China’s state-backed hacking plans for 2015

chinese flagI’ve just been putting together a piece for IDG Connect on tech predictions for China and Hong Kong in 2015. It’s always difficult to fit in all the comment I manage to get on these pieces, so here’s a bit more on the cyber security side of things, from FireEye threat intelligence manager Jen Weedon.

The long and the short of it is “expect more of the same” from China. The US strategy of naming and shaming PLA operatives ain’t really doing much at all.

“In the next six to twelve months, targeted data theft by China-based actors is likely to remain consistent with patterns we have observed in the past,” Weedon told me by email.

“We expect Chinese threat groups to conduct espionage campaigns that are in line with the Chinese central government’s political and development goals.”

So what exactly will these goals be in 2015? Well, according to Weedon we can expect data theft to focus on climate change and the tech sector.

“China’s ongoing pollution challenges provide strong incentive for threat actors to steal data related to technologies that can help China stem the environmental impact of its heavy reliance on coal,” she said. “We also expect cyber espionage activity against governments and policy influencers in the run-up to the 2015 UN Climate Summit as China seeks intelligence to enhance its negotiating position on global climate policy issues.”

As for the tech sector, China is stepping up its efforts to develop homegrown computing and semiconductor policies – ostensibly for reasons of national security, ie to close down the risk of NSA backdoors in US kit.

“As the country pursues these goals, we anticipate Chinese actors will leverage data theft to supplement knowledge acquired through legitimate channels such as joint ventures with experience foreign partners,” Weedon told me.

“We regularly observe China-based threat actors target firms engaged in joint ventures with Chinese enterprises.”

Territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas will also continue to drive cyber espionage activity, she said.

As for beyond that, we’ll just have to wait until after the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) outlines development priorities for the 13th Five Year Plan.

“As the central government solidifies its goals for the 2016 to 2020 timeframe, we expect further clues to emerge about which topics are likely to enter threat groups’ cross hairs in 2015 and beyond,” said Weedon.

It’s very much a question, therefore, not of whether China will continue its blatant state-backed cyber espionage campaigns, but where it will focus its considerable resources.


Data security incidents hit 47,000 in 2012

Last week I popped over to the Quarry Bay HQ of Verizon Business in Hong Kong to hear more about the annual Data Breach Investigations Report.

The report’s really come on since I covered it way back in 2008, and this year pulled data from an unprecedented 19 reputable sources including Scotland Yard, the US Department of Homeland Security and many more.

The Register covered the main news from the report when it was launched the week before – that China was responsible for a whopping 96 per cent of state-affiliated attacks – so I was keen to get some other APAC-relevant insight from the team.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much to be had, in fact the report itself only mentions Asia Pacific once as a break-out region, to illustrate the top 20 threat types across the whopping 47,000 security “incidents” recorded over 2012.

What this probably tells us is that methods of collecting the data at the moment are pretty non-standardised across the globe, which makes drawing any clear comparisons difficult between regions.

Another thought that occurred: it’s fairly obvious that organisations across the globe suffer from the same kinds of information security risk – whether hacktivist, financially motivated criminal or state sponsored espionage-related.

As Verizon’s HK VP Francis Yip said: “No one is immune from cyber crime. As long as you have an IP address, you are a target, no matter how long you spend online.”

In this respect, there were no startling new trends as such to pull out of the report, aside from China’s consistent and persistent appearance as number one source of state-sponsored shenanigans.

This is probably good news for under fire CISOs, now tasked not only with deflecting financially motivated cyber crime and attempts from hacktivists to take down their sites and steal credentials, but also under-the-radar information theft from APT-style attacks.

What’s also good news, is Verizon’s assertion that the cloud is no less safe than any other form of computing system, as long as IT teams make sure they carry out due diligence on providers.

“Cloud can actually be more secure, because these providers are doing it on an industrial scale with staff who know what they are doing,” argued Verizon’s APAC head of identity and privacy services, Ian Christofis.

While all this is certainly true I definitely got the impression from the briefing that many firms are still failing on the security basics.

“Could try harder” is probably a suitable report card take-away for businesses from 2012.


Cameron’s Indian deal exposes outsourcing security failings

taj mahalEarlier this week David Cameron signed a deal designed to elevate the Indo-British relationship to an “unprecedented level of co-operation” on cyber security issues. It came as part of the PM’s three day trade mission to India and is certainly to be welcomed, but the agreement also implies some rather worrying things about the cyber readiness of the country’s big outsourcing firms.

The deal will essentially mean two things. Firstly, UK technical know-how and expertise in the cyber security sphere will be shared with Indian outsourcers, essentially to help protect the vast amounts of data from UK consumers and businesses which are now held on servers in the country.

Secondly, the agreement will see the two countries share relevant threat intelligence in order to thwart attacks on their systems, whether they’re coming from the UK, India or elsewhere.

Now, as mentioned, any kind of international co-operation on cyber threat protection is a step in the right direction, and Cameron certainly can’t be faulted for his assertion that “other countries securing their data is effectively helping us secure our data”.

My surprise is that big name outsourcers like Wipro, HCL, Mahindra and Infosys – firms which have built their business presumably on the quality (and security) of their BPO offerings – need an extra hand.

Any CIO worth his salt would surely relegate to the scrap heap a potential outsourcing provider who could not satisfy his or her list of pre-determined security requirements.

Sure, the smaller outsourcers will benefit most from this deal, but the big boys too?

Well, yes, according to Forrester’s New Delhi-based analyst Katyayan Gupta.

“Even larger Indian firms like Infosys, TCS, etc. will also benefit because now they will have an additional layer of security against cyber criminals,” he told me.

“This is not to say that these firms do not have good security right now. But the question really is – is it enough to keep all attackers out? Probably not.”

Now I know in this age of APTs and highly targeted attacks no firm can claim to be impervious, but it’s slightly worrying when those with huge resources – in an industry where reputational damage following a data breaches could hit hard – are apparently getting expertise flown in from the UK that they haven’t obtained anyway.

Also, as Gupta argued, the deal will still do nothing to stop perhaps the biggest threat to UK data residing on these firms’ servers: corrupt insiders.

It may be time to revisit those SLAs.