Entries Tagged "China"

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Kylin: New Chinese Operating System

Interesting:

China has developed more secure operating software for its tens of millions of computers and is already installing it on government and military systems, hoping to make Beijing’s networks impenetrable to U.S. military and intelligence agencies.

The secure operating system, known as Kylin, was disclosed to Congress during recent hearings that provided new details on how China’s government is preparing to wage cyberwarfare with the United States.

“We are in the early stages of a cyber arms race and need to respond accordingly,” said Kevin G. Coleman, a private security specialist who advises the government on cybersecurity. He discussed Kylin during a hearing of the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission on April 30.

The deployment of Kylin is significant, Mr. Coleman said, because the system has “hardened” key Chinese servers. U.S. offensive cyberwar capabilities have been focused on getting into Chinese government and military computers outfitted with less secure operating systems like those made by Microsoft Corp.

“This action also made our offensive cybercapabilities ineffective against them, given the cyberweapons were designed to be used against Linux, UNIX and Windows,” he said.

Is this real, or yet more cybersecurity hype pushed by agencies looking for funding and power? My guess is the latter. Anyone know?

Posted on May 18, 2009 at 6:06 AMView Comments

U.S. Power Grid Hacked, Everyone Panic!

Yesterday I talked to at least a dozen reporters about this breathless Wall Street Journal story:

Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” said a senior intelligence official. “So have the Russians.”

[…]

Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said. He added, “If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on.”

Officials said water, sewage and other infrastructure systems also were at risk.

“Over the past several years, we have seen cyberattacks against critical infrastructures abroad, and many of our own infrastructures are as vulnerable as their foreign counterparts,” Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told lawmakers. “A number of nations, including Russia and China, can disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure.”

Read the whole story; there aren’t really any facts in it. I don’t know what’s going on; maybe it’s just budget season and someone is jockeying for a bigger slice.

Honestly, I am much more worried about random errors and undirected worms in the computers running our infrastructure than I am about the Chinese military. I am much more worried about criminal hackers than I am about government hackers. I wrote about the risks to our infrastructure here, and about Chinese hacking here.

And I wrote about last year’s reports of international hacking of our SCADA control systems here.

Posted on April 9, 2009 at 12:02 PMView Comments

Massive Chinese Espionage Network

The story broke in The New York Times yesterday:

In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved.

[…]

Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.

The researchers, who have a record of detecting computer espionage, said they believed that in addition to the spying on the Dalai Lama, the system, which they called GhostNet, was focused on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

The Chinese government denies involvement. It’s probably true; these networks tend to be run by amateur hackers with the tacit approval of the government, not the government itself. I wrote this on the topic last year.

It’s only circumstantial evidence that the hackers are Chinese:

In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved.

And here’s the report, from the University of Toronto.

Good commentary by James Fallows:

My guess is that the “convenient instruments” hypothesis will eventually prove to be true (versus the “centrally controlled plot” scenario), if the “truth” of the case is ever fully determined. For reasons the Toronto report lays out, the episode looks more like the effort of groups of clever young hackers than a concentrated project of the People Liberation Army cyberwar division. But no one knows for certain, and further information about the case is definitely worth following.

An excellent article on Wired.com, and another on ArsTechnica.

There’s another paper, released at the same time on the same topic, from Cambridge University. It makes more pointed claims about the attackers and their origins, claims I’m not sure can be supported from the evidence.

In this note we described how agents of the Chinese government compromised the computing infrastructure of the Office of His His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

EDITED TO ADD (3/30): More information on the tools the hackers used.

EDITED TO ADD (3/30): An interview with the University of Toronto researchers.

EDITED TO ADD (4/1): The Chinese government denies involvement.

EDITD TO ADD (4/1): My essay from last year on Chinese hacking.

Posted on March 30, 2009 at 12:43 PMView Comments

The NSA Teams Up with the Chinese Government to Limit Internet Anonymity

Definitely strange bedfellows:

A United Nations agency is quietly drafting technical standards, proposed by the Chinese government, to define methods of tracing the original source of Internet communications and potentially curbing the ability of users to remain anonymous.

The U.S. National Security Agency is also participating in the “IP Traceback” drafting group, named Q6/17, which is meeting next week in Geneva to work on the traceback proposal. Members of Q6/17 have declined to release key documents, and meetings are closed to the public.

[…]

A second, apparently leaked ITU document offers surveillance and monitoring justifications that seem well-suited to repressive regimes:

A political opponent to a government publishes articles putting the government in an unfavorable light. The government, having a law against any opposition, tries to identify the source of the negative articles but the articles having been published via a proxy server, is unable to do so protecting the anonymity of the author.

This is being sold as a way to go after the bad guys, but it won’t help. Here’s Steve Bellovin on that issue:

First, very few attacks these days use spoofed source addresses; the real IP address already tells you where the attack is coming from. Second, in case of a DDoS attack, there are too many sources; you can’t do anything with the information. Third, the machine attacking you is almost certainly someone else’s hacked machine and tracking them down (and getting them to clean it up) is itself time-consuming.

TraceBack is most useful in monitoring the activities of large masses of people. But of course, that’s why the Chinese and the NSA are so interested in this proposal in the first place.

It’s hard to figure out what the endgame is; the U.N. doesn’t have the authority to impose Internet standards on anyone. In any case, this idea is counter to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” In the U.S., it’s counter to the First Amendment, which has long permitted anonymous speech. On the other hand, basic human and constitutional rights have been jettisoned left and right in the years after 9/11; why should this be any different?

But when the Chinese government and the NSA get together to enhance their ability to spy on us all, you have to wonder what’s gone wrong with the world.

Posted on September 18, 2008 at 6:34 AMView Comments

The Case of the Stolen BlackBerry and the Awesome Chinese Hacking Skills

A high-level British government employee had his BlackBerry stolen by Chinese intelligence:

The aide, a senior Downing Street adviser who was with the prime minister on a trip to China earlier this year, had his BlackBerry phone stolen after being picked up by a Chinese woman who had approached him in a Shanghai hotel disco.

The aide agreed to return to his hotel with the woman. He reported the BlackBerry missing the next morning.

That can’t look good on your annual employee review.

But it’s this part of the article that has me confused:

Experts say that even if the aide’s device did not contain anything top secret, it might enable a hostile intelligence service to hack into the Downing Street server, potentially gaining access to No 10’s e-mail traffic and text messages.

Um, what? I assume the IT department just turned off the guy’s password. Was this nonsense peddled to the press by the UK government, or is some “expert” trying to sell us something? The article doesn’t say.

EDITED TO ADD (7/22): The first commenter makes a good point, which I didn’t think of. The article says that it’s Chinese intelligence:

A senior official said yesterday that the incident had all the hallmarks of a suspected honeytrap by Chinese intelligence.

But Chinese intelligence would be far more likely to clone the BlackBerry and then return it. Much better information that way. This is much more likely to be petty theft.

EDITED TO ADD (7/23): The more I think about this story, the less sense it makes. If you’re a Chinese intelligence officer and you manage to get an aide to the British Prime Minister to have sex with one of your agents, you’re not going to immediately burn him by stealing his BlackBerry. That’s just stupid.

Posted on July 22, 2008 at 10:05 AMView Comments

Chinese Cyber Attacks

The popular media conception is that there is a coordinated attempt by the Chinese government to hack into U.S. computers—military, government corporate—and steal secrets. The truth is a lot more complicated.

There certainly is a lot of hacking coming out of China. Any company that does security monitoring sees it all the time.

These hacker groups seem not to be working for the Chinese government. They don’t seem to be coordinated by the Chinese military. They’re basically young, male, patriotic Chinese citizens, trying to demonstrate that they’re just as good as everyone else. As well as the American networks the media likes to talk about, their targets also include pro-Tibet, pro-Taiwan, Falun Gong and pro-Uyghur sites.

The hackers are in this for two reasons: fame and glory, and an attempt to make a living. The fame and glory comes from their nationalistic goals. Some of these hackers are heroes in China. They’re upholding the country’s honor against both anti-Chinese forces like the pro-Tibet movement and larger forces like the United States.

And the money comes from several sources. The groups sell owned computers, malware services, and data they steal on the black market. They sell hacker tools and videos to others wanting to play. They even sell T-shirts, hats and other merchandise on their Web sites.

This is not to say that the Chinese military ignores the hacker groups within their country. Certainly the Chinese government knows the leaders of the hacker movement and chooses to look the other way. They probably buy stolen intelligence from these hackers. They probably recruit for their own organizations from this self-selecting pool of experienced hacking experts. They certainly learn from the hackers.

And some of the hackers are good. Over the years, they have become more sophisticated in both tools and techniques. They’re stealthy. They do good network reconnaissance. My guess is what the Pentagon thinks is the problem is only a small percentage of the actual problem.

And they discover their own vulnerabilities. Earlier this year, one security company noticed a unique attack against a pro-Tibet organization. That same attack was also used two weeks earlier against a large multinational defense contractor.

They also hoard vulnerabilities. During the 1999 conflict over the two-states theory conflict, in a heated exchange with a group of Taiwanese hackers, one Chinese group threatened to unleash multiple stockpiled worms at once. There was no reason to disbelieve this threat.

If anything, the fact that these groups aren’t being run by the Chinese government makes the problem worse. Without central political coordination, they’re likely to take more risks, do more stupid things and generally ignore the political fallout of their actions.

In this regard, they’re more like a non-state actor.

So while I’m perfectly happy that the U.S. government is using the threat of Chinese hacking as an impetus to get their own cybersecurity in order, and I hope they succeed, I also hope that the U.S. government recognizes that these groups are not acting under the direction of the Chinese military and doesn’t treat their actions as officially approved by the Chinese government.

This essay originally appeared on the Discovery Channel website.

EDITED TO ADD (7/18): A slightly longer version of this essay appeared in Information Security magazine as part of a point/counterpoint with Marcus Ranum. His half is here.

Posted on July 14, 2008 at 7:08 AMView Comments

Did the Chinese PLA Attack the U.S. Power Grid?

This article claims that the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army was behind, among other things, the August 2003 blackout:

Computer hackers in China, including those working on behalf of the Chinese government and military, have penetrated deeply into the information systems of U.S. companies and government agencies, stolen proprietary information from American executives in advance of their business meetings in China, and, in a few cases, gained access to electric power plants in the United States, possibly triggering two recent and widespread blackouts in Florida and the Northeast, according to U.S. government officials and computer-security experts.

One prominent expert told National Journal he believes that China’s People’s Liberation Army played a role in the power outages. Tim Bennett, the former president of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, a leading trade group, said that U.S. intelligence officials have told him that the PLA in 2003 gained access to a network that controlled electric power systems serving the northeastern United States. The intelligence officials said that forensic analysis had confirmed the source, Bennett said. “They said that, with confidence, it had been traced back to the PLA.” These officials believe that the intrusion may have precipitated the largest blackout in North American history, which occurred in August of that year. A 9,300-square-mile area, touching Michigan, Ohio, New York, and parts of Canada, lost power; an estimated 50 million people were affected.

This is all so much nonsense I don’t even know where to begin.

I wrote about this blackout already: the computer failures were caused by Blaster.

The “Interim Report: Causes of the August 14th Blackout in the United States and Canada,” published in November and based on detailed research by a panel of government and industry officials, blames the blackout on an unlucky series of failures that allowed a small problem to cascade into an enormous failure.

The Blaster worm affected more than a million computers running Windows during the days after Aug. 11. The computers controlling power generation and delivery were insulated from the Internet, and they were unaffected by Blaster. But critical to the blackout were a series of alarm failures at FirstEnergy, a power company in Ohio. The report explains that the computer hosting the control room’s “alarm and logging software” failed, along with the backup computer and several remote-control consoles. Because of these failures, FirstEnergy operators did not realize what was happening and were unable to contain the problem in time.

Simultaneously, another status computer, this one at the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, a regional agency that oversees power distribution, failed. According to the report, a technician tried to repair it and forgot to turn it back on when he went to lunch.

To be fair, the report does not blame Blaster for the blackout. I’m less convinced. The failure of computer after computer within the FirstEnergy network certainly could be a coincidence, but it looks to me like a malicious worm.

The rest of the National Journal article is filled with hysterics and hyperbole about Chinese hackers. I have already written an essay about this—it’ll be the next point/counterpoint between Marcus Ranum and me for Information Security—and I’ll publish it here after they publish it.

EDITED TO ADD (6/2): Wired debunked this claim pretty thoroughly:

This time, though, they’ve attached their tale to the most thoroughly investigated power incident in U.S. history.” and “It traced the root cause of the outage to the utility company FirstEnergy’s failure to trim back trees encroaching on high-voltage power lines in Ohio. When the power lines were ensnared by the trees, they tripped.

[…]

So China…using the most devious malware ever devised, arranged for trees to grow up into exactly the right power lines at precisely the right time to trigger the cascade.

Large-scale power outages are never one thing. They’re a small problem that cascades into series of ever-bigger problems. But the triggering problem were those power lines.

Posted on June 2, 2008 at 6:37 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.