Wednesday, January 7, 2015

FBI Director Comey's Single Point Of Failure on Sony

FBI Director Comey laid his entire agency's credibility on the line today at an FBI sanctioned cybersecurity event in New York City where he provided new information on the Sony hack:
“In nearly every case, [the Sony hackers known as the Guardians of Peace] used proxy servers to disguise where they were coming from in sending these emails and posting these statements. But several times they got sloppy,” Comey said. “Several times, either because they forgot or because of a technical problem, they connected directly and we could see that the IPs they were using…were exclusively used by the North Koreans.”
This sounded remarkably similar to the mistake made by the alleged North Korean hackers in the Dark Seoul attack of March 2013:
“SEOUL - A technical blunder by a hacker appears to have reinforced what South Korea has long suspected: North Korea has been behind several hacking attacks on South Korea in recent years.... The hacker exposed the IP address (175.45.178.xx) for up to several minutes due to technical problems in a communication network, giving South Korea a rare clue into tracing the origin of the hacking attack that took place on March 20, according to South Korean officials.”
The evidence that the FBI believes it has against the DPRK in the Sony attack stems from the data that it received on the Dark Seoul attack last year from the private sector. The FBI, the NSA, and the private security companies upon which they rely for information believe that any attack linked to a North Korean IP address must be one that is government sanctioned since North Korea maintains such tight control over its Internet and Intranet. That is the FBI's single point of failure because while that might have been true prior to 2009, it isn't true any longer.

Access to those blocks is relatively easy if you go in through China, Thailand, Japan, Germany or other countries where North Korea has strategic connections. For example, in 2007 Korea Central News Agency established a server in Japan to bypass blocking efforts by South Korea's Ministry of Unification. North Korea's Uriminzokkiri news website runs on a Chinese server. The Korea Computing Center maintains offices in Beijing and Dalian. The Gwang Myong IT Center, which is a spin-off from Korea Computer Center with offices in China sells network security solutions like anti-virus and data encryption to international clients including financial institutions in Japan.

North Korea has a growing IT and animation sector according to Dutch business consultant Paul Tjia. "NK firms have quietly developed software for banks in the Middle East, applications for cell phone makers in Japan and South Korea and even video games for Nintendo and Playstation".

However the easiest way to compromise a node on North Korea's Internet is to go through its ISP - Star Joint Venture. Star JV is a joint venture between North Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation and another joint venture - Loxley Pacific (Loxpac). Loxpac is a joint venture with Charring Thai Wire Beta, Loxley, Teltech (Finland), and Jarungthai (Taiwan).

I explored the Loxley connection as soon as this story broke, knowing that the FBI and the NSA was most likely relying on the myth of a "closed" North Korean Internet to base their attribution findings upon. Loxley is owned by one of Thailand's most well-connected families and just 4 kilometers away is the five star St. Regis hotel where one of the hackers first dumped Sony's files over the hotel's WiFi. It would be a simple matter to gain access to Loxley's or Loxpac's network via an insider or through a spear phishing attack and then browse through NK's intranet with trusted Loxpac credentials.

Once there, how hard would it be to compromise a server? According to HP's North Korea Security Briefing (August 2014) it would be like stealing candy from a baby. HP scanned the IP blocks involved in the Dark Seoul attacks (175.45.178.xx and 175.45.179.xx) and detected "dated technology that is potentially susceptible to multiple vulnerabilities and consistently showed the same open ports and active devices on scanned hosts." Apparently the North Korean government worries more about controlling Internet access among its population then it does about hardening its Internet-facing systems. Did the FBI's Red Team rule that out? Did they even consider it?

It simply isn't enough for the FBI director to say "We know who hacked Sony. It was the North Koreans" in a protected environment where no questions were permitted (I never allow that at Suits and Spooks events). The necessity of proof always lies with the person who lays the charges. As of today, the U.S. government is in the uniquely embarrassing position of being tricked by a hacker crew into charging another foreign government with a crime it didn't commit. I predict that these hackers, and others, will escalate their attacks until the U.S. figures out what it's doing wrong in incident attribution and fixes it.

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