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August 18 – Dark Reading: Pakistan The Latest Cyberspying Nation

August 18, 2014

By: Kelly Jackson Higgins

A look at Operation Arachnophobia, a suspected cyber espionage campaign against India.

A recently unearthed targeted attack campaign suggests that Pakistan is evolving from hacktivism to cyber espionage.

Operation Arachnophobia, a campaign that appears to have begun in early 2013, has all the earmarks of classic advanced persistent threat/cyber espionage activity but with a few twists of its own — including the possible involvement of a Pakistani security firm.

Researchers from FireEye and ThreatConnect recently teamed up in their investigation of the attacks, which feature a custom malware family dubbed Bitterbug that serves as the backdoor for siphoning stolen information. Though the researchers say they have not identified the specific victim organizations, they have spotted malware bundled with decoy documents related to Indian issues.

The Bitterbug malware is geared for cyber espionage purposes and was hidden behind pilfered US infrastructure as a way to hide its origins. Specifically, the attacks employ infrastructure from a US virtual private server. The Pakistani hosting provider appears to have leased its command and control infrastructure from a US VPS provider. “It’s where the malware is hosted and used for command and control,” says Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer at ThreatConnect. The goal was to make the attacks appear to come from the US.

Operation Arachnophobia may well be Pakistan’s answer to cyber espionage campaigns against its nation that appear to have come from India. “It was engineered to collect standard Office documents on your desktop,” Barger says. “It was very close to Operation Hangover activity… for which India was purportedly responsible.”

Cyber espionage appears to be on the upswing in the region. Iran recently moved from a defacement-happy operation in the name of political hacktivism to cyberspying campaigns such as the so-called Operation Saffron Rosetargeting US defense contractors and Iranian dissidents.

“We know about Russia and China… India and Pakistan has room to grow and mature,” Barger says.

Operation Arachnophobia was named after the Pakistani security firm Tranchulas, whose name appeared in some of the malware samples studied by FireEye researchers. “The ‘Tranchulas’ name was in a string” of the malware, says Mike Oppenheim, principal threat intelligence analyst at FireEye. Tranchulas was supposedly a security company that does penetration testing. The researchers say it supports “national level cyber security programs” and the development of “offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.”

The researchers found major discrepancies in emails between them and Tranchulas and the Pakistani hosting provider, which led them to dig further. That’s where they discovered the hosting provider had been subleasing insfrastructure from US providers, and both Tranchulas and the Pakistani hosting provider have employed or have connections with people with “cyber offensive expertise.”

According to the researchers, since they published a whitepaper on their findings this month, the operation appears to have come to standstill for now.

The full report is available here (registration required).

Read the full article at: http://www.darkreading.com/attacks-breaches/pakistan-the-latest-cyberspying-nation/d/d-id/1298109?

The post August 18 – Dark Reading: Pakistan The Latest Cyberspying Nation appeared first on ThreatConnect - Threat Intelligence.

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Adam is an internationally renowned information security expert and is currently the CEO and a founder at Cyber Squared Inc. He possesses over a decade of experience in programming, network security, penetration testing, cryptography design & cryptanalysis, identity and access control, and a detailed expertise in information security. The culmination of this knowledge has led to the company’s creation of ThreatConnect™, the first-of-its-kind threat intelligence platform. He currently serves as an advisor to multiple security-focused organizations and has provided consultation to numerous businesses ranging from start-ups to governments, Fortune 500 organizations, and top financial institutions. Adam holds an MS in computer science with graduate certifications in computer security and information assurance from George Washington University. Vincent lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, two children, and dog.