APT Hackers Using Military Org Structure (and South Korea spies, John Goetz)

Malware researchers are finding Chinese Advanced Persistent Threat campaigns appear to be backed by a traditional military structure, suggesting the Chinese are taking a page from the NSA.

The ‘tell’ is similar tools and code between campaigns, indicating the hackers are using ready-made exploits provided by a centralized “quartermaster.” Not an exploit vendor, this quartermaster actually develops the code and tools that the hackers on the front lines use.

Seen psychologically, I wonder what effect this has on their tactics and capabilities. One of the reasons hackers can be so effective is they often understand the target system better than the rightful owners. Using ready-made tools — “skript kiddie” tactics — has traditionally been seen as a mark of a poor-quality hacker, and not just for the obvious reasons. Relying on prefabricated tools while never having made your own means you miss things you’d have otherwise spotted, and don’t understand things you otherwise would.

SK spies: I’ve mentioned that most people are wrong when they assume spies only gather info; their other purpose is to covertly influence. Here’s one example of when that goes a bit, well, off the rails. South Korea’s spy agency covertly sent out 24 million Tweets to manipulate that country’s elections. http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/11/25/south-koreas-spy-agency-military-sent-24-2-million-tweets-to-manipulate-election/

Of the two German journalists that met Snowden in Moscow, the only one that’s spoken much about it, John Goetz… is actually an American who moved to Germany some time ago. This is the same journalist who’s been heading up the effort to document the US intelligence presence in Germany. Interesting. http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/author/4297291-john-goetz


“State-sponsored hackers are looking less like traditional hacking crews and more like military units as they share infrastructure and adopt strict hierarchies, according to new research.

Infosec firm FireEye has identified links between 11 APT campaigns, including use of the same malware tools, shared code, binaries with the same timestamps, and signed binaries with the same digital certificates.

The 11 APT campaigns targeted a wide swath of industries and appeared unrelated at first, until cyber-sleuths uncovered digital evidence linking the attacks.

The shared development and logistics operation used to support several APT actors in distinct but overlapping campaigns points to the role of a “digital quartermaster”. The role of this cyber organiser is different from that occupied by exploit brokers (firms and/or individuals who discovered or re-sell security vulnerabilities and exploits), according to FireEye.[…]

The emergence of a common development and logistics centre means that attackers are adopting an industrialised approach to cyber-spying, something that defenders of trade secrets and other digital assets are facing more organised and capable adversaries.

The mission of the digital quartermaster is to supply and maintain malware tools and weapons to support cyber espionage. The digital quartermaster also might be a cyber arms dealer, a common supplier of tools used to conduct attacks and establish footholds in targeted systems. However, common features in the campaigns tied together by FireEye suggest it’s more likely we’re dealing with someone who works exclusively with Chinese hacking groups, rather than the hi-tech equivalent of an arms dealer prepared to supply all and sundry.”

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