Nations States Hacking and its Impact on Enterprises

It seems that cyber-espionage is on everyone’s mind these days. Fierce allegations are being made by US officials, claiming that Russian hackers interfered with the US election process. President Obama’s last act in office was to issue sanctions against alleged Russian hacking. But is this really surprising?

Nation states have been spying on one another since biblical times, the only thing that’s really changed are their methods. Instead of sending spies to infiltrate high ranks of political parties, nations can now utilize more subtle, and less risky methods to achieve an even greater political and diplomatic impact. In fact, America is certainly not alone; it is known that the NSA wiretapped Greek officials prior to, and during, the 2004 Athens Olympics.

‘The Athens Affair’, however, was over a decade ago. Today, the process is much simpler. Instead of hacking telephone networks, wiretapping, recording, and processing thousands of hours of calls, one simply has to hack a single email server to gain access to millions of emails and documents, all ready and waiting to be leaked at the right moment. For instance, with the goal of tarnishing a political candidate’s reputation.

Impact on the Enterprise

The question remains: what does this have to do with the business world? Well, due to the peculiar nature of cyberspace, the lines between nation states, hacking groups, hacktivists and cyber criminals are blurred. Russia makes extensive use of “patriotic” (read: nation state sponsored) hacking groups, as does China and Iran.

These “blackhat” hackers are sent to do their nation’s dirty work. They operate with guidance and are backed by substantial resources, all with plausible deniability of the regime that employs them. However, because the lines are so blurred, hackers will often use the information they find, or the tools they possess, for personal gain. The methods that they perfect to hack and steal sensitive information from other nations can be used by them, the next day, to hack corporations (they are freelancers, remember?).

Data Dumps

Hackers use data dumps to scourge and identify information which they can then utilize to hack organisations. In the process they may find information which could be used to hack corporations, which they will gladly use or resell. We’ve written in the past about the danger emanating from data dumps and password reuse and it is advised that enterprises enforce policies preventing password re-use and monitor dump sites regularly to identify information leakage.

Playing the Supply Chain

In more sophisticated cyber-espionage operations, hackers retreat down the supply chain and try to hack the weakest link. For example, it is difficult to hack the US Department of Defence networks, in order to gain intelligence about the next generation of aircrafts the US is building. It is far easier to hack the defence contractor who manufactures these aircrafts, simply because such companies employ thousands of smaller, less protected vendors who provide them with just about anything - from toilet paper and stationery, to aircraft-specific toilets, to missile casings. These vendors are still connected to the defence contractor’s ERP system, and communicate with it directly, creating a huge vulnerability.

Meet CyberZeist

CyberZeist is “a Political & Offensive Black-Hat hacker.” He is a former member of the UGNazi hacking group, from which various members were arrested for hacking and credit card fraud. CyberZeist has been active for many years, and embodies the duplicity of hacktivists today. While he mainly focuses his efforts on political goals, such a human rights, he occasionally (or during the process of) hacks “regular” commercial enterprises.

CyberZeist twitter account
CyberZeist twitter account

In 2012, CyberZeist hacked the security services company G4S, and published a document that allegedly revealed human rights violations (for more information see the following link). He also leaked a few hundred login credentials that he allegedly obtained by launching a spear phishing attack on US federal employees. Most, recently he uncovered the passwords to dozens of senators' email addresses, as well as social security numbers and credit card information for senior members of the Democratic party, including Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and acting Chair of the DNC Donna Brazile. The information was posted to Pastebin. On December 22, 2016, he even hacked the FBI website and leaked the data on Pastebin.

This post was written by Anna Shulga, Cyber intelligence analyst at IntSights

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