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Why Did Tom Bossert Claim WannaCry Was Spread Via Phishing?

Writing this post made me look more closely at what Trump’s Homeland Security Czar Tom Bossert said in a briefing on WannaCry on Monday, May 15.

He claimed, having just gotten off the phone with his British counterpart and in spite of evidence to the contrary, that there had been minimal disruption to care in Britain’s DHS.

The UK National Health Care Service announced 48 of its organizations were affected, and that resulted in inaccessible computers and telephone service, but an extremely minimal effect on disruption to patient care.

[snip]

And from the British perspective, I thought it was important to pass along from them two points — one, that they thought it was an extremely small number of patients that might have been inconvenienced and not necessarily a disruption to their clinical care, as opposed to their administrative processes.  And two, that they felt that some of those reports might have been misstated or overblown given how they had gotten themselves into a position of patching.

 

Of course, this may be an issue in the upcoming election, so I can see why Theresa May’s government might want to downplay any impact on patient care, especially since the Tories have long been ignoring IT problems at DHS.

He dodged a follow-up question about whether there might be more tools in the Shadow Brokers haul that would lead to similar attacks in the future, by pointing to our Vulnerabilities Equities Process.

Q    I guess a shorter way to put it would be is there more out there that you’re worried about that would lead to more attacks in the future?

MR. BOSSERT:  I actually think that the United States, more than probably any other country, is extremely careful with their processes about how they handle any vulnerabilities that they’re aware of.  That’s something that we do when we know of the vulnerability, not when we know we lost a vulnerability.  I think that’s a key distinction between us and other countries — and other adversaries that don’t provide any such consideration to their people, customers, or industry.

Obviously, the VEP did not prevent this attack. More importantly, someone in government really needs to start answering what the NSA and CIA (and FBI, if it ever happens) do when their hacking tools get stolen, an issue which Bossert totally ignored.

But I’m most interested in something Bossert said during the original exchange on NSA’s role in all this.

Q    So this is one episode of malware or ransomware.  Do you know from the documents and the cyber hacking tools that were stolen from NSA if there are potentially more out there?

MR. BOSSERT:  So there’s a little bit of a double question there.  Part of that has to do with the underlying vulnerability exploit here used.  I think if I could, I’d rather, instead of directly answering that, and can’t speak to how we do or don’t do our business as a government in that regard, I’d like to instead point out that this was a vulnerability exploit as one part of a much larger tool that was put together by the culpable parties and not by the U.S. government.

So this was not a tool developed by the NSA to hold ransom data.  This was a tool developed by culpable parties, potentially criminals of foreign nation states, that was put together in such a way so to deliver it with phishing emails, put it into embedded documents, and cause an infection in encryption and locking. [my emphasis]

Three days into the WannaCry attack, having spent the weekend consulting with DHS and NSA, Bossert asserted that WannaCry was spread via phishing.

That is a claim that was reported in the press. But even by Monday, I was seeing security researchers persistently question the claim. Over and over they kept looking and failing to find any infections via phishing. And I had already seen several demonstrations showing it didn’t spread via phishing.

Now, Bossert is one of the grown-ups in the Trump Administration. His appointment — and the cybersecurity policy continuity with Obama’s policy — was regarded with relief when it was made, as laid out in this Wired profile.

“People that follow cybersecurity issues will be happy that Tom is involved in those discussions as one of the reasoned voices,” Healey says.

“Frankly, he’s an unusual figure in this White House. He’s not a Bannon. He’s not even a Priebus,” says one former senior Obama administration official who asked to remain unnamed, contrasting Bossert with Trump’s top advisers Stephen Bannon and Reince Priebus. “He has a lot of credibility. He’s very straightforward and level-headed.”

And (as the rest of the profile makes clear) he does know cybersecurity.

So I’m wondering why Bossert was stating that this attack spread by phishing at a time when open source investigation had already largely undermined that hasty claim.

There are at least three possibilities. Perhaps Bossert simply mistated here, accidentally blaming the vector we’ve grown used to blaming. Possibly (though this would be shocking) the best SIGINT agency in the world still hadn’t figured out what a bunch of people on Twitter already had.

Or, perhaps there were some phished infections, which quickly got flooded as the infection spread via SMB. Though that’s unlikely, because the certainty that it didn’t spread via email has only grown since Monday.

So assuming Bossert was, in fact, incorrect when he made this claim, why did have this faulty information?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Shadow Brokers: “All your bases are belong to us”

Back when Shadow Brokers doxxed some NSA hackers, I argued some allusions Shadow Brokers made served as a kind of warning, in that case directed at people who hack for NSA. As I understand it, Shadow Brokers’ threats reflected access to specific and accurate information.

Though I haven’t confirmed any of these details, yesterday’s Shadow Brokers post seems to do more of the same, although this time directed at NSA itself.

Consider this passage:

In April, 90 days from theequationgroup show and tell, 30 days from Microsoft patch, theshadowbrokers dumps old Linux (auction file) and windows ops disks. Because why not? TheShadowBrokers is having many more where coming from? “75% of U.S. cyber arsenal” TheShadowBrokers dumped 2013 OddJob from ROCTOOLS and 2013 JEEPFLEAMARKET from /TARGETS. This is theshadowbrokers way of telling theequationgroup “all your bases are belong to us”. TheShadowBrokers is not being interested in stealing grandmothers’ retirement money. This is always being about theshadowbrokers vs theequationgroup.

Shadow Brokers starts by saying it just dropped the EternalBlue dump, along with some other files, because “The ShadowBrokers is having many more where [those were] coming from.” Shadow Brokers then cites from a detail first reported in a WaPo report (though presents the factoid as a direct quote when it is not): that Hal Martin stole 75% of the US cyberarsenal. The WaPo report actually stated that Martin had stolen “75 percent of TAO’s library of hacking tools.”

Shadow Brokers then made some assertions that may disprove a claim WaPo made yesterday: “It is not clear how the Shadow Brokers obtained the hacking tools, which are identical to those breached by former NSA contractor Harold T. Martin III, according to former officials.” It described exactly where, on the NSA servers, the files came from. “TheShadowBrokers dumped 2013 OddJob from ROCTOOLS and 2013 JEEPFLEAMARKET from /TARGETS.” Having suggested it had at least seen file paths or screen caps of the NSA’s file system, Shadow Brokers then made its point even more clear: “This is theshadowbrokers way of telling theequationgroup ‘all your bases are belong to us‘,” both making fun of the claims about its broken language but also suggesting takeover (though I’m curious if mis-citation using a plural here is intentional — perhaps these file systems are in different places? — or just one of a some egregious typos in this post).

Again, I haven’t confirmed whether those details are accurate. Surely the NSA has doublechecked. If they are accurate, then the other claims made in the post — specifically about the other things it has to dump — will especially merit attention.

TheShadowBrokers Monthly Data Dump could be being:

  • web browser, router, handset exploits and tools
  • select items from newer Ops Disks, including newer exploits for Windows 10
  • compromised network data from more SWIFT providers and Central banks
  • compromised network data from Russian, Chinese, Iranian, or North Korean nukes and missile programs

One more point. Shadow Brokers seems to suggest Oracle and another Microsoft patch were due to notice from former NSA hackers, as if all the former NSA employees are helping their employers clean up holes they’ve long known about.

Oracle is patching huge numbers of vulnerabilities but TheShadowBrokers is not caring enough to be look up exact dates.

[snip]

TheShadowBrokers is thinking Google Project Zero is having some former TheEquationGroup member. Project Zero recently releasing “Wormable Zero-Day” Microsoft patching in record time, knowing it was coming? coincidence?

It’s not clear whether they’d be doing this because they knew of holes NSA had been using or not.

But it’s worth observing that Shadow Brokers is not making vague threats here.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The EternalBlue Source Might Have Been Able to “Fish DOD with Dynamite;” Why Didn’t It?

Let’s look at some dates the WaPo’s sources and Shadow Brokers are giving for the EternalBlue exploit that caused havoc around the world starting on Friday.

Yesterday, WaPo had a story on how concerned people within NSA were about the EternalBlue Windows exploit used in the WannaCry ransomware. It was so powerful, one source described, it was like “fishing with dynamite.”

In the case of EternalBlue, the intelligence haul was “unreal,” said one former employee.

“It was like fishing with dynamite,” said a second.

But that power came with risks. Among others, when the NSA started using the powerful tool more than five years, the military would have been exposed to its use.

Since the NSA began using EternalBlue, which targets some versions of Microsoft Windows, the U.S. military and many other institutions have updated software that was especially vulnerable.

Though Cyberscoop notes the US military hasn’t been entirely protected from WannaCry. An IP address associated with the Army Research Lab in Fort Huachuca was infected (though that could have been a deliberate attempt to respond to the ransomware).

WannaCry ransomware infected a machine tied to an IP address associated with the Army Research Laboratory, CyberScoop has learned. The information, found on a list of affected IP addresses provided by a security vendor, would mark the first time the ransomware was found on a federal government computer.

The security vendor, who provided the data on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive material, observed communications from the victim IP address to the attackers’ known command and control server on May 12; confirming that the ransomware infection involving the ARL was in fact successful.

The IP address is tied to a server block parked at a host located at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The type of machine the IP address is attached to is unknown.

In the early days of EternalBlue, the WaPo explains, it would often crash the infected computer, resulting in a bluescreen that might alert victims to its presence. That opened the possibility that the victim might discover the exploit and then turn it back on the US.

“If one of our targets discovered we were using this particular exploit and turned it against the United States, the entire Department of Defense would be vulnerable,” the second employee said. “You just have to have a foothold inside the network and you can compromise everything.”

The WaPo puts the date before which DOD was vulnerable to its own weapon at 2014.

What if the Shadow Brokers had dumped the exploits in 2014, before the government had begun to upgrade software on its computers? What if they had released them and Microsoft had no ready patch?

In yesterday’s post, Shadow Brokers claimed the Windows exploits released last month — which it had first named in January — came from a 2013 OpsDisk.

In January theshadowbrokers is deciding to show screenshots of lost theequationgroup 2013 Windows Ops Disk.

I’ll have a bit more to say about Shadow Brokers’ claims yesterday. But if this description of the source of the exploit is correct — an ops disk dating to 2013 — it opens up the possibility it was discovered around the same time (perhaps in response to the bluescreen effect). If it did, then it would have been able to attack DOD with it.

I keep asking people what the source for Shadow Brokers’ files might have been able — might still be able — to steal from the US using the tools in question. This timeline seems to suggest the Ops Disk would have been deployed before DOD was prepared to withstand its own weapons.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Shadow Brokers Further Incites War between “scumbag Microsoft Lawyer” and NSA

The other day, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith wrote a blog post about the WannaCrypt ransomware exploiting his company’s products to disrupt the world. At one level it was one of the first entries in what will surely be an interesting policy discussion once there’s an aftermath to the crisis, calling for collective action and a Digital Geneva Convention.

But at another level, Smith’s post provided an opportunity to bitch out the CIA and NSA, the leaked and stolen exploits of which have really fucked with Microsoft in the last few months.

Finally, this attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem. This is an emerging pattern in 2017. We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world. Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen. And this most recent attack represents a completely unintended but disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today – nation-state action and organized criminal action.

The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call. They need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world. We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits.

Joining the many people who object to the analogy between Tomahawks and hacking exploits, the entity that caused this crisis, Shadow Brokers, is none too impressed with Smith’s response, either. Along with suggesting NSA was paying Microsoft to sit on vulnerabilities and unleashing a load of expletives (you can click through for both of those), Shadow Brokers lays out the tensions between Microsoft, its enterprise contracts with the government, and the NSA’s reticence about the vulnerabilities in Microsoft products it is exploiting.

Despite what scumbag Microsoft Lawyer is wanting the peoples to be believing Microsoft is being BFF with theequationgroup. Microsoft and theequationgroup is having very very large enterprise contracts millions or billions of USD each year. TheEquationGroup is having spies inside Microsoft and other U.S. technology companies. Unwitting HUMINT.

[snip]

Microsoft is being embarrassed because theequationgroup is lying to Microsoft. TheEquationGroup is not telling Microsoft about SMB vulnerabilities, so Microsoft not preparing with quick fix patch. More important theequationgroup not paying Microsoft for holding vulnerability. Microsoft is thinking it knowing all the vulnerabilities TtheEquationGroup is using and paying for holding patch.

Then Shadow Brokers brings the hammer: threatens to dump (among other offerings in an “exploit of the month club”) a Windows 10 vulnerability.

TheShadowBrokers Monthly Data Dump could be being:

  • web browser, router, handset exploits and tools
  • select items from newer Ops Disks, including newer exploits for Windows 10
  • compromised network data from more SWIFT providers and Central banks
  • compromised network data from Russian, Chinese, Iranian, or North Korean nukes and missile programs

Heck, at this point, Shadow Brokers doesn’t even need to have this exploit (though I’m guessing the NSA and Microsoft both may be erring on the side of caution at this point). Because simply by threatening another leak after leaking two sets of Microsoft exploits, Shadow Brokers will ratchet up the hostility between Microsoft and the government.

It might even force some disclosure about exploits more critical to NSA’s current toolkit than the very powerful tools Shadow Brokers already used to create a global ransomware worm.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Three Things: Oracle’s 299, Flashback, Longreads and 4/20

Day Zero — the day after federal income tax filings were due — came and went, with zero Trump tax returns disclosed to the public. While Trump’s positions on many issues flip-flop and confuse the world, on transparency, ethics, and his tax returns he has been utterly consistent: opaque and unethical.

Fortunately today is 4/20. Do with that what you will. Do you smell brownies?

Speaking of 4/20, did you know that states where marijuana legalization appeared on the 2016 ballot, those initiatives outperformed one or more of the two main presidential candidates? What a candidate or political party might do with that knowledge…anyhow, on with three things.

Unprophetic Oracle
There’s still some fallout after The Shadow Brokers (TSB) release last week of NSA Tailored Access Operations’ (TAO) toolkit. Software vendor Oracle announced a patch for 299 vulnerabilities revealed by the TSB.

Wrap your head around that: 299 fixes.

Bigger than the whopping 276 fixes Oracle issued last summer in one fell swoop.

Now wrap your head around the fact this mega-patch covers a range of corporate enterprise software used for nearly every aspect of business operations, from human resource management to service or manufacturing resource planning.

If the NSA isn’t conducting economic espionage Oracle seems like an odd target to saturate so wide and deeply.

Still haven’t decided what to think of Oracle’s ability to push out this many patches inside a week. Were they tipped off, or were these vulnerabilities so obvious they should have been fixed ages ago? Or maybe this is what happens when a business like Oracle takes its eyes off the ball and focuses on the wrong things like a protracted lawsuit against Google?

Memories, jogged
When I saw this table fragment on Twitter, listing a few exploits revealed by TSB, I had a flashback to the Bush administration.

Gee, I wonder how much of the NSA TAO-Equation Group toolkit could explain the White House’s missing emails post-Plame outing?

Longreads: Economics, Liberalism, Google’s first moonshot
These are worth your time yet this week or weekend.

The Liberal Order Is Rigged by Jeff D. Colgan and Robert O. Keohane in Foreign Affairs (registration required) — An examination of liberalism’s failure and how the failure led to anti-democratic populism. In my opinion, this assessment is good but simplistic; the knee-jerk reaction many will have to the word ‘liberalism’ alone indicates there is far more at work than liberalism failing to deliver on its merits. It’s still worth a read; we must begin to pick out and save the liberal from neoliberal if we are to save democracy. Must say I’m surprised at Foreign Affairs’ steady shift away from rigid conservatism as well as neoliberalism.

The moral burden on economists — Darryl Hamilton’s 2017 presidential address to the National Economic Association warns against treating economics as a morally neutral ‘science’. How much of the failure of liberalism is really due to immoral/non-neutral application of economics?

Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria by James Somers for The Atlantic — This tagline is quite the hook: “Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.” Heartbreaking to think there hasn’t been a middle ground to free these books to the public. In my opinion, Google is out the money on the scanning process. What would happen if they spun off this effort as a nonprofit digital Library of Alexandria? Could the funds from books approaching out-of-copyright date pay for the upkeep and digitization of new works?

Chaffetz out?
I don’t even know what to think of the rumors that Rep. Jason Chaffetz may leave Congress before his term ends December 2017. Some speculate his role in cutting funding directly related to security for diplomats plays a role; others speculate the decision is based on a more personal driver. I hope he can live with what he’s done and what he may yet choose to do. I’d hate to have to explain myself to my kids if I’d made some of his decisions to date.

There’s your three things and a lagniappe. À bientôt!

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.

The Doxing of Equation Group Hackers Raises Questions about the Legal Role of Nation-State Hackers

Update: I should have caveated this post much more strongly. I did not confirm the names and IDs released in the dump are NSA’s hackers. It could be Shadow Brokers added names to cast blame on someone else. So throughout, take this as suspected doxing, with the possibility that it is, instead, disinformation. 

In 2014, DOJ indicted five members of China’s People Liberation Army, largely for things America’s own hackers do themselves. Contrary to what you’ve read in other reporting, the overwhelming majority of what those hackers got indicted for was the theft of information on international negotiations, something the US asks its NSA (and military industrial contractor) hackers to do all the time. The one exception to that — the theft of information on nuclear reactors from Westinghouse within the context of a technology transfer agreement — was at least a borderline case of a government stealing private information for the benefit of its private companies, but even there, DOJ did not lay out which private Chinese company received the benefit.

A month ago, DOJ indicted two Russian FSB officers and two criminal hackers (one, Alexey Belan, who was already on FBI’s most wanted list) that also worked for the Russian government. Rather bizarrely, DOJ deemed the theft of Yahoo tools that could be used to collect on Yahoo customers “economic espionage,” even though it’s the kind of thing NSA’s hackers do all the time (and notably did do against Chinese telecom Huawei). The move threatens to undermine the rationalization the US always uses to distinguish its global dragnet from the oppressive spying of others: we don’t engage in economic espionage, US officials always like to claim. Only, according to DOJ’s current definition, we do.

On Friday, along with details about previously unknown, very powerful Microsoft vulnerabilities and details on the 2013 hacking of the SWIFT financial transfer messaging system, ShadowBrokers doxed a number of NSA hackers (I won’t describe how or who it did so — that’s easy enough to find yourself). Significantly, it exposed the name of several of the guys who personally hacked EastNets SWIFT service bureau, targeting (among other things) Kuwait’s Fund for Arab Economic Development and the Palestinian al Quds bank. They also conducted reconnaissance on at least one Belgian-based EastNets employee. These are guys who — assuming they moved on from NSA into the private sector — would travel internationally as part of their job, even aside from any vacations they take overseas.

In other words, ShadowBrokers did something the Snowden releases and even WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 releases have avoided: revealing the people behind America’s state-sponsored hacking.

Significantly, in the context of the SWIFT hack, it did so in an attack where the victims (particularly our ally Kuwait and an apparent European) might have the means and the motive to demand justice. It did so for targets that the US has other, legal access to, via the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program negotiated with the EU and administered by Europol. And it did so for a target that has subsequently been hacked by people who might be ordinary criminals or might be North Korea, using access points (though not the sophisticated techniques) that NSA demonstrated the efficacy of targeting years earlier and which had already been exposed in 2013. Much of the reporting on the SWIFT hack has claimed — based on no apparent evidence and without mentioning the existing, legal TFTP framework — that these hacks were about tracking terrorism finance. But thus far, there’s no reason to believe that’s all that the NSA was doing, particularly with targets like the Kuwait development fund.

Remember, too, that in 2013, just two months after NSA continued to own the infrastructure for a major SWIFT service bureau, the President’s Review Group advised that governments should not use their offensive cyber capabilities to manipulate financial systems.

Governments should not use their offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts or otherwise manipulate the financial systems;

[snip]

[G]overnments should abstain from penetrating the systems of financial institutions and changing the amounts held in accounts there. The policy of avoiding tampering with account balances in financial institutions is part of a broader US policy of abstaining from manipulation of the financial system. These policies support economic growth by allowing all actors to rely on the accuracy of financial statements without the need for costly re-verification of account balances. This sort of attack could cause damaging uncertainty in financial markets, as well as create a risk of escalating counter-attacks against a nation that began such an effort. The US Government should affirm this policy as an international norm, and incorporate the policy into free trade or other international agreements.

No one has ever explained where the PRG came up with the crazy notion that governments might tamper with the world’s financial system. But since that time, our own spooks continue to raise concerns that it might happen to us, Keith Alexander — the head of NSA for the entire 5-year period we know it to have been pawning SWIFT — is making a killing off of such fears, and the G-20 recently called for establishing norms to prevent it.

A number of the few people who’ve noted this doxing publicly have suggested that it clearly supports the notion that a nation-state — most likely Russia — is behind the Shadow Brokers leak. As such, the release of previously unannounced documents to carry out this doxing would be seen as retaliation for the US’ naming of Russia’s hackers, both in December’s election hacking related sanctions and more recently in the Yahoo indictment, to say nothing of America’s renewed effort to arrest Russian hackers worldwide while they vacation outside of Russia.

While that’s certainly a compelling argument, there may be another motive that could explain it.

In a little noticed statement released between its last two file dumps, Shadow Brokers did a post explaining (and not for the first time) that what gets called its “broken” English is instead operational security (along with more claims about what it’s trying to do). As part of that statement, Shadow Brokers claims it writes (though the tense here may be suspect) documents for the federal government and remains in this country.

The ShadowBrokers is writing TRADOC, Position Pieces, White Papers, Wiki pages, etc for USG. If theshadowbrokers be using own voices, theshadowbrokers be writing peoples from prison or dead. TheShadowBrokers is practicing obfuscation as part of operational security (OPSEC). Is being a spy thing. Is being the difference between a contractor tech support guy posing as a infosec expert but living in exile in Russia (yes @snowden) and subject matter experts in Cyber Intelligence like theshadowbrokers. TheShadowBrokers has being operating in country for many months now and USG is still not having fucking clue.

On the same day and, I believe though am still trying to confirm the timing, before that post, Shadow Brokers had reacted to a Forbes piece asking whether it was about to be unmasked (quoting Snowden), bragging that “9 months still living in homeland USA USA USA our country theshadowbrokers not run, theshadowbrokers stay and fight.” Shadow Brokers then started attacking Jake Williams for having a big mouth for writing this post, claiming to expose him as a former Equation Group member, specifically invoking OddJob (the other file released on Friday that doxed NSA hackers, though not Williams), and raising the “gravity” of talking to Q Group, NSA’s counterintelligence group.

trying so hard so helping out…you having big mouth for former member what was name of.

leak OddJob? Windows BITS persistence? CCI? Maybe not understand gravity of situation USG investigating members talked to Q group yet

theshadowbrokers ISNOT in habit of outing members but had make exception for big mouth, keep talking shit your next

Which is to say that, four days before Shadow Brokers started doxing NSA hackers, Shadow Brokers made threats against those who’ve commented on the released Shadow Brokers files specifically within the context of counterintelligence investigations, even while bragging about having gone unexposed thus far even while remaining in the United States.

Whatever else this doxing may do, it will also make the investigation into how internal NSA files have come to be plastered all over the Internet more difficult, because Shadow Brokers is now threatening to expose members of TAO.

Which is not to say such a motivation, if true, is mutually exclusive of Russia retaliating for having its own hackers exposed.

All of which brings me back to the question of norms. Even as the US has been discussing other norms about hacking in recent years, I’ve seen next to no discussion about how state hackers — and remember, this post discusses NSA hackers, including uniformed members of the Armed Services, government contractors, spies, and criminal hackers working for a state (a practice we do too, though in a different form than what Russia does) — fit into international law and norms about immunities granted to individuals acting on behalf of the state. The US seems to have been proceeding half-blindly, giving belated consideration to how the precedents it sets with its offensive hacking might affect the state, without considering how it is exposing the individuals it relies on to conduct that hacking.

If nothing else, Shadow Brokers’ doxing of NSA’s own hackers needs to change that. Because these folks have just been directly exposed to the kind of international pursuit that the US aggressively conducts against Russians and others.

Because of international legal protections, our uniformed service members can kill for the US without it exposing them to legal ramifications for the rest of their lives. The folks running our spying and justice operations, however, apparently haven’t thought about what it means that they’re setting norms that deprive our state-sponsored hackers of the same protection.

Update: I forgot to mention the most absurd example of us indicting foreign hackers: when, last year, DOJ indicted 7 Iranians for DDOS attacks. In addition to the Jack Goldsmith post linked in that post, which talks about the absurdity of it,  Dave Aitel and Jake Williams talked about how it might expose people like them to international retaliation.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Three Things: Day 1 – Tax Day, Ballmer’s Gift, Microsoft

Day 1: Tax Day
You have today until midnight local time today to file your federal income taxes or file for an extension. As of midnight, Trump owes us yet another federal tax return.

And no, Trump’s federal income tax return for 2016 is NOT under audit as the deadline hasn’t even passed. Even if an audit of Trump’s 2016 filing began tomorrow there’s no excuse for not disclosing what has been filed with the IRS regardless of audit status.

What made America great has been its lower rate of corruption and clear expectations of oversight and governance. What makes America less than great is a failure of governance, lack of transparency, and increasing corruption. Why would any foreign individual, or company, or country invest in the U.S. when they can no longer reasonably expect fairness and security from our government? Trump’s behavior (and that of his family and his corporate holding structure) placing himself beyond the law undermines our strength. This cannot continue.

Steve Ballmer’s gift: USAFacts
Admittedly, I was never very crazy about Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft. He continued Bill Gates’ flawed ideology after Windows reached near-ubiquity, suppressing Microsoft’s value and negatively influencing the tech industry for too long. What a pleasant surprise, though, to learn about his retirement hobby: USAFacts, a Big Data initiative tracing the flow of tax dollars using government data.

The project began after Ballmer’s spouse prodded him to do more philanthropically. He resisted because he paid a lot of taxes; weren’t his tax dollars enough? Mm-hmm.

He learned a lot, and I expect we will be, too, as USAFacts matures. Some ugly truths have already been exposed to people like Ballmer who might not otherwise have looked — like the power of the gun lobby to suppress government reporting, or the inability of children to rise from poverty.

Ballmer’s redeeming himself. I only hope his project can get out in front of the Trump administration’s rapid decimation of government reporting.

Microsoft: a very different gift
Systems administrators who manage Windows-based enterprises aren’t very happy with a change Microsoft made to its security bulletins — they’re gone, replaced by a searchable database.

Which sounds all fine and dandy in theory until reality meets the road. Just read users’ feedback and you’ll quickly grasp additional workload has been pushed off onto administrators who already have quite enough to do. SANS Internet Storm Center looked swamped by the change.

Elimination of the security bulletin format had been expected since last November and anticipated for February. It’s not clear if there is a relationship between the unusual patch pushes February and March and this new security updates database.

One meager upside: malicious hackers will have just as much difficulty (or more) determining what was patched as will Windows administrators.

Speaking of hackers, I should note here I may be a minority report on The Shadow Brokers (TSB). The manner in which the last three months of Windows’ security fixes have been handled — which included many key vulnerabilities in advance of TSB’s latest NSA toolkit dump — suggests somebody inside Microsoft already knew what to patch months ago. Perhaps even last year when the change to security bulletins was announced given the amount of lead time needed to fix complex vulnerabilities.

Further, Microsoft had been compromised once some years ago that we know of by a Russian spy. Recall the roundup of the Illegals Program by FBI in late June 2010 when ten Russian sleeper agents including Anna Chapman were taken into custody and deported less than two weeks later in a spy swap. An eleventh agent had been picked up in Seattle where he worked for Microsoft. Reports said he was a only entry-level software tester who had established employment under his real name, Alexey Karetnikov. He first worked as an intern for Microsoft in the summer of 2008, then hired on full time in October 2009 after a gap year in Russia. (Karetnikov wasn’t the only Illegal Program spy in the Seattle area; a spy using the name ‘Tracey Foley‘ had been hired to work for a real estate company’s Seattle branch but had not fully established a presence in the northwest by the time she was arrested. There didn’t appear to be an immediate link between Foley and Microsoft or any Seattle-area technology company.)

What did Microsoft do after they learned about Karetnikov’s presence? When did they learn about him — before his arrest, or only when the arrest took place? How did MSFT mitigate risks, including the possibility there were other undisclosed spies in their ranks? Is TSB really a means by which now-useless or exposed tools are rolled up while being used as a honeypot? Could explain why linguists say TSB is likely English-speaking masquerading as non-English speaker.

We’ll probably never know for sure.

A little less than seven hours until tax filing deadline here in Eastern Daylight timezone. Tick-tock.

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.

The Shadow Brokers Vulnerability Equities Process: NSA Has Had at Least 96 Days to Warn Microsoft about These Files

On January 8, Shadow Brokers announced an auction of Windows Warez, with lists of the exploits he/they had for sale (these two posts from Malware Jake provide analysis of them). Four days later, SB released a different set of Windows exploits, a more dated set that (SB claimed) Kaspersky Labs had had some visibility onto.  The Windows files released today include the ones offered for sale back in January, down to the version numbers. Compare, in particular, the touch, exploit, and payloads with this screencap. SB announced Fuzzbunch and DanderSpritz in January, too.

That’s a critical detail for the debate going on on Twitter and in chats about how shitty it was for SB to release these files on Good Friday, just before (or for those with generous vacation schedules, at the beginning of) a holiday weekend. While those trying to defend against the files and those trying to exploit them are racing against the clock and each other, it is not the case that the folks at NSA got no warning. NSA has had, at a minimum, 96 days of warning, knowing that SB could drop the files at any time.

The big question, of course, is whether NSA told Microsoft what the files targeted. Certainly, Microsoft had not fully responded to that warning, as hackers have already gotten a number of these files to work.

With WikiLeaks’s Vault 7 files, it’s at least possible the CIA doesn’t know precisely what got leaked to WikiLeaks, even though the government immediately identified when and how the files were breached. The NSA cannot make that claim here, at least not with the Windows files. SB was kind enough to provide warning. The question is, what did NSA do with that warning.

The fact that SB provided that warning, though, should have very serious ramifications for the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, under which the NSA is supposed to consider whether it is better to alert companies to exploits or to sit on them and use them. It’s one thing to decide NSA’s spying takes precedence over the security of the customers of big American companies. It’s another thing to keep those exploits in a way that makes them vulnerable to theft, as both CIA and NSA have done.

But it should be beyond question that when an intelligence agency gets a very detailed list of a group of exploits a malicious entity plans to release, the agency should warn the American companies affected.

Update: Microsoft told Sam Biddle they haven’t heard from any “individual or organization.”

A Microsoft spokesperson told The Intercept “We are reviewing the report and will take the necessary actions to protect our customers.” We asked Microsoft if the NSA at any point offered to provide information that would help protect Windows users from these attacks, given that the leak has been threatened since August 2016, to which they replied “our focus at this time is reviewing the current report.” The company later clarified that “At this time, other than reporters, no individual or organization has contacted us in relation to the materials released by Shadow Brokers.”

I think there’s actually some wiggle room in there. We shall see how long it takes MSFT to patch this stuff.

Update: MSFT released a statement that said all but three of these had been addressed. Three of them were addressed in their March update, and another this year. Which would suggest NSA did warn them.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

NSA Continued Double Dipping at SWIFT Even After It Was Exposed

One of the most contentious Snowden revelations — first reported on September 8, 2013 by Globo and then repeated a week later by Der Spiegel — was that NSA’s Tailored Operations group was hacking SWIFT, the international financial transfer messaging system. It was contentious because when the servers moved to Europe, the US and EU negotiated access for the US, access with protections for Europeans that happened to be oversold.

Shadowbrokers just released its second set of NSA files in a week. This set includes far more interesting documents than the batch released last week. Most significantly, it includes details on NSA’s thorough pawning of SWIFT. Whereas the SWIFT files from Snowden, which were never released publicly, seemed to date from 2011, the most recent files released today, including one dated October 17, 2013, appear to date to a month after the first public Snowden reports that NSA had targeted SWIFT. In addition, it includes files showing NSA targeting a SWIFT EastNets engineer in Belgium.

A number of people have been arguing that the mostly Middle Eastern financial institutions that seem to be the focus here — things like the Al Quds Bank for Development and Investment — are legitimate intelligence targets. And they are, within the framework of NSA’s spying in the US. But that ignores that the US had an agreement in place about what legitimate targets were (which, according to MEPs who tried to oversee the agreement, were violated anyway). Also, a number of our Arab allies may not be too happy to see their own banks targeted.

Both last week’s release and this week’s cite Trump’s suddenly volatile foreign policy. “Maybe if all suviving WWIII theshadowbrokers be seeing you next week.” By releasing files that remind Europe that the US continued to flout multilateral negotiations, SB may be trying to make continued adventures more difficult for Trump.

Update: Security researcher Matt Suiche did a more detailed post on how much this release endangers SWIFT.

Update: Shadow Brokers has long made a show of asking for Bitcoin for all this. But these SWIFT files alone (to say nothing of what appear to be multiple Windows 0days in this release) would have been at least as valuable.

Even more interesting, remember that the US threatened to kick Russia out of SWIFT in 2014, which led Russia to build a redundant system in case it were ejected from the cooperative. Even the Trump Administration has floated making sanctions more stringent. If Russia ever were targeted in such a way, it seems these files would be invaluable. And yet they got leaked, for free. To my mind that’s one of the best pieces of evidence yet that Shadow Brokers is not Russian.

Update: EastNets, the primary target in the SWIFT files, issued this statement:

No credibility to the online claim of a compromise of EastNets customer information on its SWIFT service bureau

The reports of an alleged hacker-compromised EastNets Service Bureau (ENSB) network is totally false and unfounded. The EastNets Network internal Security Unit has run a complete check of its servers and found no hacker compromise or any vulnerabilities.
The EastNets Service Bureau runs on a separate secure network that cannot be accessed over the public networks. The photos shown on twitter, claiming compromised information, is about pages that are outdated and obsolete, generated on a low-level internal server that is retired since 2013.
“While we cannot ascertain the information that has been published, we can confirm that no EastNets customer data has been compromised in any way, EastNets continues to guarantee the complete safety and security of its customer’s data with the highest levels of protection from its SWIFT certified Service bureau”
Hazem Mulhim, CEO and founder EastNets.
Note what the statement is, however: a denial of current compromise. It says it retired the server in question down in 2013, which is the date of these files. But that might also mean they reviewed their files after the Snowden-related disclosures and responded by revamping their security.
Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

No More Secrets: Vault 7

Several days after Shadow Brokers first announced an auction of a bunch of NSA tools last August, Wikileaks announced it had its own “pristine” copy of the files, which it would soon release.

Wikileaks never did release that archive.

On January 7-8, Shadow Brokers got testy with Wikileaks, suggesting that Wikileaks had grown power hungry.

Shadow Brokers threw in several hashtags, two of which could be throw-offs or cultural references to a range of things (though as always with pop culture references, help me out if I’m missing something obvious). The third — “no more secrets” — in context invokes Sneakers, a movie full of devious US intelligence agencies, double dealing Russians, and the dilemma of what you do when you’ve got the power that comes from the ability to hack anything.

Moments later, Shadow Brokers called out Wikileaks, invoking (in the language of this season’s South Park) Wikileaks’ promise to release the file.

Of course, within a week, Shadow Brokers had reneged on a promise of sorts. Less than an hour before calling out Wikileaks for growing power hungry, Shadow Brokers suggested it would sell a range of Windows exploits. Four days later, it instead released a limited (and dated) subset of Windows files — ones curiously implicating Kaspersky Labs. All the “bullshit political talk,” SB wrote in a final message, was just marketing.

Despite theories, it always being about bitcoins for TheShadowBrokers. Free dumps and bullshit political talk was being for marketing attention.

And with that, the entity called Shadow Brokers checked out, still claiming to be in possession of a range of (dated) NSA hacking exploits.

Less than a month later (and over a month before Monday’s release), Wikileaks started the prep for the Vault 7 release of CIA’s hacking tools. (Given the month of lead hype and persistent attention throughout, I’m not sure why any claimed rapid and “overwhelming” response to the release should be attributed to Russian bots.)

Having been called out for sitting on the Shadow Brokers’ files (if, indeed, Wikileaks actually had them), Wikileaks this time gave the appearance of being forthcoming, claiming “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the [CIA].”

Except …

While Wikileaks released a great deal of information about CIA’s hacking, it didn’t release the code itself, or the IP addresses that would reveal targets or command and control servers.

Wikileaks has carefully reviewed the “Year Zero” disclosure and published substantive CIA documentation while avoiding the distribution of ‘armed’ cyberweapons until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should analyzed, disarmed and published.

Wikileaks has also decided to redact and anonymise some identifying information in “Year Zero” for in depth analysis. These redactions include ten of thousands of CIA targets and attack machines throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States.

Now, perhaps Wikileaks really is doing all this out of a sense of responsibility. More likely, it is designed to create a buzz for more disclosure that WL can use to shift responsibility for further disclosure. Yesterday, Wikileaks even did a silly Twitter poll designed to get thousands to endorse further leaks.

In reality, whether for their own PR reasons or because it reflects the truth, tech companies have been issued statements reassuring users that some of the flaws identified in the Wikileaks dump have already been fixed (and in fact, for some of them, that was already reflected in the Wikileaks documents).

Thus far, however, Wikileaks is sitting on a substantial quantity of recent CIA exploits and may be sitting on a significant quantity of dated NSA exploits. Mind you, the CIA seems to know (belatedly) precisely what Wikileaks has; while NSA has a list of the exploits Shadow Brokers was purportedly trying to sell, it’s not clear whether NSA knew exactly what was in that dump. But CIA and NSA can’t exactly tell the rest of the world what might be coming at them in the form of repurposed leaked hacking tools.

There has been a lot of conversation — most lacking nuance — about what it means that CIA uses code from other hackers’ exploits (including Shamoon, the Iranian exploit that has recently been updated and deployed against European targets). There has been less discussion about what it means that Wikileaks and Shadow Brokers and whatever go-betweens were involved in those leaks might be involved have been sitting on US intelligence community exploits.

That seems like a worthwhile question.

Update: as his delayed presser on this release, Assange stated that he would work with tech companies to neutralize the exploits, then release them.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.