Jihadi Cybercrime (Increasing Interest in Spam and Phishing Methods on Closed Islamic State Platforms)

While monitoring closed platforms that propagate an Islamic State agenda, we detected an initial interest in hacking lessons, focusing on spam and phishing methods. Many discussions in the technical sections of closed platforms affiliated with the Islamic State deal with the implementation of Continue reading “Jihadi Cybercrime (Increasing Interest in Spam and Phishing Methods on Closed Islamic State Platforms)”

Does the Islamic State have Offensive Cyber Capabilities?

The short answer to this question is another question – does it really matter? What is more important is their ever-growing desire and motivation to obtain and develop offensive capabilities in cyber-space.

There has been debate among security experts on this matter since the Islamic State (IS) started operating in the cyber domain. On the one hand, some argue that IS hackers have already proven their ability to launch successful cyber-attacks and now they are attempting to carry out meaningful attacks against critical infrastructures (with no success thus far).

On the other hand, an emerging theory suggests that attacks previously associated with IS were actually perpetrated by a sophisticated group of Russian hackers. In other words, the alleged attacks against a French TV station in April 2015, the hijacking of the CENTCOM Twitter account in January 2015 and others were the work of a Russian APT group, and not the IS-affiliated “Cyber Caliphate.”

But again – does it really matter? We can say with a high degree of certainty that IS as a terror organization is trying to develop cyber capabilities. We received a strong indication of this trend in late August 2015, when a US drone strike killed a British IS cyber expert.

Even before that, in early 2014, we had heard of so-called cyber operations conducted by the Al-Qaeda Electronic Army (AQEA, or AQECA – the Al-Qaeda Electronic Cyber Army) against US government websites.

We assess that at the moment IS hacking entities (such as “Cyber Caliphate” or the Islamic Cyber Army – ICA) do not have high technical capabilities. That said, we should not underestimate the Islamic State’s attempts to develop an offensive cyber capability. An analysis of IS publications reveals a clear increase in the motivation of IS-inspired hackers to wage attacks against high-profile Western targets.

A concerning development in this aspect would be indications of the purchasing of attack tools and malware from highly sophisticated cyber criminals. Taking into consideration the clear intentions expressed by IS in relation to executing cyber-attacks against the West, such tools could be directed at critical infrastructures, sensitive organizations, government agencies and more.

Intelligence Review of #OpIsrael Cyber Campaign (April 7, 2015)

Starting at the end of last week, hacktivist groups from around the Muslim world tried to attack Israeli websites, particularly those of government institutions, as part of the #OpIsrael cyber campaign. In the past twenty-four hours they stepped up their activity, but we have seen no signs of major attacks. Despite all the publicity prior to the campaign, the hackers’ successes were limited to defacing several hundred private websites and leaking the email addresses of tens of thousands of Israelis, many of them recycled from previous campaigns. Several dozen credit card numbers were also leaked on information-sharing websites, but our examination shows that some were recycled from past leaks.

AnonGhost, which initiated the campaign, was the main actor behind it. However, other groups of hackers, such as Fallaga, MECA (Middle East Cyber Army), Anon.Official.org, and Indonesian and Algerian groups also participated in the attacks. As the campaign progressed, we saw an increasing number of posts and tweets about it (over 3,000), but this is still significantly less than last year, when there were tens of thousands.

As we noted in previous updates, the campaign was conducted primarily on social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter. IRC channels opened for the campaign were barely active, partly because hackers feared spying by “intelligence agents.” On closed forums and Darknet platforms, we saw no activity related to #OpIsrael.

Participants discuss why the campaign is smaller than in 2013
Participants discuss why the campaign is smaller than in 2013

Following is a summary of the main results of the attacks that we have identified so far:

  • Defacing of hundreds of websites. Victims included Meretz (an Israeli political party), various Israeli companies, sub-domains of institutions of higher education, municipalities, Israeli artists, and more.
  • Leaking of tens of thousands of email addresses and personal information of Israelis. A significant portion of the information was recycled from previous campaigns. Databases from third-party websites were also leaked. In addition, two files were leaked and according to the hackers, one had 30,000 email addresses and the other 150,000 records.
  • Publication of details from dozens of credit cards, some of them recycled.

The Rebirth of #OpIsraelReborn

#OpIsraelReborn 2014

Since 2001, the date 9/11 has held symbolic meaning for all terror groups and Islamist hacktivists. Every year, come September, many countries raise their alert status, fearing that a terror attack might be executed on this date to amplify its resonance and attach more significance to it. Ergo, it came of little surprise that this date was chosen in 2013 for the #OpUSA campaign that mainly targeted the websites of different American governmental and financial institutions. To further leverage the momentum, a second campaign, #OpIsraelReborn, was launched by AnonGhost concurrently with #OpUSA. However, the 2013 #OpIsraelReborn campaign failed to produce the desired results, and perhaps for this reason, this year the group has decided to have another go at it.

1111

On August 21, 2014, AnonGhost tweeted “Next operation is #OpIsrael Reborn. On 11 September, be ready Israel – you will taste something sweet as usual”. While we do not expect them to hand out vanilla-flavored ice-cream to random Israelis on the street, we also do not believe this campaign poses an exceptionally grim threat. Nevertheless, the AnonGhost group, together with many other hackers, are undoubtedly highly motivated to launch cyberattacks against Israeli targets, especially after the recent Protective Edge campaign, and they should therefore be afforded appropriate attention.

Based on last year’s experience, we expect that the main attack vectors will include DDoS attacks, defacements and SQL injections, and the prime victims of these attacks will be the websites of small businesses that maintain a low level of security.

9/11 is drawing closer and we will soon find out what cake AnonGhost has baked for us this time.        

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#OpSaveGaza Campaign – Insights from the Recent Anti-Israel Cyber Operation

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.

OpSaveGaza - Facebook Event

Attack Vectors

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.

Hackers targeting Israeli ISPs
Hackers targeting Israeli ISPs

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.

Pro-Palestinian hackers defacing Israeli websites
Pro-Palestinian hackers defacing Israeli websites

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.

The Islamic Cyber Resistance (ICR) leaking an internal database
The Islamic Cyber Resistance (ICR) leaking an internal database

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.

#OpSriLanka

Over the last few days, several Muslim hacker groups have hacked government and financial websites in Sri Lanka in protest against the government’s attitude toward the violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.

As you can see in the graph below, there were hundreds of tweets over the weekend with the related hashtag #OpSriLanka.

Twitter Activity about #OpSriLanka
Twitter Activity about #OpSriLanka

For example, one Twitter account named Global Revolution called for the hacking of the Sri Lanka central bank website.

a Tweet about hacking SriLanka central bank
a Tweet about hacking SriLanka central bank

There is also a group page on Facebook named #OpSriLanka with 1,590 members. The main targets of the group are Sri Lankan government websites and official websites of the Buddhist population in Sri Lanka. The attack tools are mostly DDoS tools for computers and Android phones.

From the Facebook Group Page
From the Facebook Group Page

List of targets:

Tools:

Mirror of a defaced website:

Additionally, on June 22, 2014, a group of hackers nicknamed Izzah Hackers leaked Sri Lankan government emails and passwords via Pastebin.

Leaked Sri Lankan emails and password
Leaked Sri Lankan emails and passwords

Sri Lanka is not alone. Muslim hacker groups are responsible for previous cyber-attacks against Myanmar (Burma) and the Central African Republic (CAR), protesting the killing of Muslims on religious grounds.

 

Evolution of Hacktivist Campaigns

In the next week we are going to see a major hacktivist operation, aimed against Israel, called #OpIsraelBirthday which is supposed to start on the 7th of April. The operation is dubbed “birthday“ since it comes to commemorate the last OpIsrael that took place on the same date last year. In recent weeks, there was a lot of internal debate in SenseCy about what has changed from then to now and what can we expect to see in the coming operation. I think that the results of this debate might be interesting to you as well:

–          DDoS Attacks – DDoS attacks are nothing new, but recently, attackers have started utilizing a new-old approach in the form of reflection attacks. If a year ago the height of the attack topped at 30Gb/sec attacks, it’s more than plausible to assume that we’re going to see one order of magnitude higher than that. This might be ok for a large sized country but for Israel this might cause problems in the ISP infrastructure itself and not just create a denial of service to the target site.

–          Self-Developed Code – If up until now, most of what we have seen coming from the anti-Israel hacktivism groups was reuse of anonymous code, with maybe slight improvements in the UI interface, lately we have started to identify unique/ original code developed by the groups themselves, albeit some of it is dependent on existing code and available libraries but this might be an indicator for things to come.

 AnonGhost DDoSer

AnonGhostDDoSer – Developed by AnonGh0st for OpIsraelBirthday

 

–          Dumps vs. Defacements – It seems that the general objective now is less the defacement of sites and more the ability to create harm and panic through the publication of stolen data dumps. We see more and more details regarding allegedly hacked sites (some of them important) with the promise that the databases will be published on the 7th of April. This is probably the first time these hacktivist groups are trying to achieve a more widespread impact that is, at least in spirit, similar to the terror effect.

–          Shells and RATs – It seems that SQL injections and cross site scripting is shifting from being the end result to being the means in which the hacktivist groups place web shells on their targets or infect the targets with RATs and other malware. It might, in effect, suggest a more coherent effort to cause more sophisticated damages to their targets.

All in all, it seems that the motivation for the attack remains similar, but the magnitude and scope of the upcoming operation seems to be larger and more dangerous than the last one (in terms of tools available and number of participants). However, companies and organizations that are aware of the threat can, in turn, take actions to handle and mitigate these attacks.

Information Sharing between Hackers

Written by Hila Marudi

Arab hacker groups often share cyber information. From time to time, Arab hackers even upload self-written guide books or translate them from other languages. They post them on closed Facebook groups or password-protected forums, reaching a sizeable audience and thus improving the technological capabilities of potential attackers.

By way of example, we traced a series of guide books in Arabic for SQL injection attacks written by an Egyptian hacker nicknamed “Black Rose”. He shared them with his Facebook friends and on closed Arabic forums associated with hacking.

The Table of Contents
The Table of Contents

One of his guides, published in late 2013, addresses different ways to overcome obstacles in SQL injections. It is written mostly in Arabic, with technical terms in English. The instructions are accompanied by various screen shots to illustrate everything as clearly as possible.

Screenshot from the book
Screenshot from the book

We have noticed these kinds of books and instruction guides on different hacker group platforms, as well as personal ones. Although the level of the technical content is mediocre, over the last six months we have discerned an improvement in the hacking capabilities of hacktivist groups.

Cyber Threats to Oil and Gas Industry

Recent years have witnessed an increase in the number of cyber attacks against the energy sector. This sector’s main vulnerability is its reliance on ICS/SCADA systems, which have been causing serious concern for the security community for the past years.

The Oil and Gas Industry is considered privileged targets for different adversaries such as nation-state actors, cyber terrorists, hacktivists and even cyber criminals that sell stolen sensitive data in the underground market. In 2012, for example, energy companies were targeted in 41% of the malware-attack cases reported to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And, vulnerabilities in this industry have skyrocketed 600% since 2010, according to data reported in an NSS Labs’ Vulnerability Threat Report.

Here are some examples of significant attacks pertaining to the energy sector:

State-Sponsored

In August 2012, Saudi Aramco was hit by a computer virus that wiped data from 30,000 computers. Although the attack did not have an impact on the oil production, it disrupted Saudi Aramco’s internal communications. The virus, termed ‘Shamoon’, was inserted to the company’s network via a USB stick. The US government has blamed Iran for the attack, and the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated that it was “probably the most destructive attack that the private sector has seen to date”.

Hacktivism

On June 20, 2013, the hacktivist collective Anonymous launched a cyber operation dubbed #OpPetrol planned to target various oil companies around the world. The operation was not a success, but it emphasized the fact that the oil and gas industry represents an attractive target for attackers with different agendas and motivations, including sabotage, cyber espionage, financial, political, and more.

OpPetrol_2

Terrorist Groups

In Tunisia the hacker group Tunisian Cyber Army (TCA) is joining forces with the Electronic Army of al-Qaeda (AQEA). The groups had already carried out cyber attacks against Western targets and they definitely pose an emerging threat in the cyber domain.

Conclusion

We believe that the threat to the Oil and Gas industry will grow in the near future, as the hunt for vulnerabilities in SCADA systems has increased. A couple of weeks ago it was reported that Kaspersky experts discovered a java version of Icefog espionage campaign that targeted at least three US oil and gas companies. According to Symantec, the energy sector was the second most targeted vertical in the last six months of 2012, with only the government/public sector exceeding it with 25.4 percent of all attacks. With millions of threats of varying complexity experienced by the industry on weekly basis, it is not surprising that by 2018 the oil and gas industry will be spending up to $1.87 billion on cyber security.

Cyber Threats to the Aviation Industry

The aviation industry faces major risks on all of its fronts: from the air traffic control systems, to the aircraft themselves, to the airline companies and airports and border crossings. The identified threats stem from the current nature of aviation industry systems, which are interconnected and interdependent.

(Please note –  this blog post is an excerpt from our report: “Cyber Threats to the Aviation Industry”. If you are interested in receiving the full report please write to: info@sensecy.com)

On August 13, 2013, the AIAA officially released a Decision Paper entitled “A Framework for Aviation Cyber security”, outlining existing and evolving cyber threats to the commercial aviation enterprise and noting the lack of international agreement on cyber security in aviation. There is no common overall coordination of efforts seeking a global solution.

According to the report, the global aviation system is a potential target for a large-scale cyber attack with attackers focusing on malicious intent, information theft, profit, “hacktivism”, nation states, etc.

Aviation

The risks are not only theoretical. As portrayed below, some of the aforementioned security concerns have already been realized by hackers in real-life.

  • A presentation at the ‘Hack in The Box’ security summit in Amsterdam in April 2013 has demonstrated that it is possible to take control of an aircraft’s flight systems and communications using an Android smartphone.
  • Sykipot is a tool that serves as a backdoor that an attacker can use to execute commands on the affected system. It is being used to gather intelligence about the civil aviation sector in the U.S. Like most targeted attacks, Sykipot infects using spear-phishing techniques by sending emails with malicious attachments. Lately, as identified by Trend Micro, Sykipot has been observed gathering intelligence on the U.S. civil aviation sector. The intentions of this campaign are unclear as yet. Sykipot has a history of targeting U.S. Defense Initial Base (DIB) and key industries over the past six years.
  • Conficker, a worm that has infected millions of computers worldwide, infected the French Navy network on 2009, forcing it to cut connectivity to stop it from spreading, and to ground its Rafale fighter jets. It was probably introduced through an infected USB drive.
  • In 2008, Spanair flight 5022 crashed just after take-off, killing 154 people. According to the Spanish government’s Civil Aviation Accident and Incident Investigation Commission (CIAIAC), the disaster occurred because the central computer system used for monitoring technical problems in the aircraft was infected with a Trojan horse.
  • In 2008, the FAA reported that the computer network in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s passenger compartment was connected to the aircraft’s control, navigation and communication systems – a cause for grave security concern. This connection renders the plane control system vulnerable to cyber attack. Boeing advised that they would address the issue
Aviation sector under threat of cyber attacks

We believe that the aviation industry is facing major threats from cyberspace and these threats encompass large areas of the industry and may become a greater burden for it, compromising the safety of the passengers, and causing financial and commercial damage to the associated companies.