For a moment I was believing to have gone a couple of months back in time, with the calendar set in the first half of February when @ItsKahuna and @CabinCr3w put in place a long trail of attacks against Law Enforcement Agencies. (Un)Fortunately they left several cyber fingerprints in the crime scene which allowed the LEAs to take their revenge and stop the long line of attacks.
Today, nearly in contemporary, the IPA, International Police Association (ipa-iac.org) has been defaced “for the lulz” and the same fate, with more serious consequences, has happened to Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO.org). In the latter circumstance it looks like the attackers were able to leak 40 Gigabytes of internal files.
Despite the number of attacks suffered (and the consequent arrests made) Law Enforcement Agencies continue to be vulnerable and, even worse, the techniques used and the exploited vulnerabilities are apparently always the same.
Or better “The Unbearable Lightness of (Human) Beings and APTs”. Immediately after my post on Cyber Weapons, I was pointed out that APTs are not Cyber Weapons. On a more general perspective, APTs are not things but (groups of) human beings who have the capability and the intent to target specific entries with multi-factor attacks. Said in few words an APT is not a “what” but is a “who”. On the other hand, how many could afford to hire (and pay) a double agent capable of implanting a malware inside a nuclear complex through an infected USB thumb?
An Oxford dictionary for Information Security has not already been published, hence this term is commonly used to refer to cyber threats or long-term sophisticated hacking attacks. The latter is the interpretation closer to what I meant in compiling the chart.
In the same hours in which I was publishing my post on Cyber Weapons, news agencies all around the world have begun to release (few) details about a new alleged Cyber Attack targeting the Iranian Oil Ministry, the National Iranian Oil Company and several other state-owned businesses.
The attack has been confirmed by a spokesman of the Iranian Oil Ministry, who also stressed that critical data have not been damaged or lost in the attack. Anyway, as a consequence of the Cyber Attack albeit as a precaution Internet access to several oil refineries has been cut off.
Of course Iran is not new to Cyber Attacks targeting Critical Infrastructures (do you remember Stuxnet and the possible hoax of
Duqu Stars?), in any case it is too soon to draw any connection with Stuxnet or any other kind of State-Sponsored Attack, even because, according to the scant information available, only a server providing public information has been harmed.
Probably this malware has nothing to deal with cyber weapons but, just for fun, I cannot help but notice that this alleged Cyber Attack came in the same day in which, among many doubts, Iran has announced to have reverse-engineered the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured by Iran in December 2011.
The revenge of the reverse-engineered drone?
Paolo Passeri (@paulsparrows) April 23, 2012
- What is a Cyber Weapon? (hackmageddon.com)
What is a Cyber Weapon? At first glance this seems an immediate question to answer, but should anyone try to analyze the meaning of this term more deeply, probably he would be quite surprised and disappointed in discovering that the answer is not so immediate since an exact definition has not been given (at least so far).
A real paradox in the same days in which The Pentagon, following the Japanese Example, has unveiled its new strategy aimed to dramatically accelerate the development of new Cyber Weapons. And do not think these are isolated, fashion-driven examples (other nations are approaching the same strategy), but rather consider them real needs in the post-Stuxnet age, an age in which more and more government are moving their armies to the fifth domain of war [you will probably remember the (in)famous episode, when F-Secure was able to discover Chinese Government launching online attacks against unidentified U.S. Targets].
Recently Stefano Mele, a friend and a colleague of the Italian Security Professional Group, tried to give an answer to this question in his paper (so far only in Italian but it will be soon translated in English) where he analyzes Cyber Weapons from a legal and strategical perspective.
As he points out “Correctly defining the concept of Cyber Weapon, thus giving a definition also in law, is an urgent and unavoidable task, for being able to assess both the level of threat deriving from a cyber attack, and the consequent political and legal responsibilities attributable to those who performed it”. Maybe this phrase encloses the reason why a coherent definition has not been given so far: a cyber weapon is not only a technological concept, but rather hides behind it complex juridical implications.
Having this in mind, according to Stefano’s definition: a cyber weapon is:
A device or any set of computer instructions intended to unlawfully damage a system acting as a critical infrastructure, its information, the data or programs therein contained or thereto relevant, or even intended to facilitate the interruption, total or partial, or alteration of its operation.
The above definition implies that cyber weapons may span in theory a wide range of possibilities: from (D)DoS attacks (which typically have a low level of penetration since they target the “surface” of their targets), to “tailored” malware like Stuxnet, characterized by a high intrusiveness and a low rate of collateral damages.
One could probably argue whether a cyber weapon must necessarily generate physical damages or not, in which case, probably, Stuxnet, would be the one, so far, to encompass all the requirements. In any case, from my point of view, I believe the effects of a cyber weapon should be evaluated from its domain of relevance, the cyberspace, with the possibility to cross the virtual boundaries and extend to the real world (Stuxnet is a clear example of this, since it inflicted serious damages to Iranian Nuclear Plants, including large-scale accidents and loss of lifes).
With this idea in mind, I tried to build a model to classify the cyber weapons according to four parameters: Precision (that is the capability to target only the specific objective and reduce collateral damages), Intrusion (that is the level of penetration inside the target), Visibility (that is the capability to be undetected), and Easiness to Implement (a measure of the resource needed to develop the specific cyber weapon). The results, ranging from paintball pistols to smart bombs, are summarized in the above chart.
As you may notice, in these terms a DDoS attack is closer to a paintball pistol: the latter has a low level of penetration and the effects are more perceived than real (it shows the holder’s intention to harm the victim rather than constituting a real danger ), nevertheless it may be used to threaten someone, or worst to make a robbery. The same is true for a DDoS, it is often used to threaten the target, its action stops at the surface and usually the effects are more relevant in terms of reputation of the victims than in terms of damages done. Nevertheless, for the targets, it may lead to an interruption of service (albeit with no physical damages) and monetary losses.
On the opposite site there are specific “surgical” APTs: they have a high level of penetration with reduced collateral damages, they are able to go hidden for long time, but require huge investments to be developed, which ultimately make their adoption not so easy.
Of course, in between, there is a broad gray area, where the other Cyber Weapons reside depending on their positioning according to the four classification parameters identified… So, at the end what do you think? Do you agree with this classification?
As usual, here is the list of the main cyber attacks for April 2012. A first half of the month which has been characterized by hacktivism, although the time of the resounding attacks seems so far away. Also because, after the arrest of Sabu, the law enforcement agencies (which also were targeted during this month, most of all in UK), made two further arrests of alleged hackers affiliated to the Anonymous Collective: W0rmer, member of CabinCr3w, and two possible members of the infamous collective @TeaMp0isoN.
In any case, the most important breach of the first half of the month has nothing to deal with hacktivism, targeted the health sector and occurred to Utah Department of Health with potentially 750,000 users affected. According to the Last Ponemon Study related to the cost of a breach ($194 per record) applied to the minimum number of users affected (250,000), the monetary impact could be at least $ 55 million.
Another interesting event to mention in the observed period is also the alleged attack against a Chinese Military Contractor, and the takedown of the five most important al-Qaeda forums. On the hacktivist front, it worths to mention a new hijacked call from MI6 to FBI, but also the alleged phone bombing to the same Law Enforcement Agency. Both events were performed by TeamPoison, whose two alleged members were arrested the day after.
For the sample of attacks I tried to identify: the category of the targets, the category of the attacks, and the motivations behind them. Of course this attempt must be taken with caution since in many cases the attacks did not target a single objective. Taking into account the single objectives would have been nearly impossible and prone to errors (I am doing the timeline in my free time!), so the data reported on the charts refer to the single event (and not to all the target affected in the single event).
As usual the references are placed after the jump.
By the way, SQL Injection continues to rule (the question mark indicates attacks possibly performed by SQL Injection, where the term “possibly” indicates the lack of direct evidences…).
If you want to have an idea of how fragile our data are inside the cyberspace, have a look at the timelines of the main Cyber Attacks in 2011 and 2012 (regularly updated), and follow @pausparrows on Twitter for the latest updates.
Last week, while browsing the 2012 Cyber Attacks Timeline, I could not help but notice the huge amount of cyber attacks that the collective @CabinCr3w did between January and February 2012 in the name of the so-called #OpPiggyBank. You will probably remember that most of those Cyber Attacks, made in combination with @ItsKahuna, were targeting Law Enforcement Agencies in support of the occupy movements. The crew was not new to such similar actions (for instance they doxed the Citigroup CEO in October 2011), in any case I was impressed by their sudden peak and by the equally sudden disappearance in the second half of February.
Few clicks on Google were enough for me to came across an article on Threatpost that I had missed a couple of days before.
On March 20 federal authorities had arrested Higinio Ochoa, AKA @Anonw0rmer, a resident of Texas accused of working for the hacking group CabinCr3w. He had been taken into custody by FBI agents and charged with unauthorized access to a protected computer in a criminal complaint dated March 15 whose Offense Description indicates an “Unauthorized Access to a protected computer” made on February 2012 in the County of Travis, District of Texas.
The rich Resumé of the @CabinCr3w, part of which is listed on the Criminal Complaint, includes 10 cyber attacks made between January and February 2012, in particular one against the Texas Police Association, on February the 1st 2012, and one against the Texas Department of Public Safety, on February, the 8th 2012. The latter, at least according to an alleged self-written memorial that W0rmer Higinio Ochoa allegedly posted on pastebin on Mar 30 2012, is maybe the one for which he was charged.
The list of the facts contained in the Criminal Complaint and how the FBI combined them to identify Higinio Ochoa and to join his real identity with the virtual identity of W0rmer, is a brilliant example of Open Source Intelligence clearly summarized in this article by ArsTechnica. Incredible to believe for a hacker, who should be supposed to clean each trace he leaves on the cyber space, is the fact that the main security concern for a mobile device, the geo-tagging feature, was one of the elements which led Investigators to Higinio Ochoa. By mining EXIF data contained in a photo on the web page left after the defacement of the Texas Department of Public Safety (showing a woman in a bikini with the sign: “PwNd by w0rmer & cabincr3w”), the Feds were able to collect the GPS data in the image, and to consequently identify it was taken with an iPhone 4 at a location in South VIC, Australia. By browsing the (inevitable) Ochoa’s Facebook Profile, the agents also learned that a girlfriend of him, Kylie Gardner, had graduated from a high school in Australia, the same country in which the first photo was shot.
Inevitably, this event has (too) many points in common with the affaire of Sabu, the alleged leader of the infamous LulzSec Collective, arrested by the Feds approximately a month before.
Both crews, LulzSec and CabinCr3w, targeted Law Enforcement Agencies, both crews met the same destiny: hit in the heart (or better to say in the head) by those same Law Enforcements they mocked so deeply during their days of lulz.
But the points in common do not end here… Sabu was discovered to act as an informant of FBI, and the above quoted pastebin suggests that W0rmer did the same prior of his arrest.
Were you ever approached to be a confidential informant? Of course I was! Some body such as myself who not only participated in the occupy movement but knew many and knew the inner workings of the “infamous” cabin crew would not be just put away without wondering if he could be turned. I did how ever tell FBI that I would participate in the capture of my fellow crew mates
Even if it is not clear if his cooperation was really genuine. As a matter of fact in the following sentence, he refers to his role as an informant as a “play” which created confusion on FBI:
a play which undoubtfully both satisfied and confused the FBI
Maybe this is the reason why the Twitter account of the CabinCr3w on April 3, tweeted:
(Curiously it looks like at 00:04 (UTC +1) this tweet has just disappeared)
In any case the court documents indicate that Ochoa first appeared in federal court for the Southern District of Texas on March 21, subsequently released on bail and forbidden to use a computer or smart phone, hence it is possible that the post on pastebin, which is dated March 31st, has not been written directly from his hand.
Last but not least there is a strange coincidence: W0rmer had a twitter account with the nick @AnonW0rmer who ceased to tweet on March, the 20th (@ItsKahuna ceased to tweet on March, the 23rd while @CabinCr3w is the only still active). Guess what is the name associated with the @AnonW0rmer account? FBI HaZ A File on ME. A dark omen or a dissimulation?
A couple of days ago I held a presentation at the Cyber Crime Conference in Rome about the strategies for thwarting Cybercrime. While preparing the slides I collected some material with which I prepared the following infographic dealing with the evolution of Cyber Crime.
The romantic times of phone phreaking are definitively gone and today the Cyber Crime is an organized industry with a complex ecosystem which generated in 2011, $ 388 billion in 24 countries. A value dangerously close to the value of global drug trafficking.
Scroll down the infographic and discover the HACK factor (Hacktivism, Availability, Cloud/Mobile and Know-How) which influences the rapid growth of the Cyber Crime Phenomena.
- The First Italian Cybercrime Report is Available [Infographic] (hackmageddon.com)
- A History of Hacktivism [INFOGRAPHIC] (mashable.com)