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Paul Merrell

Superiority in Cyberspace Will Remain Elusive - Federation Of American Scientists - 0 views

  • Military planners should not anticipate that the United States will ever dominate cyberspace, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a new doctrinal publication. The kind of supremacy that might be achievable in other domains is not a realistic option in cyber operations. “Permanent global cyberspace superiority is not possible due to the complexity of cyberspace,” the DoD publication said. In fact, “Even local superiority may be impractical due to the way IT [information technology] is implemented; the fact US and other national governments do not directly control large, privately owned portions of cyberspace; the broad array of state and non-state actors; the low cost of entry; and the rapid and unpredictable proliferation of technology.” Nevertheless, the military has to make do under all circumstances. “Commanders should be prepared to conduct operations under degraded conditions in cyberspace.” This sober assessment appeared in a new edition of Joint Publication 3-12, Cyberspace Operations, dated June 8, 2018. (The 100-page document updates and replaces a 70-page version from 2013.) The updated DoD doctrine presents a cyber concept of operations, describes the organization of cyber forces, outlines areas of responsibility, and defines limits on military action in cyberspace, including legal limits.
  • The new cyber doctrine reiterates the importance and the difficulty of properly attributing cyber attacks against the US to their source. “The ability to hide the sponsor and/or the threat behind a particular malicious effect in cyberspace makes it difficult to determine how, when, and where to respond,” the document said. “The design of the Internet lends itself to anonymity and, combined with applications intended to hide the identity of users, attribution will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future.”
Paul Merrell

Was Destructive 'Slingshot' Malware Deployed by the Pentagon? | The American Conservative - 0 views

  • Earlier this March, cyber-security firm Kaspersky Labs released information on a newly discovered, highly advanced piece of malware dubbed Slingshot. The malware targeted Latvian-made Internet routers popular in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Kaspersky’s reports reveal that the malware had been active since at least 2012, and speculates that it was government-made, owing to its sophistication and its use of novel techniques rarely seen elsewhere. Those investigating the matter further have drawn the conclusion that Slingshot was developed by the U.S. government, with some reports quoting former officials as connecting it to the Pentagon’s JSOC special forces. For those following the cyber security and malware sphere, this is a huge revelation, putting the U.S. government in the hot seat for deploying cyber attacks that harm a much greater range of innocent users beyond their intended targets. Kaspersky’s own findings note that the code was written in English, using a driver flaw to allow the implanting of various types of spyware. Among those mentioned by Moscow-based Kaspersky was an implant named “GOLLUM,” which notably was mentioned in one of the leaked Edward Snowden documents. Further findings suggest that Slingshot had common code with only two other known pieces of software, both malwares, which were attributed to the NSA and CIA, respectively, by analysts. Though various U.S. agencies are all denying comment, things are clearly pointing uncomfortably in their direction.
Paul Merrell

NSA Based Malware Used In Massive Cyber-Attack Hitting 74 Countries - 0 views

  • Apparent National Security Agency (NSA) malware has been used in a global cyber-attack, including on British hospitals, in what whistleblower Edward Snowden described as the repercussion of the NSA’s reckless decision to build the tools. “Despite warnings, @NSAGov built dangerous attack tools that could target Western software. Today we see the cost,” Snowden tweeted Friday. At least two hospitals in London were forced to shut down and stop admitting patients after being attacked by the malware, which operates by locking out the user, encrypting data, and demanding a ransom to release it. The attacks hit dozens of other hospitals, ambulance operators, and doctors’ offices as well.
  • The Blackpool Gazette in the northwest reported that medical staff had resorted to using pen and paper when phone and computer systems shut down. Elsewhere, journalist Ollie Cowan tweeted a photo of ambulances “backed up” at Southport Hospital as the staff attempted to cope with the crisis.
  • Other disruptions were reported in at least 74 countries, including Russia, Spain, Turkey, and Japan, and the number is “growing fast,” according to Kaspersky Lab chief Costin Raiu. Security architect Kevin Beau said it was spreading into the U.S. as well. The malware, which Microsoft tested briefly earlier this year, was leaked by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, which has been releasing NSA hacking tools online since last year, the New York Times reports. Times journalists Dan Bilefsky and Nicole Perlroth wrote: Microsoft rolled out a patch for the vulnerability in March, but hackers apparently took advantage of the fact that vulnerable targets—particularly hospitals—had yet to update their systems. The malware was circulated by email. Targets were sent an encrypted, compressed file that, once loaded, allowed the ransomware to infiltrate its targets. Reuters reported that the National Health Service (NHS), England’s public health system, was warned about possible hacking earlier in the day, but that by then it was already too late.
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  • A Twitter account with the handle @HackerFantastic, the co-founder of the cyber security company Hacker House, tweeted that the firm had “warned the NHS with Sky news about vulnerabilities they had last year, this was inevitable and bound to happen at some stage.” “In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals,” Snowden tweeted. “If @NSAGov had privately disclosed the flaw used to attack hospitals when they *found* it, not when they lost it, this may not have happened.” Disclosing the vulnerability when it was found would have given hospitals years, not months, to update their systems and prepare for an attack, he added.
  • witter user @MalwareTechBlog added, “Something like this is incredibly significant, we’ve not seen P2P spreading on PC via exploits at this scale in nearly a decade.” Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) National Security Project, said, “It would be shocking if the NSA knew about this vulnerability but failed to disclose it to Microsoft until after it was stolen.” “These attacks underscore the fact that vulnerabilities will be exploited not just by our security agencies, but by hackers and criminals around the world,” Toomey said. “It is past time for Congress to enhance cybersecurity by passing a law that requires the government to disclose vulnerabilities to companies in a timely manner. Patching security holes immediately, not stockpiling them, is the best way to make everyone’s digital life safer.”
Paul Merrell

Symantec: CIA Linked To Cyberattacks In 16 Countries - 0 views

  • Internet and computer security company Symantec has issued a statement today related to the Vault 7 WikiLeaks documents leaked from the CIA, saying that the methods and protocols described in the documents are consistent with cyberattacks they’d been tracking for years. Symantec says they now believe that the CIA hacking tool Fluxwire is a malware that had been known as Corentry, which Symantec had previously attributed to an unknown cyberespionage group called Longhorn, which apparently was the CIA. They described Longhorn as having been active since at least 2011, and responsible for attacks in at least 16 countries across the world, targeting governments and NGOs, as well as financial, energy, and natural resource companies, things that would generally be of interest to a nation-state.
  • While the WikiLeaks themselves have been comparatively short on details, as WikiLeaks continues to share specific vulnerabilities with companies so they can fix them before the details are leaked to the general public, the ability of security companies like Symantec to link the CIA to known hacking operations could prove to be even more enlightening as to the scope of CIA cyber-espionage the world over.
Paul Merrell

WikiLeaks - Vault 7: Projects - 0 views

  • Today, March 31st 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 "Marble" -- 676 source code files for the CIA's secret anti-forensic Marble Framework. Marble is used to hamper forensic investigators and anti-virus companies from attributing viruses, trojans and hacking attacks to the CIA. Marble does this by hiding ("obfuscating") text fragments used in CIA malware from visual inspection. This is the digital equivallent of a specalized CIA tool to place covers over the english language text on U.S. produced weapons systems before giving them to insurgents secretly backed by the CIA. Marble forms part of the CIA's anti-forensics approach and the CIA's Core Library of malware code. It is "[D]esigned to allow for flexible and easy-to-use obfuscation" as "string obfuscation algorithms (especially those that are unique) are often used to link malware to a specific developer or development shop." The Marble source code also includes a deobfuscator to reverse CIA text obfuscation. Combined with the revealed obfuscation techniques, a pattern or signature emerges which can assist forensic investigators attribute previous hacking attacks and viruses to the CIA. Marble was in use at the CIA during 2016. It reached 1.0 in 2015.
  • The source code shows that Marble has test examples not just in English but also in Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic and Farsi. This would permit a forensic attribution double game, for example by pretending that the spoken language of the malware creator was not American English, but Chinese, but then showing attempts to conceal the use of Chinese, drawing forensic investigators even more strongly to the wrong conclusion, --- but there are other possibilities, such as hiding fake error messages. The Marble Framework is used for obfuscation only and does not contain any vulnerabilties or exploits by itself.
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    But it was the Russians who hacked the 2016 U.S. election. Really.
Paul Merrell

Venezuelan Intelligence Services Arrest Credicard Directors - nsnbc international | nsn... - 0 views

  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro confirmed Saturday that the state intelligence service SEBIN arrested several directors from the Credicard financial transaction company on Friday night. 
  • The financial consortium is accused of having deliberately taken advantage of a series of cyber attacks on state internet provider CANTV Friday to paralyse its online payment platform–responsible for the majority of the country’s accredited financial transactions, according to its website. “We have proof that it was a deliberate act what Credicard did yesterday. Right now the main people responsible for Credicard are under arrest,” confirmed the president. The government says that millions of attempted purchases using in-store credit and debit card payment machines provided by the company were interrupted after its platform went down for the most part of the day. Authorities also maintain that the company waited longer than the established protocol of one hour before responding to the issues.
  • According to CANTV President Manuel Fernandez, Venezuela’s internet platform suffered at least three attacks from an external source on Friday, one of which was aimed at state oil company PDVSA. CANTV was notified of the attacks by international provider LANautilus, which belongs to Telecom Italia. Nonetheless, Fernandez denied that Credicard’s platform was affected by the interferences to CANTV’s service, underscoring that other financial transaction companies that rely on the state enterprise continued to be operative.
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  • On Friday SEBIN Director Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez also openly accused members of the rightwing coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), of being implicated in the incident. “Members of the MUD involved in the attack on electronic banking service,” he tweeted. “The financial war continues inside and outside the country, internally they are damaging banking operability,” he added. Venezuelan news source La Iguana has reported that the server administrator of Credicard is the company Dayco Host, which belongs to the D’Agostino family. Diana D’Angostino is married to veteran opposition politician, Henry Ramos Allup, president of the National Assembly. On Saturday, the government-promoted Productive Economy Council held an extraordinary meeting of political and business representatives to reject the attack on the country’s financial system.
Paul Merrell

Commentary: Don't be so sure Russia hacked the Clinton emails | Reuters - 0 views

  • By James Bamford Last summer, cyber investigators plowing through the thousands of leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee uncovered a clue.A user named “Феликс Эдмундович” modified one of the documents using settings in the Russian language. Translated, his name was Felix Edmundovich, a pseudonym referring to Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, the chief of the Soviet Union’s first secret-police organization, the Cheka.It was one more link in the chain of evidence pointing to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the man ultimately behind the operation.During the Cold War, when Soviet intelligence was headquartered in Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow, Putin was a KGB officer assigned to the First Chief Directorate. Its responsibilities included “active measures,” a form of political warfare that included media manipulation, propaganda and disinformation. Soviet active measures, retired KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin told Army historian Thomas Boghart, aimed to discredit the United States and “conquer world public opinion.”As the Cold War has turned into the code war, Putin recently unveiled his new, greatly enlarged spy organization: the Ministry of State Security, taking the name from Joseph Stalin’s secret service. Putin also resurrected, according to James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, some of the KGB’s old active- measures tactics. On October 7, Clapper issued a statement: “The U.S. Intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.” Notably, however, the FBI declined to join the chorus, according to reports by the New York Times and CNBC.A week later, Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC’s Meet the Press that "we're sending a message" to Putin and "it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact." When asked if the American public would know a message was sent, Biden replied, "Hope not." Meanwhile, the CIA was asked, according to an NBC report on October 14, “to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging ‘clandestine’ cyber operation designed to harass and ‘embarrass’ the Kremlin leadership.”But as both sides begin arming their cyberweapons, it is critical for the public to be confident that the evidence is really there, and to understand the potential consequences of a tit-for-tat cyberwar escalating into a real war. 
  • This is a prospect that has long worried Richard Clarke, the former White House cyber czar under President George W. Bush. “It’s highly likely that any war that began as a cyberwar,” Clarke told me last year, “would ultimately end up being a conventional war, where the United States was engaged with bombers and missiles.”The problem with attempting to draw a straight line from the Kremlin to the Clinton campaign is the number of variables that get in the way. For one, there is little doubt about Russian cyber fingerprints in various U.S. campaign activities. Moscow, like Washington, has long spied on such matters. The United States, for example, inserted malware in the recent Mexican election campaign. The question isn’t whether Russia spied on the U.S. presidential election, it’s whether it released the election emails.Then there’s the role of Guccifer 2.0, the person or persons supplying WikiLeaks and other organizations with many of the pilfered emails. Is this a Russian agent? A free agent? A cybercriminal? A combination, or some other entity? No one knows.There is also the problem of groupthink that led to the war in Iraq. For example, just as the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the intelligence establishment are convinced Putin is behind the attacks, they also believed it was a slam-dunk that Saddam Hussein had a trove of weapons of mass destruction. Consider as well the speed of the political-hacking investigation, followed by a lack of skepticism, culminating in a rush to judgment. After the Democratic committee discovered the potential hack last spring, it called in the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in May to analyze the problem.
  • CrowdStrike took just a month or so before it conclusively determined that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, and the Russian military intelligence organization, GRU, were behind it. Most of the other major cybersecurity firms quickly fell in line and agreed. By October, the intelligence community made it unanimous. That speed and certainty contrasts sharply with a previous suspected Russian hack in 2010, when the target was the Nasdaq stock market. According to an extensive investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2014, the NSA and FBI made numerous mistakes over many months that stretched to nearly a year. “After months of work,” the article said, “there were still basic disagreements in different parts of government over who was behind the incident and why.”  There was no consensus­, with just a 70 percent certainty that the hack was a cybercrime. Months later, this determination was revised again: It was just a Russian attempt to spy on the exchange in order to design its own. The federal agents also considered the possibility that the Nasdaq snooping was not connected to the Kremlin. Instead, “someone in the FSB could have been running a for-profit operation on the side, or perhaps sold the malware to a criminal hacking group.” Again, that’s why it’s necessary to better understand the role of Guccifer 2.0 in releasing the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails before launching any cyberweapons.
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  • t is strange that clues in the Nasdaq hack were very difficult to find ― as one would expect from a professional, state-sponsored cyber operation. Conversely, the sloppy, Inspector Clouseau-like nature of the Guccifer 2.0 operation, with someone hiding behind a silly Bolshevik cover name, and Russian language clues in the metadata, smacked more of either an amateur operation or a deliberate deception.Then there’s the Shadow Brokers, that mysterious person or group that surfaced in August with its farcical “auction” to profit from a stolen batch of extremely secret NSA hacking tools, in essence, cyberweapons. Where do they fit into the picture? They have a small armory of NSA cyberweapons, and they appeared just three weeks after the first DNC emails were leaked. On Monday, the Shadow Brokers released more information, including what they claimed is a list of hundreds of organizations that the NSA has targeted over more than a decade, complete with technical details. This offers further evidence that their information comes from a leaker inside the NSA rather than the Kremlin. The Shadow Brokers also discussed Obama’s threat of cyber retaliation against Russia. Yet they seemed most concerned that the CIA, rather than the NSA or Cyber Command, was given the assignment. This may be a possible indication of a connection to NSA’s elite group, Tailored Access Operations, considered by many the A-Team of hackers.“Why is DirtyGrandpa threating CIA cyberwar with Russia?” they wrote. “Why not threating with NSA or Cyber Command? CIA is cyber B-Team, yes? Where is cyber A-Team?” Because of legal and other factors, the NSA conducts cyber espionage, Cyber Command conducts cyberattacks in wartime, and the CIA conducts covert cyberattacks. 
  • The Shadow Brokers connection is important because Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, claimed to have received identical copies of the Shadow Brokers cyberweapons even before they announced their “auction.” Did he get them from the Shadow Brokers, from Guccifer, from Russia or from an inside leaker at the NSA?Despite the rushed, incomplete investigation and unanswered questions, the Obama administration has announced its decision to retaliate against Russia.  But a public warning about a secret attack makes little sense. If a major cyber crisis happens in Russia sometime in the future, such as a deadly power outage in frigid winter, the United States could be blamed even if it had nothing to do with it. That could then trigger a major retaliatory cyberattack against the U.S. cyber infrastructure, which would call for another reprisal attack ― potentially leading to Clarke’s fear of a cyberwar triggering a conventional war. President Barack Obama has also not taken a nuclear strike off the table as an appropriate response to a devastating cyberattack.
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    Article by James Bamford, the first NSA whistleblower and author of three books on the NSA.
Paul Merrell

The Digital Hunt for Duqu, a Dangerous and Cunning U.S.-Israeli Spy Virus - The Intercept - 1 views

  • “Is this related to what we talked about before?” Bencsáth said, referring to a previous discussion they’d had about testing new services the company planned to offer customers. “No, something else,” Bartos said. “Can you come now? It’s important. But don’t tell anyone where you’re going.” Bencsáth wolfed down the rest of his lunch and told his colleagues in the lab that he had a “red alert” and had to go. “Don’t ask,” he said as he ran out the door. A while later, he was at Bartos’ office, where a triage team had been assembled to address the problem they wanted to discuss. “We think we’ve been hacked,” Bartos said.
  • They found a suspicious file on a developer’s machine that had been created late at night when no one was working. The file was encrypted and compressed so they had no idea what was inside, but they suspected it was data the attackers had copied from the machine and planned to retrieve later. A search of the company’s network found a few more machines that had been infected as well. The triage team felt confident they had contained the attack but wanted Bencsáth’s help determining how the intruders had broken in and what they were after. The company had all the right protections in place—firewalls, antivirus, intrusion-detection and -prevention systems—and still the attackers got in.
  • Bencsáth was a teacher, not a malware hunter, and had never done such forensic work before. At the CrySyS Lab, where he was one of four advisers working with a handful of grad students, he did academic research for the European Union and occasional hands-on consulting work for other clients, but the latter was mostly run-of-the-mill cleanup work—mopping up and restoring systems after random virus infections. He’d never investigated a targeted hack before, let alone one that was still live, and was thrilled to have the chance. The only catch was, he couldn’t tell anyone what he was doing. Bartos’ company depended on the trust of customers, and if word got out that the company had been hacked, they could lose clients. The triage team had taken mirror images of the infected hard drives, so they and Bencsáth spent the rest of the afternoon poring over the copies in search of anything suspicious. By the end of the day, they’d found what they were looking for—an “infostealer” string of code that was designed to record passwords and other keystrokes on infected machines, as well as steal documents and take screenshots. It also catalogued any devices or systems that were connected to the machines so the attackers could build a blueprint of the company’s network architecture. The malware didn’t immediately siphon the stolen data from infected machines but instead stored it in a temporary file, like the one the triage team had found. The file grew fatter each time the infostealer sucked up data, until at some point the attackers would reach out to the machine to retrieve it from a server in India that served as a command-and-control node for the malware.
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  • Bencsáth took the mirror images and the company’s system logs with him, after they had been scrubbed of any sensitive customer data, and over the next few days scoured them for more malicious files, all the while being coy to his colleagues back at the lab about what he was doing. The triage team worked in parallel, and after several more days they had uncovered three additional suspicious files. When Bencsáth examined one of them—a kernel-mode driver, a program that helps the computer communicate with devices such as printers—his heart quickened. It was signed with a valid digital certificate from a company in Taiwan (digital certificates are documents ensuring that a piece of software is legitimate). Wait a minute, he thought. Stuxnet—the cyberweapon that was unleashed on Iran’s uranium-enrichment program—also used a driver that was signed with a certificate from a company in Taiwan. That one came from RealTek Semiconductor, but this certificate belonged to a different company, C-Media Electronics. The driver had been signed with the certificate in August 2009, around the same time Stuxnet had been unleashed on machines in Iran.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Meet MonsterMind, the NSA Bot That Could Wage Cyberwar Autonomously | Threat Level | WIRED - 1 views

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    "Sean Gladwell/Getty Edward Snowden has made us painfully aware of the government's sweeping surveillance programs over the last year. But a new program, currently being developed at the NSA, suggests that surveillance may fuel the government's cyber defense capabilities, too."
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    "Sean Gladwell/Getty Edward Snowden has made us painfully aware of the government's sweeping surveillance programs over the last year. But a new program, currently being developed at the NSA, suggests that surveillance may fuel the government's cyber defense capabilities, too."
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    "Sean Gladwell/Getty Edward Snowden has made us painfully aware of the government's sweeping surveillance programs over the last year. But a new program, currently being developed at the NSA, suggests that surveillance may fuel the government's cyber defense capabilities, too."
Paul Merrell

The Government's Secret Plan to Shut Off Cellphones and the Internet, Explained | Conne... - 1 views

  • This month, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Department of Homeland Security must make its plan to shut off the Internet and cellphone communications available to the American public. You, of course, may now be thinking: What plan?! Though President Barack Obama swiftly disapproved of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak turning off the Internet in his country (to quell widespread civil disobedience) in 2011, the US government has the authority to do the same sort of thing, under a plan that was devised during the George W. Bush administration. Many details of the government’s controversial “kill switch” authority have been classified, such as the conditions under which it can be implemented and how the switch can be used. But thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), DHS has to reveal those details by December 12 — or mount an appeal. (The smart betting is on an appeal, since DHS has fought to release this information so far.) Yet here’s what we do know about the government’s “kill switch” plan:
  • What are the constitutional problems? Civil liberties advocates argue that kill switches violate the First Amendment and pose a problem because they aren’t subject to rigorous judicial and congressional oversight. “There is no court in the loop at all, at any stage in the SOP 303 process,” according to the Center for Democracy and Technology. ”The executive branch, untethered by the checks and balances of court oversight, clear instruction from Congress, or transparency to the public, is free to act as it will and in secret.” David Jacobs of EPIC says, “Cutting off communications imposes a prior restraint on speech, so the First Amendment imposes the strictest of limitations…We don’t know how DHS thinks [the kill switch] is consistent with the First Amendment.” He adds, “Such a policy, unbounded by clear rules and oversight, just invites abuse.”
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