Neo-Nazi SWATters Target Dozens of Journalists

24
Jul 19

Neo-Nazi SWATters Target Dozens of Journalists

Nearly three dozen journalists at a broad range of major publications have been targeted by a far-right group that maintains a Deep Web database listing the personal information of people who threaten their views. This group specializes in encouraging others to harass those targeted by their ire, and has claimed responsibility for dozens of bomb threats and “swatting” incidents, where police are tricked into visiting potentially deadly force on the target’s address.

At issue is a site called the “Doxbin,” which hosts the names, addresses, phone number and often known IP addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other sensitive information on hundreds of people — and in some cases the personal information of the target’s friends and family.

A significant number of the 400+ entries on the Doxbin are for journalists (32 at last count, including Yours Truly), although the curators of Doxbin have targeted everyone from federal judges to executives at major corporations. In January 2019, the group behind Doxbin claimed responsibility for doxing and swatting a top Facebook executive.

At least two of the journalists listed on the Doxbin have been swatted in the past six months, including Pulitzer prize winning columnist Leonard G. Pitts Jr.

In some cases, as in the entries for reporters from CNN, Politico, ProPublica and Vox, no reason is mentioned for their inclusion. But in many others, the explanation seems connected to stories the journalist has published dealing with race or the anti-fascist (antifa) movement.

“Anti-white race/politics writer,” reads the note next to Pitts’ entry in the Doxbin.

Many of those listed on the site soon find themselves on the receiving end of extended threats and harassment. Carey Holzman, a computer technician who runs a Youtube channel on repairing and modding computers, was swatted in January, at about the same time his personal information showed up on the Doxbin.

More recently, his tormentors started calling his mobile phone at all hours of the night, threatening to hire a hit man to kill him. They even promised to have drugs ordered off the Dark Web and sent to his home, as part of a plan to get him arrested for drug possession.

“They said they were going to send me three grams of cocaine,” Holzman told KrebsOnSecurity.

Sure enough, earlier this month a small vial of white powder arrived via the U.S. Postal Service. Holzman said he didn’t open the vial, but instead handed it over to the local police for testing.

On the bright side, Holzman said, he is now on a first-name basis with some of the local police, which isn’t a bad idea for anyone who is being threatened with swatting attacks.

“When I told one officer who came out to my house that they threatened to send me drugs, he said ‘Okay, well just let me know when the cocaine arrives,’” Holzman recalled. “It was pretty funny because the other responding officer approached us and only caught the last thing his partner said, and suddenly looked at the other officer with deadly seriousness.”

The Doxbin is tied to an open IRC chat channel in which the core members discuss alt-right and racist tropes, doxing and swatting people, and posting videos or audio news recordings of their attacks.

The individual who appears to maintain the Doxbin is a fixture of this IRC channel, and he’s stated that he also was responsible for maintaining SiegeCulture, a white supremacist Web site that glorifies the writings of neo-Nazi James Mason.

Mason’s various written works call on followers to start a violent race war in the United States. Those works have become the de facto bible for the Atomwaffen Division, an extremist group whose members are suspected of having committed multiple murders in the U.S. since 2017.

Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists, said lists that single out journalists for harassment unfortunately are not uncommon.

“We saw in the Ukraine, for example, there were lists of journalists compiled that led to harassment and threats against reporters there,” Radsch said. “We saw it in Malta where there were reports that the prime minister was part of a secret Facebook group used to coordinate harassment campaigns against a journalist who was later murdered. And we’ve seen the American government — the Customs and Border Protection — compiling lists of reporters and activists who’ve been singled out for questioning.”

Radsch said when CPJ became aware that the personal information of several journalists were listed on a doxing site, they reached out and provided information on relevant safety resources.

“It does seem that some of these campaigns by extremist groups are being coordinated in secret chat groups or dark web forums, where they can talk about the messaging before they bring it out into the public sphere,” she said.

In some ways, the Doxbin represents a far more extreme version of Exposed[.]su, a site erected briefly in 2013 by a gang of online hoodlums that doxed and swatted celebrities and public figures. The core members of that group were later arrested and charged with various crimes — including numerous swatting attacks.

One of the men in that group — convicted serial swatter and stalker Mir Islam — was arrested last year in the Philippines and charged with murder after he and an associate allegedly dumped the body of a friend in a local river.

Swatting attacks can quickly turn deadly. In March 2019, 26-year-old serial swatter Tyler Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison for making a phony emergency call to police in late 2017 that led to the shooting death of an innocent Kansas resident.

My hope is that law enforcement officials can shut down this Doxbin gang before someone else gets killed.

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Attorney General William Barr on Encryption Policy

Yesterday, Attorney General William Barr gave a major speech on encryption policy — what is commonly known as “going dark.” Speaking at Fordham University in New York, he admitted that adding backdoors decreases security but that it is worth it.

Some hold this view dogmatically, claiming that it is technologically impossible to provide lawful access without weakening security against unlawful access. But, in the world of cybersecurity, we do not deal in absolute guarantees but in relative risks. All systems fall short of optimality and have some residual risk of vulnerability a point which the tech community acknowledges when they propose that law enforcement can satisfy its requirements by exploiting vulnerabilities in their products. The real question is whether the residual risk of vulnerability resulting from incorporating a lawful access mechanism is materially greater than those already in the unmodified product. The Department does not believe this can be demonstrated.

Moreover, even if there was, in theory, a slight risk differential, its significance should not be judged solely by the extent to which it falls short of theoretical optimality. Particularly with respect to encryption marketed to consumers, the significance of the risk should be assessed based on its practical effect on consumer cybersecurity, as well as its relation to the net risks that offering the product poses for society. After all, we are not talking about protecting the Nation’s nuclear launch codes. Nor are we necessarily talking about the customized encryption used by large business enterprises to protect their operations. We are talking about consumer products and services such as messaging, smart phones, e-mail, and voice and data applications. If one already has an effective level of security say, by way of illustration, one that protects against 99 percent of foreseeable threats is it reasonable to incur massive further costs to move slightly closer to optimality and attain a 99.5 percent level of protection? A company would not make that expenditure; nor should society. Here, some argue that, to achieve at best a slight incremental improvement in security, it is worth imposing a massive cost on society in the form of degraded safety. This is untenable. If the choice is between a world where we can achieve a 99 percent assurance against cyber threats to consumers, while still providing law enforcement 80 percent of the access it might seek; or a world, on the other hand, where we have boosted our cybersecurity to 99.5 percent but at a cost reducing law enforcements [sic] access to zero percent the choice for society is clear.

I think this is a major change in government position. Previously, the FBI, the Justice Department and so on had claimed that backdoors for law enforcement could be added without any loss of security. They maintained that technologists just need to figure out how: ­an approach we have derisively named “nerd harder.”

With this change, we can finally have a sensible policy conversation. Yes, adding a backdoor increases our collective security because it allows law enforcement to eavesdrop on the bad guys. But adding that backdoor also decreases our collective security because the bad guys can eavesdrop on everyone. This is exactly the policy debate we should be having­not the fake one about whether or not we can have both security and surveillance.

Barr makes the point that this is about “consumer cybersecurity,” and not “nuclear launch codes.” This is true, but ignores the huge amount of national security-related communications between those two poles. The same consumer communications and computing devices are used by our lawmakers, CEOs, legislators, law enforcement officers, nuclear power plant operators, election officials and so on. There’s no longer a difference between consumer tech and government tech — it’s all the same tech.

Barr also says:

Further, the burden is not as onerous as some make it out to be. I served for many years as the general counsel of a large telecommunications concern. During my tenure, we dealt with these issues and lived through the passage and implementation of CALEA the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. CALEA imposes a statutory duty on telecommunications carriers to maintain the capability to provide lawful access to communications over their facilities. Companies bear the cost of compliance but have some flexibility in how they achieve it, and the system has by and large worked. I therefore reserve a heavy dose of skepticism for those who claim that maintaining a mechanism for lawful access would impose an unreasonable burden on tech firms especially the big ones. It is absurd to think that we would preserve lawful access by mandating that physical telecommunications facilities be accessible to law enforcement for the purpose of obtaining content, while allowing tech providers to block law enforcement from obtaining that very content.

That telecommunications company was GTE­which became Verizon. Barr conveniently ignores that CALEA-enabled phone switches were used to spy on government officials in Greece in 2003 — which seems to have been an NSA operation — and on a variety of people in Italy in 2006. Moreover, in 2012 every CALEA-enabled switch sold to the Defense Department had security vulnerabilities. (I wrote about all this, and more, in 2013.)

The final thing I noticed about the speech is that is it not about iPhones and data at rest. It is about communications: ­data in transit. The “going dark” debate has bounced back and forth between those two aspects for decades. It seems to be bouncing once again.

I hope that Barr’s latest speech signals that we can finally move on from the fake security vs. privacy debate, and to the real security vs. security debate. I know where I stand on that: As computers continue to permeate every aspect of our lives, society, and critical infrastructure, it is much more important to ensure that they are secure from everybody — even at the cost of law-enforcement access — than it is to allow access at the cost of security. Barr is wrong, it kind of is like these systems are protecting nuclear launch codes.

This essay previously appeared on Lawfare.com.

The security of machine learning

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are persistently in the headlines with rich debate over its next advances. Will cybercriminals further leverage machine learning to craft attacks? Can defenders build a machine learning model capable of detecting all malware?

We believe machine learning is an essential and critical piece of cybersecurity, but it must be only one part of a broader solution to be effective.

It’s unwise for any security product to rely solely on machine learning as its primary or singular layer of defense. An all-eggs-in-one-basket approach leaves attackers with a single door to break down. A product with a true multi-technology approach, such as Sophos Intercept X, presents a complementary and reinforcing set of obstacles that must all be overcome at the same time for an attack to succeed.

Machine learning is one of an ensemble of protection technologies in Intercept X designed to identify malware and potentially unwanted applications, including those that have never been seen before. We go further in our application of machine learning, beyond simply making predictions on files. We also include “advisors” in our Endpoint Detection and Response product to provide additional information to aid in decision making. These advisors have the effect of providing the intuitions of expert malware analysts to the handling of suspicious (as compared to categorically malicious) events or artifacts.

Machine learning: A target

Cybercriminals have always sought out new and easy ways to break into systems and maneuver around networks. It is reasonable to assume they would look for ways to target a machine learning model and trick it into thinking an attack is “safe”. Sophos has prepared for such an event and other types of potential and evolving attack techniques.

To illustrate, the video below from our Chief Scientist, Josh Saxe, explores the ways in which machine learning models can be manipulated.

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Our strategy to remain resilient to these attacks has been to conduct diligent industry-leading research into neural networks and their architecture, as well as to consolidate next-generation and traditional security technologies into a single solution. This includes layers of analytics, behavioral detections, static detections, heuristics, machine learning models, anti-exploitation techniques, anti-ransomware technology, and more. We call this “The Power of the Plus”.

Only through careful architecture alongside independent, agnostic, and complementary protection technologies can the power of machine learning be safely utilized.

Sophos Offensive Research

Sophos has been conducting offensive security research of machine learning models for over two and a half years as part of our internal research into the security of machine learning and improving product resilience.

As far back as February 2017, we built an advanced, product-agnostic proof-of-concept that could trick most, if not all, machine learning models by mutating a known-good file into a malicious file. The vast majority of models would believe the file was the original, known-good file. Even today, this proof-of-concept deceives the majority of machine learning models in endpoint security solutions. Note: We chose against making this research widely available to prevent it getting into adversaries’ hands.

By preempting our adversaries and understanding the approaches they could take, we underscore the importance of our strategy to provide multiple defensive technologies covering a broad spectrum of techniques and capabilities.

Cybersecurity by Sophos

The SophosLabs Data Science team are major contributors to the field of artificial intelligence research, as evidenced by the technical papers on our website or listings on Google Scholar. Extensive and continuous research and publication of our defensive innovations is a pillar of our ethos. The results of this research influences and determines the composition and orchestration of our layers of protection technologies in Intercept X and all other Sophos solutions.

Our research influences ongoing optimizations in our products to make them less susceptible to attempted adversarial attacks. In addition, our layers of defense are designed to make convictions independently so that, should one layer miss a threat, another layer stands strong to protect the system.

Digital security and physical security have many parallels. Think of a building and how it could be protected. If you were to build nothing but a giant wall, it may prove difficult to climb over but eventually someone will find a way to get over it (or under it).

Now consider a fortress. Armed guards, attack dogs, CCTV, tripwires, barbed wire, motion sensors. It may be possible to hop the wall, but you still have many additional hurdles ahead of you.

Single layers are simple to build but are also simple to bypass. Our goal has always been to build fortresses.