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4 Theories Regarding the Sony Hack

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It’s been a little over two weeks since the U.S. government blamed North Korea for the cyber-attack against Sony Pictures, and Cybersecurity firms and hackers have continued to express doubts as to the legitimacy of these claims. Two cyber security firms, Norse Corporation and Cloud Flare, conducted independent investigations into the hack. Their results are in stark contrast to the FBI’s claim that Pyongyang carried out the hack.

However, the U.S. Government continues to implicated North Korea in the hacks against Sony Pictures saying that security companies offering alternate theories do not have an accurate understanding of the evidence.

Rather than settling the debate, the FBI’s claims have increased speculation as to who hacked Sony. Skeptics have claimed that evidence cited by the FBI is inconclusive and questioned whether Pyongyang had the ability, much less motivation to break into Sony’s servers. In a country where it’s estimated only a few thousand have access to the internet, with just over 1,000 IPv4 addresses and outdated technology, it’s hard to believe they were able to perform such a historic hack.

Here are a few of the top theories floating around.

Inside Job: Physically Hacked

HackersGotnews.com claims they “can confirm that North Korea was not behind the Sony hack”. Citing an investigation into the data they showed that over 200GB of data was copied over 5-6 hours on the night of November 21st. Using the time stamps of the released data they were able to come up with a rough transfer speed of around 480Mbit/s, which is the speed of a USB 2.0.

Their conclusion: The “hackers” were physically at a Sony LAN workstation and pulled the data from there. Got News went a step further citing that the same night of the data transfer Charles Sipkins, the Sony Pictures’ head of corporate communications, publicly resigned from his $600,000 job. Sipkins’s former client was NewsCorp and Sipkins was officially fired by Pascal’s husband over a snub by the Hollywood Reporter.

Inside Job: Remotely Hacked

Researchers from the security firm Norse allege that their investigation into the hacking uncovered evidence that leads, decisively, away from North Korea. Instead, Norse alleges that a group of six individuals are behind the hack, one of which was a former Sony Pictures employee that worked in a technical role and had knowledge of the company’s network and operations.

Using the HR data that was leaked out, Norse was able to identify employees that had been laid off during April-May. After identifying a former employee who was described as having a “very technical background”, researchers from Norse followed the individual online, noting angry posts she made on social media about the layoffs and Sony. The company further identified several suspect individuals through access to IRC forums and other sites. They were able to capture communications with known underground hacking and hacktivist groups in Europe and Asia.

Stammerberger, the Senior Vice President at Norse, was careful with the company’s finding, stating that they were hardly conclusive and may just add a wrinkle to the already wrinkled picture. Norse employees are reported to be briefing the FBI today about their finds.

“They’re the investigators. We’re going to show them our data and where it points us. As far as whether it is proof that would stand up in a court of law? That’s not our job to determine, it is theirs.” – Kurt Stammberger

When considering how hackers could have obtained near-perfect knowledge of Sony Pictures’ network and successfully siphon off terabytes of data, while remaining undetected – it raises concerns that someone on the inside was involved. According to Mark Rasch, a former federal prosecutor and a principal at Rasch Technology and Cyberlaw, “It has always been suspicious that it was North Korea,” Rasch said. “Not impossible – but doubtful…It made a lot more sense that it was insiders pretending to be North Korea.”

The Guardians of Peace (GOP) Framed North Korea

A group calling themselves the Guardians of Peace have taken credit for the cyberattack. Whoever the hackers are, they released gigabytes worth of stolen, private data since penetrating Sony’s defenses on Nov. 24. But neither the country of North Korea nor “The Interview” were explicitly referenced in the GOP’s original message:

“We’ve already warned you, and this is just a beginning. We continue till our request be met. We’ve obtained all your internal data including your secrets and top secrets. If you don’t obey us, we’ll release data shown below to the world.”

Taking into consideration the above theory, perhaps it was an inside job, one in which the GOP and insider teamed together and framed North Korea in order to cover their tracks. Evidence further supporting this is the software used in the hack.

After examining the malware used to infiltrate the studio, the FBI said it found similarities between that software and software used in previous cyber-attacks carried out by North Korea. But Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law Professor, who serves on the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law, is unconvinced.

“It is at least possible that some other nation is spoofing a North Korean attack,” he wrote Friday on the national security blog Lawfare. “For if the United States knows the characteristics or signatures of prior North Korean attacks, then so too might some third country that could use these characteristics or signatures.”

The most compelling evidence for this is that the threats against the movie The Interview were only made by the hackers after the media picked up on the possible connection between the movie and the hack.

North Korea Hacked Sony

The FBI hasn’t released all the evidence they have, and it’s entirely possible they are sitting on a smoking-gun that indisputably points back to North Korea. The FBI has issued this statement:

As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions. While the need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information, our conclusion is based, in part, on the following:

Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.

The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. Government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.

Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.

The FBI’s press release says that the bureau’s conclusion is only based “in part” on the clues mentioned. This leaves the possibility that the U.S. government has classified evidence that North Korea is behind the attack. After all, the NSA has been trying to eavesdrop on North Korea’s government communications since the Korean War.

Images from Kobby Dagan and Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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A UNC Chapel Hill graduate, blockchain enthusiast and analyst. I have a background in programming and IT, strong studies in econ, stats and game theory. I'm interested in online privacy and privacy laws.




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Crypto-Security Testnet Surpasses Key Milestones

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Security and has been combined with micro-compucomputing are a combination which ascended to greatly relevant, both economically and financially, since the early days of commercial internet technology, the John McAfee associated era of anti-virus software, and fears of ‘millennium-bug’ (‘Y2K’)-induced societal meltdowns.

As a market player, ‘cybersecurity‘ is hailed for its continuedvalue and growth, with recent implementations advancing in tandem with technological development. With ‘blockchain’ having become a key buzzword in recent years, it comes as little surprise that digital security providers have been attempting to identify and provide protection against cryptocurrency related scams.

Examples of these include ‘malware‘ AKA ‘malicious software’. They are often created with the aim of illicitly subvert the processing power of the victim’s device for use towards the mining of cryptocurrencies, or lock and potentially delete highly sensitive data (such as Ransomware’).

Cybersecurity and Blockchain

Crypto attacks can affect almost any person or institution: from private wallets and exchanges, to cryptocurrency operators, and even sometimes unsuspecting users of internet browsers with no relation to blockchain based services.

In an article published at CCN in August 2018, I wrote about the large prolificity and news coverage of cyber-attacks carried out against cryptocurrency organisations: with a majority of them involving the theft of high-value quantities of tokens or sensitive data.

Key points raised in the piece include the identification of wallets and exchanges as high-value targets for potential thieves, as well as a discussion surrounding a study of over 1000 participants in which none of the top exchanges were “lauded for security”.

As cybersecurity has been exposed as a fatal flaw in the unauthorised access / theft access of finances and data, it has also drawn a spotlight on the various methods employed by the companies which suffer these attacks.

Middleware, Wear and Tear

Some teams attempt to protect their data and finances through the creation and implementation of their own proprietary cybersecurity solutions whilst others seek the tender of others,

‘Middleware’ is nothing new and has long been utilised as a means of implementing third-party solutions as a means of shifting professional a legislative liability regarding essential functions of a brand technology.

It’s a creation by third party product / service providers that sits between external and internal code in order to facilitate functions or protections.

Decentralized Security Testnet

REMME is a project harnessing blockchain technology to create a distributed cybersecurity solution for enterprises.

Its now-released testnet has already demonstrated the efficacy of storing hashed Public Key Infrastructure certificates on the blockchain, and with 300 pilot program participants signed up, REMME isn’t short of applicants eager to trial its distributed identity and access management solution.

‘Distributed Identity and Access management’ (IAMd) and ‘Public Key Infrastructure’ requests (PKId) count amongst two of the primary features of the proprietary REMChain testchain network infrastructure. Both claims of which have come from CEO Alex Momot, who additionally praised “The interoperability of the public blockchain and sidechains”.

Additional features include the ‘REMchain block explorer’ – ‘node monitoring’ (connected to five nodes worldwide) – REMME WebAuth demo application.

While a pilot program reportedly attracting over 300 global enterprise applicants, REMME feels confident about the future of their long terms plans: which include full integration existing enterprise systems (ERP, CRM, Accounting software etc.).

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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MyEtherWallet Compromised in Security Breach; Users Urged to Move Tokens

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Popular cryptocurrency service MyEtherWallet (MEW) is urging users to move their tokens after the platform succumbed to its second cyber attack of the year. As the company reported earlier, hackers targeted MEW’s popular VPN service in an attempt to steal cryptocurrency.

Hola VPN Users Compromised

Rather than target MEW directly, hackers took control of the Hola VPN service, which claims nearly 50 million users. For the next five hours, MEW users who had the Hola chrome extension installed and running on their computer were exposed.

MEW took to Twitter to urge users to move their funds immediately.

“Urgent! If you have Hola chrome extension installed and used MEW within the last 24 hrs, please transfer your funds immediately to a brand new account!” the company said. It added the following message shortly thereafter:”We received a report that suggest Hola chrome extension was hacked for approximately 5 hrs and the attack was logging your activity on MEW.”

At the time of writing, MEW’s Twitter feed had no further updates.

MyEtherWallet is used to access cryptocurrency wallets, where users can send and receive tokens from other people.

The company reportedly told TechCrunch that the attack originated from a Russian-based IP address.

“The safety and security of MEW users is our priority. We’d like to remind our users that we do not hold their personal data, including passwords so they can be assured that the hackers would not get their hands on that information if they have not interacted with the Hola chrome extension in the past day,” MEW said, as quoted by TechCrunch.

It’s not yet clear how many users were compromised in the attack or how much, if any, was stolen from their wallets. MEW suffered a similar incident in February after a DNS attack wiped out $365,000 worth of cryptocurrency from users’ accounts.

Cyber Attacks on the Rise

The attack on MEW came less than 24 hours after Hacked reported another major cyber breach involving Bancor, a decentralized cryptocurrency exchange. The security breach compromised roughly $23.5 million worth of digital currency, including Ethereum, NPXS and BNT, Bancor’s native token.

Last month, a pair of South Korean exchanges fell prey to cyber criminals, prompting local regulators to expedite their approval of new cryptocurrency laws.

It has been estimated that a total of $761 million has been stolen from cryptocurrency exchanges in the first half of the year, up from $266 million in all of 2017. That figure is expected to rise to $1.5 billion this year.

CipherTrace, the company behind the estimates, told Reuters last week that stolen cryptocurrencies are mainly used to launder money and aid criminals in concealing their identities.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 647 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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Mt. Gox vs. Bithumb: That Was Then, This Is Now

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Bithumb now shares something in common with the Tokyo-based shuttered bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox — both suffered a hack on about the same date, June 19. It’s a club that no exchange wants to belong to and that Bithumb happened on the seven-year anniversary of Mt. Gox’s maiden attack has to be more than an eerie coincidence.

It’s a stark reminder of the risks involved with keeping funds on an unregulated exchange, vulnerabilities that cost South Korea’s Bithumb some $36.6 million in digital cash and Mt. Gox $450 million in hacked bitcoin and its future. The Mt. Gox theft unfolded over a series of hacks that culminated in 2014. Though it’s still early on in the Bithumb hack, it appears the South Korean exchange will recover from the security breach. So what do we know now that we didn’t on June 19, 2011?

Then vs. Now

Former Coinbase official Nick Tomaino, who is also the founder of crypto fund 1 confirmation, reflected on the Mt. Gox hack in what proved to be a prescient tweet given the Bithumb attack that was about to surface.

The thing to note about Mt. Gox is that the Japan-based exchange in 2011 controlled most of the BTC trading volume, approximately three-quarters of it by average estimates — more if you ask Tomaino. Since bitcoin fever caught on in 2017, there are more than 500 cryptocurrency exchanges on which trading volume is shared. Binance boasts the highest trading volume and captures nearly 15% of bitcoin trading. It’s much less than Mt. Gox days but still a little high.

The other thing to note is that the Mt. Gox hack or actually hacks, as there were multiple attacks on the exchange over several years, was a mysterious event that was shrouded in controversy and mistrust of a key executive. Bithumb, on the other hand, confronted the hack seemingly right away on Twitter and has not let any grass grow under its feet in the interim, which is a key difference in the way Mt. Gox was handled.

Also, the bitcoin price didn’t tank in response to the Bithumb hack. It traded lower for a while, but less than 24 hours it was back in the green, which is a reflection of the fact that bitcoin trading is no longer dependent on a single exchange.

Charlie Lee, creator of Litecoin (LTC), the No. 6 cryptocurrency by market cap, was among the first to respond to the Bithumb hack. He tweeted:

Indeed, Bithumb does expect to be able to cover the losses via their reserves.

Crypto Security

It’s still early on in Bithumb’s security breach, and more details are sure to emerge in time. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to use the hack as an opportunity to examine the security of your cryptocurrency investment portfolio. There are several hardware wallet options out there for you to choose from — whether it’s Trezor or Ledger Nano S, to name a couple — and as Charlie Lee advised, “only keep on exchange coins that you are actively trading.”

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 68 rated postsGerelyn has been covering ICOs and the cryptocurrency market since mid-2017. She's also reported on fintech more broadly in addition to asset management, having previously specialized in institutional investing. She owns some BTC and ETH.




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