSA/USGOV and IC community feel the sting of their inadequacies as they have been laid bare for all to see. You see, Snowden did not carry out some 3l33t hacking here to gather the data. He used common techniques and vulnerabilities within the NSA and other government IC bodies to steal data and put them all on a USB stick and then walk out with them. It’s a simple trick and the top of that list is actually just socially engineering people for their passwords within the confines of the most secretive and secret IC shops in the world. Now that has to sting a bit wouldn’t you agree? So there is shame all around here on the part of the government and it puts them all in a weak position tactically. The reactions of all those at play seems to be more along the lines of dialogue from a playground spat rather than state or spycraft and it’s sad really. As the immortal words of GW Bush can attest;
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”
To me, it seems that Snowden just did what he did because of a myriad reasons that also include a certain amount of self aggrandizement. However, I can point to things in our own history and to popular media that may explain why someone might do something like this on the grounds that they think it’s illegal, immoral, and against the tenets of the USA. While POTUS is right about how important these types of programs can be in the war on terror and the every day intelligence gathering that every country needs to survive, it should also be possible to have some level of oversight to disallow for abuses of power to happen and happen with great frequency due to over classification. These are fundamental changes that should occur but the reality is that the very nature of the work being done and the culture within it’s halls will stoip any real progress being made. In the end nothing will change and the NSA will continue to collect all the data it can like a giant hoover-matic for later sorting and use.
Having grown up in the era of Nixon though, and other revelations like Iran Contra, I for one not only know that these things will continue to happen but that they have in the past and should be in our collective consciousness. Unfortunately many do not remember and the only entree into such ideas may in fact be cinema… I leave you with this scene from “Three Day’s Of The Condor”
Not everything in cinema is just fantasy…
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Face it.. We are all PWND six ways to Sunday
Every frigging day we hear more and more about how the NSA has been emptying our lives of privacy and subverting the laws of this land and others with their machinations. It’s true, and I have been saying as much since the day Mr. Klein came out of his telco closet and talked about how the NARUS system had been plugged into the MAE West back in the day. We are all well and truly fucked if we want any kind of privacy today kids and we all need to just sit back and think about that.
*ponder ponder ponder*
Ok, I have thought about it and I have tried to think of any way to protect myself from the encroachment of the NSA and all the big and little sisters out there. I am absolutely flummoxed to come up with any cogent means to really and truly protect my communications. Short of having access to the NSA supercloud and some cryptographers I don’t think that we will not truly have any privacy anymore. If you place it on the net, or in the air. We have reached in my opinion the very real possibility of the N-Dystopia I have talked about before in the Great Cyber Game post.
As the pundits like Schneier and others groan on and on about how the NSA is doing all of this to us all I have increasingly felt the 5 stages of grief. I had the disbelief (ok not completely as you all know but the scope was incredible at each revelation) Then the anger came and washed over me, waves and waves of it as I saw the breadth and scope of the abuse. Soon though that anger went away and I was then feeling the bargaining phase begin. I started to bargain in my head with ideas that I could in fact create my own privacy with crypto and other OPSEC means. I thought I could just deny the government the data. I soon though began to understand that no matter what I did with the tools out there that it was likely they had already been back door’d. This came to be more than the case once the stories came out around how the NSA had been pressuring all kinds of tech companies to weaken standards or even build full back doors into their products under the guise of “National Security”
Over time the revelations have all lead to the inescapable truth that there is nothing really anyone can do to stop the nation state from mining our communications on a technological level. Once that had fully set in my mind the depression kicked in. Of late I have been more quiet online and more depressed about our current state as well as our future state with regard to surveillance and the cyberwarz. I came to the conclusion that no matter the railing and screaming I might do it would mean nothing to the rapidly approaching cyberpocalypse of our own creation arriving. ….In short, we can’t stop it and thus the last of the five stages for me has set in. I accept that there is nothing I can do, nay, nothing “we” can do to stop this short of a bloody coup on the government at large.
I now luxuriate in my apathy and were I to really care any more I would lose my fucking mind.
OPSEC! OPSEC! OPSEC!
Speaking of losing one’s mind.. Lately people all have been yelling that OPSEC is the only way! One (the gruqq) has been touting this and all kinds of counterintelligence as the panacea for the masses on these issues. Well, why? Why should we all have to be spies to just have a little privacy in our lives huh? I mean it’s one thing to be a shithead and just share every fucking stupid idea you have on FriendFace and Tweeter but really, if you can’t shut yourself up that is your problem right? No, I speak of the every day email to your mom telling her about your health status or maybe your decision to come out etc. Why should the government have the eminent domain digitally to look at all that shit now or later?
If you take measures to protect these transactions and those measures are already compromised by the government why then should you even attempt to protect them with overburdened measures such as OPSEC huh? I mean, really if you are that worried about that shit then go talk to someone personally huh? I know, quite the defeatist attitude I have there huh? The reality is that even though I claim not to be caring about it (re: apathy above) I actually do but I realize that we no longer have privacy even if we try to create it for ourselves with technical means. If the gov wants to see your shit they will make a way to do so without your knowing about it. I fully expect someday that they will just claim eminent domain over the internet completely.
Fuck OPSEC.. I want my government to do the right thing and not try to hide all their skirting of the law by making it classified and sending me an NSL that threatens to put me in jail for breaking the law.
Fuck this shit.
Then we have the CYBERWARZ!! Oh yeah, the gubment, the military, and the private sector all have the CYBERWARZ fever. I cannot tell you how sick of that bullshit I am really. I am tired of all the hype and misdirection. Let me clear this up for you all right here and right now. THERE IS NO CYBERWAR! There is only snake oil and espionage. UNTIL such time as there is a full out kinetic war going on where systems have been destroyed or compromised just before tanks roll in or nukes hit us there is no cyberwar to speak of. There is only TALK OF cyber war.. Well more like masturbatory fantasies by the likes of Beitlich et al in reality. So back the fuck off of this shit mmkay? We do not live in the world of William Gibson and NO you are not Johnny Mnemonic ok!
Sick. And. Tired.
I really feel like that Shatner skit where he tells the Trekkies to get a life…
Awaiting the DERPOCALYPSE
All that is left for us all now is the DERPOCALYPSE. This is the end state of INFOSEC to me. We are all going to be co-opted into the cyberwarz and the privacy wars and none of us have a snowball’s chance in hell of doing anything productive with our lives. Some of us are breaking things because we love it. Others are trying to protect “ALL THE THINGS” from the breakers and the people who take their ideas and technologies and begin breaking all those things. It’s a vicious cycle of derp that really has no end. It’s an ouroboros of fail.
RAGE! RAGE! AGAINST THE DYING OF THE PRIVACY! is a nice sentiment but in reality we have no way to completely stop the juggernaut of the NSA and the government kids. We are all just pawns in a larger geopolitical game and we have to accept this. If we choose not to, and many have, then I suggest you gird your loins for the inevitable kick in the balls that you will receive from the government eventually. The same applies for all those companies out there aiding the government in their quest for the panopticon or the cyberwarz. Money talks and there is so much of it in this industry now that there is little to stop it’s abuse as well.
We are well and truly fucked.
So, if you too are feeling burned out by all of this take heart gentle reader. All you need do is just not care anymore. Come, join me in the pool of acceptance. Would you care for a lotus blossom perhaps? It’s all good once you have accepted the truth that there is nothing you can do and that if you do things that might secure you then you are now more of a target. So, do nothing…
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par·a·noi·anoun1.Psychiatry. a mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions and the projection of personalconflicts, which are ascribed to the supposed hostility of others, sometimes progressing todisturbances of consciousness and aggressive acts believed to be performed in self-defense or as a mission.2.baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others.Also, par·a·noe·a [par-uh-nee-uh] Show IPA .Origin:
1805–15; < Neo-Latin < Greek paránoia madness. See para-, nous, -ia
Paranoia , the Anonymous intelligence division (self described) published a dump of data ostensibly taken from Bank of America and TEK Systems last week. The information presented seems to show that BofA had contracted with TEK to create an ad hoc “Threat Intelligence” unit around the time of the LulzSec debacle. Of course since the compromise of HB Gary Federal and the revelations that BofA had been pitched by them to do some contract work in the disinformation business it only makes sense that BofA would set up a threat intel unit. The information from the HB Gary dumps seemed to allude to the fact that BofA was actively looking to carry out such plans against those they perceived as threats. Anons out there took great umbrage and thus BofA was concerned.
This blog post is being put together to analyze the data dumped by Anonymous and to give some perspective on what BofA may have been up to and to set some things straight on the meanings of the data presented by Paranoia. First off though I would like to just say that I think that generally BofA was being handed lackluster threat intel by a group of people with intelligence background. (for those names located in the dumps their LinkedIN pages showed former mil intel work) This of course is an opinion formed solely from the content that was available online. There may have been much more context in formal reports that may have been generated by the analysts elsewhere that was not open for the taking where Anon found this dump. The daily and monthly reports found in the database showed some analysis but generally gave rough OSINT reports from online chat logs, news reports, and pastebin postings. There seemed to be a general lack of product here and as such I have to wonder if there ever was or if perhaps those reports never made it to the internet accessible server that anonymous downloaded them from.
B of A’s THREAT INTELLIGENCE TEAM
Since the leak of their threat intelligence BofA has been recruiting for a real team it seems. A Google of the parameters show that they have a bunch of openings all over the place for “Threat Assessment” It makes sense since the TEK Systems team may in fact be mostly defunct but also that they likely would want an in house group and not have to pay overhead on consultants to do the work for them. TEK’s crew as well may have been the problem that caused the leak in the first place by placing the data in an accessible area of a web-server or having passed the data to someone who did not take care of it. Either way it looks as though BofA is seeking to create their own intelligence apparatus much as many other corporate entities are today. The big difference though is what exactly is their directive as a group is to be.
One of the problems I have with the Paranoia analysis is that they take it to the conspiratorial level and make it out to be some pseudo CIA like entity. The reality though is that from what has been shown in the documents provided, that this group really was only tasked with OSINT and threat intelligence by passive listening. This is a key difference from disinformation operations and active participation or recruiting of assets. I will cover this in more detail further on in this post so suffice to say that what BofA was doing here was not only mediocre but also not Machiavellian in nature. The argument can be made though that we don’t know the whole picture and I am sure Paranoia and Anonymous are leaning that way. I cannot with what I have seen so far. What I see is an ad hoc group of contractors trying to create an intelligence wing as a defensive maneuver to try and stay ahead of incidents if not deal with them more effectively should they not be able to stop them.
Nothing more.. Nothing less.
Threat Intelligence vs. Analysis and Product
All of this talk though should be based on a good understanding of what intelligence gathering really is. There are many variations on intelligence tasks and in this case what is clearly seen in the emails and documents is that this group was designated as a “Threat Intelligence” collection group. I have written in the past about “Threat Intelligence” and the misnomer many have on the idea that it is some arcane CIA like pursuit. One of the bigger problems overall is perception and reporting where intelligence gathering is concerned. Basically in today’s parlance much of the threat intelligence out there in INFOSEC is more around malware variants, their C&C’s and perhaps who are running them. With the advent of APT actors as well as criminal activity and entities like Anonymous the paradigm of threat intelligence has come full circle back to the old school idea of what it is from the military sphere of operations.
Today’s threat intelligence is not only technical but also human action driven and this makes it even more important to carry out the collection and analysis properly in order to provide your client with the information to make their decisions with. Unfortunately in the case of the data from BofA we see only sketchy outlines of what is being pasted online, what may be being said in IRC sessions, and what is in the news. Nothing overly direct came from any of the data that I saw and as “product” I would not be able to make much of any decisions from what was presented by TEK Systems people. What is really missing within the dump from Paranoia was any kind of finished analysis product tying together the information in a cogent way for the executives at BofA. Did TEK actually carry this type of activity out? Were there actual reports that the execs were reading that would help in understanding the contents of the raw intelligence that was being passed on in emails daily and monthly? I cannot say for sure. What I did see in the reporting (daily threat reports as well as monthly) were some ancillary comments by a few of the analysts but nothing overly structured or productive. I really would like to know if they had more of an apparatus going on here as well as if they plan on creating one again with all of the advertised positions in that Google search above.
Threat Intelligence vs. HUMINT
This brings me to the whole issue of Threat Intel vs. HUMINT. It would seem that Paranoia thinks that there is much more than meets the eye within the dump that makes them intone that there is a HUMINT (Human Intelligence) portion to the BofA program. While there may well be some of that going on it was not evident from any of the documents I looked at within the dump files. HUMINT would imply that there are active participants of the program out there interacting with the targets trying to recruit them or elicit information from them. With that kind of activity comes all of the things one might conjure up in their heads when they think on NOC (Non Operational Cover) officers in the CIA trying to harvest intelligence from sources (assets) in the field. From everything seen that was posted by Paranoia this is not the case.This operation was completely passive and just collecting data that was in public view aka OSINT. (Open Source Intelligence) Could BofA be seeking to interact more with Anon’s and generate more personal data other than that which the Anon’s posted about each other (DOX’ing) sure but there is no evidence of that. Given the revelations with HB Gary though I can see why the Anon’s might be thinking that they are likely taking more robust non passive actions in the background elsewhere though. Overall I just want everyone to understand that it’s not all cloak and dagger here and seems that Paranoia has a flair for the dramatic as a means to get their point across. Or, perhaps they are just living up to their name.
My assessment in a nutshell here of the Paranoia BofA Drop is as follows:
- Paranoia found some interesting documentation but no smoking gun
- TEK systems did a mediocre job at Threat Intelligence with the caveat that I am only working with the documents in plain view today
- BofA like any other company today has the right to carry out this type of activity but they need to make sure that it’s done well and that it isn’t leaked like this
- If more documents come out showing a more in depth look at the OSINT being collected then perhaps we can change the above findings
- BofA needs to classify their data and protect it better on this front
- Paranoia needs to not let its name get the best of itself
All the drama aside this was a ho hum really. It was funny seeing all the analysts taking down their LinkedIN pages (really, how sekret squirrel is it to have a LI page saying who you work for doing this kind of work anyway? SECOPS anyone?) I consider those players quite burned and assume they are no longer working on this contract because of it. All you analysts out there named, you are now targets and you are probably learning SECOPS the hard way huh? I guess in the end this will all just be another short chapter in Encyclopedia Dramatica and an object lesson for BofA and maybe TEK Systems.
For everyone else.. It’s just LULZ.
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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.