Earlier today (August 28, 2014) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that Russia has sent troops to eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian hacker groups are quickly aiming to retaliate – Anonymous Ukraine plans to attack a number of Russian bank websites and the official websites of the Russian President . The first target was sberbank.ru, and the attack was planned to take place on August 28 at 16:00.
The #OpSaveGaza Campaign was officially launched on July 11, 2014, as a counter-reaction to operation “Protective Edge”. This is the third military operation against Hamas since the end of December 2008, when Israel waged operation “Cast Lead”, followed by operation “Pillar of Defense” in November 2012.
These military operations were accompanied by cyber campaigns emanating from pro-Palestinian hacker groups around the world. #OpSaveGaza was not the only recent cyber campaign against Israel, but it is the most organized, diverse and focused. During this campaign, hacker groups from Malaysia and Indonesia in the East to Tunisia and Morocco in the West have been participating in cyber attacks against Israel.
The Use of Social Networks
Hacktivist groups recruit large masses for their operations by means of social networks. Muslim hacker groups use mostly Facebook and Twitter to upload target lists, incite others to take part in cyberattacks and share attack tools.
The #OpSaveGaza campaign was planned and organized using these two social media platforms. The organizers of the campaign succeeded in recruiting tens of thousands of supporters to their anti-Israel ideology.
When examining the types of attacks perpetrated against Israeli cyber space, it appears that this campaign has been the most diverse in terms of attack vectors. It not only includes simple DDoS, defacement and data leakage attacks, but also phishing (even spear-phishing based on leaked databases), SMS spoofing and satellite hijacking (part of the Hamas psychological warfare), in addition to high-volume/high-frequency DDoS attacks.
Furthermore, these attacks have been much more focused as the attackers attempt to deface and knock offline governmental websites, defense contractors, banks and energy companies. Simultaneously, a large number of small and private websites were defaced (over 2,500) and several databases were leaked online.
Motivation and the Involvement of other Threat Actors
The motivation for waging cyberattacks against Israel during a military operation is clear. This is not the first time that a physical conflict has had implications on the cyber sphere. However, we believe that other factors are contributing to the cyber campaign. In July 2014, the Muslim world observed the month of Ramadan, a holy month in Muslim tradition. There are two significant dates in this month – “Laylat al-Qadr” (the Night of Destiny), the night the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad; and “Quds Day” (Jerusalem Day), an annual event held on the last Friday of Ramadan and mentioned specifically by Iran and Hezbollah. We identified an increase in the number of attacks, as well as their quality, surrounding these dates.
Last year, several days before “Quds Day” a hacker group named Qods Freedom, suspected to be Iranian, launched a massive cyber operation against Israeli websites. In other words, we believe that not only hacktivist elements participated in this campaign but also cyber terrorism units and perhaps even state-sponsored groups from the Middle East.
To summarize, this campaign was far better organized than the recent cyber operations we experienced in 2009 and 2012 alongside physical conflicts with Hamas. We have seen changes in several aspects:
Improvement in attack tools and technical capabilities
Information-sharing between the groups (targets, attack tools, tutorials)
The involvement of hacker groups from Indonesia in the East and Morocco in the West.
Possible involvement of cyber terrorism groups
Well-managed psychological warfare and media campaign by the participating groups
The scope and manner in which this campaign was conducted shows improved capabilities of the perpetrators, which is in-line with Assaf Keren’s assessment of the evolution of hacktivist capabilities.
When the cannons roar, the muses stay silent (but the hacktivists hack).
As we reported last week, operation “Protective Edge” instigated a flurry of activity by Muslim hacktivists, targeting Israel. In the following post we will review the activities which took place so far and try to characterize them.
Attackers can by divided into three types: individuals, hacktivist groups and cyber terror organizations. Individuals usually join larger campaigns by hacktivists groups and show their support on social media sites.
Hacktivist groups taking a stance make extensive use of Facebook as a “command and control” platform. The largest “event” dubbed #OpSaveGaza was created by Moxer Cyber Team, a relatively new group who probably originated from Indonesia whose event page has 19,000 followers.
The event included many lesser known Islamic groups, mainly from Indonesia, who did not participate in previous campaigns against Israel. Another event page by the Tunisian AnonGhost announced that the attack will include 38 groups from around the Muslim world. The campaign is planned to continue until the 14th of July.
Cyber terror organization in the form of the SEA (Syrian Electronic Army and ICR (Islamic Cyber Resistance) have not officially declared their participation in the campaign but have waged several high profile attacks, such as hacking into the IDF spokesman blog and Twitter account (SEA) and leaking a large database of job seekers (ICR).
The participants in this campaign use similar tools as previous campaigns – Generic DDoS tools, SQLi tools, shells and IP anonymization tools.
Results (Interim Summary)
#OpSaveGaza campaign included to date mainly defacement attacks (about 500 sites have been defaced), DDoS attacks of minor scale and some data dumps. Two interesting trend we’re seeing are recycling older data dumps and claiming it to be a new one, and posting publicly available information which was allegedly breached.
We estimate that these activities will continue until the hostilities on the ground subside, with perhaps more substantial denial of service or data leak attempts.
Following the escalation between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza, Muslim hacktivists have announced the launch of several cyber campaigns against Israeli targets.
Unlike the real Middle-East, where Muslims from different factions fight each other, when it comes to assaulting Israel they are happy to join forces. While several groups have launched campaigns to show their solidarity with the Palestinians, the most prominent are AnonGhost with #OpSaveGazaand Anonymous Arabe that launched #Intifada_3, alongside Moroccan Tigers Team.
#OpSaveGazais scheduled to peak on July 11, but attacks have already commenced against government, financial and Telcos, and is combining hackers from Malaysia in the East to Tunisia in the West.
#intifada_3 is lead by Anonymous Arabe and Moroccan Tigers Team, and is promising to launch daily attacks against an assortment of sites with defacement and DDoS attacks.
We expect the attack attempts to intensify in line with the progress of the armed conflict.
We recently published the first section of the terms table and felt it was insufficient, so we are following up with the second section, delving deeper into the underground cyber world of illicit trade, hacking and malware.
For the past few weeks, members of Anonymous and supporters of ISIS have been battling each other over the social media networks.
First, several Twitter accounts were created under the hashtag #No2ISIS to protest against ISIS activity in Iraq. Then, on June 21, 2014, an Anonymous-affiliated group called TheAnonMessage uploaded a public press release via YouTube about a cyber-attack targeting countries that support ISIS, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
On July 1, 2014, the Twitter account @TheAnonMessenger tweeted that the #No2ISIS cyber operation would continue until Anonymous decided otherwise.
The pro-Islamic Hilf-ol-FozoulTwitter account also accused ISIS of being a protégé of the U.S.
Contrastingly, several Muslim hackers that support ISIS responded to the Anonymous declarations by adding the hashtag #OpAnonymous to their tweets. To boot, a very active hacker nicknamed Kjfido tweeted this message to Anonymous members.
Kjfido presents himself as a cyber-jihadist and an official member of the ISIS Electronic Army.It should be mentioned that there is no evidence that the ISIS Electronic Army actually exists, although there is a Twitter account by the name @electonic_ISIS that tweets about ISIS activity and its agenda.
The intelligence world has undergone dramatic change in recent years. The growth in traffic, online platforms, applications, devices and users has made the intelligence gathering process much more complex and challenging.
Today, each individual makes multiple simultaneous online appearances. We operate social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter (in Russia there is VK and Odnoklassniki and in China RenRen and QZone). We are also active on professional networks, such as LinkedIn. We participate in discussion groups and forums. We share pictures and videos via dedicated websites, and we process transactions by way of ecommerce sites, etc. This makes it much harder today to track the online footsteps of an individual and connect the dots between his diverse online representations, especially if he uses multiple aliases and email addresses.
Man versus Machine
In today’s virtual world, web-crawlers and automated collection tools have limitations. Don’t get me wrong – they are very important and we are dependent on automated tools in our daily work, but in some areas they simply cannot compete with a human analyst.
I will give you an example – in order to access a particular Russian closed hacking forum, you must write 100 posts, receive a recommendation from the administrator of the forum and finally, pay 50 dollars in Bitcoin. Such a task cannot be accomplished by a crawler or an automated tool. You must have an analyst that understands the relevant ecosystem and who is also familiar with the specific slang or lingo of the forum members. You must know that “Kaptoxa” (“Potato” in Russian) on a deep-web hacking forum does not really mean “Potato”, but rather refers to the BlackPOS – a Point-of-Sale (POS) malware used in the Target attack at the end of last year.
Cyber Activity Areas
If we take a look at the threat actors in the world of cyber security, we can roughly divide them into four categories: hacktivists (such as Anonymous-affiliated groups around the world); cyber terrorists (for example, the cyber unit of Hezbollah, and lately we have seen clear indications of al-Qaeda (AQ) attempts to develop a cyber unit within their organization).
A third category is cyber criminals (we have recently heard about cybercrime activities organized by groups in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, China and Latin America). The final category is governments, or state-sponsored groups (such as the Chinese PLA Unit 61398, also known as APT1, or the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters, an Iranian hacker group that launched “Operation Ababil” two years ago against the American financial sector).
Today, it is clear that every industry or sector is a potential target for cyber attack, or, as the Director of the FBI said two years ago, “There are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be.”
And indeed, we are witnessing attacks on media organizations, public records (and in recent months attacks against healthcare services, mainly for the purpose of extortion), academic institutions, banks, the energy sector, and, of course, government agencies.
These diverse threat actors use the Internet to chat, plan their attacks, publish target lists, and even upload and share attack tools. But where can we find them? They have different online platforms.
Unlike APT campaigns that have almost no online footprint, the strength of hacktivism is its capability to recruit large masses for its operations, using social networks. In recent hacktivist campaigns we have identified Facebook as a “Command and Control” (C&C) platform for the attackers, where they plan the operation, publish a target list and share attack tools.
Cyber terrorists are mostly active on closed, dedicated forums where you must login with a username and password after receiving admin approval. We have experience with such forums in Arabic, Persian and even Turkish.
Cyber criminals, on the other hand, can be found on Darknet platforms, where you need to use a special browser to gain access. They can also be found on password-protected forums that sometimes require an entrance fee, payable in Bitcoin or other crypto-currencies. On these platforms we can find sophisticated attack tools for sale, pieces of advanced code, zero-day exploits, stolen data dumps and more.
Regarding governments or state-sponsored groups, I do not believe that they chat online, and generally speaking they do not leave footprints on the Web. However, we occasionally uncover activities by nation-state actors, such as the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) or Iranian-affiliated groups.
I would like to argue that in today’s world we must use traditional methods of intelligence gathering, specifically operating covert agents, or virtual spies, throughout the Web – in closed discussion rooms, on secret Facebook pages, in the deep-web and Darknet platforms – in order to obtain quality, relevant and real-time intelligence.
In late July and early August 2013, a Gaza-based hacker group named “Qods Freedom” launched a cyber-operation against Israeli websites. The attack comprised distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, website defacements and attempted bank account breaches.
The DDoS-affected sites were Israel Railways, El Al (Israel’s national airline) and a leading daily newspaper. The attacks were all effective, topping at about 3.2 Gb/sec, rendering the sites inaccessible for many hours.
The group defaced over 600 sites, most of them related to two hosting service providers (likely to have been compromised). The defacement messages suggest that the motivation for the attack was to commemorate “Quds Day” – the last Friday of Ramadan.The group did not attempt to conceal its actions. Quite the contrary – it has an official Facebook page and Imageshack account where it posted images purportedly depicting the breach of Israeli bank accounts.
The political affiliation of the groups seems very clear – hardcore Palestinian, anti-Israeli. This was also evident from pictures they posted on the defaced sites that included images of the Dome of the Rock, the Palestinian flag, footage of protesters skirmishing with IDF soldiers and a portrait of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and a quote from his famous “Spider Web” speech, which he delivered in southern Lebanon in 2000 (where he predicted that Israel would break apart like spider webs in the slightest wind).
After the attack subsided, SenseCy cyber intelligence analysts decided to take a closer look at the actions of this so-called Palestinian group. Gilad Zahavi, Director of Cyber Intelligence, recounted: “Something just didn’t add up. We were seeing many indications that this group was not what it portrayed itself to be, so we decided to dig deeper.”Using virtual entities (some of which have been in operation for some time, and are used to collect information on the vibrant hacking scene in Gaza), they started sniffing around on Palestinian forums and social media groups, but no-one seemed to know much about this group. With little else to do, the team looked again at the “signature” the group left after defacing one website. And there it was – a very uncharacteristic typo in the transcript of Nasrallah’s famous speech, one that no native Arab speaker would make. This raised suspicions that this group might not be Arab at all. A closer look at the font used to type the message confirmed that it originated from a Farsi-language keyboard.
Focusing on the Iranian connection, the team uncovered several other indications of the true origins of the group. For starters, “Quds Day” is mostly celebrated by the Iranian government and Hezbollah, not by Palestinian Sunnis. Secondly, the only references to these attacks (anywhere in the Muslim world) have come from the Iranian media. Two additional Iranian groups, “Iranian Data Coders” and “Persian Flag Guards” use the same defacement signature, indicating at least some affiliation to Iranian cyber groups. The last telltale sign was that Iranian hacker groups often choose to masquerade as Arab hackers, choosing Arabic instead of Farsi names. A notable example is the “Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters”, perceived to be linked to the Palestinian Hamas organization, but in fact operated by the Iranian regime.
So there you have it – an Iranian group with high technical capabilities, masquerading as a Palestinian group and attacking Israeli sites. This scheme was uncovered not by fancy computer forensics, but by good old-fashioned intelligence work, built on linguistic and cultural expertise, combined with a deep understanding of the cyber domain and intimate knowledge of the Middle East hacking scene.
The eyes of the world are trained on events unfolding between Russia and the Ukraine these days – partly curious, partly concerned, with others directly supportive of one of the sides, either through actions or by disseminating the agenda they believe in. Everyone understands that this conflict (or should we already use the term “war”?), may have a huge impact on the balance of power in Eastern Europe, and further afield. For the time being, we can only assume what Russia’s true goals are in this conflict and to what extent it can deteriorate. But one thing is already clear – this is a confrontation not only in the battlefield, with tanks and guns, but also in cyberspace, where the weapons are site defacements, data leaks and damage to the networks of financial and critical infrastructures. And it is not so obvious which of them is the more merciless and destructive…
This is not the first time that Russia has resorted to cyber-attacks against her enemies. April 2007 is still burned into the collective memory of Estonia, when thousands of sites belonging to Estonian organizations came under cyber-attack over a three-week period, which withheld many essential services from the general public.
Another conflict that served as a background to numerous cyber-attacks was the Russia–Georgia war in 2008. South Ossetian, Russian, Georgian, and Azerbaijani informational and governmental websites were hacked, resulting in defacements with political messages and denial of service to numerous websites. It was not clear whether the attack was an organized, government supported warfare or a riot of individuals and groups touting pro-Russian views.
The current confrontation in the Crimean Peninsula has only been underway for a few days, but it is already widely backed by supporters from both sides in cyberspace. Many websites with Russian and Ukrainian URLs have already been hacked and #OpUkraine and #OpRussia campaigns launched on social networks, mainly VK, Odnoklassniki and Facebook.
The Ukranians, imbued with patriotic feelings, are trying to hack Russian sites and leak data. The Ukranian site Bimba, which calls itself the “cyber weapon of the Maidan revolution,”announced its recruitment of cyber volunteers wishing to work for the benefit of the Ukraine.
The VK group #опПокращення // #OpUkraine, identified with Anonymous, uploaded a paste to the pastebin.com site, containing an anti-Russian message and a link to a download of an internal SQL data from Crownservice.ru (publishes tenders for governmental jobs), in a file called Putin Smack Down Saturday.
Other hacker groups in the Ukraine hacked regime websites, in expression of their support for the revolution. In general, a large number of internal cyberattacks among the different Ukrainian groups have been executed since the clashes began at the end of 2013. One of the more prominent was the hacking of the email of Ukraine opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko.
Russia tried to get even, although in a less obvious manner. Starting February 28, reports about cyberattacks in the Crimean Peninsula were published by some sources. Local communication companies experienced problems in their work that may have been caused by cyberattacks, as well as landline and Internet services. Moreover, Russia’s Internet monitoring agency (Roskomnadzor) has blocked Internet pages linked to the Ukraine protest movement.
Aside from Russians and Ukrainians, this conflict has attracted hackers from other countries, and we have already seen Turkish, Tunisian, Albanian and Palestinian hacker groups attacking Russian sites in support of the Ukrainian revolution.
At the time of writing, news sites have reported two more attacks on Russian sites by Ukrainian activists. This is a surprising, dynamic duel, and cyberspace is likely the stage upon which it will be played out.
On December 4, 2011, an American RQ-170 UAV crash-landed in northeastern Iran, bringing Iranian cyber warfare and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities to center stage. Since then, there has been much speculation about the cause of the malfunction in the UAV and possible Iranian involvement in bringing it down.
The Iranian government made an official announcement, declaring it had successfully taken over the UAV systems and landed the UAV intact.
But how did Iran do it?
While it was generally known back in 2011 that Iran possessed GPS jamming capabilities, the demonstration of this purported new capability to control a U.S. UAV and force it to land in Iranian territory sparked a whole new discussion regarding Iranian cyber warfare capabilities.
Experts on both sides suggested the possibility of GPS spoofing, thus taking it to another level.
While aircraft jamming is a known capability, albeit requiring a powerful-enough jammer, spoofing is what some would call the next level. It involves taking control over an aircraft navigation system and forcing it to land instead of following protocol and returning home when faced with enemy EW measures. Supporters of the ‘Spoofing Theory’ claim that the RQ-170 actually did follow protocol and returned to its ‘newly programmed’ home base – outside Kashmar in Iran.
According to several Iranian sources, this was an integrated attack combining a first stage of jamming followed by a second stage of spoofing.
Starting by disconnecting the UAV from its command center, the Iranians forced it to switch to internal guiding systems. At this point, the GPS system was jammed and misleading geographic data was sent to the UAV making it ‘believe’ that it was above the correct landing point.
It is important to mention that the idea of a possible disconnection of the UAV from its command center was noted by several sources but no references were made to the means by which this was achieved. It is unclear whether the disconnected command center was operating from the U.S. or from an American base in Afghanistan.
Although this scenario was suggested by Iranian sources and it is only one of several possible explanations for the incident, it is nonetheless important to consider the GPS spoofing as a very real option and be aware of the effect this ability can have on positioning Iran as a leading cyber warfare player in the Middle East.