Feeds

Georgian cyber attacks launched by Russian crime gangs

With help from Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Last year's cyber attacks that brought internet traffic to a standstill in Georgia were carried out by civilians and Russian crime gangs, in some cases with the unwitting help of websites and software companies located in the US, according to researchers.

In a report released Monday, a non-profit research group called the US Cyber Consequences Unit (US-CCU) said the cyber attacks, which coincided with the Russian military's invasion of Georgia in August 2008, were carried out by two separate groups. The attacks were significant because they made it almost impossible for citizens and officials alike to communicate about what was happening on the ground during the military operation.

The first group involved used botnets, command and control channels, and other resources operated by Russian crime gangs, Scott Borg, director and chief economist with US-CCU, told The Register. In some cases during the week-long offensive, servers and botnets used to attack Georgian websites simultaneously targeted e-commerce sites.

In all, 11 government websites were felled by the botnets, which directed a torrent of traffic at their targets.

A separate source of the cyber attacks came in the form of civilians who willingly installed improvised software that targeted an additional 43 websites operated by Georgia-based news agencies and other groups. Most of the people carrying out the attacks were Russians, but Russian sympathizers in countries such as Ukraine and Latvia were involved as well.

In many cases, the civilians were recruited using US-based social networking sites. Borg declined to name any of them, but in an article here The Wall Street Journal said the list included Twitter and Facebook. LiveJournal was also used, according to Don Jackson, a researcher from security firm SecureWorks, who read a longer version of the report not available to reporters.

"It's a relatively new development," Borg said. "In the past, if people were organizing a cyber attack, they mostly concentrated on the hacker community. This attack was reaching out to a much larger, wider circle of people. They were providing attack tools that could be used by people with no particular knowledge of attacking and very little knowledge of computers."

In some cases, the attack tools were modifications of two pieces of software made by Microsoft, Jackson said, citing the longer report. One was the Web Application Stress tool. The other was the Web Capacity Analysis Tool, which is included with Microsoft IIS, or Internet Information Services.

The report went on to say that the cyber attacks were carried out with little or no direct involvement from the Russian government or military. While there is no evidence computers or networks belonging to the military or government were used in any of the attacks, the report acknowledges that the timing of the attacks, which launched within hours of the Russian military's invasion, could only have come with a fair amount of cooperation from Russian officials.

Indeed, Jackson, who is a researcher for SecureWorks' Counter Threat Unit, says he has little doubt that the Russian military was involved.

"The first wave of traffic from the botnets coincided almost exactly with the time that (Russian) planes were taking off from the carriers off the coast" of Georgia, he said. "That's a very strange coincidence. You're just not going to find evidence of a covert operation, and if you do they've really done it wrong." ®

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
China hacked US Army transport orgs TWENTY TIMES in ONE YEAR
FBI et al knew of nine hacks - but didn't tell TRANSCOM
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.