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Malware Alert: Files on WikiLeaks Can Infect Your Computer

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warningAn independent data researcher had originally discovered a massive data dump released by WikiLeaks to contain malware in torrent files made available by the whistleblowing website. Since then, the researcher has also confirmed that some of the files taken from the dump and now hosted on WikiLeaks.org are also malware infected.

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Josh Wieder, a system administrator by trade, garnered attention from multiple newspapers and outlets around the world in April 2015. With a keen eye and the chops for data research, he revealed the presence of malware in WikiLeaks’ “Global Intelligence Files”. These files are a significant collection of emails and attachments taken from Strategic Forecasting (aka Stratfor), a private intelligence firm. He made the revelation in a blog post at the time.

Stratfor was originally plundered by Jeremy Hammond in 2011, and Hammond is currently serving prison time for the hack of millions of emails from the company. Soon enough, the emails in their droves were in WikiLeaks’ firm grasp in 2012, and the whistleblowing website began sharing the email archives using P2P sharing network, BitTorrent. The complete email dump was revealed and published on July 18, 2014, with a single, massive file comprising of over 5 million emails.

As it turned out, attachments included among 5.5 million Stratfor emails were and still are, to this day, infected with malware.

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“My discovery of the malware was completely unintentional. I have followed Wikileaks for many years; I first came across the website when they released the Guantanamo policy documents which would have been seven to eight years ago,” Wieder told Hacked, talking about his curiosity and admiration for the whistle-blowing website, adding, “Wikileaks has been time and again been responsible for groundbreaking, historical journalism and they continue to be responsible for important work.”

After downloading the torrent containing the “Global Intelligence Files”, Weider noticed an attachment trying to execute a macro.

Sure enough the macro was virus written in Visual Basic called Magistr. That is when I decided to review all of the files within the file dump.

Wieder speculates in his blog the reasons as to why the malicious malware came to exist in the first place.

  • One theory that he considers the most likely is that malicious files were being sent to employees of Stratfor via email.
  • Another theory resulting from Edward Snowden’s revelations could point fingers at organizations actively trying to sabotage and cause the downfall of WikiLeaks.

More importantly, Weider believes that WikiLeaks ‘can’ be used as a “deliberate distribution mechanism” rather than finding out ‘if’ that was indeed the case in this particular instance..

“Someone who wants to identify not just members of WikiLeaks, but their readers, this would absolutely be the way to do it,” confirmed Wieder. Furthermore, there stands a good chance that malware exists among the more well-known data dumps, like those of Sony Pictures and the recent Hacking Team breach, both of which are indexed and easily searchable.

Weider decided to make his findings public for two reasons:

  • Getting the word out to security researchers who can review the files.
  • Warning users, particularly journalists and activists, the two groups regularly targeted by state surveillance.

Expanding on both, Weider notes that the discovery of malware present in the WikiLeaks dump is despite his lack of resources and time as an independent researcher. More security researchers combing through droves of data available in massively publicized dumps could mean a good thing if additional chunks of malware are discovered and reported. Even more-so for the security and privacy of investigative journalists, activists and users accessing the data. Edward Snowden’s revelations highlighted frustrations of network surveillance with the increased used of encryption, the Tor network, VPNs and more such services among journalists as a precautionary measure. Malware, however, is a different threat and the education to protect oneself against malware rarely coincides with learning to use encryption. It is for these reasons and more that Weider went public with his discovery.

A comprehensive account of the Weider’s findings is detailed in his blog here & here with a follow-up after discovering the files hosted on WikiLeaks itself, here.

Malware Woes

Wieder initially noticed WikiLeaks distributing the leaked emails through a list of torrent files. Upon further research, he discovered most of the malware to be embedded within PDF and DOC files. What began as the sharing of torrent files soon transpired into publishing the same malicious content on the WikiLeaks website itself, this time as uncompressed individual files. To help steer clear of the files, Wider compiled a list of the malware-laden files, their locations on WikiLeaks along with basic file information in a Pastebin dump.

doomWhile 5.5 million emails seem painstakingly significant in number and time-consuming to go through, Weider discovered that such numbers were deceptive because a lot of it included flat text email scripts, with no attachments. Such text files aren’t dangerous to those rummaging through the files in the dump, as opposed to original email recipients receiving it via email. The threat of malware comes from the attachments, totaling 178,960 files in 179 folders, by Wieder’s count. Upon running some of the files through an antivirus scanner, he discovered the presence of MyDoom, a classic worm that is predominantly obsolete while barely posing a threat in today’s world of modern computers. Such findings raise concerns about the security measures taken by WikiLeaks before publishing any of the data being hosted on its website, or indeed – if the data is being scanned at all.

He confirms his repeated attempts to contact the popular whistle-blowing website to bring their attention to the presence of malware in files, have gone unanswered. Wieder believes, however, that WikiLeaks is indeed aware of the malware inherent in the files it hosts.  “I was informed that one of the reporters who interviewed me did, in fact, discuss the presence of malware with a Wikileaks representative. So I have every reason to believe they are aware of the issue,” he says.

Hacked has verified the documents present in the dump and specified by Wieder to be malicious.

Significantly, most of the malware’s vulnerable targets have already been patched by their respective developers. Users can breathe easy while treading cautiously if their software is up-to-date with regular security updates. Still, it’s always recommended that one rummaging through the many leaks and file dumps on WikiLeaks does so by opening any hosted files on a disposable virtual machine. The inherent vulnerability here is the belief that reputable, mainstream organizations are expected to host safe content.

“Ultimately, while users are responsible for their own safe browsing, Wikileaks is also responsible for the content they provide to their users,” stressed Weider.

Wikileaks is also responsible for the content they provide to their users. No one can offer their users a complete guarantee of safety, but that does not mean websites ought to take basic precautions to safeguard their files.

A website that circulates malicious software – and that furthermore does so knowingly and without warning their users – does not deserve the trust of its users.

At the time of writing this article, the malware still exists.

Images from Shutterstock.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Max Lundgren

    August 31, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    I wonder why this self-styled icon of goodness and openness, honesty.

    Hide themselves on an embassy in the UK, for young people to answer questions about a rape during their stay in Sweden. It became a little too much of a good thing?

    There is hardly one can imagine that this Icon of Justice himself had stolen and hacked to him the information that he committed the great honor of.

    Day t to go home to Australia Mr. Julian rapist Assange.

    • Andrew

      September 8, 2015 at 7:48 pm

      Maybe you should try actually reading the article?

      No one is accusing Wikileaks of having put this malware there. There are two theories, and both relate to other actors embedding the malware.

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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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