Monday, September 1, 2008

Cyber Crime Updates

CRACKED : Suburban Ticketing System Hack

In an alarming development, a bunch of young researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands have managed to crack the ticketing system used by major suburban transportation systems around the world.

15 August 2008


In this age of terrorism and cyber crime, here is one more news that could send security analysts and researchers in a tizzy.

A bunch of young researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands have managed to crack the ticketing system used by major suburban transportation systems around the world. The chip in question is called the "MiFare" and is manufactured by NXP Semiconductors. Generally considered very safe, the system is being used by transit solutions in cities around the world - including Delhi, where it is used in the Metro Railway. Apart from suburban rail networks, MiFare cards are also to control access to buildings.

The researchers claim that the proprietary CRYPTO1 encryption system used by these cards can be easily retrieved, especially when a common key is used for all RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) readers and cards. Common keys are used on a large scale in large buildings and organizations. The hack itself is a simple affair, at least theoretically. What the hack does is to retrieve the secret key from the MiFare reader, which takes a while. Once the key is retrieved, the data is taken offline and then decrypted. Once this is done, the cracked key can be used to predict other random keys as well. The retrieved cryptographic key can provide various possibilities for abuse depending on the situation. For example, if all the cards share the same key, the card of a genuine employee/personnel can be cloned just by close contact and the affected person might not be even aware that his identity has been stolen. In case different keys are used, things become a lot safer - but it still remains vulnerable.

Earlier, two German researchers Karsten Nohl and Henryk Plotz had also reported security flaws in the technology. These two had actually managed to reconstruct CRYPT01 and had announced the same at a hackers' conference back in 2007. The Dutch team however did not replicate the encryption system - they simply exploited the weaknesses in the armor. This had happened in March 2008, and the news was immediately not revealed owing to security concerns. They wanted to ensure basic steps are taken to counter the vulnerability before the flaws were discussed. The Dutch Government was involved and kept in the loop. Later, the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service confirmed that the hack was as effective as an attack. Post this, the companies involved - NXP and Trans Link Systems - were briefed and technical representatives from the company are working with the researchers to analyze the impact of the security breach and develop countermeasures to patch the weaknesses.

The researches cited security concerns for the delay in reporting this security flaw.


CAGED : AOL Phisher Gets Seven Year Sentence

Robert McMillan,

IDG News Service

August 13, 2008


A West Haven, Connecticut, man has been sentenced to seven years in prison for masterminding a phishing scheme that targeted AOL users over a four-year period.

Michael Dolan, 24, was sentenced Wednesday in Connecticut federal court. The seven-year sentence was the maximum he could have received, said Assistant U.S. District Attorney Edward Chang, via e-mail. Dolan was also sentenced to three years' supervised release, and a US$200 special assessment, he added.

Last year Dolan pleaded guilty to fraud and aggravated identity theft charges.

Federal prosecutors had argued that he masterminded a scam in which he and five other men harvested thousands of AOL e-mail addresses and then infected victims' PCs with malicious software that would prevent them from logging on to AOL without entering their credit card numbers, bank account numbers and other personal information. The scam ran between 2002 and 2006, prosecutors said

All of the defendants have pleaded guilty. Another defendant, Keith Riedel, is set to be sentenced Thursday.

Victims would receive fake e-mail greeting cards that would silently infect their computers with the log-on software, according to a grand jury indictment. They were also spammed with phony e-mail messages that claimed to have come from AOL's billing department.

"Due to a central server meltdown, your credit card information was lost," one such e-mail read. "In order to enjoy your AOL experience and keep your account active, you must enter your credit card information within 24 hours."

Some of the fake greeting cards claimed to come from Web sites such as Hallmark.com or BlueMountain.com. Proceeds from the crime were used to purchase gaming consoles, laptop computers and gift cards, the indictment states.

In court filings, Pickerstein had asked for a lighter sentence, saying that his client suffered from "severe mental illness" and had made poor decisions following his father's suicide. He argued that there were probably less than 50 victims of the scam, and that victim losses were closer to US$43,000 -- far less than argued by the government.

His lawyer, Harold Pickerstein, declined to comment further on the matter on Wednesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Chang painted a far different picture of the man, saying in a sentencing memorandum that Dolan has attempted to bribe a codefendant, threatened to kill someone he thought was a government informant, and suborned perjury from his girlfriend. "Michael Dolan is a born leader -- a leader of criminals," he wrote.

Dolan had previously admitted that the scam had netted more than $400,000 from 250 or more victims, Chang argued in the memorandum.

Before the AOL phishing charges, Dolan had previously been sentenced to two years of probation after pleading guilty to accessing a protected computer without authorization. He later was given nine months' jail time for violating his probation terms.


STRATEGY : Russia’s Chechen Model for its Georgia Cyber Attack

13 August 2008


Cyber warfare as a military strategy is still in its infancy, and Western conceptions of just what cyber warfare is are in sharp contrast to that of Russia and China. In fact, just last year, General James Cartwright called the U.S. cyber warfare effort “dysfunctional“. And today, 18 months later, the USAF top leadership pulled the plug on its own 8th Air Force Cyber Command (h/t Danger Room), which is very interesting timing in light of Russia’s recent cyber and military attack against Georgia.

Unlike the U.S. effort, which is hugely complex, costly, and confusing, Russia has opted for a more efficient, low cost model that outsources the work to hacker groups like the Russian Business Network or the Eurasian Union of the Youth (ESM) who were responsible for last year’s cyber attack against the Ukrainian Security Service’s Web site.

While there isn’t unanimous consent among computer security firms and consultants that Russian hackers are working on behalf of the Federal Security Service (FSB), there is ample evidence to suggest that very thing.

Oleg Gordievsky was a Colonel in the KGB until his defection to MI6 in 1985. In 1998, he spoke at an international conference on crime and discussed how Russian hackers convicted of a cyber crime are sometimes offered an alternative to prison - working for the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (FSB).

By 2001, General Vladislav Sherstyuk, the RF Security Council deputy secretary, was predicting the equivalent of a cyber weapons arms race between the U.S. and Russia where “strike-capable military computer viruses” would be used in a cyber battlefield.

In 2002, Russia was engaged in the Chechen conflict and freely used cyberwarfare in its attempt to control the information flow:

Chechen rebels claimed that two of their websites, kavkaz.org and chechenpress.com, crashed under hack attacks by the Russian FSB security service. The website crashes were reportedly timed to occur concurrently or shortly after Russian Special Forces troops stormed the Moscow Theater in which the rebels had taken hostages. “On October 26 … our Web Site kavkaz.org was attacked by a group of hackers,” said a spokesman for the Chechen rebel site run by Movladi Udugov. Following the attack on the site, which is based in the United States, Udugov said that he was “amazed Russia’s special services can operate so freely on U.S. territory.”

The attacks on one site, chechenpress.com, fell under the category of brute-force denial of service (DoS) attacks, while on the other site, kavkaz.org, the attacks appeared much more sophisticated. According to Chechen sources, the website was hijacked by hackers from the FSB. The FSB hackers reportedly accomplished this by changing the domain registration of the

site and then eliminating the data for the site from the hosting server. Upon learning of these

attacks, the rebels moved the information on the sites to kavkazcenter.com. However, that site

was attacked just a week later, also apparently the work of FSB hackers.

Six years later, on 07 AUG 2008, many of Georgia’s Internet servers had suddenly been compromised. The next day, 08 AUG 2008, Russia began its military invasion of the country. Apart from computer network evidence that links Russia to the attack, both its timing vis a vis the invasion and its similarity to the Chechen action of six years earlier makes a compelling case that Russia has created a cyber warfare capacity that provides them with plausible deniability and a proven, low cost, effective method of conducting cyber warfare in support of a military strike.

Also see :

Hacker Attacks Preceded Fighting / The Moscow Times / 14 Aug 2008



Before the Gunfire, Cyberattacks / The New York Times / 12 Aug 2008



UPCOMING : The next war will be all in our minds

By Joe Fay

14th August 2008


The US needs to draft in psychopharmacologists, neuroscientists and even goateed cultural studies experts to fight 21 century wars that will be largely in the mind.

A report commissioned by the Defense Intelligence Agency on Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies predicts a freakish future of advances in neurosciences, and that the US will forget about the battle for the hearts and head straight for the mind.

Advances in functional neuroimaging, for example, will mean the US would literally be able to get into its enemies heads, without necessarily blowing open the heads concerned – those it can lay its hands on anyway. Advance functional neuroimaging are “likely to be deployed in areas such as business, human performance, risk assessment, legal applications, intelligence and the military”, it predicts.

In a conflict context, neurotechnology could “provide insight into intelligence from captured military combatants…to screen terrorism suspects at checkpoints” and the like. It could also be used for the training of the US’ own troops of course.

This will tie in with advances in the detection of psychological states, and the boffins seem particularly interested in how detecting lies might help the US achieve its ends. (So, Vlad, you don’t really want to invade Georgia/Ukraine/Lativia/insert here.)

And once you understand brain states, you’ll of course want to be able to alter them – theirs and yours of course. The report says this will be achieved with new drugs and, more importantly, new ways of delivering them.

The robo-soldier - or as the report puts it distributed human machine system - gets a look-in too. Advances here are likely to come in the form of direct brain-machine interfaces, robotic prosthetics and orthotics, cognitive and sensory prosthetics promising sensory substitution and enhancement, and software and robotic assistants. The report predicts that distributed human machine systems will only be limited by the imagination, and we’re sure they’ll have developed a drug to deal with that soon enough.

While many of these scientific battle fields are areas where the US might be thought to already have a lead, the boffins seem anxious about how much of an edge it actually has. The report points out that when it comes to computational biology and its applications to neuroscience etc. “much of the world is now on par or ahead of the United States”.

At the other end of the spectrum, it warns that on the robowarrior front, research has been “hampered by unrealistic programs driven by specific short term DoD and intelligence objectives”. It also references the “low priority” some of these areas have within the intelligence community.

Another surprise, perhaps, is the importance attached to the “cultural underpinnings of neuroscience”, even going so far as to suggest that “basic and applied social science research into … culture” can help the intelligence community to understand where the technology is going.

This includes using a touch of cultural understanding to anticipate how groups and individuals will react in given situations. For example, research into intercultural management and leadership can warn IC and national security analysts not to assume that western theories can be universally applied.” Who’d have thought it?

Ultimately, it recommends that investment be directed to “neuroscience research on the effects of culture on human cognition with special attention to the relationship between culture and brain development”. So, if nothing else, countries on the wrong end of the US's temper can expect a little bit more understanding in future – at least until the Pentagon develops a pill that’ll turn us all into McDonalds-eating Paris-tards as a prelude to a new era of Pax Americana.


New IT Term of the day


Short for Realtime Blackhole List, a list of IP addresses whose owners refuse to stop the proliferation of spam. The RBL usually lists server IP addresses from ISPs whose customers are responsible for the spam and from ISPs whose servers are hijacked for spam relay.

As subscribers to the RBL, ISPs and companies will know from which IP addresses to block traffic. Most traffic blocking occurs during the SMTP connection phase. The receiving end will check the RBL for the connecting IP address. If the IP address matches one on the list, then the connection gets dropped before accepting any traffic from the spammer. Some ISPs, though, will choose to blackhole (or ignore) IP packets at their routers. The goal here is to block all IP traffic.

It is important to note that all e-mail and packet blocking is done by the recipient, not the RBL administrator, which is only responsible for bouncing spam that is directed at its servers.

The RBL was created by Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS) LLC., but there are other entities that keep RBLs aside from MAPS.


Quote of the day

Truth : the most deadly weapon ever discovered by humanity. Capable of destroying entire perceptual sets, cultures, and realities. Outlawed by all governments everywhere. Possession is normally punishable by death.

John Gilmore

(1935- ) Author

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