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The final instalment of our series hacker:HUNTER Olympic Destroyer examines how Pyeongchang winter Olympics hackers put smokescreen to misdirect cybersecurity analysts. But through the fog, analysts realized the culprit wasn't who you might expect.
“Like placing someone else’s fingerprints at the crime scene.”
If successful, the 2018 Pyeongchang cyberattack could have cost billions of dollars, leaving a canceled Olympics and a geopolitical disaster in its wake. Their deceptive methods meant the cybercriminals nearly got away with it. Why did they want to point the analysts at another group? And who was behind it all?
Threat attribution – what is it?
Cybercriminals don't leave a calling card, but they do leave evidence. The art of finding and using that evidence to find the culprit is known as threat attribution.
Threat attribution is forensic analysis for advanced persistent threats (APTs). It analyzes the attackers' 'fingerprints,' such as the style of their code, where they attack and what kinds of organizations they target. Attacks can be matched with the fingerprints of other attacks attributed to specific groups.
Cybercriminals carry special ‘fingerprints’
Hackers have their own set of tactics, techniques and procedures. Cybersecurity experts can identify threat actors by studying these elements.
In February 2016, hackers attempted to steal $851 million US dollars and siphoned $81 million US dollars from the Central Bank of Bangladesh. The attack was linked to notorious cyber espionage and sabotage group Lazarus Group. Lazarus attacks casinos, financial institutions, and investment and cryptocurrency software developers.
Lazarus has certain targets and ways of attacking: Infecting a website employees of a targeted organization often visit or finding a vulnerability in one of their servers. These are the 'fingerprints' used in threat attribution.
Finding a needle within in a needle in a haystack
Crucially, Lazarus Group is long thought to be linked to North Korea. Olympic Destroyer included a piece of Lazarus's malware code, but the type of attack didn't fit. Its fingerprints better matched a cluster of attacks by another group with a very different agenda.
Watch the full video to see if you knew who the hacker was all along.
This APT might not have worked, but over the years, others have. To see what a successful APT looks like, watch Chasing Lazarus: A hunt for the infamous hackers to prevent big bank heists.
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Security researchers described the code used to attack the 2018 Pyeongchang winter Olympics as 'Frankenstein-like.' In part two of our video series, hacker:HUNTER Olympic Destroyer, they explain how the malware was designed to point in multiple directions.
Who would dare to hack the Olympics?
The designer of an extraordinary piece of code lodged it in a system where it remained undetected for months. Part two of hacker:HUNTER Olympic Destroyer explores the nature of the attack, its process and why 'Frankenstein-like' code made it one of the most mysterious advanced persistent threat (APT) attacks in history.
Olympic Destroyer was the perfect example of an APT. What are they, and why are they so harmful?
APTs attack over time
APTs are sophisticated hacks that often wait for the perfect time to strike to create maximum damage. They lodge themselves in a system and steal critical data over weeks, months or years. Those behind these attacks build complex software for intentional damage – from espionage and sabotage to data theft.
Highly organized groups use APTs
APTs are notoriously associated with highly organized groups. They attack high-status targets like countries or large corporations, notably in manufacturing and finance, aiming to compromise high-value information like intellectual property, military plans and sensitive user data.
Their high-profile targets will have secure networks and defenses, so threats must stay undetected as long as possible. The longer the attack goes on, the more time attackers have to map the system and plan to steal what they want.
Motives behind attacks vary, from harvesting intellectual property to gaining advantage in an industry, to stealing data for use in fraud. One thing is clear: APTs cause severe damage.
The ‘perfect’ APT
Olympic Destroyer was the perfect APT. A highly-organized group attacked a national Olympic committee, and it worked.
The 'confusion bomb' had been undetected in the computer system for four months, biding its time to strike. Being in the system gave them time to find weak spots and pain points to make the attack more devastating. When it finally surfaced, all hell broke loose.
Crippling the whole IT system
By directly attacking the Olympics' data centers in Seoul, South Korea, Olympic Destroyer cut employees' access to network computers. Because Wi-Fi was out, Olympic building security gates stopped working, coverage stopped, and the whole infrastructure went offline. The Pyeongchang IT team was staring down the barrel of a potential geopolitical disaster.
Stay tuned for episode three, where we unravel the IT team's ingenious response and find out who did it. Any guesses? Go to hacker:HUNTER to stay up to speed.