China, as one of many alleged actors on the frontier of cyber espionage, is best understood by briefly examining the past century, how it influences contemporary cyber operations attributed to Chinese-based actors, and how they could be used against the Canadian Armed Forces in a potential Southeast Asian conflict.
Out of nowhere, here’s an article I wrote for the Canadian Military Journal. China, as one of many alleged actors on the frontier of cyber espionage, is best understood by briefly examining the past century, how it influences contemporary cyber operations attributed to Chinese-based actors, and how they could be used against the Canadian Armed Forces in a potential Southeast Asian conflict.
As the transition period leading to the new presidency is almost coming to an end, everyone will probably have multiple requests to the president, and of those is to increase cyber defence. In this optic, a new report created by the “CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency” has release its recommendations on how to secure cyberspace. They consist of:
Create a Comprehensive National Security Strategy for Cyberspace
Organizing for Cybersecurity
Rebuilding Partnership with the Private Sector
Regulate for Cybersecurity
Identity Management for Cybersecurity
Build for the Future
This report comes 5 years after the “National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace” document released in 2003 by the National Advisory board which goal was to “engage and empower Americans to secure the portions of cyberspace that they own, operate, control, or with which they interact“. The CSIS’ document doesn’t mention the previous efforts by the National Advisory Board but declares the previous efforts of the Bush administration as “good but not sufficient“.
As usual, it remains difficult to see how much of this report is based on real facts or just a way to secure funds from the new president by linking potential damage to the cyberspace infrastructure to the economy . It states that “America’s failure to protect cyberspace is one of the most urgent national security problems facing the new administration that will take office in January 2009“. It uses the cyber attack that occurred on various American networks in 2007 as an example.
While they may be some part of fear mongering in this report, we should not completely put aside threats mentioned in this report. As cyber warfare is mostly a war happening without much fanfare and therefore happens in the shadows, it is hard to really determine what’s going on. Since there is no open war between modern countries, we won’t see any cyber warfare for the time being. For the moment, cyberspace will be used for spying mostly and this is what this document mostly addresses.
“The unclassified e-mail of the secretary of defense was hacked … A senior official at the Department of State told us the department had lost “terabytes” of information,” declares the report, also: “Senior representatives from the intelligence community told us that they had conclusive evidence, covertly obtained from foreign sources, that U.S. companies have lost billions in intellectual properties.“
Unfortunately, “senior representatives“, “conclusive evidence” and “foreign sources” are so vague that it’s impossible to validate the scope of the problem…or even believe it. Another document though, mentioned in the present reading give some examples of the uses of terrorists for cyberspace. It mentions among others the “Muslim Hackers Club” website and the information posted to it, and the use of stolen credit cards and bank account information to finance the Bali attack in 2002.
The authors are putting a lot of emphasis on treating cybersecurity as a priority on the same levels as WMD and any other subject that requires national attention therefore requiring that the federal government take charge of the national cybersecurity instead of IT departments. It proposes that:
1) Standards for computer security be enforce for to the industry such as manufacturing plants and power plants.
2) Cyberspace security be overlook by a cybersecurity chief and that security agencies such as the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) and the Joint Inter-Agency Cyber Task Force (JIACTF) be merged into one.
A central office in charge of enforcing computer security standards will have to be formed later or sooner. Fortunately this will be sooner. Information Technology departments should not only have a national reference on the standards to achieve, but also have the opportunity to know how to implements those standards by having government-accredited security companies implementing those standards to networks of various industries. I also believe this new agency should periodically test the security of those networks, as I presume, should already be done. The reports propose that instead of a new agency, the Whitehouse be in charge of the national cybersecurity with an assistant to the president.
The difficulty in this resides in the fact that only one weak link is sufficient to be able to attack the entire system. Therefore, it is necessary to screen the entire critical infrastructure in order to be efficiently secured. And since this implies that systems are often connected internationally for large industries, it means an international consensus.
One thing is for sure, is that all the existing computer-security related need to be consolidated in order to focus on a common goal, and that is the protection of cyberspace. As the report states, it also need to be working hand-to-hand with the private sector in order to have a quick reaction to emergencies. Unfortunately this is only another report amongst other. Maybe a more tech-savvy president such as Barack Obama will catch on quicker to this threat. Until then, the battle still rages on in the shadows of the Internet…
Not entirely cyber warfare related but still a very interesting read, but according to the Global Trends 2025 report by the National Intelligence Council, irregular warfare, which cyber warfare is part of, will play a determinant part into the future of the United States:
“… expanded adoption of irregular warfare tactics by both state and nonstate actors, proliferation of long-range precision weapons, and growing use of cyber warfare attacks increasingly will constrict US freedom of action.“
Unfortunately this is the only mention of cyber warfare in the report, which fails to go into further details. This shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone though. We all know how reliant on technology everything is nowadays and the interconnection between every part of the modern society. Not only does the United States recognized that cyber warfare will be an important part of the upcoming conflicts, but also does China and Russia, which are stated to become heavyweights on the world stage:
“Few countries are poised to have more impact on the world over the next 15-20 years than China. If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy and will be a leading military power.“
Right now, even with her very large armed forces of 2 million active personnel, China is trying to modernize its military to be more mobile and efficient. In order to accomplish that modernization, it has explored many new avenues that western societies are still trying to grasp. In 1999, two Chinese Air Forces colonels discussed new ways to conduct war in a guide titled “Unrestricted Warfare”, where they describe the use of computers as new weapons for future warfare:
“With technological developments being in the process of striving to increase the types of weapons, a breakthrough in our thinking can open up the domain of the weapons kingdom at one stroke. As we see it, a single man-made stock-market crash, a single computer virus invasion, or a single rumor or scandal that results in a fluctuation in the enemy country’s exchange rates or exposes the leaders of an enemy country on the Internet, all can be included in the ranks of new-concept weapons.“
Experts seem to agree that this kind of “new weapon” could do far more damage than one can imagine:
“If someone is able to attack information that is needed by decision makers, or that is crucial to organizing logistics and supply lines of an army on the ground, that means they can induce chaos in a nation“ said Sami Saydjari, who worked as a Pentagon cyber expert for 13 years and now runs a private company, Cyber Defence Agency.
We don’t know how much of the concepts explained in this book as been accepted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but events from the last decade can gave us clues as how much China has developed cyber warfare capacities based on the text of the two colonels. .Concretes realizations of these ideas may have happened as soon as four years after the publication of the guide during Operation Titan Rain in 2003.With a computer network of more than 3.5 million computers spread across 65 countries, the Pentagon faces many challenges against a strong and sophisticated attack and Operation Titan Rain proved this. According to an article on ZDNet, 20 hackers, based or using proxies based in China, successfully attacked American networks in a coordinated attack:
At 10:23 p.m. PST, the Titan Rain hackers exploited vulnerabilities at the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
At 1:19 a.m., they exploited the same hole in computers at the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Va.
At 3:25 a.m., they hit the Naval Ocean Systems Center, a Defense Department installation in San Diego, Calif.
At 4:46 a.m., they struck the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense installation in Huntsville, Ala.
The results from this operation were the theft of several classified information:
“From the Redstone Arsenal, home to the Army Aviation and Missile Command, the attackers grabbed specs for the aviation mission-planning system for Army helicopters, as well as Falconview 3.2, the flight-planning software used by the Army and Air Force,” according to Alan Paller, the director of the SANS Institute.
Many other attacks have been suspected to originate from China afterwards. Attacks against most of the G7 countries such as France, UK and Germany, New Zealand and India have been reported by many medias.
Although evidence gathered shows that China is aggressively pursuing irregular warfare, Russia is also gaining a strong cyber warfare reputation on the world scene. Its attack against Estonia has won world coverage and succeeding attacks on Georgia gave the country experience in that domain. It is again unclear though if attacks from Russia are actually coming from government agencies or from criminal behaviour.
The first incident concerning Russia goes back to 1999, before the Chinese cyber attacks. American networks went under siege in what is now called Operation Moonlight Maze. Back then, FBI officials were investigating a breach into the DOD satellite control systems. Again, while the first accusations for the source of this attack were Russian authorities, it was soon shown that they were not implied in this attack. The only certitude about this operation was that the attack went through a Russian proxy.
Nevertheless, Russia cyber warfare was displayed on Estonia in 2007. Once against, it was unclear if the government was involved or if Russian patriotism over the removal of the war memorial caused Russian script kiddies and botnets to answer with a massive DDoS attack. Moscow always denied any involvement in that case. It is also well known that major botnets that are lurking on the net are often controlled by Russian cyber-criminal gangs such as the Russian Business Network. It’s quite possible that those cyber-gangs ordered their botnets to retaliate against Estonia, especially since the attack consisted mostly of a denial-of-service attack, and wasn’t not as sophisticated as a coordinated hacking attack on networks. Another plausible option would be that Russia’s cyber army is a mercenary force.
A repetition of the Estonia cyber attack then took place against Georgia during the Russia-Georgian conflict. The same kind of attack occurred and took down various governmental and commercial websites: HTTP floods were send to www.parliament.ge and president.gov.ge. Some other sites were hi-jacked and displayed fake information. The Georgian government had to put up a temporary website on Blogspot. This time, the Russian Business Network was openly suspected by many analysts to be behind the attacks.
McAfee claims that 120 countries around the world are now developing cyber warfare strategies. It is inevitable that countries without cyber warfare capacities will be at great disadvantage in any arising conflict, as disruption of communications will be the first objective of any belligerent. It’s crucial that a strong offensive and defensive cyber war force be developed in order to not only defend against cyber threats, but also wage war in cyberspace.
Wired reports that the U.S Army network is under assault by a variant of the SillyFDC worm called Agent-BTZ . In order to restrain the infection, the U.S. Strategic Command has ban the use of every portable media on its network, this include USB keys, CDs, flash cards, floppies etc… Both the SIPRNet and NIPRNet are affected by this directive.
The SillyFDC worm infects systems through replication, i.e. by copying itself to various locations such as these folders:
It will also try to copy itself to any drive connected to the machine by scanning drives A:\ to Z:\, which is why the U.S Army is banning the use of portable media for the time being. According to F-Secure who first discovered the worm, the variant in question will also create these files:
It will then install itself into the registry to make sure the worm starts every time the computer is booted. It will also attempt to download a JPG file from http://worldnews.ath.cx/update/img0008/[REMOVED].jpg and create an AUTORUN.INF file on each drive on the computer, which contains the following:
[RANDOM] is a randomly generated filename for the malicious DLL. Each time a new partition or a new drive is plugged in, Agent.BTZ will infect it immediately.
The SillyFDC worm doesn’t have any payload, as it only replicates itself through systems it finds using physical medias only. But its variant, the Agent.BTZ is a known Trojan dropper. A dropper is the kind of Trojan that will look to download and execute other malware. It’s surprising that it found its way into the U.S Army network. So that might be a tip for any worm/Trojan writer: add physical media replication to your malware like in the good ol’ days before e-mail, as it seems sending it by e-mail or click jacking is pretty well filtered in military networks, but peripherals such as USB keys are still often used by personnel. And this will surely open the eyes of the network admins of the U.S Army: scan anything plugged into the network.
Also, Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos advises:
“… that users disable the autorun facility of Windows so removable devices such as USB keys and CD ROMs do not automatically launch when they are attached to a PC”
With whom I agree.
Since so many people asked me about this worm, I looked deeply into Internet and found this code, which seems to be part of the script of the Silly FDC worm (that’s the best I could do for now). This script basically copy files from one directory to another, renames the core of the worm and put it into another directory and add registry keys. I cannot confirm this as I found this on an Indonesian blog, so if anyone can look into this, please let me know. Thank you. Blog : http://morphians.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/
According to a misleading and pretty much unrelated article, FOX News reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) network has been infected by spyware. The IMF denies any security breach or critical intrusion problems.
The article goes on discussing various topics such as the financial crisis, cyber security of the new president-elect and event describe spyware as “software that is secretly installed on a computer to intercept information or take control of the system” which is partially wrong, as spyware don’t necessarily implies control of the computer, and as far as I know, spyware can come bundled with software and doesn’t mean it’s secretly installed. It does, however intercept information, but that could be information about surfing habits. No information is given about the data collected or the type of spyware detected, but always according to FOX, “cyber-hackers” would be the cause…
The report goes on writing about Chinese attempts to develop cyber warfare capacities, which is not related, and do not give any concrete information about the alleged “security breach” at the IMF. FOX News cites a spokesman, Bill Murray, saying precautions had been implemented but didn’t report anything about an “intrusion”:
“There was no lockdown as far as I’m aware” says Murray. “I’m not aware of any major breaches, but enhanced security measures have been taken.”
Therefore, be suspicious about this story, as it seem widely over exaggerated by FOX News . I’m not quite sure the author really knows what he’s talking about…
A survey of 200 leaders from the critical infrastructure industries revealed that the energy sector is the most likely to be victim of a cyber attack. The survey was completed by IDC was conducted in August and October in Canada, the U.S and Europe.
The reasons to explain this phenomenon are the cost, apathy and government bureaucracy according to the survey. Also, industries are adding more and more possible access points to the internal network by connecting new sensors, meters and other equipment to their networks.
Of course, energy industries networks are valuable targets, and would probably be the first victims in a case of a full-scale cyber attack. And as the events of 2003 shown, only a few power plants need to go down in order to create chaos on a wide region.
If costs are the main factor to wait before securing networks, security is not likely to be in the priorities of managers during the economic crisis that’s coming on the horizon. Unfortunately, those who take the risk of not hardening their security now may pay the price later…And according to Rick Nicholson, research vice president for IDC’s Energy Insights:
“Most utility CIOs [chief information officers] believe that their companies will be compliant with relevant standards, but still have a long way to go before being adequately prepared for all cyber attacks.”
Victor Faur, a Romanian accused of hacking the U.S Navy, NASA and Department of Energy systems between 2005 and 2006 have been accused of illegally breaking into unauthorized computer systems.
At the end of a 10 months trial, the 28 years old computer programmer received a 16-month suspended prison sentence and will have to pay 230 000$ to the 3 organizations. Victor Faur will have to pay to NASA 214,200 dollars, to the US Department of Energy 15,032 dollars and to the US Navy some 8,856 dollars.
Faur told the audience that he hacked into the system to expose the flaw, as he was part of a group called the “White Hat” team.
It is still unknown if Faur will face the same fate as British hacker Gary McKinnon, who fights extraditions to the U.S. At the beginning of the trial, Thom Mrozek, the U.S attorney’s spokesman, said that the hacker would face a trial in Los Angeles after the Romanian trial. If convicted in a US court, he could end up in jail for 54 years.
An unnamed senior US official has declared to the Financial Times that the Whitehouse computer network was victim to numerous cyber attacks from China. According to the same official, the attackers had access to e-mails for short periods of time.
The unclassified network of the Whitehouse was breach numerous times by the attackers, which may have stole information. The sensibility of the information accessed is not specified, but since it was on the unclassified network, no data of value should have been viewed by the hackers. The attacks were detected by the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, an agency created in 2007 and under the FBI.
No one from the American and Chinese sides commented on this event. This declaration comes amid many cyber attacks performed in previous years also and every time, blamed on the Chinese or Russians. In 2007, the Pentagon claimed to have been hacked by the cyber division of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It has been known for a while not that China has developed advanced cyber warfare capabilities and has gain a lot of experience.
The Register reports that malware creators are already using Mr. Obama’s popularity to distribute the Papras Trojan using spam, social engineering and Google Ads.
Users usually receive an email from what seems a legitimate news sources such as CNN and BBC, inviting users to see the speech of Barack Obama on their website. The content of the email is the following:
Barack Obama Elected 44th President of United States
Barack Obama, unknown to most Americans just four years ago, will become the 44th president and the first African-American president of the United States.
Watch His amazing speech at November 5!
Proceed to the election results news page>>
2008 American Government Official Website
This site delivers information about current U.S. Foreign policy and about American life and culture.
Newsweek reports that the computer systems of M. Obama and M. McCain were both hacked by unknown attackers during their campaigns. Very little information is available, but according to Newsweek, the FBI and the Secret Services claimed that several files from the Obama servers had been compromised by a “foreign entity” in midsummer. The same happened to the McCain campaign.
According to the FBI, documents were stole by foreign powers (probably Russia or China) in order to gather information for future negotiations.
But the former director of technology for the 2004 presidential campaign of Rep. Dennis Kucinich expressed skepticism about the claims. Henry Poole from CivicActions, a firm that offers Internet campaign consulting services, said “It’s unlikely that either campaign would have stored sensitive data on the same servers that were being used for public campaigning purposes“.
It is unclear if anyone got compromised at all. If so, why would the FBI and Secret Services report such events? Hopefully there is more to come on this…