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SolarWinds hack got emails of top DHS officials

Associated Press

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SolarWinds hack got emails of top DHS officials

Suspected Russian hackers gained access to email accounts belonging to the Trump administration’s head of the Department of Homeland Security and members of the department’s cybersecurity staff whose jobs included hunting threats from foreign countries, The Associated Press has learned.

The intelligence value of the hacking of then-acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his staff is not publicly known, but the symbolism is stark. Their accounts were accessed as part of what’s known as the SolarWinds intrusion and it throws into question how the U.S. government can protect individuals, companies and institutions across the country if it can’t protect itself.

The short answer for many security experts and federal officials is that it can’t — at least not without some significant changes.

“The SolarWinds hack was a victory for our foreign adversaries, and a failure for DHS,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, top Republican on the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “We are talking about DHS’s crown jewels.”

The Biden administration has tried to keep a tight lid on the scope of the SolarWinds attack as it weighs retaliatory measures against Russia. But an inquiry by the AP found new details about the breach at DHS and other agencies, including the Energy Department, where hackers accessed top officials’ private schedules.

The AP interviewed more than a dozen current and former U.S. government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the ongoing investigation into the hack.

The vulnerabilities at Homeland Security in particular intensify the worries following the SolarWinds attack and an even more widespread hack affecting Microsoft Exchange’s email program, especially because in both cases the hackers were detected not by the government but by a private company.

In December, officials discovered what they describe as a sprawling, monthslong cyberespionage effort done largely through a hack of a widely used software from Texas-based SolarWinds Inc. At least nine federal agencies were hacked, along with dozens of private-sector companies.

U.S. authorities have said the breach appeared to be the work of Russian hackers. Gen. Paul Nakasone, who leads the Pentagon’s cyber force, said last week the Biden administration is considering a “range of options” in response. Russia has denied any role in the hack.

Since then, a series of headline-grabbing hacks has further highlighted vulnerabilities in the U.S. public and private sectors. A hacker tried unsuccessfully to poison the water supply of a small town in Florida in February, and this month a new breach was announced involving untold thousands of Microsoft Exchange email servers the company says was carried out by Chinese state hackers. China has denied involvement in the Microsoft breach.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the government’s initial response to the discovery of the SolarWinds hack was disjointed.

“What struck me was how much we were in the dark for as long as we were in the dark,” Warner said at a recent cybersecurity conference.

Wolf and other top Homeland Security officials used new phones that had been wiped clean along with the popular encrypted messaging system Signal to communicate in the days after the hack, current and former officials said.

One former administration official, who confirmed the Federal Aviation Administration was among the agencies affected by the breach, said the agency was hampered in its response by outdated technology and struggled for weeks to identify how many servers it had running SolarWinds software.

The FAA initially told the AP in mid-February that it had not been affected by the SolarWinds hack, only to issue a second statement a few days later that it was continuing to investigate.

At least one other Cabinet member besides Wolf was affected. The hackers were able to obtain the private schedules of officials at the Energy Department, including then-Secretary Dan Brouillette, one former high-placed administration official said.

The new disclosures provide a fuller picture of what kind of data was taken in the SolarWinds hack. Several congressional hearings have been held on the subject, but they have been notably short on details.

Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, indicated at one of the hearings that a DHS secretary’s email had been hacked but did not provide additional detail. The AP was able to identify Wolf, who declined to comment other than to say he had multiple email accounts as secretary.

DHS spokeswoman Sarah Peck said “a small number of employees’ accounts were targeted in the breach” and the agency “no longer sees indicators of compromise on our networks.”

The Biden administration has pledged to issue an executive order soon to address “significant gaps in modernization and in technology of cybersecurity across the federal government.” But the list of obstacles facing the federal government is long: highly capable foreign hackers backed by governments that aren’t afraid of U.S. reprisals, outdated technology, a shortage of trained cybersecurity professionals, and a complex leadership and oversight structure.

The recently approved stimulus package includes $650 million in new money for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to harden the country’s cyber defenses. Federal officials said that amount is only a down payment on much bigger planned spending to improve threat detection.

“We must raise our game,” Brandon Wales, who leads the cybersecurity agency, told a recent House committee hearing.

The agency operates a threat-detection system known as Einstein. Its failure to detect the SolarWinds breach before it was discovered by a private security company alarmed officials. Eric Goldstein, the agency’s executive assistant director for cybersecurity, told Congress that Einstein’s technology was designed a decade ago and has “grown somewhat stale.”

Anthony Ferrante, a former director for cyber incident response at the U.S. National Security Council and current senior managing director at FTI Consulting, said part of the problem, both in government and in the private sector, is the lack of a skilled workforce.

The Microsoft Exchange hack, which to date has not affected any federal government agencies, was also discovered by a private firm.

One issue that’s flummoxed policy makers is that foreign state hackers are increasingly using U.S.-based virtual private networks, or VPNs, to evade detection by U.S. intelligence agencies, which are legally constrained from monitoring domestic infrastructure. The hosting services of Amazon Web Services and GoDaddy were used by the SolarWinds hackers to evade detection, officials said recently.

The Biden administration is not planning to step up government surveillance of the U.S. internet in response and instead wants to focus on tighter partnerships and improved information-sharing with the private-sector companies that already have broad visibility into the domestic internet.

Responsibility for responding to breaches, preventing new ones and providing oversight of those efforts is still unsettled, and last month leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee criticized the Biden administration for a “disorganized response” to the SolarWinds hack.

The Biden administration tapped Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emergency technology, to respond to the SolarWinds and Microsoft breaches. It hasn’t appointed a national cyber director, a new position, frustrating some members of Congress.

“We’re trying to fight a multifront war without anybody in charge,” said Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine.

The Biden administration says it’s reviewing how best to set up the new position. “Cybersecurity is a top priority,” said White House spokeswoman Emily Horne.

By ALAN SUDERMAN

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Sanctioned Russian IT firm was partner with Microsoft, IBM

Associated Press

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Sanctioned Russian IT firm

The Treasury Department on Thursday slapped six Russian technology companies with sanctions for supporting Kremlin intelligence agencies engaged in “dangerous and disruptive cyber attacks.”

But only one of them stands out for its international footprint and partnerships with such IT heavyweights as Microsoft and IBM.

That company, Positive Technologies, claims more than 2,000 customers in 30 countries, including major European banks Societe Generale and ING, as well as Samsung, SK Telecom of South Korea and BT, the British telecommunications giant.

Its clients also include the FSB, a successor to the KGB that “cultivates and co-opts criminal hackers” who carry out ransomware and phishing attacks, the Treasury Department said. The U.S. said big conventions hosted by Positive Technologies are “used as recruiting events” by the FSB and the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

GRU agents are the swashbucklers of Russian intelligence. The agency stands accused of spearheading the hack-and-leak operation that interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to favor Donald Trump. Its agents also conducted the most damaging cyberattack on record, the runaway 2017 NotPetya virus that did more than $10 billion in global damage, its victims including the shipping giant Maersk and pharmaceutical company Merck.

The CEO of the software industry-supported Internet Research Institute in Moscow, Karen Kazaryan, said he was not familiar with most of the Russian IT companies sanctioned on Thursday. But Positive Tech is well-known in the industry for its annual Hack Days conference, which is scheduled for May 20-21 at a Moscow hotel.

Former CIA analyst Michael van Landingham applauded the naming and sanctioning of Russian IT companies known to have aided and abetted malign government activity.

“Naming specific companies can create incentives for educated and skilled Russians who might be able to obtain jobs elsewhere where they don’t support Russian state hacking,” he said.

Positive Tech’s specialty is identifying vulnerabilities in popular software such as Microsoft’s Windows operating system. The world’s intelligence agencies regularly lean on companies like it not to disclose potent vulnerabilities publicly when they find them but to instead quietly share them for hacking adversaries’ networks.

The U.S. did not accuse Positive Technologies of any such behavior and the Treasury Department declined to answer questions about the company’s activities beyond a press release.

Microsoft would not offer details on the the company’s business relationship with Positive Tech but did say it would comply with the sanctions. Spokesmen also said the company was removing Positive Tech from a list of more than 80 security software providers to which it gives early access to vulnerability information so they can make sure their customers get patches quickly. IBM also lists Positive Technologies as a security partner, offering customers one of its scanning tools.

IBM didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday. Neither did U.S. tech companies HP and VMware, which Positive Technologies lists as technology partners.

On its website, Positive Technologies lists Russia’s Defense Ministry as among its first major clients, in 2004 when it was two years old with just 11 employees. It claimed more than 800 employees in 2018.

Russia’s biggest business database lists the company’s CEO and founder as Yury Maximov, about whom little is known other than he graduated from Moscow State University. The company did not respond to questions sent to press contacts on its website.

Positive Tech’s website boasts of a number of accomplishments, such as providing cybersecurity for the 2018 soccer World Cup hosted by Russia and publishing data that same year on 30 high-risk vulnerabilities. It said it opened its first international office in London in 2010 and its first U.S. office in 2012.

The company has sometimes used Framingham, Massachusetts, as its U.S. location in news releases, though it’s not recorded in city or state records as a business by that name. An office building with an address linked to the company is a co-working space that can be rented on flexible terms for “one person or more.”

Market research firm IDC listed Positive Technologies as one of the fastest-growing companies in security and vulnerability management in 2012, in part because it was so small at the time, growing nearly 82% year-over-year to $30 million in worldwide revenue. Nearly all that revenue came from assessing vulnerabilities. But by 2015, its worldwide revenues fell 37.6% to $26.5 million, according to IDC, which eventually stopped tracking the company.


By FRANK BAJAK and MATT O’BRIEN AP Technology Writers

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Cybersecurity market to reach $300bn by 2027

Yehia El Amine

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Cybersecurity market

The beginning of April was considered the worst week for social media firms across the aisle, as news headlines as far as the finger can scroll were swamped with news of billions of user accounts were leaked on a hacker forum for sale.

Leaks affected social networking giants such as Facebook, popular audio drop-in app Clubhouse, and the Microsoft-owned LinkedIn. These are but a glimpse of how businesses across the world and different industries are susceptible to breaches and leaks.

One cannot argue that such data leaks caught the eyes of many, from Big Tech to your everyday consumer, prompting a deeper look into cybersecurity on every scale.

A sentiment not only expressed through feelings of worry but also backed up by numbers.

According to a recent report by Allied Market Research, the cybersecurity market is on its way to reach $304.91 Billion, Globally, by 2027 at 9.4 percent CAGR; a market that had only generated $149.67 billion in 2019.

Drivers, restraints, and opportunities

An increase in malware and phishing threats among enterprises, rise in adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), as well as demand for cloud-based cybersecurity solutions drive the growth of the global cyber security market.

However, budgetary constraints and complexities involved in the security of devices hinder the market growth.

“On the other hand, surge in adoption of mobile device applications and platforms, requirement for strong authentication methods, and transformation of the traditional antivirus software industry present new opportunities in the coming years,” the report noted.

Impact of COVID-19 on the cybersecurity market

According to the report, the number of cyberattacks has been increased during the lockdown as many organizations adopted the work from home strategy. “The need to implement cybersecurity for addressing security issues and facilitating secured access increased considerably,” the study stressed.

Not only that, one of targets by hackers were classified as being hospital data, healthcare apps, and wearable devices – which have been increased as the volume of patient data increased. “The need to secure and authenticate data in healthcare organizations surged,” the authors advised.

It is important to note the rise in COVID-19-related phishing and ransomware attacks, which is due to the utilization of the virus as bait to lead brands astray and attack their websites and apps.

“Cybersecurity providers have been focusing on innovations and development of advanced solutions by including features such as cloud security & AI-integrated solutions to deal with new types of viruses and ransomware used by attackers,” the report said.

The solution segment to maintain its highest contribution

Based on component, the solution segment accounted for the largest market share, contributing to more than two-thirds of the total share of the global cybersecurity market in 2019, and will maintain its highest contribution in terms of revenue during the forecast period.

“This is due to rise in need for vulnerability assessment, penetration testing, and compliance with the leading federal, defense, and industry security standards,” the report said; however, it also found that the services segment is projected to witness the largest CAGR of 11.2 percent from 2020 to 2027, owing to surge in cyber-attacks on the IT infrastructure of organizations.

The on-premises segment to maintain its dominant share

According to predictions based on deployment, the on-premises segment held the largest share in 2019, contributing to more than half of the global cyber security market, and is expected to maintain its dominant share during the forecast period.

“This is due to rise in need to secure critical data and track the influx of data within the organization,” the report said. However, the cloud segment is estimated to manifest the highest CAGR of 11.2 percent from 2020 to 2027, owing to lack of capital cost and low maintenance cost.

North America to continue to lead by 2027

Based on region, North America contributed to the highest market share in 2019, accounting for nearly one-third of the total share of the global cyber security market and will continue to lead by 2027.

“This is attributed to presence of major key players, high ICT spending, and huge number of cyber-attacks on various enterprises,” the study highlighted.

However, Asia-Pacific is estimated to portray the fastest CAGR of 11 percent during the forecast period, owing to adoption of wireless & mobile devices, rise in cyber-crimes, increase in awareness regarding data security, and strict security standards & government policies.

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Biden names 2 ex-NSA officials for senior cyber positions

Associated Press

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Biden names 2 ex-NSA officials for senior cyber positions

President Joe Biden has selected two former senior National Security Agency officials for key cyber jobs in his administration, the White House said Monday in moving to fill out a team whose role has grown more urgent after two major hacks that have consumed the government’s attention.

Chris Inglis, a former NSA deputy director, is being nominated as the government’s first national cyber director. Jen Easterly, a former deputy for counterterrorism at the NSA, has been tapped to run the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security. The two officials are expected to work closely with Anne Neuberger, the administration’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology.

The cyber director position, a job established by federal law and long championed by lawmakers and outside experts, is designed to help ensure a more streamlined strategy and coordinated response to cyberattacks that invariably pull in officials from multiple agencies. In filling it with a veteran intelligence and national security expert, Biden is likely signaling the importance of cybersecurity to his administration as it continues to grapple with two major cyber incidents.

“I’m proud of what we are building across the U.S. government when it comes to cyber,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement announcing Biden’s plan to nominate Inglis and Easterly. “We are determined to protect America’s networks and to meet the growing challenge posed by our adversaries in cyberspace — and this is the team to do it.”

The administration is expected to soon announce a response to the SolarWinds hack, a breach of federal government agencies and American corporations believed to have been carried out by Russian hackers, and has also been occupied by an intrusion affecting Microsoft Exchange email software. The company has said that hack was carried out by Chinese state hackers.

Former President Donald Trump, who was seen as minimizing the importance of cybersecurity as he diminished Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, eliminated the position of cybersecurity coordinator at the National Security Council in 2018. The move was widely condemned by lawmakers at the time who said it made no sense to do so with mounting hostile cyberthreats from adversaries.

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a bipartisan group that had recommended the establishment of a cyber director position, praised the appointments, saying “the need for a leader with statutory authority to coordinate the development and implementation of a national cyber strategy to defend and secure everything from our hospitals to our power grid could not be more clear.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who has previously expressed frustration with how long the Biden administration took to fill the position, said he’s hopeful the appointments can be quickly confirmed by the Senate.

“We don’t want to rush the process in any way. On the other hand, another attack could occur at any moment,” King said.

Inglis spent 28 years at the NSA, including as a top deputy of the spy agency. His former boss, Gen. Keith Alexander, called Inglis a level-headed leader who excelled at bringing different groups together. He said he had a deep knowledge of U.S. adversaries’ capabilities.

“The seven years that I was with him, I was thankful for every day that he was there,” Alexander said. “He’s a master at working with people and getting people to work together.”

Besides her job at the NSA, Easterly also served on the National Security Council as senior director for counterterrorism and special assistant to the president in the Obama administration, and as a managing director of Morgan Stanley, heading the firm’s cybersecurity fusion center.

Easterly’s private-sector experience will also be valuable at CISA, said Thomas Warrick, a former Department of Homeland Security official.

“Her years at Morgan Stanley give her greater knowledge about how the private sector and CISA will need to work together to address today’s cybersecurity challenges,” Warrick said. “Her nomination bodes well for the kind of leadership that’s needed at CISA today.”

A third official with cyber experience, Robert Silvers, was announced Monday as the president’s pick for Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans at the Department of Homeland Security.

The planned nominations were first reported by The Washington Post.


WASHINGTON (AP) — By ERIC TUCKER, ALAN SUDERMAN and BEN FOX

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