A week ago, the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive published a report to Congress concerning the use of cyber espionage to attempt to gain business and industrial secrets from US companies. Easily predictable, the results present a frightening picture!
With no surprise it turned out that the biggest dangers and perpetrators of cyber-espionage operations against American business are China and Russia.
- Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage. US private sector firms and cybersecurity specialists have reported an onslaught of computer network intrusions that have originated in China, but the Intelligence Community cannot confirm who was responsible.
- Russia’s intelligence services are conducting a range of activities to collect economic information and technology from US targets.
- Some US allies and partners use their broad access to US institutions to acquire sensitive US economic and technology information, primarily through aggressive elicitation and other human intelligence tactics. Some of these states have advanced cyber capabilities.
Unfortunately the predictions for the near future are not encouraging: the authors of the report judge that the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive US economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace.
This is mainly due to three factors: a technological shift with a growing number of devices connected to the Internet (according to a Cisco Systems study, the number of devices connected to the Internet is expected to increase from about 12.5 billion in 2010 to 25 billion in 2015). An economical shift driven by the Cloud Paradigm which requires the information to be ubiquitous and always available and, last but not least, a cultural shift which bring users to a growing use of social media for personal and professional use with a dangerous overlapping.
With these considerations in mind I decided to concentrate on a single table all the attacks with cyber espionage implications reported in 2011 for which China was directly or indirectly (or allegedly) considered responsible. The details (and links) of each single attack can be found on my 2011 Cyber Attacks Timeline Master Index (of course the list does not include the infamous Operation Aurora and the attack to G20 during the French Leadership since these events occurred during 2010).
U.S., Canada, Japan and Korea are among the countries hit by the Cyber Attacks from Far East. The most known attack is for sure the one perpetrated against RSA, whose wake affected several U.S. Contractors. Moreover the same attack was not an isolated episode, but the tip of an iceberg hiding 760 affected organizations worldwide.
Shady Rat and the IMF attack were other noticeable events as also the breach reported against the Cyworld the Korean Social Networks in which 37 million users were affected.
A frightening scenario that also generated some resounding fake attacks during 2011 (do you remember the Renault affair?)
A new cold (cyber)war at the gates?
- Cyber-espionage attempts on US businesses are on rise (arstechnica.com)
A couple of weeks ago, during the RSA Conference in London, Tom Heiser, president of RSA declared that two separate hacker groups already known to authorities were behind the serious breach affecting tbe Security Firm early this year in March, and were likely working at the behest of a government. Heiser also declared that the attackers possessed inside information about the company’s computer naming conventions that helped their activity blend in with legitimate users on the network, concluding that, due to the sophistication of the breach:
“we can only conclude it was a nation-state-sponsored attack.”
In a statement issued after the breach, the Security Firm declared that some information related to their two-factor authentication technology SecurID had been extracted during the attack, and that information could be used, as part of a broader attack, to decrease the effectiveness of the two-factor authentication.
Curiously RSA refused to name the involved nation, so not confirming the suspects directed to China. Regardless of the nation, among Security Professional it was immediately clear that the true target of the attack was not RSA but its customers: SecurID tokens are used by 40 million people in at least 30,000 organizations worldwide to allow secure access to IT systems. So it was not a surprise the fact that few weeks after the breach three Defense Contractor were attacked using compromised seeds, and although in two cases (L-3 Communications and Northrop Grumman) there was no direct evidence of a direct involvement of compromised tokens but only rumors, in one case (Lockheed Martin), RSA admitted the use of compromised tokens and offered to replace the tokens to affected customers.
Today another interesting piece of the puzzle: in his blog Brian Kerbs publishes a list of companies whose networks were shown to have been phoning home (i.e. connect to the C&C Server) to some of the same control infrastructure that was used in the attack on RSA. The first victims appear to have begun communicating with the attacker’s control networks as early as November 2010. According to the list 760 other organizations had networks compromised with some of the same resources used to hit RSA and almost 20 percent of the current Fortune 100 companies are on this list.
Scroll down the names on the list and you will find many interesting and surprising firms, even if the author correctly advises that:
- Many of the network owners listed are Internet service providers, and are likely included because some of their subscribers were hit;
- It is not clear how many systems in each of these companies or networks were compromised, for how long those intrusions persisted, or whether the attackers successfully stole sensitive information from all of the victims;
- Some of the affected organizations (there are also several antivirus firms mentioned) may be represented because they intentionally compromised internal systems in an effort to reverse engineer malware used in these attacks.
So at the end, what’s the matter with China? Simple, at the bottom of the article there is a chart reporting the location of more than 300 command and control networks that were used in these attacks. Guess where 299 of them were located…
(Thanks to @MasafumiNegishi for reporting the original blog post).
Advanced Persistent Threats are probably the most remarkable events for Information Security in 2011 since they are redefining the infosec landscape from both technology and market perspective.
I consider the recent shopping in the SIEM arena made by IBM and McAfee a sign of the times and a demonstration of this trend. This is not a coincidence: as a matter of fact the only way to stop an APT before it reaches its goal (the Organization data), is an accurate analysis and correlation of data collected by security devices. An APT attack deploys different stages with different tactics, different techniques and different timeframes, which moreover affect different portion of the infrastructure. As a consequence an holistic view and an holistic information management are needed in order to correlate pieces of information spread in different pieces of the networks and collected by different, somewhat heterogeneous and apparently unrelated, security devices.
Consider for instance the typical cycle of an attack carried on by an APT:
Of course the picture does not take into consideration the user, which is the greatest vulnerability (but unfortunately an user does not generate logs except in a verbal format not so easy to analyze for a SIEM). Moreover the model should be multiplied for the numbers of victims since it is “unlikely” that such a similar attack could be performed on a single user at a time.
At the end, however, it is clear that an APT affects different components of the information security infrastructure at different times with different threat vectors:
- Usually stage 1 of an APT attack involves a spear phishing E-mail containing appealing subject and argument, and a malicious payload in form of an attachment or a link. In both cases the Email AV or Antispam are impacted in the ingress stream (and should be supposed to detect the attack, am I naive if I suggest that a DNS lookup could have avoided attacks like this?). The impacted security device produce some logs (even if they are not straightforward to detect if the malicious E-mail has not been detected as a possible threat or also has been detected with a low confidence threshold). In this stage of the attack the time interval between the receipt of the e-mail and its reading can take from few minutes up to several hours.
- The following stage involves user interaction. Unfortunately there is no human firewall so far (it is something we are working on) but user education (a very rare gift). As a consequence the victim is lured to follow the malicious link or click on the malicious attachment. In the first scenario the user is directed to a compromised (or crafted) web site where he downloads and installs a malware (or also insert some credentials which are used to steal his identity for instance for a remote access login). In the second scenario the user clicks on the attached file that exploits a 0-day vulnerability to install a Remote Administration Tool. The interval between reading the malicious email and installing the RAT takes likely several seconds. In any case Endpoint Security Tools may help to avoid surfing to malicious site or, if leveraging behavioral analysis, to detect anomalous pattern from an application (a 0-day is always a 0-day and often they are released after making reasonably sure not to be detected by traditional AV). Hopefully In both cases some suspicious logs are generated by the endpoint.
- RAT Control is the following stage: after installation the malware uses the HTTP protocol to fetch commands from a remote C&C Server. Of course the malicious traffic is forged so that it may be hidden inside legitimate traffic. In any case the traffic pass through Firewalls and NIDS at the perimeter (matching allowed rules on the traffic). In this case both kind of devices should be supposed to produce related logs;
- Once in full control of the Attacker, the compromised machine is used as a hop for the attacker to reach other hosts (now he is inside) or also to sweep the internal network looking for the target data. In this case a NIDS/anomaly detector should be able to detect the attack, monitoring, for instance, the number of attempted authentications or wrong logins: that is the way in which Lockheed Martin prevented an attack perpetrated by mean of compromised RSA seeds, and also, during the infamous breach, RSA detected the attack using a technology of anomaly detection Netwitness, acquired by EMC, its parent company immediately after the event.
At this point should be clear that this lethal blend of threats is pushing the security firms to redefine their product strategies, since they face the double crucial challenge to dramatically improve not only their 0-day detection ability, but also to dramatically improve the capability to manage and correlate the data collected from their security solutions.
As far as 0-day detection ability is concerned, next-gen technologies will include processor assisted endpoint security or also a new class of network devices such as DNS Firewalls (thanks to @nientenomi for reporting the article).
As far data management and correlation are concerned, yes of course a SIEM is beautiful concept… until one needs to face the issue of correlation, which definitively mean that often SIEM projects become useless because of correlation patterns, which are too complex and not straightforward. This is the reason why the leading vendors are rushing to include an integrated SIEM technology in their product portfolio in order to provide an out-of-the-box correlation engine optimized for their products. The price to pay will probably be a segmentation and verticalization of SIEM Market in which lead vendors will have their own solution (not so optimized for competitor technologies) at the expense of generalist SIEM vendors.
On the other hand APT are alive and kicking, keep on targeting US Defense contractors (Raytheon is the latest) and are also learning to fly though the clouds. Moreover they are also well hidden considered that, according to the Security Intelligence Report Volume 11 issued by Microsoft, less than one per cent of exploits in the first half of 2011 were against zero-day vulnerabilities. The 1% makes the difference! And it is a big difference!
- Information, The Next Battlefield (paulsparrows.wordpress.com)
Le Cyberwar sono state definite il quinto dominio della guerra. Ma se doveste spiegare in parole semplici a cosa corrisponde una Cyberwar come la definireste? In queste slide divulgative, redatte in occasione di un convegno al quale sono stato invitato, ho cercato di inserire la mia personalissima risposta con gli esempi più famosi del 2011 e alcuni collegamenti, apparentemente improbabili, alla vita di tutti i giorni.
Le slide non sono tecniche e qualche purista storcerà sicuramente il naso. Per chi volesse approfondire tutto il materiale è reperibile all’interno del blog sotto i tag Stuxnet, RSA, e naturalmente all’interno del Master Index relativo agli attacchi informatici del 2011.
Visto il tempo (e lo spazio) a disposizione nelle slide non sono citati gli esempi di Operation Aurora e Shady RAT. Alla fine la sostanza non cambia: entrambi rimangono comunque esempi degni di nota (anche se il secondo è ancora argomento di controversia).
Per ulteriori dettagli sulle altre vittime illustri (Fondo Monetario, ONU, etc.) il punto di riferimento è sicuramente il Master Index.