Sunday, June 19, 2016

The DNC Breach and the Hijacking of Common Sense

"When you need something to be true, you will look for patterns; you connect the dots like the stars of a constellation. Your brain abhors disorder. You see faces in clouds and demons in bonfires. Those who claim the powers of divination hijack these natural human tendencies. They know they can depend on you to use subjective validation in the moment and confirmation bias afterward."
Author: David McRaney
This article is about the DNC breach and its attribution to the Russian government. But first, imagine that the DNC breach wasn’t a network breach but a shooting (no one was injured). No one knows who the shooter was but he left behind his weapon, a Kalishnikov AKM made in Russia.

The unknown shooter used a Russian-made weapon. Does that mean that the shooter is Russian? Or that the shooter works for the company, Kalishnikov Concern? Or even more likely in the crazy world of cyber investigations, that the designer of the AKM is also the shooter?

Police would certainly explore the possibility that the shooter may have been Russian but they wouldn’t exclude other suspects. And no investigator in his right mind would arrest the CEO of Remington Arms, Sig Sauer, Kalishnikov Concern or any other arms manufacturer because a gun they made was used in a crime.

In the physical world of crime investigation, common sense dictates that the perpetrator of a crime may use any weapon and not just one made in the country of his birth, and that the developer or manufacturer of the weapon most likely isn’t the perpetrator of the crime.

And yet, those seemingly crazy assumptions are made every day by cybersecurity companies involved in incident response and threat intelligence. 

The malware was written in Russian? It was a Russian who attacked you. 

Chinese characters in the code? You've been hacked by the Peoples Liberation Army.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The DNC Hack: Dangers of Playing the Nation State Blame Game

UPDATE: Someone claiming to be responsible for the DNC breach has released the Trump opposition file to Gawker and mocked CrowdStrike according to the Salted Hash blog:

"The main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to WikiLeaks. They will publish them soon. I guess CrowdStrike customers should think twice about company’s competence," they wrote."

CrowdStrike's response to Salted Hash included mention of a "Russian Intelligence Disinformation Campaign", and that they stand by their findings of Russian government involvement.

On June 14, the Washington Post reported that the Democratic National Committee had suffered a breach of their network by Russian hacker groups who stole the DNC's opposition research on Donald Trump. The Post's headline read "Russian Government Hackers penetrated DNC ..."

I trust CrowdStrike's judgment that the hackers were Russian-speaking, but were they employed by competing Russian intelligence services as CrowdStrike maintains? The truth is - no one knows for sure. CrowdStrike merely believes that they are. Here's the essential argument that Dmitri made in his blog post:

  1. Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear appeared to work separately from each other in the DNC network without being aware of the other's presence. 
  2. Russian intelligence services (GRU, SVR, FSB) compete with each other.
  3. The group Fancy Bear "may be affiliated" with the GRU.
  4. Therefore Cozy Bear must be affiliated with the FSB or SVR.
I'm embarrassed to say that that kind of logic is par for the course in the crazy world of cyber threat intelligence. When it comes from a company with the size and reputation of CrowdStrike, it isn't questioned in national policy circles. It's accepted as fact. Soon it will appear as a footnote in some academic's article about "nation state cyber war". The FBI's database will be updated without any critical examination of the data. 

And should a more serious cyber event occur at any point in the future that even smells like Fancy Bear or Cozy Bear, it'll be declared an attack by the Russian government and a diplomatic incident could occur, even though the Kremlin may have had nothing to do with it. 

The truth is that there's no way using digital forensics to differentiate between a skillful and well-paid Russian-speaking mercenary hacker group working on their own, and equally skilled Russian hackers employed by the FSB. And something as simple as responsible attribution would go a long way towards avoiding unnecessary diplomatic tensions between governments.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Next Evolution of Suits and Spooks: Entertainment

Farnborough International Airshow 2014
I founded Suits and Spooks in 2011 in an effort to make it easier for startup technology companies to engage with the Intelligence Community; a problem based largely back then on an antiquated acquisition system. A lot has changed in five years, and so has Suits and Spooks.

Today, I'm pleased to announce the next evolution of this event. Delivering security training to executives by combining it with a hugely entertaining event like the world's largest military airshow in Farnborough, U.K.

Espionage @ Farnborough International Airshow will give our guests VIP treatment, hands-on time with the world's most advanced aircraft, space, and unmanned aerial systems while former British Intelligence officers and Special Operations Forces operators act as their guides with information on how espionage is conducted at shows like Farnborough and how to counter same.

Later that evening, back in London, former and current British Intelligence officers will review the tradecraft and the counterespionage techniques that our guests should know to keep their IP and R&D safe from bad actors (both in the cyber and physical domains).

While we are making this trip available to individuals, we can customize it for a company as a team-building, security-training, client entertainment, or client acquisition event. Please contact me if you'd like to discuss this further.

In the meantime, please check out and follow our brand new @SuitsandSpooks Instagram account for some incredible pictures related to our upcoming Farnborough / London trip, and to stay current about our future trips. You can also follow us on Twitter, or just visit the website.