Attacks/Breaches
8/18/2014
07:00 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Pakistan The Latest Cyberspying Nation

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 Rose targeting 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).

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
securityaffairs
50%
50%
securityaffairs,
User Rank: Ninja
9/1/2014 | 3:58:08 AM
Re: Hyper-rivalries breed cyber snooping
I totally agree. 

you wrote " It's important that international laws are to be made same for all"

that's correct but it's an ambitious goal difficult to reach

Regards

Pierluigi
nomii
50%
50%
nomii,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/30/2014 | 1:53:28 AM
Re: Hyper-rivalries breed cyber snooping
@Securityaffairs I agree with you. As i belong to the region, its a a basic fact that the expertise level at both sides are very high. They are very regularly being used against each other as it is known that both these countries remain in a war like situation on  all fronts even their military is having very cordial relations with each other.

I think the cyberspying is very relevant term and I feels that its right of weaks to do if Giants are doing it openly under security cover. Its important that international laws are to be made same for all but I feel that its implementation is not as it should be especially for the favoured ones. I need not to mention them openly.
securityaffairs
50%
50%
securityaffairs,
User Rank: Ninja
8/20/2014 | 5:48:03 PM
Re: Hyper-rivalries breed cyber snooping
I'm not surprised too. Pakistan has also great cyber capabilities and I believe that its Government is involved in the attacks mentioned that are in response to the Indian cyber espionage campaigns uncovered in the past.

Regards

Pierluigi
Kelly Jackson Higgins
50%
50%
Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
8/19/2014 | 8:35:23 AM
Re: Hyper-rivalries breed cyber snooping
I suppose it's turnabout, with India doing the same to Pakistan. Traditional spying alone isn't enough anymore.
Charlie Babcock
50%
50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Moderator
8/18/2014 | 11:40:15 PM
Hyper-rivalries breed cyber snooping
Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal and was willing to export the expertise. I'm not too surprised that it's willing to engage in cyber snooping. Countries that are in a high state of rivalry with a neighbor, such as Pakistan and India, will behave more defensive-aggressively.
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-2188
Published: 2015-02-26
The Authentication Proxy feature in Cisco IOS does not properly handle invalid AAA return codes from RADIUS and TACACS+ servers, which allows remote attackers to bypass authentication in opportunistic circumstances via a connection attempt that triggers an invalid code, as demonstrated by a connecti...

CVE-2015-0594
Published: 2015-02-26
Multiple cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in the help pages in Cisco Common Services, as used in Cisco Prime LAN Management Solution (LMS) and Cisco Security Manager, allow remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via unspecified parameters, aka Bug IDs CSCuq54654 and CSCun1...

CVE-2015-0632
Published: 2015-02-26
Race condition in the Neighbor Discovery (ND) protocol implementation in Cisco IOS and IOS XE allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service via a flood of Router Solicitation messages on the local network, aka Bug ID CSCuo67770.

CVE-2015-0651
Published: 2015-02-26
Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerability in the web GUI in Cisco Application Networking Manager (ANM), and Device Manager (DM) on Cisco 4710 Application Control Engine (ACE) appliances, allows remote attackers to hijack the authentication of arbitrary users, aka Bug ID CSCuo99753.

CVE-2015-0882
Published: 2015-02-26
Multiple cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in zencart-ja (aka Zen Cart Japanese edition) 1.3 jp through 1.3.0.2 jp8 and 1.5 ja through 1.5.1 ja allow remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via a crafted parameter, related to admin/includes/init_includes/init_sanitize.php an...

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
How can security professionals better engage with their peers, both in person and online? In this Dark Reading Radio show, we will talk to leaders at some of the security industry’s professional organizations about how security pros can get more involved – with their colleagues in the same industry, with their peers in other industries, and with the IT security community as a whole.