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SANS NewsBites is a semiweekly high-level executive summary of the most important news articles that have been published on computer security during the last week. Each news item is very briefly summarized and includes a reference on the web for detailed information, if possible.

Spend five minutes per week to keep up with the high-level perspective of all the latest security news. New issues are delivered free every Tuesday and Friday.

Volume XV - Issue #9

February 01, 2013

How to get maximum value for security investments. John Pescatore has been a cyber defense analyst and vice president at Gartner for the last 14 years where he became the most trusted analyst in cybersecurity. John just agreed to begin sharing the data he has been learning more openly in a 2-3 times per week blog where you can also engage in the conversation, and to conduct CIO and CISO round tables on the most important new areas of cybersecurity. He explains why here:



Chinese Hackers Infiltrate New York Times; Wall Street Journal, Too.
Survey Finds Fortune 500 Companies Willing to Accept Voluntary Cybersec Standards


Opera 12.13 Addresses Security and Stability Issues
New Ransomware and Phishing Variants Detected
Alleged Cyberextortionist Arrested
All Plug-Ins (Except for Flash) Will be Click-to-Play in Upcoming Version of Firefox
PayPal Fixes SQL Injection Flaw
Another Critical Fix for Ruby on Rails
Universal Plug-and-Play Security Vulnerabilities Prompt Recommendation to Disable the Technology
More Headaches for Java

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Chinese Hackers Infiltrate New York Times; Wall Street Journal, Too. (January 31, 2013)

The New York Times reports that Chinese hackers targeted its computer systems in an attack that began in September 2012. The attackers managed to gains access to a domain controller that holds account access credentials for all Times employees; this particular attack targeted the accounts of the current and former Times Beijing bureau chiefs. The hackers appear to have been looking for information identifying sources in China who may have provided information to journalists investigating a story about the fortunes amassed by family members of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. The hackers took circuitous routes, directing their attacks through previously compromised systems at several different US universities and shifting IP addresses often. Such deceptive strategy is similar to that used in other cyberattacks that have been linked to China. Chinese officials deny involvement in the attacks. The Times called in Mandiant to help monitor and block the attacks, gather evidence, and expunge the hackers. The attackers have been ousted from the system for now and more cyberdefenses have been established, but the Times harbors no illusions that its systems will not be targeted again. Bloomberg was targeted in a similar attack earlier last year after they published a story about the net worth of then-vice president Xi Jinping's family members.

(Editor's Note: The video accompanying the story is thorough and well worth watching.) The Wall Street Journal says Chinese hackers have also targeted its computer systems, presumably for the purpose of monitoring the paper's China coverage. The attacks "are not an attempt to gain commercial advantage or to misappropriate customer information."

[Editors Note (Paller): Three big takeaways from this story: (1) the attackers were in for a long time before they were discovered; (2) the antivirus and other defenses were useless; (3) they didn't have people with technical security skills on staff to deal with it. These three facts are true of more than 1,400 companies in the United States including most power companies, large law firms, other major newspapers and media companies, telecommunications, high tech, natural resources, manufacturers, and defense industrial base companies, just to name a few. It's easy to point fingers. In a couple of weeks you'll see what can actually be done to stop these attack.
(Honan): This story claims that a major factor in the success of the attackers was the fact the anti-virus software used by the New York Times did not detect 44 pieces of custom made malware used against the Times' network. If you are relying solely on anti-virus software to protect your systems, especially against custom made malware, then you will get breached. The 20 Critical Controls should be an essential part of any security managers defensive arsenal
and especially the 4 that stop the attacks that the Times and Journal experienced.]

Survey Finds Fortune 500 Companies Willing to Accept Voluntary Cybersec Standards (January 30, 2013)

A US Senate survey of Fortune 500 companies found that many would support voluntary cybersecurity standards. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) sent a letter to the companies in September 2012. The staff of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology compiled a report from the 300 responses the letter generated. The responses were largely supportive of cybersecurity legislation and public/private collaboration, but many were concerned about cybersecurity standards becoming mandatory.

[Editor's Note (Pescatore): Of course, there is already no shortage of voluntary standards, and there are many mandatory ones that enterprises are already subject to. The real issue is reducing vulnerabilities - the government should focus on using its power in the market to drive reductions in the vulnerabilities in software and online services, and enterprises should focus not on compliance with more standards but on addressing the critical security controls that give the biggest bang for the buck in thwarting attacks. ]

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Opera 12.13 Addresses Security and Stability Issues (January 31, 2013)

Opera has released an updated version of its browser that addresses four vulnerabilities, including a pair of arbitrary code execution flaws and a privilege elevation flaw. Opera 12.13 also addresses several stability issues. Some users have reported crashes while attempting to install the most recent version of Opera. The problem may be related to plug-ins or to the 64-bit version of the browser.


New Ransomware and Phishing Variants Detected (January 31, 2013)

Ransomware known as Police Virus carries more strength that previous versions of the malware as it actually has the capacity to encrypt all data on infected machines. This variant disables regedit, task manager, and msconfig to further confound users. The malware tells users that because of a criminal offense, they must pay money or their computers will be encrypted. It spreads through malicious links, infected files, or drive-by downloads.

There has also been a surge in phishing emails that appear to come from FedEx. The messages tell recipients that because FedEx was unable to deliver a package, they must click a provided link to print a receipt to bring to their local FedEx office to retrieve the package. The link instead leads to a malicious site that infects their computers with a Trojan horse program. FedEx has posted a statement online warning of the scam and reminding people that the company "does not send unsolicited emails to customers requesting information regarding packages, invoices, account numbers, passwords, or personal information."

[Editor's Note (Honan): A new nasty turn in the psychology the criminals are using in this campaign in Germany is to accuse the victim of having a system containing pictures of child pornography and then subsequently displaying such material on the victim's computer

So make sure you have your own incident response team's procedures modified to deal with such an event should a PC in your company become infected. ]

Alleged Cyberextortionist Arrested (January 29, 30 & 31, 2013)

The FBI has arrested a California man in connection with numerous instances of cyberextortion in which he threatened to post compromising pictures of women whose social networking accounts he had hacked hijacked. Investigators believe that Karen "Gary" Kazaryan had more than 350 victims between 2009 and 2011. A recently unsealed indictment charges Kazaryan with 15 counts of computer intrusion and 15 counts of aggravated identity theft.

Indictment (October 2012):
[Editor's Note (Murray): Before engaging in extortion, one would do well to remember that the FBI made their reputation on extortion, protection, and kidnapping. Following the money is what they do and they are very good at. The modern money system makes that easier than ever. ]

All Plug-Ins (Except for Flash) Will be Click-to-Play in Upcoming Version of Firefox (January 30, 2013)

Mozilla says it will automatically disable all Firefox plug-ins with the exception of the most current version of Adobe Flash. Mozilla says the decision was prompted by security and stability concerns, particularly the risk of drive-by attacks. Blocked plug-ins will include up-to-date versions of Silverlight and Java. Currently, Firefox turns on click-to-play only for those plug-ins that are deemed unsafe or seriously out-of-date. Chrome and Opera offer click-to-play, but users must enable the feature themselves.


[Editor's Note (Shpantzer): Gutsy move by Mozilla, hopefully the user base will not rebel. Users need some help with the silliness of allow-everything by default: Average people are their own system administrators and the complexity of updating even legitimate third-party apps (insecure by negligence, not malice) is ridiculous. ]

PayPal Fixes SQL Injection Flaw (January 30, 2013)

PayPal has fixed a SQL injection vulnerability in its e-commerce website application that could have been exploited to compromise company databases and steal sensitive information. PayPal awarded a US $3,000 bounty to the organization that discovered the flaw and alerted the company to its existence in August 2012.
[Editor's Note (Shpantzer): Take a look at PayPal's approach and contrast it to one recent reaction by a university, as we reported on a few weeks ago:

I'm not expecting bug bounties in .edu but there are different ways to handle things than shooting the messenger. ]

Another Critical Fix for Ruby on Rails (January 29, 2013)

Ruby on Rails developers have released yet another "extremely critical" update for the web development framework. The developers urge users to upgrade to versions 3.0.20 and 2.3.16 as soon as possible. The update was released for 3.0.x even though that version is no longer supported. The issues do not affect versions 3.1.x and 3.2.x.


Universal Plug-and-Play Security Vulnerabilities Prompt Recommendation to Disable the Technology (January 29, 2013)

Researchers have found three sets of vulnerabilities in the universal plug-and-play (UPnP) component that allows devices to detect and communicate with each other over networks. The flaws could be exploited to steal passwords and documents and to hijack webcams, printers, and other Internet-connected devices. The US Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) US-CERT has issued an advisory on the matter.



[Editor's Note (Murray): UPnP is most used in SOHO configurations. While it may be used internally by enterprises, it is rarely exposed to the Internet by enterprises. This feature is a hole in firewalls and has been associated with vulnerabilities for a long time. While the vulnerability is pervasive, the threat and risk have been low. One expects hoaxes at Christmas and exciting announcements right before RSA. ]

More Headaches for Java (January 30, 31, & February 1, 2013)

Apple has blocked Java completely in OS X 10.6 and above. Other companies are taking steps to protect their users from Java as well; virtually all plug-ins will be blocked in Firefox (see story above). Oracle admits that there are serious problems with Java, but says that those problems lie with the Java browser plug-ins and that server-side, desktop, and embedded Java are not vulnerable to the same attacks.


The Editorial Board of SANS NewsBites

John Pescatore was Vice President at Gartner Inc. for fourteen years. He became a director of the SANS Institute in 2013. He has worked in computer and network security since 1978 including time at the NSA and the U.S. Secret Service.

Shawn Henry recently retired as FBI Executive Assistant Director responsible for all criminal and cyber programs and investigations worldwide, as well as international operations and the FBI's critical incident response. He is now president of CrowdStrike Services.

Stephen Northcutt founded the GIAC certification and is President of STI, the premier skills-based cyber security graduate school,

Dr. Johannes Ullrich is Chief Technology Officer of the Internet Storm Center and Dean of the Faculty of the graduate school at the SANS Technology Institute.

Ed Skoudis is co-founder of CounterHack, the nation's top producer of cyber ranges, simulations, and competitive challenges, now used from high schools to the Air Force. He is also author and lead instructor of the SANS Hacker Exploits and Incident Handling course, and Penetration Testing course.

William Hugh Murray is an executive consultant and trainer in Information Assurance and Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Michael Assante was Vice President and Chief Security Officer at NERC, led a key control systems group at Idaho National Labs, and was Vice President and Chief Security Officer for American Electric Power.

Sean McBride is Director of Analysis and co-founder of Critical Intelligence, and, while at Idaho National Laboratory, he initiated the situational awareness effort that became the ICS-CERT.

Rob Lee is the curriculum lead instructor for the SANS Institute's computer forensic courses ( and a Director at the incident response company Mandiant.

Tom Liston is a Senior Security Consultant and Malware Analyst for InGuardians, a handler for the SANS Institute's Internet Storm Center, and co-author of the book Counter Hack Reloaded.

Dr. Eric Cole is an instructor, author and fellow with The SANS Institute. He has written five books, including Insider Threat and he is a founder with Secure Anchor Consulting.

Mason Brown is one of a very small number of people in the information security field who have held a top management position in a Fortune 50 company (Alcoa). He is leading SANS' global initiative to improve application security.

David Hoelzer is the director of research & principal examiner for Enclave Forensics and a senior fellow with the SANS Technology Institute.

Gal Shpantzer is a trusted advisor to CSOs of large corporations, technology startups, Ivy League universities and non-profits specializing in critical infrastructure protection. Gal created the Security Outliers project in 2009, focusing on the role of culture in risk management outcomes and contributes to the Infosec Burnout project.

Alan Paller is director of research at the SANS Institute.

Brian Honan is an independent security consultant based in Dublin, Ireland.

David Turley is SANS infrastructure manager and serves as production manager and final editor on SANS NewsBites.

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