Millions of US Government Email Addresses for Sale

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pierluigi Paganini

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(Translated from the original Italian)

It has been repeatedly reiterated, the need for a cyber strategy to reduce risks related to cyber threats from various sources: military, cyber crime or hacktivism.

Cyber threats expose our intelligence agencies, our critical infrastructures and our companies to significant risks causing untold financial damage.

In the area of cyber warfare, governments have made considerable strides, gained awareness of the threat, and now several nations are organizing garrisons dedicated to security in cyber space.

Too many people mistakenly believe that attacks on government institutions only come from hacker groups sponsored by hostile governments. Do not forget that we live in an information age, and information is money.

Groups of cyber criminals are aware of the huge demand for information about the military sector, for this reason they continuously try to acquire and sell information about each country's militia and intelligence agencies through several techniques: espionage, phishing, extortion, cyber attacks, and hacking of major government contractors.

An example of how much interest there is on sensitive information concerning the military, consider the underground black market where millions of harvested U.S government and U.S military email addresses are currently for sale. The criminal enterprise is offering  2,462,935 U.S government email addresses, and another 2,178,000 U.S military email addresses.

The risks are really serious, as this information could be used by hostile government in cyber attacks and cyber espionage activities.

This is an efficient criminal organization that continuously collects info from various sources and attempts to sell them using several channels such as social networks, chat rooms, dedicated web sites, and Internet directories. Some syndicates have established growing communities where they sell services from the malware development to information needed to attack a specific target.

Dedicated social networks also offer advice for the development of new modules to use in conjunction with well known malware (e.g. Zeus, SpyEye). These open communities are really dangerous and hard to monitor, and can be considered to be malware factories.

Cyber criminals have used several cyber options to gather personal data and financial information of representatives of the U.S. military. The scams schemes provide the information necessary for phishing attacks and malware diffusion used to steal data.

Another really interesting aspect is that spammers and virus creators are also launching massive attacks on anti-spam organizations with the intent to thwart their defense and operate unchallenged.

U.S government and U.S military users whose emails have been exposed have been alerted on the risks, they have been informed that they could be targeted by malware attacks, and they are all instructed to avoid clicking on links found in the suspicious emails for fear of downloading and executing a malicious attachment.

The news of the availability of large amount of emails on the black market came while the U.S. military declared their intent to engage in a fight against cyber threats with an offensive strategy.

The Pentagon recently sent a report to Congress where it says that it reserves the right to retaliate with military force against a cyber attack. Air Force General Robert Kehler said:

"I do not believe that we need new explicit authorities to conduct offensive operations of any kind..."

US security agencies are also training teams of cyber forensics experts and group of hackers to identify, prevent and fight and cyber threats. I believe that the U.S. response represents the proper way to approach the threats, and their efforts should be taken as an example.

Cross-posted from Security Affairs

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