Tag Archives: cyber warfare

Cyber-paleontology: Sounds impressive; its results – more so.

Hi folks!

Let me kick off by paraphrasing a rather famous philosophical postulate: ‘Does a profession determine man’s social being, or does his social being determine his profession?’ Apparently this question (actually, the original) has been hotly debated for more than 150 years. And since the invention and spread of the Internet, this holy war only looks set to be extended for another 150, at least. Now, I personally don’t claim to support one side or the other; however, I do want to argue (based on personal experience) in favor of the dualism of a profession and being, since they mutually affect each other – in many ways and continually.

Toward the end of the 1980s, computer virology came about as a response to the growing proliferation of malicious programs. Fast-forward 30 years, and virology has evolved (rather, merged – in ecstasy – with adjacent fields) into the cybersecurity industry, which now often dictates the development of being IT: given inevitable competition, only the technology with the best protection survives.

In the 30 years since the end of the 1980s, we (AV companies) have been called quite a few different colorful and/or unsavory names. But the most accurate in recent years, IMHO, is the meme cyber-paleontologists.

Indeed, the industry has learned how to fight mass epidemics: either proactively (like we protected users from the largest epidemics of recent years – Wannacry and ExPetr), or reactively (using cloud-based threat-data analysis and prompt updates) – it doesn’t matter. But when it comes to targeted cyberattacks, there’s still a long way to go for the industry on the whole: only a few companies have sufficient technical maturity and resources to be able to cope with them, but if you add an unwavering commitment to expose any and all cyber-baddies no matter where they may come from or what their motives might be – you’re left with just one company: KL! (Which reminds me of something Napoleon Hill once said: ‘The ladder of success is never crowded at the top’.) Well it’s no wonder we’re in a lonely position (at the top of the ladder): maintaining that unwavering commitment to expose literally anyone is waaaaay more expensive than not maintaining it. And it’s waaaay more troublesome given the ongoing geopolitical upheavals of late, but our experience shows it’s the right thing to do – and users confirm this with their wallets.

A cyber-espionage operation is a very long, expensive, complex, hi-tech project. Of course, the authors of such operations get very upset and annoyed when they get caught, and many think that they try to get rid of ‘undesirable’ developers by using different methods via manipulation of the media. There are other, similar theories too:

But I digress…

Now, these cyber-espionage operations can remain under the radar for years. The authors take good care of their investments kit: they attack just a few specially selected targets (no mass attacks, which are more easily detected), they test it on all the popular cybersecurity products out there, they quickly change tactics if the need arises, and so on. It’s no stretch of the imagination to state that the many targeted attacks that have been detected are just the tip of the iceberg. And the only really effective means of uncovering such attacks is with cyber-paleontology; that is, long-term, meticulous collection of data for building the ‘big picture’; cooperation with experts from other companies; detection and analysis of anomalies; and subsequent development of protection technologies.

In the field of cyber-paleontology there are two main sub-fields: ad hoc investigations (after detecting something by chance and pursuing it), and systemic operational investigations (the process of planned analysis of the corporate IT landscape).

The obvious advantages of operational cyber-paleontology are highly valued by large organizations (be they state or commercial ones), which are always the primary target in targeted attacks. However, not all organizations have the opportunity or ability to undertake operational cyber-paleontology themselves: true specialists (for hire) in this niche line of work are few and far between – and they’re expensive too. We should know – we’ve plenty of them all around the world (with outstanding experience and world-renowned names). Thus, recently, given our strength in this field and the great need for it on the part of our corporate customers – true to the market principles of supply and demand – we decided to come up with a new service for the market – Kaspersky Managed Protection (KMP).

Read on…

Cyber-tales from the dark – and light – sides.

Hi folks!

Today I’ve got some fresh, surprising cybersecurity news items for you. The first few are worrying stories about threats stemming from a certain ubiquitous small device, which many folks simply can’t be without just for one minute – including in bed and in the bathroom. The last few are positive, encouraging stories – about women on the up in IT. Ok, let’s dive in with those worrying ones first…

Don’t join the Asacub victim club

These days, folks tend to entrust their (trusty?) smartphones with all sorts of stuff – banking, important work and personal documents, messaging (often with very personal details strictly for a few eyes only), and more. But, hey, you’ll know all this perfectly well already, and may be one of these folks to this or that extent yourself; and if you are – you really do need to read this one carefully…

At the end of August a sharp increase was detected in the proliferation of the Android Trojan Asacub, which exploits that peculiarly human weakness called curiosity. The Trojan sends a text message with words like: ‘Hey John: You should be ashamed of yourself! [link]’, or ‘John – you’ve been sent an MMS from Pete: [link]’. So John scratches his head, becomes as curious as a cat, wonders what’s in the photo, clicks on the link, and (willingly!) downloads an application… which then proceeds to stealthily access his full contact list and start sending out similar messages to all his peers.

But this crafty malware doesn’t stop there. It can also, for example, read incoming texts and send their contents to the hackers running the malware, or send messages with a given text to a given number. And the ability to intercept and send texts gives the authors of the Trojan the ability to, among other things, transfer to themselves funds from the bank card of the victim if the card is digitally connected to the phone number. And as if that weren’t bad enough – there’s a bonus for the victim: a huge bill from his mobile provider for sending all those messages to everybody.

So how can you protect yourself from such fearsome mobile malware? Here’s how:

  • Don’t click on suspicious links;
  • Carefully check which rights are being requested by the downloaded application (e.g., microphone, camera, location…);
  • And last and most: the simplest step – install reliable protection on your Android smartphone.

Android? Hmmm. I can hear all the sighs of relief just now: ‘Aaaaahhhh, thank goodness I’ve got an iPhone!’!

Hold your horses all you Apple lovers; here’s a couple of links for you too (don’t worry: you can click these – honest!):

Read on…

Here’s to aggressive detection of maliciousness!

In recent years there’s been all sorts written about us in the U.S. press, and the article last Thursday in the Wall Street Journal at first seemed to be just more of the same: the latest in a long line of conspiratorial smear-articles. Here’s why it seemed so: according to anonymous sources, a few years ago Russian government-backed hackers, allegedly, with the help of a hack into the product of Your Humble Servant, stole from the home computer of an NSA employee secret documentation. Btw: our formal response to this story is here.

However, if you strip the article of the content regarding alleged Kremlin-backed hackers, there emerges an outline to a very different – believable – possible scenario, one in which, as the article itself points out, we are ‘aggressive in [our] methods of fighting malware’.

Ok, let’s go over the article again…

In 2015 a certain NSA employee – a developer working on the U.S. cyber-espionage program – decided to work from home for a bit and so copied some secret documentation onto his (her?) home computer, probably via a USB stick. Now, on that home computer he’d – quite rightly and understandably – installed the best antivirus in the world, and – also quite rightly – had our cloud-based KSN activated. Thus the scene was set, and he continued his daily travails on state-backed malware in the comfort of his own home.

Let’s go over that just once more…

So, a spy-software developer was working at home on same spy-software, having all the instrumentation and documentation he needed for such a task, and protecting himself from the world’s computer maliciousness with our cloud-connected product.

Now, what could have happened next? This is what:

Malware could have been detected as suspicious by the AV and sent to the cloud for analysis. For this is the standard process for processing any newly-found malware – and by ‘standard’ I mean standard across the industry; all our competitors use a similar logic in this or that form. And experience shows it’s a very effective method for fighting cyberthreats (that’s why everyone uses it).

So what happens with the data that gets sent to the cloud? In ~99.99% of cases, analysis of the suspicious objects is done by our machine learning technologies, and if they’re malware, they’re added to our malware detection database (and also to our archive), and the rest goes in the bin. The other ~0.1% of data is sent for manual processing by our virus analysts, who analyze it and make their verdicts as to whether it’s malware or not.

Ok – I hope that part’s all clear.

Next: What about the possibility of hack into our products by Russian-government-backed hackers?

Theoretically such a hack is possible (program code is written by humans, and humans will make mistakes), but I put the probability of an actual hack at zero. Here’s one example as to why:

In the same year as what the WSJ describes occurred, we discovered on our own network an attack by an unknown seemingly state-sponsored actor – Duqu2. Consequently we conducted a painstakingly detailed audit of our source code, updates and other technologies, and found… – no signs whatsoever of any third-party breach of any of it. So as you can see, we take any reports about possible vulnerabilities in our products very seriously. And this new report about possible vulnerabilities is no exception, which is why we’ll be conducting another deep audit very soon.

The takeaway:

If the story about our product’s uncovering of government-grade malware on an NSA employee’s home computer is real, then that, ladies and gents, is something to be proud of. Proactively detecting previously unknown highly-sophisticated malware is a real achievement. And it’s the best proof there is of the excellence of our technologies, plus confirmation of our mission: to protect against any cyberthreat no matter where it may come from or its objective.

So, like I say… here’s to aggressive detection of malware. Cheers!

Keeping Cybersecurity Separate from Geopolitics.

Last week, Kaspersky Lab was in the spotlight again in another ‘sensational’ news stream.

I say ‘again’ as this isn’t the first time we’ve been faced with allegations, ungrounded speculation and all sorts of other made-up things since the change of the geopolitical situation a few years ago. With the U.S. and Russia at odds, somehow, my company, its innovative and proven products as well as our amazing employees are repeatedly being defamed, given that I started the company in Russia 20 years ago. While this wasn’t really a problem before, I get it– it’s definitely not popular to be Russian right now in some countries.

For some reason the assumption continues to resonate that since we’re Russian, we must also be tied to the Russian government. But really, as a global company, does anyone seriously think we could survive this long if we were a pawn of ANY government? Our whole business is based on one thing – besides expertise – and that’s trust. Would we really risk our whole business by undermining our trustworthiness?

Especially given that the best non-Kaspersky Lab security researchers (hackers) are constantly scouring our code/products to find and report vulnerabilities. In fact, we even have a public bug bounty program, where we pay researchers to examine our products and search for any issues or possible security concerns. If there was anything suspicious or nefarious to find, they would have publicly shouted it to the roof tops by now.

Read on: Five destructive repercussions of a technology sanctions game…

Cyber-Forecast: 2017.

Such is the way Homo Sapiens are: we’re constantly – even recklessly – looking to the future to try and work out what it might hold for us. Many say we should all live in the present – after all, the future never comes – but, well, that doesn’t work for everyone, and most of us do need to make at least some plans for our futures.

But there are different approaches to looking ahead.

There’s belief in fate, pure guessing, flipping a coin, and so on. There’s also not thinking about the future at all. But there’s a far superior, science-based approach too. This is doing the eastern spirituality thing a bit – not quite being in the present but carefully analyzing the present instead – to be able to predict the future as accurately as possible. And this is exactly what is done to predict the cyber-future; in particular – the security of the cyber-future. And that’s what we do – little by little every day, but also broadly and deeply and especially – and merrily – every year, when we bring together the world’s cybersecurity elite for a week-long pow-wow in a tropical seaside resort, which pow-wow we call the Security Analyst Summit (SAS):

Oops – wrong vid. Here u go…:

Dough! Nope. This one:

I don’t know quite how it’s done but every single year SAS just gets better. I mean, it’s always been GReAT, but the GReATness just keeps going up and up: more experts, better quality content, better and more original ideas, slicker, cooler, and more and more world scoops and exclusive material.

And it’s exclusive material that I’ll be writing about in this here post. Specifically, my Top-5 favorite presentations from SAS-2017. I’m not saying the others were no good or just so-so, it’s just I wasn’t physically able to see them all as they were running simultaneously in different halls. Also – everyone has their own taste; well here’s a guide to mine!…

Off we go!…

Read on: A Maze for a Penguin Under the Moonlight…

StoneDrill: We’ve Found New Powerful ‘Shamoon-ish’ Wiper Malware – and It’s Serious.

If you’re a regular reader of this here blog of mine, you’ll know about our GReAT (Global Research and Analysis Team) – 40+ top-notch cybersecurity experts dotted all around the globe specializing in protecting our customers from the most sophisticated cyberthreats out there. GReATers like to compare their work to paleontology: exploring the deep web for the ‘bones’ of ‘cyber monsters’. Some may consider this an old-fashioned approach: what’s so special about analyzing the ‘bones’ of ‘creatures’ from the distant past when it’s protecting your networks from monsters that are alive now that’s key? Well, here’s a fresh story that proves that sometimes you won’t find today’s living monsters without looking at old ones…

Some of you will be aware of so-called wipers – a type of malware which, once installed on an attacked PC, completely wipes all data from it – leaving the owner of the computer with a completely clean, hardly operating piece of hardware. The most famous (and infamous) wiper is Shamoon – malware which in 2012 made a lot of noise in the Middle East by destroying data on 30,000+ endpoints at the world’s largest oil company – Saudi Aramco, and also hitting another energy  giant – Rasgas. Just imagine: 30,000+ pieces of inoperable hardware in the world’s largest  oil company…

Shamoon, Shamoon 2.0, StoneDrill, Newsbeef. The wipers are spreading across the globe

Curiously, since it’s devastating campaign against the Saudi company in 2012, little has been heard of Shamoon, until it returned in 2016 as Shamoon 2.0, with several new waves of attacks – again in the Middle East.

Since the new waves of Shamoon attacks began, we’ve been tuning our sensors to search for as many versions of this malware as possible (because, let’s face it, we don’t want ANY of our customers to EVER be struck by malware like Shamoon). And we managed to find several versions – hurray! But together with our haul of Shamooners, our nets unexpectedly caught a completely new type of wiper malware, which we’ve named StoneDrill.

The code base of StoneDrill is different to that of Shamoon, and that’s why we think it’s a completely new malware family; it also utilizes some advanced detection avoidance techniques, which Shamoon doesn’t. So it’s a new player, for sure. And one of the most unusual – and worrying – things we’ve learned about this malware is that, unlike Shamoon, StoneDrill doesn’t limit the scope of its targets to Saudi Arabia or other neighboring countries. We’ve found only two targets of this malware so far, and one of them is based in Europe.

Why is this worrying? Because this finding indicates that certain malicious actors armed with devastating cyber-tools are testing the water in regions in which previously actors of this type were rarely interested.

Read on: more wipers!…

Uh-Oh Cyber-News: Infect a Friend, Rebooting Boeings, No-Authentication Holes, and More.

Hi folks!

Herewith, the next installment in my ‘Uh-oh Cyber-News’ column – the one in which I keep you up to date with all that’s scarily fragile and frailly scary in the digital world.

Since the last ‘Uh-oh’ a lot has piled up that really needs bringing to your attention. Yep, the flow of ‘Uh-ohs’ has indeed turned from mere mountain-stream trickle to full-on Niagara levels. And that flow just keeps on getting faster and faster…

As a veteran of cyber-defense, I can tell you that in times past cataclysms of a planetary scale were discussed for maybe half a year. While now the stream of messages is like salmon in spawning season: overload! So many they’re hardly worth mentioning as they’re already yesterday’s news before you can say ‘digital over-DDoSe’. “I heard how they hacked Mega-Corporation X the other day and stole everything; even the boss’s hamster was whisked away by a drone!”…

Anyway, since the stream of consciousness cyber-scandals is rapidly on the up and up, accordingly, the number of such scandals I’ll be writing about has also gone up. In the past there were three of four per blogpost. Today: seven!

Popcorn/coffee/beer at the ready? Off we go…

1) Infect a Friend and Get Your Own Files Unlocked for Free.

Read on: Effective Hacker Headhunting…

Uh-oh Cyber-News: Infected Nuclear Reactors, Cyber-Bank Robbers, and Cyber-Dam-Busters.

Just a quick read of the news these days and you can find yourself wanting to reach for… a Geiger counter. I mean, some of the news stories are just so alarming of late. Or am I overreacting? Let’s see…

Uh-oh News Item No. 1: Apocalypse Averted – for Now. 

inews-1Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It was reported that the IT system of Unit B of the Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant in Swabia, Bavaria, southwestern Germany – right on the 30-year anniversary to-the-day of the Chernobyl disaster (!) – had been infected by some malware. However, it was also reported that there’s no reason to worry at all as no danger’s being posed whatsoever. All’s ok; we can all sleep soundly; everything’s under control; the danger level couldn’t be lower.

After sighing a ‘pheewwwww’ and mopping one’s brow, you read further…

… And as you do, you get a few more details of the incident. And it does indeed seem all is ok: the background radiation level, after all, didn’t go up – that’s the main thing, surely. Right? But then you read further still…

And you find out that the (Internet-isolated) system that was infected happens to be the one that controls the movement of nuclear fuel rods. It’s here you stop, rub the eyes, and read that again slowly…

WHAAAAT?

Read on: Cyber-Spy-Novel-Worthy …

Get Your KICS en Route to Industrial Protection.

Hurray!

We’ve launched our KICS (Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity), the special cyber-inoculation against cyber-disease, which protect factories, power plants, hospitals, airports, hotels, warehouses, your favorite deli, and thousands of other types of enterprises that use industrial control systems (ICS). Or, put another way, since it’s rare for an enterprise today to manage without such systems, we’ve just launched a cyber-solution for millions of large, medium and small production and service businesses all around the world!

So what’s this KICS all about exactly? What’s it for? First, rewind…

Before the 2000s a cyberattack on an industrial installation was a mere source of inspiration for science fiction writers. But on August 14, 2003 in northeastern USA and southeastern Canada, the science fiction became a reality:

kaspersky-industrial-security-1Oops

Because of certain power grid glitches, 50 million North Americans went without electricity – some for several hours, others for several days. Many reasons were put forward as to the reasons behind this man-made catastrophe, including unkempt trees, a bolt of lightning, malicious squirrels, and… a side-effect from a cyberattack using the Slammer (Blaster) computer worm.

Read on: Hacked in 60 seconds…

The Big Picture.

Last spring (2015), we discovered Duqu 2.0 – a highly professional, very expensive, cyber-espionage operation. Probably state-sponsored. We identified it when we were testing the beta-version of the Kaspersky Anti Targeted Attack (KATA) platform – our solution that defends against sophisticated targeted attacks just like Duqu 2.0.

And now, a year later, I can proudly proclaim: hurray!! The product is now officially released and fully battle ready!

Kaspersky Anti-Targeted Attack Platform

But first, let me now go back in time a bit to tell you about why things have come to this – why we’re now stuck with state-backed cyber-spying and why we had to come up with some very specific protection against it.

(While for those who’d prefer to go straight to the beef in this here post – click here.)

‘The good old days’ – words so often uttered as if bad things just never happened in the past. The music was better, society was fairer, the streets were safer, the beer had a better head, and on and on and on. Sometimes, however, things really were better; one example being how relatively easy it was to fight cyber-pests in years past.

Of course, back then I didn’t think so. We were working 25 hours a day, eight days a week, all the time cursing the virus writers and their phenomenal reproduction rate. Each month (and sometimes more often) there were global worm epidemics and we were always thinking that things couldn’t get much worse. How wrong we were…

At the start of this century viruses were written mainly by students and cyber-hooligans. They’d neither the intention nor the ability to create anything really serious, so the epidemics they were responsible for were snuffed out within days – often using proactive methods. They simply didn’t have any motivation for coming up with anything more ominous; they were doing it just for kicks when they’d get bored of Doom and Duke Nukem :).

The mid-2000s saw big money hit the Internet, plus new technologies that connected everything from power plants to mp3 players. Professional cybercriminal groups also entered the stage seeking the big bucks the Internet could provide, while cyber-intelligence-services-cum-armies were attracted to it by the technological possibilities if offered. These groups had the motivation, means and know-how to create reeeaaaally complex malware and conduct reeeaaaally sophisticated attacks while remaining under the radar.

Around about this time… ‘antivirus died’: traditional methods of protection could no longer maintain sufficient levels of security. Then a cyber-arms race began – a modern take on the eternal model of power based on violence – either attacking using it or defending against its use. Cyberattacks became more selective/pinpointed in terms of targets chosen, more stealthy, and a lot more advanced.

In the meantime ‘basic’ AV (which by then was far from just AV) had evolved into complex, multi-component systems of multi-level protection, crammed full of all sorts of different protective technologies, while advanced corporate security systems had built up yet more formidable arsenals for controlling perimeters and detecting intrusions.

However, that approach, no matter how impressive on the face of it, had one small but critical drawback for large corporations: it did little to proactively detect the most professional targeted attacks – those that use unique malware using specific social engineering and zero-days. Malware that can stay unnoticed to security technologies.

I’m talking attacks carefully planned months if not years in advance by top experts backed by bottomless budgets and sometimes state financial support. Attacks like these can sometimes stay under the radar for many years; for example, the Equation operation we uncovered in 2014 had roots going back as far as 1996!

Banks, governments, critical infrastructure, manufacturing – tens of thousands of large organizations in various fields and with different forms of ownership (basically the basis of today’s world economy and order) – all of it turns out to be vulnerable to these super professional threats. And the demand for targets’ data, money and intellectual property is high and continually rising.

So what’s to be done? Just accept these modern day super threats as an inevitable part of modern life? Give up the fight against these targeted attacks?

No way.

Anything that can be attacked – no matter how sophisticatedly – can be protected to a great degree if you put serious time and effort and brains into that protection. There’ll never be 100% absolute protection, but there is such a thing as maximal protection, which makes attacks economically unfeasible to carry out: barriers so formidable that the aggressors decide to give up putting vast resources into getting through them, and instead go off and find some lesser protected victims. Of course there’ll be exceptions, especially when politically motivated attacks against certain victims are on the agenda; such attacks will be doggedly seen through to the end – a victorious end for the attacker; but that’s no reason to quit putting up a fight.

All righty. Historical context lesson over, now to that earlier mentioned sirloin…

…Just what the doctor ordered against advanced targeted attacks – our new Kaspersky Anti Targeted Attack platform (KATA).

So what exactly is this KATA, how does it work, and how much does it cost?

First, a bit on the anatomy of a targeted attack…

A targeted attack is always exclusive: tailor-made for a specific organization or individual.

The baddies behind a targeted attack start out by scrupulously gathering information on the targets right down to the most minor of details – for the success of an attack depends on the completeness of such a ‘dossier’ almost as much as the budget of the operation. All the targeted individuals are spied on and analyzed: their lifestyles, families, hobbies, and so on. How the corporate network is constructed is also studied carefully. And on the basis of all the information collected an attack strategy is selected.

Next, (i) the network is penetrated and remote (& undetected) access with maximum privileges is obtained. After that, (ii) the critical infrastructure nodes are compromised. And finally, (iii) ‘bombs away!’: the pilfering or destruction of data, the disruption of business processes, or whatever else might be the objective of the attack, plus the equally important covering one’s tracks so no one knows who’s responsible.

The motivation, the duration of the various prep-and-execution stages, the attack vectors, the penetration technologies, and the malware itself – all of it is very individual. But not matter how exclusive an attack gets, it will always have an Achilles’ heel. For an attack will always cause at least a few tiny noticeable happenings (network activity, certain behavior of files and other objects, etc.), anomalies being thrown up, and abnormal network activity. So seeing the bird’s-eye view big picture – in fact the whole picture formed from different sources around the network – makes it possible to detect a break-in.

To collect all the data about such anomalies and the creation of the big picture, KATA uses sensors – special ‘e-agents’ – which continuously analyze IP/web/email traffic plus events on workstations and servers.

For example, we intercept IP traffic (HTTP(s), FTP, DNS) using TAP/SPAN; the web sensor integrates with the proxy servers via ICAP; and the mail sensor is attached to the email servers via POP3(S). The agents are real lightweight (for Windows – around 15 megabytes), are compatible with other security software, and make hardly any impact at all on either network or endpoint resources.

All collected data (objects and metadata) are then transferred to the Analysis Center for processing using various methods (sandbox, AV scanning and adjustable YARA rules, checking file and URL reputations, vulnerability scanning, etc.) and archiving. It’s also possible to plug the system into our KSN cloud, or to keep things internal – with an internal copy of KpSN for better compliance.

Once the big picture is assembled, it’s time for the next stage! KATA reveals suspicious activity and can inform the admins and SIEM (Splunk, Qradar, ArcSight) about any unpleasantness detected. Even better – the longer the system works and the more data accumulates about the network, the more effective it is, since atypical behavior becomes easier to spot.

More details on how KATA works… here.

Ah yes; nearly forgot… how much does all this cost?

Well, there’s no simple answer to that one. The price of the service depends on dozens of factors, including the size and topology of the corporate network, how the solution is configured, and how many accompanying services are used. One thing is clear though: the cost pales into insignificance if compared with the potential damage it prevents.