Hannu Ahola has an interesting story to tell.
His story takes place in a virtual world that many of us who are too busy in the real world never visit. Hannu is an active player of an online role-playing game called World of Warcraft. What is he doing then when he is “playing”? In the World of Warcraft, players from all over the world buy accounts and create characters. By accomplishing different missions, these characters gain skills and virtual wealth that other players envy.
So, when does the game end? Never – much to the relief of its 11 million active players.
Hannu’s story started about 4 years ago. His friends were urging him to play World of Warcraft. At first, he was not interested. But after a little convincing, he bought an account from an acquaintance, which turned out to be mistake. But Hannu didn’t know that yet.
He found himself spending more and more time playing. He estimates that during those first two years he played 8-10 hours per day. Every day. The result was an impressive character that accumulated a substantial amount of wealth and talents. The character was so good that people might have been willing to pay real world money for it.
And this fact did not escape the acquaintance who originally owned the account. Using the original account information, this 18-year old boy was able to take control of Hannu’s character and the virtual wealth Hannu had been building for years. And it seemed that there was nothing Hannu could do about it.
Most of us have trouble understanding this kind of loss. Hannu explained it to me: “What if you had collected stamps passionately for 2 years. You had put all your spare time into it and then someone took it away. How would that make you feel?”
After he figured out that it was his acquaintance who stole his character, Hannu contacted the boy – who promptly ignored him. He then contacted the boy’s mother but got no help.
Stealing is punishable in the real world, but did not seem to matter in the virtual world. Except to Hannu. He hired a lawyer and took the issue to court.
After a 1,5 year battle, the young boy was sentenced to pay Hannu 4000 euros for the character Hannu finally never got back. But Hannu had won the moral battle: there are limits to what you can do in the virtual world. Hannu’s case represents the first time that a real world court in Finland dealt with a matter related to virtual worlds, and I have the feeling there’s more to come.
(For more about Hannu and the value of virtual world commodities, check out Sean from the F-Secure Labs on “What is a World of Warcraft Account Worth?“)
The boundaries between virtual worlds and the real world are blurring. World of Warcraft accounts get phished all the time. Children are bullied in virtual worlds. In China, even murders have been committed because of virtual world events. But they also provide a lot of opportunities for enjoyment and self-expression – as long as we obey the law. And for that to happen, we’re going to need a lot more people like Hannu.
So good job, my friend!
Last week, F-Secure Labs published a new study that provides a detailed analysis of a hacking group called “the Dukes”. The Dukes are what’s known as an advanced persistent threat (APT) – a type of hacking campaign in which a group of attackers is able to covertly infiltrate an organization’s IT network and steal data, often over a long period of time while remaining undetected. The report provides a comprehensive analysis of the Dukes’ history, and provides evidence that security researchers and analysts say proves the various attacks discussed in the report are attributable to the Duke group. Furthermore, the new information contained in the report strengthens previous claims that the group is operating with support from the Russian government. Mikko Hypponen has said that attacker attribution is important, but it’s also complex and notoriously difficult, so the findings of the report have considerable security implications. I contacted several people familiar with the report to get some additional insights into the Dukes, the research, and what this information means to policy makers responsible for issues pertaining to national cybersecurity. Artturi Lehtiö (AL) is the F-Secure Researcher who headed the investigation and authored the report. He has published previous research on attacks that are now understood to have been executed by the Dukes. Patrik Maldre (PM) is a Junior Research Fellow at the International Center for Defense and Security, and has previously written about the Dukes, and the significance of this threat for global security. Mika Aaltola (MA) is the Program Director for the Global Security research program at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs. He published an article of his own examining how groups like the Dukes fit into the geopolitical ambitions of nations that employ them. Q: What is the one thing that people must absolutely know about the Dukes? PM: They are using their capabilities in pursuit of Russian strategic interests, including economic and political domination in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Caucasus region, and a return to higher status at the international level. AL: They are a long-standing key part of Russian espionage activity in the cyber domain. MA: The geopolitical intention behind the vast majority of targets. Q: We now know the Dukes are responsible for a number of high profile attacks, and seemingly target information about politics and defense. But what kind of information might they obtain with their attacks, and why would it be valuable? AL: They might obtain information like meeting notes, memos, plans, and internal reports, not to mention email conversations. In essence, the Dukes aim to be a fly on the wall behind the closed doors of cabinets, meeting rooms, and negotiating tables. PM: The targets of the Dukes include government ministries, militaries, political think tanks, and parliaments. The information that can be gained from these organizations includes, among other things, sensitive communication among high-level officials, details of future political postures, data about strategic arms procurement plans, compromising accounts of ongoing intelligence operations, positions regarding current diplomatic negotiations, future positioning of strategic military contingents, plans for future economic investments, and internal debates about policies such as sanctions. MA: The targets are high value assets. Two things are important: data concerning the plans and decisions taken by the targeted organizations. Second, who is who in the organizations, what are the key decision-making networks, what possible weaknesses can be used and exploited, and how the organization can be used to gain access to other organizations. Q: The Dukes are typically classified as an APT. What makes the Dukes different from other APTs? MA: APT is a good term to use with the Dukes. However, there are some specific characteristics. The multi-year campaigning with relatively simple tools sets Dukes apart from e.g. Stuxnet. Also, the Dukes are used in psychological warfare. The perpetrators can even benefit from they actions becoming public as long as some deniability remains. AL: The sophistication of the Dukes does not come as much from the sophistication of their own methods as it comes from their understanding of their targets’ methods, what their targets’ weaknesses are, and how those can be exploited. PM: They are among the most capable, aggressive, and determined actors that have been publicly identified to be serving Russian strategic interests. The Dukes provide a very wide array of different capabilities that can be chosen based on the targets, objectives, and constraints of a particular operation. They appear to be acting in a brazen manner that indicates complete confidence in their immunity from law enforcement or domestic oversight by democratic bodies. Q: There are 9 distinctive Duke toolsets. Why would a single group need 9 different malware toolsets instead of just 1? AL: The Dukes attempt to use their wide arsenal of tools to stay one-step ahead of the defenders by frequently switching the toolset used. MA: They are constantly developing the tools and using them for different targets. Its an evolutionary process meant to trick different “immunity” systems. Much like drug cocktails can trick the HIV virus. PM: The different Duke toolsets provide flexibility and can be used to complement each other. For example, if various members of the Dukes are used to compromise a particular target and the infection is discovered, the incident responders may be led to believe that quarantines and remediation have been successful even though another member of the Dukes is still able to extract valuable information. Q: Many people reading this aren’t involved in geopolitics. What do you think non-policy makers can take away from this whitepaper? AL: This research aims to provide a unique window into the world of the Dukes, allowing people not traditionally involved with governmental espionage or hacking to gauge for themselves how their lives may be affected by activity like the Dukes. PM: It is important for people to understand the threats that are associated with these technological developments. The understanding of cybersecurity should grow to the point where it is on par with the wider public’s understanding of other aspects of international security, such as military strategy or nuclear non-proliferation. This knowledge is relevant for the exercise of fundamental liberties that are enjoyed in democratic societies, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, as well as of basic rights such as voting in elections. MA: The geopolitical intent is clearly present in this activity. However, the developments in this realm affects other types of cyber-attacks. Same methods spread. There is cross-fertilization, as in the case of Stuxnet that was soon adapted for other purposes by other groups. F-Secure’s Business Security Insider blog recently posted a quick breakdown on how the Dukes typically execute their attacks, and what people can do to prevent becoming a victim of the Dukes or similar threats. Check it out for some additional information about the Dukes.
Despite Apple's stringent "walled garden" approach requiring strict approvals of all software that ends up in its App Story, dozens of apps infected with XcodeGhost malware apparently made it through the store and on to millions of users' devices. The malware allows the attackers remote access, which can lead to phishing or further exploitation of vulnerabilities. Our Labs initial take on this incident is that it appears to be another case of "convenience is the enemy of security". Reports suggest developers were using a Trojanized version of Apple's official tool for working on iOS and OS X apps called Xcode. Developers may have used third-party versions of Xcode to avoid long download times. Some developers also have disabled XCode's Gatekeeper, which would've prevented installation of tainted apps, because it takes too long to run, especially on older devices. These not-so secure practices likely led to a rare breach of iOS security. F-Secure Freedome is already blocking the command and control servers used by the infected apps. This will interrupt their ability to work properly or steal information from a Freedome-protected device. You should check to make sure you have not installed any of the infected apps, which include some of the most popular apps in China, and only install apps from developers that have a track record you can trust.
You are precious. You are very valuable. At least to companies dealing in advertising and customer profiling. The value of you and your peers make giants like Google and Facebook tick, with a combined revenue of about $78 billion. I’m sure most of you understand this value. But how many are really making smart choices to guard it? If you’re on Facebook, you may have seen posts like this: “Your Friday night. Tina wants to sleep. Jan destroys furniture. Aaron wakes up handcuffed. Wilhelm starts a drinking competition.” Clicking the image takes you to nametests.com, or a localized version in your own language. Once there you can create your own test that reveals funny things about you and your friends. It’s obvious that these test are more entertaining than scientific. And this site can’t be blamed for lacking fantasy! Who thinks you’re sweet? How many children will you have? Who should you write a love song for? Who of your friends belong in your stuffed animal collection? Stuffed animal collection! OMG. LOL. :) You can find out all this and much more with the tests at nametests.com. The site is operated by a German company named Socialsweethearts, that claim to have over 1500 tests in more than 40 languages! OK, just another funny and harmless site that creates virally spreading posts and cashes in on advertising, you might think. But let’s take a closer look at what’s going on here. Many of the test involve your friends, revealing whom would be or do something. And to provide this they must know who your friends are, right? So it’s perfectly legit when a dialog pops up asking for access to your Facebook account and friends list. Wait! This is where you should stop and think. Let’s rephrase what’s going on. You purchase an automatically generated joke about you and your friends and pay by allowing them access to your friend list and Facebook wall, including all your past, current and future posts. A good deal? No, I don’t think so. And on top of that, you pay with knowledge about all your friends too, but without asking them for permission. Ok, Socialsweethearts is a German company, and Germany has strong privacy laws. I think there is a pretty good chance that this company isn’t misusing your data shamelessly, even if they definitively has the technical opportunity to do so. But this is pure luck. I bet that virtually none of the folks using these tests actually checked the background of the company and made an educated decision to trust it. Did you? But on the other hand. Pretty much all the giants that make billions on our private data are from the Americas. Europe has totally lost this race. A German company entering the same business successfully would be bright news, sort of. Bad news for your privacy but good news from European business perspective. So don’t worry too much if you have used the services on nametests.com. But this is anyway an excellent opportunity to clean up the list of apps that have access to your data. In Facebook, go to Settings and choose Apps in the menu to the left. Now you see a list of all apps and sites that have been granted access. Some of them are no doubt legit, for example apps that should be able to post to your wall. But the permissions will stay when you stop using something. And some permissions are only needed on a one-time basis, but they will stay on the list. Nametests.com belongs to that category and should be erased. Go through the list and remove anything you don’t need. If you see something that you don’t understand the meaning of, it’s safest to remove it too. Permissions can always be added back and apps that lose their permissions will notify you and ask you to grant new permissions. Happy cleaning, Micke [caption id="attachment_8485" align="alignnone" width="300"] This is what it looks like when nametest.com want's permission to access your data in Facebook.[/caption] Images: Screenshots from nametest.com and facebook.com