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Serious Security Threat or Marketing Ploy? – WSJ “Night Dragon” February 10, 2011

Posted by wastedspacer in 1, Global Industry, IT Security, Notable Incidents, Political Issues, Rants, Spam, SPIM and other annoyances, Technologies.
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According to a report from the Wall Street Journal – on “Night Dragon” attacks:
Oil Firms Hit by Hackers From China, Report Says

How convenient for something like this to turn up the week before RSA! Seemed like an important headline and I suspect some additional news coverage could have been imminent given there was even a scrolling ticker about this on a couple of the local TV News channels this morning. Unfortunately for whoever thought this was a perfect time to disclose they got usurped by the Egypt breaking news alerts!

The McAfee PDF report is an interesting enough study however, there appears to be a number of shortcomings in the analysis, far too much circumstantial intelligence and many disclaimers of actual allegations. Furthermore “Night Dragon” is merely McAfee’s selected report moniker for their particular identification of a threat-bundle. Symantec, Microsoft, Trend, Sophos may select the same individual threats but call them different names and may not pull them together into a creative study such as McAfee sponsored. A couple of virus definitions are highlighted identifying known threats several months ago from May and August 2010.

I’m always skeptical when a security products company does a periodic security driven “the sky is falling” in-depth analysis. There may indeed be some bread crumbs of significance, my main concern is that it could just be another thinly disguised “wag the dog” company visibility increase exercise.

My more cynical side suggests that perhaps this is an effective security company marketing strategy that undertakes a “scientific” study around high-visibility targets, periodically wave a headline comprised of: (insert enemy state here) hackers attack (insert newsworthy Western iconic industry here) Gigabytes of data and trade secrets stolen. Then add some vague traffic analysis to show the volume, where it’s going and who’s allegedly controlling it, who knows, maybe some US bank or oil company outpost had been leveraged and was being unwittingly used as a Chinese/Ukrainian managed BitTorrent host for illegal videos? Or is it really corporate sensitive bidding information and active well log data? Without concrete proof in-stream or at the endpoint, any possible botnet C&C and network findings results would show pretty much the same data stream which could allow any security company to allege such a finding without actual proof.

We (or at least corporate executives as the target of this info when escalated to the lofty heights of a WSJ article) certainly appear to fall for it every time and then demand answers around what their internal security experts intend to do about it? Of course in the shadow of “cry wolf” warnings , once in a while there really are dire and present issues that require immediate remedial action so those security experts always have to remain vigilant but circumspect.

Perhaps if we (and apparently the WSJ) are really concerned about threats from “Chinese Hackers”, we should also address the oil industry “best-practice” of off-shoring to low-cost-geographies and perhaps consider that hiring an increasing number of our Western petroleum engineers and geologists from Chinese universities may pose a more insidious threat in the potential espionage space over the long term? We certainly should take security integrity and sustainability in mind when chasing the almighty short-term efficiency and cost savings fuelled drive to top ratings supporting the investors on Wall Street itself.

On a positive side, the WSJ article cited the attack vectors were typically via Microsoft vulnerabilities so companies that take an aggressive stance towards rapidly applying patches to help obviate threats. McAfee and Sophos share threat signatures so in this particular case where the detection was spearheaded by McAfee, at least, customers of these companies may enjoy a slightly better level of immediate protection and thus should benefit from any behind-the-scenes patching that McAfee had put in place to mitigate these threats. I just cant help wonder when Symantec, then Trend, then Kaspersky will see this approach as a “winning” strategy and start spinning their own versions perhaps “Soup Dragon” or “Nuts Dragon” analysis variations?

This seems like an ideal opportunity for security personnel to put in place better detection systems beyond IDS/IPS. Perhaps including honey-pots to at least be in a position to identify the liklihood of actual inside-the-perimeter threat activity. Furthermore, they will be able to consistently state whether they are being actively targeted over time and how frequently. Those metrics could be easily accumulated and used to not only track down current threats but also provide a current state report to executives when these kinds of issues are raised by the media.

In the meantime it’s ok to cry “wolf” (or depending on your security company’s naming convention: “loup”, “mac tíre”, “भेड़िया”, “الذئب”, “lupo”, “úlfur”), CVE goes a little way towards individual definitions but would help if anti-malware security companies got together and agreed upon a common name or at least resolution for a collection of threats from a suspected single source.

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Comments»

1. Ed T. - February 11, 2011

Too bad McAfee didn’t choose to do an in-depth analysis of a serious security exploit that, in the guise of an AV/HIPS engine update, ended up bricking a whole slew of Windows systems 🙂

~EdT.


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