Hybrid War Multinational state-sponsored cyber attack news


Mi Private
MI.Net Member
Jul 21, 2022
So, I was surprised to not see a dedicated thread where members can post various cyber attacks done by state-sponsored actors for either espionage or any other purpose. So, I created this thread?. Members are free to post news about cyber attacks and espionage campaigns carried out by any nation's state actors if they happen to come across it. Members are also free to discuss anything else related to such news like how the victims are responding to it, what steps/actions were taken after the attack or any further technical insight as to how such attacks are carried out is always welcome and much appreciated.

I will go first:
Recently, in May 2022 a successful cyber attack was conducted by the suspected Indian APT actor called Sidewinder against Pakistan Air Force Headquarters, reported by Check Point Research. The attack led to compromise of about 20,000 files critical to Pakistani military which included identities of "high ranking military officers" as well. Along with it, Check Point Research found a username in one of those files called 'gnss' and they suggest that it might refer to (BeiDou) Global Navigation Satellite System used by Pakistani military as other "files seen also had names relating to satellite communication, implying data around this".

Link to the report: https://web.archive.org/web/2022071...er-attacks-pakistan-military-focused-targets/
Last edited:

On 25 May, Australia and its partners in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network—Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US—made a coordinated disclosure on a state-sponsored cyber hacking group dubbed ‘Volt Typhoon’. The group has been detected intruding on critical infrastructure since 2021, but the nature of recent intelligence on its behaviour hints at worrying developments in the Chinese cyber establishment. While the Five Eyes’ disclosure is direct in its attribution of Volt Typhoon to the Chinese government, there are many layers that need to be peeled away to reveal the true nature, and implications, of the threat.

State-aligned or state-sponsored cyber threats emerging from China can be grouped under two broad government structures: the Ministry of State Security and the Strategic Support Force. The MSS is China’s peak foreign intelligence, counterintelligence and political security agency, and the SSF is the joint information warfare command of the People’s Liberation Army’s, akin to US Cyber Command. While its US counterpart focuses solely on military cyber operations, the SSF has a broader mandate covering electronic warfare, strategic military cyber operations and political warfare. The SSF was founded in 2015 as part of structural reforms to the PLA spearheaded by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The most recent intrusion highlighted by the Five Eyes isn’t the type of espionage that is the veritable background noise of enduring competition among states. Chinese cyber operators have become notorious for intellectual property theft, but their cyber espionage activity has gradually shifted to meeting other strategic imperatives, as the Volt Typhoon case shows.

Offensive cyber intrusions for specific strategic effects usually require the preplacement of technical implants and long-term access to the adversary’s network well in advance of the operation. Former White House cybersecurity adviser Chris Inglis has called these implants intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms that are ‘ubiquitous, real-time and persistent’. Volt Typhoon appears to have been performing just such a preplacement operation.

The commercially available intelligence on Chinese cyber activity can be confusing. The MSS and even the SSF use the services of politically influential private contractors to develop their offensive toolchains. The contractors may also moonlight as criminals, unabashedly using the same toolchains. This operational and infrastructural overlap means that commercial intelligence analysts end up grouping China-linked cybercrime, cyber espionage and military cyber activity into big clusters known in the industry by names such as Winnti, APT40, APT41, Barium and Hafnium. That has greatly muddied the waters.

However, it is possible to unpack these clusters. The MSS and its affiliates have been spotted on global networks and linked with sophisticated political and economic espionage operations. The SSF, working with the five geographically aligned theatre commands of the PLA, has been mainly active in China’s near abroad. After the 2015 reforms, the theatre commands inherited the old, inertial bureaucracies of the PLA and their integration into the joint information warfare command of the SSF is said to be a work in progress.

The technical reconnaissance bases (previously known as bureaus), or TRBs, are the numerous detachments hailing from the legacy structures of the PLA’s signals intelligence setup. Most of them have been reorganised into the theatre commands and are responsible for various cyber missions. The TRBs rely on a mixture of bespoke toolchains and toolchains shared with contractors and the MSS. One example is ShadowPad, which is thought to be behind one of China’s first known prepositioning operations, RedEcho. RedEcho was discovered in the Indian power grid in 2021 during the height of the Indo-China border standoff and is most likely the handiwork of a TRB under the Western Theatre Command.

A de-clustering of Chinese cyber operations undertaken for groups active in China’s near abroad and associated with the PLA was able to link intrusions to TRBs. According to this analysis, which was based on commercially available and open-source intelligence, the ‘Tonto Team’ was related to Unit 65016, a TRB of the Northern Theatre Command; ‘Naikon’ was linked to the Southern Theatre Command; and ‘Tick’ was related to Unit 61419, which is likely a TRB directly under the SSF.

There has been some debate among the experts about how the TRBs fit into the joint command structure of the theatre commands and the SSF. However, the consensus is that because the theatre commanders have managed to remain the foci in a slow-changing bureaucracy, most TRBs are more closely associated with them than with the SSF.

This is the assumption that the Volt Typhoon disclosure seems to challenge. It was undoubtedly a strategic operation and its prepositioning extends far beyond China’s near abroad. Its scope is a sign that the integration of joint information warfare forces into the PLA has matured. The military cyber elements seem to have been extricated from the stovepipes of the theatre commands and are ready to produce strategic effects extending beyond the Indo-Pacific. And the integration isn’t just militaristic but also political: the PLA is the Chinese Communist Party’s army. Strategic cyber operations are directly sanctioned by the Central Military Commission and ultimately authorised by Xi.

An alternative hypothesis is that the MSS or a team of contractors were tasked with gathering intelligence to prepare for a future battlefield. The MSS and its privateers have gone beyond their remit in the past. The 2020–21 exploitation of Microsoft Exchange, for example, which aggressively targeted many Western organisations, is thought to have been orchestrated by a regional bureau of the MSS and so wouldn’t have gone through PLA channels to the top.

That said, the Chinese cyber apparatus also relies on decentralisation and outsourcing to maintain deniability. And while the Volt Typhoon intrusion could have been the result of private contractors’ reckless manoeuvring, such a move would have been deemed risky by the Chinese political establishment, which is keenly aware of the risk of escalation in cyber operations.

The intelligence that has trickled through from the Five Eyes points to interesting doctrinal and strategic developments in the Chinese cyber establishment, especially the extent and success of its integration with the PLA. A rigorous, transparent assessment by interdisciplinary experts, aided by governments, is required to fully understand these developments and their potential consequences.
https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/r...ese cyber intrusions signal a strategic shift
Israel and the United Arab Emirates have established a global platform to fight against ransomware hackers, according to an announcement made Wednesday by Israel’s government.

This comes a day after Israel helped the UAE fend off a major cyberattack, according to the UAE head of cybersecurity Sheikh Mohamed Al Kuwaiti, reported the Jerusalem Post.

The UAE is going through "a great digital transformation" in all sectors, Kuwaiti said at the Tel Aviv Cyber Week conference Tuesday. "And, in fact, we need to do a safe and secure transformation.”

The Crystal Ball initiative announced on Wednesday seeks to enhance the sharing capabilities of cyber-intelligence collected by multiple countries to improve the collective defenses against digital crime. The advanced cloud platform is a collaboration between Microsoft Israel, the Israeli National Cyber directorate, and the UAE Cyber Council.

While introducing the Crystal Ball platform in Israel on Wednesday, Microsoft Israel CEO Alon Haimovich said that this response is needed to combat the growing sophistication of hackers.

The platform will offer "the power, capabilities, and knowledge to fight ransom attacks in real time with continuous, convenient and high-quality cooperation,” he said, in an Israeli government press statement.

The platform is designed by Microsoft as part of the International Counter Ransomware Initiative (CRI), a global enterprise led by the White House that includes 15 member states including the UAE, Germany, Great Britain, Singapore, and also the International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol.

The CRI was founded in late 2022 to strengthen the global response to cybercrime. The Covid-19 pandemic, and other factors that contributed to relying on cloud-based solutions, has severely heightened the exposure of government and private entities alike.

Cyberattacks targeting government agencies increased by 95% in the second half of 2022 compared to the same period the year before. About 40% of these threats targeted India, the United States, Indonesia and China.

Vibin Shaju, the vice president of solutions engineering for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at global cybersecurity company Trellix, said that emerging, quickly digitizing economies are prime targets.

“At the moment the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — during the World Cup — are the countries that are putting a lot of money and going digital with mega and giga-projects. This has big entities investing heavily, which is also attracting the interest of attackers,” he told Al-Monitor.

A shared data initiative, such as the UAE-Israel led Crystal Ball platform, could help faster identify the source, type or mechanism of these attacks, especially ones that are recycled and reused in multiple countries, added Shaju.

This is the case with rapidly advancing artificial intelligence, which allows hackers to automate the generation of ransomware and attack multiple entities more easily. Yet at the same time, artificially generated ransomwares are similar and can be spotted.

“The base model and the symptoms are the same. It has been done before and is easy to identify,” said Shaju, especially as more entities and countries share their knowledge of cyberattacks with one another.

Although the fast evolution of automated ransomwares makes it difficult to keep up, he added, initiatives like the UAE-Israel-led Crystal Ball can increase its chances.

Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/original...l-initiative-fight-cyberattacks#ixzz86sB4b3wT

Similar threads