Posts Tagged: wired.com


17
Apr 13

SWATting Incidents Tied to ID Theft Sites?

Many readers have been asking for an update on the “SWATting” incident at my home last month, in which someone claiming to be me fraudulently reported a home invasion in progress at my address, prompting a heavily armed police response. There are two incremental developments on this story. The first is I’ve learned more about how the hoax was perpetrated. The second is that new clues suggest that the same individual(s) responsible also have been SWATting Hollywood celebrities and posting their personal information on site called exposed.re.

The day before my SWATting, I wrote a story about a site called exposed.su, which was posting the Social Security numbers, previous addresses, phone numbers and other sensitive information on a slew of high-profile individuals, from the director of the FBI to Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates and First Lady Michelle Obama. I wrote about the site by way of explaining that — as painful as it may be to admit — this information should no longer be considered private, because it is available quite cheaply via a number of shady services advertised in underground cybercrime forums.

After migrating the data from Exposed.su to Exposed.re, the curator added [Swatted] notations.


[Swatted] notations were added to celebrity names after Exposed.su became Exposed.re

To illustrate this reality, I pointed to one underground site in particular — the now-defunct ssndob.ru (it is now at another domain) — that could be used to pull all of this information on just about anyone, including all of those whose information was listed at the time on exposed.su. In a follow-up investigation I posted on Mar. 18, 2013, I cited sources who claimed that the DDoS against my site and the simultaneous SWATting attack on my home was in retaliation for my writing about ssndob.ru, which allegedly some of those involved in the attacks prized and did not wish to see shuttered.

Specifically, two different sources placed blame for the attacks on a young hacker named “Phobia,” who they said was part of a group of Xbox gaming enthusiasts who used ssndob.ru to look up Social Security numbers belonging to high-value Xbox account holders — particularly those belonging to Microsoft Xbox Live employees. Armed with that information, and some social engineering skills, the hackers could apparently trick Microsoft’s tech support folks into transferring control over the accounts to the hackers. “I heard he got pissed that you released the site he uses,” one of the sources told me, explaining why he thought Phobia was involved.

Incidentally, two days after my story ran, several news outlets reported that Microsoft had confirmed it is investigating the hacking of Xbox Live accounts belonging to some “high-profile” Microsoft employees, and that it is actively working with law enforcement on the matter.

A little digging suggested that Phobia was a 20-year-old Ryan Stevenson from in Milford, Ct. In that Mar. 18 story, I interviewed Phobia, who confessed to being the hacker who broke into and deleted the Apple iCloud account of wired.com reporter Mat Honan. In subsequent postings on Twitter, Honan expressed surprise that no one else had drawn the connections between Phobia and Stevenson earlier, based on the amount of open source information linking the two identities. In his own reporting on the attack that wiped his iCloud data, Honan had agreed not to name Phobia in return for an explanation of how the hack was carried out.

Geographic distribution of servers observed in Mar. 14, 2013 attack on KrebsOnSecurity. Source: Prolexic

Geographic distribution of servers observed in Mar. 14, 2013 attack on KrebsOnSecurity. Source: Prolexic

The week after my story ran, I heard from someone who lives in Stevenson’s neighborhood and who watched federal agents and police descend on Stevenson’s home on Mar. 20. I was later able to corroborate that information with a police officer in Connecticut, who confirmed that authorities had seized several boxes of items from the Stevenson residence that day.

If Stevenson was as involved as his erstwhile gaming buddies claim, I can’t say that I’m sad to learn that he got his own police raid. However, I do not believe he was the one responsible for sending the emergency response team to my home. I believe that the person or persons responsible is/are still at large, and that Stevenson was merely thrown under the bus as a convenient diversion. But more on that at another time.

At the end of March, exposed.su was shut down, and the content there was migrated over to a new domain — exposed.re. The curator(s) of this site has been adding more celebrities and public figures, but there is another, far more curious, notation on some of the listings at the new version of the site: Several of those named have the designation [Swatted] next to them, including P. Diddy, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Seacrest (see the collage above). It’s worth noting that not all of those listed on exposed.re who were SWATted recently are designated as such on the site.

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18
Mar 13

The Obscurest Epoch is Today

“History is much decried; it is a tissue of errors, we are told, no doubt correctly; and rival historians expose each other’s blunders with gratification. Yet the worst historian has a clearer view of the period he studies than the best of us can hope to form of that in which we live. The obscurest epoch is to-day; and that for a thousand reasons of incohate tendency, conflicting report, and sheer mass and multiplicity of experience; but chiefly, perhaps, by reason of an insidious shifting of landmarks.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

To say that there is a law enforcement manhunt on for the individuals responsible for posting credit report information on public figures and celebrities at the rogue site exposed.su would be a major understatement. I like to think that when that investigation is completed, some of the information I’ve helped to uncover about those affiliated with the site will come to light. For now, however, I’m content to retrace some of my footwork this past weekend that went into tracking individuals who may have been responsible for attacking my site and SWATing my home last Thursday.

I state upfront that the information in this piece is certainly not the whole story (most news reporting is, at best, a snapshot in time, a first rough draft of history). While the clues I’ve uncovered thus far point to the role of a single individual, this person is likely part of a larger group involved in hacking and SWATing activity.

In my story last week, I posted a copy of the internal database for booter.tw, one of several fee-for-service “booter” sites. Booter sites are perhaps most popular among online gaming enthusiasts, who like to use them to knock opponents offline; but they are frequently also used to launch debilitating attacks on Web sites. That leaked booter.tw database shows that the denial-of-service attack that hit my site last week was paid for by a booter.tw user with the account name “countonme,” and using the address “countonme@gmail.com.”

Since the attack, I reached out to the proprietor of booter.tw, a hacker who uses the nickname “Askaa.” He informed me that the individual who launched the attack on my site was a hacker who used the screen name Phobia. “Phobia hacked into the countonme account to make it look like the according user attacked you,” Askaa said in a brief interview over Skype instant message. Askaa declined to say why he was so confident of this information.

RealTeamHype

RealTeamHype’s Youtube page before the videos were deleted on Sunday.

Separately, over the weekend I received an email from a person who claimed to have direct knowledge of the attacks (perhaps because he, too, was involved). This individual said those who attacked my site were a group of young online video game enthusiasts who were upset that earlier in the week I’d written about ssndob.ru, a site that sells access to peoples’ credit files, Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.

According to this source, the hackers in this case belong to a four-man Xbox live gamer team that calls itself “Team Hype,” which until this past weekend had posted a number of videos to their own youtube.com channel, RealTeamHype (more on what happened to these videos in a moment).

According to the anonymous source, Team Hype consists of hackers who use the nicknames “Trojan,” “Shadow,” Convict,” and “Phobia.” The source said the group used SSNs from ssndob.ru to hijack “gamertags,” online personas tied to Xbox Live game accounts. In this case, specifically from Microsoft employees who work on the Xbox Live gaming platform. Some of the group members then sell those accounts to other Xbox Live players.

“They hack/social engineer Gamertags off Microsoft employees by using SSNs,” the source wrote. “I didn’t DDoS your site and I didn’t SWAT you, Phobia has been telling everyone he did. The method he released he said he gets SSNs, then calls phone companies and redirects the number and than gets xbox phone support to call number and confirm. I heard he got pissed that you released the site he uses. Also Trojan told a buddie of mines ‘fear'(on AIM) something about a dead body in your closet about your swat.”

Snippet from @PhobiaTheGod's now-closed Twitter account

Snippet from @PhobiaTheGod’s now-closed Twitter account

The source said Phobia used the Twitter account @PhobiaTheGod (now closed, but partially available here and at this cache), and that Phobia’s personal information — including real name, address and phone number — had been “doxed” or released onto Pastebin-like sites some time ago. It didn’t take long to locate this profile at skidpaste.org (“skid” is a diminutive reference to the term “script kiddies,” referring to relatively unskilled young hackers who conduct most of their exploits using automated tools without understanding how those tools actually do the dirty work).

Having watched most of the videos at RealTeamHype’s youtube channel, it appeared that my source was telling the truth about the hijacked accounts: In fact, the videos at that channel documented such hijackings in progress using desktop screen-grabbing software. The videos even showed conversations with other team members in instant message windows in the background.

But I was reluctant to put much stock in the information until the source sent me a piece of information that only the attackers and my ISP would have known. On Friday, I received a call from Cox Communications, my Internet service provider. They wanted to know why I had paid $3,000 toward my account using several different credit card numbers. I assured them that I hadn’t made that payment. Then I heard from a member of Cox’s security team, who asked if I’d reset my password and if I’d indeed asked to cancel my Internet service. He was unsurprised to learn that I hadn’t. Apparently, hackers reset the password to my Cox email account by working out the answer to my secret question (this account is separate from my Cox user account, was set up over 10 years ago, and has never been used for anything remotely interesting or sensitive).

The source told me via email: “Hey brian, i just spoke to fear he told me phobia and his buddies were telling him that they hacked your cox email and paid your cox bill with hacked credit card, im not sure if this is true but im letting you know.”

I decided to give a call to the phone number included in the doxed records for Phobia, which rang at a home in Milford, Ct. A 20-year-old named Ryan Stevenson picked up the phone. After introducing myself, I asked Ryan if he knew anything about booter.tw, and he said he didn’t bother with booter sites because they were lame.

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26
Mar 12

A Busy Week for Cybercrime Justice

Last week was a bad one to be a cybercrook. Authorities in Russia arrested several men thought to be behind the Carberp banking Trojan, and obtained a guilty verdict against the infamous spammer Leo Kuvayev. In the United States, a jury returned a 33-month jail sentence against a Belarusian who ran a call service for cyber thieves. At the same time, U.S. prosecutors secured a guilty plea against a Russian man who was part of a gang that stole more than $3 million from U.S. businesses fleeced with the help of the ZeuS Trojan.

Kuvayev in Thailand, 2001

In August 2010, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that spam king Leonid “Leo” Aleksandorovich Kuvayev, was being held in a Russian prison awaiting multiple child molestation charges.  Late Friday, a Moscow City court judge rendered a guilty verdict against Kuvayev for crimes against the sexual integrity of minors, according to Russian news agency Lenta.ru.

In 2005, the attorney general of Massachusetts successfully sued Kuvayev for violations of the CAN-SPAM Act, a law that prohibits the sending of e-mail that includes false or misleading information about the origins of the message, among other restrictions. Armed with a massive trove of spam evidence gathered largely by lawyers and security experts at Microsoft Corp., the state showed that Kuvayev’s operation, an affiliate program known as BadCow, was responsible for blasting tens of millions of junk e-mails peddling everything from pirated software to counterfeit pharmaceuticals and porn.

In an apparent bid to sidestep those charges, Kuvayev fled the United States for Russia. A Massachusetts judge later convicted Kuvayev of CAN-SPAM violations, and ordered him to pay $37 million in civil penalties. FBI officials say that at the time, BadCow was raking in more than $30 million each year.

Russian prosecutors said Kuvayev sexually abused at least 11 girls aged 13 to 18 years, many of them suffering from mental and psychological problems and pupils of orphanages and boarding schools nearby Kuvayev’s business and residence in Moscow.

According to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, Russian prosecutors had help from Kuvayev’s old nemesis Microsoft, which had hired a local forensics company in 2010 to keep tabs on his activities. Microsoft’s Samantha Doerr confirmed that Microsoft Russia consulted with Moscow-based cyber forensics firm Group-IB, but said the nature of the investigation was related to Kuvayev’s spamming activities. Lenta.ru reports that it’s not clear when Kuvayev may be sentenced, but that the most serious offense he faces carries a penalty of 20 years in prison.

Group-IB also assisted in another investigation that bore fruit last week: The arrest of eight men — including two ringleaders from Moscow — alleged to have been responsible for seeding computers worldwide Carberp and RDPdor, powerful banking Trojans. Russian authorities say the crime gang used the malware to raid at least 130 million rubles (~$4.43 million USD) from more than 100 banks around the world, and from businesses in Russia, Germany and the Netherlands. Russian police released a video showing one of the suspects loudly weeping in the moments following a morning raid on his home.

The arrests help explain why the makers of Carberp abruptly stopped selling the Trojan late last year. Until recently, Carberp was sold on shadowy underground forums for more than $9,000 per license. In the screen shot below, a lead coder for the Carberp Trojan can be seen announcing on Nov. 1, 2011 that he will be immediately suspending new sales of the malware, and will not be reachable going forward. Continue reading →


18
Nov 11

Cyber Intrusion Blamed for Hardware Failure at Water Utility

A recent cyber attack on a city water utility in Illinois may have destroyed a pump and appears to be part of a larger intrusion at a U.S. software provider, new information suggests. The incident is the latest to raise alarms about the security protecting  so-called supervisory control and data acquisition system, or “SCADA” networks — increasingly Internet-connected systems designed to monitor and control complex industrial networks.

CNN is reporting that federal officials are investigating the attack, but quoted a Department of Homeland Security official downplaying the incident. Wired.com says the focus of the attack may be the Curran-Gardner Public Water District near Springfield, Ill. The Register quotes DHS’s Peter Boogaard saying the agency and the FBI are gathering facts surrounding the report of a water pump failure, but that “at this time there is no credible corroborated data that indicates a risk to critical infrastructure entities or a threat to public safety.”

The incident was first reported in a state cyber fusion notice dated Nov. 10, and soon was summarized on the blog by Joe Weiss, managing partner of Applied Control Solutions, a SCADA systems security firm. Weiss criticized the lack of response and alerting by the US-CERT, Department of Homeland Security, and the information sharing and analysis center (ISAC) run by the water industry.

Weiss read KrebsOnSecurity sections of the report, which traced the origin of the attack to Russian Internet addresses.

“Sometime during the day of Nov. 8, 2011, a water district employee noticed problems with a SCADA system. An information technology service and repair company checked the computer logs of the SCADA system and determined the system had been remotely hacked into from an Internet provider address located in Russia.”

The alert also indicates that this attack may be linked to a SCADA provider that also serves other industries, in addition to the water sector. From the alert:

“The SCADA system that was used by the water district was produced by a software company based in the US. It is believed the hackers had acquired unauthorized access to the software company’s database and retrieved the usernames and passwords of various SCADA systems, including the water district systems.”

The intrusions apparently took place over several months, during which time the attackers remotely logged into the water district’s SCADA networks and toggled systems off and on, eventually causing the failure of a water pump at the facility.

“Over a period of 2-3 months, minor glitches have been observed in remote access to the water district’s SCADA system. Recently, the SCADA system would power on and off, resulting in the burnout of a water pump.”

The notice also stated that the method of attack appears to be similar to the recent compromise of servers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which involved security weaknesses around phpMyAdmin, a popular Web-based database administration tool.

“This network intrusion is the same method of attack recently used against the MIT Server,” the water district alert stated. “The water district’s attack and the MIT attack both had references to PHPMyAdmin in the log files of the computer systems. It is unknown at this time the number of SCADA usernames and passwords acquired from the software company’s database, and if any additional systems have been attacked as a result of this theft.”

Michael Assante, president and CEO of the National Board of Information Security Examiners and a former chief security officer for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), said the attack highlights the potential pitfalls of utilities increasingly turning to off-the-shelf commercial solutions and remote access to trim costs in an era of tight state and local budgets.

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23
Sep 11

Arrested LulzSec Suspect Pined for Job at DoD

A 23-year-old Arizona man arrested on Thursday in connection with the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment last May was a model student who saw himself one day defending networks at the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency.

Wired.com’s Threat Level, the Associated Press, and other news outlets are reporting that Tempe, Ariz. based Cody Andrew Kretsinger is believed to be a member of the LulzSec group, an offshoot of the griefer collective Anonymous. According to the indictment against Kretsinger, he was involved in executing and later promoting the high-profile and costly attack on Sony’s networks. Sony estimates that the breaches would cost it more than $170 million this year.

UAT interview with Kretsinger

Kretsinger is a network security student at Tempe, Ariz. based University of Advancing Technology, according to Robert Wright, director of finance for UAT.  A cached page from UAT’s Web site shows that Kretsinger was named student of the month earlier this year. That page, which indicates Kretsinger was to graduate from the institution in the Fall semester of 2011, includes an interview with the suspected LulzSec member. In it, Kretsinger says he would like to work at the DoD after graduating.

Where do you want to work after graduation?

“I hope that I’ll be able to work for the Department of Defense. From what I hear, they’re pretty good at what I want to do.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

“Traveling, doing Network Security as a profession with the Department of Defense. While I wouldn’t mind being a penetration tester, I think it’s a lot more fun to try to build and secure a network and its devices from the ground up. I suppose I wouldn’t mind being in management, either.”

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15
Jul 11

More Than 100 Arrested in Fake Internet Sales

Law enforcement officials in Romania and the United States have arrested and charged more than 100 individuals in connection with an organized fraud ring that used phony online auctions for cars, boats and other high-priced items to bilk consumers out of at least $10 million.

According to a statement from the Justice Department, the scams run by this ring followed a familiar script. Conspirators located in Romania would post items for sale such as cars, motorcycles and boats on Internet auction and online websites. They would instruct interested buyers to wire transfer the purchase money to a fictitious name they claimed to be an employee of an escrow company. Once the victim wired the funds, the co-conspirators in Romania would text information about the wire transfer to co-conspirators in the United States known as “arrows” to enable them to retrieve the wired funds. They would also provide the arrows with instructions as to where to send the funds after retrieval.

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14
Apr 11

U.S. Government Takes Down Coreflood Botnet

The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI were granted unprecedented authority this week to seize control over a criminal botnet that enslaved millions of computers and to use that power to disable the malicious software on infected PCs.

Sample network diagram of Coreflood, Source:FBI

Sample network diagram of Coreflood, Source:FBI

The target of the takedown was “Coreflood,” an infamous botnet that emerged almost a decade ago as a high-powered virtual weapon designed to knock targeted Web sites offline. Over the years, the crooks running the botnet began to use it to defraud owners of the victim PCs by stealing bank account information and draining balances.

Coreflood has morphed into a menacing crime machine since its emergence in 2002. As I noted in a 2008 story for The Washington Post, this is the same botnet that was used to steal more than $90,000 from Joe Lopez in 2005, kicking off the first of many high profile lawsuits that would be brought against banks by victims of commercial account takeovers. According to the Justice Department, Coreflood also was implicated in the theft of $241,866 from a defense contractor in Tennessee; $115,771 from a real estate company in Michigan; and $151,201 from an investment firm in North Carolina.

By 2008, Coreflood had infected some 378,000 PCs, including computers at hospitals and government agencies. According to research done by Joe Stewart, senior malware researcher for Dell SecureWorks, the thieves in charge of Coreflood had stolen more than 500 gigabytes of banking credentials and other sensitive data, enough data to fill 500 pickup trucks if printed on paper.

On April 11, 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut filed a civil complaint against 13 unknown (“John Doe”) defendants responsible for running Coreflood, and was granted authority to seize 29 domain names used to control the daily operations of the botnet. The government also was awarded a temporary restraining order (TRO) allowing it to send individual PCs infected with Coreflood a command telling the machines to stop the bot software from running.

The government was able to do this because it also won the right to have the Coreflood control servers redirected to networks run by the nonprofit Internet Systems Consortium (ISC). When bots reported to the control servers – as they were programmed to do periodically – the ISC servers would reply with commands telling the bot program to quit.

ISC President Barry Greene said the government was wary of removing the bot software from infected machines.

“They didn’t want to do the uninstall, just exit,” Greene said. “Baby steps. But this was significant for the DOJ to be able to do this. People have been saying we should be able to do this for a long time, and nobody has done what we’re doing until now.”

No U.S. law enforcement authority has ever sought to commandeer a botnet using such an approach. Last year, Dutch authorities took down the Bredolab botnet using a similar method that directed affected users to a Web page warning of the infection. Last month, Microsoft took down the Rustock spam botnet by convincing a court to grant it control over both the botnet’s control domains and the hard drives used by those control servers.

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3
Dec 10

Cable: No Cyber Attack in Brazilian ’09 Blackout

The Nov. 2009 blackout that plunged millions of Brazilians into darkness for up to six hours was not the result of cyber saboteurs, but instead an unusual confluence of independent factors that conspired to cause a cascading power failure, according to a classified cable from the U.S. embassy in Brazil.

The communication, one of roughly 250,000 to be published by Wikileaks.org, provides perhaps the most detailed explanation yet of what may have caused the widespread outage, which severed power to 18 of Brazil’s 27 states, cutting electricity for up to 60 million Brazilians for periods ranging from 20 minutes to six hours. The Nov. 2009 outage was notable because it came just three days after a CBS news magazine 60 Minutes report about a much more severe two-day outage in 2007 that cited unnamed sources claiming that the blackout was triggered by hackers targeting electric control systems.

Reports from Wired.com and other news publications quickly challenged that 60 Minutes segment, pointing to previous investigations that suggested a variety of factors contributed to the 2007 incident, including poorly-maintained electrical insulators. But when another outage hit Brazil three days after the CBS report, the coincidence led to more speculation about whether hackers were once again involved.

The cable relates information shared by executives and engineers from Brazil’s National Operator of the Interconnected Power System (ONS), which “further ruled out the possibility of hackers because, following some acknowledged interferences in past years, [the Government of Brazil] has closed the system to only a small group of authorized operators, separated the transmission control system from other systems, and installed filters.” From the cable:

“Coimbra confirmed that the ONS system is a CLAN network [classified local area network] using its own wires carried above the electricity wires. Oliveira pointed out that even if someone had managed to gain access to the system, a voice command is required to disrupt transmission. Coimbra said that while sabotage could have caused the outages, this type of disruption would have been deadly, and investigators would have found physical evidence, including the body of the perpetrator. He also noted that any internal attempts by system employees to disrupt the system would have been easily BRASILIA 00001383 003 OF 005 traceable, a fact known to anyone with access to the system.”

So what did cause the blackout? The cable suggests there were a range of contributing factors and some very bad timing:

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28
Jul 10

Hacked Companies Hit by the Obvious in 2009

As a rule, I tend to avoid writing about reports and studies unless they offer truly valuable and actionable insights: Too often, reports have preconceived findings that merely serve to increase hype and drum up business for the companies that commission them. But I always make an exception for the annual data breach report issued by the Verizon Business RISK team, which is consistently so chock full of hype-slaying useful data and conclusions that it is often hard to know what not to write about from its contents.

Once again, some of the best stuff is buried deep in this year’s report and is likely to be missed in the mainstream coverage. But let’s get the headline-grabbing findings out of the way first:

-Verizon’s report on 2009 breaches for the first time includes data from the U.S. Secret Service. Yet, the report tracks a sharp decline in the total number of compromised records (143 million compromised records vs.  285 million in 2008).

-85 percent of records last year were compromised by organized criminal groups (this is virtually unchanged from the previous report).

-94 percent of compromised records were the result of breaches at companies in the financial services industry.

-45 percent of breaches were from external sources only, while 27 percent were solely perpetrated from the inside by trusted employees.

Among the most counter-intuitive findings in the report?

There wasn’t a single confirmed intrusion that exploited a patchable vulnerability. Rather, 85 percent of the breaches involved common configuration errors or weaknesses that led to things like SQL database injection attacks, and did not require the exploitation of a flaw that could be fixed with a software patch. In most cases, the breaches were caused by weaknesses that could be picked up by a free Web vulnerability scanner:

“Organizations exert a great deal of effort around the testing and deployment of patches — and well they should. Vulnerability management is a critical aspect of any security program. However, based on evidence collected over the last six years, we have to wonder if we’re going about it in the most efficient and effective manner. Many organizations treat patching as if it were all they had to do to be secure. We’ve observed multiple companies that were hell-bent on getting patch X deployed by week’s end but hadn’t even glanced at their log files in months.”

Speaking of log files, one of the most interesting sections of the 66-page report comes in a sidebar titled “Of Needles and Haystacks,” which states that 86 percent of all breaches last year could have been prevented if victim companies had simply looked for unusual patterns in the log files created by their Web servers.

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14
Jan 10

The Wire: Google Security Edition

Google has reportedly stopped censoring Chinese search results for its Google.cn property, in response to what it said earlier this week were targeted attacks against its corporate infrastructure aimed at Chinese dissident groups. But a security research firm claims the attack that hit Google was part of a larger, unusually sophisticated assault aimed at stealing source code from Google and at least 30 other Silicon Valley firms, banks and defense contractors.

Also, Google switches to “always on” encryption for all Gmail users. And some pundits see ulterior motives in Google’s Chinese hacking disclosure. More after the jump.

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