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Australia's Reserve Bank confirms it's been hacked

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March 11, 2013

Earlier this morning, Australia's Reserve Bank has confirmed that it's been attacked, after a report in the Australian Financial Review claimed its computer networks have been repeatedly and successfully hacked in a series of cyber-attacks to infiltrate sensitive internal information, including Chinese-developed malicious software.

The Reserve Bank is Australia's central bank and has broad functions closely comparable to those of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The AFR report also mentions hack attacks on France as well that resulted in several thousand confidential documents supposedly making their way in the general direction of China, but doesn't say if Australian documents were stolen.

The RBA has since issued a statement admitting to detecting attacks but has classified them as mere “virus attacks”.

Here's what it had to say: “As reported in today's news media, the Bank has on occasion been the target of cyber attacks. The Bank has comprehensive security arrangements in place which have isolated these attacks and ensured that viruses have not been spread across the Bank's network or systems. At no point in time have these attacks caused the Bank's data or information to be lost or its systems to be corrupted. The Bank's IT systems operate safely, securely and with a high degree of resilience.”

If online criminal activity is as prevalent as security companies constantly tell us, one would expect a high-value target like a Reserve Bank to be a target.

One would also expect it to attract expert and motivated attackers, if only because it is hard to imagine the phishers and identity thieves of the world caring much about the Bank's sensitive information or being interested in the almost-certainly complex chore of finding buyers for it.

Something else that is almost certain is that this story will run for a while: a media outlet with a story of this seeming importance will have more than one followup planned, probably with additional revelations that could come soon.

This could still suggest that China isn't the world's most active source of hack attacks. That prize goes to the Russian Federation, followed by rogue Chinese province/democratic Chinese breakaway state Taiwan.

As research firm Gartner says, “It's fairly well known by most internet security professionals that the best hackers on the planet often originate from Russia, however it's more newsworthy to talk about a country such as China whom we trust with many of our manufacturing facilities and research and development activities and have greater resources at their disposal if they intended to inflict serious harm.”

In other internet security news

Microsoft said Friday that it's planning to deliver no less than seven complex security patches on next Tuesday, March 12. In all, there are four patches deemed 'critical' and three 'important' as part of the March edition of its now regular-like-clock-work Patch Tuesday security upgrade program.

The most troublesome of the critical security vulnerabilities implies a remote code execution risk and affects *every* version of Windows - from XP SP3 up to Windows 8 and Windows RT as well as all versions of Server 2003, Server 2008, Server 2012 and of course, the Internet Explorer browser.

So the software engineers in Redmund have been very busy the past few days, and it's not over yet. A second critical update addresses critical security vulnerabilities in Microsoft Silverlight both on Windows and Mac OS X.

Silverlight is widely used as an alternative to Flash, in particular to run media applications, for example Netflix.

Third on the critical list is a security vulnerability in Visio and the Microsoft Office Filter Pack.

The final critical security update covers a privilege elevation flaw in SharePoint, Microsoft's portal and content management enterprise server software.

The practical aspect to all of this is that ALL versions of Windows, some Office components and many consumer Mac OS X installations and more will need updating because of a myriad of security flaws on the Windows platform.

The important bulletins cover an update to Microsoft Office for Mac 2008 and 2011 as well as an elevation of privilege security bug in Windows that affects XP SP3 up to Windows 8.

And last comes at 'important' update for OneNote, Microsoft's note-taking software. In related news, the ZDI’s Pwn2Own competition at CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver led to the discovery of new security vulnerabilities in browser platforms (both IE, Chrome, Safari and Firefox are affected), as well as Java and Adobe apps.

This is likely to produce plenty of patching action over upcoming weeks, especially if past history is any guide.

In other internet security news

China has accused the United States for most of the cyberattacks launched against its military networks. In a statement released today, China's Ministry of National Defense said that cyberattacks against its military sites have increased over the past few years.

Based on various checks of IP addresses, China's Defense Ministry claimed an average of 144,000 cyberattacks per month in 2012, according to various news media outlets.

And it pointed its finger directly at the U.S. for almost 63 percent of them. The allegations from Beijing come hot on the heels of a recent report from U.S. security firm Mandiant, linking the Chinese army to cyberattacks against the United States.

Citing digital forensic evidence, investigators for Mandiant said that they found an office building just outside of Shanghai that housed People's Liberation Army Unit 61398, and then traced a Chinese hacking group to that location.

China immediately denied any involvement and condemned the report for lack of hard evidence. Defense Ministry representative Geng Yansheng challenged Mandiant's findings, saying that IP addresses can be stolen by hackers and are no proof as to the source of a hacking attack.

"Everyone knows that the use of usurped IP addresses to carry out hacking attacks happens on an almost daily basis," Yansheng said last week.

The irony is that China's accusations against the United States cite IP addresses as "proof" that the U.S. is behind most of the cyberattacks against its military sites. So the Chinese government is clearly trying to play cat and mouse.

Today's statement also pointed to recent news that the U.S. plans to expand its cyberwarfare capabilities but said that such actions would not help the international community defend itself against cyberattacks.

"We hope that the U.S.' side can fully explain and clarify this in a cohesive manner," the statement added. We will keep you posted on these and other developments.

In other internet security news

Various security vulnerabilities in the U.S.' television emergency alert system, exploited last week by pranksters to put out fake warnings of a zombie apocalypse still remain widespread. And that's after TV station system admins remembered to change their default passwords on their broadcast equipment after they got hacked into.

As it happens, the hackers managed to attack a television station's emergency alert system in Montana to broadcast an on-air audio warning about the end of the world...

But it gets worse-- the initial attack on KRTC's equipment was also repeated in three other states-- two stations were electronically broken into in Michigan as well as several others in California, Montana and New Mexico, according to Karole White, president of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.

"It isn't what the pranksters said," White added. "It's the fact that they hacked into the system in the first place."

And it's very easy to understand how the hacks were possible to begin with, since the TV stations had neglected to change their original default passwords on their own equipment facing the public internet. Most broadcasting equipment makers today issue factory default passwords that need to be replaced before being connected to the internet, and this is clearly indicated in their installation manuals.

A security advisory sent by regulators at the FCC to broadcasters urged TV station system admins to take immediate action to correct the issue. They were told to change all passwords on all equipment regardless of the manufacturer as well as make sure that all equipment were protected behind a firewall and that hackers had not queued up bogus alerts for later transmission.

Reuters reports that an alert controller device from Monroe Electronics had been abused to carry out at least some of the apocalypse pranks. Monroe responded by publishing an advisory on its web site: "To improve overall security all One-Net R189 users are urged to: 1) Change the factory default password immediately. 2) Make sure that all network connections are behind secure firewalls.

Meanwhile, researchers at IO-Active Labs discovered a substantial number of insecure emergency alert system devices directly connected to internet, making it possible for hackers to exploit even more security flaws in attacks that go beyond pure mischief.

Mike Davis, a hardware expert at IO-Active Labs, says that by using Google he was able to find no less than thirty alert systems across the United States that were easily vulnerable to attacks. The security holes allow attackers to remotely compromise these devices, and then they can broadcast official alerts through U.S. radio and TV stations all over the country.

Davis also discovered very weak cryptography and security shortcomings in the firmware loaded into emergency warning systems. He reported the security vulnerabilities to the U.S.' Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) about a month ago but isn't revealing the details of the vulnerabilities nor the names of the manufacturers they affect, pending confirmation of a security patch.

In other internet security news

Federal police in Spain has arrested eleven individuals suspected of running a €1 million a year ransomware gimmick using malware that posed as a message from law enforcement officials.

Investigators first became interested in the 'Reveton Malware' after hundreds of complaints from victims of the crime starting flooding in at the beginning of 2011.

Trend Micro and Spanish law enforcement agencies worked with the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol in a concerted operation coordinated by Interpol over the months that followed, sharing gathered intelligence, samples and many related technical details.

Cops said that their research allowed them to literally map the criminal network infrastructure including traffic redirection and command control servers.

They then conducted multiple raids on various premises, seizing computers, hard drives, servers, IT equipment and stolen credit cards used to cash out the money that victims had paid.

In a statement, police said that since it was detected in May 2011, there had been more than 1,200 complaints about the so-called "POLICE VIRUS" (Reveton drive-by malware).

Police said this intelligence led to the arrest of eleven individuals. One of the suspects, an unnamed 27-year-old, is suspected to be the kingpin of the group that produces the Reveton ransomware.

This Russian national was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Spanish authorities have filed an extradition warrant. Along with this key arrest, police said they had run a takedown operation focusing on the lower-ranked members of gang, in connection with which they made several additional arrests.

Police added that lower-ranked members in the group were involved in monetization of the Pay Safe Card/Ukash vouchers received as payment in the scam. The gang had a branch in Spain's Costa Del Sol that exchanged these vouchers and then converted them into real cash, which would then be sent to the main group in Russia.

Europol said in a separate statement: "The financial cell of the network specialized in laundering the proceeds of their crimes obtained in the form of electronic money. The gang employed both virtual systems for money laundering and other traditional systems using various online gaming portals, electronic payment gateways or virtual coins."

Spanish cops said that ten of the suspects had been arrested in connection with allegations of money-laundering activity. Six of the cuffed suspects are Russian, two Ukrainian and two Georgian, but all of them were based in Spain, police said.

Spanish police said the fraudsters behind the scam were netting about €1 million a year in illegal profits. "This coordinated activity, in a similar fashion as the Trend Micro/FBI action against the DNS Changer gang last year, leading directly to the arrest of individuals believed to be actively engaged in cybercrime, should serve as a model for how the security industry and law enforcement can effectively cooperate in the global fight against online criminal activities," said Rik Ferguson, director of security research and communications at Trend Micro.

The ransomware used by the gang utilizes police logos to make it look like it came from a law enforcement agency to convince victims to cough up a fine"of around €100 using cash vouchers in order to unlock their computers.

In other internet security news

U.S. defense contractor Raytheon has developed new software that can mine social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook to track and predict users' behaviour, according to British media news outlets.

The story from The Guardian says that the key features of Raytheon's software, developed in co-operation with the U.S. government and delicately titled Rapid Information Overlay Technology are said to be an ability to sift through social media and figure out who your friends are and the places you frequent.

What is disturbing is that such a tool could likely end up in the hands of a repressive State, or a shadowy agency inside a more open State. Australia's Sydney Morning Herald today has a similar story on the same theme.

All of this *is* disturbing, except for the fact that similar software can be had from other sources that are far less scary than a defense contractor.

For instance, IBM sells “social media analytics” software that can “capture consumer data from social media to better understand attitudes, opinions, trends and manage online reputation” and even “predict customer behavior”. That's the same company that can whip up a supercomputer or sell you a scale-out NAS capable of storing multiple petabytes of raw information.

And customer service software firm Genesys sells “social engagement” software that “automates the process of social listening to your customers” and “extends business rules and service level strategies to the growing volume of social media-based customer interactions.

A quick mention of Big Data, daily and breathlessly advanced as capable of all of the above, and much more to more data, is also surely worth inserting at this point.

And then there are Google, Twitter, Facebook and others whose entire business is built on figuring out who you spend time with and where you spend or intend to spend that time, so they can sell that information to advertisers all over the globe.

Or hand over your data to the government, which seems to be happening rather more regularly if the social networks' own reports on the matter suggest.

We're not suggesting that Raytheon's software was designed as an instrument of State surveillance, but it's still worth pointing out that the company is far from alone in having developed software capable of tracking numerous data public sources, aggregating them into a file on an individual, and doing so without the individuals' knowledge.

And that the company has done so in full collaboration with the U.S. government should not surprise anyone.

As for the spatial aspect of these allegations, the fact that photos contain spatial metadata is hardly news, nor is the notion that social media leaves a trail of breadcrumbs a novel-- it's a well-known fact.

One has only to revisit news from 2010 to be reminded of how pointed out how social media can alert thieves to the fact you've left your home.

Far clearer is the fact that you are the product for any free online product. Also very clear is that by using such services, data about you will be consumed by a large and diverse audience. The scariest thing of all may be how few of those that use such services care or even realize the vast implications this could have on their personal and professional lives.

In other internet security news

The Canadian government is blaming a simple printing error for the fact that some student loan recipients who received letters to say their personal information had gone missing along with a portable hard drive also got letters addressed to someone else.

Canada's Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSDC) revealed in mid-January that a hard drive containing the personal information of some 583,200 Canadian students had gone missing.

The data included social insurance numbers and dates of birth of people who had received student loans between 2002 and 2006.

Victims of the data breach began receiving notification letters a few days ago, and at least 100 of those envelopes contained letters intended for other people.

In Ottawa's House of Commons, opposition members hammered the government over the latest blunder in question period earlier this week.

“Mr. Speaker, the incompetence continues regarding the data breach and mail-outs now going to the wrong people,” Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner said.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley responded that her department had identified the cause of the wayward letters and “the issue has been fixed.”

If you need reliability when it comes to SMTP servers, get the best, get Port 587.

Get a powerful Linux Dual-Core dedicated server for less than $2.67 a day!

Share on Twitter.

Source: Microsoft.

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