Aug 31 2013

Syrian Electronic Army Denies New Data Leaks

The high-profile Web site defacement and hacker group known as the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) continues to deny that its own Web server was hacked, even as gigabytes of data apparently seized during the compromise leaked onto the Deep Web this weekend.

Screen shot from SEA site, listing the nicknames and avatars of top SEA leaders. Image: HP Security Research

Screen shot from SEA site, listing the nicknames and avatars of top SEA leaders. Image: HP Security Research

Following a string of high profile attacks that compromised the Web sites of The New York Times and The Washington Post among others, many publications have sought to discover and spotlight the identities of core SEA members. On Wednesday, this blog published information from a confidential source who said that the SEA’s Web site was hacked and completely compromised in April 2013. That post referenced just a snippet of name and password data allegedly taken from the SEA’s site, including several credential pairs that appeared tied to a Syrian Web developer who worked with the SEA.

The SEA — through its Twitter accounts — variously denounced claims of the hack as a fraud or as a propaganda stunt by U.S. intelligence agencies aimed at discrediting the hacker group.

“We can guarantee our website has never been hacked, those who claim to have hacked it should publish their evidence. Don’t hold your breath,” members of the group told Mashable in an interview published on Friday. “In any case we do not have any sensitive or personal data on a public server. We are a distributed group, most of what we have and need is on our own machines and we collaborate on IRC.”

In apparent response to that challenge, a huge collection of data purportedly directly taken from the SEA’s server in April 2013 — including all of the the leaked credentials I saw earlier — was leaked today to Deep Web sites on Tor, an anonymity network. Visiting the leak site, known as a “hidden service,” is not possible directly via the regular Internet, but instead requires the use of the Tor Browser.

A leaked screen shot purportedly showing the email address of the owner of SEA site

A leaked screen shot purportedly showing the email address of the owner of SEA site

Among the leaked screen shots at the hidden Web site include numerous apparent snapshots of the SEA’s internal blog infrastructure, the Parallels virtual private server that powered for its syrian-es[dot]com Web site, as well as what are claimed to be dozens of credential pairs for various SEA member Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

News of the archive leak to the Deep Web was first published by the French publication (warning: some of the images published at that link may be graphic in nature). As detailed by the French site, the leak archive includes hundreds of working usernames and passwords to various Hotmail, Outlook and Gmail accounts, as well as more than six gigabytes of email messages downloaded from those accounts.


One of the more interesting screen shots in the leak archive is an image showing the email address listed in the “contact email” field of the back-end administration page for syrian-es[dot]com: The email listed — “” — appears to dovetail with a name mentioned in multiple recent media reports about the identities of the alleged SEA ringleaders.

On Thursday, published a story linking a top SEA member — who uses the screen name Th3Pr0 — to a Syrian named Hatem Deeb. Vice published a picture from a Facebook account thought to belong to Deeb, but later removed that photo, saying it had information suggesting that Deeb was in fact another Syrian native who currently resides in St. Petersburg, Russia.

index-sealeakOn Friday evening, NBC News unearthed a 2011 story published by a Syrian government-run newpaper al-Wenda, which identified and praised the leaders of the SEA. The al-Wenda piece specifically praised Deeb as a teenager, and as a “founding member” of the SEA. Another student, Ali Farha was later mentioned in another Syrian publication as the “manager” of the SEA website. Interestingly, Farha’s purported Facebook page indicates that he and Deeb are roughly the same age and attended the same technical school in western Syria — the University of Kalamoom.

Also reportedly leaked are the entire contents of the SEA web site’s core server, including a file showing a history of all text commands entered by administrators of the site over several months in 2013. A review of those commands suggest that SEA administrators made frequent use of, a Web-based instant messaging program.

The history file and other documents also indicate that the SEA administrators routinely blocked specific Internet addresses from being able to load or access all or portions of their site. In addition, it shows that administrators also specifically whitelisted several Internet properties (addresses expressly allowed to access the site); among those were a number of Tor anonymizers, as well as several sites in Jordan, including the Ministry of Higher Education division of Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Jordan.

Declining to address the voluminous evidence of a site compromise, the SEA’s account on Twitter dismissed these latest revelations as proof of nothing.

“Publishing fake screenshots and hacking randomly pro-Syria people unfortunately don’t prove anything :) ”, the group retorted.

Aug 30 2013

Feds plow resources into “groundbreaking” crypto-cracking program

The federal government is pouring almost $11 billion per year into a 35,000-employee program dedicated to encryption, including "groundbreaking" methods to decode encrypted messages such as e-mails, according to an intelligence black budget published by The Washington Post.

The 17-page document, leaked to the paper by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, gives an unprecedented breakdown of the massive amount of tax-payer dollars—which reached $52 billion in fiscal 2013—that the government pours into surveillance and other intelligence-gathering programs. It also details the changing priorities of the government's most elite spy agencies. Not surprisingly, in a world that's increasingly driven by networks and electronics, they are spending less on the collection of some hard-copy media and satellite operations while increasing resources for sophisticated signals intelligence, a field of electronic spying feds frequently refer to as "SIGINT."

"We are bolstering our support for clandestine SIGINT capabilities to collect against high priority targets, including foreign leadership targets," James Clapper, director of national intelligence, wrote in a summary published by the WaPo. "Also, we are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic."

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Aug 30 2013

Targeted Attacks Deliver Disassembled Malware

Shortcut files have recently become a common vehicle used in targeted attacks to deliver malware into organizations. Symantec has observed a variety of ways shortcut files are being used to penetrate networks, such as the one described in a previous blog. We recently came across another example of how this file type is being used in an attempt to evade detection by security products and trick email recipients into executing attachments. In this variation, an email with disassembled malware attached is sent to a recipient along with a shortcut file used to reassemble the malware.

The email used for this attack included an archive file as an attachment containing a shortcut file with an icon of a folder along with a real folder containing a Microsoft document file and two hidden files with .dat file extensions.


Figure 1. Inside the attached archive file


Figure 2. Inside the Summit-Report1 folder

For the average user with default explorer settings, the archive file would appear to only contain two folders. Clicking either of the two folders leads the user to the folder containing the document file. If the user attempts to open the folder, which is actually the shortcut file, a copy command runs and combines the two .dat files to create one malicious file. The computer then becomes infected with malware. Please note the structure inside the archive attachment varies, but the archive will always contain multiple broken-up files along with a shortcut file.


Figure 3. Shortcut file properties showing a portion of the script used to assemble the .dat files


Figure 4. Binary data in ~$1.dat


Figure 5. Binary data in ~$2.dat


Figure 6. Binary data in combined executable file

The tactic of disassembling malware before the attack and reassembling it on the victim’s computer may be used by an attacker for several reasons. The main reason may be to avoid the malicious files being detected. If the file is broken up into pieces, security products will have difficulty in determining if these files are malicious. Another reason may be to prevent gateway security products from stripping off executable files. A typical gateway product has the capability to filter by file types and it can be set to strip off executables found in email attachments. This is a common practice carried out by IT departments.

Shortcut files are very simple and cost efficient to use. They do not require the use of exploits, which can be more resource intensive and also requires the victim’s computer to be vulnerable. Icons can easily be made to look like folder or document files. Once an attacker prepares the malicious files, they then only have to write one line of script and the attack is ready.

What can be done to protect against these types of attacks? In normal circumstances, there are no practical reasons for emails to contain shortcut files. If organizations feel shortcut files are not needed in email attachments, they can explore the possibility of filtering out that file type at the gateway of the network.

Symantec detects the malware discussed in this blog as Trojan Horse.

Aug 29 2013

Medical lab allegedly exposed customer info on P2P, claims it was the victim

Security company Tiversa uncovered confidential health care information by scanning P2P networks.

A medical testing laboratory called LabMD has been accused of exposing the personal information of about 10,000 customers on a peer-to-peer file sharing network.

The company has been fighting the claims, saying a security firm that uncovered the breach victimized LabMD by downloading a large spreadsheet containing sensitive customer information.

The US Federal Trade Commission today said it filed a complaint which "alleges that LabMD billing information for over 9,000 consumers was found on a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing network and then, in 2012, LabMD documents containing sensitive personal information of at least 500 consumers were found in the hands of identity thieves."

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