safety internet hackerThere’s rarely a quiet moment in the world of cyber miscreants and the past week testifies to this. From a newspaper columnist being threatened by Anonymous to retract her ‘strong’ opinions, to a private eye being jailed for hiring hackers, it’s all going on. And of course, another major flaw has been discovered, this time in Adobe Flash Player.

Adobe flaw lets in ransomware which has already nabbed £12 million

Adobe Flash Player has a vulnerability that hackers have been exploiting.

The flaw affects how Flash Player plays video files and lets an attacker use a carefully made video file to seize control of a user’s computer.

By the time the vulnerability was publicly reported, it was already being used by a Chinese hacking group known as ‘APT3 [Advanced Persistent Threat 3]’.

The group was sending phishing emails aimed at organisations in the aerospace, defence, construction, engineering, high tech, telecommunications and transportation industries, in attempts to implement a backdoor on victim’s computers.

It has also been discovered in a malware kit called Magnitude. As a result, Magnitude is using the exploit to try and install CryptoWall ransomware on victim’s computers. To date CryptoWall has been used to extract almost £12 million from people according to the FBI, though the true figure is believed to be much higher.

Adobe has made a patch available for its Flash Player to block the exploit and is providing upgrades.

However, for unpatched versions the exploit can still cause damage, especially if the computer is targeted by Magnitude malware.

The flaw shows the importance of protection against zero-day threats such as this. BullGuard Internet Security features innovative behavioural-based detection on top of traditional signature-based protection, to safeguard against exploits such as this.

SEC hunts for insider trading hackers

The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked at least eight listed companies to provide details of their data breaches.

This is considered to be a first for the SEC and reflects a deep rooted concern that a hacker group has been raiding corporate email servers to gain information for insider trading.

Apparently the move has been driven by the actions of a hacker group dubbed FIN4. Its existence has been known for some time but the SEC’s actions indicate that it has firm evidence that insider trading is taking place as a result of information scooped up from the hacks.

It’s alleged that this group has tried to hack into email accounts at more than 100 companies, seeking confidential information on mergers and other market-moving events.

The targets include companies in biotechnology and other healthcare-related fields, such as medical instruments, hospital equipment and drugs.

There’s a lot of money to be made on market movements informed by insider trading – and judging by the SEC’s moves, alarm bells are ringing as it seeks to protect the integrity of markets.

Anonymous targets newspaper columnist – for being opinionated

If you’re not familiar with Katie Hopkins she is a columnist for a UK tabloid called The Sun, and she is also a TV personality. Because of her opinionated columns, and some say cruel, Hacker group, Anonymous has threatened to spill the beans on her private life.

The nature of newspaper columnists is to be outspoken and controversial; the good ones are educated and intelligent in their columns, the poor ones come across as someone who is just shouting rather loudly.

The Sun bills itself as the voice of the common person and no doubt its columnists have to reflect this editorial principle. Hopkins certainly hasn’t let the side down and has a reputation for being trenchant and opinionated, just like your stereotyped ‘man in the street.’

Hopkins has upset a lot of people with her views and recently her Twitter account was hacked into. Now Anonymous has her in its gun sites because she exposed the Twitter hacker, naming him.

There’s something puerile about the tone of the threats made by Anonymous against Hopkins, in a video released on 4chan: “Your actions online have been bought to our attention. You have disrespected and abused one of our own [naming the Twitter hacker]. It would be in your best interest to show us respect. Katy we do not forget, we do not forgive.”

“Katie if you would like to feel safe in your own home listen to my instructions. For those who you have caused pain Katie you will immediately apologise over your Twitter account… You will show positivity to those who are hurt by you. Katie, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, disability – we are all human.”

Anonymous concludes by saying: “If you do not complete the task addressed to you, your personal details will spread like a disease through the deepest and darkest corners of cyber space.”

While you may quibble with the author’s tenuous grasp on the English language (do personal details really ‘spread like a disease?’) the implications are clearly frightening. And there’s also something fundamentally fascist in the threat – in the western world the right to express your opinion is a basic tenet of democracy no matter how distasteful it may be.

You might not agree with Hopkins, and of course you have the freedom to do so, but it looks like the hacker group has already, or is about to, hack her personal information and expose it to the cyber world.

Some people might say ‘what goes around comes around’ while others might conclude that she is only doing her job and this is cyber bullying of the worst kind.

Twin ‘geniuses’ looking at decades behind bars – not so genius

They were dubbed technical geniuses at the age of 19 when twins Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter were highlighted in 2011 for being the youngest graduates from George Mason University that year.

At the time The Washington Post presciently said: “I think we’ll be hearing more about these guys”, and even the much vaunted Defence Advanced Research Project Agency coughed up a $200,000 research grant for them.

Well, we are hearing more about these guys. At 23 both have been charged with computer hacking schemes that involved stealing credit card information, breaking into State Department computers and obtaining data from a private company.

It seems the tech wizards just couldn’t stop from tinkering and once they discovered how relatively easy it was they began cracking systems up and down the US. One such ploy involved hacking into the State Department passport databases to create passports and approve visas in exchange for payment.

The brothers and co-conspirators used the stolen data to purchase goods and services, including flights, hotel reservations, and attendance at professional conferences.

Muneeb Akhter also provided stolen information to an individual he met on the ‘dark net,’ who sold the information to other dark-net users, and gave Akhter a share of the profits.

Further, Sohaib Akhter, with the help of Muneeb Akhter and co-conspirators, attempted to secretly install an electronic collection device inside a State Department building.

Once installed, the device could have enabled Sohaib Akhter and co-conspirators to remotely access and collect data from State Department computer systems.  Sohaib Akhter was forced to abandon the plan during its execution when he broke the device while attempting to install it behind a wall at a State Department facility in Washington, D.C.

It’s the stuff of spies, unfortunately for the Akhter brothers it’s not going to have a Hollywood ending.

Private eye jailed after hiring hackers – what’s new?

While we’re on the theme of jail sentences here’s a small but noteworthy story about a private investigator in New York who got three months in jail after being found guilty of hiring hackers.

Eric Saldarriaga apparently hired the hackers to access the email accounts of nearly 50 victims, and in more than one case, he attempted to gain access to multiple email accounts for a specific individual.

Interestingly, most of the hacked email accounts belonged to critics or ex-members of the Scientology Church, inevitably leading to speculation about who ultimately was behind the hacks. Apparently, Saldarriaga is not saying.

It’s an interesting story not only because Scientology has a more than dubious reputation and certainly doesn’t take kindly to critics, but also because this sort of activity is actually quite prolific, but under reported.

When Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World was brought down because of phone hacking, the role of private investigators was exposed, providing insight into just how instrumental they were in dishing the dirt.

But that said, it’s a little known fact that some private investigators also work closely with hackers.

This blog knows of several celebrities who have been brought down by this collusion. In one case, another well-known UK tabloid employed a private investigator to find out about celebrities.

The investigator turned to hackers who hacked and monitored the celebs email accounts. As soon as something ‘newsworthy’ was spotted, it was passed over to the news desk of the paper.

In one case, the wife of a famous sportsman was discovered to be having an affair with a famous British actor. Needless to say the paper splashed on the story, to the horror of the involved parties, and the marriage crashed on the rocks of public exposure.

The News of the World may have sunk but there are still other salacious tabloids that had their fingers firmly in this pie.

And while Saldarriaga was convicted of conspiracy to commit computer hacking by employing hackers, it’s fairly certain that many other investigators are also doing the same.

Written by Steve Bell (226 Posts)

Steve has a background in IT and business journalism and in the past has written extensively for both the UK national and trade press including The Guardian, Independent-on-Sunday, The Times, The Register, MicroScope and Computer Weekly. He's also worked for most of the world's largest IT companies in a copy and content producing capacity. He has a particular focus on IT security and has been involved in writing about the industry at various levels ranging from magazine launches to producing newsletters. He also runs a small copy writing business called Art of Words. When not bashing away at a keyboard he can sometimes be found in a boxing gym making futile efforts to keep fit or marveling at the works of Sufi poets such as Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz.

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