Weekly Cyber Risk Roundup: Services Get Disrupted and Hacking Elections

Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and other incidents leading to service interruption have been widely discussed in the cybersecurity community ever since the October attack against DNS provider Dyn. This past week saw Marai-driven attacks that reportedly knocked out Internet access for the entire county of Liberia; however, security researchers such as Brian Krebs noted that those news articles may have exaggerated the facts as there is little evidence “anything close to a country-wide outage” occurred as a result of the attack.

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“While it is likely that a local operator might have experienced a brief outage, we have no knowledge of a national Internet outage and there are no data to [substantiate] that,” Daniel Brewer, general manager for the Cable Consortium of Liberia, told Krebs.

Nevertheless, concerns around DDoS attacks remain high, and some have speculated that the attacks against Liberia and others may be test runs for a larger attack in the future.

In other service interruption news, two apartment buildings located in Lappeenranta, Finland, and managed by facilities services company Valtia had the systems that controlled central heating and warm water circulation disabled by a DDoS attack. The systems tried rebooting the main control circuit in response to the attack, the CEO of Valtia said, and this was repeated in an endless loop resulting in the heat not working for the properties. Also, a unspecified malware infection caused three UK hospitals to cancel operations, outpatient appointments and diagnostic procedures for three days while staff access to patient records was restored. According to The Sun, approximately 3,300 patients at hospitals in Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Goole were affected. The attacks led to a high-severity alert being issued to National Health Service providers reminding “all users of the need for proactive measures to reduce the likelihood of infection and minimise the impacts of any compromise.”

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Other trending cybercrime events from the week include:

  • Fraud and financial loss continue: Tesco Bank said the widespread criminal activity that led to the halting of online transactions has been narrowed down to £2.5 million in losses across 9,000 accounts – a drop from the 20,000 accounts previously reported. Sentinel Hotel is notifying customers of a breach after reports of unauthorized charges on guests payment cards led to the discovery of malware on a point-of-sale terminal. City of El Paso officials revealed the city was scammed out of more than $3 million via a phishing attack. The city has recovered about half of the money. A ransomware infection recently locked up several government systems in Madison County, Indiana, and county commissioners voted to pay the extortion demands in order to regain control of those systems.
  • Poor security leads to potential breaches: Researchers discovered that 128 car dealership systems were being backed up to a central location without any encryption or security, potentially exposing the personal information of both customers and employees. Cisco is warning job applicants that information on the Cisco Professional Careers mobile website may have been exposed as a result of an incorrect security setting following system maintenance. Newfoundland and Labrador’s privacy commissioner is ordering Eastern Health to examine controls around employees logging out of accounts after an incident in which a doctor failed to log out of Meditech patient information software and patient information was accessed and printed by an unknown person.
  • More breaches and data dumps: Two hackers claim to have used SQL injection to steal personal information from seven Indian High Commission websites and published the stolen databases in a Pastebin post. Anonymous Italia has defaced several police websites and leaked 70 megabytes of data presumably stolen from the databases of the Sindacato Autonomo Polizia Penitenziaria’s blog and its official monthly magazine. Integrity Transitional Hospital, based in Texas, recently reported a health data hacking incident that potentially affects the information of more than 29,000 patients.
  • Cybercrime leads to arrests: A man has been arrested for compromising more than a thousand university email accounts and then using that access to further compromise other social media and online accounts. The man allegedly accessed one university’s password reset utility approximately 18,640 different times between October 2015 and September 2016 and successfully changed the passwords for 1,035 unique accounts. An employee of Lex Autolease Limited pleaded guilty to selling the personal information of hundreds of customers to a third party. A 19-year old hacker plead guilty to creating and running the Titanium Stresser booter service, which has been used in more than 1.7 million DDoS attacks worldwide.

SurfWatch Labs collected data on many different companies tied to cybercrime over the past week. Some of those “newly seen” targets, meaning they either appeared in SurfWatch Labs’ data for the first time or else reappeared after being absent for several weeks, are shown in the chart below.

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Cyber Risk Trends From the Past Week

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Most industry sectors saw a slight decline in their SurfWatch Labs’ cyber risk scores this week. The biggest story of late, naturally, was the U.S. presidential election, and now that it is over, pundits from both sides are reflecting on how their candidates managed to win or lose the race. That examination includes the role that cybersecurity, hacking and data leaks may have played in the outcome.

In fact, back in August we posed that very question: would 2016 be the first presidential campaign ultimately swung by information obtained in a data breach? The answer remains uncertain. What is certain is that cyber-issues were put front-and-center in a way we have never seen in any other presidential election.

For example, in the days leading up to the election, WikiLeaks published 8,000 more leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee, dubbed #DNCLeak2. That dump came after a previous release of 20,000 emails from the DNC as well as 50,000 emails from Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta. The effect of those stolen emails being steadily leaked — and other cyber-issues such as Clinton’s personal email server — may be impossible to quantify, but they likely contributed in some way to nearly 60 percent of voters who perceived Clinton as a dishonest and untrustworthy candidate.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wrote an election day post defending his actions and stating that publishing the stolen emails was not an attempt to influence the outcome of the election.

“We publish material given to us if it is of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical importance and which has not been published elsewhere,” Assange wrote. “At the same time, we cannot publish what we do not have. To date, we have not received information on Donald Trump’s campaign, or Jill Stein’s campaign, or Gary Johnson’s campaign or any of the other candidates that fulfills our stated editorial criteria.”

Clearly, Assange is saying if WikiLeaks did have information on other political candidates then that information would be made public as well — as it has in the past with the release hundreds of thousands of emails related to the government of Turkey. WikiLeaks claims to be non-partisan, but other threat actors do have a biased agenda and those actors are likely to be emboldened by the success of this year’s election-related hacks.

As Wired wrote: “For Russia, [Trump’s win] will also be taken as a win for the chaos-injecting tactics of political hacks and leaks that the country’s operatives used to meddle in America’s election — and an incentive to try them elsewhere. … That Russia perceives those operations as successful, experts say, will only encourage similar hacks aimed at shifting elections and sowing distrust of political processes in Western democracies, particularly those in Europe.”

Those efforts are already underway, researchers have noted, with at least a dozen European organizations being targeted by groups linked to the Russian state since that hacks against the DNC. Whether this election was ultimately swayed by breaches and other cyber-issues may be up for debate, but what is clear is that political and advocacy organizations are actively being targeted and that threat actors will likely try to influence future elections across the globe to align with their goals.

Author: Jeff Peters

SurfWatch Labs editor and host of SurfWatch Labs Cyber Chat podcast. Focused on using threat intelligence and data visualization in order to bring cybercrime to life and help make organizations safer.

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