Entries Tagged "cybercrime"

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Blackhole Exploit Kit

It’s now available as a free download:

A free version of the Blackhole exploit kit has appeared online in a development that radically reduces the entry-level costs of getting into cybercrime.

The Blackhole exploit kit, which up until now would cost around $1,500 for an annual licence, creates a handy way to plant malicious scripts on compromised websites. Surfers visiting legitimate sites can be redirected using these scripts to scareware portals on sites designed to exploit browser vulnerabilities in order to distribute banking Trojans, such as those created from the ZeuS toolkit.

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 11:55 AMView Comments

The Era of "Steal Everything"

Good comment:

“We’re moving into an era of ‘steal everything’,” said David Emm, a senior security researcher for Kaspersky Labs.

He believes that cyber criminals are now no longer just targeting banks or retailers in the search for financial details, but instead going after social and other networks which encourage the sharing of vast amounts of personal information.

As both data storage and data processing becomes cheaper, more and more data is collected and stored. An unanticipated effect of this is that more and more data can be stolen and used. As the article says, data minimization is the most effective security tool against this sort of thing. But — of course — it’s not in the database owner’s interest to limit the data it collects; it’s in the interests of those whom the data is about.

Posted on May 10, 2011 at 6:20 AMView Comments

Trojan Steals Credit Card Numbers

It’s only a proof of concept, but it’s scary nonetheless. It’s a Trojan for Android phones that looks for credit-card numbers, either typed or spoken, and relays them back to its controller.

Software released for Android devices has to request permissions for each system function it accesses—with apps commonly requesting access to the network, phone call functionality, internal and external storage devices, and miscellaneous hardware functions such as the backlight, LED, or microphone. These requests are grouped into categories and presented to the user at the point of installation—helping to minimise the chance of a Trojan slipping by.

Soundminer takes a novel approach to these restrictions, by only requesting access to ‘Phone calls,’ to read phone state and identity, ‘Your personal information,’ to read contact data, and ‘Hardware controls’ to record audio—none of which will ring alarm bells if the app is marketed as a voice recording tool.

Research paper here. YouTube demo. Another blog post. Research paper; section 7.2 describes some defenses, but I’m not really impressed by any of them.

Posted on January 29, 2011 at 7:45 AMView Comments

Bulletproof Service Providers

From Brian Krebs:

Hacked and malicious sites designed to steal data from unsuspecting users via malware and phishing are a dime a dozen, often located in the United States, and are a key target for takedown by ISPs and security researchers. But when online miscreants seek stability in their Web projects, they often turn to so-called “bulletproof hosting” providers, mini-ISPs that specialize in offering services that are largely immune from takedown requests and pressure from Western law enforcement agencies.

Posted on November 11, 2010 at 12:45 PMView Comments

The Threat of Cyberwar Has Been Grossly Exaggerated

There’s a power struggle going on in the U.S. government right now.

It’s about who is in charge of cyber security, and how much control the government will exert over civilian networks. And by beating the drums of war, the military is coming out on top.

“The United States is fighting a cyberwar today, and we are losing,” said former NSA director — and current cyberwar contractor — Mike McConnell. “Cyber 9/11 has happened over the last ten years, but it happened slowly so we don’t see it,” said former National Cyber Security Division director Amit Yoran. Richard Clarke, whom Yoran replaced, wrote an entire book hyping the threat of cyberwar.

General Keith Alexander, the current commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, hypes it every chance he gets. This isn’t just rhetoric of a few over-eager government officials and headline writers; the entire national debate on cyberwar is plagued with exaggerations and hyperbole.

Googling those names and terms — as well as “cyber Pearl Harbor,” “cyber Katrina,” and even “cyber Armageddon” — gives some idea how pervasive these memes are. Prefix “cyber” to something scary, and you end up with something really scary.

Cyberspace has all sorts of threats, day in and day out. Cybercrime is by far the largest: fraud, through identity theft and other means, extortion, and so on. Cyber-espionage is another, both government- and corporate-sponsored. Traditional hacking, without a profit motive, is still a threat. So is cyber-activism: people, most often kids, playing politics by attacking government and corporate websites and networks.

These threats cover a wide variety of perpetrators, motivations, tactics, and goals. You can see this variety in what the media has mislabeled as “cyberwar.” The attacks against Estonian websites in 2007 were simple hacking attacks by ethnic Russians angry at anti-Russian policies; these were denial-of-service attacks, a normal risk in cyberspace and hardly unprecedented.

A real-world comparison might be if an army invaded a country, then all got in line in front of people at the DMV so they couldn’t renew their licenses. If that’s what war looks like in the 21st century, we have little to fear.

Similar attacks against Georgia, which accompanied an actual Russian invasion, were also probably the responsibility of citizen activists or organized crime. A series of power blackouts in Brazil was caused by criminal extortionists — or was it sooty insulators? China is engaging in espionage, not war, in cyberspace. And so on.

One problem is that there’s no clear definition of “cyberwar.” What does it look like? How does it start? When is it over? Even cybersecurity experts don’t know the answers to these questions, and it’s dangerous to broadly apply the term “war” unless we know a war is going on.

Yet recent news articles have claimed that China declared cyberwar on Google, that Germany attacked China, and that a group of young hackers declared cyberwar on Australia. (Yes, cyberwar is so easy that even kids can do it.) Clearly we’re not talking about real war here, but a rhetorical war: like the war on terror.

We have a variety of institutions that can defend us when attacked: the police, the military, the Department of Homeland Security, various commercial products and services, and our own personal or corporate lawyers. The legal framework for any particular attack depends on two things: the attacker and the motive. Those are precisely the two things you don’t know when you’re being attacked on the Internet. We saw this on July 4 last year, when U.S. and South Korean websites were attacked by unknown perpetrators from North Korea — or perhaps England. Or was it Florida?

We surely need to improve our cybersecurity. But words have meaning, and metaphors matter. There’s a power struggle going on for control of our nation’s cybersecurity strategy, and the NSA and DoD are winning. If we frame the debate in terms of war, if we accept the military’s expansive cyberspace definition of “war,” we feed our fears.

We reinforce the notion that we’re helpless — what person or organization can defend itself in a war? — and others need to protect us. We invite the military to take over security, and to ignore the limits on power that often get jettisoned during wartime.

If, on the other hand, we use the more measured language of cybercrime, we change the debate. Crime fighting requires both resolve and resources, but it’s done within the context of normal life. We willingly give our police extraordinary powers of investigation and arrest, but we temper these powers with a judicial system and legal protections for citizens.

We need to be prepared for war, and a Cyber Command is just as vital as an Army or a Strategic Air Command. And because kid hackers and cyber-warriors use the same tactics, the defenses we build against crime and espionage will also protect us from more concerted attacks. But we’re not fighting a cyberwar now, and the risks of a cyberwar are no greater than the risks of a ground invasion. We need peacetime cyber-security, administered within the myriad structure of public and private security institutions we already have.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

EDITED TO ADD (7/7): Earlier this month, I participated in a debate: “The Cyberwar Threat has been Grossly Exaggerated.” (Transcript here, video here.) Marc Rotenberg of EPIC and I were for the motion; Mike McConnell and Jonathan Zittrain were against. We lost.

We lost fair and square, for a bunch of reasons — we didn’t present our case very well, Jonathan Zittrain is a way better debater than we were — but basically the vote came down to the definition of “cyberwar.” If you believed in an expansive definition of cyberwar, one that encompassed a lot more types of attacks than traditional war, then you voted against the motion. If you believed in a limited definition of cyberwar, one that is a subset of traditional war, then you voted for it.

This continues to be an important debate.

EDITED TO ADD (7/7): Last month the Senate Homeland Security Committee held hearings on “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset: Comprehensive Legislation for the 21st Century.” Unfortunately, the DHS is getting hammered at these hearings, and the NSA is consolidating its power.

EDITED TO ADD (7/7): North Korea was probably not responsible for last year’s cyberattacks. Good thing we didn’t retaliate.

Posted on July 7, 2010 at 12:58 PMView Comments

U.S./Russia Cyber Arms Control Talks

Now this is interesting:

The United States has begun talks with Russia and a United Nations arms control committee about strengthening Internet security and limiting military use of cyberspace.


The Russians have held that the increasing challenges posed by military activities to civilian computer networks can be best dealt with by an international treaty, similar to treaties that have limited the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The United States had resisted, arguing that it was impossible to draw a line between the commercial and military uses of software and hardware.


A State Department official, who was not authorized to speak about the talks and requested anonymity, disputed the Russian characterization of the American position. While the Russians have continued to focus on treaties that may restrict weapons development, the United States is hoping to use the talks to increase international cooperation in opposing Internet crime. Strengthening defenses against Internet criminals would also strengthen defenses against any military-directed cyberattacks, the United States maintains.


The American interest in reopening discussions shows that the Obama administration, even in absence of a designated Internet security chief, is breaking with the Bush administration, which declined to talk with Russia about issues related to military attacks using the Internet.

I’m not sure what can be achieved here, but talking is always good.

I just posted about cyberwar policy.

Posted on December 14, 2009 at 6:46 AMView Comments

David Dittrich on Criminal Malware

Good essay: “Malware to crimeware: How far have they gone, and how do we catch up?;login:, August 2009:

I have surveyed over a decade of advances in delivery of malware. Over this period, attackers have shifted to using complex, multi-phase attacks based on
subtle social engineering tactics, advanced cyptographic techniques to defeat takeover and analysis, and highly targeted attacks that are intended to fly below the radar of
current technical defenses. I will show how malicious technology combined with social manipulation is used against us and conclude that this understanding might even help us design our own combination of technical and social mechanisms to better protect us.

Posted on October 13, 2009 at 7:15 AMView Comments

Cybercrime Paper

Distributed Security: A New Model of Law Enforcement,” Susan W. Brenner and Leo L. Clarke.

Cybercrime, which is rapidly increasing in frequency and in severity, requires us to rethink how we should enforce our criminal laws. The current model of reactive, police-based enforcement, with its origins in real-world urbanization, does not and cannot protect society from criminals using computer technology. This article proposes a new model of distributed security that can supplement the traditional model and allow us to deal effectively with cybercrime. The new model employs criminal sanctions, primarily fines, to induce computer users and those who provide access to cyberspace to employ reasonable security measures as deterrents. We argue that criminal sanctions are preferable in this context to civil liability, and we suggest a system of administrative regulation backed by criminal sanctions that will provide the incentives necessary to create a workable deterrent to cybercrime.

It’s from 2005, but I’ve never seen it before.

Posted on July 20, 2009 at 6:43 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.