A year ago, I blogged about a bank hack at the center of a French national scandal.
Wouldn’t we all like to know the technical details of both the data shredding and forensic technologies?
Page 65 of 71
A year ago, I blogged about a bank hack at the center of a French national scandal.
Wouldn’t we all like to know the technical details of both the data shredding and forensic technologies?
Does this seem real to anyone?
Somehow, the callers have gained control of the family cell phones, Price and Kuykendall say. Messages received by the sisters include snatches of conversation overheard on cell-phone mikes, replayed and transmitted via voice mail. Phone records show many of the messages coming from Courtney’s phone, even when she’s not using it even when it’s turned off.
Price and Kuykendall say the stalkers knew when they visited Fircrest police and sent a voice-mail message that included a portion of their conversation with a detective.
The harassment seems to center on Courtney, but it extends to her parents, her aunt Darcy and Courtney’s friends, including Taylor McKay, who lives across the street in Fircrest. Her mother, Andrea McKay, has received messages similar to those left at the Kuykendall household and cell phone bills approaching $1,000 for one month. She described one recent call: She was slicing limes in the kitchen. The stalkers left a message, saying they preferred lemons.
“Taylor and Courtney seem to be the hub of the harassment, and different people have branched off from there,” Andrea McKay said. “I don’t know how they’re doing it. They were able to get Taylor’s phone number through Courtney’s phone, and every contact was exposed.”
McKay, a teacher in the Peninsula School District, said she and Taylor recently explained the threats to the principal at Gig Harbor High School, which Taylor attends. A Gig Harbor police officer sat in on the conversation, she said.
While the four people talked, Taylor’s and Andrea’s phones, which were switched off, sat on a table. While mother and daughter spoke, Taylor’s phone switched on and sent a text message to her mother’s phone, Andrea said.
Here’s another report.
There’s something going on here, but I just don’t believe it’s entirely cell phone hacking. Something else is going on.
Someone claims to have hacked the Bloomsbury Publishing network, and has posted what he says is the ending to the last Harry Potter book.
I don’t believe it, actually. Sure, it’s possible—probably even easy. But the posting just doesn’t read right to me.
The attack strategy was the easiest one. The usual milw0rm downloaded exploit delivered by email/click-on-the-link/open-browser/click-on-this-animated-icon/back-connect to some employee of Bloomsbury Publishing, the company that’s behind the Harry crap.
And I would expect someone who really got their hands on a copy of the manuscript to post the choice bits of text, not just a plot summary. It’s easier, and it’s more proof.
Sorry; I don’t buy it.
EDITED TO ADD (7/25): I was right; none of his “predictions” were correct.
Over two years ago, George Ledin wrote an essay in Communications of the ACM, where he advocated teaching worms and viruses to computer science majors:
Computer science students should learn to recognize, analyze, disable, and remove malware. To do so, they must study currently circulating viruses and worms, and program their own. Programming is to computer science what field training is to police work and clinical experience is to surgery. Reading a book is not enough. Why does industry hire convicted hackers as security consultants? Because we have failed to educate our majors.
No one wrote a virus for a class project. No new malware got into the wild. No new breed of supervillian graduated.
Teaching this stuff is just plain smart.
I haven’t posted anything about the cyberwar between Russia and Estonia because, well, because I didn’t think there was anything new to say. We know that this kind of thing is possible. We don’t have any definitive proof that Russia was behind it. But it would be foolish to think that the various world’s militaries don’t have capabilities like this.
And anyway, I wrote about cyberwar back in January 2005.
But it seems that the essay never made it into the blog. So here it is again.
The first problem with any discussion about cyberwar is definitional. I’ve been reading about cyberwar for years now, and there seem to be as many definitions of the term as there are people who write about the topic. Some people try to limit cyberwar to military actions taken during wartime, while others are so inclusive that they include the script kiddies who deface websites for fun.
I think the restrictive definition is more useful, and would like to define four different terms as follows:
Cyberwar—Warfare in cyberspace. This includes warfare attacks against a nation’s military—forcing critical communications channels to fail, for example—and attacks against the civilian population.
Cyberterrorism—The use of cyberspace to commit terrorist acts. An example might be hacking into a computer system to cause a nuclear power plant to melt down, a dam to open, or two airplanes to collide. In a previous Crypto-Gram essay, I discussed how realistic the cyberterrorism threat is.
Cybercrime—Crime in cyberspace. This includes much of what we’ve already experienced: theft of intellectual property, extortion based on the threat of DDOS attacks, fraud based on identity theft, and so on.
Cybervandalism—The script kiddies who deface websites for fun are technically criminals, but I think of them more as vandals or hooligans. They’re like the kids who spray paint buses: in it more for the thrill than anything else.
At first glance, there’s nothing new about these terms except the “cyber” prefix. War, terrorism, crime, even vandalism are old concepts. That’s correct, the only thing new is the domain; it’s the same old stuff occurring in a new arena. But because the arena of cyberspace is different from other arenas, there are differences worth considering.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that the terms overlap: although the goals are different, many of the tactics used by armies, terrorists, and criminals are the same. Just as all three groups use guns and bombs, all three groups can use cyberattacks. And just as every shooting is not necessarily an act of war, every successful Internet attack, no matter how deadly, is not necessarily an act of cyberwar. A cyberattack that shuts down the power grid might be part of a cyberwar campaign, but it also might be an act of cyberterrorism, cybercrime, or even—if it’s done by some fourteen-year-old who doesn’t really understand what he’s doing—cybervandalism. Which it is will depend on the motivations of the attacker and the circumstances surrounding the attack…just as in the real world.
For it to be cyberwar, it must first be war. And in the 21st century, war will inevitably include cyberwar. For just as war moved into the air with the development of kites and balloons and then aircraft, and war moved into space with the development of satellites and ballistic missiles, war will move into cyberspace with the development of specialized weapons, tactics, and defenses.
The Waging of Cyberwar
There should be no doubt that the smarter and better-funded militaries of the world are planning for cyberwar, both attack and defense. It would be foolish for a military to ignore the threat of a cyberattack and not invest in defensive capabilities, or to disregard the strategic or tactical possibility of launching an offensive cyberattack against an enemy during wartime. And while history has taught us that many militaries are indeed foolish and ignore the march of progress, cyberwar has been discussed too much in military circles to be ignored.
This implies that at least some of our world’s militaries have Internet attack tools that they’re saving in case of wartime. They could be denial-of-service tools. They could be exploits that would allow military intelligence to penetrate military systems. They could be viruses and worms similar to what we’re seeing now, but perhaps country- or network-specific. They could be Trojans that eavesdrop on networks, disrupt network operations, or allow an attacker to penetrate still other networks.
Script kiddies are attackers who run exploit code written by others, but don’t really understand the intricacies of what they’re doing. Conversely, professional attackers spend an enormous amount of time developing exploits: finding vulnerabilities, writing code to exploit them, figuring out how to cover their tracks. The real professionals don’t release their code to the script kiddies; the stuff is much more valuable if it remains secret until it is needed. I believe that militaries have collections of vulnerabilities in common operating systems, generic applications, or even custom military software that their potential enemies are using, and code to exploit those vulnerabilities. I believe that these militaries are keeping these vulnerabilities secret, and that they are saving them in case of wartime or other hostilities. It would be irresponsible for them not to.
The most obvious cyberattack is the disabling of large parts of the Internet, at least for a while. Certainly some militaries have the capability to do this, but in the absence of global war I doubt that they would do so; the Internet is far too useful an asset and far too large a part of the world economy. More interesting is whether they would try to disable national pieces of it. If Country A went to war with Country B, would Country A want to disable Country B’s portion of the Internet, or remove connections between Country B’s Internet and the rest of the world? Depending on the country, a low-tech solution might be the easiest: disable whatever undersea cables they’re using as access. Could Country A’s military turn its own Internet into a domestic-only network if they wanted?
For a more surgical approach, we can also imagine cyberattacks designed to destroy particular organizations’ networks; e.g., as the denial-of-service attack against the Al Jazeera website during the recent Iraqi war, allegedly by pro-American hackers but possibly by the government. We can imagine a cyberattack against the computer networks at a nation’s military headquarters, or the computer networks that handle logistical information.
One important thing to remember is that destruction is the last thing a military wants to do with a communications network. A military only wants to shut an enemy’s network down if they aren’t getting useful information from it. The best thing to do is to infiltrate the enemy’s computers and networks, spy on them, and surreptitiously disrupt select pieces of their communications when appropriate. The next best thing is to passively eavesdrop. After that, the next best is to perform traffic analysis: analyze who is talking to whom and the characteristics of that communication. Only if a military can’t do any of that do they consider shutting the thing down. Or if, as sometimes but rarely happens, the benefits of completely denying the enemy the communications channel outweigh all of the advantages.
Properties of Cyberwar
Because attackers and defenders use the same network hardware and software, there is a fundamental tension between cyberattack and cyberdefense. The National Security Agency has referred to this as the “equities issue,” and it can be summarized as follows. When a military discovers a vulnerability in a common product, they can either alert the manufacturer and fix the vulnerability, or not tell anyone. It’s not an easy decision. Fixing the vulnerability gives both the good guys and the bad guys a more secure system. Keeping the vulnerability secret means that the good guys can exploit the vulnerability to attack the bad guys, but it also means that the good guys are vulnerable. As long as everyone uses the same microprocessors, operating systems, network protocols, applications software, etc., the equities issue will always be a consideration when planning cyberwar.
Cyberwar can take on aspects of espionage, and does not necessarily involve open warfare. (In military talk, cyberwar is not necessarily “hot.”) Since much of cyberwar will be about seizing control of a network and eavesdropping on it, there may not be any obvious damage from cyberwar operations. This means that the same tactics might be used in peacetime by national intelligence agencies. There’s considerable risk here. Just as U.S. U2 flights over the Soviet Union could have been viewed as an act of war, the deliberate penetration of a country’s computer networks might be as well.
Cyberattacks target infrastructure. In this way they are no different than conventional military attacks against other networks: power, transportation, communications, etc. All of these networks are used by both civilians and the military during wartime, and attacks against them inconvenience both groups of people. For example, when the Allies bombed German railroad bridges during World War II, that affected both civilian and military transport. And when the United States bombed Iraqi communications links in both the First and Second Iraqi Wars, that affected both civilian and military communications. Cyberattacks, even attacks targeted as precisely as today’s smart bombs, are likely to have collateral effects.
Cyberattacks can be used to wage information war. Information war is another topic that’s received considerable media attention of late, although it is not new. Dropping leaflets on enemy soldiers to persuade them to surrender is information war. Broadcasting radio programs to enemy troops is information war. As people get more and more of their information over cyberspace, cyberspace will increasingly become a theater for information war. It’s not hard to imagine cyberattacks designed to co-opt the enemy’s communications channels and use them as a vehicle for information war.
Because cyberwar targets information infrastructure, the waging of it can be more damaging to countries that have significant computer-network infrastructure. The idea is that a technologically poor country might decide that a cyberattack that affects the entire world would disproportionately affect its enemies, because rich nations rely on the Internet much more than poor ones. In some ways this is the dark side of the digital divide, and one of the reasons countries like the United States are so worried about cyberdefense.
Cyberwar is asymmetric, and can be a guerrilla attack. Unlike conventional military offensives involving divisions of men and supplies, cyberattacks are carried out by a few trained operatives. In this way, cyberattacks can be part of a guerrilla warfare campaign.
Cyberattacks also make effective surprise attacks. For years we’ve heard dire warnings of an “electronic Pearl Harbor.” These are largely hyperbole today. I discuss this more in that previous Crypto-Gram essay on cyberterrorism, but right now the infrastructure just isn’t sufficiently vulnerable in that way.
Cyberattacks do not necessarily have an obvious origin. Unlike other forms of warfare, misdirection is more likely a feature of a cyberattack. It’s possible to have damage being done, but not know where it’s coming from. This is a significant difference; there’s something terrifying about not knowing your opponent—or knowing it, and then being wrong. Imagine if, after Pearl Harbor, we did not know who attacked us?
Cyberwar is a moving target. In the previous paragraph, I said that today the risks of an electronic Pearl Harbor are unfounded. That’s true; but this, like all other aspects of cyberspace, is continually changing. Technological improvements affect everyone, including cyberattack mechanisms. And the Internet is becoming critical to more of our infrastructure, making cyberattacks more attractive. There will be a time in the future, perhaps not too far into the future, when a surprise cyberattack becomes a realistic threat.
And finally, cyberwar is a multifaceted concept. It’s part of a larger military campaign, and attacks are likely to have both real-world and cyber components. A military might target the enemy’s communications infrastructure through both physical attack—bombings of selected communications facilities and transmission cables—and virtual attack. An information warfare campaign might include dropping of leaflets, usurpation of a television channel, and mass sending of e-mail. And many cyberattacks still have easier non-cyber equivalents: A country wanting to isolate another country’s Internet might find a low-tech solution, involving the acquiescence of backbone companies like Cable & Wireless, easier than a targeted worm or virus. Cyberwar doesn’t replace war; it’s just another arena in which the larger war is fought.
People overplay the risks of cyberwar and cyberterrorism. It’s sexy, and it gets media attention. And at the same time, people underplay the risks of cybercrime. Today crime is big business on the Internet, and it’s getting bigger all the time. But luckily, the defenses are the same. The countermeasures aimed at preventing both cyberwar and cyberterrorist attacks will also defend against cybercrime and cybervandalism. So even if organizations secure their networks for the wrong reasons, they’ll do the right thing.
Here’s my previous essay on cyberterrorism.
This is a very interesting law journal paper:
The Myth of the Superuser: Fear, Risk, and Harm Online
Abstract: Fear of the powerful computer user, “the Superuser,” dominates debates about online conflict. This mythic figure is difficult to find, immune to technological constraints, and aware of legal loopholes. Policymakers, fearful of his power, too often overreact, passing overbroad, ambiguous laws intended to ensnare the Superuser, but which are used instead against inculpable, ordinary users. This response is unwarranted because the Superuser is often a marginal figure whose power has been greatly exaggerated.
The exaggerated attention to the Superuser reveals a pathological characteristic of the study of power, crime, and security online, which springs from a widely-held fear of the Internet. Building on the social science fear literature, this Article challenges the conventional wisdom and standard assumptions about the role of experts. Unlike dispassionate experts in other fields, computer experts are as susceptible as lay-people to exaggerate the power of the Superuser, in part because they have misapplied Larry Lessig’s ideas about code.
The experts in computer security and Internet law have failed to deliver us from fear, resulting in overbroad prohibitions, harms to civil liberties, wasted law enforcement resources, and misallocated economic investment. This Article urges policymakers and partisans to stop using tropes of fear; calls for better empirical work on the probability of online harm; and proposes an anti-Precautionary Principle, a presumption against new laws designed to stop the Superuser.
If I have one complaint, it’s that Ohm doesn’t take into account the effects of the smarter hackers to encapsulate their expertise in easy-to-run software programs, and distribute them to those without the skill. He does mention this at the end, in a section about script kiddies, but I think this is a fundamental difference between hacking skills and other potentially criminal skills.
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has confirmed plans to seek a change to the constitution to allow the state secret access to the computers of private individuals, in an interview published Thursday.
Supposedly Switzerland is also considering a similar law.
Really good article:
In a recent dissection of the connection between gaming and violence, the term “folk devil” was used to describe something that can be labeled dangerous in order to assign blame in a case where the causes are complex and unclear. The new paper suggests that hackers have become the folk devils of computer security, stating that “even though the campaign against hackers has successfully cast them as the primary culprits to blame for insecurity in cyberspace, it is not clear that constructing this target for blame has improved the security of personal digital records.”
Part of this argument is based on the contention that many of the criminal groups that engage in illicit access to records are culturally distinct from the hacker community and that the hacker community proper is composed of a number of subcultures, some of which may access personal data without distributing it.
But, even if a more liberal definition of hacker is allowed, they still account for far less than half of the data losses. The report states that “60 percent of the incidents involve missing or stolen hardware, insider abuse or theft, administrative error, or accidentally exposing data online.”
Those figures come from analyzing the data while eliminating a single event, the compromise of 1.6 billion records at Axciom. The Axciom data loss is informative, as it reveals how what could be categorized as a hack involves institutional negligence. The records stolen from the company were taken by an employee that had access to Axciom servers in order to upload data. That employee gained download access because Axciom set the same passwords for both types of access.
Interesting interview with Shawn Carpenter, the Sandia National Labs whistleblower who just won a $4.3 million lawsuit for wrongful termination.
What prompted you to conduct that independent investigation into the Sandia intrusion in the first place? As a network intrusion detection analyst, I regularly used similar “back-hacking” techniques in the past to recover stolen Sandia password files and retrieve evidence to assist in system and network compromise investigations.
We were able to better defend our networks as a direct result of the intelligence we gained. I authored in-depth analyses of these intrusions that were sent for reporting and educational purposes to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Computer Incident Advisory Capability (CIAC), investigators at the DOE Inspector General (IG), Sandia Counterintelligence, DOE Cyber Counterintelligence, Sandia IT management and my entire department. Even to a novice, it was obvious after reading the analyses how intelligence was gleaned on the adversaries.
For example, phrases substantially similar to this were used in my reports: “I used their credentials to access the systems in Brazil and China, identify their hacking tool caches, and [pulling] down all of their tools, e-mails and other information to aid in their identification.” Numerous exhibits of these activities were presented at trial for the jurors. In a meeting with them after the verdict was rendered, even the less cyber-savvy folks understood what the e-mails represented.
What were you hoping to achieve through this investigation? My objective started out with a purpose similar to the other investigations I engaged in while at Sandia. The difference in this instance was that the rabbit hole went much deeper than I imagined.
In late May of 2004, one of my investigations turned up a large cache of stolen sensitive documents hidden on a server in South Korea. In addition to U.S. military information, there were hundreds of pages of detailed schematics and project information marked “Lockheed Martin Proprietary Information Export Controlled” that were associated with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Ironically, Sandia Corp., the private company that manages Sandia National Laboratories, is a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. It was this discovery that prompted my meeting with [supervisors] and when I was told that “it was not my concern.” Later, I turned it over to the U.S. Army and the FBI and helped investigate how it was taken and where the path led.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.