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Indictments of Russian intelligence officers, NSA advisories, and stolen money donated to charities - catch up on the week's infosec news with the Friday Five!
1. U.S. Charges Russian Intelligence Officers in Major Cyberattacks by Michael S. Schmidt and Nicole Perlroth
On Monday, The Justice Department charged six Russian military intelligence officers for their role in a worldwide hacking campaign that caused mass disruption and cost companies billions of dollars over the last couple of years. Targets of the campaign included the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, the electricity grid in Ukraine, and the most recent French presidential election. Though Russia’s aggressive cybersecurity behavior has long been acknowledged by cybersecurity experts, the indictments are the first time that a major US law enforcement agency has officially made the allegation. It’s also notable that those charged are active members of the Russian military, opposed to cybercriminals who have implicit support or immunity from the Russian government as long as they limit their activities inside of Russia. The indictments reflect that efforts to deter Russian cyberattacks since the 2016 election have had limited effect, as the attacks laid out in court all have occurred in the last few years.
2. NSA warns defense contractors of recent Chinese government-backed hacking by Shannon Vavra
In the hope that companies will patch the vulnerabilities, the NSA released an advisory warning that Chinese government-backed hackers are actively exploiting vulnerabilities. The advisory noted 25 known vulnerabilities which, “primarily affect products used for remote access or external web services.” Again, though the vulnerabilities are all previously known, the NSA hopes that the new advisory will incentivize companies to patch immediately. By tying the vulnerabilities to the larger threat of Chinese state-sponsored hacking, the NSA is hoping that companies will feel pressure to act. It’s important to patch as soon as possible and though there is special concern for the defense industry because of the nature of the information companies control, every industry has IP and important data that could be accessed by exploiting these vulnerabilities.
3. Mysterious 'Robin Hood' hackers donating stolen money by Joe Tidy
Darkside, the criminal hacking group, is donating stolen money to charity in a first for cybercrime. To cybersecurity experts, the move is troubling as it raises concerns that hackers could try to use charitable donations to assuage public opinion and justify their illegal activities. The method of payment also raised concern. The hackers used a service called The Giving Block, which was founded to take advantage of the huge tax incentives that come with donating cryptocurrency to non-profits. It’s unclear if the Giving Block requires any information from its users, which allows the donations to remain anonymous, a problem if the donations are coming from illegal sources of funds. It also opens the service up to becoming a tool for money laundering. One of the two charities to receive the donation has already announced that it will not keep the money.
4. Justice Dept. to file landmark antitrust case against Google by Michael Balsamo and Marcy Gordon
The Justice Department on Tuesday sued Google in the most significant anti-trust case in more than 20 years. The case comes on the heels of an increased agreement within Congress that the practices of the largest companies in tech, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Apple ought to come under more scrutiny. One of the specific allegations against Google is that the company pays billions of dollars to phone manufacturers to ensure that Google is the default search engine on browsers. The filing by the DOJ says Google’s behavior stifles competition from smaller companies and thus the lack of innovation in the marketplace hurts consumers. The DOJ also left open the possibility of breaking up Google, which for example, could mean Chrome would have to spin off into its own company. The case is reminiscent of the government’s case against Microsoft in 1998. If the case goes to trial, it would likely begin late next year or in 2022.
5. Iran and Russia Seek to Influence Election in Final Days, U.S. Officials Warn by Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger
In a press conference on Wednesday, U.S. officials warned of misinformation from Iran and Russia meant to interfere with the U.S. election. The press conference falls within the context of the steady stream of indictments that have come out of the DOJ over the last few weeks and meant to dissuade election interference, but have gotten limited media coverage. Using voter registration data, much of it publicly available, Iran has been sending threatening and faked emails to voters. The emails claimed to be from a pro-Trump far-right group, the Proud Boys, indicating the hacker’s intention to stoke the already existing divisions in the U.S. Regardless of whether the information was intended to help one campaign over the other, or generally undermine confidence in the election, it serves as a warning of the myriad of influences trying to affect the election.