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Cyber Warfare: The New Arms Race

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After spending billions to build nuclear weapons, a different arms race has emerged in cyber warfare. Where the nuclear arms race pits the larger countries against each other, the cyber arms race includes a much larger number of combatants since it is open to almost anyone with cash and a computer, according to a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal.

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The article noted that computer attacks by countries against each other have kicked off a frantic digital arms race with nations racing to develop stockpiles of malicious code.

One reflection of the seriousness of this new arms race is that two longtime cyber adversaries, the U.S. and China, agreed last month not to conduct certain cyber attacks against one another.

Cyber Arsenal Has Multiple Offerings

cyberwar

There are a multitude of weapons in a cyber arsenal.

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Some of the types of attacks that counties can use include denial of service, sleeper malware, phishing, tricking radar and infrastructure sabotage. The major players in this new cyber warfare include the U.S., Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. But other countries are becoming more active.

Nuclear rivals Pakistan and India regularly hack one another’s companies and government. Estonia and Belarus are developing shields against Russia. In addition, Denmark, the Netherlands, Argentina and France have begun to develop offensive computer weapons.

At least 29 nations have military or intelligence groups focused on offensive hacking. The Wall Street Journal based this assessment on government records and interviews with government officials.

Around 50 countries have purchased off-the-shelf hacking software for surveillance purposes.

Where the “MAD” acronym – mutually assured destruction – characterized the nuclear arms race, that acronym stands for “mutually assured doubt” in the cyber arms race, according to one researcher, because you can never be sure what attack will occur.

Governments have used computer attacks to accomplish many tasks, such as stealing information, erasing computers, disabling financial networks and in one case destroying nuclear centrifuges.

Governments have explored using cyber weapons to destroy utility grids, undermine airline networks, interrupt Internet connectivity, confuse radar systems and remove funds from bank accounts.

Small Players Can Compete In This War

This new type of warfare evens the playing field between large and small countries, the report noted since cyber attacks are hard to prevent and trace.

Cyber weapon access is more widespread than nuclear weapon access, due to less costly technologies and distributed computing.

Most government-initiated cyber attacks involve cyber spying, which refers to breaking into computer networks to steal data. The more aggressive cyber weapons can erase computer records and destroy physical property.

The U.S. is most concerned about cyber weapons held by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea since these nations have initiated advanced attacks into the U.S. government networks and large U.S. companies.

Cyber warfare units are often connected to a country’s military and/or its intelligence services.

Chinese hackers have established a reputation for low-tech “phishing,” the sending of disguised emails to get a company’s employees or a government’s bureaucrats to allow the attackers access to their computer networks. This is how the U.S. thinks the Chinese were able to recently penetrate the Office of Personnel Management that compromised more than 21 million people’s records.

Russians have focused on diplomatic and political data and have gained access to unclassified networks at U.S. government offices.

Russians have stolen the daily schedule of President Obama and State Department correspondence, according to sources, although the Russians denied this.

Russian attackers also try to hide stolen data in regular network traffic. A piece of malware in one instance conceals its communications in consumer web services to evade cybersecurity defenses.

Also read: Nuclear facilities are in ‘denial’ to the risk of a ‘serious cyber attack.’

Iran Plays Hard

Iranians have allegedly been able to destroy computers twice using cyber weapons. Investigators believe Iranian attackers placed a virus on computers of Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s largest company, in 2012. The attack erased three-quarters of the computers and replaced screen images with images of American flags burning.

Iran used malware to destroy computers at Las Vegas Sands Corp. last year, according to James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence. The casino is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major Iran critic.

Iran in 2012 announced the creation of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, the purpose of which is to defend Iran’s computer networks and create new ways of attacking enemies’ computer networks.

North Korea destroyed computer files at the Hollywood film unit of Sony Corp. in 2014, according to U.S. officials, allegedly retaliating for a satirical movie about Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s dictator. The FBI said North Korea implanted malware on Sony computers, enabling them to steal and destroy records.

Many cybersecurity experts consider the U.S. to have the most advanced cyber weapons.

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who famously leaked documents, showed NSA implanted malware on tens of thousands of foreign computers which gave the government access to data to control the power plant and pipeline systems. The U.S. Cyber Command at the Pentagon did respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Cyber Command currently has nine mission teams and has plans for four more. Such teams include 60 military personnel to conduct cyberspace operations.

An attack on Hacking Team, an Italian company, showed the company sold surveillance tools to various countries.

National security officials and cyber weapon experts worry that a cyber-attack could eventually become problematic since there is a lot that is not known about what some countries are doing.

Images from Shutterstock.

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Breaches

Uber Is Paying Hackers to Keep Quiet

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Uber Technologies Inc. has reportedly paid hackers to delete scores of private data stolen from the company in a security breach that was concealed for over a year. The revelation provides further confirmation that, when it comes to cyber security, crime does pay.

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Massive Data Breach

According to Bloomberg Technology, hackers retrieved the personal data of 57 million Uber customers and drivers at some point last year. Nobody heard about it because the rideshare company paid the hackers $100,000 to keep quiet. A purge at the front office of Uber also ensured that the massive cyber breach was kept under wraps.

The compromised data was from October 2016 and included the names, phone numbers and addressed of 50 million Uber riders globally. About seven million drivers had their personal information accessed as well.

At the time of the cyber attack, Uber was inundated with a slew of legal issues stemming from alleged privacy violations. Rather than shine even more negative spotlight on the company, Uber executives decided to pay hackers to stay quiet.

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“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEO in September, said in a statement that was published by Bloomberg. “We are changing the way we do business.”

Hackers have done a masterful job infiltrating companies and governments in recent years. As a reminder, recent cyber attacks levied against Yahoo!, Target Corp and Equifax Inc. dwarf Uber’s 57 million compromised accounts.

Various reports indicate that cyber attacks are bleeding the global economy dry. One report, issued by the World Economic Forum, suggests that cyber crime cost the world economy $445 billion in 2016. If cyber crime were its own market cap, it would exceed Microsoft Inc., Facebook Inc. and ExxonMobil Corp

The Fall of Uber?

Uber revolutionized the ride-hailing business over the span of seven years by giving more power to the consumer. Several missteps later, the company finds itself in legal hot water, with its future appearing less certain than it did just one year ago.

The rideshare company faces at least five U.S. probes ranging from bribes to illicit software and right up to unethical pricing schemes. According to another Bloomberg report, Uber is under investigation for violating price transparency regulations, not to mention the alleged theft of documents for Google’s autonomous cars.

Some governments are sensing weakness in the ride-hailing service, and are moving toward banning the Uber app entirely. London is the most prominent example of a city that has taken definitive steps to outlaw the service over a “lack of corporate responsibility.”

Even with its legal troubles, Uber is a revolutionary technology that has influenced a bevy of other innovations aimed at improving the human experience.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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Cybersecurity

The Pirate Bay is Hijacking PCs to Stealth-Mine Cryptocurrency

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For the second time in as many months, The Pirate Bay has been caught mining cryptocurrency on your computer without consent. The torrent platform was actually test-driving cryptocurrency mining in your browser – no doubt a lucrative revenue stream.

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The Pirates Are At It Again

The Pirate Bay has been caught using software called Coinhive, a JavaScript library that essentially serves as a cryptocurrency miner. It basically connects to visitors’ computers to mine Monero, one of the world’s most profitable cryptocurrencies.

The news was later confirmed by Bleeping Computer, which reported that,”The Pirate Bay, the internet’s largest torrent portal, is back at running a cryptocurrency miner after it previously ran a short test in mid-September.”

Estimates indicate that the scheme has earned the pirates a total of $43,000 over a three-week period.

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Users had no way to opt their computers out of being test-driven by the torrent network. Back in September, The Pirate Bay got away by telling people it was just a test. The site’s owners cannot use the same excuse this time around.

CoinHive advises websites to let their visitors  know their browser is being used to mine cryptocurrency.

“We’re a bit saddened to see that some of our customers integrate CoinHive into their pages without disclosing to their users what’s going on, let alone asking for their permission,” the company said.

The good news is most ad-blockers and antivirus programs will block CoinHive, given its recent abuses. That means not all visitors of The Pirate Pay were being used as a conduit for mining Monero.

Monero Joins Global Crypto Rally

The value of Monero (XMR) shot up nearly 8% on Friday, and was last seen trading at $94.17. With more than 15.2 million XMR tokens in circulation, the total market cap for Monero is $1.4 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. That’s enough for ninth on the global cryptocurrency list.

Twelve cryptos have now crossed the $1 billion valuation mark. A handful of others have made their way north of $500 million.

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Breaches

Ethereum Notches Two-Month High as Bitcoin Offspring Triggers Volatility

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Digital currency Ethereum climbed to a two-month high on Monday, taking some of the heat off Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, which have slumped since the weekend.

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Ethereum Forges Higher Path

Concerns over Bitcoin created a favourable tailwind for Ethereum (ETH/USD), which is the world’s No. 2 digital currency by total assets. Ether’s price topped $340.00 on Monday and later settled at $323.54. That was the highest since June 20.

At its peak, ether was up 10% on the day and 70% for the month of August.

The ETH/USD was last down 2.2% at $315.02, according to Bitfinex. Prices are due for a brisk recovery, based on the daily momentum indicators.

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Fractured Bitcoin Community

Bitcoin and its offshoot, Bitcoin Cash, retreated on Monday following a volatile weekend. The BTC/USD slumped at the start of the week and was down more than 3% on Tuesday, with prices falling below $3,900.00. Just last week, Bitcoin was trading at new records near $4,500.00.

Bitcoin Cash, which emerged after the Aug. 1 hard fork, climbed to new records on Saturday, but has been in free-fall ever since. The BTH was down another 20% on Tuesday to $594.49, according to CoinMarketCap. Its total market value has dropped by several billion over the past two days.

Analysts say that a “fractured” Bitcoin community has made Ethereum a more attractive bet this week. The ether token has shown remarkable poise over the past seven days, despite trading well shy of a new record.

Other drivers behind Ethereum’s advance are steady demand from South Korean investors and growing confidence in a smooth upgrade for the the ETH network. The upgrade, which has been dubbed “Metropolis,” is expected in the next several weeks. Its key benefits include tighter transaction privacy and greater efficiency.

Ethereum Prices Unaffected by ICO Heist

Fin-tech developer Enigma was on the receiving end of a cyber-heist on Monday after hackers took over the company’s website, mailing list and instant messaging platforms. The hack occurred three weeks before Enigma’s planned Initial Coin Offering (ICO) for September 11.

In addition to defacing the company’s website, the hackers pushed a special “pre-sale” ahead of the ICO. While many users realized it was a scam, 1,492 ether tokens – valued at $495,000 – were directed into the hackers’ cryptocurrency wallet by unsuspecting backers.

The irony in all this is that Engima is a cryptography company that prides itself on top-notch security protocols. The company issued a statement that its servers had not been compromised.

ETH/USD (Bitfinex)

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