Posts Tagged: Kevin Poulsen


4
Apr 17

Dual-Use Software Criminal Case Not So Novel

“He built a piece of software. That tool was pirated and abused by hackers. Now the feds want him to pay for the computer crooks’ crimes.”

The above snippet is the subhead of a story published last month by the The Daily Beast titled, “FBI Arrests Hacker Who Hacked No One.” The subject of that piece — a 26-year-old American named Taylor Huddleston — faces felony hacking charges connected to two computer programs he authored and sold: An anti-piracy product called Net Seal, and a Remote Administration Tool (RAT) called NanoCore that he says was a benign program designed to help users remotely administer their computers.

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

The author of the Daily Beast story, former black hat hacker and Wired.com editor Kevin Poulsen, argues that Huddleston’s case raises a novel question: When is a programmer criminally responsible for the actions of his users?

“Some experts say [the case] could have far reaching implications for developers, particularly those working on new technologies that criminals might adopt in unforeseeable ways,” Poulsen wrote.

But a closer look at the government’s side of the story — as well as public postings left behind by the accused and his alleged accomplices — paints a more complex and nuanced picture that suggests this may not be the case to raise that specific legal question in any meaningful way.

Mark Rumold, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said cases like these are not so cut-and-dry because they hinge on intent, and determining who knew what and when.

“I don’t read the government’s complaint as making the case that selling some type of RAT is illegal, and if that were the case I think we would be very interested in this,” Rumold said. “Whether or not [the government’s] claims are valid is going to be extraordinarily fact-specific, but unfortunately there is not a precise set of facts that would push this case from being about the valid reselling of a tool that no one questions can be done legally to crossing that threshold of engaging in a criminal conspiracy.”

Citing group chat logs and other evidence that hasn’t yet been made public, U.S. prosecutors say Huddleston intended NanoCore to function more like a Remote Access Trojan used to remotely control compromised PCs, and they’ve indicted Huddleston on criminal charges of conspiracy as well as aiding and abetting computer intrusions.

Poulsen depicts Huddleston as an ambitious — if extremely naive — programmer struggling to make an honest living selling what is essentially a dual-use software product. Using the nickname “Aeonhack,” Huddleston marketed his NanoCore RAT on Hackforums[dot]net, an English-language hacking forum that is overrun with young, impressionable but otherwise low-skilled hackers who are constantly looking for point-and-click tools and services that can help them demonstrate their supposed hacking prowess.

Yet we’re told that Huddleston was positively shocked to discover that many buyers on the forum were using his tools in a less-than-legal manner, and that in response he chastised and even penalized customers who did so. By way of example, Poulsen writes that Huddleston routinely used his Net Seal program to revoke the software licenses for customers who boasted online about using his NanoCore RAT illegally.

We later learn that — despite Net Seal’s copy protection abilities — denizens of Hackforums were able to pirate copies of NanoCore and spread it far and wide in malware and phishing campaigns. Eventually, Huddleston said he grew weary of all the drama and sold both programs to another Hackforums member, using the $60,000 or so in proceeds to move out of the rusty trailer he and his girlfriend shared and buy a house in a low-income corner of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

From the story:

Continue reading →


8
Jan 17

DNI: Putin Led Cyber, Propaganda Effort to Elect Trump, Denigrate Clinton

Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a massive propaganda and cyber operation aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton and getting Donald Trump elected, the top U.S. intelligence agencies said in a remarkable yet unshocking report released on Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin tours RT facilities. Image: DNI

Russian President Vladimir Putin tours RT facilities. Image: DNI

The 25-page dossier from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stopped short of saying the Russians succeeded at influencing the outcome of the election, noting that the report did not attempt to make an assessment on that front. But it makes the case that “Russia’s intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US presidential election, including targets associated with both major US political parties.”

“We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks,” the DNI report reads.

The report is a quick and fascinating read. One example: It includes a fairly detailed appendix which concludes that the U.S.-based but Kremlin-financed media outlet RT (formerly Russia Today) is little more than a propaganda machine controlled by Russian intelligence agencies.

“Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls,'” reads the report.

The DNI report is remarkable for several reasons. First, it publicly accuses Russia’s President of trying to meddle with the U.S. election and to hack both political parties. Also, as The New York Times observed, it offers “a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them.”

However, those who’ve been clamoring for more technical evidence to support a conclusion that Russian intelligence agencies were behind the phishing, malware attacks and email leaks at The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign likely will be unmoved by this report. Those details will remain safely hidden from public view in the classified version of the report.

Last week, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a joint report (PDF) on some of the malware and Internet resources used in the DNC intrusion. But many experts criticized it as a poorly-written, jumbled collection of threat indicators and digital clues that didn’t all quite lead where they should.

Others were perplexed by the high confidence level the agencies assigned to the findings in their unclassified report, noting that neither the FBI nor DHS examined the DNC hard drives that were compromised in the break-in (that work was done by private security firm Crowdstrike).

Former black-hat hacker turned Wired and Daily Beast contributing editor Kevin Poulsen slammed the FBI/DHS report as “so aimless that it muddies the clear public evidence that Russia hacked the Democratic Party to affect the election, and so wrong it enables the Trump-friendly conspiracy theorists trying to explain away that evidence.”

Granted, trying to reconstruct a digital crime scene absent some of the most important pieces of evidence is a bit like attempting to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with only half of the pieces. But as digital forensics and security expert Jonanthan Zdziarksi noted via Twitter last night, good old fashioned spying and human intelligence seems to have played a bigger role in pinning the DNC hack on the Russians.

“The DNI report subtly implied that more weight was put on our intelligence coming from espionage operations than on cyber warfare,” Zdziarski wrote. “As someone who’s publicly called out the FBI over misleading the public and the court system, I believe the DNI report to be reliable. I also believe @CrowdStrike’s findings to be reliable based on the people there and their experience with threat intelligence.”

Key findings from the DNI report.

Key findings from the DNI report.

Continue reading →