Considered the current status of the Syrian military, whose capabilities have been consumed by a couple of years of war against the rebels of the Free Syrian Army, a series of cyber attacks by the Syrian Electronic Army is the most serious answer the U.S. can expect from Damascus following an attack on Assad’s Chemical Warfare arsenal.
According to Wikipedia:
“The Syrian Electronic Army, also known as the Syrian Electronic Soldiers, is a collection of pro-government computer hackers aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Using denial of service attacks, defacement, and other methods, it mainly targets political opposition groups and western websites, including news organizations and human rights groups. The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) is the first public, virtual army in the Arab world to openly launch cyber attacks on its opponents, though the precise nature of its relationship with the Syrian government is debated.”
They usually conduct social engineering attacks against media with the aim to spread their propaganda messages using compromised Twitter accounts or defaced websites. They send spear phishing emails to their targets in order to get the user credentials needed to get into the accounts and post their messages.
Most of times, once compromised, the targeted media disclosed the (successful) attack describing the hack with specific blog posts, like done by The Onion and Outbrain.”
In the last hours SEA attacked NYTimes.com (the media outlet had its DNS redirected to a page displaying the “Hacked by SEA” message) whereas Twitter’s domain registrar was changed.
Since they are a loose-knit hacker group loyal to Assad, SEA are likely to react to the air strikes that are about to pound Syria. Even if their assault will be not-persistent, not-advanced it could still cause some pain. If not to Obama or the Pentagon, to one of the media outlets that will be reporting about the U.S. air campaign in Syria.
We’ve been taking about Militarisation of cyberspace for some time now. This interesting article by Hackmageddon.com provides a model to classify cyber weapons in accordance with four parameters: Precision, Intrusion, Visibility, and Easiness to Implement. Based on these parameters, cyber threats can be compared to smart bombs, handguns, traditional bombs and paintball pistols. Read below to discover why.
What is a Cyber Weapon? At first glance this seems an immediate question to answer, but should anyone try to analyze the meaning of this term more deeply, he would probably be quite surprised and disappointed in discovering that the answer is not so immediate since an exact definition has not been given (at least so far).
A real paradox in the same days in which The Pentagon, following the Japanese Example, has unveiled its new strategy aimed to dramatically accelerate the development of new Cyber Weapons. And do not think these are isolated, fashion-driven examples (other nations are approaching the same strategy), but rather consider them real needs in the post-Stuxnet age, an age in which more and more government are moving their armies to the fifth domain of war [you will probably remember the (in)famous episode, when F-Secure was able to discover Chinese Government launching online attacks against unidentified U.S. Targets].
Recently Stefano Mele, a friend and a colleague of the Italian Security Professional Group, tried to give an answer to this question in his paper (so far only in Italian but it will be soon translated in English) where he analyzes Cyber Weapons from a legal and strategical perspective.
As he points out “Correctly defining the concept of Cyber Weapon, thus giving a definition also in law, is an urgent and unavoidable task, for being able to assess both the level of threat deriving from a cyber attack, and the consequent political and legal responsibilities attributable to those who performed it”. Maybe this phrase encloses the reason why a coherent definition has not been given so far: a cyber weapon is not only a technological concept, but rather hides behind its complex juridical implications.
According to Stefano’s definition: a cyber weapon is:
A device or any set of computer instructions intended to unlawfully damage a system acting as a critical infrastructure, its information, the data or programs therein contained or thereto relevant, or even intended to facilitate the interruption, total or partial, or alteration of its operation.
One could probably argue whether a cyber weapon must necessarily generate physical damages or not, in which case, probably, Stuxnet, would be the one, so far, to encompass all the requirements. In any case, from my point of view, I believe the effects of a cyber weapon should be evaluated from its domain of relevance, the cyberspace, with the possibility to cross the virtual boundaries and extend to the real world (Stuxnet is a clear example of this, since it inflicted serious damages to Iranian Nuclear Plants, including large-scale accidents and loss of lifes).
With this idea in mind, I tried to build a model to classify the cyber weapons according to four parameters: Precision (that is the capability to target only the specific objective and reduce collateral damages), Intrusion (that is the level of penetration inside the target), Visibility (that is the capability to be undetected), and Easiness to Implement (a measure of the resource needed to develop the specific cyber weapon). The results, ranging from paintball pistols to smart bombs, are summarized in the below chart.
I have just published a timeline covering the main Cyber Attacks targeting Military Industry and Aviation, but it looks like the latest events will force me to post an update, soon.
Although perpetrated with very different timelines, origins and motivations behind them, the last three days have seen a new wave of attacks against military industry that has unexpectedly become the point of intersection between cybercrime and cyberwar.
The first clamorous attack was disclosed a couple of days ago, when the Sunday Times revealed that alleged Chinese Hackers were able to penetrate into computers belonging to BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence company, and to steal details about the design, performance and electronic systems of the West’s latest fighter jet, the costly F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The hacking attack has raised concerns that the fighter jet’s advanced radar capabilities could have been compromised and comes few weeks after papers about the future British-French drone were stolen in Paris.
Apparently, once again, an APT-based attack, or maybe one of its precursors, since it was first uncovered nearly three years ago. In any case, according to the sources and the little information available, it lasted continuously for 18 months, exploiting vulnerabilities in BAE’s computer defences to steal vast amounts of data. A fingerprint analogous to other similar cyber operations, allegedly generated from China such as Operation Aurora or the controversial operation Shady RAT.
Details of the attack have been a secret within Britain’s intelligence community until they were disclosed by a senior BAE executive during a private dinner in London for cyber security experts late last year.
Curiously the F-35 seems to be a very attracting prey for hackers as it was already the victim of a Cyber Attack in 2009; once again the latest attack is believed to be originated from China, who is showing a restless cyber activity.
Although completely different for impact and motivations, a second attack has just been announced by the infamous hacking collective Anonymous, which, in name of the #OpFreePalestine operation, has published the contact details for senior staff at BAE (hit once again), Lockheed, Gulfstream Aerospace, a division of General Dynamics, and the United States Division Of Israeli Owned Arms Company Elbit Systems. An attempt to embarrass military industry considered involved in the events happening in Palestine.
Although the data dumps apparently contain little valuable information (according to V3.co.uk many of the telephone numbers listed are for company headquarters, while several of the names appear to be out of date), the latest attacks represent a quantum leap in the Middle East Cyber War, after the “reign of terror” threatened by Anonymous against Israel.
The F-35 JSF is not only the most advanced stealthy fighter plane of the next future. It is also the most expensive. That’s why some partners have been compelled to downsize their initial requirements because of cuts imposed by the increasing unit price (with the new contract the total unit cost for an LRIP 5 jet is 205.3 million USD!!).
Apparently these cuts are interesting even the IT Security budgets of the manufacturers.
If you want to have an idea of how fragile our data are inside the cyberspace, have a look at the timelines of the main Cyber Attacks in 2011 and 2012 (regularly updated) at hackmageddon.com. And follow the author of this article @paulsparrows on Twitter for the latest updates.
2011 has been an annus horribilis for information security, and aviation has not been an exception to this rule: not only in 2011 the corporate networks of several aviation and aerospace industries have been targeted by digital storms (not a surprise in the so-called hackmageddon) but, above all, last year will be probably remembered for the unwelcome record of two alleged hacking events targeting drones (“alleged” because in the RQ-170 Sentinel downed in Iran episode, several doubts surround the theory according to which GPS hacking could have been the real cause of the crash landing).
But, if Information Security professionals are quite familiar with the idea that military contractors are primary and preferred targets of the current Cyberwar as the following infographic shows, realizing that malware can be used to target a drone is still considered an isolated episode, and even worse, the idea of a malware targeting the multirole Joint Strike Fighter is still something hard to accept.
However, things are about change dramatically. And quickly.
The reason is simple: the latest military and civil airplanes are literally full of electronics, which play a primary role in managing avionics, onboard systems, flight surfaces, communcation equipment and armament.
For instance an F-22 Raptor owns about 1.7 millions od line of codes , an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter about 5.7 millions and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner about 6.5 millions. Everything with some built in code may be exploited, therefore, with plenty of code and much current and future vulnerabilities, one may not rule out a priori that these systems will be targeted with specific tailored or generic malware for Cyberwar, Cybercrime, or even hacktivism purposes.
Unfortunately it looks like the latter hypothesis is closer to reality since too often these systems are managed by standard Windows operating systems, and as a matter of fact a generic malware has proven to be capable to infect the most important U.S. robots flying in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and Indian Ocean: Predator and Reaper Drones.
As a consequence, it should not be surprising, nor it is a coincidence, that McAfee, Sophos and Trend Micro, three leading players for Endpoint Security, consider the embedded systems as one of the main security concerns for 2012.
Making networks more secure (and personnel more educated) to prevent the leak of mission critical documents and costly project plans (as happened in at least a couple of circumstances) will not be aviation and aerospace industry’s information security challenge; the real challenge will be to embrace the security-by-design paradigm and make secure and malware-proof products ab initio.
While you wait to see if an endpoint security solution becomes available for an F-35, scroll down the image below and enjoy the list of aviation and aerospace related cyber attacks occurred since the very first hack targeting the F-35 Lightning II in 2009.
Of course aviation and aerospace industries are not the only targets for hackers and cybercriminals. So, if you want to have an idea of how fragile our data are inside the cyberspace, have a look at the timelines of the main Cyber Attacks in 2011 and 2012 (regularly updated) at hackmageddon.com. And follow @pausparrows on Twitter for the latest updates.
The same type of attack used recently to get around security measures at Lockheed Martin, and possibly other defense contractors as well, could also be used to hack international banking services, security experts say.
That’s because both the defense and banking industries rely heavily on RSA’s SecurID tokens, 40 million of which are in use around the world.
Small businesses and private users use SecurID tokens to access online banking services, while large corporations use them to authenticate employees who need to remotely or locally access internal networks and resources.
SecurID devices are small, tamper-resistant tokens that generate numeric codes every 30 or 60 seconds. The complex cryptographic algorithm combines three inputs: the token’s serial number, the internal seed (a secret key hard-coded in the token) and absolute computer time (which counts seconds from January 1, 1970 and never repeats).
The same computation is performed by the authentication server, which compares its code with the one provided by the user. If they correspond, the user is granted access.
The seemingly random sequences of numbers generated by SecurID tokens are technically called OTPs (One Time Passwords) — they can be used only once and expire even if never used.
An OTP can’t be modified, changed or altered, and a SecurID token can’t be fixed, opened or reprogrammed. If it’s compromised, a SecurID token must be replaced.
These tokens can also exist as software applications installed on a PC or a smartphone to perform the same function.
Theoretically, the physical possession of the token, PC or smartphone ensures the security of the authentication mechanism. The only circumstance under which an attacker could clone the token (and it would take some time) would be if seeds and token serial numbers had been stolen.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what seems to have happened.
“On March 17, 2011, RSA, the security division of EMC Corporation, one of the most important players in the IT security market, publicly announced that information that could be used to reduce the effectiveness of their SecurID authentication implementation was compromised,” explained Paolo Passeri, an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Security expert based in Rome, Italy.
Two months later, Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest suppliers of military hardware to the U.S. and other countries, announced it had suffered a network intrusion. Lockheed Martin disabled all remote access to its internal networks and said it would replace every one of its RSA SecurID tokens – and that RSA would pay the replacement costs.
“Since the information stolen from RSA, alone, could not be used to successfully clone the tokens, in order to perpetrate the attacks, the hackers must have used keylogger malware and phishing campaigns to get the missing pieces of the puzzle (usernames and PINs — personal identification numbers),” Passeri surmised.
In fact, RSA has not publicly disclosed what was taken from its servers in March (it will tell only existing clients who sign a non-disclosure agreement), and Lockheed Martin has not said if or how its attackers had usernames or passwords.
But the problems for defense contractors may have just begun.