With ‘hunt forward’ ops, democracies strike back

Across the ever-expanding galaxy of the internet, it’s interesting how relationships grow and take shape according to their purpose.

In the way ransomware gangs can function as an extension of an authoritarian state, attacking economic targets of democracies at will, democratic cyber forces have found their way to leverage the network effect for defensive purposes: they’re called “hunt forward” operations.

(credit svgsilh cc)

Rather than wait around for infrastructure to be attacked, as has been the custom, US cyber forces partner with the cyber defence forces of friendly nations and look for trouble. You could claim it is akin to a search and destroy operation, but with some key differences. It’s search and destroy waged from the friendly ridges of allies. And, like everything online, it’s Janus-faced. Not only does it re-enforce the defensive muscle of allies like Lithuania, or that larger country much further to the south, Ukraine, but the spoils of the operation support the broader cause of cyber security.

As this cybercom release makes clear:

“…cyber operators sit side-by-side with the partner and hunt on the networks of the host nation’s choosing, looking for bad cyber activity and vulnerabilities. These insights are shared with the host nation and then brought back to share with public and private sector networks– bolstering homeland defense before those adversary tactics, techniques, and procedures may be used against the US.”

The information passes easily from cyber defender to partner cyber defender, then right back to the private sector who are in the position to take some of the most effective and lasting action.

US Cybercom commander General Paul Nakasone, who has been key to pushing this strategy, said hunt forward operations are “so powerful… because of the fact that we see our adversaries and we expose their tools”.

“If you’re an adversary, and you’ve just spent a lot of money on a tool, and you’re hoping to utilise it readily in a number of different intrusions, suddenly it’s outed and it’s now been signatured across a broad range of networks, and suddenly you’ve lost your ability to do that.”

Now that I’ve introduced the term, here is a link to the song ‘Search and Destroy’ by the Stooges.

REviLives! A ransomware gang’s views on US ‘impunity’


This notice from the newly emergent Conti ransomware group has been posted in response to a US (and allies) operation to to take ransomware gang REvil offline.

Now, all is justified

What strikes me is how it echoes the general themes of the Russia’s propaganda: the US government is hypocritical, so ransomware gang behaviour is legitimate. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was wrong. So today, we hold sensitive medical data from American hospitals for ransom – and that’s ok. It’s whataboutism as a business plan. The best part of the statement is the last line, which discusses Americans being “free.” Who gets to define when America is free? Russian ransomware operators, naturally. Again, like propaganda.

CONTI Team (Conti ransomware group) statement on REvil: 

Title: Announcement. ReviLives.

Subject: Own opinion.

As a team, we always look at the work of our colleagues in the art of pen-testing, corporate data security, information systems, and network security. We rejoice at their successes and support them in their hardships.

Therefore, we would like to comment on yesterday’s important announcement by the US law enforcement about the attack on the REvil group.

We want to remark the following:

First, an attack against some servers, which the US security attributes to REvil, is another reminder of what we all know: the unilateral, extraterritorial, and bandit-mugging behavior of the United States in world affairs.

However, the fact that it became a norm does not presume that it should be treated like one. Unlike our dearest journalist friends from the Twitter brothel, who will sell their own mother for a bone from bankers or politicians, we have the guts to name things as they are. We have a conscience, as well as anonymity, while our skills allow us to say something that many “allied” governments are afraid of saying:

With all the endless talks in your media about “ransomware-is-bad,” we would like to point out the biggest ransomware group of all time: your Federal Government. There is no glory in this REvil attack. First, because REvil has been dead in any case, but secondly, because the United States government acted as a simple street mugger while kicking a dead body.

Let’s break it down point by point. There was an extraterritorial attack against some infrastructure in some countries.

  1. Is there a law, even an American one, even a local one in any county of any of the 50 states, that legitimize such indiscriminate offensive action? Is server hacking suddenly legal in the United States or in any of the US jurisdictions? If yes, please provide us with a link.
  2. Suppose there is such an outrageous law that allows you to hack servers in a foreign country. How legal is this from the point of view of the country whose servers were attacked? Infrastructure is not flying there in space or floating in neutral waters. It is a part of someone’s sovereignty.
  3. The statement mentions a multinational operation but does not name specific countries that participated in the cyber strike. We seem to know why; see next point.
  4. Most countries, the US included, perceive critical cyber strikes against their territory as a casus belli. You think anybody will be fine if Taliban conducts a misfile strike against a place in Texas to “disrupt an operation” of what Afghanistan considered a “criminal” group?
  5. When the special forces arrive at a hostage scene, they at least make sure that there are hostages there (at least, this is how it used to be). How did you know who you were attacking? It could just be a reverse proxy on an unsuspecting host. How did you know who ELSE these servers are serving? How was the safety of other people’s businesses, possibly people’s lives, ensured?

Just to be clear: these are all rhetorical questions. Of course.

What happened with this attack is way more than REvil or information security. This attack is just an another drop in the ocean of blood, which started because of NSA, CIA, FBI, and another two hundred three-letter security institutions (because, you know, true democracy and liberty requires millions of people in uniform) never had to answer these questions.

WMD in Iraq, which was “certainly there.”

Drone strikes on weddings because “these were terrorists.”

Airstrikes on hospitals and Red Cross convoys because “we thought these are hostile.”

Military raids within the foreign borders ended up with massacring allied soldiers.

The list is endless because those who are now enjoying the media fame from the REvil attack are vampires drunken and intoxicated by impunity and blood.

And this is not the story about REvil, Afghanistan, or any other subject in the world because impunity does not know borders.

No wonder, each day, we read in the news that the American police once again shot some unarmed African American, or a housewife, or a disabled person, or somebody brave enough to dared to protect their home and their family. This is your state, and it will treat you the way it drones unfortunate child-shepherd in the sands of the Maghreb or Arabia to ensure “the national security of America,” so far from its shores.

And we will be reminding you of this constantly. And yes, despites the popular opinion of the social media hobos, we can and WILL talk ethically as any other people. (Somebody, please put an Obama meme here).

We wish the people of America to resume control over your country as soon as possible and expel these fat, degraded bankers and become again the great FREE nation that we remember and love. We wish our retired colleagues from REvil have a lot of fun with their honestly earned money.

Sincerely yours,

Conti’s team

Ransomware gangs: today’s pirate fleets

“Cyber security experts, ex-military officials and some politicians are pushing for ransomware gangs to be treated not as hackers but like “pirates” of the past, in a rethink of how to best counter their growing threat to businesses, industries and society.”

“The shift recognises the way ransomware gangs are used by authoritarian nations to mount sustained attacks on Western businesses and sectors, a new dimension in the ongoing contest between strongmen and democracies.”

The full story here.

It’s an idea whose time has come.

I actually wrote about this idea right after the Sony hack on this little blog here in 2015.