future of cyber warfare

3 questions about the future of cyber warfare

“We’re not creative enough when we imagine cyber warfare,” F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan recently told me. “It’s not kinetic explosions. It could be a guy whose crimeware business has dried up and is looking for new business.”

Over the last week, F-Secure Labs has taken a look at attacks from the “Energetic Bear” hacking group, Havex, which targets the energy sector, and now CosmicDuke, which is aimed at targets in Ukraine, Poland, Turkey, and Russia.

The goal of these attacks seems to be espionage or gathering information up for a buyer, which could be a government. But the methods don’t match the precision and massive investment of manhours that went into an attack like Stuxnet, which was designed to take down Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

“They rely on plausible deniability and using resources that don’t seem to be created specifically for the task,” Sean said. “It matches the modular methodology of what we conventionally think of as crimeware.”

“You look at one element and it looks like crimeware,” said F-Secure Senior Researcher Timo Hirvonen, who wrote the CosmicDuke analysis. “You look at it from a different angle and you say, ‘I’ve never seen it aimed like that before.'”

“The conventional wisdom is that anything related to cyber warfare will be shiny and new,” Sean said. These attacks instead suggest “semi-professionalism”.

Here are three questions Sean is pondering in the wake these attacks:

What do we mean when we say state-sponsored?

“Cyber warfare models real life,” Sean said.  “Some countries have a massive cyber intelligence infrastructure that works from the top down. Others seem to have a more grassroots origin, co-opting existing technologies that seem to be built on existing crimeware.”

He wonders if state-focused campaigns are using malware that isn’t necessarily state-sponsored. “Countries who use troops with black masks and no insignias standing on a peninsula may have the same kind of thing going online.”

Opportunistic and pragmatic governments may be paying people to co-opting technology that exist for international espionage purposes.

He suggests the goals of such attacks may fit into Sun Tzu’s advice from The Art of War: know your enemy.

Armed with information, countries can use soft power to turn allies against each other and dissuade retribution like economic sanctions.

What do we mean by APT — advanced persistent threat?

These attacks are not complex in the way Stuxnet was. And they don’t need to be.

CosmicDuke  — a variant of a malware family that has existed since 2001–  infects by tricking targets into opening either a PDF file which contains an exploit or a Windows executable whose filename makes it look like a document or image file.

Once the target opens the malicious file, CosmicDuke gains access starts collecting information with a keylogger, clipboard stealer, screenshotter, and password stealers for a variety of popular chat, e-mail and web browsing programs. CosmicDuke also collects information about the files on the system, and has the capability to export cryptographic certificates and their private keys. Once the information has been collected, it is sent out to remote servers via FTP. In addition to stealing information from the system, CosmicDuke allows the attacker to download and execute other malware on the system. Pretty standard stuff.

Is the war against crimeware driving criminals to cyber espionage? Or: Could be fighting cybercrime be counterproductive?

“Some of these guys may be working for the government and themselves,” Sean said.

A wave of successes in the international war on cybercrime may be driving criminals to new buyers.

“The talent developed on its own,” he said. “And now there’s a government taking advantage of talent in their borders. Law enforcement has been going after crimeware. But it doesn’t go away. It’s fungible. The talent’s still there it needs to make a buck.”

Sean believes there’s a message in these attacks for everyone.

“It’s not just the NSA that hunts system admins. If you have any sort of credentialed access to important systems, you are a target. Keep calm and secure your stuff.”

He hopes that businesses will recognize that prevention is always the best remedy.

“For IT managers: ask for the security budget you need – and fight for it. There is more evidence than ever that letting cost dictate security is bad management.”

If governments are willing to work with increasingly opportunistic malware authors, risks could grow exponentially.

“Is today’s crimeware botnet, tomorrow’s national security nightmare?” Sean asks. “What happens when these guys get out of jail? I’m sure they won’t let the talent go fallow.”

Cheers,

Sandra

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At Re:publica 2015, our Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen told the main stage crowd that the world's top scientists are now focused on the delivery of ads. "I think this is sad," he said. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbF0sVdOjRw?rel=0&start=762&end=&autoplay=0] To give the audience a sense of how much Twitter knows about its users, he showed them the remarkable targeting the microblogging service offers its advertisers. If you use the site, you may be served promoted tweets based on the following: 1. What breakfast cereal you eat. 2. The alcohol you drink. 3. Your income. 4. If you suffer from allergies. 5. If you're expecting a child. And that's just the beginning. You can be targeted based not only on your recent device purchases but things you may be in the market for like, say, a new house or a new car. You can see all the targeting offered by logging into your Twitter, going to the top right corner of the interface, clicking on your icon and selecting "Twitter Ads". Can Twitter learn all this just based on your tweets and which accounts follow? No, Mikko said. "They buy this information from real world shops, from credit card companies, and from frequent buyer clubs." Twitter then connects this information to you based on... your phone number. And you've agreed to have this happen to you because you read and memorized the nearly 7,000 words in its Terms and Conditions. Because everyone reads the terms and conditions. Full disclosure: We do occasionally promote tweets on Twitter to promote or digital freedom message and tools like Freedome that block ad trackers. It's an effective tool and we find the irony rich. Part of our mission is to make it clear that there's no such thing as "free" on the internet. If you aren't paying a price, you are the product. Aral Balkan compares social networks to a creepy uncle" that pays the bills by listening to as many of your conversations as they can then selling what they've heard to its actual customers. And with the world's top minds dedicated to monetizing your attention, we just think you should be as aware of advertisers as they are as of you. Most of the top URLs in the world are actually trackers that you never access directly. To get a sense of what advertisers learn every time you click check out our new Privacy Checker. Cheers, Jason

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What Clicking Tells Online Trackers

The Internet is first and foremost a communication medium. Every link that people click, every character they enter, and every video they watch involves an exchange of information. And it’s not just a two-way conversation between a person and their computer, or a person and someone they’re chatting with. There’s more people than listening in, and because computers use languages that people don’t necessarily understand, it’s logical to infer that many people may not be fully aware of what they’re actually saying. F-Secure launched a new Privacy Checker to help pull back the magic curtain that hides online tracking. A lot of online tracking is about employing passive data collection techniques – techniques that allow observers to monitor behavior without having any direct interaction with the people they're observing. Such passive data collection techniques are pervasive online, and websites are often designed to facilitate this kind of tracking. The prevalence of these technologies lends credence to the idea that control is becoming ubiquitous online, and represents a substantial threat to digital freedom. Do you ever read “top 10” articles or other types of lists on websites that require you to “turn pages” by clicking a button? Clicking those buttons lets online trackers know how far you go in the article before you stop reading (not something that can be done reliably when content is on a single page). That’s how passive data collection works. The Privacy Checker works by checking the information stored in web browsers, and then generates a report about what it’s learned. It can usually deduce where you’re located, what language you speak, whether or not you were directed to the checker from Google or another website, what device and operating system you’re using, and whether or not you allow your browser to use tracking cookies. If you think about this as a communicative event – an interaction in which information is exchanged – simply clicking a button has told the Privacy Checker all of this information. So if you were to breakdown the result from a check I ran as an interaction, you could say I told the Privacy Checker the following: “I am in Helsinki, Finland”. “I speak English”. “I use Google.fi to find things online”. “I use a mobile device with Android 4.4.2”. “I allow my browser to accept cookies”. The Privacy Checker responded by explaining what I told it when I pushed the “Check Now” button. The Privacy Checker also provided me with some information on how companies use the things I tell them to make money. The Privacy Checker is probably the only online conversation partner that you’ll ever have that provides you with this transparency. Many people don’t know or aren’t interested in constantly sharing this information, and many websites are designed to help their administrators make money from this data. And this is a key threat to online privacy: more and more technologies are being developed to capture, store, and analyze your data without your knowledge. This blog post emphasizes the significance of the threat by pointing out that huge investments are being made in companies and technologies that monetize your data. The author even refers to it as information about "pseudo-private" behavior – a label that really underscores how much value some of these companies place on privacy. The Privacy Checker sheds some light on this to help people understand what they’re really saying when they click around the web. It’s free to use and available on F-Secure’s new Digital Privacy website, which contains more information about online privacy and the fight for digital freedom. [ Image by geralt | Pixabay ]

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WhatsApp Scams

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