Tag Archives: Cybersec

Focus on Kaspersky hides facts of another NSA contractor theft

The Wall Street Journal based their story on the fact that another NSA contractor took classified documents home with him. Yet another Russian intelligence operation stole copies of those documents. The twist this time is that the Russians identified the documents because the contractor had Kaspersky Labs anti-virus installed on his home computer.

This is either an example of the Russians subverting a perfectly reasonable security feature in Kaspersky’s products, or Kaspersky adding a plausible feature at the request of Russian intelligence. In the latter case, it’s a nicely deniable Russian information operation. In either case, it’s an impressive Russian information operation.

This is a huge deal, both for the NSA and Kaspersky. The Wall Street Journal article contains no evidence, only unnamed sources. But I am having trouble seeing how the already embattled Kaspersky Labs survives this.

What’s getting a lot less press is yet another NSA contractor stealing top-secret cyberattack software. What is it with the NSA’s inability to keep anything secret anymore?

And it seems that Israeli intelligence penetrated the Kaspersky network and noticed the operation.

Full story on CRYPTO-GRAM October 15, 2017 by Bruce Schneier CTO, IBM Resilient schneier@schneier.com https://www.schneier.com

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Hacking EirGrid: NCSC MiA, GCHQ Inertia, US Data Centres, & Creating Backdoors to UK/EU Grid

This post was first published by me on Peerlyst on 7th August 2017.

This hack took place last April (2017) but the details are only emerging now. Hackers compromised EirGrid’s routers at Vodafone’s Direct Internet Access (DIA) service at Shotton, Wales. The MITM “virtual wire tap” then intercepted unencrypted messages between EirGrid and SONI (EirGrid NI). Firmware and files were copied from the compromised router devices but there is no estimate as to the scale of the breach or the magnitude of the data that was stolen.

The Role of NCSC & GCHQ

An informed source has confirmed to AirGap Anonymity Collective that this hack was going on for some time before it was “detected” and before EirGrid were informed – that was already reported.

However, the same source is also of the opinion that the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre – part of GCHQ – instructed Vodafone not to tell EirGrid of the breach – while they tried to ascertain who the perpetrators were (understandable) but that this was for an unreasonably extended period of time.

The source is not clear on what portion of the estimated nine weeks of the hack overlapped with GCHQ’s attempts to identify the hackers.

Where was Ireland’s National Cyber Security Centre while all of this was going on?

The Irish National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) & Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT)

Formally established in 2015. Together with the (CSIRT), they have responsibility for Ireland’s national cyber security defences. They say:

“The global cybersecurity threat landscape continues to pose an immense challenge. As part of wider efforts to address these security threats, the Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems (NIS Directive) was approved in July 2016. Member States have until May 2018 to implement the NIS Directive, with both the NCSC and CSIRT playing a critical role in this regard.”

Seán Kyne – Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources & Digital Development – discussed the NCSC’s objectives, and offered his thoughts on the nature of the digital security threat to the public and private sector alike in a press conference last month.

INCSC

EirGrid & UK Energy Policy

The UK has become increasingly reliant on off-shore wind farms and it’s power needs are augmented by the purchase of power generated in the Irish Midlands. Irish supplied power is key to the UK meeting its projected 2020 energy needs. The Irish supply is seeking to generate circa 3GW for the UK market.

The Irish national grid is managed by a company called EirGrid. They took over the Irish national grid in 2006 from ESB (the Electricity Supply Board). They own all of the physical electricity transmission assets in the country (about 7000kms of cable (fact check)).

As such, they run a monopoly and nearly all of the large independent generators (Airtricity, Synergen (70% EirGrid) Viridian and others) connect to the transmission system and utilise it to transport their power to all regions and abroad. They also operate the wholesale power market and operate (and own) the 500 MW East–West Interconnector, linking the Irish power system to Great Britain’s grid.

Last month the operator was awarded over €20 million by the EU to fund research into the deployment of renewable energy. Ireland’s own target, set out by the European Union, is to secure 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

“We won’t have enough renewable energy left over to export to the UK without completing some specific projects, such as the proposed Midlands development,” according to Fintan Slye (EirGrid CEO). “There are sufficient renewable projects in train to meet the 2020 targets, but it’ll still be challenging. There are 2,000MW connected across the island – we need to get that to over 4,000MW by 2020.”

The EU is also funding a France-Ireland power link (that bypasses the UK) via an undersea cable as an “obvious solution” to Ireland’s energy reliance on a post-Brexit United Kingdom.

Motives – All Those Data Centres in Ireland & A BackDoor to the EU/UK Grids 

IE DCs

Extract from EirGrid Group All-Island Generation Capacity Statement 2016-2025:

“2.2(d) Data Centres in IrelandA key driver for electricity demand in Ireland for the next number of years is the connection of large data centres.Whether connecting directly to the transmission system or to the distribution network, there is presently about 250 MVA of installed data centres in Ireland. Furthermore, there are connection offers in place (or in the connection process) for approximately a further 600 MVA. At present, there are enquires for another 1,100 MVA. This possibility of an additional 1700 MVA of demand is significant in the context of a system with a peak demand in 2014/15 of about 4700 MW (where it would add 35%). In forecasting future demand, we need to appreciate that data centres normally have a flat demand profile.”

Culprits

Lots but the most likely candidate for this hack is Russia – why? Because I cast lots, sacrificed a chicken, and got my Tarot cards read. And also …

Irish energy networks being targeted by hackers – Hackers have targeted Irish energy networks amid warnings over the potential impact of intensifying cyber attacks on crucial infrastructure. Senior engineers at the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), which supplies both Northern Ireland and the Republic, were sent personalised emails containing malicious software by a group linked to Russia’s GRU intelligence agency, reported.
Inside the Cunning, Unprecedented Hack of Ukraine’s Power Grid – It was 3:30 p.m. last December 23, and residents of the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine were preparing to end their workday and head home through the cold winter streets. Inside the Prykarpattyaoblenergo control center, which distributes power to the region’s residents, operators too were nearing the end of their shift.
Ukraine power cut ‘was cyber-attack’ – BBC News – A power cut that hit part of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, in December has been judged a cyber-attack by researchers investigating the incident. The blackout lasted just over an hour and started just before midnight on 17 December. The cyber-security company Information Systems Security Partners (ISSP) has linked the incident to a hack and blackout in 2015 that affected 225,000.
Hackers targeting UK energy grid, GCHQ warns – Hackers may have compromised Britain’s energy grid, GCHQ has said as it warned that cyber criminals are targeting the country’s energy sector. The security agency said industrial control systems may have already been the victim of attacks by nation state hackers.

 

ENDS

The Holistic Z: Selective Encryption gives way to “At-Rest” & “In-Flight” Data Protection with Pervasive Encryption

IBM Z encryption moves the market from a selective encryption model to one that is pervasive. This represents a significant modification in the basic structure of computing and its effect on security will, in my opinion, have a major disruptive effect.

The overall concept is to not introduce a decision layer that says what will or will not be encrypted. Instead, it will be possible to have encryption be part of normal processing. The removal of the decision for selective encryption is a further saving in the overall cost and a reduction in the difficulty in using encryption in the current market.

The Holistic Z

The new IBM Z provides a bullet-proof platform for digital transformation, a base for strong cloud infrastructure (fortified clouds, which can be open, private, public, and hybrid), and allows back-end services to be securely exposed through secure APIs.

IBM have put security at the core of the new platform with “Pervasive Encryption as the new standardAnalytics & Machine Learning for Continuous Intelligence Across the Enterprise, and Open Enterprise Cloud to Extend, Connect and Innovate”.

The Z is arguably more powerful, more open, and more secure than any other commercial offering and makes serious moves in the rapidly evolving domains of Machine Learning, Cloud and Blockchain.

Positive Disruption with Pervasive Encryption 

But for me the focus of my interest comes back to Pervasive Encryption. The Z (“Zero Downtime“) appeals to many, on many different levels but for me it is Pervasive Encryption that piques my interest.

It is a seismic shift and legitimately makes the z14 the go-to platform for organisations who can afford their own and the Cloud platform of choice for those who cannot. The z14 mainframe has a tried-and-true architecture and excels with security features that are built into the hardware, firmware, and operating systems.

PervasiveEncryption3

True Cost & Performance Mitigation 

The largest barrier to doing full-scale encryption has been the cost of the encryption and the performance load that such activity puts on the computing platform.

Bolted-on solutions that are being deployed have caused system capacity to grow such that there are loads of up to 61% of the system load that is being consumed by security processes. This translates into significant infrastructure costs and performance drags.

Even without the newest advances the Z architecture delivered encryption (selective encryption) more efficiently and with a lower resource expenditure than other platforms.

It delivers over 8.5 times the security protection, at 93% less cost in overall expenditure, and with 81% less effort. The full impact of the faster encryption engine and the ability to encrypt information in bulk on the z14 creates a fully pervasive solution that runs more than 18.4 times faster and at only 5% of the cost of other solutions.

The Threat Landscape & GDPR Compliance 

IBM Z pervasive encryption provides the comprehensive data protection that organizations, customers, and the threat landscape demand.

Here are some stats on that threat landscape:

  1. Nearly 5.5 million records are stolen per day, 230,367 per hour and 3,839 per minute (Source:http://breachlevelindex.com/);
  2. Of the 9 Billion records breached since 2013 only 4% were encrypted (Source: http://breachlevelindex.com/);
  3. 26% is the likelihood of an organization having a data breach in the next 24 months(Source: https://www.ibm.com/security/infographics/data-breach/) ;
  4. The greatest security mistake organizations make is failing to protect their networks and data from internal threats. (Source:https://digitalguardian.com/blog/expert-guide-securing-sensitive-data-34-experts-reveal-biggest-mistakes-companies-make-data)

By placing the security controls on the data itself, the IBM solution creates an envelope of protection around the data on Z.

ENDS

Extracts, Source Material, References, & Acknowledgements to IBM Z Systems, IBM Security, IBM Systems, IBM Systems Social Program, and Solitaire Interglobal Limited.  

Cynic Modelling for Legacy Energy Infrastructure

A brief synopsis of my findings in “Legacy Energy Infrastructure Attack Surface Assessment, Threat Count, & Risk Profile” using my “cynic modeller”:

  1. Adversaries who are attracted to the contained assets: Everyone (hobbyists, criminals, state actors, your gran)
  2. Attack surface: As far as the eye can see
  3. Attackers who are capable of acquiring the assets starting from the attack surface: Lots
  4. Therefore the attacker population size is: Computer literate population of earth
  5. Threat count: Np-Complete;
  6. Emerging threats: IIoT and non-cybersec savvy devops rushing intodigital transformation projects
  7. Risk level: Orbital
  8. Impact of realized threat: Expansive (yes, expansive not expensive, but that too)

Assessment: Buy gas lamps, work on your natural night vision, learn to skin rabbits, move far far away from nuclear reactors, buy shares in candle companies.

ENDS

Boiling Privacy Frogs

I really wish that I understood more about psychology and the human condition. The behaviour that puzzles me over and over again and for which I have no explanation is our ability to observe something happening that is detrimental to us in every way and yet do nothing.

It is the “Boiling Frog Phenomenon” which was allegedly a 19th century science experiment where a frog was placed in a pan of boiling water, the frog quickly jumped out. However, when the frog was put in cold water and the water slowly boiled over time, the frog did not perceive the danger and just boiled to death. The hypothesis being that the change in temperature was so gradual that the frog did not realize it was boiling to death.

To demonstrate the same effect in terms of the privacy, surveillance, unwarranted government intrusion debate just trace the evolving public attitude to the J. Edgar Hoover’s Subversive Files, COINTELPRO, The Iraq WMD Lie, Snowden & PRISM, and WikiLeaks Vault 7.

I have come to the conclusion that in relation to our right to privacy that we are all frogs in tepid water, the temperature of which is starting to rise rapidly, and we have no intention of jumping out.

ENDS

The Laurel & Hardy of Cybersecurity

When Turnbull and Brandis shuffle off to some home for the bewildered in a few years it is all of us that will be left with the legacy of their carry-on.

Here are some of the victories that these two beauties have presided over, and they don’t even know how it works, not even a little bit:

In an effort to drag the continent out from under the “stupid boy” stereotype, the Lowy Institute for International Policy, has just attempted to polish a turd by proposing that despite everything “Australia might be on the right encryption-cracking track” after all.

“From a cyber security perspective, as Patrick Gray has pointed out, sufficient safeguards could be placed around these ‘updates’ to ensure that they couldn’t be reverse engineered – they wouldn’t need to be a ‘backdoor,’ open to abuse. And by focusing on a device rather than a specific app, the displacement effect, so obvious in focusing government efforts on just What’s App or Telegram, would not apply.

In theory then, this model appears promising. How closely it aligns with the legislation promised by Turnbull and George Brandis last week remains to be seen. But whichever legislative model Australia pursues, its progress will be watched closely by governments across the world. And of course, by a whole host of technology and communications companies.

Recent developments suggest that underneath the techno-babble, political point scoring and counter-terrorism blame game, governments the world over are faced by a very real policy problem. Australia may prove to be the test case for a policy solution that has far reaching consequences for privacy, technological development and the future of law enforcement operations.”

Try again gents.

ENDS

Australia Is A Proxy War for the Five Eyes & Also Hogwarts

The Aussie government is pushing a Five Eyes agenda. Australia seems to have become a proxy war in the ongoing assault on privacy. They are to the Surveillance Wars what Yemen is to the Saudi-Iran ideological conflict. It is always a good idea to vary the cast but in reality they are May acolytes. A testing ground.

The amount of nonsense emanating from the encryption debate Down Under though is astonishing. If you have not been keeping up to speed with some of the recent comments down under then here is a quick recap for you:

  1. The George Brandis metadata interview;
  2. George again (36th Attorney-General for Australia) and the summary of his “over a cuppa” conversation with the GCHQ chappie on the feasibility of reading messages sent by platforms implementing end to end encryption such as WhatsApp and Signal – “Last Wednesday I met with the chief cryptographer at GCHQ … And he assured me that this was feasible.”;
  3. Malcolm Turnbull (the Prime Minister) and his alternative theory on the exceptional laws that govern Australian reality “Well, the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only laws that applies in Australia is the law of Australia”;
  4. And a much more eloquent articulation by Troy Hunt of the whole phenomenon “Firstly, a quick apology from Australia: we’re sorry. Look, our Prime Minister and Attorney General didn’t try to launch us onto the World Encryption Comedy Stage but unfortunately, here we are.

In an effort to find something of the same equivalence on the stupidity index as 1-3 above I chose to google “Harry Potter and places where the laws of mathematics do not apply, excluding Australia and Hogwarts”.

One of the things that I found in the search results was the perfectly reasonably comment by a HP fan on a Reddit forum that “Gamp’s Laws of Transfiguration and the Fundamental Laws of Magic spring to mind, they’re pretty much what you can and can’t do with magic. They’re a lot like Newton’s Laws in that they both deal with nature.

This guy really meant it and so did the other guys he was chatting with. They all really, really believed or rather really, really wanted to believe that it was all real and true and factual.

Just like Brandis and Turnbull believe.

Totally lost in a universe of their own creation where mathematics and people work differently.

And then I found a scholarly dissertation by Shevaun Donelli O’Connell of Indiana University of Pennsylvania titled “Harry Potter and the Order of the Metatext: A Study of Nonfiction Fan Compositions and Disciplinary Writing

” which said on P.24 that “I already knew that Harry Potter was an important part of my relationships with my family and friends, but increasingly I realized that Harry Potter metaphors and analogies were working their way into my thinking and teaching about writing.“.

And there it was. The struggle is real. It seems many, many people are having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality.

Christ help us when VRSNs arrive on the scene.

ENDS