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Cyber warriors gather as online battles rage

Global cyberattacks hit firms, governments: NetWitness
San Francisco (AFP) Feb 18, 2010 - Hackers have created a "dangerous new" network of virus-infected computers in 2,500 businesses and government agencies around the world, a US Internet security firm warned Thursday. NetWitness dubbed the army of 75,000 zombie machines the "Kneber botnet" and said it was made using malicious ZeuS software that lets its masters steal information ranging from passwords to corporate or government secrets. ZeuS malware has been increasingly used to siphon cash from financial institutions, with kits for customizing the larcenous programs hawked in the cyber underworld. The code is usually slipped onto machines by tricking people into opening booby-trapped email attachments or clicking on tainted Internet links.

"These large-scale compromises of enterprise networks have reached epidemic levels," said NetWitness chief executive Amit Yoran, a former national cyber security division director at the US Department of Homeland Security. "Cyber criminal elements, like the Kneber crew quietly and diligently target and compromise thousands of government and commercial organizations across the globe." Computers compromised by the botnet let attackers take remote control of systems as well as mine them for valuable information about people's identities, financial transactions, and company activities. NetWitness said it discovered the Kneber botnet in January while deploying an online monitoring system. Investigation revealed that business and government computers had been plundered of information including log-in credentials for banking, email and social networking services, according to NetWitness.

Yoran said the scale of the attacks dwarfs the recent "Operation Aurora" cyberassault on Google and dozens of other firms. The sophistication of the attack on Google has prompted suspicions of national level espionage although the culprits have yet to be identified. Computer industry specialists subsequently said more than 30 companies were hit by those attackers. The apparent online espionage prompted Google to vow it would stop bowing to Chinese censors and shut down its China search service if it cannot operate unfettered. Google continues to filter searches in accordance with Chinese law while trying to negotiate a compromise with officials there. "While Operation Aurora shed light on advanced threats from sponsored adversaries, the number of compromised companies and organizations pales in comparison to this single botnet," Yoran said.

More than half of the machines in the Kneber network were also infected with a Waledac code that instructs zombie machines to communicate with each other, making it harder to stamp out by essentially dispersing the command structure. "It is 100 percent certain that many organizations have no idea they are victimized by these types of problems because they're just not tooled to see them on their networks," said NetWitness principal analyst Alex Cox. "The Kneber botnet is just one category of advanced threat that organizations have been facing the past few years that they are still largely ignorant or blind to today." Yoran told the Wall Street Journal that the hacking operation apparently began in late 2008 in Germany and grew to include using computers in China. Evidence cited by NetWitness indicated the culprits may be Eastern European gangsters. Workers at companies were tricked into visiting websites or opening email attachments that promised to clean viruses from computers but instead infected machines.
by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) Feb 28, 2010
US national security leaders and top cyber warriors from around the world are gathering here to plot defenses against criminals and spies that increasingly plague the Internet.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and White House Cyber Security Coordinator Howard Schmidt will take part in this week's RSA conference along with computer defense companies and technology icons such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Craigslist creator Craig Newmark.

"We have before us more data moving into the cloud and more sophisticated cyber criminals," said Qualys chief executive Philippe Courtot, who is among the keynote speakers at the premier event that kicks off on Monday.

"We need corporations, government and community working closer together."

Social networking and applications being hosted as services in the Internet "cloud" are among hot Internet trends presenting opportunities for hackers and challenges for those guarding networks.

Gone are the days when protecting computers meant building virtual fortress walls to keep attackers out and then hunting down software viruses by simply matching codes to lists of known offenders.

Conference topics will include finding ways to let workers visit online social networking sites or let employees or partners access business networks safely from distant spots without opening computers to infections.

Legitimate websites must remain vigilant against being booby-trapped by hackers.

Computer defenses have broadened to include automated systems on constant watch for suspicious behavior, such as online bank account log-in information being entered faster than humanly possible.

Cyber crooks use programs that enter data quicker than fingers can type.

Organized crime and espionage themes promise to dominate at RSA, in part thanks to a slick online assault on Google and the recent discovery of some 75,000 computers worldwide woven into a "Kneber botnet" by malicious code.

"Malware has become important as the sophistication of the attacks has increased," said Courtot, whose company was founded in France in 1999 and later moved to California.

"That is underscored by the Google Aurora attack. Now we know for a fact more than a hundred companies were compromised in very targeted attacks of industrial espionage," Courtot said.

FBI chief Robert Mueller will detail cyber threats ranging from identity theft to how extremists and hostile foreign powers abuse the Internet.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Richard Clarke, former chief counter-terrorism adviser at the National Security Council, will discuss dealing with cyberspace threats "without creating Big Brother."

Napolitano is to focus on how online threats hit society. Schmidt will take part in a "town hall" talk.

Technology firms ranging from big guns such as Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Symantec will join smaller cyber warriors specializing in fields including biometrics, encryption, and online behavior.

"There are so many security topics high on the agenda," Cellcrypt chief executive Simon Bransfield-Garth told AFP.

"Certainly one of the topics is how mobile devices are becoming more like computers with the benefits and drawbacks as well."

A hacker organization recently released online open-source computer code for capturing mobile telephone conversations, according to Bransfield-Garth, whose company specializes in smartphone defenses.

RSA is expected to be rife with releases of studies highlighting threats, and rich with launches of products or services pitched as defensive weapons.

Startup XyberSecure will challenge those gathered to hack into a website to prove the prowess of its "behavior-based" security.

RSA was created in 1991 for cryptographers to share advances in Internet security but has evolved with the times, according to conference general manager Sandra Toms LaPedis.

"Our mission to drive the worldwide information security agenda," LaPedis said.

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New device looks to counter hackers
San Francisco (UPI) Feb 24, 2009
An appliance to be unveiled at California's premier international security conference next week is being marketed as the world's first comprehensive counter-hacking device that may address urgent issues arising from amateur and professional hacking of business and government computers. Hacking and related cybercrime and the risk of spinoffs for terrorism were blamed for widespread damag ... read more

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