Posted: 6:52 pm EDT
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According to CNN, a group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division recently posted online a purported list of names and contacts for Americans it refers to as “targets,” according to officials.
Though the legitimacy of the list is questionable, and much of the information it contains is outdated, the message claims to provide the phone numbers, locations, and “passwords” for 1400 American government and military personnel as well as purported credit card numbers, and excerpts of some Facebook chats.
The Guardian describes the list as a spreadsheet, published online last week which exposes names, email addresses, phone numbers and passwords. The 1,482 names include members of the U.S. Marine Corps, NASA, the State Department, the U.S. Air Force, and the FBI.
The Daily Mail reports that the list includes an accompanying message that reads: ‘Know that we are in your emails and computer systems, watching and recording your every move, we have your names and addresses, we are in your emails and social media accounts.’
The list apparently also includes the names of eight Australians and UK government personnel. In Australia where
there this is huge news, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the press, “We’ve just discovered that it’s actually able to launch cyber attacks in this country so this is a very sophisticated and deadly threat to us even here in Australia.” A chief executive of a forensic data firm in the country went so far as to advise that Canberra’s public servants get off social media. He also recommended that “on the day [ADFA] cadets enlist, their entire electronic lives be erased” and that “they should not exist on digital networks until they retire from Defence.”
The reaction here is a little less ZOMG! Last week, then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said in a press conference that “this is the second or third time they’ve claimed that and the first two times I’ll tell you, whatever lists they got were not taken by any cyber attack.”
“This is no different than the other two,” Odierno said. “But I take it seriously because it’s clear what they’re trying to do … even though I believe they have not been successful with their plan.”
CNN reports that Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool also cautioned that many of the military email addresses looked at least several years old, based on their suffixes. He said that shortly after this list was posted, a reminder went out to service personnel that they should limit the personal information they put on social media. “If any of your information on it is accurate, you’re very concerned,” former Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend told CNN, “as are government officials.”
According to the Washington Examiner, State Department employees comprise about a quarter of the alleged personal information on the list. That would be about 370 names. It also says that at the bottom of the leaked document, originally posted on zonehmirrors.org, are receipts from State Department employees along with their credit card numbers. The report notes that Islamic State supporters tweeted a link to the document and also tweeted, in one instance, information claiming to be the personal details of a staff member from the U.S. embassy in Cairo that said: “To the lone wolves of Egypt.”
Technology security expert, Troy Hunt, writes that “nothing makes headlines like a combination of ISIS / hackers / terrorism!” and has taken a closer look with an analysis here. Mr. Hunt’s conclusion — drawn merely from looking at the leaked list and applying what he observed from experience with previous data dumps leaked list — is that “the data is almost certainly from multiple locations and very unlikely to be from a single data breach.” Also that “most of the data is easily discoverable via either existing data breaches or information intentionally made public.” He writes, “Even the source of the amalgamated data is unverifiable – it could be someone who does indeed wish harm on the individuals named, it could be a kid in his pyjamas, there’s just not enough information to draw a conclusion either way.”
In his analysis of the ISIS list, Mr. Hunt says that “there are many sources from which attributes in this list can be compiled.” As an example, he cited the Adobe breach of 2013 in which 152M records were leaked, which includes 257k .gov email addresses. He writes:
The ISIS list has a lot of state.gov email addresses – Adobe leaked 1,657 of those and they look just like this:
“Adobe also leaked password hints so you can begin to quite easily build a profile around people working in the US State Department,” he said.
Would be good to know if any of the names in the Adobe breach are showing up in the ISIS list. We have not seen the purported ISIS list or the names from the Adobe hack but we hope somebody at State is looking at those names. Folks probably need to work on their password hints, too.
In a separate post, Mr. Hunt also notes this:
“The hyperbole and the fear, uncertainty and doubt that spread over this was just off the scale compared to the significance of the actual data. Here we have what amounts to little more than easily discoverable information mostly already in the public domain and suddenly it’s become a huge terror hack. [….] However, the legitimacy of the claims that this was an “ISIS hack” appear to have gotten in the way of a good story and the news has simply run with it.
A couple more reading clips below from Troy Hunt:
Just did a (very late) interview with CNN on this ISIS hack, story seems to be spreading a bit: http://t.co/pQkxHIJxFN
— Troy Hunt (@troyhunt) August 13, 2015
Security Sense: On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog (or a terrorist cell) http://t.co/eAifSCag5B
— Troy Hunt (@troyhunt) August 14, 2015
There’s not much one can do with the Adobe, Target, Home Depot, OPM hack except to sign up for credit monitoring service or put a credit freeze on one’s account. That is, if we’re concerned about identity thief. But those services will not work against potential blackmails related to a foreign government hack, or online threats related to potentially scraped data, collected from websites and social media accounts.
We are persuaded by Mr. Hunt’s analysis that this was not a real hack. But real or not, the information is out there and thinking about ‘lone wolf’ offenders seduced by ISIS’ call, in the U.S. or elsewhere is not paranoid. Folks might consider this a good excuse to review their digital footprint.
The threats online — whether real or part of propaganda — is not going to abate anytime soon. This is the world as it is, and not an attempt at hyperbole. Employees overseas can report these threats to RSOs but hey, have you seen the rundown of the RSO’s managed programs? We don’t even know what specific office at State tracks these breaches or who has responsibility for online threats. Was anyone notified by State when the Adobe breach occurred in 2013 and leaked hundreds of official emails? Were those emails changed? A
talkinghead writinghead would like to know.
Also some of USG’s overseas posts still display the official email addresses of personnel in public affairs, and those dealing with contracts, solicitations, and acquisitions on their websites. Those should be generic e-mail accounts not linked to an individual’s name but linked instead to the section, function or office, e.g. Sanaacontracts@state.gov. Makes better sense as people rotate jobs anyway.
We’re trying to find if Diplomatic Security has any response, guidance, reminder for State Department personnel given this report and the Burn Bag received earlier. Would be a good time as any to issue an opsec reminder. We will have a follow-up post if/when we get an official response.
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