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Posts Tagged ‘Tunisia’

April 2012 Cyber Attacks Timeline (Part I)

April 16, 2012 2 comments

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.

Read more…

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Anonymous vs Syrian Electronic Soldiers

September 28, 2011 2 comments

Hactivism is making possible to bring wars and revolutions on the cyberspace, the fifth domain of war. In particular the Arab Spring has given the definitive consecration to politically driven hacking actions that have proven to be a key factor inside the protests that are changing the political landscape in the Middle East: non conventional weapons used together with “traditional” methods by both parties involved on revolutions: cyber-opponents vs cyber-supporters.

Tunisia has been the first example of this new way to provide backing to social protests: at the beginning of 2011 the Anonymous activists targeted Tunisian government sites. It was the 4th of January and this action (or Operation quoting the same term used by the Anonymous) showed to the world the real, political and social power of the Cyber warfare.

Few days later (June, 26th 2011) the same fate befell to Egypt: government sites were targeted with DDOS attacks which contributed to draw attention to ongoing protests which led to the fall of President Mubarak.

Following the wake of the Arab spring, the Anonymous also took position in the Libyan Revolution declaring their engagement with the rebels. Although, from an information security perspective, no practical consequence followed this statement, it had a huge symbolic significance, since in a clear and decisive manner, an hacker crew crossed the boundary of the cyberspace and took position on a social and political event even before performing any hacking acton.

But in Syria the revolution fought in the fifth domain has reached its “bloody” peak. On August, the 7th 2011 the Anonymous targeted the Syrian Ministry of Defense with a resounding defacement. A couple of days later, in retaliation of the previous defacement, the Syrian Electronic Soldiers defaced Anonplus, the Anonymous Social Network, that had already been, a couple of weeks before, the target of a defacement performed by the same Syrian Crew.

But the “war inside the war” fought between the two groups does not stop here: following the bloody events in Syria, on Sunday, 25th of September, the Anonymous decided to open again the hostilities unleashing a chain of defacement action, against the Syrian Government, hacking and defacing the official sites of seven major Syrian cities, which stayed up in their defaced version for more than 16 hours. The defacement actions kept on the following day in which 11 Syrian Government Sites were defaced as part of the same operation.

Of course a retaliation of the Syrian Electronic Soldier was predictable (and close in time) and targeted, in an unexpected manner, one of the most important US Universities, the University of Harvard which was victim of a resounding defacement on Monday, the 26th of September.

So far the two Cyber Armies have shown an unprecedented impetus in countering their respective acts of cyberwar. Probably the story will not end up here and, most of all, we will have to get used to watch the wars and the revolutions on a double perspective involving real battlefields and virtual battlefields. The problem here is that information security professionals and system administrators are not likely to be mere spectators, but the real soldiers of this non conventional war.

Switch Off The Revolution (With An Infrared Sensor)

Just a couple of months ago, in writing the first post about Mobile Warfare (which should have later become Consumerization of Warfare) I expressed some considerations about the growing need for illiberal government to prevent the use of mobile devices as preferred media for the rioters to capture live images of the events, and to spread the information all around the Globe by mean of Social Networks.

Cutting off the Internet has been the first clumsy countermeasure applied by Egypt and Syria, but it is really unlikely that this kind of massive preventive block will be applied again by other countries because of the huge dependence of Internet, which characterizes our epoch, and consequently, as a collateral damage, would stop other vital activities.

As a consequence, I hypothesized that possible future countermeasures will aim to make unusable directly the source of information (read mobile devices), and the media for sharing them (read social networks), relying upon a new generation of Cyber-warfare among which:

A massive Denial of Service for mobile devices through massive exploit of vulnerabilities (more and more common and pervasive on this kind of devices), through massive mobile malware deployment or also by mean of massive execution of mobile malware (as, for instance, Google did in order to remotely swipe the DroidDream malware). Honestly speaking I consider the latter option the less likely since I can easily imagine that no manufacturer will provide cooperation on this (but this does not prevent the fact that a single country could consider to leverage this channel).

No manufacturer will provide cooperation on this? Maybe… Too many times reality surpasses imagination, and when it comes to reality that surpasses the imagination, then surely it comes from Apple. This time, unfortunately, not in the sense that we’re used to (admiring products years ahead of the competition, which previously did not exist not even in our imagination), but in the sense that a patent recently filled by Apple could implicitly provide cooperation for illiberal governments to prevent smartphones to take live images of protests.

It looks like that Apple is Apple is developing software that will sense when a smartphone user is trying to record a live event, and then switch off the device’s camera (only the camera, the other functions will not be affected) by mean of infrared sensors directly installed on the device. The real reason is probably the need to prevent concertgoers to post footage of events on YouTube or other similar sites (at the expense of the organizers which sometimes sell sell their own recordings of the events), which could potentially allow Apple to negotiate better conditions with labels when dealing for placing music on sale on iTunes (and could also potentially provide another source of revenue by charging people to film live events).

But besides commercial considerations, there is another important aspect (a collateral damage I would say). The events of recent months have shown us that the concerts were not the only places where the phones have been used to capture live images. In North Africa and Middle East they have been used to document repression and illiberality. But what would have happened if this technology had really been developed? Probably it would have limited the effect of the winds of change in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya, since Mobile Devices (and their cameras) played (and are playing) an important role to witness the real entity of the events.

Imagine if Apple’s device had been available to the Mubarak regime earlier this year, and Egyptian security forces had deployed it around Tahrir Square to disable cameras just before they sent in their thugs to disperse the crowd.

Would the global outcry that helped drive Mubarak from office have occurred if a blackout of protest videos had prevented us from viewing the crackdown?

This is more than speculation. since thousands of cellphone cameras in the Middle East and North Africa have been used to document human rights abuses and to share them with millions via social media. I went in Libya approximately a month before the beginning of the revolution and I was astonished by the number of iPhones noticed over there.

This is more than speculation also because the role of mobile technologies for the above mentioned events has been recognized also by Mr. Obama during his speech on Middle East.

As correctly stated, Smartphones like the iPhone and Droid are becoming extensions of ourselves. They are not simply tools to connect with friends and family, but a means to document the world around us, engage in political issues and organize with others. They literally put the power of the media in our own hands.

Apple’s proposed technology would take that power away, that is the reason why the community is moving in order to urge Steve Jobs to pull the plug on this technology.

Mobile Warfare in Syria

March 27, 2011 8 comments

Sources report that last week 150 people were killed during the protests against president Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Also in this circumstance, as already happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the world is witnessing to the protests thanks to the hundreds of citizen reporters equipped with their mobile devices and Internet connections.

The mobile warfare is acting in these countries too: as a matter of fact the tweets allow to follow the protests in real time, by mean of continuously up-to-date short messages, while Facebook allows the spread of the movements throughout the Nation (and not only): the blue social networks calls to join the revolution, by mean of continuously increasing groups, the largest of which The Syrian Revolution 2011, currently counts more than 90.000 supporters. In the same time, more and more videos shot by mobile devices are flooding YouTube.

In a certain sense it looks like the Middle East is playing a global Risk board game, whose troops are represented by mobile devices, whose effects on the social landscape effects on the social landscape have no geographical boundaries, especially for those governments that restrict the civil liberties of their citizens. This global Risk match is far from the end, since the invasion of the Mobile Warfare (and its effects for the governments)  is also happening in Yemen and Bahrain, which are suffering similar outbreaks of protests. It is interesting to notice that all the peaks of the revolutions were spaced, in a time scale, by approximately one month:

  • Tunisia, Jan 14th 2011: president Ben Ali ousted;
  • Egypt, Feb 11th 2011: president Mubarak stepped down;
  • Libya, March 19th 2011: after two weeks of fight Operation Odissey Dawn begins

If we perform a kind of extrapolation, does this mean that peaks of the protest in Syria and Jordan will reach the maximum at the half of April?

Mobile Warfare spreading into Middle East

Speculation aside, as far as Syria is concerned, what is happening is following the same pattern advised in Maghreb area with the only difference that, so far, Syria did not decide to disrupt the internet connection in order to stop the stream of information towards foreign countries.

From a political and social perspective, all the involved countries have too many aspects in common: long-living governments (in Syria the al-Assad Dynasty governed continuously for 40 years, which become 42 in case of the monarchy of Bahrain), younger generations with no dream and trust on future, eager for more freedom. Most of all, younger generations which have access to internet connections and social networks (I was in Syria for work three years ago and can confirm that, even then, the penetration of internet, mobile technologies and social network was well established), through which they may observe, study (and compare), the (apparently) better conditions of their occidental peers.

I think the process is irreversible, and indeed is likely to increase (Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq will probably be suffering other outbreaks in the middle term). Meanwhile will be interesting to notice if the involved governments will apply preventive measures, on large scale, for instance the disruption of the Internet connections, or targeted specifically on mobile devices or preventing to reach the social networks for sharing tweets, groups or videos…

Tweets Of War

March 24, 2011 4 comments

In a recent post, I discussed the influence and the role of (consumer) mobile technologies and social networks (“Mobile Warfare”) in the events that are changing the political landscape in the Mediterranean Africa, coming to conclusion that they are setting new scenarios which will have to be taken seriously into consideration by all those governments which still put in place severe limitations to human rights.

To me, “to be taken into consideration” means that all those governments will have to deploy “extreme measures” (hopefully less extreme than completely unplugging the Internet connection as already done by Egypt and Libya) in order to prevent mobile technologies from acting as catalyzers for the protests and also from turning common citizens into real time reporter for the most powerful magazine ever issued: the social network). More realistically these measures might include threats specifically targeted for mobile equipment involving hacking techniques commonly known in the infosec arena, such as Distributed Denial Of Service, or also malware aimed to alter the normal functioning of the devices.

On the opposite Site is also clear that modern army will also deploy “unconventional weapons” targeted to maintain Internet connectivity during military operations, mainly for PSYOPS purposes (or at least I was supposed to believe so). As a matter of fact the tweets, pictures, and videos shot from mobile devices during the dramatic days in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had a dramatic impact on the foreign public opinion. In Tunisia and Egypt the dramatic images shot  from mobile devices contributed to create the international pressure which led to the fall of their respective governments; in Libya, they acted as an accelerator for the definition of “No Fly Zone” and the consequent “Odissey Dawn” operation.

But there is also another point which makes more and more important to maintain Internet connectivity during military operations and is not simply related to PSYOPS, rather than to real military operations. A simple screenshot of twitter may give a dramatic evidence of this, simply searching the #LibyanDictator term.

It looks like twitter was used by rebels to provide NATO with coordinates of the enemy forces.

More in general, think to have a Mobile device with a GPS, and an Internet Connection, and you may “simply” pass the coordinates of the enemy troops to allied forces…

On the opposite front: think to make mobile devices unusable or, worst case, to alter their GPS with a malware and you may avoid to pass precious information to enemy, or worst, provide him with false coordinates (and watch him bombing his allies in few minutes)…

Probably I am going too much far with my imagination, anyway is clear that war strategists will have to become more and more familiar with virtual (that is made of bit and bytes) mobile (and social networks) battlefields.

Mobile Warfare

March 23, 2011 13 comments

It has been recognized that mobile technologies have had a significant impact on the events that occurred in North Africa. In my opinion, their impact was so impressive that I refer to them with the term of “mobile warfare” indicating with this term the fact that they are going to play a crucial role in the (let us hope fewer and fewer) wars of the future.

Since the Wikileaks affaire, and the consequent possibility to convert an Android Device into a Wikileaks Mirror during the attempt to put the main site off-line by mean of massive DDoS Attacks, it was clear to me that Mobile Technologies would have played a very important (never uncovered before) role in 2011, not only in Hacktivism, but, more in general, in human rights related issues.

I had a dramatic confirmation of this role during the Jasmin Revolution in Tunisia, where mobile technologies made every single citizen a reporter, capable of sharing in real time with the rest of the world information such as images, videos and  tweets pertaining the dramatic events happening inside the country.

But it was with the #Jan25 and #Egypt tweets that the World discovered for the first time the power of the mobile warfare.  In those dramatic days every single person of the planet only needed to access her Twitter account in order to become a virtual witness of the events; dramatic facts reported in great detail by hundreds of extemporaneous reporters “armed” only with a Smartphone, and made available in real time to the rest of the world thanks to the “six degrees of separation allowed by Social Networks”. The strength and the impact of this mobile warfare were so huge to force the declining Egyptian Government to shut the internet off for several days starting from January, the 27th.

Can we really understand what does it mean for a country to shut the Internet off? As single persons we are so used to the Web that we could not resist a single hour without checking the status of our mates. But for a country, an Internet connection disruption means a nearly complete stop for all economic and financial activities, including banking, trading, and so on. The only fact to have enforced such a dramatic decision (and the upcoming consequences) is particularly meaningful of the threat led by the Mobile Warfare and perceived by the Egyptian Government. But to have a clear understanding, we must also consider the fact that, at the same time, also the Egyptian Government tried to unleash the power of the mobile warfare with its clumsy attempt to stop the revolution by broadcasting Pro-Government SMS, thanks to country’s emergency laws, causing the following protests of Vodafone.

And what about Libya? I have a direct experience since I was in Tripoli for work at the beginning of last February (so one month and half ago even if it looks like a century has passed since then). I was not even completely out of the finger leading me from the aircraft to the airport facility, that I was impressed in noticing so many Libyan pepole playing with their iPhones. Since I just could not help thinking  to the Egyptian situation, I asked to some of them if they had the feeling that something similar to Egypt could happen in Libya. Guess what they answered? They all simply agreed on the fact that, due to the different economic and political situation, it was impossible! Of course the point is not their answer rather than the fact that I was surprised to see so many smartphones (ok we are speaking about the airport which maybe is not so meaningful in terms of statistics) and more in general so many devices capable to provide an high level internet user experience (even if with the bottleneck of the local mobile networks) and be potentially used as a mobile warfare.

That event was just a kind of premonition since, a couple of weeks later, during the first days of the protests, and in particular during the reaction of the regime, smartphones and social networks once again played a leading role, allowing the world to witness in real time those dramatic events with a spreading rate unknown before. For the second time, approximately three weeks after Egypt, a country decided to disconnect the Internet in order to prevent the spread of information via the Social Networks. This time it was Libya’s turn, which decided to unplug the Web on February, the 18th. Once again the power of the mobile warfare was unleashed, disconnecting a country from the Internet in few minutes (how long would a real army have taken to do a similar sabotage?).

Is mobile warfare the cause or effect?

We must not make the mistake to consider the mobile warfare as an effect of the movements raised first in Tunisia, than in Egypt, and finally in Libya. Mobile warfare is simply the cause, since it is just for the action of mobile warfare that events could spread rapidly inside a single country, and later among different countries (in both cases with an unprecedented speed), encouraging other people to follow the example and acting, in turn, as a powerful catalyzer for the movements. As an example, consider the following article, which in my opinion is particular meaningful: it shows the Middle East Internet Scorecard, that is the dips of Internet connections registered in different countries belonging to Middle East in the week between February 11 and February 17 (that is when the social temperature in Libya was getting extremely hot): one can clearly recognize a viral spread of the “unplugging infection”.

What should we expect for the future?

Mobile Warfare has played and is still playing a significant role in the wind of changes that are blowing in North Africa.  Thanks (also) to mobile technologies, people (most of all students) living in countries where human rights suffer some kind of limitations, have the possibility to keep continuously in touch with people living in different countries, learning their habits, and, in turn being encouraged to “fight” for achieving (or at least for attempting to achieve) a comparable condition. This revolution is not only technological but it is most of all cultural since it is destroying all the barriers that kept many countries separated each other and that allowed many population to live (apparently) in peace simply because they completely ignored the existence of a world outside: we could consider this as the equivalent of the old infosec paradigm (Homeland) Security Through Obscurity”.

At the opposite side, it is likely that all those Governments, having a peculiar idea about what human rights are, will deploy some kind of countermeasure to fight the mobile warfare and its inseparable companion: the social network. I do not think that completely preventing the use of mobile technologies is an applicable weapon, since they became too many important for a country (politics, economics, finance, etc.): nowadays each kind of information flows in real time, consequently no country may allow to go slower.

Moreover,  for the reasons I explained above, the Internet disconnection is not a sustainable countermeasure as well, since no government in the world may allow to be cut-out for too long, in order to simply prevent people from tweeting or sharing ideas or videos on social networks. Even because, for instance, U.S. has secret tools to force Internet in case of disruption, which include the Commando Solo, the Air Force’s airborne broadcasting center, capable to get back to full strength the Wi-Fi signal in a bandwidth-denied area; satellite- and nonsatellite-based assets that can provide access points to get people back online; and finally cell towers in the sky, hooking up cellular pods to the belly of a drone, granting 3G coverage for a radius of a few kilometers on the ground would have 3G coverage underneath the drone. Would be interesting to verify if any of these technologies are currently being used in the Odissey Dawn operation.

For all the above quoted reasons, according to my personal opinion the countermeasures will aim to make unusable the resources of information collection (that is mobile devices), and the resources of information sharing (that is social networks).

So this new generation of Cyber-warfare will involve:

  • A preventive block of Social Network in order to prevent whatever attempt to preventively share information. For the above quoted reason a total block will damage the whole economy (even if I must confess a preventive block of this kind will be quite easily bypassable by external proxies);
  • A massive Denial of Service for mobile devices through massive exploit of vulnerabilities (more and more common and pervasive on this kind of devices), through massive mobile malware deployment or also by mean of massive execution of mobile malware (as, for instance, Google did in order to remotely swipe the DroidDream malware). Honestly speaking I consider the latter option the less likely since I can easily imagine that no manufacturer will provide cooperation on this (but this does not prevent the fact that a single country could consider to leverage this channel).
  • Spoofing the mobile devices in order to make them unreachable or also in order to discredit them as source of reputable information.
  • A “more traditional” Denial Of Service in order to put Social Networks offline (even if this would need a very huge DDoS due to the distribution of the resources of the Social Network providers.

In all the above quoted cases would be legitimate to expect a reaction, as done for instance, by the infamous Anonymous group.

Cyberrevolution E Hacktivism All’Ombra Delle Piramidi

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Gli eventi che stanno scuotendo l’Africa Mediterranea in queste ore, inerenti a Egitto e Tunisia, sollevano numerosi interrogativi relativi al ruolo e all’impatto delle nuove tecnologie di comunicazione e del Social Network all’interno dei grandi eventi politici e sociali.

Chiunque in queste drammatiche ore può entrare su Twitter e digitare #Jan25 oppure #Egypt per diventare, in tempo reale, spettatore virtuale degli eventi grazie alla più potente agenzia di stampa mai esistita: quella costituita dai numerosi reporter improvvisati che, armati di uno smartphone ed una connessione Internet, possono catturare gli eventi e trasmetterli in tempo reale al mondo intento grazie ai 6 gradi di separazione del Social Network.

Deve aver pensato la stessa cosa il governo Egiziano che ha deciso, grossolanamente, a partire dal 27 gennaio, di disconnettere  la Terra del Nilo dal Mare del Web, arrestando il dilagare dei tweet (e dello spam), ma attirando ancora di più l’attenzione dei media occidentali.

Andamento del Traffico Internet Egiziano (Dati Arbor Networks)

Dietro a questa decisione che non è passata inosservata, la constatazione che è notevolmente più facile colpire il centro (ovvero il backbone di rete) piuttosto che bloccare (ammesso che sia possibile farlo) i terminali periferici,  anche a patto di generare sgradevoli effetti collaterali quali il fermo delle attività economiche e finanziare (oramai la quasi totalità) che utilizzano la rete per lo scambio dei dati (per inciso, dopo una parziale riapertura dei bocchettoni Internet, questa mattina verso le 4:30 EST il traffico è stato nuovamente arrestato, ad eccezione di qualche Mbps diretto verso gli Autonomous System di Giordania e Sudan).

Cosa è lecito attendersi per il futuro? Probabilmente, e non è semplice enfasi, quanto accaduto in questi giorni dovrà spingere a riconsiderare seriamente le implicazioni socio-politiche delle nuove tecnologie (qualcuno sostiene addirittura che la spinta porterà ad una necessaria riconsiderazione del ruolo della donna nella Cultura Islamica). Nell’immediato, vista la temperatura (non soltanto metereologica purtroppo) dell’area mediorientale e di altre parti del mondo, è ipotizzabile che i governi con la coscienza un po’ meno pulita relativamente ai diritti civili, stiano cominciando a preoccuparsi seriamente per la forza dirompente (e apparentemente inarrestabile) delle nuove tecnologie correndo ai ripari. Ripari, putroppo finalizzati a mettere fuori combattimento le risorse di generazione delle informazioni (ovvero i terminali mobili) e quelle di condivisione (ovvero i Social Network).

Tra i Cyberarsenali dei governi con la coscienza sporca potrebbero rientrare:

  • Ovviamente un blocco preventivo dei Social Network per impedire qualsiasi forma di condivisione preventiva delle informazioni. Il blocco totale di Internet sarebbe lesivo per il sistema paese;
  • Il Denial of Service massivo dei terminali mediante l’exploit di vulnerabilità (sempre più presenti sui questo tipo di dispositivi) o mediante azioni su appositi comandi nascosti (speriamo non messi a disposizione di produttori);
  • La falsificazione (o spoof) dei terminali per screditare le fonti di cinguetti (o tweet) attendibili o renderle irraggiungibili mettendole fuori combattimento;
  • Il più tradizionale Distributed Denial of Service per mettere fuori combattimento i siti di condivisione delle informazioni (Social Network).

Ovviamente a tali azioni sarà anche lecito attendersi, come accaduto in Egitto, reazioni della medesima portata: ne è testimonianza l’operazione #OpEgypt, attuata dal gruppo Anonymous in risposta agli iniziali tentativi del Governo Egiziano di sedare la protesta con mezzi più o meno leciti.

E’ proprio vero: gira e rigira Social Network e Terminali Mobili (il tutto condito in questo caso con un pizzico di Hactivism) sono sempre al centro dell’attenzione, e il tutto, sempre di più, lascia pensare che le guerre e le rivoluzioni del futuro si combatteranno sempre di più su terreni e con armi impensabili sino a poco tempo fa: i terreni di battaglia saranno le grandi dorsali di Internet, le armi? Naturalmente  terminali mobili…


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