Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Hunting For Seeds That Remain Uncultivated, For Ideas That Lie Dormant"

From time to time I like to share gems of insight that I've discovered in the works of others in hopes that someone else will benefit besides myself. I'm always the first one awake in our house (usually before dawn) so I make a double expresso and sit down at my desk, which faces East overlooking the Hood Canal. Ellis' book is a collection of ancient Egyptian texts so it's fun to open it up randomly and see where you land. This is what I opened to this morning, around the time that dawn was breaking.

Thoth Speaks:
The ibis and the ink pot - these are blessed. For as the ibis pecks along the bank for a bit of food, so the scribe searches among his thoughts for some truth to tell. All the work is his to speak, its secrets writ down in his heart from the beginning of time, the gods' words rising upward through his dark belly, seeking light at the edge of his throat. We are made of god stuff, the explosion of stars, particles of light, molded in the presence of gods. The gods are with us. Their secrets writ only in the scrolls of men's hearts, the law of creation, death and change inscribed in the blood and seed of man's love. In the beginning and at the end, the book is opened and we see what in life we are asked to remember. 
Hear, then, my words, the ringing of my speech, as the heart and the scroll of this life fall open. Truth is the harvest scythe. What is sown - love or anger or bitterness - that shall be your bread. The corn is no better than its seed, then let what you plant be good. Let your touch on earth be light so that when earth covers you, the clods of dirt fall lightly. The soul of a man forgets nothing. It stands amazed at its own being. The heart beats the rhythm of its life. The lungs breathe the ions of its own vibration. The mind recalls its thoughts. The glands respond to its emotions.  
The body is a soul's record. And when a man's life ends, his body is given back to gods and the gods shall see what use their laws have been. They shall see the deeds its hands have made, the sparks of light its heart set in the world. They shall see whether or not their love, their powers have been wasted, whether the plants it has grown were nourishing or poison. And like the ibis, the gods shall circle about him, hunting for seeds that remain uncultivated, for ideas that lie dormant, thoughts left unexpressed.  
They shall find new seeds from the plants he has tended. And these shall be planted again in the clay of a new man and he shall be sent back to the world until all the gods have seen fit to create in man is cultivated, and then, in final death, he shall be welcomed home as one of them.
- From "Awakening Osiris: The Egyptian Book of the Dead" by Normandi Ellis, Phanes Press, Boston 1988, p.55-56 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

First Look at Suits and Spooks DC 2015: 3 Hot Workshops and over 20 talks and panels

Early bird registration is now open for Suits and Spooks DC. We've expanded it to three days so as to include one optional day of training (Wednesday Feb 4). Since this is Suits and Spooks and not your typical Security conference, you've never had training like this before:

A Cyber Intelligence Analyst's Workshop: Connecting More Dots With Carmen Medina
A Cyber Security Entrepreneur's Workshop: Transitioning from a Spook to a Suit (taught by Barbara Hunt, Rick Holland, and to-be-announced panelists)
The PRC People's Liberation Army Information Warfare Infrastructure Workshop by Mark Stokes (Project 2049 Institute)

The training will be given in a tiered classroom setting with microphones at every seat and two large projection screens behind the instructor.

On Thursday (Feb 5) and Friday (Feb 6) our DC collision event will be held with a very unique collection of speakers that include John Robb (military strategist, futurist, and author of Open Source Warfare), Zachary Tumin (Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives at the NYPD), Thomas Rid (Professor at Kings College London and author "Cyber War Does Not Exist"), John Holland (CISO of Risk Division of Credit Suisse), and Ben Milne (founder of Dwolla).

You'll also get a very rare, inside look at how one of the world's largest defense contractors defends its global network, learn about Bitcoins and how at least one international bank is dealing with them, engage in a Q&A with a US Assistant District Attorney (invited), and much, much more.

Our Early Bird discount is $675 for all three days or $575 without the workshops. GOV/MIL rates are $395/$325. This event always sells out so register early.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Israel's Power Grid Is Susceptible To A Cyber Attack. Why Hasn't It Happened?

The fighting between Israel and Hamas during Operation Protective Edge has been severe by any measure; especially as regards to the cost of human lives - over 1,800 Palestinians have been killed in the past 30 days while the IDF has lost 67 soldiers and 3 Israeli civilians [1]. Israel has been using air and ground assaults while Hamas has launched over 3,300 rockets [2].

In comparison, the cyber attacks launched against Israel haven't risen to nearly the same level. They've been nuisance attacks against Israeli government websites [3], rather than technically sophisticated attacks against Israel's critical infrastructure. Hamas has more than enough money to hire hackers with the necessary technical chops. Iran should already have the capability and manpower and they certainly have the money to invest in gaining that capability if they chose to do so. So why hasn't this happened yet? There are a few possibilities:

I've taken a quick survey of my contacts in the industrial control system community and we all agree that Israel's capabilities to defend its critical infrastructure against cyber attacks are second to none in the world. However, Israel Electric, the state-owned company that generates and distributes electricity throughout the country uses vendors like Siemens whose equipment can be (and has been) exploited by technically sophisticated attackers so the IEC isn't immune to attack; especially against an adversary who has them on their potential targets list.

Cyber weapons, unlike kinetic weapons, cannot just be used at a moment's notice against any other nation's power grid. It takes advance intelligence, planning, testing and production so that if an attack is imminent, you have the capability to turn out the lights and keep them off. It's unlikely that Hamas has done that. Iran and Syria should be doing that if they aren't already. The U.S. and the PRC have been doing it for years.

Even if Hamas or its ally Iran has the capability to attack Israel's grid, that may not be their geopolitical goal right now. The number of civilian casualties suffered by the Palestinians in Gaza is garnering a lot of sympathy from other nations which could be leveraged towards Hamas obtaining its goal of a Palestinian state. A technically sophisticated cyber attack against Israel that would leave much of the country without power could instantly change that advantage from a positive into a negative since it would have severe humanitarian consequences. Furthermore, the IEC supplies power to the Gaza Strip so even if Hamas wanted to disrupt Israel's ability to wage war by sabotaging the IEC's ability to distribute electricity, it would be cutting off its own supply of power as well.

Alternatively, the IEC has been officially forbidden by the Israel's National Security Council to interrupt its supply of power and water to Gaza due to probable blow-back by the international community. Tony Blair has reportedly advised Netanyahu not to disconnect any West Bank or Gaza consumers from their electricity supply [4].

In fact, as of Tuesday August 5, IEC workers guarded by IDF forces were repairing portions of Gaza's electric grid that was damaged by rocket fire [5].

So while there may be several answers as to why Hamas has not utilized the asymmetric advantage offered by cyber weapons deployed against critical infrastructure, the best answer is probably that no one wants to be the first to push that particular button against such a large civilian population. 

Also for those pundits who have dismissed Iran's cyber warfare capabilities, the only capability that Iran or any nation state needs to acquire this type of weapon is the ability to write a check with a lot of zeros on it. 


Monday, July 14, 2014

Su Bin, Lode-Tech, And Privatizing Cyber Espionage In The PRC

The criminal complaint against Chinese businessman Su Bin (aka Stephen Su, Stephen Subin) is a must-read. Be sure to read the Wall Street Journal article as well. It marks the first time that the FBI has issued an arrest warrant for a foreigner charged with an act of cyber espionage via a network attack that has until now been attributed solely to state actors like the PLA.

The complaint provides an indepth look at an EaaS (Espionage-as-a-Service) operation involving one named suspect and two unnamed co-conspirators. I've tried to reduce the 49 page complaint into its essential components and added a few missing pieces.

SU Bin (Stephen Su) 

Su's alleged role was to help his partners identify valuable military aviation technology to steal and then find buyers for the stolen data. His company's logo as portrayed on the website is almost laughably ironic: "We will track the world's aviation advanced technology." Su and his partners did exactly that, but would then attempt to steal the technology and sell it to their customers.

Su has been the owner and manager of Beijing Lode Technology Company, Ltd. since 2003. Lode-Tech is a cable harness equipment company that serves the aviation and space market. The company has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xi'an, Shenyang and Changchun.

Lode-Tech is also a representative and distributor of related aerospace products for a number of companies including DIT-MCO in Kansas City, MO; a company which proudly announces that its equipment "was used on the early "Hawk Missile," the first intercontinental Atlas missile, the Polaris missiles for the Navy, the Titan missiles for the Air Force, and the Patriot Missile used so successfully in the Desert Storm War, as well as almost all the aircraft used by the Air Force, Army and the Navy.”

DIT-MCO plus Lode-Tech's other business relationships in the aerospace industry (such as sharing space with Boeing at the Beijing Aviation Expo) put Su in an excellent position to identify valuable data for theft by a team of mercenary hackers who are identified in the complaint as UC1 and UC2.
NOTE: This case underscores the importance for companies in high value technologies like aerospace to (a) conduct indepth due diligence investigations on all of their vendors and (b) restrict network access by implementing least privilege rules.

Uncharged Co-Conspirator 1 and 2 (UC1, UC2)

According to the complaint, UC1 and UC2 are located in China, are hackers for hire, and are affiliated with multiple organizations and entities in the PRC. They have a diverse history of accomplishments but have chosen to focus on "military technology intelligence". They have an unidentified funding source that provided working capital in seven figures RMB, a hierarchial structure, and engage in business development. They've been working with Su since at least August, 2009.

In addition to their collaboration with Su on the Boeing C-17 project, UC1 sent several reports to UC2 which described other actions:
  • Targeted F-22 data from Lockheed Martin (LMT wasn't named in the complaint but they're building the F-22 and their sensitive documents use the classification terminology "Proprietary Information Source Selection Sensitive" which was mentioned in the complaint on p. 42).
  • Stole 20GB of data from a U.S. military contractor via the company's FTP server
  • Acquired a list of contractors and suppliers for a U.S. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle project and performed network reconnaissance.
  • Have access to a Russian-Indian joint missile development program by "controlling" the company's website and "awaiting the opportunity to conduct internal penetration".
NOTE: The name of the company is redacted in the report but it may be referring to the Brahmos 2 missile developed by Brahmos Aerospace; a joint venture between India's DRDO and Russia's NPO Mashinostroyenia.

Activities and Methodologies

  • Their target selection is informed by S&T (Science and Technologies) priorities of their potential customers. 
  • They establish "technology bases" and hop servers outside of China (i.e.; U.S., Korea, Singapore) and "machine rooms" with legal status in Macao and Hong Kong
  • Intelligence collection is done outside of the PRC (presumably at the above locations) and brought into China in person rather than electronically.
  • They focus on those U.S. and Taiwanese defense contractors which are among the Global top 50 arms companies.


While this is the first criminal complaint that describes "hackers-for-hire" or Espionage-as-a-Service it isn't new and it isn't exclusive to China. U.S. cyber security companies who research APT threat actors should study this criminal complaint closely; especially those who have spent the last 9 years defining APT solely as the Chinese government.

Threat intelligence companies worldwide need to find ways to differentiate the activities of a nation-state with those of a for-profit hacker group, criminal organization, or other alternative entities engaging in acts of cyber espionage. That may be difficult under current APT assumptions and with the limitations of purely technical indicators.

Finally, the SU-UC1-UC2 enterprise as described in this criminal complaint underscores and validates a data-centric approach to cyber security wherein a company identifies their own high value files by knowing the S&T research priorities of a given nation state and its state-owned or publicly-owned enterprises.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Airbus Defense and Space's First APT Threat Intelligence Report: Nice Work!

I've been a frequent and vocal critic of many threat intelligence reports issued by the usual players in information security. So it was very refreshing to read this report by Cassidian CyberSecurity (now a part of Airbus Defense and Space) on an APT threat actor that they named "Pitty Tiger".

I haven't studied the report yet but I did give it a quick read and want to congratulate the team of researchers including David Bizeul who did such an outstanding job in 2007 with his report on the Russian Business Network.

Here's what I really appreciated about the Pitty Tiger report:

APT Threat Actors - Not State Sponsored
Pitty Tiger is described as a Chinese group of hackers who demonstrated poor operational security (similar to the carelessness shown by members of Mandiant's APT1) as inexperienced hackers who were out to make a quick buck rather than bored or careless soldiers working for the PLA:
Pitty Tiger is probably not a state-sponsored group of attackers. The attackers lack the experience and financial support that one would expect from state-sponsored attackers. We suppose this group is opportunistic and sells its services to probable competitors of their targets in the private sector.
This is the first time that I recall reading a security intelligence report which didn't portray the hackers as state-sponsored, state-affiliated or employed by the PLA. That in and of itself is news-worthy as far as I'm concerned.

The researchers refer to an "opportunistic business model", something that I and other security researchers like J. Oquendo and Peter Mattis have written about as well.

Use of the term "White Paper"
The authors properly categorized their threat intelligence report as a white paper, which it is because it has marketing value for the company. Many well-known cyber security companies who issue security intelligence reports fail to acknowledge that.

Responsible Attribution
The researchers exercised restraint and used cautious language in their attribution section. They didn't make baseless assumptions about "real names" or jump to any conclusions about the identities or affiliations of the hackers.

Kudos to the Airbus team for this report. Please keep them coming.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Suits and Spooks from the US, EU, Russia, The Hague to talk 0-day Regulation and other topics

Suits and Spooks London is happening on Friday Sep 12th with speakers from BAE Systems, EUROPOL, CERT-EU, Kaspersky Lab, CrySyS Lab, Goldman Sachs, PwC and other organizations. If you're looking for a security conference where you're expected to be a passive participant, don't bother coming.

If, on the other hand, you have an opinion about the relative value of attribution, the wisdom of active defense, the regulation of 0-day development and dual-use penetration testing products, and want to have an informed discussion and debate about them with people who can make a difference, then by all means join us at the top of the Blue Fin building in central London for a day of stimulating topics and discussions.

Here's a short video introduction to Suits and Spooks, if you've never attended the event.

Take advantage of our Early Bird rate of GBP135.00 ($231) before July 31st. Seating is limited to 50 attendees. You can also register by phone (855) 777-8242.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Have Lunch on K Street with Execs from Microsoft, BAE, Cognizant, Huawei USA, and the IC - Updated 7/14/14

UPDATE (July 14, 2014): We have room for six more cyber security startups to join our lunch however registrations will close by end-of-day July 15, 2015.

If you're a cyber security startup, chances are good that you may have a product or service of interest to the U.S. government but do you know the complexities that come with that? If you attend our Security Startup Lunch in DC on July 22, you can ask Hendrik van der Mueler, Barbara Hunt, and Lewis Shepherd for their advice.

If you'd like to be a vendor for one or more prime defense contractors, you can chat with JC Dodson, BAE Systems Global CISO about your product or service and receive his recommendations on how to go about it.

On July 22, at PJ Clarke's in Washington, DC, our Suits and Spooks Security Startup Speed Lunch will help startups find customers, VCs find startups, and give executives a chance to hear about cutting edge technologies person-to-person - over lunch.

You won't be pitching a room full of people. You'll be meeting 1:1 in six minute rounds with decision-makers from multinational companies and other organizations, and you'll enjoy a delicious lunch in the Sidecar at PJ Clarke's.

Here's who you'll be meeting with:
  • Lewis Shepherd, Director and GM, Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments (MSI). Lewis joined Microsoft in December 2007 from the Defense Intelligence Agency, where he accepted a position as Chief of Requirements & Research (or R2).
  • Barbara Hunt, President and CTO, CuttingEdge CA. Ms. Hunt is a retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Executive Technical Expert and program manager with over 20 years of experience in the fields of cyber, information, and telecommunications technology and operations. She also served as Director of Capabilities, Tailored Access Operations Group at NSA.
  • Henry Shiembob is VP and Chief Security Officer at Cognizant Technology Solutions, and was formerly the Deputy Chief Security Officer and Executive Director of Cyber Security and Fraud Operations at Verizon.
  • Jeffrey C Dodson, VP Cybersecurity, Global CISO, BAE Systems
  • Andy Purdy, CSO, Huawei USA. Andy formerly served as the 'Cyber Czar' of the United States from 2004 to 2006, in his role heading the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division and US-CERT.
  • Hendrik van der Meuler - Retired senior CIA officer in three foreign countries and CIA Operations Officer during six tours of duty in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, 1981-2000. Since retiring from the CIA in October 2010, he has worked for the Monitor Group and MonitorQuest, with an emphasis on Social Media issues.
  • Edward V. Marshall, Vice President - Private Banking North America, Credit Suisse; formerly with the U.S. Department of State.
  • LaToya Staten: Cyber Collaboration Manager, MD Dept.of Econ Dev., Cyber Development at Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development
You can attend if you meet one of these three categories:
  1. You are employed at the Director level or higher with a medium-sized or larger corporation.
  2. You're employed with a cyber security start-up that is no more than 5 years old and has not yet raised more than a Series A funding round.
  3. You're employed by a Venture Capital firm or an investment bank.
It wasn't easy getting these outstanding executives together for three hours to meet with a group of startups and I doubt that I'll be able to get them all together a second time so don't miss this opportunity. The registration fee is $199 if paid before July 1st and seats are limited!

Visit the Suits and Spooks website for more information or call (855) 777-8242 ext. 3 with any questions.