Spying on Facebook and not only, it’s emergency

Pierluigi Paganini March 11, 2012

A few days ago I wrote an article on cyber espionage and its higher incidence in the computer crimes. What are the figures who most frequently perform operations of this type? An interest in cyber espionage has been demonstrated by government agencies in search of sensitive information and information relating to industrial technologies used by hostile countries, but also by groups of criminals who seek to realize in this way fraud against individuals and companies.

Of strategic importance for espionage activities are the social networks, a valuable mine of information through which you can trace the profile of an individual, knowing relations, customs and even the spatial and temporal location. For this reason, I believe that the usage of social networks by the key person inside military agencies and industrial environments must be subjected to a stringent regulation to avoid serious problems.

Let me focus the attention on the case that has been discussed during these days in Internet-related spying activities to collect Nato chiefs’ details. How to attack a profile? Let me invite you to read my proof of concept on the argument published on Wikipedia under the voice “Social Network Poisoning“. The post is the Italian language because the English Wiki has deleted it following an approach of censorship and free of any ratio and avoiding documenting, and to think that they are fighting for freedom of expression.
First of all must be build a parallel network of fake account that must be related to the victim and his activities. In the case of NATO’S most senior commander for several his colleagues have been created fake Facebook account apparently by Chinese spies.

In a second phase of the attack the fake accounts try to contact the real one establishing a relation, that is happened when Senior British military officers and Ministry of Defence officials have accepted “friend requests” from the bogus account for American Admiral James Stavridis.

In this way part of attack has been successfully completed, in this way in fact it is possible to steal sensible information like private email accounts, photos, messages and also to know the component of his network of friends, next targets of the following phases of the attack.  Similar incidents are worrying and show how may be vulnerable to even the higher echelons of strategic commands.

If you think the information found in this way is very necessary you are mistaken. Let’s think how can be useful to find photos of victim’s residences or know his location in space at a given time. This makes it possible to know the weaknesses of any human life. If you desire to hit a man attack his children and family. We all tend to exercise control of everything happening around us but it is impossible, except for rare exceptions, affect the behavior of those we love. I aware that from the knowledge of the private mail account it is possible to attack a targeted people close to victims who may be misled by fake mails.

So it is a disaster in terms of security!

Of course, similar operations are hampered by the controls carried out by the managers of social networks made with with major institutions and law enforcement. The stakes are high and control of social networks is strategic. Many agencies and law enforcement corps like the FBI are working to prevent such crimes, they have commissioned the development of complex analysis systems that will monitor the complex networks.

In an article published in “The Telegraph” I read “This type of Compromising Attempts are Called” Social Engineering “and has nothing to do with” hacking “or” espionage “.
Well I say who wrote this did not understand much of the concepts mentioned. Unthinkable separate concepts like Social Engineering from hacking and espionage. The battlefield has changed as well the way to make war, it has been introduced concepts such as cyberspace and warfare. The intelligence and the West  industry are still too vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, so it is absolutely necessary to define cyber strategies to deal with incidents like those described.

Last year, it has been observed an impressive growth of state-sponsored attacks aimed at stealing information to give them an economic, political and military advantage.
Hostile countries, cyber criminals, group of terrorist might launch a “cyber attack” against military targets and civil infrastructure and they have a large collection of option to use, from custom virus and other cyber weapons.
Last year McAfee firm has uncovered a major string of attacks designed to steal sensitive data from targeted organizations naming it “Night Dragon“.

Chinese hackers working regular business hours shifts stole sensitive intellectual property from energy companies for as long as four years using relatively unsophisticated intrusion methods. The attacks have been originated from IP addresses in Beijing in office time, between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m local time, suggesting that the authors were regular company employees or mercenaries hackers.

Once again, Cyber China has been found behind these dangerous attacks !

Wake up because these attacks can be devastating, the illusion that by attacking a playful component as a social network you can get few info is wrong.
I conclude by quoting from the article on “The Telegraph”

Last year an executive at a key US defense firm, RSA, opened a personal email with the subject line “2011 Recruitment Plan” and clicked on the attached Excel spreadsheet.
The attachment contained a virus, apparently engineered by the Chinese, which opened up RSA’s system and allowed access to all its secrets, including its work for the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security(DHS). Such is concern over the cyber-attacks that the DHS now sees it as a key priority along with tackling terrorism.

Is this sufficient to be alarmed?

Cases like Startfor and Nortel have taught us anything?

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  APT, Hellsing)

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