from the I-spy-with-my-little-computer dept.
Recently, we have reported several claims (here, here, and here) made by the Russian security software manufacturer Kaspersky Lab that they have discovered 'evidence' of NSA involvement in malware. Now, Bloomberg claims that the Moscow-based computer security company has effectively been taken over by the FSB. Company founder Eugene Kaspersky was educated at a KBG-run school, which was never a secret, but the new report describes a much more current and intimate connection.
Kaspersky Lab is denying the allegations, as one might expect, and counter with the statement:
It's not as though the US has clean hands in all of this. The CIA has funded the development of security software firms like FireEye, Veracode, and Hytrust though its In-Q-Tel investment fund, and American firms have been noticeably silent when it comes to investigating suspected US state-sponsored malware.
We are unlikely to hear the truth from either side, nor should we realistically expect a confession from the NSA or the FSB. Nevertheless, it is possible that the security industries on both sides are 'guilty' of looking after their respective government's interests and what we are seeing is just another day in the world of intelligence collection and cyber-security, the world of claim and counter-claim.
[Editor's Comment: Typo fixed at 15:39 UTC]
Three stories have been received which describes Kaspersky's malware analysis and their findings. Perhaps of equal interest is that all three reports suggest that the malware may be linked to the NSA. One also notes CDs sent through the USPS (United States Postal Service) seem to have been intercepted and replaced with modified CDs. I'll let you draw your own conclusions and I look forward to the ensuing discussion.
The Newly-Discovered "Equation Group" Deemed World's Top Hackers
Kaspersky declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but Wired points some possible NSA connections:
Although the researchers have no solid evidence that the NSA is behind the tools and decline to make any attribution to that effect, there is circumstantial evidence that points to this conclusion. A keyword—GROK—found in a keylogger component appears in an NSA spy tool catalog leaked to journalists in 2013. The 53-page document details—with pictures, diagrams and secret codenames—an array of complex devices and capabilities available to intelligence operatives. The capabilities of several tools in the catalog identified by the codenames UNITEDRAKE, STRAITBAZZARE, VALIDATOR and SLICKERVICAR appear to match the tools Kaspersky found. These codenames don’t appear in the components from the Equation Group, but Kaspersky did find “UR” in EquationDrug, suggesting a possible connection to UNITEDRAKE (United Rake). Kaspersky also found other codenames in the components that aren’t in the NSA catalog but share the same naming conventions—they include SKYHOOKCHOW, STEALTHFIGHTER, DRINKPARSLEY, STRAITACID, LUTEUSOBSTOS, STRAITSHOOTER, and DESERTWINTER.
[More after the break.]
Ars Technica reports that Kaspersky Labs have released further details tying the NSA to a group of expert hackers dubbed "Equation Group".
The Kaspersky researchers once again stopped short of saying the hacking collective they dubbed Equation Group was the handiwork of the NSA, saying only that the operation had to have been sponsored by a nation-state with nearly unlimited resources to dedicate to the project. Still, they heaped new findings on top of a mountain of existing evidence that already strongly implicated the spy agency. The strongest new tie to the NSA was the string "BACKSNARF_AB25" discovered only a few days ago embedded in a newly found sample of the Equation Group espionage platform dubbed "EquationDrug." "BACKSNARF," according to page 19 of this undated NSA presentation [PDF], was the name of a project tied to the NSA's Tailored Access Operations.
Similarities have been noted in the procedures and capabilities of Equation Group and those detailed in Edward Snowden's disclosures concerning the NSA, most notably the the ability to interdict hardware and software during shipping to be replaced with duplicates infected with highly sophisticated malware. The article also points to timestamp analysis that indicates the authors of the captured malware worked regular office hours: 8-5, Monday-Friday in the UTC-3 and UTC-4 time-zones. The Kaspersky report discounted intentional manipulation of these timestamps and suggests that Equation Group are located in the eastern United States.
According to emails from October 2009 obtained by Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley at Bloomberg it appears that Kaspersky Lab has been working with Russian Intelligence. Despite long standing rumours over these connections Eugene Kaspersky has always denied this to be the case, including as recently as last week in response to questions in the US Senate by Florida Republican Marco Rubio when he stated that "Claims about Kaspersky Lab's ties to the Kremlin are "unfounded conspiracy theories" and "total BS,"" on Reddit, and even offering to hand over the source code to the US Government for inspection.
While the exact nature of the co-operation with the FSB is still unclear, in the emails Kaspersky outlines a project undertaken in secret a year earlier "per a big request on the Lubyanka side," a reference to the FSB offices, that "includes both technology to protect against attacks (filters) as well as interaction with the hosters ('spreading' of sacrifice) and active countermeasures (about which, we keep quiet) and so on," Kaspersky wrote in one of the emails. Kaspersky Lab has confirmed that the emails are authentic. Whether this was legitimate work with the FSB in the prevention of cybercrime or securing FSB facilities or something more nefarious, it seems likely that this is not going to alleviate concerns over the use of their software putting further pressure on Kaspersky's business in other countries.
All of you knew that it could only get worse:
Kaspersky malware probers have uncovered a new 'operating system-like' platform that [they claim] was developed and used by the National Security Agency (NSA) in its Equation spying arsenal. The EquationDrug or Equestre platform is used to deploy [an estimated] 116 plug-in modules to target computers that can siphon data and spy on victims. So far, only 30 modules have been identified.
"It's important to note that EquationDrug is not just a trojan, but a full espionage platform, which includes a framework for conducting cyber-espionage activities by deploying specific modules on the machines of selected victims," Kaspersky researchers say in a report.
The article goes on to explain that Kaspersky further believes that the software is part of the "NSA's campaign to infect hard disk firmware". There is considerably more detail in the article.
I think I am going to get my old manual typewriter out of the garage, get a new ribbon, use U.S. Mail instead of e-mail, and buy more ink for my fountain pens.