Category Archives: Social Media

The Syrian Electronic Army: Mediums of Disinformatics

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“We are just Syrian youths who want to defend their country against the media campaign that is full of lies and fabricated news reports”

The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) most likely began at least in part as an outgrowth of the Syrian Computer Society (SCS), an internet and information science advocacy group founded by the late Basil Al-Assad in 1989, and later led by Bashar Al-Assad prior to his elevation to the presidency. In 1997 there were only 35,000 computers in the country, two for every thousand people.  The early days of Syria’s acceptance of the internet were marked by significant bureaucratic trepidation, predominantly motivated by concerns of cultural penetration. The opposing camp was urged onward by a recognition that in the face of heavy usage of the internet by other nations, especially Israel, Syrian perspectives were being drowned out. Surveys conducted in 1998 by an early advocate, Dr. Imad Mustafa, found that of 1.5 million documents on the web dealing with Syrian aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, 56% had been written by Israeli organizations, 18% by Zionist groups outside of Israel and another 17% were written by US government organizations. On issues rich with nationalistic fervor such as the Golan Heights, the survey found that there were essentially no existing sources or documents on the internet which were benign to Syrian interests, and that 71% of the documents were absolutely hostile to Syrian perspectives. This preoccupation with “correcting” the established media narrative has fed directly into the ethos of the SEA, though they also engage in “punishing” media outlets by propagating false news events.

The personnel evolution of the group can be roughly split into two phases. In the early phase of the group their website from May of 2011, syrian-es.com was hosted by the SCS, and the domain registration pointed to the same group. A later site, sea.sy, was registered with the approval of the SCS. By May of 2013, however, the SCS cut all of these ties and disabled use of the sea.sy site. There may have been significant personnel changes later in the 2011 era, and it is entirely possible that the activists who shared membership in SCS and SEA left at that point. The second phase of the group was much more shadowy, international and varied in their technical aptitude.

The method of attacks has been multi-pronged, from website defacement and redirects, to propaganda posting on facebook, and in some cases campaigns distributing malware (intended to reveal the identity and activity of online actors) against the Syrian Opposition. Recent operations have been heavily focused on compromising social media accounts of news organizations and celebrities.

In April of 2013 SEA conducted spearphishing (directed emails designed to steal user credentials and other data) attacks which resulted in them obtaining control of the Associated Press twitter account, which they used to spread a false story about an explosion at the White House which injured the President.

AP_Tweet_2544300c

The tweet caused a temporary drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average of over a hundred points, but AP was quickly able to regain control of their twitter account and retract the false story.

Graph_2544313b

This method of attack has proven to be both high profile and high impact, and the group seems to have generally shifted focus onto compromising social media accounts. These compromises have been varied in intent, from posting false information for shock value to pushing propaganda against perceived international enemies of Syria and Al-Assad. This week there has been a compromise of CNN’s twitter account and website, used both to spread propaganda in favor of Al-Assad and to plant a false news story apparently intended to disrupt financial markets. Increasing attempts to manipulate markets may indicate economic motives behind SEA operations, especially if these actions are combined with short-selling, though this connection would require further analysis for confirmation.

CNN hacked syrian-electronic-army-hack-cnn

 

The Syrian Electronic army represents a new type of cyber actor, one which is both a hacktivist group in the vein of Anonymous, and a state sponsored group much like many in operation across the world. However, unlike many hacking groups with state sponsorship, SEA concentrates on propaganda operations instead of espionage for military or economic reasons. In this sense they bear some similarity to groups like the Chinese Honker Union, and Russian hacktivist movements which have surrounded military operations and international controversies in Estonia and Georgia. The funding for the group remains murky. There are allegations that Rami Makhlouf, a billionaire cousin of Bashar Al-Assad, supported the group in leaving Syria and basing their operations in other Arab states, and continues to provide accommodations for group members. There are also rumors that hackers are paid between five hundred and a thousand dollars for successful website compromises.

Dan Gifford – MCySec Media Manager

 

 

FBI Asking Tech Vendors to Install Backdoors

Wickr’s Nico Sell has disclosed in a PCMag article that she was approached by the FBI at a security conference, and that an agent casually asked if she would be willing to install a backdoor for them in her company’s encrypted communication app. Sell refused, saying that even if the claims of the FBI are legitimate, “It was very clear that a backdoor for the good guys is  always a backdoor for the bad guys.”

Wickr’s laudable stance aside, the question remains as to how many other technology companies have been more forthcoming with granting access to state agencies. If an approach is made to every major app developer, how many of the apps on your phone can you trust? And if one is compromised, and has rights to read all information on the machine, is everything else likewise compromised?

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spam

Here at MCySec we receive a decent amount of spam every day, much like anyone who runs a blog with open commenting. All of this spam has been stopped by WordPress and Akismet from being displayed on our pages, This either says something about how good they are, or about how bad the spammers are, and I’m not entirely sure which.

So when I see an interesting message in the spam queue, i tend to give it a second look, just to get an idea of how this digital arms race is progressing, as far as spam detection and  counter detection goes. This recent message was one of the better ones. The spammer’s implementation broke, spitting out the entire message generation tree used to simulate natural language in order to produce messages that get around the detection software. Here it is in all of its broken goodness. -Dan Gifford, MCySec Media Manager

{
{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today,
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{In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners} and
bloggers made good content as you did, the {internet|net|web} will be {much more|a
lot more} useful than ever before.|
I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from} commenting.
{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well}
written!|
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Thanks.|
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{I have|I’ve} read this post and if I could I {want to|wish
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{Perhaps|Maybe} you {could|can} write next articles referring to this article.
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this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} {here|at
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I am sure this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} has touched all the internet {users|people|viewers|visitors},
its really really {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {article|post|piece
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{Saved as a favorite|bookmarked!!}, {I really like|I like|I love} {your blog|your site|your web site|your
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Way cool! Some {very|extremely} valid points!

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I stumbledupon it ;) {I will|I am going to|I’m going to|I may}
{come back|return|revisit} {once again|yet again} {since I|since i have} {bookmarked|book marked|book-marked|saved as a favorite} it.
Money and freedom {is the best|is the greatest} way to change, may you be rich and continue to {help|guide} {other people|others}.|
Woah! I’m really {loving|enjoying|digging} the
template/theme of this {site|website|blog}. It’s simple, yet
effective. A lot of times it’s {very hard|very difficult|challenging|tough|difficult|hard} to get that “perfect balance” between {superb usability|user friendliness|usability} and {visual appearance|visual appeal|appearance}.
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for me on {Safari|Internet explorer|Chrome|Opera|Firefox}.
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You have touched some {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {points|factors|things} here.

Any way keep up wrinting.|
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my {Myspace|Facebook} group shared this {site|website} with us so I came
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I’m definitely {enjoying|loving} the information. I’m {book-marking|bookmarking} and
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{style and design|design and style|design}.|
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what you guys {are|are usually|tend to be} up too.
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you guys to {|my|our|my personal|my own} blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey} would you mind {stating|sharing} which blog platform you’re {working with|using}?
I’m {looking|planning|going} to start my own blog {in the near future|soon} but I’m having
a {tough|difficult|hard} time {making a decision|selecting|choosing|deciding} between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
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then most blogs and I’m looking for something {completely
unique|unique}. P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic but I
had to ask!|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would you mind
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{Thanks a lot|Kudos|Cheers|Thank you|Many thanks|Thanks}, I
appreciate it!|
{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves} it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people} {come together|get
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Thank you for the {auspicious|good} writeup. It in fact
was a amusement account it. Look advanced to {far|more} added
agreeable from you! {By the way|However}, how {can|could} we communicate?|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hello|Hey} just wanted to give you a quick
heads up. The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem
to be running off the screen in {Ie|Internet explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}.
I’m not sure if this is a {format|formatting} issue or something
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The {style and design|design and style|layout|design} look great though!
Hope you get the {problem|issue} {solved|resolved|fixed} soon.
{Kudos|Cheers|Many thanks|Thanks}|
This is a topic {that is|that’s|which is} {close to|near to} my heart…
{Cheers|Many thanks|Best wishes|Take care|Thank you}! {Where|Exactly where} are your contact details though?|
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{topic|matter} on {net|web} as compared to {books|textbooks}, as I found
this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} at this {website|web site|site|web
page}.|
Does your {site|website|blog} have a contact page?
I’m having {a tough time|problems|trouble} locating it but, I’d like to {send|shoot} you
an {e-mail|email}. I’ve got some {creative ideas|recommendations|suggestions|ideas} for your
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{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading} your {site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for {a long time|a
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Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!
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{site|website|blog} on my iphone during lunch break.
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{awesome|amazing|very good|superb|good|wonderful|fantastic|excellent|great} {site|blog}!|
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{I think|I feel|I believe} {that you|that you simply|that you just} {could|can} do with {some|a few} {%|p.c.|percent}
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{a bit|a little bit}, {however|but} {other than|instead of} that, {this
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{A great|An excellent|A fantastic} read. {I’ll|I will} {definitely|certainly} be back.|
I visited {multiple|many|several|various} {websites|sites|web
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{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hello}, i read your blog
{occasionally|from time to time} and i own a similar one and i was just {wondering|curious} if you get a lot of spam
{comments|responses|feedback|remarks}? If so how do you {prevent|reduce|stop|protect
against} it, any plugin or anything you can {advise|suggest|recommend}?

I get so much lately it’s driving me {mad|insane|crazy} so any
{assistance|help|support} is very much appreciated.|
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{article|post}! {It is the|It’s the} little changes {that make|which will make|that produce|that will make} {the biggest|the largest|the greatest|the most important|the most significant} changes.
{Thanks a lot|Thanks|Many thanks} for sharing!|
{I really|I truly|I seriously|I absolutely} love {your blog|your site|your website}..
{Very nice|Excellent|Pleasant|Great} colors & theme.
Did you {create|develop|make|build} {this website|this site|this web site|this amazing site} yourself?
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{Thanks|Many thanks|Thank you|Cheers|Appreciate it|Kudos}!|
{Hi there|Hello there|Howdy}! This {post|article|blog post} {couldn’t|could not} be written {any better|much better}!
{Reading through|Looking at|Going through|Looking through} this {post|article}
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{I will|I’ll|I am going to|I most certainly
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{Pretty sure|Fairly certain} {he will|he’ll|he’s going to} {have a
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{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks {exactly|just} like
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{Excellent|Wonderful|Great|Outstanding|Superb} choice of colors!|
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{I like|I love|I really like} {all the|all of the} points {you made|you’ve made|you have made}.|
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this {post|article} Middle Eastern Banks Hit by Crimeware, Trying to Find Solutions | Monterey Cyber Security Initiative (MCySec).
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{Hi there|Hello}, I enjoy reading {all of|through} your {article|post|article post}.
I {like|wanted} to write a little comment to support you.|
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my {friends|links|contacts} will too.|
My {coder|programmer|developer} is trying to {persuade|convince}
me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because
of the {expenses|costs}. But he’s tryiong none the less.
I’ve been using {Movable-type|WordPress} on {a number of|a
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Is there a way I can {transfer|import} all my wordpress {content|posts} into it?
{Any kind of|Any} help would be {really|greatly} appreciated!|
{Hello|Hi|Hello there|Hi there|Howdy|Good day}!
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{happy|pleased|delighted} {I found|I discovered|I came across|I stumbled upon} it and I’ll
be {bookmarking|book-marking} it and checking back {frequently|regularly|often}!|
{Terrific|Great|Wonderful} {article|work}! {This
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{Disgrace|Shame} on {the {seek|search} engines|Google} for {now not|not|no longer} positioning this {post|submit|publish|put up} {upper|higher}!
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. {Thank you|Thanks} =)|
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NSA operations in the World… of Warcraft.

A recent revelation from the Snowden leaks has disclosed the significant efforts by intelligence personnel to infiltrate supposed terrorist networks communicating over online games and virtual environments such as Linden Lab’s Second Life, Blizzard/Activision’s World of Warcraft title, and Microsoft’s XBOX Live service. The spying operations were apparently based on concerns within security circles that these online environments could be used by enemy parties to communicate in an obscure way, and the limited security and hardening of these platforms presented a significant collection opportunity for intelligence agencies.

While Blizzard issued a flat denial of any cooperation with intelligence collection or of opening backdoors for spies in World of Warcraft, Linden Labs and Microsoft both declined to comment. Given recent revelations about the scope of private cooperation with spy agencies, declining to comment often raises more questions that it answers, and may indicate the presence of a secret legal gag order. Additionally, the CTO of Linden Labs had previously held a Top Secret clearance and served with the Navy on detachment to the NSA at Fort Meade, and would later present at a brown bag lunch at the NSA on the opportunities present in virtual worlds.

Apparently there were so many NSA and GCHQ operatives playing in these virtual worlds on the taxpayer dime that it became necessary to stand up a deconfliction group to ensure that the agents were not simply chasing their own tails and spying on each other’s collection efforts. However, there is no evidence that collection on gaming environments actually foiled any terrorist plots or provided usedful intelligence on terrorist operations. This quibble aside, GCHQ also noted opportunities beyond communications collection in their online operations, identifying foreign government professionals that they intended to target for recruitment in something of a virtual human intelligence program.

 

Dan Gifford – MCySec Media Manager

Greek Foreign Ministry’s Email Server Hacked by Anonymous

More than 3700 documents, ranging from press releases to restricted intelligence assessments have been leaked online by hackers operating under the banner of Anonymous. The documents were obtained through hacking the email servers of the Greek Foreign Ministry and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In light of the Greek government’s imminent assumption of the rotating EU presidency come January, security lapses on this scale are certainly troubling.

The attack occurs within the context of a recent Anonymous campaign against the Golden Dawn political party and rising dissatisfaction with austerity policies. The hackers may be attempting to find links within the Greek Government and the OSCE to the Golden Dawn and to other political initiatives in Europe that they find troubling, such as the Internet Crime Units of the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA). Their communique regarding the hacking attack can be found here.

Dan Gifford – MCySec Media Manager

Tomorrow’s cities: How big data is changing the world

The BBC’s technology writer Jane Wakefield has posted an excellent pair of articles on the changing data environment and the rapidly expanding flows of data created by cities. The ways cities respond to this new depth of data will be increasingly important and shape urban development for many years to come.

Her second article is on the attempt by Rio de Janeiro to become a “Smart City” through the use of data, often sourced from the citizens themselves.

 

Dan Gifford- MCySec Media Manager