Category Archives: Information Security

What is a Cyber Weapon?

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.

Read more…

 

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Drones used as Proxies to get around ISP blocking and law enforcement: Predator's to add server payload?

Nearly in contemporary with the breaking news that a judge in New Zealand’s High Court has declared that the order used to seize Kim Dotcom’s assets is “null and void”, writing another page inside the endless MegaUpload saga, The Pirate Bay, one of the world’s largest BitTorrent sites, made another clamorous announcement. Tired of countering the block attempts that forced, last month, to switch its top-level domain, possibly to avoid seizure by U.S. authorities, and in October 2011 to set up a new domain to get around ISP blocking in Belgium, the infamous BitTorrent site is considering the hypothesis to turn GPS-controlled aircraft drones into proxies, in order to avoid Law Enforcement controls (and censorship) and hence evade authorities who are looking to shut the site down.

The drones, controlled by GPS and equipped with cheap radio equipment and small computers (such as Raspberry Pi), would act as proxies redirecting users’ traffic to a “secret location”. An unprecedented form of (literally) “Cloud Computing”, or better to say “Computing in the Clouds”, capable to transfer, thanks to modern radio transmitters, more than 100Mbps at over 50 kilometers away, more than enough for a proxy system.

A Predator drone carries a few servers…as tin cans would trail a newly married couple’s car 

This is essentially what MrSpock, one of the site’s administrators, stated in a Sunday blog post (apparently unavailable at the moment). Curiously the drones are called “Low Orbit Server Stations”, a name not surprisingly much similar to the “Low Orbit Ion Cannon”, the DDoS weapon used by the Anonymous collective, capable of evoking very familiar hacktivism echoes.

Actually this is not the first time that hackers try to use air communication to circumvent Law Enforcement controls. At the beginning of the year, a group of hackers unveiled their project to take the internet beyond the reach of censors by putting their own communication satellites into orbit.

What raised some doubts (at first glance this announcement looks like an anticipated April Fools), is not the the use of a Low Orbit Server Stations, but the fact that moving into an airspace would be enough to prevent Law Enforcement Controls (and reactions).

Drones are subject to specific rules and restrictions and can only fly along reserved corridors to deconflict them from civilian and military air traffic. And they have to land every now and then, unless someone thinks these pirate robots can be air-to-air refueled.

As a commenter of The Hacker News correctly pointed out: “There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about who “owns” the airspace of a given country“: definitely a drone flying too high would be classified as a threat and forcibly removed by an air force, a drone tethered to ground would be subjected to local zoning laws, while a drone broadcasting from an “intermediate” height would probably violate a number of existing laws and forced to shut down.

At the end it is better to turn back to “Ground Computing” as opposed to “Cloud Drones”. As a matter of fact “it’s probably a lot easier to find a friendly government and host a normal server in that country“.

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.

After latest F-35 hack, Lockheed Martin, BAe Systems, Elbit under multiple cyber attacks….right now.

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.

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Anglo-French UAV papers go missing (along with wisdom). Do you still carry your mission critical data on paper?

In early February it was announced that France and the UK were working together on a joint drone project, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance surveillance drone with a possible secondary offensive capability.

According to an article appeared on Feb. 23 by the Telegraph newspaper, a high level executive from Dassault Aviation had his briefcase containing sensitive documents stolen from the Gare du Nord (Paris) railway station whilst en route toLondon for a high level meeting to discuss the drone.

It would appear that the thief (or thieves) used a typical deception stunt to pull off their rather brave crime: one man harassed a female colleague of the executive and whilst the executive had turned his back to deal with this, an accomplice struck and took the bag. This all took place at 5.00 PM LT whilst the platform was crowded with travellers waiting to take the Eurostar train to London via the Channel tunnel and the crime was captured on the stations CCTV cameras.

The article does speculate that the one in Paris could be a hit from a foreign intelligence agency but does come to the more mundane conclusion that this was a couple of well rehearsed opportunist thieves, not really understanding what was contained within the bag.

Dassault and the British Government brushed off the incident stating that the documents were not that secret, however, the episode does pose the question about security of possible secretive information in the days of video conferencing with document sharing, encrypted hard disks and USB tokens, and biometric authentication.

Although we don’t deal with multi-million dollar projects, we use Virtual Private Networks, SSH Tunnels, and strong authentication for data communication, signing, encrypting and decrypting texts, E-mails, files, directories, partitions etc.

Why was this executive carrying what one must assume is paper documents (as nothing is mentioned about a laptop/notebook computer) about a future military project?

Even if we assume the executive was carrying a contract or something similar that required signatures from both parties, wasn’t a private flight with an business jet much safer than public transportation?

The drone project itself was agreed upon during a meeting in early February between Nicolas Sarkosy and David Cameron and aims to develop a next generation unmanned air combat system with a prototype to be flown by 2020.

It is thought that British company BAE systems and Dassault Aviation are teaming up together to develop the new drone, to the annoyance of EADS who have their own UAV project in development called Talarion.

Details of the new UAV, that is believed to be based on the BAe Mantis drone demonstrator, are not really clear as the project is so new and quite clearly hasn’t got that far at present. However, someone somewhere could have, if not the technical specification of the robot, maybe the contractual details of the French/British project.

And elsewhere there’s someone working on an intelligence service or industrial competitor willing to pay to have a look.

Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti

BAe Mantis UAV demonstrator (image credit: BAe Systems)

Exclusive Infographic: all Cyber Attacks on Military Aviation and Aerospace Industry

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.

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