EDITED TO ADD (9/1): There is criticism in the comments about me calling NSO Group an Israeli company. I was just repeating the news articles, but further research indicates that it is Israeli-founded and Israeli-based, but 100% owned by an American private equity firm.
Entries Tagged "cyberweapons"
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Last week, Apple issued a critical security patch for the iPhone: iOS 9.3.5. The incredible story is that this patch is the result of investigative work by Citizen Lab, which uncovered a zero-day exploit being used by the UAE government against a human rights defender. The UAE spyware was provided by the Israeli cyberweapons arms manufacturer NSO Group.
This is a big deal. iOS vulnerabilities are expensive, and can sell for over $1M. That we can find one used in the wild and patch it, rendering it valueless, is a major win and puts a huge dent in the vulnerabilities market. The more we can do this, the less valuable these zero-days will be to both criminals and governments — and to criminal governments.
Good essay pointing out the absurdity of comparing cyberweapons with nuclear weapons.
On the surface, the analogy is compelling. Like nuclear weapons, the most powerful cyberweapons — malware capable of permanently damaging critical infrastructure and other key assets of society — are potentially catastrophically destructive, have short delivery times across vast distances, and are nearly impossible to defend against. Moreover, only the most technically competent of states appear capable of wielding cyberweapons to strategic effect right now, creating the temporary illusion of an exclusive cyber club. To some leaders who matured during the nuclear age, these tempting similarities and the pressing nature of the strategic cyberthreat provide firm justification to use nuclear deterrence strategies in cyberspace. Indeed, Cold War-style cyberdeterrence is one of the foundational cornerstones of the 2015 U.S. Department of Defense Cyber Strategy.
However, dive a little deeper and the analogy becomes decidedly less convincing. At the present time, strategic cyberweapons simply do not share the three main deterrent characteristics of nuclear weapons: the sheer destructiveness of a single weapon, the assuredness of that destruction, and a broad debate over the use of such weapons.
It’s National Threat Assessment Day. Published annually by the Director of National Intelligence, the “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” is the US intelligence community’s one time to publicly talk about the threats in general. The document is the results of weeks of work and input from lots of people. For Clapper, it’s his chance to shape the dialog, set up priorities, and prepare Congress for budget requests. The document is an unclassified summary of a much longer classified document. And the day also includes Clapper testifying before the Senate Armed Service Committee. (You’ll remember his now-famous lie to the committee in 2013.)
The document covers a wide variety of threats, from terrorism to organized crime, from energy politics to climate change. Although the document clearly says “The order of the topics presented in this statement does not necessarily indicate the relative importance or magnitude of the threat in the view of the Intelligence Community,” it does. And like 2015 and 2014, cyber threats are #1 — although this year it’s called “Cyber and Technology.”
The consequences of innovation and increased reliance on information technology in the next few years on both our society’s way of life in general and how we in the Intelligence Community specifically perform our mission will probably be far greater in scope and impact than ever. Devices, designed and fielded with minimal security requirements and testing, and an ever — increasing complexity of networks could lead to widespread vulnerabilities in civilian infrastructures and US Government systems. These developments will pose challenges to our cyber defenses and operational tradecraft but also create new opportunities for our own intelligence collectors.
The document then calls out a few specifics like the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence — no surprise, considering other recent statements from government officials. This is the “…and Technology” part of the category.
Future cyber operations will almost certainly include an increased emphasis on changing or manipulating data to compromise its integrity (i.e., accuracy and reliability) to affect decisionmaking, reduce trust in systems, or cause adverse physical effects. Broader adoption of IoT devices and AI – in settings such as public utilities and health care — will only exacerbate these potential effects. Russian cyber actors, who post disinformation on commercial websites, might seek to alter online media as a means to influence public discourse and create confusion. Chinese military doctrine outlines the use of cyber deception operations to conceal intentions, modify stored data, transmit false data, manipulate the flow of information, or influence public sentiments - all to induce errors and miscalculation in decisionmaking.
Russia is the number one threat, followed by China, Iran, North Korea, and non-state actors:
Russia is assuming a more assertive cyber posture based on its willingness to target critical infrastructure systems and conduct espionage operations even when detected and under increased public scrutiny. Russian cyber operations are likely to target US interests to support several strategic objectives: intelligence gathering to support Russian decisionmaking in the Ukraine and Syrian crises, influence operations to support military and political objectives, and continuing preparation of the cyber environment for future contingencies.
China continues to have success in cyber espionage against the US Government, our allies, and US companies. Beijing also selectively uses cyberattacks against targets it believes threaten Chinese domestic stability or regime legitimacy. We will monitor compliance with China’s September 2015 commitment to refrain from conducting or knowingly supporting cyber — enabled theft of intellectual property with the intent of providing competitive advantage to companies or commercial sectors. Private — sector security experts have identified limited ongoing cyber activity from China but have not verified state sponsorship or the use of exfiltrated data for commercial gain.
Also interesting are the comments on non-state actors, which discuss both propaganda campaigns from ISIL, criminal ransomware, and hacker tools.
Last July, a still-anonymous hacker broke into the network belonging to the cyberweapons arms manufacturer Hacking Team, and dumped an enormous amount of its proprietary documents online. Kaspersky Labs was able to reverse-engineer one of its zero-day exploits from that data.
Oracle’s CSO Mary Ann Davidson wrote a blog post ranting against security experts finding vulnerabilities in her company’s products. The blog post has been taken down by the company, but was saved for posterity by others. There’s been lots of commentary.
It’s easy to just mock Davidson’s stance, but it’s dangerous to our community. Yes, if researchers don’t find vulnerabilities in Oracle products, then the company won’t look bad and won’t have to patch things. But the real attackers — whether they be governments, criminals, or cyberweapons arms manufacturers who sell to government and criminals — will continue to find vulnerabilities in her products. And while they won’t make a press splash and embarrass her, they will exploit them.
Hacking Team asked its customers to shut down operations, but according to one of the leaked files, as part of Hacking Team’s “crisis procedure,” it could have killed their operations remotely. The company, in fact, has “a backdoor” into every customer’s software, giving it ability to suspend it or shut it down — something that even customers aren’t told about.
To make matters worse, every copy of Hacking Team’s Galileo software is watermarked, according to the source, which means Hacking Team, and now everyone with access to this data dump, can find out who operates it and who they’re targeting with it.
It’s one thing to have dissatisfied customers. It’s another to have dissatisfied customers with death squads. I don’t think the company is going to survive this.
Hacking Team is a pretty sleazy company, selling surveillance software to all sorts of authoritarian governments around the world. Reporters Without Borders calls it one of the enemies of the Internet. Citizen Lab has published many reports about their activities.
It’s a huge trove of data, including a spreadsheet listing every government client, when they first bought the surveillance software, and how much money they have paid the company to date. Not surprising, the company has been lying about who its customers are. Chris Soghoian has been going through the data and tweeting about it. More Twitter comments on the data here. Here are articles from Wired and The Guardian.
I expect we’ll be sifting through all the data for a while.
EDITED TO ADD: The Hacking Team CEO, David Vincenzetti, doesn’t like me:
In another [e-mail], the Hacking Team CEO on 15 May claimed renowned cryptographer Bruce Schneier was “exploiting the Big Brother is Watching You FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) phenomenon in order to sell his books, write quite self-promoting essays, give interviews, do consulting etc. and earn his hefty money.”
Meanwhile, Hacking Team has told all of its customers to shut down all uses of its software. They are in “full on emergency mode,” which is perfectly understandable.
EDITED TO ADD: Hacking Team had no exploits for an un-jail-broken iPhone. Seems like the platform of choice if you want to stay secure.
EDITED TO ADD (7/14): WikiLeaks has published a huge trove of e-mails.
The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto published a new report on the use of spyware from the Italian cyberweapons arms manufacturer Hacking Team by the Ethiopian intelligence service. We previously learned that the government used this software to target US-based Ethiopian journalists.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.