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New Hacktivism Model Trends Worldwide

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Check Point Research (CPR) outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. Five characteristics mark today’s form of hacktivism, according to researchers: political ideology, leadership hierarchy, formal recruiting, advanced tools, and public relations. CPR gives the hacktivist group Killnet an example of the latest model, detailing its attacks by country and attack timeline. CPR warns that hacktivism that originates in conflict-related geographies has the potential to scale worldwide.

  • Before, hacktivism was mostly focused on a few individuals carrying small-scale DDoS and defacement attacks
  • Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured, and sophisticated
  • CPR believes the new model of hacktivism began in conflict areas in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and proliferated to other areas during 2022

Check Point Research outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. The hacktivism of the new model is better organized, structured and sophisticated, compared to the past. Hacktivist groups no longer consist of a few random individuals who carry out small DDoS or defacement attacks on low-tier websites. These are coordinated organizations with distinct characteristics previously unseen.

Key Characteristics:

  • Consistent political ideology (manifestos and/or sets of rules)
  • Hierarchy of leadership (Smaller groups relay attack orders to “commanders)
  • Formal recruitment process (Based on minimum requirements)
  • Tools that the groups provide to their members (Advanced tools for notoriety)
  • Robust public relations functions (Presences on major websites)

Why now?
CPR suspects the shift in the hacktivism model began roughly two years ago, with several hacktivist groups like Hackers of Savior, Black Shadow, and Moses Staff that focused exclusively on attacking Israel. CPR believes the Russian-Ukrainian war has proliferated the new model of hacktivism significantly. For example, The IT Army of Ukraine was publicly mobilized by the Ukrainian government to attack Russia. The new hacktivism also saw groups that supported the Russian geopolitical narrative, with groups like Killnet, Xaknet, From Russia with Love (FRwL), NoName057(16), and more.


Case Study: Killnet, from East to West
In April of this year, the group completely shifted its focus to support Russian geopolitical interests all over the world. The group claimed to have executed more than 550 attacks, between late February and September. Only 45 of them were against Ukraine, less than 10% of the total number of attacks.

  1. March: the group executed a DDoS attack on Bradley International Airport in Connecticut (US)
  2. April: websites belonging to the Romanian Government, such as the Ministry of Defense, Border Police, National Railway Transport Company and a commercial bank, were rendered unreachable for several hours.
  3. May: massive DDOS attacks were executed against two major EU countries, Germany and Italy
  4. June: Two very significant waves of attacks were executed against Lithuania and Norway in response to severe geopolitical developments between those countries and Russia
  5. July: Killnet focused their efforts on Poland and caused several government websites to be unavailable.
  6. August: Cyber-attacks were deployed on Latvia, Estonia and USA institutions
  7. September: the group targeted Asia for the first time and focused its efforts on Japan, due to Japan’s support for Ukraine

Sergey Shykevich, Threat Intelligence Group Manager at Check Point Software, said, “Hacktivism now has a whole new meaning. Before, the term meant a few random folks launching small DDoS attacks. Hacktivism is no longer just about social groups with fluid agendas. Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured and more sophisticated. I believe everything changed within the past year, especially with the start of the Ukraine-Russia war.”

“There are some key characteristics that mark the new model of hacktivism, including a consistent political ideology, a clear hierarchy of leadership, formal recruiting processes, sophisticated tool set, and robust PR capabilities. Though the change began in specific conflict-related geographical regions, it has now spread west and even further. Major corporations and governments in Europe and the US are being heavily targeted by this emerging type of hacktivism. All this allows the new hacktivism groups to be mobilized to governmental narratives and achieve strategic and broad-based goals with higher success levels – and much wider public impact – than ever before,” he said.

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Cyber Security

FortiGuard Labs Contributes to INTERPOL Multinational Cybercrime Suppression Operation in Africa

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Sharing threat intelligence and working with other threat intelligence organizations improves protections for customers and enhances the effectiveness of the entire cybersecurity industry.

Recently, FortiGuard Labs provided evidentiary support to INTERPOL and African Member countries as part of the Africa Cyber Surge Operation (ASCO) to help detect, investigate, and disrupt cybercrime through coordinated law enforcement activities, utilizing INTERPOL platforms, tools, and channels in close cooperation with AFRIPOL.

The ACSO is a multinational cybercrime suppression operation focused on identifying cybercriminals and compromised infrastructure in the African region. The INTERPOL Cybercrime Directorate and INTERPOL Support Program for the African Union (ISPA) collaborated with AFRIPOL and 27 INTERPOL member countries to leverage this intelligence and combat the growing threat of cybercrime across the continent.

The successful Cyber Surge operation and transfer of knowledge to multiple law enforcement agencies in the African region is the result of continued threat information sharing and trusted cooperation between INTERPOL, FortiGuard Labs, and other INTERPOL private partners.

FortiGuard Labs provided actionable threat intelligence over a six-month period, which consisted of botnet, command, and control (C2), and malware infrastructure research, including C2 and malware and botnet victims located within the African continent.

“The Africa Cyber Surge Operation, launched in July 2022, has brought together law enforcement officials from 27 countries, working together for almost four months on actionable intelligence provided by INTERPOL private partners,” Craig Jones, Director of the Cybercrime Directorate with INTERPOL comments. “This intelligence focused on opportunities to prevent, detect, investigate and disrupt cybercrime through coordinated LE activities utilizing INTERPOL platforms, tools, and channels. This operation focused both on cybercriminals and compromised network infrastructure in Africa, allowing member countries to identify more than 1,000 malicious IP addresses, dark web markets, and individual threat actors, enhancing cooperation between INTERPOL, AFRIPOL, and the member countries, and contributing to connecting policing for a safer world.”

“The Africa Cyber Surge Operation is a shining example of how shared threat intelligence on threat actors and joint operations across trusted partners can increase the cyber resilience of an entire region,” highlights Derek Manky, Chief Security Strategist & VP Global Threat Intelligence, FortiGuard Labs. “It also shows how valuable cybersecurity training and education is to help close the cyber skills gap and effectively disrupt cybercrime at scale. We will continue to work with our private and public sector partners such as INTERPOL around the world to help make our digital world a safer place.”

For more than a decade, FortiGuard Labs has helped inform and protect customers, partners, and governments around the world. As a leader in the threat intelligence community, its mission is to provide the best threat intelligence designed to protect customers from malicious activity and sophisticated cyberattacks. The team is composed of some of the most knowledgeable threat hunters, researchers, analysts, engineers, and data scientists in the industry, working in dedicated threat research labs all around the world.

Fortinet has been an active member of the Global Cybercrime Expert Group and trusted partner to INTERPOL dating back to 2015 and became an INTERPOL Gateway partner in 2018. This ongoing collaboration has resulted in greater threat intelligence standards and protocols across the industry as well as impactful global cybercriminal takedowns.

In addition to INTERPOL, FortiGuard Labs is committed to partnership and cooperation with global law enforcement, government organizations, and industry organizations. Some of the global partnerships include being a founding member and regular contributor of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Centre for Cybersecurity as part of its Partnership Against Cybercrime (PAC), serving as a long-standing member of the NATO Industry Cyber Partnership (NICP), contributing to the development of STIX/TAXII protocols with MITRE & OASIS​, being an official Research Partner with MITRE Engenuity’s Center for Threat-Informed Defense (Center), co-founding the Cyber Threat Alliance (CTA), working in partnership with the computer incident response organization FIRST, and more.

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Cyber Security

Lookout Threat Lab Discovers Predatory Loan Apps on Google Play and Apple App Store

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Lookout, Inc. has announced the discovery of nearly 300 loan apps that exhibit predatory behavior such as exfiltrating excessive user data from mobile devices and harassing borrowers for repayment. These apps, which were found in Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as India, Colombia, and Mexico, purportedly offer quick, fully-digital loan approvals with reasonable loan terms. In reality, they exploit victims’ desire for quick cash in an attempt to ensnare borrowers into predatory loan contracts and require them to grant access to sensitive information on their devices such as contacts, phone history, and SMS messages — information that would not be required in a valid loan application process.

In addition to predatory requests for excessive permissions, many of the loan operators display scam-like actions. Victims have reported that their loans came with hidden fees, high-interest rates, and repayment terms that were much less favorable than what was posted on the app stores. Lookout Threat Lab also found evidence that the data exfiltrated from devices were sometimes used to pressure the customer for repayment – a common threat tactic to disclose a borrower’s debt or other personal information to their network of contacts.

In total, Lookout researchers uncovered 251 Android apps on the Google Play Store with more than 15 million collective downloads. The team also identified 35 apps on the Apple App Store that were in the top 100 finance apps in their regional stores. Lookout has been in contact with Google and Apple about these apps and, at the time of publishing, none of them are available for download.

“Mobile apps have made managing our lives a lot easier and are a convenient way to interact with businesses such as financial institutions. However, when entrusting any app with sensitive personal information, it is extremely important to stop and ask yourself if the information being requested makes sense and if the business behind the app is a trusted entity,” said Ruohan Xiong, senior security intelligence researcher, Lookout. “As these predatory loan apps have demonstrated, app permissions could easily be abused if users are not careful. While there are likely dozens of independent operators involved, all of these loan apps have a very similar business model – to trick victims into unfair loan terms and then extort payment.”

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Cyber Security

Dragos Participates in Global Security Forum in Riyadh

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Dragos, Inc. announced that it participated in the Global Cybersecurity Forum, held in Riyadh recently. The two-day event attracted cybersecurity experts and leaders from all over the world. Ben Miller, who represented Dragos as its Vice President of Services, spoke on the concluding day of the forum, about the threat of supply chain and third-party attacks. In his session, titled, “Pervasive and Insecure,” he discussed supply chain risk in critical infrastructure, examining the complex reality of third-party and supply chain attacks and sharing perspectives on the unseen vulnerabilities and how to address them.

Miller highlighted the complex nature of supply chain attacks, which potentially contain widespread vulnerabilities in the OT and industrial control systems (ICS). He outlined Dragos’ specific focus on the Kingdom’s supply chain risk in critical infrastructure including refineries and water treatment plants, as “Energy and water are specific focuses of ours in the region as they are critical not just to the economy but also to every person who lives here,” he said.

Giving an outline of the Dragos plan to help organizations detect and respond to the threat challenges posed to critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, he said, “We need to focus on educating the workforce, building a new understanding of how OT is different from IT, and gaining visibility and insights into what is happening in our critical infrastructure.” OT cybersecurity is in many ways a new field, he said.

“We need to communicate the needs of OT security as right now the concern exists but the specific needs aren’t well understood by asset owners. They do understand that digital transformation is happening and they need to secure it. I would focus on this business case and speak to the need for OT-specific monitoring, defensible architectures, and OT-specific incident response plans,” the Dragos official said.

Miller said supply chain attacks in critical infrastructure are complex with many suppliers, vendors, integrators, and long lifecycles that measure in decades. Commenting on the need to build industrial cyber resilience to keep such threats in check, he said: “The first challenge in the OT space is gaining visibility into what assets one has. You can’t defend something if you don’t know it exists.”

When it comes to safeguarding cyberspace, he had a few words of advice for Saudi Arabia, “The Kingdom should realize the potential challenges as early as possible. Commending the country’s efforts in cybersecurity. Over the last few years, Saudi Arabia has focused heavily on cybersecurity by investing in key programs and events such as the Global Cybersecurity Forum. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has impressed many by taking one of the world’s leading positions in developing and maintaining a cyber ecosystem. Therefore, the Kingdom now has a vantage point to bridge global cyber divides and ensure that cybersecurity benefits all societies in the region.”

A global expert in industrial cybersecurity himself, Miller joined other renowned thought leaders in the field, including Dr. Albert Antwi-Boasiako, Directory-General of the Cyber Security Authority, Ghana; Mary O’Brien, General Manager, IBM Security; Lothar Renner from Cisco Security; and Dr. Victoria Coates, Former Senior Advisor to the US Secretary of Energy.

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