The same sophisticated cyber attack that has targeted Facebook and Twitter has also targeted Apple, according to an exclusive revelation by Reuters. In this latest occurrence, the attackers were able to infect several Mac computers belonging to some employees of Cupertino, exploiting the same 0-Day Java vulnerability used to carry on the attacks against the two well known social networks.
Further details have emerged in the meantime: particularly noticeable is the fact that the attackers used the consolidated “watering hole” technique, compromising a well-known mobile developer forum (iphonedevsdk.com) accessed by the employees of Cupertino (and of many other high profile companies). This has raised the concern that maybe the attackers aimed to manipulate the code of smartphone apps to compromise a huge number of users. Currently the forums shows a banner inviting users to change their passwords.
Apple is working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and has released an update to disable its Java SE 6. Although there is no clear evidence about the Chinese origin of the attack, unfortunately it comes out in the worst possible period: after the wave of attacks against U.S. Media, Mandiant, the firm that investigated the attack against the NYT, released a detailed report suggesting a link between the hacks against U.S. assets. and the Chinese Army.
Yet another Sunday, yet another attack in Middle East.
Maher Center, the Iranian Computer Emergency Response Team / Coordination Center has just released a scant report concerning another (alleged) cyber attack targeting Iran.
Few information is available so far regarding this new targeted attack. The malware, simple in design and hence apparently unrelated to the other sophisticated cyber attacks targeting the same area, seems to have an efficient design and wiping features. According to the statement, the malware “wipes files on different drives in various predefined times. Despite its simplicity in design, the malware is efficient and can wipe disk partitions and user profile directories without being recognized by anti-virus software“. However, it is not considered to be widely distributed. The report also publishes the MD5s of the five identitified components.
Wiper malware samples are becoming increasingly common in Middle East. Of course the most known example so far is the massive cyber attack targeting Saudi Aramco, occurred in August 2012 and targeting 30,000 internal workstations. Few days ago, the final results of the investigations were unveiled, suggesting that the attack was carried on by organized foreign hackers, and aimed “to stop pumping oil and gas to domestic and international markets” with huge impacts on the national economy of the kingdom.
The next hours will tell us if we are in front of a similar scenario, or the statement is rather an attempt of propaganda aimed to emphasize Iranian defensive capabilities.
The New York Times has recently reported the news related to a (yet another) targeted cyber-attack against JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). This targeted attack has allegedly led to the exfiltration of sensitive information related to Epsilon, a solid-fuel rocket prototype supposed to be used also for military applications, suggesting the targeted attack is probably part of a cyber-espionage campaign.
The targeted attack has been carried on by mean of a malware installed in a computer at Tsukuba Space Center. Before being discovered, on November 21, the malicious executable has secretly collected data and sent it outside the agency.
This is the second known targeted attack against JAXA in less than eleven months: on January 13, 2012, a computer virus infected a data terminal at Japan’s Space Agency, causing a leak of potentially sensitive information including JAXA’s H-2 Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned vessel that ferries cargo to the International Space Station. In that circumstance officials said that information about the robotic spacecraft and its operations might have been compromised.
Unfortunately the above cyber-attacks are not episodic circumstances, confirming that Japan is a hot zone from an information security perspective, and a coveted target for cyber espionage campaigns. Undoubtedly, the strategic importance of this country in the global chessboard and hence its internal secrets and the intellectual property of its industries are more than a good reason for such similar targeted cyber-attacks.
The list is quite long…
19 September 2011: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Japan’s biggest defense contractor, reveals that it suffered a hacker attack in August 2011 that caused some of its networks to be infected by malware. According to the company 45 network servers and 38 PCs became infected with malware at ten facilities across Japan. The infected sites included its submarine manufacturing plant in Kobe and the Nagoya Guidance & Propulsion System Works, which makes engine parts for missiles.
24 October 2011: An internal investigation on the Cyber Attack against Mitsubishi finds signs that the information has been transmitted outside the company’s computer network “with the strong possibility that an outsider was involved”. As a consequence, sensitive information concerning vital defense equipment, such as fighter jets, as well as nuclear power plant design and safety plans, was apparently stolen.
25 October 2011: According to local media reports, computers in Japan’s lower house of parliament were hit by cyber-attacks from a server based in China that left information exposed for at least a month. A trojan horse was emailed to a Lower House member in July of the same year, the Trojan horse then downloaded malware from a server based in China, allowing remote hackers to secretly spy on email communications and steal usernames and passwords from lawmakers for at least a month.
27 October 2011: The Japanese Foreign Ministry launches an investigation to find out the consequences of a cyber-attack targeting dozens of computers used at Japanese diplomatic offices in nine countries. Many of the targeted computers were found to have been infected with a backdoor since the summer of the same year. The infection was allegedly caused by a spear-phishing attack targeting the ministry’s confidential diplomatic information. Suspects are directed to China.
2 November 2011: Japan’s parliament comes under cyber attack again, apparently from the same emails linked to China that already hit the lawmakers’ computers in Japan’s lower house of parliament. In this circumstance, malicious emails are found on computers used in the upper chamber of the Japanese parliament.
13 January 2012: Officials announce that a computer virus infected a data terminal at Japan’s space agency, causing a leak of potentially sensitive information. The malware was discovered on January 6 on a terminal used by one of its employees. The employee in question worked on JAXA’s H-2 Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned vessel that ferries cargo to the International Space Station. Information about the robotic spacecraft and its operations may thus have been compromised and in fact the investigation shows that the computer virus had gathered information from the machine.
20 July 2012: The Japanese Finance Ministry declares to have found that some of its computers have been infected with a virus since 2010 to 2011 and admits that some information may have been leaked. 123 computers on 2,000 have been found infected and, according to the investigation, the contagion started in January 2010, suggesting that information could have been leaked for over two years. The last infection occurred in November 2011, after which the apparent attack suddenly stopped.
After the ceasefire of the 21st of November, the cyber attacks against Israel, executed in name of OpIsrael, have come to a break.
The contemporaneous ceasefire in the real world and in the cyber space has confirmed the two dimensional nature of this conflict. A conflict in which even the social media played a crucial role: IDF chose Twitter to make the first official announcement of the airstrike that killed Ahmed Al-Jaabari, and subsequently during the stages of operation Pillar of Defence Twitter has been intensively used by the two opposite factions for actions of propaganda, psyops, and even to divulge official news of the war operations.
Since the Ion Cannons are not shooting, this is the best moment to analyze the cyber attacks. At this purpose, in the following table I tried to summarize the timeline of the main events that have characterized this operation (and in general all the cyber attacks executed against Israel since the 14th of November).
Of course I do not pretend to be exhaustive: more than 44 million of cyber attacks in a week are impossible to enumerate singularly.
According to the French Magazine “L’Express” earlier in May some computers in the offices of former France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy have been victims of a targeted attack carried via a Flame variant.
What is surprising is not (only) the fact that this is the first known case of a Flame infection out of the Middle East, but most of all the fact that the malware was allegedly implanted by U.S. Hackers.
The attack was successful and, according to the French magazine, the attackers were able to get to the heart of French political power, harvesting the computers of close advisers of Nicolas Sarkozy and obtaining “secret notes” and “strategic plans”.
The attack model resembles a spy story: the attacker crafted a false profile on Facebook (a bogus friend of someone who worked for the president’s office) and successfully used that profile to contact (and compromise) personnel working at the President’s Office (The Elysèe).
After contacting the unaware victims, the attacker sent them a malicious link to a fake Elysée webpage, where they entered their real login and password details that the attacker used to hack into the network and spread the Flame variant.
The reasons of the attack are unknown.
It is really interesting to notice the growing role of “Cyber-Propaganda” inside the Cyber War (yes, now we are authorized to use this term after this statement) that the Anonymous collective has declared against Israel.
On one side the cyber-attacks are escalating. After the list of 700 websites defaced or totally deleted (including the databases of The Bank Of Jerusalem and the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs), in the last hours the hacktivists have dumped a list of donors for the Unity Coalition for Israel (“the largest network of pro-Israel groups in the world”), hacked and defaced the Israeli Bing, MSN, Skype, Live websites, and leaked information of 5000 Israeli Officials.
On the other side, Israeli officials are downplaying the impact of the attacks claiming that “Anonymous’ Massive Cyber Campaign has been a flop”. According to the Israeli Finance Minister, Yuval Steinitz, on the wake of the dramatic events of Gaza, Israel has been hit by 60 million of hacking attempts (“normally” Israel faces hundreds of attacks every day). The minister also claimed that all of the attacks have been mitigated, except one that has been able to knock a website offline for only 10 minutes.
Looks like the two contenders are representing two completely different scenarios.
The way in which the two contenders are representing the same events confirms that the battlefront is completely two-dimensional even considering the actions of propaganda which now also include the reports of the cyber-operations. Maybe in this case the Israeli situation in the cyber-plane is pretty much different (and pretty much complicated) since it has not a single state (or a finite number of states) to counter-attack, but a huge widespread network of “volunteers” which is practically impossible to strike.
The Israeli Cyber Space is under attack by Anonymous hackers in retaliation for the Israeli operation “Pillar of Defence“. The military operation began on Wednesday with the killing of Ahmed Al-Jaabari, the commander of the military wing of Hamas, whose car has been hit by an Israeli Missile
If Hamas’s armed wing, immediately after the attack, replied that “The occupation has opened the gates of hell”, the ongoing wave of cyber-attacks against Israeli sites initiated by the Anonymous collective (under the so-called OpIsrael), has analogously opened the gates of hell in the cyber-space.
So far the Anonymous claim that more than 660 websites have been defaced and nearly 90 completely deleted (including the Bank Of Jerusalem), and the list keeps on growing as the cyber-offensive continues (just follow the #OpIsrael hashtag on Twitter). Israel is suffering a growing number of DDoS and SQLi attacks against governmental, retail, and business targets resulting in sites down, data dump and, in the worst cases, databases completely erased. Interestingly, this wave of cyber-attacks has also deserved the attention of the “semi-official” Iranian news agency Fars News, which has dedicated an article to the Anonymous Hacks.
In the past four days, Israel claims to have deflected 44 million cyber-attacks.
Definitely the cyber-space is the fifth domain of war and this sad circumstance is confirming this assertion, not so much for the cyber-attacks (Anonymous cannot be considered an army), but mostly for other aspects typical of real wars that has been applied to the cyber-space.
In response to the Israeli threat to cut Internet off from Gaza, the Anonymous have put together the Anonymous Gaza Care Package a kind of first-aid kit containing instructions in Arabic and English to survive an Internet teardown and to evade IDF surveillance.
On the opposite side, the Israeli Defence Force has released a tool on its blog, called IDF Ranks, that rewards with badges frequent visitors who interact with the site. The scope, according to IDF, is “to help fight the misinformation about Israel and the IDF online”. A clear attempt to use the cyber-space for propaganda.
Another day, another revelation inside the (in)visible Cyber War going on Middle East. Today Kaspersky Lab has announced the discovery of another strain of malware derived from the infamous Tilded-Platform family: the little brother of Flame, the so-called miniFlame (or “John”, as named by the corresponding Gauss configuration).
The malware has been discovered while looking closer at the protocol handlers of the Flame C2 Infrastructure. An analysis that had previously revealed four different types of malware clients codenamed SP, SPE, FL and IP, and hence the fragmented evidence of a new family of cyber weapons, where one only element were known at the time the FL client corresponding to Flame.
Exactly one month later, another member of the family has been given a proper name: the SPE element corresponding to miniFlame.
Unlike its elder brother Flame (and its cousin Gauss) miniFlame does not appear to be the element of a massive spy operation, infecting thousands of users, but rather resembles more a small, fully functional espionage module designed for data theft and direct access to infected systems. In few words: a high precision, surgical attack tool created to complement its most devastating relatives for high-profile targeted campaigns. The main purpose of miniFlame is to act as a backdoor on infected systems, allowing direct control by the attackers.
Researchers discovered that miniFlame is based on the Flame platform but is implemented as an independent module. This means that it can operate either independently, without the main modules of Flame in the system, or as a component controlled by Flame.
Furthermore, miniFlame can be used in conjunction Gauss. It has been assumed that Flame and Gauss were parallel projects without any modules or C&C servers in common. The discovery of miniFlame, and the evidence that it can works with both cyber espionage tools, proves that were products of the same ‘cyber-weapon factory’: miniFlame can work as a stand-alone program, or as a Flame or event Gauss plugin.
Although researchers believe that miniFlame is on the wild since 2007, it has infected a significantly smaller number of hosts (~50-60 vs. more than 10,000 systems affected by the Flame/Gauss couple). The distribution of the infections depends on the SPE variant, and spans a heterogeneous sample of countries: from Lebanon and Palestine, to Iran, Kuwait and Qatar; with Lebanon and Iran that appear to concentrate the bigger number of infected hosts.
Another evidence of the ongoing (since 2007) silent Cyber War in Middle East.
The infosec chronicle has offered many interesting events in this first part of October. Upon all, the massive leak against top 100 universities by the infamous Team GhostShell, the Skype worm, and, last but not least, the U.S. congressional report accusing China’s leading telecom equipment makers, Huawei and ZTE, of being a potential security risk.
Inevitably these events are obfuscating what’s going on in Middle East where Iran, on one hand, is facing the latest wave of Cyber Attacks against its internal assets, and on the other hand, claims to have infiltrated the “most sensitive enemy cyber data”.
This hot autumn for the Middle East has begun on September 30 (approximately one week after Iran connected all its government agencies to its secure autarchic domestic internet service). In that circumstance Iranian Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi announced a clamorous cyber strike of his navy’s cyber corps, being able to “infiltrate the enemy’s most sensitive information” and successfully promote “cyberwar code,” i.e. decrypt highly classified data.
Ali Fadavi did not specify the name of any particular enemy, but simply referred to “imperialistic domination,” a clear reference to Iran’s “enmity with America.”
Maybe is a coincidence, or maybe not, but on October 3 Iran has suffered a massive outage of its Internet infrastructure, at least according to what Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, secretary of the High Council of Cyberspace, has declared to the Iranian Labour News Agency. An outage that the Iranian official has attributed to a heavy organized attack against the country’s nuclear, oil, and information networks, which forced to limit the usage of the Internet.
The latest (?) episode a couple of days ago, on October 8, when Mohammad Reza Golshani, head of information technology for the Iranian Offshore Oil Company, told Iran’s Mehr news agency that an unsuccessful (i.e. repelled by Iranian Experts) cyber attack had targeted the company platforms’ information networks in the past few weeks. I wonder if we are in front of a new Flame. In any case, according to Mr. Golshani there were few doubts about the authors of the attack.
“This attack was planned by the regime occupying Jerusalem (Israel) and a few other countries”.
Few hours later Iran has officially blamed Israel and China for planning and operating the attack.
It is not a mystery that the Stuxnet attack forced Iran to tighten its cyber security, a strategy culminating on the creation of a domestic Internet separated from the outer world (a way to control the access to the Web according to many observers).
For sure it is not a coincidence that the same network separation is the main reason why Iran was able to repel the latest attacks.
My sixth sense (and half) tells me that other occasions to test the cyber security of the Iranian domestic Internet will come soon!