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article imageOp-Ed: Anonymous Vatican attack analysis shows how to miss the message

By Paul Wallis     Feb 28, 2012 in Internet
Sydney - An attack by Anonymous on the Vatican in August designed to highlight the church’s position on the endless child abuse scandals has been analyzed by a security company called Imperva. The company watched for 25 days as the attack took place.
The attack on the Vatican was a basic DDoS attack is described as unsuccessful, which is presumably why it’s been raised as an example. It was supported by “hundreds” of volunteers recruited on social sites.
The New York Times describes the attack:
The campaign against the Vatican, which did not receive wide attention at the time, involved hundreds of people, some with hacking skills and some without. A core group of participants openly drummed up support for the attack using YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Others searched for vulnerabilities on a Vatican Web site and, when that failed, enlisted amateur recruits to flood the site with traffic, hoping it would crash, according to a computer security firm’s report to be released this week.
The attack, albeit an unsuccessful one, provides a rare glimpse into the recruiting, reconnaissance and warfare tactics used by the shadowy hacking collective.
Then there’s the “disclaimer” edit-
Anonymous, which first gained widespread notice with an attack on the Church of Scientology in 2008, has since carried out hundreds of increasingly bold strikes, taking aim at perceived enemies including law enforcement agencies, Internet security companies and opponents of the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks.
There’s an irony in this story which has been mentioned but not given much profile- Nobody’s analysing the target selection. Anonymous targets have included those fun people, Mexican drug lords, porn sites, and other major assets to society as well as the flabby establishment sites like banks, government, etc. If you make the connection between the choice of targets, equating Mexican drug lords to banks isn’t too hard to figure out.
Anyhow, enough of the weather report. The Imperva analysis is worth reading, partly because of the content and partly because of the language it uses.
The Imperva report
Perhaps the most surprising revelation of the Imperva analysis (PDF) is the assertion that Anonymous uses “conventional” hacking tools. Anonymous also apparently doesn’t use malware. (Not entirely surprising- malware has a very short shelf life, and a lot of it is very derivative. The average malware is actually pretty inflexible and highly predictable- It has to do some things, and its presence will show up when it does them in an alert system.)
It’s necessary to start with the end of Imperva’s report to compare the findings to the company’s information. Imperva’s analysis includes some other commentary which is as much an analysis of the security mindset as an evaluation of Anonymous.
One qualifier in the Imperva report is a little add-on, “Anonymous’ Brazilian flavour”, which includes this rather interesting bit of reading:
“Brazil was a pioneer in creating democratic access to computers and Internet for the poor, well ahead of the United States,” says Green. And while many favelas are still excluded from the electric grid, the country’s “Popular PC Project” of installing cheap computers in poorer areas has become a model the world over.
How has this translated into hacktivism? When hacktivism first started, hacktivists attracted the attention of many Brazilians. More importantly, many of the hacktivist targets, Brazilians perceived, deserved attack. In the minds of many Brazilians, the cyber mayhem was no crime.
Yep, looks like that pesky democracy-thing is causing trouble again. The poor, those terrible, awful, deliberately non-billionaire people, are responsible:
1. If you happen to believe in conspiracy theories, (and I don’t), the idea is that the big conspiracy is to protect the 1% at all costs. Actually, sheer fear would generate this reaction, but there is a degree of conformity in the way the big hacks have been managed and nobody but outsiders have been blamed for any breaches of security.
2. The positively languid way in which mass media has instantly blamed hackers for the massive security failures in the State Department and US military is highly suspicious. It does indicate that the institutions are feeling extremely secure from any liability for their failures. Congress hasn’t demanded answers from those responsible for security in any case of major breaches.
3. According to current information there is an existing US indictment on espionage charges against Julian Assange and military charges against Bradley Manning, but not one single charge of any kind has been laid against those responsible for security or anyone else in all these incidents. Not so much as a disapproving look.
Meaning you can screw up your own security as much as you like, and nobody will care or do anything about it, as long as there’s some patsy to blame outside the organization. Maybe Lee Harvey Oswald was on to something when he said he was the patsy?
OK, now the analysis-
If you consider the report’s findings in comparison to its analysis, it makes the entire methodology more comprehensible. Imperva has in effect provided a track for the Anonymous campaign, while simultaneously providing a feelgood vibe for those reading it.
The report does need to be read, not regurgitated. I’ll stick to the bare bones-
The attack timeline report and description of Anonymous activities is pretty basic. It’s highly unlikely any publicly released document would provide any “scary” information, but obviously there are some gaps in the direct reportage.
The phases were:
1. The recruitment phase- Anonymous recruits people on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
2. The reconnaissance phase- Including unsuccessful attacks using off the shelf software
3. The attack phase, a DDoS attack lasting 3 days.
Imperva, on the attack phase-
The attack tool used for the DDoS attack was coded in the Javascript language and hosted on a website. This type of attack is commonly referred to as “Mobile LOIC.” In this campaign, some portion of the attacks was conducted from mobile devices.
The ADC was able to obtain the attack tool, analyze its source code, and test its performance in a captive environment.
The attack traffic was considerably higher than on the reconnaissance phase and conducted by many more attackers, but it was done with less security awareness as most of the attackers didn’t use the protection of anonymity services.
Translated into mindset, “Oh, those dumb hackers…” Cute, isn’t it? There may, perhaps, under a rock on Mars, be someone interested in hacktivism who isn’t aware of basic anonymous browsing services, but I wouldn’t bet on it. There are also some legal issues with accusing someone of doing something illegal. Being a party to a botnet isn’t a crime, either. Nor is attempting to access a website with a legitimate request.
There’s also a finding by Imperva that the Havij scanner, used against SQL vulnerabilities, and supposedly made in Iran (where else?) was used.
There’s one thing missing from Imperva’s report- You don’t even need software to breach the security of websites. If you know the story and know what you’re doing, you can access the guts of any site and network very easily. I’m not going to explain the methodology for obvious reasons, but the “lack of sophistication” approach doesn’t quite cut it as a working apologia. The Imperva analysis also seems to miss another very basic point- There are much more vulnerable systems and easier ways of doing things than trying to bash your way in to a site with software. Anonymous has previously targeted very soft areas like email.
So- Is this an analysis, or is it a very simple-minded “Everything’s Fine, Son” approach to describing a hack which wasn’t even mentioned because the Vatican expressly said it didn’t want publicity for the attack? Doesn’t quite stack up, does it?
One thing for sure- The support levels for Anonymous are being very much discounted, and even insulted, in mainstream media. The New York Times article includes this useful comment-
“Anonymous is a handful of geniuses surrounded by a legion of idiots,” said Cole Stryker, an author who has researched the movement.
That’s pretty much how the Bourbons and Romanoffs felt about the early stages of their little problems except they left out the “geniuses” bit and replaced it with scatology. The reactions by both regimes were oppression and deliberate ignoring of all the issues which created the situation.
As usual-
The solution to the problem is that there is no problem
The answer to the question is that there is no question
The answer to criticism is that all critics are criminals
Business as usual at the dunghill, obviously. Mainstream media is apparently determined to support the best interests of drug lords, corrupt clergy, cults, Bizarro banks, stunningly incompetent government and military security management and anyone else who’s too nice and too well-connected to be sent to jail. There has been absolutely no criticism at all of any of these people, but plenty of Anonymous and other hacktivist groups.
Great democracy you’ve got there guys, how about Bernie Madoff for President? You could do little squeaky editorials and everything, then have another nice multi decade nap, knowing you’d done your bit to protect the public interest.
What about when tens of millions of people and thousands of groups start attacking these institutional corpses around the clock? Is there a Plan B for defusing that? Because Plan A doesn’t work. People are getting steadily angrier, and not all of them are Occupy-type pacifists. Ask the Illuminutcases for some new adjectives. You may need them.
The message has been missed. Apparently Anonymous credits the Sacred Institutional Elite with more intelligence than I do, so I'll explain it a little less obliquely-
People are sick of corruption and criminal offenses against the public going unpunished. They're sick of the incompetence and greed. They've had enough of poverty. They're sick of being intimidated by both crime groups and social groups. Governments don't represent the public any more. Law enforcement is selective, not protective.
Historically, the usual result of a society in this condition is a bloodbath. Not everybody's against that outcome. Now- do we have peace or war with the public? To quote Genghis Khan- "Thou has chosen war".
Not a great choice.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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