“Countdown To Zero Day” describes the new era of war, preparing you for the next attack.

Summary:  Five years after Stuxnet first appeared we have a detailed analysis of its origin (at least, what’s known to the public) in Kim Zetter’s Countdown To Zero Day.  Here C. Thomas reviews it, explaining Stuxnet’s importance.

Stuxnet is another American triumph (with Israel’s help). We’re now the first to use both of the revolutionary tools of modern war: nukes and cyberweapons. Also, we’ve copied the fascist powers of WWII by not bothering with a declaration of war against Iran. American exceptionalism! How long until the next such cyberattack? Will we be the aggressor, or the victim?  {2nd of 2 posts today.}
Countdown to Zero

“Countdown to Zero Day” is a must-read!

By C. Thomas

This article originally appeared on the Tenable Blog. Reposted here with their generous permission.

Recently there have been several great books that illustrate the importance of information security in today’s world, including Kevin Mitnick’s Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker, Andy Greenberg’s This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information and Brian Krebs’ Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door. Joining the list at the top is Kim Zetter’s Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon. The book tells the story (which you probably thought you already knew) of Stuxnet and the geopolitical maneuverings that brought it into existence.

The book is engaging to read and meticulously researched. Zetter not only examines the intricacies of this nation-state sponsored espionage tool but also delves deeply into the finer workings of uranium enrichment centrifuges and their industrial control systems. Along with these technical details, she adds the personal stories of the people who discovered Stuxnet and devoted countless hours in deciphering not just Stuxnet but also its relatives Duqu, Flame, and Gauss. Despite the highly technical subject matter, Zetter weaves an engaging narrative that succeeds in explaining complex systems in ways that can be easily understood without being condescending.

This book is an absolute must read for anyone even remotely involved in the information security industry because it looks at an adversary that is seldom seen: the nation-state. Unlike cyber criminals, “hacktivists” or bored teenagers whose online activities are somewhat easy to discover and decipher, the online operations and capabilities of nation-states have been shrouded in rumor, myth and superstition. It is amazing that Zetter was able to obtain this much detail about what was most likely a top secret government operation and that is arguably less than 5 years old. Thanks to Zetter and “Countdown to Zero Day,” we now have a baseline from which to forecast potential nation-state capabilities today and into the future.

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The horror of cyberspace: we can’t easily identify our attackers.

Summary: In this last of Marcus Ranum’s 2 posts about identifying cyber-attackers, he explains why the usual methods we read in the news are quite fallible — no matter how confidently they’re stated. Our difficulty with this is a common if scary aspect of modern warfare and crime.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Attribution Is Hard - Part 2

Attribution is Hard, Part 2

By Marcus Ranum, Senior Strategist at Tenable Network Security

This article originally appeared on the Tenable Blog.
Reposted with their generous permission.

Yesterday’s part 1 described a classic hacking incident and discussed the challenges of establishing attribution. Today I explain what weak attribution is, and I conclude the discussion on the four requirements of establishing attribution.

Yesterday’s cliff hanger probably left you wondering what I mean by “weak attribution.” There are several forms of weak attribution that warrant discussion.

Attribution by tools

The first form of weak attribution is an argument based on tools used, if those tools are available in the wild to security researchers. Just because a tool is available and used by an attacker doesn’t mean that any other frequent user of the tool is your current perpetrator. There are plenty of hacking tools available for repurposing by other attackers. I hate to sound like a cynic, but apparently some people haven’t yet realized that there are security researchers who play both sides of the game-board; if I wanted to go rogue, I could assemble a state-of-the-art set of custom “state-sponsored” quality malware in about a week.

Tools are clues, not fingerprints.

Attribution by guessing about cui bono

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How do we identify our attackers in cyberspace?

Summary: The news overflows with confident identification of cyberattackers. Today we have an account of hacking from a defender’s perspective, explaining the difficulty of attribution, written by our co-author Marcus Ranum. After reading this, you’ll regard the news about these things more skeptically. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Attribution Is Hard - Part 1

By Marcus Ranum, Senior Strategist at Tenable Network Security

This article originally appeared on the Tenable Blog.
Reposted with their generous permission.

In 1995 I landed my first independent consulting project: an incident response for an important financial institution in New York City. That experience has informed my attitude about attribution ever since, because it was one of the rare incidents I’ve ever been involved in when we actually learned the identity and location of the attacker with a high degree of certainty.

The attacker was accessing an X.25 connection to the institution, had guessed an account/password pair on one of the Unix hosts, logged in and began looking around. He was first detected by one of the system administrators who noticed something unusual: a service account that normally didn’t log in was logged in, running the telnet command. An incident response team was assembled and we started charting out what was going on, what the attacker was doing, and when the break-in had occurred.

The financial institution was extremely lucky that the system administrator was so observant: the attack was discovered within the first 3 days of the initial break-in. As shown in this animation:

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