Washington and the McCarthy Era Part II

recent release from WikiLeaks received almost no traction in the global mainstream media, however, this release provides us with an inside look at how the Central Intelligence Agency uses its own malware to impersonate a key Russian cybersecurity company.  This subject is particularly pertinent given Washington’s obsession with all things Russian since the alleged hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

According to the documents released by Wikileaks, “Hive” is a major component of the CIA’s infrastructure to control its malware which is used to hack, record and even control modern hi-tech equipment globally.  Here is a description of Hive:

Hive solves a critical problem for the malware operators at the CIA. Even the most sophisticated malware implant on a target computer is useless if there is no way for it to communicate with its operators in a secure manner that does not draw attention. Using Hive even if an implant is discovered on a target computer, attributing it to the CIA is difficult by just looking at the communication of the malware with other servers on the internet. Hive provides a covert communications platform for a whole range of CIA malware to send exfiltrated information to CIA servers and to receive new instructions from operators at the CIA.

Hive can serve multiple operations using multiple implants on target computers. Each operation anonymously registers at least one cover domain (e.g. “perfectly-boring-looking-domain.com”) for its own use. The server running the domain website is rented from commercial hosting providers as a VPS (virtual private server) and its software is customized according to CIA specifications. These servers are the public-facing side of the CIA back-end infrastructure and act as a relay for HTTP(S) traffic over a VPN connection to a “hidden” CIA server called ‘Blot’.” (my bold)

The cover domain that is browsed by anyone surfing the web will deliver “innocent content” to the user who will not suspect that the website is abnormal.  The Hive source code allows the CIA’s malware to mask itself under false security certificates that impersonate public companies making users think that the extraction of their information was being undertaken by an impersonated company. 

Here is another quote from Wikileaks:

Digital certificates for the authentication of implants are generated by the CIA impersonating existing entities.  The three examples included in the source code build a fake certificate for the anti-virus company Kaspersky Laboratory, Moscow pretending to be signed by Thawte Premium Server CA, Cape Town.  In this way, if the target organization looks at the network traffic coming out of its network, it is likely to misattribute the CIA exfiltration of data to uninvolved entities whose identities have been impersonated.” (my bold)

In the WikiLeaks documents we find this:

If you look at the text eleven lines from the top you will find the words “Kaspersky Laboratory”, the Russia-based security company and purveyor of one of the world’s most popular anti-virus products.  By using these fake digital certificates to authenticate the implants, the CIA is able to make it look like Russia-based Kaspersky Laboratory is the party that is responsible for the exfiltration (extraction) of data.

According to the Hive 2.9.1 User’s Guide, a self-delete function was added to Hive to ensure that any version of a Hive implant that lies dormant for a predetermined amount of time effectively destroys itself, leaving behind only a .config file and a .log file in the /var directory.

While all of this may seem rather unimportant in the grand scheme of Washington, it is important to remember that the House Science Committee recently held a hearing in October 2017 on the risk of Kaspersky products to the U.S. government as shown here:

 …and sent the following letter regarding request for information on the federal government’s use of Kaspersky products in July 2017:

Here’s what the Department of Homeland Security had to say about Kaspersky and the removal of Kaspersky products from the computers of federal agencies on September 13, 2017 because they posed a risk to the “integrity and security of federal information systems”:

So, basically, Kaspersky has been found guilty of being a security risk to the United States government at the same time as at least one arm of the U.S. security branch is using Kaspersky as a mask for its own snooping malware. 

Interesting times we live in, aren’t they?  It’s like the paranoia of the 1950s McCarthy era all over again.

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