Cyber Week in Review: Kremlin Emails, Liberia & Microsoft

Media Division | November 18, 2016

Things got a little heated this week in the cyberverse, and not just in the United States presidential election: cyberwarfare around the world is making headlines.  It seemed much of the recent chatter was election-related, and indeed it was, but as the dust settles in that storm, the noise has continued.  Here are three of the top stories in the hacking community this week.

The On-Going War with Russia

It’s been called the Cyber Cold War for good reason: the US and Russia seem to be going at it in the cyber world, but, just like the Cold War of last century, no one is admitting fault and no actual guns have been fired.

If you’ve been following the stories, you know that Russia seemed to be tampering with the presidential race in the US.  The Democratic National Convention, top Democratic officials, and Hillary Clinton were all hacked and leaked through sources like WikiLeaks.  Among other reasons, the US Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence accused Russia of being behind the attacks.  Russia admitted no guilt.

Now “the Ukraine” has attacked the Kremlin, hacking the emails of top official Vladislav Surkov and defacing a Russian website.  The group claiming responsibility, the Ukrainian Cyber Alliance, seems to have come out of nowhere.  So much so that speculation has arisen that Ukrainian hackers are not responsible at all, rather state-sponsored US hackers either provided the source code or ran the hack.

How this will play out is anyone’s guess, but it seems likely that it won’t be ending anytime soon.

Liberia in the Dark

Last week the internet slowed down when Dyn got hit with a massive DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack.  If you were on the east coast of the United States, especially, Twitter, Netflix, Easy, Airbnb, even The New York Times were virtually inaccessible.  An expense? Perhaps of lost productivity.  An annoyance?  Absolutely.  We learned that the IoT (internet of things) could mean serious irritation when devices from ATM cameras to baby monitors get hijacked with malware.  A massive product recall is underway, and likely just the beginning.

For the 4 million + people in Liberia, however, that attack meant an internet blackout.

Liberia shares its only internet access cable with other West African nations.  Ethiopia reportedly loses $500,000/day due to internet shutdowns.  Those shutdowns in October may have been the same Mirai virus, but with such limited connections, hijacking the IoT means bringing commerce to a screeching halt.

So how about that product recall?  Time to at least check the updates on your Tivo.

Awaking a Giant

Microsoft recently got a rude awakening, and if you are using software pre-Windows 10 the patch became available on November 8.  The computer giant admitted to a security vulnerability that would allow hackers access to Windows and Adobe software.

The exploit allowed for spear-phishing campaigns, where hackers send emails that appear to be from someone you know, like the CEO of your company, but in fact are not.  When people fall for spear-phishing, they give hackers requested sensitive information, such as user names and passwords, credit card or banking information, or names and social security numbers of employees.  Spear-phishing is remarkably successful, more so even than some other phony email tactics.

Unfortunately, Windows learned of the attack from Google.  Unfortunate because Windows wasn’t only notified, word leaked of the vulnerability allowing for zero-day attacks more broadly.

Microsoft wants you to rest assured knowing that a patch is available, and further encourages everyone to upgrade to Windows 10.  The problem we see?  Windows 10 isn’t exactly unhackable either.

The Bigger They Are…

These large scale exploits have got us thinking about whaling, which isn’t to say that smaller companies aren’t still targeted by hackers.  So button down the hatches this week and stay safe from the storm.

Massive's Media Division publishes timely news and insights based on current events, trends, and actionable cross-industry expertise.