Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Of Hacks, Leaks, and Legal Battles : Is anyone really winning?

In recent days we have seen what seems like an escalation in the battle for the Information Age.  These events are far from new, however they have taken on a more fevered pitch. I suppose it probably started with the whole WikiLeaks-Bradley Manning thing. This started quite a fierce fight both off and on the internet.  A fierce debate with highly polarized sides sprang up around the issue of WikiLeaks.

Into that fray jumped Anonymous. They took their own unique sense of purpose and went after anyone whom they felt had wronged WikiLeaks. This included attacks on Paypal,MasterCard and others. They took time off from their busy schedule of attacking PirateBay opponents around the world. These sorts of things are not all too uncommon, especially when dealing with Anon. They have made the news in the past. What was different this time was that there was already a frenzy around the wikiLeaks issue.

Soon a new subset appeared. This group would have us believe that they are independently operating patriotic hackers, such as th3j35t3r. I have my doubts as to how independent these folks really are. These people went after anonymous, wikileaks and anyone else supporting them. A sort of mini-cyberwar started. What I would like to note is interesting is that the US Department of Justice launched an immediate investigation into Anonymous to try and make arrests over their DoS attacks. However the sophisticated DoS attack that was carried out against wikileaks was just as illegal and yet the government remains silent on the subject.

The fighting and debating raged on around wikileaks. Many things occurred during the next several months that i don't feel the need to recap. Fast forwarding to the past few weeks. Aaron Barr, CEO of HBGary Federal made an announcement that he had 'infiltrated' Anonymous and discerned the true identities of the Anon leadership. (This statement alone seems to show a misunderstanding of the true nature of Anonymous, but look at some of my earlier posts for some of my theories on this subject). Aaron Barr apparently sought to use this information to leverage himself and his company into a bit of the spotlight. Allegedly, Barr was going to sell this information to the FBI.

In response a few members of anonymous launched an assault on HBGary federal during the super bowl. In short order they ahd compromised systems inside HBGary Federal, took control of rootkit.com, seized Aaron Barr;'s twitter account and the social networking accounts of several other folks at HBGary. They stole a large number of emails from the company, and allegedly wiped out HBGary's backups.

The initial assault left HBgary reeling and embarrassed like a kid who gets pants-ed at the bus stop. It got worse from there though. Amongst the stolen emails was a document supposedly composed by HBGary Federal and Palantir. The target audience was allegedly Bank of America. The subject matter? How to destroy wikileaks. The document details disinformation campings, smear attacks against pro-wikileaks journalists, Denial of Service attacks against wikileaks infrastructure, and attempts to infiltrate the group to discover the identities of document submitters. You can see a copy of the document here. BofA and Palantir began moving quickly to conduct damage control disavowing any knowledge of the document or its creation. Additional documentation has surfaced to cast doubts on some of these claims.

The lesson here so far? Even a security firm like HB Gary can get thoroughly spanked on the internet by not taking threats seriously. The damage to their company by these leaks is yet to be seen, but other companies are already cutting ties to try and protect themselves. In this case the Leak has already proven to be an effective weapon against a powerful company.



Meanwhile, another little drama was unfolding. The Gregory Evans/ Ligatt Security drama. Gregory Evans has been accused of being a charlatan for a while. He made claims of being the 'world's no 1 Hacker'. A ridiculous, and pompous proclamation if ever I've heard one. He released a book on how to become the world's no 1 hacker. A book which was quickly accused of large scale plagarism. Evans denied these accusations, and at one point claimed that he paid any third part content writers for their material. I do not know about the vast majority of this claim. However, Chris Gates, aka carna0wnage was one of the authors whose material appeared in the book. Gates denied ever receiving any payment or giving permission to Evans to use his material in the book. The material is so obviously ripped off, Evans even sued the same screenshots which include Chris Gates' name in the login prompts.

Enough about the gory details though. Suffice it to say, the Evans/Ligatt drama continued on. Evans fought back in the only way he seems to know how. He filed lawsuits. He filed quite a few lawsuits actually. He tried suing anyone and everyone he could that has ever said anything bad about him on the internet. Most of these lawsuits have failed completely, but that didn't stop Evans. Recently, on Gregory Evans' birthday, his email and twitter accounts were hacked. All of his email was leaked into a torrent on the internet and distributed. Since the leak of his email, one embarrassing piece of evidence after another surfaces from the spool.  Many of these documents were reposted to the LigattLeaks blog, which was originally hosted on WordPress.  Evans and Ligatt sent take-down demands to wordpress and the registrar for LiogattLeaks.org. Wordpress capitulated in the face of any possible legal ramifications, whether there was solid legal basis or not.

LigattLeaks has since moved on to a site at http://ligattleaks.blogs.ru and continues to post with impunity. Since LigattLeaks themselves claim they do not possess the mailspool and are only reposting things found on pastebin, they seems to be under no legal liability. The actual consequences of these leaks for Evans or Ligatt? Aside from a lot of embarassment, and a local news story , there has yet to be any serious consequence seen from this. however, Evan's litigious assaults on the infosec community seemed to have had no real effect either. So right now I'm calling this one a draw at the moment.

Now let's move on to the Sony PS3 case. The folks over at Fail0verflow got their hands on the keys used to sign software for the ps3. Well known hardware hacker GeoHot then built on this and created a modkit to allow home brew software to run on the ps3. Sony claims that this will only serve to enable piracy on their game consoles. they file suit against Geo Hot, subpoena all of his computer equipment and issue orders for his instructional videos to be stripped from the internet. In response the instructions, examples, and encryption keys are spread across the internet. Before the case against Geohot has even begun, sony is now trying to use the legal system to gain information on every person who viewed or commented on GeoHot's video on youtube. They are also seeking legal action against anyone who posts the encryption keys. This drama is still under way but I'm going to go ahead and call it now: Sony will lose, no matter what the trial outcome.

There is already a huge public outcry against Sony over this action. They may have already caused themselves irreparable brand damage. They have increased the actual awareness of these hacks. And there is no way that they can successfully suppress the information once it has begun disseminating through the internet. They are trying to stuff the proverbial Geenie back in the bottle. One has to wonder why they are doing this. They will not be able to recoup any significant losses. they won't be able to suppress the information. They are trying to lay down intimidation tactics. These intimidation tactics are of course having the opposite effect. One has to wonder if anonymous or another group won't turn it's attention towards the Sony mega-corporation. It would be very itneresting to see a battle between Anonymous and such a  huge company.


There are three examples of folks in the Corporate world trying to control and shape the Internet for their own benefit. All of them are failing miserably, and they are all starting to pay a heavy price for it.

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