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Minority Report: A Look at Timing of WannaCry and Trump’s Spillage

CAVEAT: Note well these two points before continuing —

1) Check the byline; this is Rayne, NOT Marcy; we may have very different opinions on matters in this post.

2) This post is SPECULATIVE. If you want an open-and-shut case backed by unimpeachable evidence this is not it. Because it addresses issues which may be classified, there may never be publicly-available evidence.

Moving on…

Like this past week’s post on ‘The Curious Timing of Flynn Events and Travel Ban EO‘, I noticed some odd timing and circumstances. Event timing often triggers my suspicions and the unfolding of the WannaCry ransomware attack did just that. WannaCry didn’t unfold in a vacuum, either.

Timeline (Italics: Trump spillage)

13-AUG-2016 — Shadow Brokers dumped first Equation Group/NSA tools online

XX-XXX-201X — Date TBD — NSA warned Microsoft about ETERNALBLUE, the exploit which Microsoft identified as MS17-010. It is not clear from report if this warning occurred before/after Trump’s inauguration.

XX-FEB-2017 — Computer security firm Avast Software Inc. said the first variant of WannaCry was initially seen in February.

14-MAR-2017 — Microsoft released a patch for vulnerability MS17-010.

14-APR-2017 — Easter weekend — Shadow Brokers dumps Equation Group/NSA tools on the internet for the fifth time, including ETERNALBLUE.

(Oddly, no one noted the convenience to Christian countries celebrating a long holiday weekend; convenient, too, that both western and eastern Orthodox Christian sects observed Easter on the same date this year.)

10-MAY-2017White House meeting between Trump, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. No US media present; Russian media outlet TASS’ Washington bureau chief and a photographer were, however.

12-MAY-2017 — ~8:00 a.m. CET — Avast noticed increased activity in WannaCry detections.

[graphic: Countries with greatest WannaCry infection by 15-MAY-2017; image via Avast Software, Inc.]

12-MAY-2017 — 3:24 a.m. EDT/8:24 a.m. BST London/9:24 a.m. CET Madrid/10:24 a.m. MSK Moscow — early reports indicated telecommunications company Telefonica had been attacked by malware. Later reports by Spanish government said, “the attacks did not disrupt the provision of services or network operations…” Telefonica said the attack was “limited to some computers on an internal network and had not affected clients or services.”

12-MAY-2017 — 10:00 a.m. CET — WannaCry “escalated into a massive spreading,” according to Avast.

12-MAY-2017 — timing TBD — Portugal Telecom affected as was UK’s National Health Service (NHS). “(N)o services were impacted,” according to Portugal Telecom’s spokesperson. A Russian telecom firm was affected as well, along with the Russian interior ministry.

12-MAY-2017 — ~6:23 p.m. BST — Infosec technologist MalwareTechBlog ‘sinkholes’ a URL to which WannaCry points during execution. The infection stops spreading after the underlying domain is registered.

13-MAY-2017 — Infosec specialist MalwareTechBlog posts a tick-tock and explainer outlining his approach to shutting down WannaCry the previous evening

15-MAY-2017 — ~5:00 p.m. EDT — Washington Post reported Trump disclosed classified “code worded” intelligence to Lavrov and Kislyak during his meeting the previous Wednesday.

16-MAY-2017 — National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster said “I wanted to make clear to everybody that the president in no way compromised any sources or methods in the course of this conversation” with Lavrov and Kislyak. But McMaster did not say information apart from sources or methods had been passed on; he did share that “‘the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from’ and had not been briefed on the source.”

The information Trump passed on spontaneously with the Russian officials was related to laptop bomb threats originating from a specific city inside ISIS-held territory. The city was not named by media though it was mentioned by Trump.

16-MAY-2017 — Media outlets reported Israel was the ally whose classified intelligence was shared by Trump.

Attack attribution

You’ll recall I was a skeptic about North Korea as the source of the Sony hack. There could be classified information cinching the link, but I don’t have access to it. I remain skeptical since Sony Group’s entities leaked like sieves for years.

I’m now skeptical about the identity of the hacker(s) behind WannaCry ransomware this past week.

At first it looked like Russia given Cyrillic character content within the malware. But this map didn’t make any sense. Why would a Russian hacker damage their own country most heavily?

[graphic: WannaCry distribution; image via BBC]

The accusations have changed over time. North Korea has been blamed as well as the Lazarus Group. Convenient, given the missile test this past week which appeared focused on rattling Russia while President Putin was attending a conference in China. And some of the details could be attributed to North Korea.

But why did the ransomware first spread in Spain through telecom Telefonica? Why did it spread to the UK so quickly?

This didn’t add up if North Korea is the origin.

Later reports said the first infections happened in western Asia; the affected countries still don’t make sense if North Korea is the perpetrator, and/or China was their main target.

Malware capability

Given the timing of the ransomware’s launch and the other events also unfolding concurrently — events we only learned about last evening — here’s what I want to know:

Can vulnerability MS17-010, on which WannaCry was based, be used as a remote switch?

Think about the kind and size of laptops still running Windows XP and Windows 8, the operating systems Microsoft had not patched for the Server Message Block 1.0 (SMBv1) vulnerability. They’re not the slim devices on which Windows 10 runs; they’re heavier, more often have hard disk drives (HDDs) and bulkier batteries. I won’t go into details, but these older technologies could be replaced by trimmer technologies, leaving ample room inside the laptop case — room that would allow an older laptop to host other resources.

Let’s assume SMBv1 could be used to push software; this isn’t much of an assumption since this is what WannaCry does. Let’s assume the software looks for specific criteria and takes action or shuts down depending on what it finds. And again, it’s not much of an assumption based on WannaCry and the tool set Shadow Brokers have released to date.

Let’s assume that the software pushed via SMBv1 finds the right criteria in place and triggers a detonation.

Yes. A trigger. Not unlike Stuxnet in a way, though Stuxnet only injected randomness into a system. Nowhere near as complicated as WannaCry, either.

Imagine an old bulky laptop running Windows XP, kitted out internally as an IED, triggered by a malware worm. Imagine several in a cluster on the same local network.

Is this a realistic possibility? I suspect it is based on U.S. insistence that a thinly-justified laptop ban on airplanes is necessary.

Revisit timing

Now you may grasp why the timing of events this past week gave me pause, combined with the details of location and technology.

The intelligence Trump spilled to Lavrov and Kislyak had been linked to the nebulous laptop threat we’ve heard so much about for months — predating the inauguration. Some outlets have said the threat was “tablets and laptops” or “electronic devices” carried by passengers onto planes, but this may have been cover for a more specific threat. (It’s possible the MS17-010 has other counterparts not yet known to public so non-laptop threats can’t be ruled out entirely.)

The nature of the threat may also offer hints at why an ally’s assets were embedded in a particular location. I’ll leave it to you to figure this out on your own; this post has already spelled out enough possibilities.

Trump spilled, the operation must be rolled up, but the roll up also must include closing backdoors along the way to prevent damage if the threat has been set in motion by Trump’s ham-handed spillage.

Which for me raises these questions:

1) Was Shadow Brokers the force behind WannaCry — not just some hacker(s) — and not just the leaking of the underlying vulnerability?

2) Was WannaCry launched in order to force telecoms and enterprise networks, device owners, and Microsoft to patch this particular vulnerability immediately due to a classified ‘clear and present danger’?

3) Was WannaCry launched to prevent unpatched MS17-010 from being used to distribute either a malware-as-trigger, or to retaliate against Russia — or both? The map above shows a disproportionate level of impact suggesting Russia was a potential target if secondary to the operation’s aim. Or perhaps Russia screwed itself with the intelligence entities behind Shadow Brokers, resulting in a lack of advance notice before WannaCry was unleashed?

4) Was WannaCry launched a month after the Shadow Brokers’ dump because there were other increasing threats to the covert operation to stop the threat?

5) Are Shadow Brokers really SHADOW BROKERS – a program of discrete roll-up operations? Is Equation Group really EQUATION GROUP – a program of discrete cyber defense operations united by a pile of cyber tools? Are their interactions more like red and blue teams?

6) Is China’s response to WannaCry — implying it was North Korea but avoiding directly blaming them — really cover for the operation which serves their own (and Microsoft’s) interests?

The pittance WannaCry’s progenitor raised in ransom so far and the difficulty in liquidating the proceeds suggests the ransomware wasn’t done for the money. Who or what could produce a snappy looking ransomware project and not really give a rat’s butt about the ransom?

While Microsoft complains about the NSA’s vulnerability hording, they don’t have much to complain about. WannaCry will force many users off older unsupported operating systems like XP, Win 7 and 8, and Windows Server 2003 in a way nothing else has done to date.

[graphic: 5-year chart, MSFT performance via Google Finance]

Mother’s Day ‘gift’?

I confess I wrestled with writing this; I don’t want to set in motion even more ridiculous security measures that don’t work simply because a software company couldn’t see their software product had an inherent risk, and at least one government felt the value of that risk as a tool was worth hiding for years. It’s against what I believe in — less security apparatus and surveillance, more common sense. But if a middle-aged suburban mom in flyover country can line up all these ducks and figure out how it works, I could’t just let it go, either.

Especially when I figured out the technical methodology behind a credible threat on Mother’s Day. Don’t disrespect the moms.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Friday: Smells Like

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an Albino
A mosquito, my libido, yeah


— excerpt, Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

Been a rough week so I’m indulging myself with some double bass — and because it’s Friday, it’s jazz. This is 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition winner Ben Williams whose ‘Teen Spirit’ is both spirited and minimalist. Check out this set with Home and Dawn Of A New Day, the first embued with a hip-hoppy beatmaking rhythm.

More Shadows on the wall
While Marcy has some questions about the recent alleged Shadow Brokers’ hack of NSA-front Equation Group and malware staging servers, I have a different one.

Why is Cisco, a network equipment company whose equipment appears to have been backdoored by the NSA, laying off 20% of its workforce right now? Yeah, yeah, I hear there’s a downturn in networking hardware sales due to Brexit and the Chinese are fierce competitors and businesses are moving from back-end IT to the cloud, but I see other data that says 50-60% of ALL internet traffic flows through Cisco equipment and there are other forecasts anticipating internet traffic growth to double between now and 2020, thanks in part to more video streaming and mobile telecom growth replacing PCs. Sure, software improvements will mediate some of that traffic’s pressure on hardware, but still…there’s got to be both ongoing replacement of aging equipment and upgrades (ex: Southwest Airlines’ router-fail outage), let alone new sales, and moving the cloud only means network equipment is consolidated, not distributed. Speaking of new sales and that internet traffic growth, there must be some anticipation related to increased use of WiFi-enabled Internet of Things stuff (technical term, that — you know, like Philips’ Hue lighting and Google Nest thermostats and Amazon Echo/Alexa-driven services).

Something doesn’t add up. Or maybe something rolls up. I dunno’. There are comments out on the internet suggesting competitor Huawei is hiring — that’s convenient, huh?

AI and Spy

  • Data security firm working on self-tweeting AI (MIT Review) — The software can generate tweets more likely to illicit response from humans than the average phishing/spearphishing attempt. Seems a little strange that a data security company is working on a tool which could make humans and networks less secure, doesn’t it?
  • Toyota sinks a bunch of cash into AI project at U of Michigan (ReadWrite) — $22 million the automaker pledged to development of self-driving cars, stair-climbing wheelchairs and other mobility projects. Toyota has already invested in similar AI development programs at Stanford in Palo Alto, CA and MIT in Cambridge, MA. Funding academic research appears to be a means to avoid a bigger hit to the corporation’s bottom line if the technologies do not yield commercially viable technology.
  • Steganography developed to mask content inside dance music (MIT Review) — Warsaw University of Technology researcher co-opted the rhythm specific to Ibiza trance music genre. The embedded Morse code buried in rhythm could not be audibly detected by casual listeners as long as it did not distort the tempo by more than 2%.

Sci-like-Fi

  • New theory suggests fifth force of nature possible (Los Angeles Times) — The search for a “dark photon” may have led to a new theory explaining the existence and action of dark energy and dark matter, which together make up 95% of the universe. I admit I need to hunt down a better article on this; this one doesn’t make all the pieces snap into place for me. If you’ve seen a better one, please share in comments.
  • Sound wave-based black hole model may show Hawking radiation at work (Scientific American) — Can’t actually create a real black hole in the lab, but a model like this one created by an Israeli scientist using phonons (not photons) may prove Stephen Hawking was right about information leakage from black holes. The work focuses on the actions of quantum-entangled particle pairs which are separated on either side of the event horizon. Beyond adding to our understanding of the universe, how this work will be used isn’t quite clear. But use of quantum entanglement in cryptography is an important and growing field; I wouldn’t be surprised to see this finding shapes cryptographic development.
  • Pregnant women’s immune system response may affect fetus’ neurological system (MedicalXpress via Phys.org) — While an expectant mother’s immune system may prevent a virus from attacking her fetus, the protective process may still affect the fetus long term. Research suggests that some neurological disorders like schizophrenia and autism may be associated with maternal infections pre-birth.

Late adder: Travel Advisory issued for pregnant women to avoid Miami Beach area according to CDC — Five more cases of Zika have been identified and appeared to have originated in the newly identified second Zika zone, this one east of Biscayne Bay in the Miami Beach area. The initial Zika zone was on the west side of Biscayne Bay. The CDC also discouraged pregnant women and their sex partners from traveling to Miami-Dade County as a whole; the county has now had a total of 36 cases of Zika.

In the video in the report linked above, FL Gov. Rick Scott pokes at the White House about additional Zika assistance, but Scott previously reduced spending on mosquito control by 40%. Now he’s ready to pay private firms to tackle mosquito spraying. Way to go, Republican dirtbag. Penny wise, pound foolish, and now it’s somebody else’s job to bat cleanup.

Longread: Stampede at JFK
A firsthand account of the public’s stampede-like reaction to a non-shooting at New York’s JFK International Airport. To paraphrase an old adage, if all you have is a gun, everything looks and sounds like a shooting.

Let go of your fear and let the weekend begin.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Thursday: Creep

Covers are often treated like poor relations in hand-me-downs. It’s not the performer’s own work, how can they possibly do the original justice?

Yeah…and then this. I think it’s an example of an exceptional cover. It’s one of my favorites. There are a number of other fine covers of this same piece — some are sweet, some have better production values, and some are very close to Radiohead’s original recording. But this one has something extra. Carrie Manolakos, a Broadway performer known for her role as Elphaba in Wicked, takes a breath at 2:19 and watch out. Her second album will release next month if you enjoy her work.

In Sickness and Health
Here, read these two stories and compare them:

Leaving you with the actual heds on these articles. How isn’t this simple extortion? You know, like, “Nice national health care system you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.”

Cry me a river about corporate losses. Last I checked Aetna’s been paying out dividends regularly, which means they still have beaucoup cash.

If only we’d had a debate about offering single payer health care for everyone back in 2009 so we could say Fuck You to these vampiric corporate blackmailers.

Still in Shadow
A timeline of articles, analysis, commentary on the hacking of NSA malware staging servers by Shadow Brokers — no window dressing, just links:

15-AUG-2016 8:48 AM — https://twitter.com/mikko/status/765168232454037504 (Mikko Hypponen–Kaspersky tweeting discovery of Shadow Brokers’ auction of Equation Group code)

16-AUG-2016 7:22 AM — http://cybersecpolitics.blogspot.com/2016/08/why-eqgrp-leak-is-russia.html (Info sec expert Dave Aitel’s assessment on hackers responsible)

16-AUG-2016 7:40 AM — https://twitter.com/Snowden/status/765513662597623808 (Edward Snowden’s tweet thread [NB: don’t be an idiot and click on any other links in that thread])

16-AUG-2016 7:22 PM — https://securelist.com/blog/incidents/75812/the-equation-giveaway/ (time zone unclear)

16-AUG-2016 ?:?? — http://xorcat.net/2016/08/16/equationgroup-tool-leak-extrabacon-demo/

17-AUG-2016 8:05 AM EST — https://motherboard.vice.com/read/what-we-know-about-the-exploits-dumped-in-nsa-linked-shadow-brokers-hack

17-AUG-2016 ?:?? — https://www.cs.uic.edu/~s/musings/equation-group/ (University of Illinois’ Stephen Checkoway’s initial impressions)

17-AUG-2016 7:23 PM EST — https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsas-use-of-software-flaws-to-hack-foreign-targets-posed-risks-to-cybersecurity/2016/08/17/657d837a-6487-11e6-96c0-37533479f3f5_story.html

18-AUG-2016 6:59 AM EST — https://twitter.com/RidT/status/766228082160242688 (Thomas Rid suggests Shadow Brokers’ auction may be “retaliation” — note at this embedded tweet the use of “retaliation” and the embedded, highlighted image in which the words “Panama Papers” appear in red. Make of that what you will.[1])

18-AUG-2016 2:35 PM EST — https://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-shadow-brokers-nsa-leakers-linguistic-analysis (Two linguists suggest Shadow Brokers’ primary language is English distorted to mimic Russian ESL)

You know what this reminds me of? Sony Pictures’ email hacking. Back and forth with Russia-did-it-maybe-not-probably, not unlike the blame game pointing to North Korea in Sony’s case. And the linguistic analysis then suggesting something doesn’t quite fit.

[Today's front pages from USA Today, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, shared here under Fair Use.]

[Today’s front pages from USA Today, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, shared here under Fair Use.]

American Refugees
I read in one of my timelines today a complaint by a journalist about Louisiana flooding news coverage. Wish I’d captured the thread at the time; they were put out that the public was unhappy about the media’s reporting — or lack thereof. They noted all the links to articles, videos, photos being shared in social media, noting this content came from journalists.

Except there really is a problem. The embedded image here is the front page of each of the four largest newspapers in the U.S. based on circulation, total combined circulation roughly six million readers. NONE OF THEM have a story on the front page about the flooding in Louisiana, though three of them covered the California Blue Cut Fire. Naturally, one would expect the Los Angeles Times to cover a fire in their own backyard, and they do have a nice photo-dense piece online. But nothing on the front page about flooding.

The Livingston Parish, Louisiana sheriff noted more than 100,000 parish residents had lost everything in the flood. There are only 137,000 total residents in that parish.

Between the +80,000 Blue Cut Fire evacuees and more than 100,000 left temporarily homeless in Louisiana, the U.S. now has more than a couple hundred thousand climate change refugees for which we are utterly unprepared. The weather forecast this week is not good for the Gulf Coast as unusually warm Gulf water continues to pump moisture into the atmosphere. We are so not ready.

Longread: The last really big American flood
Seven Scribes’ Vann R. Newkirk II looks at the last time a long bout of flooding inundated low-lying areas in the south, setting in motion the Great Migration. This is the history lesson we’ve forgotten. We need to prepare for even worse because like the Blue Cut Fire in California and Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York, disaster won’t be confined to a place too easily written off the front page.

One more day. Hope to make it through.
_________
[1] Edited for clarity. Kind of.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Monday Morning: So — We Meet Again

[image (modified): Leo Suarez via Flickr]

[image (modified): Leo Suarez via Flickr]

Monday: the bad penny we never escape, turning up once again beneath our cart’s wheels just as we set in motion. Just give a hard shove, push on, and don’t look back.

Volkswagen’s bad news, good news as Detroit’s auto show opens
Bad news first: In news dump zone on Friday afternoon, we heard Volkswagen wasn’t going to release documents pertaining to the emissions control defeat scandal to several U.S. states’ attorneys. VW said it couldn’t due to privacy laws, which sounds dicey; why do corporations have privacy rights? You’d think only U.S. businesses would attempt such excuses.

The good news was held until VW’s CEO Matthias Mueller arrived in U.S. for the soft opening of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. VW is working on a catalytic converter it believes will resolved the emissions problem for roughly 2/3 of the affected vehicles. I’m guessing this is fix is intended for the oldest vehicles, and that the newest ones are likely to be swapped with a new vehicle, or a sizeable discount on a replacement will be offered. Color me skeptical about the effectiveness of this fix; if this was such an obvious and easy solution, it would already appear on VW’s diesel-powered passenger vehicles. Fuel economy will likely diminish due to increased back pressure — but that’s why I think this fix is for the oldest cars. It would encourage VW loyalists to buy a new one.

Juniper Network shuts the (a?) backdoor
The network equipment company says it’s “dropping” NSA-developed code after the revelation of a backdoor into their network device software. Does anyone believe all covert access by NSA has now been eliminated, though, if Juniper’s source code isn’t open?

Apple’s devices monitoring your emotions soon?
Ridiculously cash-rich Apple snapped up artificial intelligence company Emotient, which makes an application to interpret users’ emotions based on their facial expressions — sentiment analysis, they call it. I call it creepy as hell, especially since smartphone users can’t be absolutely certain their cameras aren’t in use unless they physically cover the apertures.

And yes, I do cover apertures on my devices with low-tack adhesive tape. It’s the first thing I do after opening the box on any new camera-enabled device, even before charging the battery.

That’s enough to get your cart moving. I hope to have a post up later, on the recent power outage in Ukraine.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Info Security Firms and Their Antivirus Software Monitored (Hacked?) by NSA, GCHQ

[NSA slide indicated info sec AV firms targeted for surveillance]

[NSA slide indicated info sec AV firms targeted for surveillance]

Let’s call this post a work in progress. I’m still reading through a pile of reporting from different outlets to see if it’s all the same information but rebranded, or if there’s a particular insight one outlet picked up, missed by the rest. Here are a few I’ve been working on today:

7:03 am – Popular Security Software Came Under Relentless NSA and GCHQ Attacks (The Intercept)

7:12 am – US and British Spies Targeted Antivirus Companies (WIRED)

9:48 am – Spies are cracking into antivirus software, Snowden files reveal (The Hill)

12:18 pm – GCHQ has legal immunity to reverse-engineer Kaspersky antivirus, crypto (Ars Technica-UK)

12:57 pm*  – US, UK Intel agencies worked to subvert antivirus tools to aid hacking [Updated] (Ars Technica)(*unclear if this is original post time or time update posted))

~3:00 pm – NSA Has Reverse-Engineered Popular Consumer Anti-Virus Software In Order To Track Users (TechCrunch)
(post time is approximate as site only indicates rounded time since posting)

The question I don’t think anyone can answer yet is whether the hack of Kaspersky Lab using Duqu 2.0 was part of the effort by NSA or GCHQ, versus another nation-state. I would not be surprised if the cover over this operation was as thin as letting the blame fall on another entity. We’ve seen this tissue paper-thin cover before with Stuxnet.

For the general public, it’s important to note two things:

— Which firms were not targeted (that we know of);

— Understand the use of viruses and other malware that already threaten and damage civilian computing systems only creates a bigger future threat to civilian systems.

Once a repurposed and re-engineered exploit has been discovered, the changes to it are quickly shared, whether to those with good intentions or criminal intent. Simply put, criminals are benefiting from our tax dollars used to help develop their future attacks against us.

There’s a gross insufficiency of words to describe the level of shallow thinking and foresight employed in protecting our interests.

And unfortunately, the private sector cannot move fast enough to get out in front of this massive snowball of shite rolling towards it and us.

EDIT — 5:55 pm EDT —

And yes, I heard about the Polish airline LOT getting hit with a DDoS, grounding their flights. If as the airline’s spokesman is correct and LOT has recent, state-of-the-art systems, this is only the first such attack.

But if I were to hear about electrical problems on airlines over the next 24-48 hours, I wouldn’t automatically attribute it to hacking. We’re experiencing effects of a large solar storm which may have caused/will cause problems over the last few hours for GPS, communications, electricals systems, especially in North America.

EDIT — 1:15 am EDT 23JUN2015 —

At 2:48 pm local time Christchurch, New Zealand’s radar system experienced a “fault” — whatever that means. The entire radar system for the country was down, grounding all commercial flights. The system was back up at 4:10 pm local time, but no explanation has yet been offered as to the cause of the outage. There were remarks in both social media and in news reports indicating this is not the first such outage; however, it’s not clear when the last fault was, or what the cause may have been at that time.

It’s worth pointing out the solar storm strengthened over the course of the last seven hours since the last edit to this post. Aurora had been seen before dawn in the southern hemisphere, and from northern Europe to the U.S. Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning. It’s possible the storm affected the radar system — but other causes like malware, hacking, equipment and human failure are also possibilities.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Vaporous Voids: Questions Remain About Duqu 2.0 Malware

Cybersecurity_MerrillCollegeofJournalismThe use of stolen Foxconn digital certificates in Duqu 2.0 gnaws at me, but I can’t put my finger on what exactly disturbs me. As detailed as reporting has been, there’s not enough information about this malware’s creation. Nor is there enough detail about its targeting of Kaspersky Lab and the P5+1 talks with Iran.

Kaspersky Lab carefully managed release of Duqu 2.0 news — from information security firm’s initial post and an op-ed, through the first wave of media reports. There’s surely information withheld from the public, about which no other entities know besides Kaspersky Lab and the hackers.

Is it withheld information that nags, leaving vaporous voids in the story’s context? Possibly.

But there are other puzzle pieces floating around without a home, parts that fit into a multi-dimensional image. They may fit into this story if enough information emerges.

Putting aside how much Duqu 2.0 hurts trust in certificates, how did hackers steal any from Foxconn? Did the hackers break into Foxconn’s network? Did they intercept communications to/from Foxconn? Did they hack another certificate authority?

If they broke into Foxconn, did they use the same approach the NSA used to hack Syria — with success this time? You may recall the NSA try to hack Syria’s communications in 2012, by inserting an exploit into a router. But in doing so, the NSA bricked the router. Because the device was DOA, the NSA could not undo its work and left evidence of hacking behind. The router’s crash took out Syria’s internet. Rapid recovery of service preoccupied the Syrians so much that they didn’t investigate the cause of the crash.

The NSA was ready to deny the operation, though, should the Syrians discover the hack:

…Back at TAO’s operations center, the tension was broken with a joke that contained more than a little truth: “If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel.”

Did the NSA’s attempted hack of Syria in 2012 provide direction along with added incentive for Duqu 2.0? The failed Syria hack demonstrated evidence must disappear with loss of power should an attempt crash a device — but the malware must have adequate persistence in targeted network. NSA’s readiness to blame Israel for the failed Syria hack may also have encouraged a fuck-you approach to hacking the P5+1 Iran talks. Read more

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Going Postal. And Digital. And Financial: The Dragnet Elephant

Blind MenThe NYT has a report on an IG Report from May that reveals the Postal Service has been doing a lot more “mail covers” (that is, tracking the metadata from letters) than it had previously revealed.

In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.

The number of requests, contained in a little-noticed 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.

Among the most interesting revelations is that USPS previously lowballed the number of covers it does in response to a NYT FOIA by simply not counting most of the searches.

In information provided to The Times earlier this year under the Freedom of Information Act, the Postal Service said that from 2001 through 2012, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies made more than 100,000 requests to monitor the mail of Americans. That would amount to an average of some 8,000 requests a year — far fewer than the nearly 50,000 requests in 2013 that the Postal Service reported in the audit.

The difference is that the Postal Service apparently did not provide to The Times the number of surveillance requests made for national security investigations or those requested by its own investigation and law enforcement arm, the Postal Inspection Service. Typically, the inspection service works hand in hand with outside law enforcement agencies that have come to the Postal Service asking for investigations into fraud, pornography, terrorism or other potential criminal activity.

The report led Ben Wittes to engage in a thought experience, predicting the response to this revelation will be muted compared to that of the phone dragnet.

All of this raises the question: Will this program generate the sort of outrage, legal challenge, and feverish energy for legislative reform that the NSA program has? Or will it fall flat?

I have this feeling that the answer is the latter: The Postal Service’s looking at the outside of letters at the request of law enforcement just won’t have the same legs as does the big bad NSA looking at the routing information for telephone calls. The reason, I suspect, is not that there are profound legal differences between the two programs. Yes, one can certainly argue that the difference between a program that aspires to be totalizing and one that is notionally targeted, even if very large, is fundamental enough to justify regarding the former with great skepticism and tolerating the latter with a shrug. On the other hand, one could just as easily argue that a program that involves the active perusal of tens of thousands of people’s metadata without strict controls is far more threatening than one that involves tight procedures under judicial oversight and involves initial queries of only a few hundred people’s data.

The reason, I suspect, that this program will not excite the same sorts of passions as does the NSA’s program is that it involves old technology—paper—and it’s been going on for a long time.

I agree with Wittes that this won’t generate the same kind of outrage.

The fact that few noticed when Josh Gerstein reported on this very same report (and revealed that the USPS was trying to prevent the report’s release) back in June (I noticed, but did not write on it) supports Wittes’ point.

All that said, Wittes’ piece serves as an interesting example. Partly because he overstates the oversight of the phone dragnet program. Somehow Wittes doesn’t think the watchlisting of 3,000 presumed American persons with no First Amendment review until 2009 is not an example of abuse. Nor the preservation of 3,000 files worth of phone dragnet data on a research server, mixed in with Stellar Wind data, followed by its destruction before NSA had to explain what it was doing there (which is a more recent abuse than Joe Arpaio’s use of the mail dragnet to target a critic, reported in the NYT).

But also because Wittes misconstrues what a true comparison would entail.

To compare phone dragnet, generally, with the mail dragnet described by the NYT (now including both its national security and Postal Inspection searches), you’d have to compare Title III and local law enforcement phone metadata searches (which number in the hundreds of thousands and include the use of Stingrays to track phone location), Hemisphere (which must number in the 10s of thousands and not only undergo no court review, but are explicitly parallel constructed), the use of NSLs to obtain phone metadata (which number in the 10s of thousands, and which are not overseen by a court, have been subject to abuse, also miscount the most important requests, and access new kinds of data that probably aren’t really covered under the law), the Section 215 dragnet, the FBI bulk PRTT program, as well as the far far bigger EO 12333 phone dragnet.

That is, Wittes wants to compare the totality of the mail dragnet with a teeny segment of even the NSA phone dragnet, all while ignoring the state, local, and other federal agency (including at least FBI, USMS, and DEA) phone dragnets entirely, and declare the former roughly equivalent to the latter (better in some ways, worse in others). If you were to compare the totality of the mail dragnet (admittedly, you’d have to add Fedex and other courier dragnets) with the totality of the phone dragnet, the latter would vastly exceed the former in every way: in abuse, in lack of oversight, and in scale.

And to measure the “passions” mobilized against the phone dragnet, you’d have to measure it all. Attention to the various parts has been fleeting: today there’s more focus on Stingrays, for example, with comparatively less attention to the Section 215 phone dragnet, along with a focus on Hemisphere. There’s so much phone dragnet to go around, it’s like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.

Or perhaps more appropriately, of that old fable of the 6 blind men and the elephant, where each of a series of blind men describe an elephant. These men each feel one part of the elephant and see a pillar, a rope, a tree branch, a hand fan, a wall, and a solid pipe.  Together, they fail to conceive of the elephant in its entirety.

Wittes’ partial view of the phone dragnet describes just one part of one part of the dragnet elephant. At both the NSA, the FBI, and local JTTFs (at a minimum) you’re not conceiving the dragnet unless you understand the implications of matching your phone records and email records to your financial purchases and Internet search cookies — and, your snail mail, which is ultimately just a part of the larger dragnet. Each of those dragnets has several interlocking forms, too. More Title III orders, more NSLs, more Section 215 orders, and more EO 12333 collection. All dumped into a black box that — even for the Section 215 phone dragnet — undergoes no apparent oversight.

But Wittes is by no means alone in his partial view of the dragnet elephant. We all suffer from it. Since the very start of the Snowden leaks, I have been trying hard to track how NSA data gets shared with other agencies (see, for example, NCTC, FBI and CIA, “Team Sport,” ATF). I suspect I’ve got as good an understanding of how this data worms its way through the government as anyone outside of some corners of government, but it still looks like an elephant trunk to me.

That, to me, is the real lesson from the focus on yet another dragnet available to yet more intelligence and law enforcement agencies. None of us yet have a good sense of the scope of the dragnet. It is, quite literally, inconceivable. And we have even less of an idea of what happens after the dragnet feeds all that data into a series of black boxes, most subject to very little oversight.

With each new elephant body part identified, we’d do well to remember, it’s just one more body part.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Treasure Map: It’s About Location, Not Gold

Der Spiegel and The Intercept published collaborative reporting this weekend on another Snowden document — this one referring to a National Security Agency program named TREASURE MAP.

The most chilling part of this reporting is a network engineer’s reaction (see here on video) when he realizes he is marked or targeted as a subject of observation. He’s assured it’s not personal, it’s about the work he does – but his reaction still telegraphs stress. An intelligence agency can get to him, has gotten to him; he’s touchable.

The truth is that almost any of us who follow national security, cyber warfare, or information technology are potential subjects depending on our work or play.

The metadata we generate is only part of the observation process; it provides information about our individual patterns of behavior, but may not actually disclose where we are.

TREASURE MAP goes further, by providing the layout of the network on which any of us are generating metadata. But there is some other component either within TREASURE MAP, or within a complementary tool, that provides the physical address of any networked electronic device.

The NSA has the ability to track individuals not only by Internet Protocol addresses (IP addresses), but by media access control addresses (MAC addresses), according a recent interview with Snowden by James Bamford in Wired. This little nugget was a throwaway; perhaps readers already assumed this capability has existed, or didn’t understand the implications:

…But Snowden’s disenchantment would only grow. It was bad enough when spies were getting bankers drunk to recruit them; now he was learning about targeted killings and mass surveillance, all piped into monitors at the NSA facilities around the world. Snowden would watch as military and CIA drones silently turned people into body parts. And he would also begin to appreciate the enormous scope of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities, an ability to map the movement of everyone in a city by monitoring their MAC address, a unique identifier emitted by every cell phone, computer, and other electronic device.

[emphasis added]

In simple terms, IP addresses are like phone numbers — they are assigned. They can be static; a printer on a business network, for example, may be assigned a static address to assure it is always available to accept print orders at a stationary location. IP addresses may also be dynamic; if there’s an ongoing change in users on a network, allowing them to use a temporary address works best. Think of visits to your local coffee shop where customers use WiFi as an example. When they leave the premise, their IP address will soon revert to the pool available on the WiFi router. Read more

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

How is Abdullah Obtaining So Many Tapes of Phone Calls?

It is looking more and more likely that Abdullah Abdullah will continue his boycott of the vote-counting process in Afghanistan. As I noted Friday, thousands of his supporters took to the streets to protest the expected outcome and to call for fraudulent votes to be discarded. Abdullah’s camp released even more evidence Saturday, consisting of two audiotapes of conversations among officials in Paktika province regarding 20 ballot boxes which were found to be already stuffed with ballots on the night before the election. ToloNews informs us that one of the tapes was a conversation between the Paktika provincial Independent Election Commission (IEC) head and the executive assistant of Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail (the head of the IEC, who resigned after Abdullah released the first set of tapes). The second tape purports to be yet another recording of Amarkhail himself, this time participating in a discussion (again with the provincial IEC head) of how to deflect blame for the stuffed ballot boxes found in Paktika:

Amarkhail begins by stressing his frustration about the situation with the ANA commander revealing information to the media about the ballot stuffing. The provincial IEC head told Amarkhail that a video was made of the men stuffing 20 ballot boxes with 12,000 votes and in each box exactly 600 votes were stuffed and that the ANA wants to “broadcast this through TOLO TV.”

Concerned and upset about their position, the provincial IEC head suggests to Amarkhail that they hold a press conference defaming the ANA commander by stating that these frauds were conducted by the commander and his men.

After proposing the idea, the Gov. of Paktika, Muhebullah Samim, takes the phone approving the idea of holding a press conference expressing to Amarkhail that this is their only way out is by blaming the commander that he forced the “boys to do this and the boys will admit to it. The boys are willing to say that the ANA commander has forced them to stuff boxes.”

Content with the idea, Amarkhail agrees to the plan and begins to tell the men what needs to be done and how.

In a followup article, ToloNews provides the most incriminating part of the discussion and notes that they had reported the discovery of the stuffed ballot boxes before the election on the day they were found by the army: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

White House, Congress Arguing Over Which Senate Committee Should Fail in Drone Oversight

Ken Dilanian has a very interesting article in the Los Angeles Times outlining the latest failure in Congress’ attempts to exert oversight over drones. Senator Carl Levin had the reasonable idea of calling a joint closed session of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees so that the details of consolidating drone functions under the Pentagon (and helping the CIA to lose at least one of its paramilitary functions) could be smoothed out. In the end, “smooth” didn’t happen:

An effort by a powerful U.S. senator to broaden congressional oversight of lethal drone strikes overseas fell apart last week after the White House refused to expand the number of lawmakers briefed on covert CIA operations, according to senior U.S. officials.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, held a joint classified hearing Thursday with the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA and military drone strikes against suspected terrorists.

But the White House did not allow CIA officials to attend, so military counter-terrorism commanders testified on their own.

But perhaps the White House was merely retaliating for an earlier slight from Congress:

In May, the White House said it would seek to gradually move armed drone operations to the Pentagon. But lawmakers added a provision to the defense spending bill in December that cut off funds for that purpose, although it allows planning to continue.

Dilanian parrots the usual framing of CIA vs JSOC on drone targeting:

Levin thought it made sense for both committees to share a briefing from generals and CIA officials, officials said. He was eager to dispel the notion, they said, that CIA drone operators were more precise and less prone to error than those in the military.

The reality is that targeting in both the CIA and JSOC drone programs is deeply flawed, and the flaws lead directly to civilian deaths. I have noted many times (for example see here and here and here) when John Brennan-directed drone strikes (either when he had control of strike targeting as Obama’s assassination czar at the White House or after taking over the CIA and taking drone responsibility with him) reeked of political retaliation rather than being logically aimed at high value targets. But those examples pale in comparison to Brennan’s “not a bake sale” strike that killed 40 civilians immediately after Raymond Davis’ release or his personal intervention in the peace talks between Pakistan and the TTP. JSOC, on the other hand, has input from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which, as Marcy has noted, has its own style when it comes to “facts”. On top of that, we have the disclosure from Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald earlier this week that JSOC will target individual mobile phone SIM cards rather than people for strikes, without confirming that the phone is in possession of the target at the time of the strike. The flaws inherent in both of these approaches lead to civilian deaths that fuel creation of even more terrorists among the survivors.

Dilanian doesn’t note that the current move by the White House to consolidate drones at the Pentagon is the opposite of what took place about a year before Brennan took over the CIA, when his group at the White House took over some control of JSOC targeting decisions, at least with regard to signature strikes in Yemen.

In the end, though, it’s hard to see how getting all drone functions within the Pentagon and under Senate Armed Services Committee oversight will improve anything. Admittedly, the Senate Intelligence Committee is responsible for the spectacular failure of NSA oversight and has lacked the courage to release its thorough torture investigation report, but Armed Services oversees a bloated Pentagon that can’t even pass an audit (pdf). In the end, it seems to me that this entire pissing match between Congress and the White House is over which committee(s) will ultimately be blamed for failing oversight of drones.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.