Archive for the ‘Digital Ecosystem’ Category
Operation: ROLLING THUNDER:
It has come to light that the GCHQ (The UK’s NSA) took action against Anonymous by DDoS as well as the use of HUMINT and malware attacks to attempt to dissuade them from further actions. While this may be a surprise to some it is just a matter of action and reaction in the hive mind of the IC. Of course at one time there may have been more trepidation about carrying out direct action against quote unquote “dissidents” as some may call Anonymous but those days are long gone and one of the primary reasons such actions are easily rationalized now is because of terrorism. Terrorism used to mean blowing things up or taking hostages but now, with the 5th domain of cyber, that equation has changed greatly in the eyes of the worlds governments. Of course in this case it was the British carrying out the covert actions against the anonymous servers and users and as many know the Brits don’t have the most stellar first amendment record (D orders) and have a different perspective on what people have the right to do or say that may be considered civil disobedience. However, I should like to point out that it is highly likely that the UK did not act alone here and that it is probable that the NSA and the UKUSA agreements were in play here as well. I once sat on a panel at Defcon where I warned that these types of tactics as well as others would be used by the governments of the world against the Anon’s if push came to shove and it seems that I was not far off the mark. We have crossed the Rubicon and we are all in a new domain where the rules are fluid.
Civil Disobedience vs. Criminality In Anon Actions:
Some have written that these actions now revealed by Snowden show that we are all in danger of censorship and of direct action if we say or do things online that a government or agency doesn’t like and they are correct. It really is a matter of dystopian nightmare import when one stops to think that these were not state actors nor really terrorists by definition (yet) that GCHQ and the JTRIG were carrying out netwar on. The rationale I am sure is that the C&C of Anon needed to be taken out because they were “attacking” sites with DDoS or other actions (hacking in the case of LulzSec) and thus were a clear and present danger to… Well… Money really. While some consider DDoS a form of civil disobedience others see it as a threat to the lifeblood of commerce as well as portents of larger attacks against the infrastructure of the internet itself or perhaps the power grid as we keep hearing about from sources who really haven’t a clue on how these things work. Sure, there were criminal actions taken by Sabu and others within the collective as well as the splinter cell that was LulzSec/Antisec but most of the activity was not anything that I would consider grounds for covert action. That the JTRIG not only used malware but also HUMINT and SIGINT (all things used in nation state covert collections and actions) shows that they were genuinely afraid of the Anon’s and Lulzers and that their only solution was to reciprocate with nation state tools to deny and disrupt their cabal. I think though that most of the aegis that the IC had though was the fact that they “could” do it all without any sanction against them because it was all secret and they hold the keys to all of the data. Of course now that is not the case and they should be held accountable for the actions they took just as the CIA has been or should have been in the past over say the covert action in Nicaragua. I don’t think this will happen though so what will really only come out of this revelation is more distrust of governments and a warning to Anonymous and others about their operational security.
Cyber Warfare and Law:
What this release shows though most of all is that the government is above the law because in reality there is very little real law on the books covering the 5th domain of cyberspace. As we have seen in the last few years there has been a rapid outpace of any kind of lawfare over actions taken in cyberspace either on the nation state level (think APT tit for tat) and criminal actions such as the target hack and all the carding going on. In the case of the US government the military has far outstripped the government where this is concerned with warfare units actively being formed and skills honed. All the while the government(s) has/have failed to create or edit any of the current law out there concerning cyber warfare in any consistent manner. So this leaves us with warfare capabilities and actions being carried out on a global medium that is not nation state owned but globally owned by the people. Of course this is one of the core arguments over the internet, it’s being free and a place of expression whereas corporations want to commoditize it and governments want to control it and make war with it. This all is muddled as the people really do not truly own the infrastructure corporations do and well, who controls what then without solid laws? Increasingly this is all looking more and more like a plot from Ghost in the Shell SAC with government teams carrying out covert actions against alleged terrorists and plots behind every bit passing over the fiber. The upshot though is that as yet the capacity to carry out actions against anyone the government see’s as a threat far outstrips the laws concerning those actions as being illegal just as much as the illegalities of actors like Anonymous. The current law is weak or damaged and no one has really stepped up in the US yet to fix even the CFAA in a serious way as yet.
Covert Actions, HUMINT, and SIGINT:
When I was on the panel at DEFCON I spoke of the governments and agencies likely using disinformation and other covert actions against the digital insurgency that they perceived was being levied against them. Now with the perspective of the Snowden collection it is plain to me that not only will the easily make the call to carry out actions against those they fear but also those actions are myriad. If you are going against the nation state by attacking it’s power elite or its interests expect the actions to be taken against you to be swift and unstoppable. In the case of the DDoS this was just a tit for tat disruptive attack that seemed to have worked on some. The other more subtle attacks of hacking via insertion of malware through phishing and intelligence gathering my using spiked links and leverage against providers shows how willing they were to effect their goals. Now consider all that we have learned from Snowden and conjure up how easy it is today with NSL letters and obfuscated secret court rulings on the collection of data wholesale from the internet and infrastructure.. You should be scared. Add to this the effect of the over-classification of everything and you have a rich environment for abuses against whomever they choose no matter how many in the IC say that they are to be trusted. The base fact is this; The internet is the new battlefield for war as well as espionage not just criminality and law enforcement actions. If you are considered a threat by today’s crazy standards of terrorism is everywhere, then you too can have your data held in Utah where someday someone could make a case against you. Some of that data may in fact come from direct covert actions against you by your government or law enforcement per the rules today as they stand.
The final analysis of this presentation that was leaked and the actions alleged to have been taken against Anonymous is that there is no real accountability and that secrecy is the blanket for covert action against non combatants in any war. We are in a new dystopian nightmare where cyberwar is concerned and there is a lot of fear on the governments part on attacks that could take down grids (misinformed ones really) as well as a ravening by some to be “in” on the ground level for carrying out such warfare. Without proper laws nationally and internationally as well as proper oversight there never will be an equitable solution to actions in cyberspace as either being criminal, grounds for war, or civil disobedience just as there will always be the high chance of reciprocity that far outstrips a common DoS. The crux here is that without the proper laws you as a participant of a DDoS could be sanctioned for attack and then over prosecuted for your actions as we have seen these last few years. Without a solid legal infrastructure and a Geneva Convention of sorts concerning cyber warfare, no one is safe. As an ancillary factor to this I would also say to all those in Anonymous and any other collectives that may rise you should be very careful and step up your OPSEC and technical security measures if you are going to play this game. As we have seen many of those key players in Anonymous and LulzSec were caught up with and are in legal trouble just as much as the guy who just decided to join a DoS for a minute and was fined a huge amount of money for his trouble. Remember, it’s all fun and games until the governments of the world decide that it’s not and want to squash you like a bug.
gaiuaim ioi dui pln!
The “Darknets” You’ve all heard of them. Some of you out there may have traversed their labyrinthine back alleys. However, have you ever thought that someday the darknet would be just as legitimate as the “clearnet” is today? With the recent bust of DPR and the Silk Road there has once again been great interest in the “Deep Web” and this interest was sparked once again for me too. It seems that the darknet is the new black once again and people are flocking to it just like onlookers at a traffic accident. Others though seem to be aiming to use the darknet technology (TOR and hidden services) to support free speech and to pass information as a legitimate whistle blower.
Still Mos Eisley but….
I loaded up TOR & Tails and took a trip once again into the digital Mos Eisley. It is still dark and full of crazy things and if you go there you too will see black market items, services like Assassinations for Bitcoins, and run of the mill blogs. You can (allegedly) buy just about any kind of drug in quantity just as easily as buying/mining bitcoins and paying for your drugs with them. All anonymously (once again allegedly as you can see from the DPR fiasco) via the Onion hidden services and backed by other services from anonymous email on TOR to bitcoin exchanges. However one can now see other sites out there that aren’t so black market oriented as well.
One such site is pictured above. The New Yorker decided post Ed Snowden’s revelations, that it was a good idea to put their new “secure dropbox” on the hidden services. This is a legit site that has been talked about on the clearnet as well as in the media a couple months ago. This is one of the first more legit sites I have seen out there that is offering a secure means to talk to reporters using the security that others on the darknets are using to carry out illegal activities. I have yet to really look at the site’s security but overall I see this one site being the key to showing others out there how the darknet can be used for something other than crime. Of course then again, if you ask the Obama Administration even this site could be considered illegal or an accessory to illegal leaking I guess. It’s really a matter of perspective.
So what about other sites? What would you out there use the darknet for that is not “illicit” but requires some security and anonymity? I can foresee other sites popping up perhaps in the arena of free speech or even political movements that might like this model to pass their ideals on. I honestly think this is a turning point for the darknet. Of course this is all predicated on the darknet being “secure” after the revelations from the Snowden Archive of late. It seems the NSA is really trying pretty hard to de-anonymize anyone they want to and would love to have it just not anonymous at all. Well, let me re-phrase that.. Have them THINK it’s anonymous while it is not so much to the NSA.
Other sites out there include an online Koran as well as all kinds of other non criminal sites that are.. Well.. Kinda goofy or fringe. I think that perhaps now things might shift as the technology becomes easier to manage making it easier with global connectivity for us all to hang up a shingle in the darknet.
Time will tell though I guess…
No one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Ulbricht.
Well the news cycle exploded this week with the arrest of Ross Ulbricht aka DPR or if you like The Dread Pirate Roberts of Princess Bride and now Silk Road fame. The schadenfreude here had been epic as the criminal empire that was one of the largest in the darknet was taken down because the “pirate” could not comprehend how to carry out OPSEC properly. What lead to this guy’s demise was some good old fashioned internet gumshoe work by an SA who also worked on the Sabu case back last year. Ross it seems decided to use his personal Gmail address for postings pimping Silk Road as well as other assets that tied it all together digitally back to him. Not the best of OPSEC here Ross.
I challenge you to a battle of wits.
Anyway Ross had an idea and that idea was pretty interesting in that he wanted to use the darknet to have a Libertarian nirvana of commerce for just about anything. He set up his site, maintained it himself for a time, and then began to realize that he could not do it alone and this is where things start to go wrong. You see, when you run something yourself you only have yourself to deal with. When you start bringing in people to work for you and they know things about you (and you will always slip up here and give things away unless you are a trained spook) and that makes them a liability to your Operational Security. Ross learned this the hard way I suppose in that he started to feel that people needed to be whacked because they knew too much.
Meanwhile the OPSEC failures that Ross had made were steadily creeping up on him. So too were the UC’s on Silk Road who worked their way into the boards making deals and gaining his trust. In the end Ross decided that one of the UC’s was actually a cool Huggy Bear kind of guy and asked him to whack one of his administrators who he felt was a threat… OOOPS! If it’s one thing a Dread Pirate should know is to “Trust No One” but Ross I guess did not read that lesson in his Econ Theory classes. I guess it’s just another pointer I would make to all of you would be Pirates or Ninja’s out there … You can’t trust anyone. Oh, and yeah unless you are trained for this at say Langley or maybe Академия федеральной службы безопасности Российской Федерации you are more than likely to fuck up majorly and end up in the clink with Ross and many others. I have to say though that the idea of using the darknet and all the means that Ross had put together was a pretty good plan. The only real hitch was that he never took into account that he was going to be going up against a nation state(s) and they always win.
Hey, at least he didn’t fall for that land war in Asia thing right? …..
Look, are you just fiddling around with me or what?
So Ross went on to become the ersatz Walter White of the darknet until one day at his apartment in San Fran his doorbell rang. At the door was ICE/DHS and they had an interesting package for him in their hands. The package was full of ID’s with his face on them but not his name and when asked about them according to the complaint/affidavit his answer was “Anyone could get documents like these online at places like Silk Road” which let me tell you Ross, isn’t the thing you want to be saying here. After some questions and answers it seems the ICE/DHS folks went away which is confusing to me. First off, I surmize that the ICE Q&A was just a front for the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Ross but really, why tip their hand like that? If I were Ross I would have closed the door, waved at the feds through the window, watched them leave and RAN to my system to have a fire sale at Silk Road. I would have chosen a new DPR and been on my way to a non extradition country but ol’ Ross?
Ross instead of cutting and running doubled down! He went on to do an interview with Forbes and continued on his way doing the business of being the “Dread Pirate” which let me tell you son, was one of the most ballsy and stupid things I have seen since Barrett Brown on camera threatened federal officers lives. Ross what were you thinking? I mean damn dude, did you really think you were Walter White? Oh well I guess time will tell as interviews are carried out or data dumps come from the feds as we go along slouching toward a plea bargain. Perhaps though your cognitive dissonance between personae online and offline just sort of short circuited you out and you couldn’t do anything other than carry on thinking you were covered.
Time will tell… But let this be a lesson to all you would be Pirates out there. You may call yourself a pirate or a ninja or even a Ninja Pirate but you really are just some shmuck with a grandiose sense of the self instilled in you by your helicopter parents who always told you just how fucking special and magnificent you were. So as you sit in federal pound you in the ass prison Ross take heart, for I am sure there will be another DPR someday in the darknets ….Sailing the dark digital waters with the shrieking eels that will some day end up in the cell next to yours where you can commiserate.
IJPFRH CPAGP EIIL!
CYBER CYBER CYBER!
CYBER CYBER CYBER! or “CRY HAVOC AND LET SLIP THE DIGITAL DOGS OD CYBER WAR!”” is often what you hear from me in a mocking tone as I scan the internet and the news for the usual cyber-douchery. Well this time kids I am actually going to review a book that for once was not full of douchery! Instead it was filled with mostly good information and aimed at people who are not necessarily versed at all in the cyberz. I personally was surprised to find myself thinking that I would approve this for a syllabus (as it has been placed into one by someone I know and asked me to read this and comment)
The book really is a primer on IW (Information Warfare) and Cyber-Warfare (for lack of a better nomenclature for it) which many of you reading my blog might be way below your desired literacy level on the subjects. However, for the novice I would happily recommend that they read the book and then spend more time using ALL of the footnotes to go and read even more on the subject to get a grasp of the complexities here. In fact, I would go as far as to say to all of you out there that IF you are teaching this subject at all then you SHOULD use this book as a starting point.
I would also like to say that I would LOVE to start a kickstarter and get this book into the hands of each and every moron in Congress and the House. I would sit there and MAKE them read it in front of me *surely watching their lips move as they do so* There are too many people in positions of power making stupid decisions about this stuff when they haven’t a single clue. I guess the same could be said about the military folks as well. We have plenty of generals who have no idea either.. That’s just one man’s opinion though.
As we move further and further down the cyber-war road I think that books like this should be mandatory reading for all military personnel as well as college level courses in not only IW/INFOSEC but also political and affairs of state majors as well. We will only continue down this road it seems and it would be best for us all if the next wave of digital natives had a real grasp of the technologies as well as the political, logical, and tactical aspects of “Cyber”
I have broken down the book into rough chapters and subject areas as it is within the book (mostly) It really does cover more of the overall issues of cyber-warfare and methods used (not overly technical) The modus operandi so to speak of the actual events that have taken place are laid out in the book and give you a picture of the evolving of IW to what we see today as “cyber-warfare” I will comment on those sections on what I thought was good and what I thought was derpy of course, I mean would you all have it any other way?
IW (INFORMATION WARFARE) RUSSIA
The authors cover early IW with the Russian saga’s over Georgia and Estonia. There is a lot in there that perhaps even you out there might not know about the specifics of the incidents where Russia is “alleged” to have attacked both countries at different times with different goals and effects. Much of this also touches on the ideas of proxy organizations that may or may not be state run that were a part of the action as well as a good overview of what happened.
In the case of Georgia it went kinetic and this is the first real “cyber-warfare” incident in my mind as cyber-war goes. I say this because in my mind unless there is an actual kinetic portion to the fighting there is no “war” it is instead an “action” or “espionage” so in the case of tanks rolling in on Georgia we have a warfare scenario outright that was in tandem with IW/CW actions.
OUR CHINESE OVERLORDS
Ah Chairman Meow… What book on Cyber would be complete without our friends at the MSS 3rd Directorate huh? Well in the case of this primer it gets it right. It gets across not only that China has been hacking the living shit out of us but also WHY they are doing it! The book gives a base of information (lots of footnotes and links) to ancillary documentation that will explain the nature of Chinese thought on warfare and more to the point Cyber-Warfare. The Chinese have been working this angle (The Thousand Grains of Sand etc) for a long time now and there are more than a few treatises on it for you to read after finishing this book.
The big cases are in there as well as mention of the malware used, goals of the attacks and some of the key players. If you are out to start teaching about Chinese electronic/cyber/IW then this is a good place to start. Not too heavy but it gets the point across to those who are not so up to speed on the politics, the tech, or the stratagems involved.
Anonymous, as someone on my Twitter feed was just asking me as I was writing this piece, is also a part of this picture as well. The idea of asymmetric online warfare is really embodied by these groups. The book focuses more on Lulzsec and their 50 days of sailing but it doesn’t go too in depth with the derp. Suffice to say that all of them are indeed important to cyber-warfare as we know it and may in fact be the end model for all cyber-warfare. How so? Well, how better to have plausible denyability than to get a non state group to carry out your dirty war? Hell, for that matter how about just blame them and make it look like one of their ops huh?
Oddly enough just days ago Hammond wrote a piece saying this very thing. He intoned that the FBI via Sabu were manipulating the Anon’s into going after government targets. This is not beyond comprehension especially for places like China as well. So this is something to pay attention to. However, this book really did not take that issue on and I really wished that they had. Perhaps in the next updated edition guys?
OY VEY, the “GRID” this is one of the most derpy subjects usually in the media as well as the books/talks/material on cyber-warfare out there. In this case though I will allow what they wrote stand as a “so so” because they make no real claim to an actual apocalypse. Instead the book talks about the possible scenarios of how one could attack the grid. This book makes no claim that it would work but it is something to think about especially if you have an army of trained squirrels with routers strapped to their backs.
It is my belief that the system is too complex to have a systematic fail of apocalypse proportions and it always has been so. If the book talked about maybe creating a series of EMP devices placed at strategic high volume transformers then I would say they’d be on to something. However, that said, the use of a topological attack model was a good one from a logical perspective. They base most of this off of the Chinese grad students paper back years ago so your mileage may vary. So on this chapter I give it a 40% derp.
All in all I would have liked to have seen more in the political area concerning different countries thought patterns on IW/CW but hey, what can ya do eh? Additionally I think more could have been done on the ideas of offense vs. defense. Today I see a lot of derp around how the US has a GREAT OFFENSIVE CAPABILITY! Which for me and many of you out there I assume, leads me to the logical thought conclusion of “GREAT! We are totally offensive but our defense SUCKS!” So much for CYBER-MAD huh?
I would have also like to have seen more in the way of some game theory involved in the book as well concerning cyber-warfare. Some thought experiments would be helpful to lay out the problems within actually carrying out cyber-war as well as potential outcomes from doing so more along the lines of what I saw in the Global Cyber-Game.
Well, in the end I think it is a good start point for people to use this in their syllabus for teaching IW/CW today. It is a primer though and I would love to see not only this end up on the list but also the Global Cyber Game as well to round out the ideas here. To me it is more about “should we do this?” as opposed to “LETS FUCKING DO THIS!” as the effects of doing so are not necessarily known. Much of this territory is new and all too much of it is hyped up to the point of utter nonsense. This is the biggest problem we have though, this nonsense level with regard to the leaders of the land not knowing anything about it and then voting on things.
We need a more informed populace as well as government and I think this book would be a good start. So to the person who asked me to review this..
The Global Cyber Game:
I had been meaning to write about this before when I had originally read the text but things got in the way as usual (work, more work, some more work after that, Defcon/Bsides) Now though I am in a space where I can reflect back on this paper and write about it here for you all to see. The Defence Academy (UK) put this together to describe how we might approach “cyberwar” on the level of game play or game theory. They constructed a board and began to set to the task of creating game play and tactics given certain scenarios in the cyber world. (see image of game board below) You can actually play this game if you create a board from this design and work within the rules of game theory but this is not why I find this treatise so important.
What I find most interesting is the actual scenario’s that play out within the game play as well as the end game status that the paper puts it all down to in the end of N-Utopia and N-Dystopia. As one can gather from the inherent meaning of the words, N-Utopia means that we all work out our problems globally and work on bettering society (which in the Nash equations is the best play) or we end up with N-Dystopia, a Balkanization of the net, and warfare that scales all levels up to kinetic and will be the death of us all. Can you guess where I think we are right now on the N-scale? Yes, you’d be right to lean toward the N-Dystopia area. In fact I would even like to see that idea rendered in a new way with an older iconography, that being the Doomsday Clock analogy. Perhaps someone can take that up online and create one for the cyebrwarz eh?
What must be taken into account in the great cyber game is that all of this is centered around power plays. The use of information as power, the use of information to effect actions vis a vis “power” and the varying types of power that are being wielded by the players. This paper covers this idea pretty well and should be required reading for anyone looking to study cyber-warfare along side Clausewitz and other more well known pieces of doctrine. Some however may already be familiar with the ideas of hard and soft power but let’s take that into the electronic warfare arena which is a bit harder to scope today.
- Hard power
- Overt threats and rewards
- Kinetic action
- Soft power
Both of these types of dynamic play off of one another and work in tandem. There actually is a whole spectrum of power plays that can be derived from these basic premises but I will not go into all that here. To date I have seen an abundance of hard power tactics being employed on the game board and I fear that that seems to be what the governments of the world have locked on to as their aegis. I would love for more to try the soft power tactics and methods but I am too much of a realist to hope that it will ever really happen.
The game play today that we are all seeing unfold before us is the hard power of Stuxnet or the ramping up of every piece of malware and 0day conceivable being purchased by the US government or others in an effort to be superior when the battle comes. That is though when they are not using those said same exploits in the darker games of realpolitik that they are prosecuting now. As I see it now we are hurtling towards a massive cyberfail of our own making and the real cost of the bad play will be economies around the world and other collateral damage that may not be an apocalypse as we currently understand them to be.
The power dimensions portion of this paper is quite enlightening and you should broaden the scope of how those plays are made with information and the internet. One must understand the playing field as well as the weapon you wield. This is the main problem I have of late is that all too many people and governments are not understanding the game play, the field of play, nor the tools they are using (pieces) well enough to play the game well. This makes not only for bad play, but in this game there are real world consequences for us all when some government or actor does something immensely stupid.
Cyber Games Today:
So what are we seeing today that has me worried? Well, we have the cybergames with Stuxnet and other malware to start. I liken the release of Stuxnet as skin to the release of a biotoxin or virus that eventually will be re-worked or manipulated into a more fearsome weapon. These are not one use tools, they are in fact re-usable and re-tune-able. Once these things are out there is no controlling them and with the idea of Stuxnet you have something that was used against one target but could affect hundreds more in friendly countries if they had the same configuration.
Another cybergame being played today is the new surveillance state that we find ourselves in. It seems in the case of the US we have people who are interpreting our Constitution to suit their needs under the rubric of protecting the homeland. This cybergame is all about information and the power dimension of controlling it. I have been watching this Snowden affair unfold and frankly I am frightened of the capabilities that the NSA has but I am much more scared that they claim that they are protecting us while a Snowden subverts the very systems they are saying cannot be misused. This particular cybergame when looked at, show’s all of the hard and soft power dimensions at play with the media and the law. This should also be brought into the cyber game play as well.
Yet another cybergame going on is within the public/private sector and I call the “Patriot Games” What I mean by this is that we have non state actors playing rolls of asymmetric warriors online to effect whatever change they see fit. A certain un-named clown for one is a primary actor in this space and really started the trend in my opinion. The cybergamers here are vigilantes nothing more and nothing less and may or may not have an effect on the grander scheme of things on the net and in public policy. For the most part however, these players are on the hard power end of the spectrum and thus just mostly come off as thugs.
Lastly, the cybergame that seems to be the one with the most chance of playing in the larger space is that of Anonymous. Anonymous has been able to leverage many players into semi cogent action and could in the future have a real effect on policy and other dimensions within the cybergame play. The only reason that I place Anon into this game is because of that mobilizing force that they seem to carry. If motivated and able to be cohesive enough this group could affect the greater games being played and have on a microcosmic scale thus far in recent history.
In all, the games that are being played, and they are games, all serve as a means to an end for those paying attention to understand and perhaps help those in the seat of power how not to play the game at all. Our petty squabbling on the internet is just that. The reality is that the net is important and much of our lives today require it to run smoothly but if the net were to go down permanently our society would not utterly collapse. We would survive and we would re-build. The question then becomes would we have learned from it and do things better the next time around?
Cyber-Utopia and Cyber-Dystopia:
The idea of Cyber-Utopia is a far fetched one in my mind and probably many others out there. This would be a great thing if we could make it happen but given the petty nature of our.. well nature.. We will only see this ideal wash up on the rocks and sink into the ocean rather quickly. In the Cyber-Utopia we all work together, we cooperate, and we work towards a better day. … And I just don’t see this happening barring some kind of alien intervention frankly.
Cyber-Dystopia though I am afraid is already the case in many respects. We are seeing an almost Balkanization of the internet today as it is never mind the games being played in reality with Stuxnet and cyberwar. If the N-Dystopia comes to pass we will find ourselves at war with each other constantly in a “cyberworld” much like the episode of STOS “A Taste of Armageddon” where all warfare is carried out via computer simulations and only the casualties report to be disintegrated as a means to balance it all out. Today though we will see attacks on economies as well as infrastructures to effect “war” (economic, political, or other) on our enemies and the real world costs will have to be measured in profit loss or perhaps even actual loss of human life.
The cyber-dystopia though is more than just an outcome of war. It is the outcome from our own inabilities to work with each other and our ability to rationalize warfare through a non apocalyptic destruction of life. It will be a tit for tat war of attrition that will not lead to any clear victories and certainly not elevate our societies in any way and that is the sad truth of it. Ladies and gents we are already in the dystopia. We just may not understand that yet.
Understand the game:
So, I leave you with the paper: The Global Cyber Game pull it down and read it. Learn from it, play the game if you like, and spend some time thinking about it all. We are on the cusp of another evolution in our society that we have seen repeated in every other evolution we have had. We create something, then we weaponize it. Perhaps if more of us understand it and the pitfalls we can prevent the N-Dystopia from becoming any worse.
img courtesy of XKCD http://xkcd.com/
With all the alleged revelations over the drift net surveillance happening to us all by the government I and others have been pondering the processes needed to protect one’s communications online and over the phone. Wired and other venues have put out reasonably ok articles on this but generally I think they have lacked on the ROI factor for the varying degree’s of surveillance that has been carried out for some time now, not just the NSA with PRISM. The immensity of it all I think can put one off on the idea of being able to keep their privacy especially given the pains that one must take to keep it on the nation state scale. However, there is much that could be done to have a modicum of privacy but one just has to understand the idea of OPSEC and have some technical base to work from in order to use the technologies such as TOR or CRYPTO in the first place. It is another thing altogether to keep that mindset every day and to understand the import of their use and the cause and effect that comes from failing to use them.
PRISM and NATION STATE SURVEILLANCE
As Ali (@packetknife) alluded to on the “Loopcast” recently with me, the idea that someone can completely deny the nation state program of surveillance is a tough one to swallow today. We all are connected to the net in some way whether it be your smartphone or some other connected device that we carry with us 24/7. In the case of the smart phone the utter and total pwn that goes on there is spectacular to think about. There is no need for tinfoil hat conspiracies about barcode tattoo’s on one’s neck here, all you really need is an iPhone and connectivity to know quite a bit about a person. This is why the metadata issue is a big one and people are seemingly unable to comprehend it. Let me clarify this for you all by also saying that not only are the calls to and from being easily monitored and mined (stored later for perusal when needed) by the NSA it seems, but also the GPS data as well. Remember the hubbub over the Apple collection of GPS data on the phones a couple years back? Remember the outrage on some parts over this? Well, now look at that in relations to how much of that data is accessible by the government too in this program. More to the point and this has not really been talked about, but are they correlating that data as well in the phone surveillance being carried out? My assumption is yes but like I said that seems to have been dwarfed and drowned out by the PRISM revelations.
Ok so now we are being data mined and correlated on the phone calls we make (metadata). Of who we are calling, how long we are talking, and when as well as the GPS (location) as well? All of that data is very informational about the habits of a person alone but start to analyze it from a personal and psychological perspective and you can build quite the dossier on someone without even having to listen to their conversations. Which I hasten to add that there are rumors of the caching of conversations generally not just under warrant from FISA. At this level, the nation state level of surveillance, one cannot hope to really be secure in their communications using technologies as they are because of the access the government has built for themselves post 9/11 with the Patriot Act as it’s fulcrum. Access mind you that we are giving them by proxy of the devices we buy and the services that provide the connection because without them we have no way to communicate other than in person or pen to paper with the post offices help right?
All of this though does not mean that the government is spying on you now. What it means though is that the legalities have been created or bent to the will of the government to have the illusion that the wholesale collection of all kinds of data for later use of anyone using these systems is legal. It also means that no matter the protestation of the government and the law enforcement bodies that they take all due care not to collect/use/surveill you vis a vis your data that there is a chance that someone within the system “could” and “might” do so outside of the rules and that is the problem here … Well other than the Constitutional, moral, and ethical issues that is. Just because it is against the rules does not mean someone won’t do it if they have the access. You know.. Like EJ Snowden having access to highly classified data that perhaps he shouldn’t have? Or furthermore the availability of Mr. Snowden being able to insert a USB drive into systems and siphon off said data to give to the press or anyone who’d listen right?
PRIVATE SECTOR or THE LITTLE SISTERS
Another issue that seems to be taking a back seat here is the notion of the Little Sisters to Big Brother. This idea springs from something I alluded to above in that the corporations that offer you the services (Gmail/ATT/Facebook etc) all collect data on you every minute of every day. They use this data for advertising, data mining, selling that data to other companies to form synergies on how to sell you on things etc. It is this practice of collecting all this data on us and our complicity in it that has given rise to the drift net approach that the government has taken with the surveillance programs like PRISM. The government is simply leveraging the capacities that are already there in the first place! You want to blame someone for this mess? Look in the mirror as you have allowed your data to be collected in the first place. YOU have placed your minute details out there on the internet to start with in email or posts to Twitter and Facebook for example. YOU are the culprit because you fail to understand OPSEC (Operational Security) and just scattered it on the net for anyone to see.
Of course other bits are more arcane. Cookies, tracking data within browsers and the like also give away much data on who you are, what you like, and allow the marketers to tailor ads for you when you go to sites that pay for the services. The aggregate of all of this data makes a digital portrait of you that unless you take pains to disallow the collection, will be sold and used by the corporations to package YOU as the commodity. I mean, how do you think Facebook works? It’s a social contract to connect to others and allow Facebook to make money off of your habits. Zucky is not in this to win a Nobel Peace Prize here ya know.
So when you think about all this surveillance going on please remember that you are complicit in it every time you surf the web, make a facebook post, a tweet, or send an email unencrypted (Google analytics kids) because they are all sifting that data to “get to know you better” *cough* It’s just a friends with benefits thing as the government see’s it being able to just hit them with an NSL and plant a server in the infrastructure to cull the data they want. As long as it doesn’t effect the bottom line (money) for them I suspect their worries about privacy are, well, pretty low on average. I mean after all you have already signed away your rights have you not? The little sisters are insidious and subtle and I am afraid they have already become metasticized within the society body.
The Only Privacy You Can Have Is That Which You Make Yourselves
“The only privacy that you have today is that which you make for yourself” is something I said a while back on a blog post or podcast and I still stand by it. It seems all the more relevant in the post Snowden world today. By creating privacy I mean leveraging technologies like encryption to keep your communications private and OPSEC to consider how you transmit information over the internet and telco. There are inherent problems though with all of these things as you can always make a mistake and end up leaking information either technically (an instance would be logging online with your own IP address to something) or process wise like putting your current location on Facebook and saying you’re on vacation for two weeks. It is all a matter of degree though and even if you are practicing OPSEC there are things outside of your control when the nation state is looking to spy on you. There are just no two ways about it, you can only fight the nation state so much with technology as they have more resources to defeat your measures eventually by end run or by brute force.
On the level of defeating the little sisters, well the same applies but with limitations. You can in fact surf the net on TOR with NOSCRIPT, cookies disallowed and on an inherently anonymized OS on a USB stick right? The little sisters can only do so much and they only interact when they see a profit in it. They after all are not looking to be voyeurs just for the fun of it. They want to sell you something or sell you as metadata right? However, if you start to anonymize yourself as much as you can and you are diligent about it you can stop the Little Sisters which in turn may minimize what the Big Brother can use too. The caveat is that you have to take pains to do this and you have to know what you are doing. There are no magic easy button offerings on the shelf that will hide you from them all and if you care then you will take the time to learn how to perform these measures.
ROI On Privacy
Finally, I would like to take stock of the fight here that you need to take on and what the ROI is for each adversary involved. In reality unless you go off the grid, change your identity and never touch another piece of technology ever again there is a high likelihood that your information will be tracked. One may in fact create a separate identity to pay bills with and use that one to surf online as well as other things but that is an extreme just like the idea of becoming a Luddite. There must be a middle road where you can feel that you are protecting a certain portion of your lives from the unblinking eye of the companies and governments that own or access the technologies that we use every day. You have to though, understand all of this and accept that in the end you may fail at keeping your privacy yours and yours alone. Come to grips with this and be smart and you can have a modicum of success if you are diligent.
A for instance of this ROI would be on the phones. If you TRULY want to be private then you have to lose your smartphone that you have billed to you and buy a burn phone. Cash is king and there is no information taken if you do it right. The unfortunate thing is that you then have to call only others who have the same burn phones out there without any metdata that ties it back to their real identities. You just try getting mom and dad to buy burn phones to talk to them on… It’s not that easy. So really, some of the ROI is minimized by the nuisance factor. The same can be said for the lay individual who is not going to go buy encryption products nor are they capable of installing a Linux system and running something like GPG. This is not going to work for everyone as well as not everyone is going to care about their privacy as the recent Pew poll showed where 56% of polled ok with surveillance program by NSA.
In the end it all comes back to the idea that you create your own privacy by your own actions. Do not trust that the government is going to protect your privacy and certainly don’t believe that the corporations will either. I mean, just look at how many spectacular fails there were on passwords that weren’t hashed or encrypted in any way by companies hacked by LulzSec. As well you should not trust the government, no matter how well intended, that they will be ABLE to protect your privacy as we have seen with recent events like Brad Manning’s theft of (S) data as well as now Snowden (TS/SCI) The actions of one person can be the downfall of every carefully crafted system.
So what is the ROI here? Well….
Crypto and anonymized traffic online will minimize your footprint but eventually they will break you if they want to. You have to be exceptional to fight the nation state level of surveillance. As for the driftnet out there well, unless you go luddite they have a lot of data to sift and commingle. They have a pretty good picture of who you are and much of that comes from the little sisters. Your ROI here is minimal because they have the power and the thing you MUST remember is that CRYPTO IS YOUR FRIEND!! Encrypt sessions for chat and emails and you will leave them with the task of either having to break that crypto or hack your endpoint to see the plain text. Make them work for it. Otherwise you may as well just BCC the NSA.GOV on each and every email today it seems.
The little sisters though are another thing. You can in fact obscure a lot of what you do online and through telco but you have to be diligent. It means time and sometimes money (burn phones or laptops in some cases) to obfuscate as much as you can. The ROI here is that IF you take these pains you are then able to deny them easy access to your habits and patterns. If you start using crypto in sessions and in communications like emails then you will be also geometrically heightening your privacy status. But you have to do it.. AND that seems to be the hard part for many whether it is laziness or apathy I am not sure.
Privacy is what you make of it… He says as he hits enter on a public blog post!
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Flame, DuQU, STUXNET, and now GAUSS:
Well, it was bound to happen and it finally did, a third variant of malware that is ostensibly connected to the story that Mikko Hypponen posted about after an email he got from a nuclear scientist in Iran has come to pass as true. The email claimed that a new piece of malware was playing AC/DC “Thunderstruck” at late hours on systems it had infected within the labs in Iran. I took this with a grain of salt and had some discussions with Mikko about it offline, he confirmed that the email came ostensibly from a known quantity in the AEOI and we left it at that, its unsubstantiated. Low and behold a week or two later and here we are with Eugene tweeting to the world that “GAUSS” is out there and has been since about 2011.
Gauss it seems had many functions and some of them are still unknown because there is an encryption around the payload that has yet to be cracked by anyone. Eugene has asked for a crowd sourced solution to that and I am sure that eventually someone will come out with the key and we will once again peer into the mind of these coders with a penchant for science and celestial mechanics. It seems from the data provided thus far from the reverse R&D that it is indeed the same folks doing the work with the same framework and foibles, and thus, it is again easily tied back to the US and Israel (allegedly per the mouthiness of Joe F-Bomb Veep) and that it is once again a weapon against the whole of the middle east with a decided targeting of Lebanon this time around. Which is an interesting target all the more since there has been some interesting financial news of late concerning banks and terror funding, but I digress…
I am sure many of you out there are already familiar with the technology of the malware so I am leaving all of that out here for perhaps another day. No, what I want to talk about is the larger paradigm here concerning the sandbox, espionage, warfare, and the infamous if not poorly named “CyberWar” going on as it becomes more and more apparent in scope. All of which seems to be centered on using massive malware schemes to hoover data as well as pull the trigger when necessary on periodic digital attacks on infrastructure. Something that truly has not been seen before Stuxnet and seems to only have geometrically progressed since Langer et al let the cat out of the bag on it.
Generally, in the information security sector, when I explain the prevalence of malware today I often go back to the beginning of the Morris worm. I explain the nature of early virus’ and how they were rather playful. I also explain that once the digital crime area became profitable and firewalls became a standard appliance in the network environment, the bad actors had to pivot to generally tunnel their data from the inside out home through such things as a firewall. This always seems to make sense to those I explain it to and today it is the norm. Malware, and the use of zero day as well as SE exploits to get the user to install software is the the way to go. It’s a form of digital judo really, using the opponents strength against them by finding their fulcrum weakness.
And so, it was only natural that the espionage groups of the world would turn to malware as the main means of gaining access to information that usually would take a human asset and a lot of time. By leveraging human nature and software flaws it has been a big win for some time now. I was actually amused that Henry Crumpton in the “Art of Intelligence” talks about how the CIA became a very early adopter of the network centric style of warfare. I imagine that some of the early malware out there used by spooks to steal from unprotected networks was CIA in origin and in fact that today’s Gauss probably has some relatives out there we have yet to see by people who have been doing this for some time now and we, the general public had no idea.
Times change though, and it seems that Eugene’s infrastructure for collecting data is creating a very wide dragnet for his people to find these infections and then reverse them. As we move forward expect to see more of these pop up, and surely soon, these will not just be US/UK/IL based attempts. Soon I think we will see the outsourced and insourced products of the likes of Iran and other nation states.. Perhaps we already have seen them, well, people like Mikko and Eugene may have at least. Who knows, maybe someday I will find something rooting about my network huh? Suffice to say, that this is just the beginning folks so get used to it.. And get used to seeing Eugene’s face and name popping up all over the place as well.. Superior showman that he is.
An Interesting Week of News About Lebanon and Bankers:
Meanwhile, I think it very telling and interesting as we see the scope of these malware attacks opening up, that not only one or two countries were targeted, but pretty much the whole of the Middle East as well. Seems its an equal opportunity thing, of course the malware never can quite be trusted to stay within the network or systems that it was meant for can we? There will always be spillage and potential for leaks that might tip off the opposition that its there. In the case of Gauss, it seems to have been targeted more at Lebanon, but, it may have been just one state out of a few it was really meant for. In the case of Lebanon though, and the fact that this piece of malware was also set to steal banking data from that area, one has to look on in wonder about the recent events surrounding HSBC.
Obviously this module was meant to be used either to just collect intelligence on banking going on as well as possibly a means to leverage those accounts in ways as yet undetermined by the rest of us. Only the makers and operators really know what the intent was there, but, one can extrapolate a bit. As terror finances go, the Middle East is the hotbed, so any intelligence on movement of money could be used in that light just as well as other ways to track the finances of criminal, geopolitical, and economic decisions being made there. Whether it be corporations or governmental bodies, this kind of intelligence would be highly prized and I can see why they would install that feature on Gauss.
All of this though, so close to the revelations of HSBC has me thinking about what else we might see coming down the pike soon on this front as well. Cur off the funding activities, and you make it much harder to conduct terrorism huh? Keep your eyes open.. You may see some interesting things happening soon, especially given that the Gauss is out of the bag now too. Operations will likely have to roll up a bit quicker.
Espionage vs. Sabotage vs. Overt Warfare of Cyber-Warfare:
Recently I have been working on some presentation stuff with someone on the whole cyberwar paradigm and this week just blew the lid off the whole debate again for me. The question as well as the rancor I have over the term “Cyberwar” has been going on some time now and in this instance as well as Stuxnet and Flame and DuQu, can we term it as cyberwar? Is this instead solely espionage? What about the elements of sabotage we saw in Stuxnet that caused actual kinetic reactions? Is that cyberwar? If there is no real war declared what do you term it other than sabotage within the confines of espionage and statecraft?
Then there is the whole issue of the use of “Cold War” to describe the whole effect of these operations. Now we have a possible cold war between those states like Iran who are now coding their own malware to attack our systems and to sabotage things to make our lives harder. Is that a war? A type of war? All of these questions are being bandied about all the while we are obviously prosecuting said war in theater as I write this. I personally am at a loss to say exactly what it is or what to term it really. Neither does the DoD at this point as they are still working on doctrine to put out there for the warriors to follow. Is there a need for prosecuting this war? It would seem that the US and others working with them seem to think so. I for one can understand the desire to and the hubris to actually do it.
Hubris though, has a funny way of coming back on you in spectacular blowback. This is my greatest fear and seemingly others, however, we still have a country and a government that is flailing about *cough the Senate cough* unable to do anything constructive to protect our own infrastructure even at a low level. So, i would think twice about the scenarios of actually leaking statements of “we did it” so quickly even if you perceive that the opposition has no current ability to strike back.. Cuz soon enough they will. It certainly won’t be a grand scale attack on our grid or telco when it does happen, but, we will likely see pockets of trouble and Iran or others will pop up with a smile, waving, and saying “HA HA!” when it does occur.
The Sandbox and The Wars We Are Prosecuting There by Malware Proxy:
Back to the Middle East though… We have been entrenched in there for so so long. Growing up I regularly watched the news reports about Lebanon and Israel, Iran and the hostages, Iraq, Saddam, Russian Proxy wars via terrorism, Ghadaffi and his ambitions as well as terror plots (which also hit close to home with the Lockerbee bombing) You kids today might think this is all new, but let me tell you, this has been going on for a long long time. One might even say thousands of years (Mecca anyone? Crusades?) So, it’s little wonder then that this would all be focused on the Med.
We are conducting proxy wars not only because of 9/11 but also economic and energy reasons as well. You want a good taste of that? Take a look at “Three Days of the Condor” a movie about a fictional “reader” for the CIA who stumbles on to a plan to disrupt governments in the Middle East to affect oil prices and access. For every person that said the Iraq war and Afghanistan wasn’t about oil, I say to them look at the bigger picture. There are echoes there of control and access that you cannot ignore. Frankly, if there wasn’t oil and money in the region, I think we would have quite a different story to look on as regards our implementing our forces there.
So, with that in mind, and with terrorism and nuclear ambitions (Iran) look at the malware targeting going on. Look at all of the nascent “Arab Springs” going on (albeit really, these are not springs, these are uprisings) we have peoples who want not to live under oppressive regimes not just because they aren’t free to buy an iPhone or surf porn, but they are also oppressed tribes or sects that no longer wish to be abused. All of this though, all of the fighting and insurgency upsets the very delicate balance that is the Middle East. Something that we in the US for our part, have been trying to cultivate (stability) even if that stability came from another strongman that we really don’t care for, but, who will work with us in trade and positional relevance to other states.
In goes the malware.. Not only to see what’s going on, but also to stop things from happening. These areas can be notoriously hard to have HUMINT in and its just easier to send in malware and rely on human nature to have a larger boon in intelligence than to try and recruit people to spy. It’s as simple as that. Hear that sucking sound? That’s all their data going to a server in Virginia. In the eyes of the services and the government, this is clearly the rights means to the ends they desire.
We Have Many Tigers by The Tail and I Expect Blowback:
Like I said before though, blowback has a nasty habit of boomeranging and here we have multiple states to deal with. Sure, not all of them has the ability to strike back at us in kind, but, as you have seen in Bulgaria, the Iranians just decided to go with their usual Hezbollah proxy war of terrorism. Others may do the same, or, they may bide their time and start hiring coders on the internet. Maybe they will hire out of Russia, or China perhaps. Hell, it’s all for sale now in the net right? The problem overall is that since we claimed the Iran attack at Natanz, we now are not only the big boy on the block, we are now the go to to be blamed for anything. Even if we say we didn’t do it, who’s gonna really believe us?
The cyber-genie is out of the cyber-bottle.
Then, this week we saw something new occur. A PSYOP, albeit a bad one, was perpetrated by the Assad regime it seems. Reuters was hacked and stories tweeted/placed on the net about how the rebel forces in Aleppo had cut and run. It was an interesting idea, but, it was ineffective for a number of reasons. The crux though is that Reuters saw it and immediately said it was false. So, no one really believed the stories. However, a more subtle approach at PSYOPS or DISINFO campaigns is likely in the offing for the near future I’d think. Surely we have been doing this for a while against them, whether it be in the news cycles or more subtle sock puppets online in social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. The US has been doing this for a long time and is well practiced. Syria though, not so much.
I have mentioned the other events above, but here are some links to stories for you to read up on it…
- PSYOPS Operations by the nascent Syrian cyber warfare units on Reuters
- Hezbollah’s attack in Bulgaria (bus bombing) in response to STUXNET and other machinations
- Ostensible output of INTEL from Gauss that may have gotten HSBC in trouble and others to come (Terrorism funding and money laundering)
All in all though, I’d have to say that once the players become more sophisticated, we may in fact see some attacks against us that might work. Albeit those attacks will not be the “Cyber Pearl Harbor” that Dr. Cyberlove would like you to be afraid of. Politically too, there will be blowback from the Middle East now. I am sure that even after Wikileaks cables dump, the governments of the Med thought at least they could foresee what the US was up to and have a modicum of statecraft occur. Now though, I think we have pissed in the pool a bit too much and only have ourselves to blame with the shit hits the fan and we don’t have that many friends any more to rely on.
It’s a delicate balance.. #shutupeugene
Pandora’s Box Has Been Opened:
In the end, we have opened Pandora’s box and there is no way to get that which has escaped back into it. We have given the weapon framework away due to the nature of the carrier. Even if Gauss is encrypted, it will be broken and then what? Unlike traditional weapons that destroy themselves, the malware we have sent can be easily reverse engineered. It will give ideas to those wishing to create better versions and they will be turned on us in targeted and wide fashions to wreak as much digital havoc as possible. Unfortunately, you and I my friends are the collateral damage here, as we all depend on the systems that these types of malware insert themselves into and manipulate.
It is certainly evident as I stated above, our government here in the US is unable to come up with reasonable means to protect our systems. Systems that they do not own, Hell, the internet itself is not a government run or owned entity either, and yet they want to have an executive ability to shut it down? This alone shows you the problem of their thinking processes. They then decide to open the box and release the malware genie anyway… It’s all kind of scary when you think about it. If this is hard to concieve, lets put it in terms of biological weapons.. Weapons systems that have been banned since Nixon was in office.
The allusion should be quite easy to understand. Especially since malware was originally termed “Virus” There is a direct analogy there. Anyway, here’s the crux of it all. Just like bioweapons, digital “bioware” for lack of a better term, also cannot be controlled once let into the environment. Things mutate, whether at the hand of people or systems, things will not be contained within the intended victims. They will escape (as did all the malware we have seen) and will tend to have unforeseen consequences. God forbid we start really working on polymorphics again huh? If the circumstances are right, then, we could have a problem.
Will we eventually have to have another treaty ban on malware of this kind?
Time will tell.. Until then, we all will just be along for the cyberwar ride I guess. We seem to be steadily marching toward the “cyberwar” everyone is talking about… determined really to prosecute it… But will it get us anywhere?
I came to Defcon this year as it turned 20 and after much had changed on the world stage regarding our business (INFOSEC/Pentesting/Dev/SECOPS) much remained the same. What has really changed though, and could be seen at this anniversary year was just how much our antics and interests were now the new “hotness” to the government and the military. Never before had the NSA had a booth at our conference but this year, they were there with recruiting in mind and that is a big change.
However, you may be saying to yourself right about now “Uhh, but, this has been going on a while, not just now” Well, yes, it has, but, what I have noticed this last con was that it’s not all about the tech, this year, it was also recruitment of human assets who would give “intelligence” to the players like NSA. No more are they just looking for programs and programmers, but also seeking out to make connections with people who have connections. You see, as Shawn Henry said as well as General Alexnder, “we need you to keep an eye out and tell us if you see something” What I heard was the equivalent of “if you see something say something” that the TSA has plastered at airports.
This is an important paradigm that we all need to be aware of. With the advent of Anonymous and Stuxnet as well as the nascent idea of the internet becoming a “digital nation state” we all have to be mindful that while the technologies out there are a commodity, so too are we in the great game of cold war intelligence and cyber war. We are the commodity that makes the new exploit as well as being the HUMINT asset that intelligence agencies need to “collect” with.
Now, while you are pondering that, consider the fact that the “opposition” is also trying to curry favor and recruit us as well…
Yup, that’s right. That party you might be attending might in fact have operators from other countries clandestine services too. In fact, that party could even be funded by said agencies and players to get you to chat and perhaps leak meaningful information. Think about it, how many of you out there reading this post work for fortune 500 companies as security technicians? What kind of data is in your head that might be of use to a foreign operative?
Ponder that as you sip that free drink late in the day. Say, did you know that the Chinese most preferable means to gaining intel with visiting professors and the like, is to have them over tired and tipsy? It’s true, it’s low level but its been used on many an occasion. You see, once you start talking, then you open the door for more rapport building, and then it’s pretty much over. One wonders how many Los Alamos folks had the same treatment on trips to China. Now think about the average Defcon party and the amount of alcohol and sleep deprivation we have going on there.
So, look at it from that perspective. Now the NSA has come to the con just as the FBI and other agencies and security bodies so too will the “other guys” I don’t know how many of you out there come from military or “other” backgrounds where you will have a DSS or counterintelligence training,but, I am assuming that a vast majority of the folks attending the cons today do not have that background, especially the younger ones who’s only been in the security arena a short time. Pentesters who know SE should be able to easily detect some of the techniques used to recruit an asset, and tease out information.. Others, maybe not so much.
So here we are today, APT (Yes China being one purveyor of APT attacks) are not only using malware to get into systems but also recruiting sources to help them in their goals. Used to be a time that it really only was the nuclear scientists getting the attention… Today though, everything is game, you might make widgets, but that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t want to know what you know.
Pssst… It’s still espionage kids… And now YOU are part of it because you hold interesting information.
How’s that for some “Threat Intelligence” huh?
Which brings me to the second line of thinking or topic that came up this year. The government is asking us to consider more “threat intelligence” and to bring them in on the loop. See, right there, they are asking you to be an asset.. Did that occur to you? Of course I know for the most part you all thought, as I did too, that the idea was a bit silly.
Because who really has that kind of threat intel program going on today? Hell, we are all pretty much trying to just keep our shit together right? On average, unless you work for a major company,you may not even have an SIEM or even snort instance right? How are you going to convince your employer that you need that stuff and then more so, to pass that intel to the government? The only groups I have known to do this are the DIB partners, and they do it because they don’t want to lose contracts for the military.
So now, we would all be assets? All corporations out there, whether they are being attacked by APT or Anonymous, would be reporting their incursions or attempts at them to the government? That’s kinda spooky really. This also circles back nicely to the idea that we all now, all of us in the INFOSEC community are now collection nodes for SIGINT/HUMINT/MASINT/ELINT and not many of us have had the training to be analysts.
You see, when you use the words “Threat Intelligence” this has some context that some may not get right away. It’s not just what IP is hitting us and with what attacks anymore.. It’s about the context around all of that and the attribution that is needed for cyber warfare, or more likely, cyber intelligence operations. I expect to see a lot more of this lobbying going on at all of the cons as well as more people sidling up to the attendee’s and asking “so, what’s going on out there?”
For those of you not acquainted with HUMINT and it’s techniques, I suggest you read “The Art Of Intelligence” By Henry Crump and learn… Why? Because that guy you’re talking to at the cool party might just be a PRC case officer…
Hard power is a term used in international relations. Hard power is a theory that describes using military and economic means to influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies. It is used in contrast to soft power, which refers to power that comes from diplomacy, culture and history. While the existence of hard power has a long history, the term arose when Joseph Nye coined ‘soft power’ as a new, and different form of power in asovereign state’s foreign policy. Hard power lies at the command Hegemon end of the spectrum of behaviors and describes a nation’s ability to coerce or induce another nation to perform a course of action. This can be done through military power which consists of coercive diplomacy, war, and alliance using threats and force with the aim of coercion, deterrence, and protection. Alternatively economic power which relies on aid, bribes and economic sanctions can be used in order to induce and coerce.
While the term ‘hard power’ generally refers to diplomacy, it can also be used to describe forms of negotiation which involve pressure or threats as leverage.
Over the weekend I had a twitter conversation (140 char’s at a time, rough) about the meaning of “Soft Power” in the current parlance propounded by Joseph Nye. I have a different opinion of the nomenclature concerning the terms “Soft Power” and “Hard Power” in today’s political and economic environment. While the other party I was speaking to had a more strict version of thinking per Mr. Nye’s (he coined the term soft power) definition. I myself feel that today things are a little more complex for the terms to be so tight given that now economic “hard power” seems to have morphed into a vast array of economic digital espionage that softly, along with other soft power style moves, create a hard power outcome of directing or tricking other countries into actions that the others desire.
The primary mover and shaker of this for me is of course China and one only has to look at the news cycle to see both these types of “power” being wielded by the RPC. I think it is time to take a look at the means and the philosophies that China has been using to effect the changes that they need to become not only the predominant military force in the world, but more so an economic juggernaut that will outweigh and perhaps stealthily creep behind and slit the throats of other countries in subtle and not so subtle ways.
Hard vs. Soft Powers and Nomenclature
As seen above in the quoted text, hard power is seen as economic sanctions as well as military actions. This is all in response to the soft power of politics and the methods of carrot to the hard power stick. All of these allude to direct actions that are perceived as means to manipulate nations states and other actors into actions desired by the power that is employing them. I would put to you all that there is another form of “soft power” that the Chinese have really created over the last decade that employs a more stealthily nimble approach from the espionage arena (hard power by strict definition?) and economic strategies that, with nationalistic goals of grand scale, have wrought a new type of “power”
Perhaps this power should be called “Covert Soft Power” as it is being employed covertly both in the hacking of companies to steal their economic secrets (IP) as well as by the addition of espionage and common business tactics to buy into, and or subvert companies to facilitate access to economic secrets as well as out maneuver companies and close them out on deals etc. All of this seems logical to me (adding this meaning to the term) but perhaps I am outside the norms on this one. The way I see it though, there is a new vector here that the Chinese are leveraging and I think we could use a little thought on the matter and perhaps how to counteract it all.
China, The Hard and Soft Power via Economic Espionage and Investment
China in particular has been working at a multiply pronged and diligent attack on systems and corporations as well as governments to effect the long game strategies that they want. Instead of attacking things head on, the Chinese prefer the methods of “The Thousand Grains of Sand” where many operations and operators work to effect the larger outcomes from small pieces. The Chinese are patient, and because of the Eastern mind, seem to come at things in a more subtle way than most of us in the West tend to think about. In all, the subversion and outright theft of IP has a multipurpose goal of broadening their technical abilities, their economic abilities, and overall, their dominance in the world as a power.
What the Chinese have realized mostly though, is that the subtle knife is the best way to control the enemy, slowly, and subtly slitting the throat of the opponent without a struggle. Frankly, I admire the approach really. In terms of the argument of “soft power” I place these efforts squarely into it because in tandem with certain “political” maneuvers, they can have huge net effects. By combining the military, the economic, and the political aspects of soft and hard power, and the gray’s in between, China has become a force to be reckoned with. So, I put it to you all here, that there is room for a change within the nomenclature of Mr. Nye’s coinage and that I think, in order to better understand the mosaic that is happening, we need to re-tool some of the ideas we have pre-conceived for ourselves.
A New Battlespace, A New Set of Battles
Finally, I would also put it to you all that the battle space is much different today than it has been in the past. Not only do we have the digital landscape, but said same digital landscape, that makes it easier to steal, also makes everything more interconnected. By interconnected, I mean that it is far easier to effect large changes to companies by the automation that we all have in place today to speed up our transactions. Today it is far easier to quickly make instant trades, and effect the bottom line of a company for the better or worse as well as steal data in minutes that in the past, would have taken days, weeks, or months to ex-filtrate from a company via conventional HUMINT means.
In the scenarios run on trades on the markets, you can see how one alleged “fat finger” incident can have a large scale and rippling effect on the whole economies of states, never mind businesses individually. So, once again, the battle space has changed greatly because of the interconnected-ness of things. It seems that the matters of state now more than before, can be changed through the soft power of the digital attack or manipulation. This is what I mean by “soft power” or perhaps the term I mentioned above “Covert Soft Power”, attacks that we are seeing now, and are having trouble truly attributing to nation-state, corporate, or individual actors are having larger and larger effects on our economy, our policies, and our long term viability as nations, companies, or groups.
At the end of the day though, I suggest that we are being manipulated by masters at the game of “Go” and we need to pay attention to every subtlety and not be so rigidly minded. It is the water that flows around and over the rock, eventually wearing it down to nothing.