Welcome!

Security Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Vincent Brasseur, Gilad Parann-Nissany

Related Topics: Security, GovIT

Security: Blog Post

Burning Down the House for Fun and Profit

The Pros and Cons of Naming and Shaming

In October of 1962, during the buildup to the Cuban Missile Crisis, a debate between Adlai Stevenson and Valerian Alexandrovich Zorin at the United Nations Security Council, revealed how far the U.S. was willing to go to produce evidence that the Soviet Union was indeed stockpiling tactical nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in North America. The Soviets, reluctance to be truthful "in the court of world opinion", forced the hand of the U.S. to produce the very intelligence that the Soviets' claimed the U.S. did not have. Once the overhead photos of the missiles were shared publicly, the Soviets immediately countered that the imagery was fake. We knew the truth then and we know it today, the Soviets had been caught in their lie.

What we saw this week was very similar to what we saw in 1962.  What is most interesting in this case is that the bombshell was not dropped in a stuffy chamber full of wrinkly policy makers, nor was it used by the administration to draw a hard line under Executive Order 13636 that President Obama signed last week. No, the story was brought to light by a single, private sector entity using unclassified information that was publicly available for anyone to put together. By doing so, a precedent has been set. Finally, the veil has been lifted. Now, the public was able take a glimpse at an unseen threat that many within the security industry have been following closely for nearly a decade.  A complex, intangible idea has a face, or rather a building, attached to it.

So what does this mean? Is this good, bad or somewhere in the middle?

Operational Caveat:
Since 13 February, Cyber Squared's ThreatConnect.com has detected an unknown security research group, (believed to be Mandiant) sink-holing known "Comment Group" command and control infrastructure to a variety of named Virtual Private Servers (VPS) ahead of their 19 February report release. All "Comment Group" infrastructure has been freely available to vetted ThreatConnect users since November 2012.

The Pros:
Unfortunately, there are no lanes in the road that point out clear-cut standards by which organizations can measure if they are responsibly or irresponsibly disclosing cyber threat information. While not everyone supports public disclosures of this nature, we can look at both sides of what has occurred and find the benefits and cost of this massive disclosure.

PRO1: Finally an organization has developed a public attribution picture, publicly naming and shaming China for behavior that many have observed internationally for over a decade.

PRO2: A precedent has now been set for the entire security community; there are many others who have chosen to hold off on disclosing details of attacks or operationalizing infrastructure take downs out of concerns with tipping the threat actors and forcing them to change their TTPs and operational security. Now a green-light has been given to disclose similar details and to unilaterally act to take down large chunks of malicious infrastructure associated with APT's.

PRO3: The United States Government (USG) appears to have handed over the issue of Chinese cyber espionage to commercial industry. Some may argue that this level of disclosure should only be part of an official USG response. However, allowing industries to self-regulate and establish norms of internet behavior may serve as a more efficient way to manage threats of this nature.

PRO4: This now gives the security industry something to measure against.  Not only can the industry observe and measure how "Comment Group" will respond to the disclosure, but also their reactions to sweeping sinkhole operations in addition to target reacquisition efforts.  The industry can also pay attention to general responses from other Chinese APT groups.

PRO5: A disclosure at this level raises the issue of nation state sponsored or sanctioned cyber espionage to a larger audience, keeping the issue in the spotlight and increasing overall global awareness of the threat posed by Chinese cyber espionage.

The Cons:
On the flipside, despite the new opportunities that this may present the industry, there are untold numbers of secondary effects that could come to light because of this disclosure.

CON1: The USG appears to be sidestepping a strategic national policy issue by allowing a commercial entity to assume all of the risk by acting as the mouthpiece that may influence U.S.-China relations. If the USG is to send a message, it needs to send it unequivocally with no appearance of a puppet.

CON2: This may increase the precedent for foreign governments or non-U.S. companies that wish to embarrass the U.S. or western allies by attributing details of other sophisticated threats to western powers.

CON3: "Comment Group", while quite effective, could be considered "low hanging fruit".  There were many "eyes on" from across the global security community which were actively monitoring the threat. Many organizations that had adequate visibility of "Comment Group" infrastructure, capabilities and operations now find themselves exposed to the unknown.  Assuming a Chinese military intelligence unit isn't just going to give up and go home, everyone is now equally vulnerable to whatever they use next.

CON4: A single Chinese APT group out of an average of approximately 20 APT groups would only address 5% of the overall problem. By disclosing details of just one threat group, the effect to Chinese cyber espionage operations would be minimal.

CON5: A detailed disclosure at this level reveals a laundry list of specific items that the Chinese can now use as lessons learned to improve upon overall tradecraft. This increases the probability of Chinese counter intelligence operations, operations security, oversight and an overall process improvement which will diminish the security industries ability to effectively combat the threat of Chinese APT's in the future.

Conclusion
Only time will tell if the gains outweigh any losses associated with the disclosure.  Despite growing evidence that this is the work of the Chinese, the official response has been no different than what we have seen before.  A poor embassy spokesperson, followed by spokespeople for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defense, are forced to respond with the standard canned and reflexive denial stating that accusing China without evidence is "irresponsible" and "unprofessional" or that China is ultimately the victim and would never do such a thing. What this spokespersons probably doesn't understand, through the layers of party bureaucracy, is how "irresponsible" and "unprofessional" the Chinese Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) machine actually is. If this is the case, it highlights how intentionally deceptive the PRC is or that the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing in the shadows.

Ultimately, what is truly "irresponsible" and "unprofessional" is targeting the same individual four times a day through emails written in broken English with an attached implant embedded in a self extracting archive. For those who bear the scars of APT attacks or organizations who specialize in protecting customers from such threats, it becomes quite clear, the Chinese, in their hunger to support their modernization and economic rise, have compromised themselves before a global economy.

More Stories By Rich Barger

Rich is the Chief Intelligence Officer for Cyber Squared and the ThreatConnect Intelligence Research Team (TCIRT) Director. Rich has over 17 years of experience supporting the commercial sector, defense industry, and intelligence community with threat intelligence and computer network operations. Rich is a passionate and creative thought leader that has led talented teams of researchers in producing quality analysis and actionable intelligence. After his commitment to the United States Army, Rich has supported the U.S. Army Command and Control Support Agency, the U.S. Army 1st Information Operations Command, the Joint Task Force Global Network Operations, and the NSA/CSS Threat Operations Center. Rich possesses a variety of industry certifications and a BS in Information Systems Security with Honors from American Military University.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.