Posts Taged espionage

Why Do Ordinary People Commit Acts of Espionage?

Political ideology and money serve as motivators for some people to commit acts of espionage, but they’re not the only factors involved.

By Jerad W. ALEXANDER

In mid-July, 2018, Mariia Butina, a 29-year-old assistant to the Russian central bank and long-time Vladimir Putin ally Alexander Torshin, was arrested in Washington, D.C., on a charge of “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government,” according to the U.S. Justice Department. Per the affidavit, Butina was allegedly involved in an operation lead by officials within the Russian government to infiltrate the Republican party, including members of the Trump campaign, and the National Rifle Association, for the purposes of aligning right-wing political interests with similar interests in Russia. Butina’s actions dovetailed with continued efforts by Russian operatives to commit cyber espionage to influence U.S. elections.

According to the affidavit, two American citizens provided Butina intelligence and guidance on her efforts in the United States.

 
MI5, the intelligence agency of the United Kingdom, defines espionage as “the process of obtaining information that is not normally publicly available, using human sources (agents) or technical means (like hacking into computer systems). It may also involve seeking to influence decision-makers and opinion-formers to benefit the interests of a foreign power.” As Butina and countless others throughout history, such as spies like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, have discovered, espionage is a dangerous game, one that can lead to imprisonment or even death. What motivates people to commit acts of espionage is as important as the ramifications of their actions.

Naturally, simple ideology serves as a motivator to commit espionage, but it’s not the singular cause. According to a Spring 2016 article of The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, ideology “is adopted by an individual to the degree that it reflects the individual’s ego. In that sense, an ideology is like another motivation – money – in that it serves as a vehicle for the individual to express a personal value or belief; an ideology is chosen in order to confirm conscious or unconscious beliefs the individual has already internalized. In the case of espionage, a particular ideology may serve as either the actual motivation for a spy to breach the trust placed in them or simply as a means of rationalizing that behavior.”

A Combination of Factors


Three concurrent elements need to exist within an individual to make them prone to acts of espionage — a personality dysfunction, personal crisis and opportunity.

According to Dr. Ursula Wilder, a clinical psychologist with the Central Intelligence Agency, four personality elements are essential to the entry into espionage: psychopathy, narcissism, immaturity, and grandiosity.

“A psychopathic person is a person whose approach to reality is ruthless and cold,” she stated in an interview at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. “They have no conscience, or they have very limited capacity to feel guilt. So, their whole approach to life is predatory. They’re excitement seeking. They love to con people. It’s a game. This is all they can do to connect with other human beings. So that kind of person will commit espionage either flat-out for self-interest or because it’s fun, or both.”

“The next is narcissism,” she explained. “A narcissistic person is fundamentally ego-centric. They can only experience the world with themselves at the center. They are very much needy for and will provoke circumstances that will permit them to be at the center of attention. They believe that what they need, want and desire is the truth. They will get greedy for attention. That kind of person will commit espionage as a grab for fame. Someone like that will commit espionage because it makes them feel big and important.”

Regarding immaturity, Wilder explained an individual prone to commit acts of espionage (in comparison to a professional intelligence agent), either for or against their nation, is “an adult who can only function as an adolescent. These people live their lives in a blend of fact and fantasy. They do have a conscience, they can feel deep guilt afterwards, but fantasy is much more real to them than it is to adults who are grounded to reality, so to them committing espionage is a bit of a game, a fantasy, and online they have this illusion that if they do it online, if they just turn off the machine it goes away. They have a fantasy about the implications of their actions, and although on some level they might grasp the reality of it, it’s not real to them. The grandiosity applies to all three.”

An individual must be up against some form of personal crisis that produces distress. According to a paper released by the CIA titled “Why Spy?”, a survey of agency employees “identified emotional instability related to ambition, anger leading to a need for revenge, feelings of being unrecognized and unrewarded, and loneliness as the top vulnerabilities on the road to espionage. They ranked such problem behaviors as drug abuse and illicit sex as second, and various mental crises or stresses brought on by debt, work issues, or psychological factors such as depression as third.” Regarding opportunity, access matters. An individual must have access to sensitive information of some caliber that could be of use to a foreign power. All three combined — the personality, the crises, and the access — serve as fertile soil for acts of espionage.

It’s important to make the distinction between ordinary people who commit espionage and individuals who join intelligence services.

“People who join the intel community spent years preparing themselves — school, applying, screening — there’s a huge amount of drive and ambition, identification, pride,” says Dr. David L. Charney, a psychiatrist with the National Office of Intelligence Reconciliation, known as NOIR, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the intelligence community on the management of insider threats. This would include people with access to sensitive information who flip, such as Edward Snowden or Reality Winner. “They’re not coming in to be spies; they join for loftier reasons. The question is what makes a person go bad. That’s when you have to get more psychological.”

According to Charney, at the core of espionage can be an intolerable sense of personal failure, and not necessarily a shifting ideology. “Going back to the ideological spies of the 1930s and ’40s, we run across people all the time who you know have personal demons that are driving them, but they wrapped their demons into the current issue of the day to give it a higher-minded packaging. Any time you try to understand you have to dig a little deeper.”

Are millennials keeping their data safe?

Norton reports one in three millennials use the same password for all accounts; 53 percent have shared passwords with friends or family.

By DECCAN CHRONICLE

While the awareness level in millennials is high about the latest trends in technology and gadgets, it is alarming to see how the knowledge is not being translated well into practice, making them an easy prey for hackers. According to the Norton Cybersecurity Insights Report, one in three millennials use the same password for all accounts; approximately 53 percent of millennials have shared desktop passwords with friends or family members. These trends, witnessed amongst millennials, seem to have put them in a vulnerable position and a common victim of cybercrime.

“Despite a steady stream of cybercrime sprees reported by media, millennials appear to feel invincible and skip taking even basic precautions to protect themselves,” said Ritesh Chopra, Director, Norton business for India.  “This disconnect highlights the need for consumer cyber safety and the urgency for consumers to get back to basics when it comes to doing their part to prevent cybercrime.”

This International Youth Day, Norton would like to share tips on how millennials and consumers can take a few steps towards building a more secure online presence.

Craft a strong, unique password using a phrase that consists of a string of words that are easy for you to memorize, but hard for others to guess. Don’t tie your password to publicly available information as it makes it easier for the bad guys to guess your password. The longer, the better! Additionally, if your account or device enables it, consider two-factor authentication for an extra layer of security. Finally, once you’ve created a strong password, stick with it until you’re notified of a security breach. If you feel overwhelmed, use a password manager to help!
Using unprotected Wi-Fi can leave your personal data vulnerable to eavesdropping by strangers using the same network so avoid anything that involves sharing your personal information when connected to an open Wi-Fi network. If you do use public Wi-Fi, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your connection and help keep your information private.
Make it a habit to change default passwords on all network-connected devices, like smart thermostats or Wi-Fi routers, during set-up. If you decide not to use Internet features on various devices, such as smart appliances, disable or protect remote access as an extra precaution. Also, protect your wireless connections with strong Wi-Fi encryption so no one can easily view the data traveling between your devices.
Think twice before opening unsolicited messages or attachments, particularly from people you don’t know, or clicking on random links.
Protect your devices with a robust, multi-platform security software solution to help protect against the latest threats.

Surely we can find, and stop, high-tech spies

It’s rumored that the U.S. intelligence community has commissioned The Eagles to rewrite some of their famous lyrics to serve as a deterrent to Russia and China. The hope is that this new song will stop the apparently unabated espionage activities occurring in the National Capital Region, known as the NCR. It’s called “You Can’t Hide Your Spyin’ Eyes.”

BY MORGAN WRIGHT

Concerns about enhanced technical espionage have circulated for a long time. A very provocative technology, currently being used by law enforcement and our military, is a cell-site simulator. Known as an IMSI-catcher, or commercially as a Stingray, it’s a box about the size of an oversized pair of sneakers.

 

IMSI stands for International Mobile Subscriber Identity. This is how the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) finds you, regardless of country, and delivers a call to you or allows you to make one to a destination of your choice. Several reports surfaced in 2017 that showed the Department of Homeland Security was worried about IMSI catchers. 

 

In a Nov. 17, 2017, letter, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate if there was any evidence of foreign IMSI catchers operating in the National Capital Region. A pilot study had been conducted from January to November of the same year. The short answer was yes. The longer, typical government response was:

“The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) has observed anomalous activity in the National Capital Region (NCR) that appears to be consistent with International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers. NPPD has not validated or attributed such activity to specific entities or devices. This information was reported to our Federal partners at the time it was observed.”

Now that it’s been established that nefarious electronic hijinks abound in the NCR, surely there must be a way to find it and stop it. Right? The short answer is no. The government answer is even more terrifying:

“NPPD is not aware of any current DHS technical capability to detect IMSI catchers. To support such a capability, DHS would require funding to procure, deploy, operate and maintain the capability, which includes the cost of hardware, software, and labor.”

The previous statement might make you think this is a newly discovered problem of which DHS is just becoming aware. But our Canadian neighbors found the same activity near their Parliament in 2017. In 2014, the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology said that “Hostile foreign intelligence services can and, almost certainly, are using the technology in this country for espionage.”

About two weeks ago, the Senate passed a spending bill that included language directing the Pentagon to divulge the use of IMSI catchers near U.S. bases and facilities. It’s not the first time the use of electronics has caused security concerns. A 20-year-old Australian student discovered the location of several military bases overseas by simply looking at the heatmap posted by Strava of running routes that had been shared.

You’d have to go back almost another 20 years to find when the threat of IMSI catchers became a real issue. The notorious hacker Kevin Mitnick was captured in 1996 using the same technology DHS is worried about in 2018. The hacking victim who helped the FBI track Mitnick down — Tsutomu Shimomura — was very well acquainted with the technology.

“Later that night, the FBI radio surveillance team from Quantico, Virginia, arrived at the Sprint cellular telephone switch office. The team talked to me a little about the technology they had toted along in the station wagon, especially something called a cell-site simulator, which was packed in a large travel case. The simulator was a technician’s device normally used for testing cell phones, but it could also be used to page Mitnick’s cell phone without ringing it, as long as he had the phone turned on but not in use. The phone would then act as a transmitter that they could home in on with a Triggerfish cellular radio direction-finding system that they were using.”

This wasn’t Shimomura’s first brush with cell phones. In 1993, in front of a congressional oversight committee, he showed how easy it was to use a software hack to listen in on the calls of nearby cellular phones. The problem isn’t new. In fact, it’s quite old.

If you take DHS’s response at face value, it appears NPPD does not have its own technical capability. If DHS has no organic ability, how did it detect anything in the first place? With a little help from other solutions. Project Overwatch, for example.

According to the RSA presentation, “Project Overwatch has been a multinational effort between USA, Germany, and Australia to create a solution leveraging GSMK’s patented Baseband Firewall technology.” This began six years ago.

In February 2017, at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco, a demonstration of Project Overwatch showed the detection of rogue IMSI catchers — the same technology DHS used, but did not disclose, in its letter to Sen. Wyden.

The warnings were there. The threat was there. Six years ago, we worked with our allies to develop a solution to counter this growing form of technical espionage. So why is Congress just now worried about this?

It’s inconceivable that this electronic eavesdropping that targeted the White House, Congress, our federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and who knows what else, should have gone on for this long without a warning to the relevant oversight committees. And the public.

When it comes to our national security, no one should be allowed to, as The Eagles might say, “Take It Easy.”

Morgan Wright is an expert on cybersecurity strategy, cyberterrorism, identity theft and privacy. Previously Morgan was a senior advisor in the U.S. State Department Antiterrorism Assistance Program and senior law enforcement advisor for the 2012 Republican National Convention. Follow him on Twitter @morganwright_us.

Hidden Cameras Targeting Female Workers at South Bay Tech Company

Hidden Cameras Targeting Female Workers at South Bay Tech Company

Many of the women working at the South Bay location are upset with how the company handled things

Women at a South Bay technology company are upset that they weren’t notified earlier about someone using hidden cameras to target female workers.

Two cameras were found hidden under the desks of two female employees at Rohr Inc., a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of aerospace and defense products. The company has a large campus in Chula Vista.

One employee, who didn’t want to be identified, told NBC 7 many of the women working at this location are upset with how the company handled things.

She said management became aware of the first camera roughly four months ago but didn’t notify employees until a second camera was discovered last week.

She said employees only found out when the company sent out a notice about an internal investigation to find the person or persons responsible for putting small cameras beneath the desks of female co-workers.

She feels like women working there deserved to know immediately so they could’ve been on the lookout themselves.

Laurie Chua, a local human resources consultant and expert witness, said it’s not surprising the company’s management waited to notify employees until a second camera was found.

“From an HR standpoint you want to think that this was just a one-off type of situation the first time it happened, and they would hope they get the camera, they’re probably doing an investigation to find out who did it,” Chua said. “The second time it happened, then I would think more than likely they’re going to tell the employees to be on the lookout for it.”

In a statement to NBC 7, Rohr said it is working with local law enforcement to investigate the incidents and catch the person or persons “responsible for this unacceptable conduct.”

“We take any situation involving employee well-being seriously and this is why we decided to inform our Chula Vista employees in a site-wide communication,” the statement said. “At the same time, we are working to protect the integrity of the investigation.”

Chula Vista Police Department said it has been notified and is working with the company to determine the source but didn’t elaborate on its role in the investigation.

Source: NBC San Diego

TEEN FINDS HIDDEN CAMERA IN LOCKER ROOM DURING ITALIAN TOURNAMENT

A disturbing scandal has recently rocked Italy‘s youth volleyball circuit. A cellphone belonging to a referee was found hidden with its camera turned on inside an arena’s locker room. The event happened during an international tournament involving 250 youngsters from six European countries. The cellphone was found by a player from a Lithuanian team, who immediately went to his coach with the device. The police was called, and even had to protect the 27-year-old referee, who stated that the phone’s camera must have activated by itself, from being attacked.

Here is what the event’s organizer had to say (Gazzetta.it):

“There is a suspicion that something serious may have happened, but we’ll wait for the police to do their job.  We immediately intervened, reporting what happened. We’ll now distance ourselves from the case, letting the police do its job, and we hope that the Italian Volleyball Federation, to which we will send an appropriate report, suspends this referee. I don’t want him referring again.”

The Italian volleyball federation has temporaly suspened the referee while the police investigates the matter:

“This was an unavoidable decision. This is a fact that has never happened since the Federation exists. Now let’s let the investigations take their course. For now, let’s not cast stones at anyone, for everyone is innocent until proven guilty. We’ll await the end of investigations.”

Source: WolleyMob

Burning Umbrella: An Intelligence Report on the Winnti Umbrella and Associated State-Sponsored Attackers

goo.gl Public Analytics

• We assess with high confidence that the Winnti umbrella is associated with the Chinese state intelligence apparatus, with at least some elements located in the Xicheng District of Beijing.

• A number of Chinese state intelligence operations from 2009 to 2018 that were previously unconnected publicly are in fact linked to the Winnti umbrella.

• We assess with high confidence that multiple publicly reported threat actors operate with some shared goals and resources as part of the Chinese state intelligence apparatus.

• Initial attack targets are commonly software and gaming organizations in United States, Japan, South Korea, and China. Later stage high profile targets tend to be politically motivated or high value technology organizations.

• The Winnti umbrella continues to operate highly successfully in 2018. Their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) remain consistent, though they experiment with new tooling and attack methodologies often.

• Operational security mistakes during attacks have allowed us to acquire metrics on the success of some Winnti umbrella spear phishing campaigns and identify attacker location with high confidence.

• The theft of code signing certificates is a primary objective of the Winnti umbrella’s initial attacks, with potential secondary objectives based around financial gain.

Report Summary

The purpose of this report is to make public previously unreported links that exist between a number of Chinese state intelligence operations. These operations and the groups that perform them are all linked to the Winnti umbrella and operate under the Chinese state intelligence apparatus. Contained in this report are details about previously unknown attacks against organizations and how these attacks are linked to the evolution of the Chinese intelligence apparatus over the past decade. Based on our findings, attacks against smaller organizations operate with the objective of finding and exfiltrating code signing certificates to sign malware for use in attacks against higher value targets. Our primary telemetry consists of months to years of full fidelity network traffic captures. This dataset allowed us to investigate active compromises at multiple organizations and run detections against the historical dataset, allowing us to perform a large amount of external infrastructure analysis.

Background

The Winnti umbrella and closely associated entities has been active since at least 2009, with some reports of possible activity as early as 2007. The term “umbrella” is used in this report because current intelligence indicates that the overarching entity consists of multiple teams/actors whose tactics, techniques, and procedures align, and whose infrastructure and operations overlap. We assess that the different stages of associated attacks are operated by separate teams/actors, however in this report we will show that the lines between them are blurred and that they are all associated with the same greater entity. The Winnti and Axiom group names were created by Kaspersky Lab and Symantec, respectively, for their 2013/2014 reports on the original group. The name “Winnti” is now primarily used to refer to a custom backdoor used by groups under the umbrella. Multiple sources of public and private threat intelligence have their own names for individual teams. For example, LEAD is a common alias for the group targeting online gaming, telecom, and high tech organizations. Other aliases for groups related include BARIUM, Wicked Panda, GREF, PassCV, and others. This report details how these groups are linked together and serve a broader attacker mission. The many names associated with actors in the greater intelligence mission are due to the fact that they are built on telemetry of the intelligence provider which is typically unique and dependent on their specific dataset. This report focuses heavily on networking related telemetry.

We assess with high confidence that the attackers discussed here are associated with the Chinese state intelligence apparatus. This assessment is based on attacker TTPs, observed attack infrastructure, and links to previously published intelligence. Their operations against gaming and technology organizations are believed to be economically motivated in nature. However, based on the findings shared in this report we assess with high confidence that the actor’s primary long-term mission is politically focused. It’s important to note that not all publicly reported operations related to Chinese intelligence are tracked or linked to this group of actors. However, TTPs, infrastructure, and tooling show some overlap with other Chinese-speaking threat actors, suggesting that the Chinese intelligence community shares human and technological resources across organizations. We assess with medium to high confidence that the various operations described in this report are the work of individual teams, including contractors external to the Chinese government, with varying levels of expertise, cooperating on a specific agenda.

In 2015 the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) began a major reorganization which included the creation of the Strategic Support Force (SSF / PLASSF). SSF is responsible for space, cyber, and electronic warfare missions. Some of the overlap we observed from groups could potentially be related to this reorganization. Notably, key incident details below include attacker mistakes that likely reveal the true location of some attackers as the Xicheng District of Beijing.

Tactics Techniques and Procedures (TTPs):

Though the TTPs of the attacking teams vary depending on the operation, their use of overlapping resources presents a common actor profile. Key interests during attacks often include the theft of code signing certificates, source code, and internal technology documentation. They also may attempt to manipulate virtual economies for financial gain. While unconfirmed, the financial secondary objective may be related to personal interests of the individuals behind the attacks.

Initial attack methods include phishing to gain entry into target organization networks. The group then follows with custom malware or publicly available offensive tooling (Metasploit/Cobalt Strike), and may use a number of methods to minimize their risk of being detected. Such techniques include a particular focus on “living off the land” by using a victim’s own software products, approved remote access systems, or system administration tools for spreading and maintaining unauthorized access to the network.

We have observed incidents where the attacker used other victim organizations as a proxy for unauthorized remote access. In these cases, organization 1 had been compromised for a long period of time, and the attacker accessed victim organization 2 via the organization 1 network.

Delivery and C2 domains routinely have subdomains which resemble target organizations. Additionally, their C2 domains are used across many targets, while subdomains tend to be created and removed quickly and are unique to a particular target or campaign. Also noteworthy is that the actors set their domains to resolve to 127.0.0.1 when not in use, similar to what was originally reported on by Kaspersky Lab (see below).

The actor often uses TLS encryption for varying aspects of C2 and malware delivery. As noted in the “Infrastructure Analysis” section of this report, the actor primarily abuses Let’s Encrypt to sign SSL certificates. We also observed many cases in which self-signed certificates were used in attacks.

Overall, the Winnti umbrella and linked groups are lacking when it comes to operational security. However, some activities linked to these groups follow better operational security and infrastructure management approaches. This may be a clue to the division of responsibilities by team and skill level within the broader organization.

Targets:

The Winnti umbrella and linked groups’ initial targets are gaming studios and high tech businesses. They primarily seek code signing certificates and software manipulation, with potential financially motivated secondary objectives. These targets have been identified in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and China.

Based on the infrastructure, links to previous reporting, and recently observed attacks, the broader organization’s main targets are political. Historically this has included Tibetan and Chinese journalists, Uyghur and Tibetan activists, the government of Thailand, and prominent international technology organizations.

One example of a politically focused lure by the Winnti umbrella and linked groups is an end of 2017 document titled “Resolution 2375 (2017) Strengthening Sanctions on DPR of KOREA” which is a malicious file associated with the C2 infrastructure described here – see MD5: 3b58e122d9e17121416b146daab4db9d.

Some Key Public Reports:

2013:
Kaspersky Lab publicly reported on the original Winnti group, technical details around the Winnti samples, and various honeypot analysis methods. Most noteworthy is the Winnti umbrella’s targeting of gaming organizations in search of code signing certificates, virtual currencies, and updating mechanisms which could potentially be used to attack victims’ clients. Interestingly, this was the first identified trojan for the 64-bit Microsoft Windows operating system with a valid digital signature as noted by the author. The abuse of signed applications is a very effective attack approach that the entity continues to use.

2014:
Novetta released an outstanding report detailing “Operation SMN,” in which they collaborated with a number of private organizations on a large scale malware eradication operation which is linked to the original Winnti group by the malware being delivered. In the report, the actor is named Axiom. Novetta reported links to publications from as far back as 2009 that also link the group to the Chinese state intelligence apparatus with high confidence. Links exist to various known attacks and actor groups, such as “Operation Aurora,” Elderwood Group’s successful 2010 attack against Google and many other organizations. Another link exists to the successful compromise of the security organization Bit9 in 2013, where their own product was used to sign and spread malware to their customers. In addition, FireEye’s “Operation DeputyDog” detailed attacks on Japanese targets from the same attacker infrastructure. Many other incidents are detailed in the Operation SMN report. Following all of these details back in time, we can see an overlap in TTPs and targets from the APT1 report by Mandiant, which serves as a great historical example of Chinese intelligence cyber operations in their most basic form.

2016:
Cylance released a blog post reporting on digitally signed malware used in targeted attacks against gaming organizations in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Europe, Russia, and the United States. Cylance refers to the attacking entity as “PassCV” in their reporting. Cylance successfully identified a large quantity of malware binaries which were signed with valid certificates stolen from a number of gaming studios in East Asia. In addition to detailing the individual certificates and signed malware, they identified a significant amount of network infrastructure which contain various interesting links to our own findings.

2017 – March/April:
Trend Micro reported on attacks that abused GitHub for use in malware command and control, which they attributed to the original Winnti group. Amusingly, Trend Micro later reported on an individual linked to the group and the attacks who happens to be a fan of pigs.

2017 – July 5th:
Citizen Lab reported on attacks against journalists by an actor mimicking China-focused news organizations HK01, Epoch Times, Mingjing News, and Bowen Press. As Citizen Lab noted, these news organizations are blocked in China for their political views. The report notes that malware used in these attacks was linked to a stolen code signing certificate mentioned in the Cylance PassCV post. That overlap, in addition to infrastructure links from a Palo Alto Unit 42 blog post, strongly links this attack to the previously mentioned reports as well as to our own. As Unit 42 reports, the attacks against entities in the government of Thailand used the “bookworm” trojan.

2017 – July/October:
ProtectWise 401TRG published our own findings and an update on LEAD using open source and public tooling in attacks against Japanese gaming organizations. These attacks are linked with high confidence to ongoing operations in the United States and East Asia.

Other Noteworthy Events:
In 2017, multiple supply-chain attacks occurred which had some similarities to the Winnti umbrella and associated entities. For example, Kaspersky reported on ShadowPad, a large-scale compromise of NetSarang, which resembles the Winnti and PlugX malware. In addition, Kaspersky and Intezer identified notable code similarities to the Winnti umbrella and APT17 in the compromise of Piriform, which allowed attackers to sign and spread altered versions of the CCleaner software to a large customer base.

Analysis of Attacks on Initial Targets

Throughout 2017 and 2018, ProtectWise 401TRG was involved in a number of detection and incident response engagements with our customers that linked back to the Winnti umbrella and other closely associated entities. Through the analysis of public and private intelligence, we have successfully identified similar attacks, which allow us to assess with high confidence that the details below follow a global attack trend as the Chinese intelligence operations have evolved over time.

2017 Operations:
One of the most common tactics used by the Winnti umbrella and related entities is phishing users whose credentials may provide elevated access to a target network. We have observed spear-phishing campaigns that target human resources and hiring managers, IT staff, and internal information security staff, which are generally very effective.

In 2017 the entity focused most of its efforts around technical job applicant email submissions to software engineering, IT, and recruiting staff, which we originally reported on at our 401trg.pw blog. The phishing lures used multiple languages, including Japanese as in the below example:

The approximate translation is as follows:

I saw your job posting. My main languages are Object-C, JAVA, and Swift, and I have 7 years experience with Ruby and 6 years experience with PHP. I have 5 years experience developing iOS apps, as well as Android apps, AWS, Jenkins, Microsoft Azure, ZendFramework, and smartphone application payment processing. I also have 5 years experience with MSSQL, Mysql, Oracle, and PostgreSQL. Please see here: [malicious link]


The process that followed a target clicking the malicious link evolved as the attacker progressed through the campaigns. The links consistently sent the victim to a fake resume, but the exact format of that resume changed over time; we have observed resumes being delivered as DOC, XLS, PDF, and HTML files. Once opened, the fake resumes performed various actions in an effort to download malware onto the victim host. During the same time period, we also observed the actor using the Browser Exploitation Framework (BeEF) to compromise victim hosts and download Cobalt Strike. In this campaign, the attackers experimented with publicly available tooling for attack operations. During this infection process, the actor was known to check the target operating system and deliver malware, signed by a previously stolen key, for the appropriate host environment. In some cases, valid Apple certificates stolen from victims were used in this process, which linked the attack to additional victim organizations.

Post-compromise actions by the attacker followed a common pattern. First they attempted to spread laterally in the network using stolen credentials and various reconnaissance efforts, such as manually examining shares and local files. The primary goal of these attacks was likely to find code-signing certificates for signing future malware. The secondary goals of the attackers depended on the type of victim organization, but were often financial. For example, gaming organizations tended to fall victim to manipulation or theft of in-game virtual currencies. Non-gaming victims may have experienced theft of intellectual property such as user or technology data.

2018 Operations:
More recently, various attack campaigns from the Winnti umbrella and associated groups have been very successful without the use of any exploits or malware. Phishing remains the initial infection vector but the campaign themes have matured. In 2018, the campaigns have largely been focused on common services such as Office 365 and Gmail.

It is important to note that attackers likely have additional information on their target organizations’ preferred email solutions based on previous incidents or open source intelligence.

In more recent phishing campaigns conducted by the Winnti umbrella and associated groups, URL shortening services have been used. For example, Google’s URL shortening service goo.gl was used over the past weeks, allowing us to gain insight into the scale of this campaign using publicly available analytics.

As you can see from the above screenshot, this particular phishing campaign ran from March 20th to March 28th, 2018. Notably, the link was created on February 23rd, 2018, indicating roughly three weeks of preparation for the attacks. These metrics allow us to gain insight into who clicked the link in a phishing email and was directed to a phishing or malware delivery landing page. According to Google analytics, there were a total of 56 clicks. 29 were from Japan, 15 from the United States, 2 from India, and 1 from Russia. 33 of the clicks were from Google Chrome, and 23 were from Safari. 30 were from Windows OS hosts, and 26 were macOS hosts.

In general, the attackers phish for credentials to a user’s cloud storage, and would be expected to later attempt malware delivery in the cases of a failed credential phish or valueless cloud storage.

In cases where the victim uses O365 and/or G-suite for enterprise file storage, the attackers manually review the contents for data of value. If code signing certificates are stored here, the primary mission has been accomplished, as they may be easily downloaded. In other cases, the attackers attempt to use other files and documentation in the cloud storage to help them traverse or gain privileges on the network. The targets in 2018 include IT staff, and commonly sought out files include internal network documentation and tooling such as corporate remote access software.

Once the attackers gain remote access to the network via malware or stolen remote access tooling and credentials, the operation continues as we’ve seen, though their post-compromise actions have become more efficient and automated. Internal reconnaissance is performed by scanning the internal network for open ports 80, 139, 445, 6379, 8080, 10022, and 30304. The choice of ports by the attacker indicates a strong interest in internal web and file storage services. An interesting addition is the use of 30304, which is the peer discovery port for Ethereum clients.

In the attackers’ ideal situation, all remote access occurs through their own C2 infrastructure, which acts as a proxy and obscures their true location. However, we have observed a few cases of the attackers mistakenly accessing victim machines without a proxy, potentially identifying the true location of the individual running the session. In all of these cases, the net block was 221.216.0.0/13, the China Unicom Beijing Network, Xicheng District.

Visualizing Attacker Infrastructure

Based on the various incidents we have been involved in, in addition to past public reporting and open-source intelligence, we can construct a map representing the infrastructure most closely associated with the Winnti umbrella and closely related entities. For the sake of producing an accurate representation of the infrastructure, we are excluding any shared infrastructure (such as hosting provider IPs used for many unrelated domains) and low confidence indicators. Please note this is not an exhaustive list of all active infrastructure in use by the group.

As detailed below, this infrastructure spans at least eight years of activity by the Winnti umbrella and related groups. Please note, as this section heavily references the “Some Key Public Reports” section, above, we recommend reading that first. Indicators are provided in Appendix A of PDF (see top of page).

1. The area of the map labeled #1 is the phishing, malware delivery, fake resume, and C2 infrastructure. This includes domains, IPs, malware hashes, SSL certificates, and WHOIS information. In this section of the infrastructure, we primarily observe the network and file indicators which would be used against targets valued for code signing certificates, software manipulation, and potential financial manipulation. The indicators detailed in the 2017 & 2018 Initial Target section of this report are located in #1. Infrastructure in this area is currently in use and not entirely historical.

2. This area is a network that we assess is associated with the umbrella with low confidence. The most interesting findings here are the large number of Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates in use and the overlap with attacker exclusive infrastructure. This proposed relationship is generated by infrastructure links alone, as no malicious activity has been confirmed to or from region #2. Infrastructure in this area is currently in use and not historical.

3. Area #3 is linked to the initial attack infrastructure (#1) by domain WHOIS details, likely from operational security mistakes. We assess with high confidence that these infrastructures are linked. Based on the lax structure and naming of this section, it is highly probable that it is used for attacker experimenting and development. Some examples include domains such as “nobody.will.know.whoami[.]la”, “secret.whoami[.]la”, and “no.ip.detect.if.using.ipv6[.]la”. Infrastructure in this area is currently in use and not historical.

4. This area has various links to #3 in which an individual software developer is identified. We asses this connection with low to medium confidence and will refrain from publicly sharing details in this report. This area contains many personally operated domains and SSL certificates. Infrastructure in this area is currently in use and not historical.

5. Area #5 of the map is part of what Novetta reported on as Operation SMN in 2014. Infrastructure in this area is purely historical and based on Novetta’s reporting, which we can link to area #1 via known umbrella infrastructure. The vast majority of indicators in this area are the many associated hashes, combined with their C2 destination domains and IPs.

6. This area of the map is what Cylance reported on as PassCV in 2016. The vast majority of infrastructure and indicators here are stolen code signing certificates, malware signed with the certificates, and C2 domains. This area contains information on many victims of campaigns related to area #1. Infrastructure in this area is historical. We assess that this area is linked to the Winnti umbrella with high confidence.

7. This section represents infrastructure identified by Citizen Lab in their July 5th 2017 reporting on attacks against journalists. As they originally identified, one of the NetWire binaries was signed with a stolen certificate linked to #6, the Cylance PassCV report. We were able to further expand this section by pivoting off of additional domain WHOIS information.

8. Lastly is area #8, which links back with high confidence to #7 (Citizen Lab reporting) and #6 (PassCV). This area consists of domains, IPs, MD5 file hashes, and further WHOIS operational security mistakes. This area is similar in functionality to #1 and #3, serving as infrastructure for both high-value politically focused attacks and developer personal use. This section links to the online identities of an individual we asses to be associated with the Winnti umbrella or a closely related group at a medium to high confidence. Infrastructure in this area is currently in use and not historical. One example of malicious activity in this area was the document detailing the strengthening of sanctions against North Korea, above. These activities are similar to the type of politically motivated targeted attacks Citizen Lab reported on. Some infrastructure in this area is currently in use and is not completely historical.

Investigative Findings

Based on incident response engagements, research into the associated attacker infrastructure, and previously reported research, we can summarize our findings as follows:

1. The Chinese intelligence apparatus has been reported on under many names, including Winnti, PassCV, APT17, Axiom, LEAD, BARIUM, Wicked Panda, and GREF.

2. The overlap of TTPs and infrastructure between the Winnti umbrella and other groups indicates the use of shared human and technology resources working towards an overarching goal. Operational security mistakes allow the linking of attacks on lower value targets to higher value campaigns. Reuse of older attack infrastructure, links to personal networks, and observed TTPs play a role in this overlap.

3. The attackers behind observed activity in 2018 operate from the Xicheng District of Beijing via the net block 221.216.0.0/13.

4. Initial attack targets are commonly software organizations in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and China. Later stage high profile targets tend to be political organizations or high-value technology companies.

5. The attackers grow and learn to evade detection when possible, but lack operational security when it comes to the reuse of some tooling. Living off the land and adaptability to individual target networks allow them to operate with high rates of success.

Conclusion

We hope the information we’ve shared in this report will help potential targets and known victims in addition to the greater information security community. Though they have at times been sloppy, the Winnti umbrella and its associated entities remain an advanced and potent threat. We hope that the information contained within this report will help defenders thwart this group in the future.

We’d like to extend a special thank you to all the victims, targets, researchers, and security vendors who have shared their own findings over the years.

Indicators

Indicators can be found in the PDF version of this report and our GitHub Detection IOC repository. Enjoy!

Source: 401 TRG

Spy agency NSA triples collection of U.S. phone records – official report

An aerial view of the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, U.S. January 29, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. National Security Agency collected 534 million records of phone calls and text messages of Americans last year, more than triple gathered in 2016, a U.S. intelligence agency report released on Friday said.

The sharp increase from 151 million occurred during the second full year of a new surveillance system established at the spy agency after U.S. lawmakers passed a law in 2015 that sought to limit its ability to collect such records in bulk.

The spike in collection of call records coincided with an increase reported on Friday across other surveillance methods, raising questions from some privacy advocates who are concerned about potential government overreach and intrusion into the lives of U.S. citizens.

The 2017 call records tally remained far less than an estimated billions of records collected per day under the NSA’s old bulk surveillance system, which was exposed by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

The records collected by the NSA include the numbers and time of a call or text message, but not their content.

Overall increases in surveillance hauls were both mystifying and alarming coming years after Snowden’s leaks, privacy advocates said.

“The intelligence community’s transparency has yet to extend to explaining dramatic increases in their collection,” said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Washington-based Open Technology Institute that focuses on digital issues.

The government “has not altered the manner in which it uses its authority to obtain call detail records,” Timothy Barrett, a spokesman at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which released the annual report, said in a statement.

The NSA has found that a number of factors may influence the amount of records collected, Barrett said. These included the number of court-approved selection terms, which could be a phone number of someone who is potentially the subject of an investigation, or the amount of historical information retained by phone service providers, Barrett said.

“We expect this number to fluctuate from year to year,” he said.

U.S. intelligence officials have said the number of records collected would include multiple calls made to or from the same phone numbers and involved a level of duplication when obtaining the same record of a call from two different companies.

Friday’s report also showed a rise in the number of foreigners living outside the United States who were targeted under a warrantless internet surveillance program, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, that Congress renewed earlier this year.

That figure increased to 129,080 in 2017 from 106,469 in 2016, the report said, and is up from 89,138 targets in 2013, or a cumulative rise over five years of about 45 percent.

U.S. intelligence agencies consider Section 702 a vital tool to protect national security but privacy advocates say the program incidentally collects an unknown number of communications belonging to Americans.

 

Source: Yahoo News
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; editing by Grant McCool)

Former Lockport police official facing eavesdropping charge

LOCKPORT – A recently retired city police captain is now facing a felony charge of eavesdropping.

Brian Wentland, a former training captain who left the Lockport Police Department in February, was charged Friday, according to Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek.

The charges relate to a May 6, 2013 phone call involving his ex-wife and another person.

 
“We received a referral about a concern over eavesdropping from Lockport Police Chief Michael Niethe,” Wojtaszek said Sunday.

Rather than ask an outside agency to investigate the matter, the district attorney said she used an investigator from her office to look into the matter.

“We had newly discovered evidence. It involved a recording of a conversation he was not a party to,” Wojtaszek said.

 
The timing of the charges was critical in the case.

Wentland’s arrest was just two days before the five-year statute of limitations expired on the charge. He was arraigned Friday and released on his own recognizance. He’s due back in court on Thursday.

Wentland retired from the police force on Feb. 22, just after completing 20 years with the department. He had been placed on paid administrative leave Jan. 22 amid the dispute with the city over $275 of overtime pay — time that Wentland claimed while supervising detectives from his home this past October.

Wentland, who had been viewed as a possible successor to former chief Larry Eggert in 2015, was also suspended for eight days in November over complaints that he had interviewed an applicant for a patrol officer’s position. Wentland was transferred out of the detective bureau and became training captain.

Source: Niagara Gazette

Eavesdropping devices found in Central Bank

Central Bank of Curaçao

WILLEMSTAD – Equipment to eavesdrop was detected inside the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS) main building in Willemstad, confirmed management.

News of the possible presence of such devices was reported by local media on April 5.

It turns out the matter was first checked after personnel reported a sense that they had been listened into. The bank also does a regular security assessment.

Based on early indications, further investigation followed. It concluded that there was indeed equipment that could be used for eavesdropping and recording conversations, but also to prevent such.

None of the devices were active and they have since been removed.

Source: The Daily Herald

Kuwaiti husband in the dock for eavesdropping on his wife

Kuwait City: A Kuwaiti national is facing a lawsuit on charges of eavesdropping his own wife, according to Al-rai newspaper. 

He planted a spying device and a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device in his wife’s car to monitor her movements and hear her conversations.

An employee at a car washing station in the industrial zone of Al-Showeikh discovered the planted devices and informed the woman who filed a complaint against her husband.

The woman had left her husband’s house three months ago following a violent argument.

Source: GDN Online