Cyber “moles” essential tool against hackers: Imperva

Web research team leader says company's and law enforcement agencies need to team up

When cyber criminals infiltrate organisations, they may not be aware that a team in the Middle East sends a watchful virtual eye out to spy on their activities.

While this sounds like a script from the pages of a Tom Clancy thriller, it is in some ways. Imperva’s Web research team leader, Tal Be’ery, who is based in Tel Aviv, Israel, has recently led efforts by the vendor to investigate hackers with an initiative called Hacker Intelligence. In December 2010, Be'ery's team came across the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) DDoS download tool which was used by pro-WikiLeak activists against several US websites, including those belonging to Amazon and PayPal, after each terminated WikiLeaks accounts or pulled the plug on services.

LOIC has became the DDoS tool of choice in the pro-WikiLeaks attacks because users could synchronise their copies with a master command-and-control server, which then coordinates and amplifies the attacks.

This year, the lab research team discovered cross site scripting (XSS) attack campaigns, server generated distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, a data collection containing millions of user passwords, and Cloud based technologies used by hackers.

Imperva also aims to delve deeper into how cyber criminals conduct large scale cyber attacks, as well as looking at the evolution of the underground business of cyber crime.

Be’ery told Computerworld Australia that he is currently focussing on four ways to monitor hacking activities which gives technical and “business” insight into hacker activities. He has been working in the Internet security space for 10 years. His job involves capturing and analysing hacking activities.

“We look into not only their technical approaches but also business models,” Be’ery said. “Our analysis also gives clues as to future targets hackers may be considering.”

As Australia is not immune from the underground threat, he warned that local companies need to recognise that the threat is strong and pervasive.

“Hacking has become increasingly automated and today, most hacking innovations focus on increasing revenue while minimising cost,” Be’ery said. “Today, hacking has become industrialised which means everyone will be attacked at some point. Companies need to understand what data or content hackers could want and build a strategy comprised of policies, people and technology to protect that data.” He said Imperva works on a daily basis with many Australian organisations to help them address today’s threats.

“Many of these threats are aimed at the organisations via their public facing applications, the Web applications,” said Be’ery. “Whilst the targets of these attackers are the Web applications, the intent is to compromise intellectual property stored in the databases that drive these applications.”

He warned that the Australian market is not as mature as other parts of the globe in the deployment of protective measures because of the lack of mandatory disclosure laws.

However, Be’ery said law enforcement agencies efforts to work with private companies was a good start. “For example, Microsoft in the US helped shut down spam servers recently by giving the FBI information about the location of the servers,” he said. “To beat government and private hackers in the future, more cooperation of this nature will be essential.”

While there was no need for physical infiltration as most of the operations were held in the "cyber domain", Be'ery said he would not be surprised if law enforcement agencies were planting what he called "cyber moles". “Hackers are using every collaboration technique out there – mail, instant messaging, Skype, social networking and so forth. I believe that having a cyber mole within this cyber domain would be very beneficial.”

Be'ery is scheduled to present at the upcoming security conference AusCERT next week.

IDG Communications is an official media partner for AusCERT 2011.

Got a security tip-off? Contact Hamish Barwick at hamish_barwick at idg.com.au

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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