Posts Tagged: Wall Street Journal


19
Dec 14

FBI: North Korea to Blame for Sony Hack

The FBI today said it has determined that the North Korean government is responsible for the devastating recent hack attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. Here’s a brief look the FBI’s statement, what experts are learning about North Korea’s cyberattack capabilities, and what this incident means for other corporations going forward.

In a statement released early Friday afternoon, the FBI said that its investigation — along with information shared by Sony and other U.S. government departments and agencies — found that the North Korean government was responsible.

The FBI said it couldn’t disclose all of its sources and methods, but that the conclusion was based, in part, on the following:

-“Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.”

-“The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

-“Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.”

The agency added that it was “deeply concerned” about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who work there, and that the FBI stands ready to assist any U.S. company that is the victim of a destructive cyber attack or breach of confidential information.

“Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States,” the FBI said. “Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt—whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise—to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.”

SPE was hit with a strain of malware designed to wipe all computer hard drives within the company’s network. The attackers then began releasing huge troves of sensitive SPE internal documents, and, more recently, started threatening physical violence against anyone who viewed the Sony movie “The Interview,” a comedy that involves a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Not long after a number of top movie theater chains said they would not show the film, Sony announced that it would cancel the movie’s theatrical release.

Apparently emboldened by Sony’s capitulation, the attackers are now making even more demands. According to CNN, Sony executives on Thursday received an email apparently from the attackers said they would no longer release additional stolen Sony Pictures data if the company announced that it would also cancel any plans to release the movie on DVD, Netflix or elsewhere. The attackers also reportedly demanded that any teasers and trailers about The Interview online be removed from the Internet.

A ‘MAGIC WEAPON’

Little is publicly known about North Korea’s cyber warfare and hacking capabilities, but experts say North Korean leaders view cyber warfare capabilities as an important asymmetric asset in the face of its perceived enemies — the United States and South Korea. An in-depth report (PDF) released earlier this year by HP Security Research notes that in November 2013, North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong Un referred to cyber warfare capabilities as a “magic weapon” in conjunction with nuclear weapons and missiles.

“Although North Korea’s limited online presence makes a thorough analysis of their cyber warfare capabilities a difficult task, it must be noted that what is known of those capabilities closely mirrors their kinetic warfare tactics,” HP notes. “Cyber warfare is simply the modern chapter in North Korea’s long history of asymmetrical warfare. North Korea has used various unconventional tactics in the past, such as guerilla warfare, strategic use of terrain, and psychological operations. The regime also aspires to create viable nuclear weapons.”

Sources familiar with the investigation tell KrebsOnSecurity that the investigators believe there may have been as many as several dozen individuals involved in the attack, the bulk of whom hail from North Korea. Nearly a dozen of them are believed to reside in Japan.

Headquarters of the Chongryon in Japan.

Headquarters of the Chongryon in Japan.

According to HP, a group of ethnic North Koreans residing in Japan known as the Chongryon are critical to North Korea’s cyber and intelligence programs, and help generate hard currency for the regime. The report quotes Japanese intelligence officials stating that “the Chongryon are vital to North Korea’s military budget, raising funds via weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, and other black market activities.” HP today published much more detail about specific North Korean hacking groups that may have played a key role in the Sony incident given previous such attacks. Continue reading →


7
May 14

Antivirus is Dead: Long Live Antivirus!

An article in The Wall Street Journal this week quoted executives from antivirus pioneer Symantec uttering words that would have been industry heresy a few years ago, declaring antivirus software “dead” and stating that the company is focusing on developing technologies that attack online threats from a different angle.

Ads for various crypting services.

Ads for various crypting services.

This hardly comes as news for anyone in the security industry who’s been paying attention over the past few years, but I’m writing about it because this is a great example of how the cybercrime underground responds to — and in some cases surpasses — innovations put in place by the good guys.

About 15 years ago, when the antivirus industry was quite young, there were far fewer competitors in the anti-malware space. Most antivirus firms at the time had a couple of guys in the lab whose job it was to dissect, poke and prod at the new crimeware specimens. After that, they’d typically write reports about the new threats, and then ship “detection signatures” that would ostensibly protect customers that hadn’t already been compromised by the new nasties.

This seemed to work for while, until the smart guys in the industry started noticing that the volume of malicious software being released on the Internet each year was growing at fairly steady clip. Many of the industry’s leaders decided that if they didn’t invest heavily in technologies and approaches that could help automate the detection and classification of new malware threats, that they were going to lose this digital arms race.

So that’s exactly what these firms did: They went on a buying spree and purchased companies and technologies left and right, all in a bid to build this quasi-artificial intelligence they called “heuristic detection.” And for a while after that, the threat from the daily glut of malware seemed to be coming under control.

But the bad guys didn’t exactly take this innovation laying down; rather, they responded with their own innovations. What they came up with is known as the “crypting” service, a service that has spawned an entire industry that I would argue is one of the most bustling and lucrative in the cybercrime underground today.

Put simply, a crypting service takes a bad guy’s piece of malware and scans it against all of the available antivirus tools on the market today — to see how many of them detect the code as malicious. The service then runs some custom encryption routines to obfuscate the malware so that it hardly resembles the piece of code that was detected as bad by most of the tools out there. And it repeats this scanning and crypting process in an iterative fashion until the malware is found to be completely undetectable by all of the antivirus tools on the market. Continue reading →


21
Mar 13

Privacy 101: Skype Leaks Your Location

The events of the past week reminded me of a privacy topic I’ve been meaning to revisit: That voice-over-IP telephony service Skype constantly exposes your Internet address to the entire world, and that there are now numerous free and commercial tools that can be used to link Skype user account names to numeric Internet addresses.

A Skype resolver service in action.

A Skype resolver service in action.

The fact that Skype betrays its users’ online location information is hardly news. For example, The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets warned last year about research showing that it was possible to coax Skype into revealing the IP addresses of individual Skype users. But I believe most Skype users still have no clue about this basic privacy weakness.

What’s changed is that over the past year, a number of services have emerged to help snoops and ne’er-do-wells exploit this vulnerability to track and harass others online. For example, an online search for “skype resolver” returns dozens of results that point to services (of variable reliability) that allow users to look up the Internet address of any Skype user, just by supplying the target’s Skype account name.

In the above screen shot, we can see one such service being used to display the IP address most recently used by the Skype account “mailen_support” (this particular account belongs to the tech support contact for Mailien, a Russian pharmacy spam affiliate program by the same name).

A Skype IP resolver service in action.

A Skype IP resolver service in action.

Typically, these Skype resolvers are offered in tandem with “booter” or “stresser” services, online attack tools-for-hire than can be rented to launch denial-of-service attacks (one of these services was used in an attack on this Web site, and on that of Ars Technica last week). The idea being that if you want to knock someone offline but you don’t know their Internet address, you can simply search on Skype to see if they have an account, and then use the resolvers to locate their IP. The resolvers work regardless of any privacy settings the target user may have selected within the Skype program’s configuration panel.

Many of these resolver services offer “blacklisting,” which for a fee will allow users to prevent other users from looking up the IP address attached to a specific Skype account, said Brandon Levene, an independent security researcher.

“It’s basically a protection scheme,” Levene said.

Continue reading →


23
Nov 11

Apple Took 3+ Years to Fix FinFisher Trojan Hole

The Wall Street Journal this week ran an excellent series on government surveillance tools in the digital age. One story looked at FinFisher, a remote spying Trojan that was marketed to the governments of Egypt, Germany and other nations to permit surreptitious PC and mobile phone surveillance by law enforcement officials. The piece noted that FinFisher’s creators advertised the ability to deploy the Trojan disguised as an update for Apple’s iTunes media player, and that Apple last month fixed the vulnerability that the Trojan leveraged.

Image: spiegel.de

But the WSJ series and other media coverage of the story have overlooked one small but crucial detail: A prominent security researcher warned Apple about this dangerous vulnerability in mid-2008, yet the company waited more than 1,200 days to fix the flaw.

The disclosure raises questions about whether and when Apple knew about the Trojan offering, and its timing in choosing to sew up the security hole in this ubiquitous software title: According to Apple, as of June 2011, there were approximately a quarter billion installations of iTunes worldwide.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment. An email sent Wednesday morning to its press team produced an auto-response stating that employees were already on leave for the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.

I first wrote about this vulnerability for The Washington Post in July 2008, after interviewing Argentinian security researcher Francisco Amato about “Evilgrade,” a devious new penetration testing tool he had developed. The toolkit was designed to let anyone send out bogus automatic update alerts to users of software titles that don’t sign their updates. I described the threat from this toolkit in greater detail:

Why is this a big deal? Imagine that you’re at an airport lounge, waiting to board your flight, and you pop open your laptop to see if you can hop on an open wireless network. Bear in mind that there are plenty of tools available that let miscreants create fake wireless access points for the purposes of routing your connection through their computer. You connect to that fake network, thinking you can check your favorite team’s sports scores. A few seconds later, some application on your system says there’s a software update available. You approve the update.

You’re hosed.

Or maybe you don’t approve the update. But that may not matter, because in some cases, auto-update features embedded in certain software titles will go ahead and download the update at that point, and keep nagging you until you agree to install it at a later date.

Evilgrade leveraged a flaw in the updater mechanism for iTunes that could be exploited on Windows systems. Amato described the vulnerability:

“The iTunes program checks that the binary is signed by Apple but we can inject content into the description as it opens a browser, with a malicious binary so that the user thinks its from Apple,” Amato said of his attack tool.

Emails shared with KrebsOnSecurity show that Amato contacted Apple’s security team on July 11, 2008, to warn them that the iTunes update functionality could be abused to push out malicious software. According to Amato, Apple acknowledged receipt of the report shortly thereafter, but it did not contact him about his findings until Oct. 28, 2011, when it sent an email to confirm his name and title for the purposes of crediting him with reporting the flaw in its iTunes 10.5.1 patch release details. Interestingly, Apple chose to continue to ignore the vulnerability even after Amato shipped a significant feature upgrade to Evilgrade in Oct. 2010.

The length of time Apple took to patch this significant security flaw is notable. In May 2006, I undertook a longitudinal study of how long it took Apple to ship security updates for its products. In that analysis, I looked at two years’ worth of patches issued to fix serious security bugs in Apple’s Mac OS X operating system, as well as other Apple software applications like iTunes. I found that on average, 91 days elapsed between the date that a security researcher alerted Apple to an unpatched flaw and the date Apple shipped a patch to fix the problem. In that study, I examined patch times for four dozen flaws, and the lengthiest patch time in that period was 245 days.

Continue reading →