The Privacy BlogThoughts on privacy, security, and other stuff.

CAT | China

The South China Morning Post reports that the ban on Facebook, Twitter, the New York Times, and many other sites, will be lifted, but only in the Shanghai free-trade zone.

The information came from anonymous government sources within China. The purpose is to make the zone more attractive to foreign companies and workers who expect open Internet access. The sources say that the more open access may be expanded into the surrounding territory if the experiment is successful.

It will be interesting to see if this actually comes to pass.

Two questions occur to me. First, will the free-trade zone be considered to be outside the firewall, and hard to access from within the rest of China? Second, is this as much about surveillance of activity on those websites as it is about providing free access?

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Play

Welcome to The Privacy Blog Podcast for May 2013.

In this month’s episode, I’ll discuss how shared hosting is increasingly becoming a target and platform for mass phishing attacks. Also, I’ll speak about the growing threat of Chinese hackers and some of the reasons behind the increase in online criminal activity.

Towards the end of the episode, we’ll address the hot topic of Google Glass and why there’s so much chatter regarding the privacy and security implications of this technology. In related Google news, I’ll provide my take on the recent announcement that Google is upgrading the security of their public keys and certificates.

Leave any comments or questions below. Thanks for listening!

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May/13

21

Government enabled Chinese criminal hacking.

Thanks to the Financial Times for their article on this.

When we hear that a company has been hacked by China what is usually meant is that the company has been hacked from a computer with a Chinese IP address. The immediate implication is that it is Chinese government sponsored.

Of course, there are many ways in which the attacks might not be from anyone in China at all. Using proxies or compromised computers as relays, would allow the attacker to be anywhere in the world while appearing to be in China. The fact that there is so much hype about Chinese government hacking right now, makes China the perfect false flag for any attacker. It sends investigators down the wrong path immediately. However, there is growing evidence that many of the attacks are actually being perpetrated by independent Chinese civilian criminal hackers out to make a buck. They are intent on stealing and selling intellectual property. The huge supply, and under employment, of computer trained people in China may be to blame. They have the skills, the time, and a need for money.

The Chinese government has also been very lax about trying to track down these individuals and generally suppress this kind of activity. The hacking activity is certainly beneficial to the Chinese economy, as the IP is generally stolen from outside China and sold to give advantage to Chinese companies. That gives a kind of covert and subtle support to the hacking activity without any actual material help or direction.

So, it is not quite government sponsored, and it IS actually Chinese. The bottom line is that it is a real problem, and a threat that is actually harder to track down and prevent because it is so amorphous.

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Another from the “if the data exists, it will get compromised” file.

This article from the Washington Post talks about an interesting case of counter surveillance hacking.

In 2010, Google disclosed that Chinese hackers breached Google’s servers. What only recently came to light was that one of the things compromised was a database containing information about government requests for email records.

Former government officials speculate that they may have been looking for indications of which of their agents had been discovered. If there were records of US government requests for information on any of their agents, it would be evidence that those agents had been exposed. This would allow the Chinese to shut down operations to prevent further exposure and to get those agents out of the country before they could be picked up.

I had not thought about subpoenas and national security letters being a counter intelligence treasure trove, but it makes perfect sense.

Because Google / Gmail are so widely used, they present a huge and valuable target for attackers. Good information on almost any target is likely to live within their databases.

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The BBC has an article that powerfully reinforces what I have been saying for years about spear phishing. It is worth a read if just for the specific examples.

The short version is, if an attacker is going for you specifically, they can do enough research to craft an email and attachment that you are almost certain to open. The success rate against even very paranoid and sophisticated users is shockingly high.

In Bruce Schneier’s blog post about this he quotes Brian Snow, former NSA Information Assurance Director. “Your cyber systems continue to function and serve you not due to the expertise of your security staff but solely due to the sufferance of your opponents.”

Sobering….

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