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Asian hackers p0wned by Eastern European rivals

Former Soviet bloc countries hack hardest, says former presidential security man

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Cyber criminals from Eastern Europe present a more sophisticated information security threat to Western firms than their rivals in East Asia, according to a surprising new assessment of the global threat landscape by a former White House cyber security advisor.

Peter the Great vs. Sun Tzu is a new report from Tom Kellerman, cyber security VP at Trend Micro and until recently a commissioner sitting on The Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency.

In it, he reveals seven reasons why the researchers at Trend Micro believe “hackers from the former Soviet bloc are a more sophisticated and clandestine threat than their more well-known East Asian counterparts”.

Ever since the Operation Aurora attacks on Google and scores of other businesses came to light in 2010, targeted attacks or Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) originating in China have accounted for the majority of high profile campaigns publicised in the media, including Night Dragon, Ixeshe and Luckycat.

However, Eastern European cyber criminals tend to use more sophisticated, customised malware, built without third party tools and often featuring “robust anti-debugging techniques and complex command-and-control”, according to Kellerman.

Eastern European attacks are a legacy of high quality science and maths education in Soviet bloc countries. Kellerman says the highly competitive nature of the Eastern European underground also helps to produce malware “ so elegantly crafted as to be the 'Faberge Eggs' of the malware world."

Infrastructure including DNS servers also tends to be developed in-house, with the cyber hoodlums aiming to maintain control of the entire stack.

East Asian operators, by contrast, use cheap, hosted infrastructure as they’re less bothered about being identified. They also tend to employ simpler, off-the-shelf malware to get the job done.

Eastern European hackers are organised in small, independent mercenary units which live or die by the quality of their work and are motivated solely by profit, meaning they’re capable of more precise and focused attacks and aim to steal credentials that can be sold on the black market.

The report likens East Asian cyber criminals, on the other hand, to “cyber foot soldiers” tasked with gathering information for their commanders – more focused on longer term strategies and better insulated from any losses or failures.

Given that reputation and profit is everything, hackers from the former Soviet bloc go to great lengths to stay hidden, whereas their East Asian rivals, once inside the network concentrate on “lateral movement, use of command-line tools, and passing of credentials”, the report said.

“The thousand grains of sands approach is symbolic of an East Asian colonisation as the reconnaissance is ongoing and the battlefield not necessary prepped like the East European model,” wrote Kellerman. ®

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