Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A "cyberterrorist lite" attacks a Latvian news agency

A person with sophisticated knowledge of data security matters became a self-appointed censor and avenger in an act of  "cyberterrorism -lite" against the Latvian news agency LETA.  Delivery of news to LETA's customers was impeded for several hours while LETA's home page was replaced with a message from the hacker, who seemed aggrieved by a routine news story about the defacing of small business home pages that were hosted by low-cost hosting services.
The message from the hacker (in translation from Latvian) read:

Dear colleagues, before publishing the views of doubtful experts about small server hosting companies and discussing (their)competence, I suggest you review the content of this defamatory news story and stop publishing these offensive advertorials. As you can see, nothing is safe and unbreakable – if needed, therefore, don't try to leap higher than your own a(rse). Thanks for your attention.

The message included a link to the defacement story from LETA as published by the news website (I will admit here that this story was written by your blogger). The story quoted by name two persons associated with data security companies -- one from Panda Software (the Latvian representative of a Spanish security) and the other from a local company with past ties to Russia's Kaspersky Lab.

The latter source pointed out the latest round of defacements, providing a list of URLs and had, in earlier cases, spoken of the vulnerability of low-cost hosting companies. The other source said that Panda and others (meaning the security business in general) had solutions that could prevent such defacements, which can be assumed (with a grain of salt, there is no absolute security, only a raising of the barriers to hackers) to be true.

The news story was originally filed under the business news portal of LETA, As a business news story, it unavoidably involves quoting people with some degree of commercial bias (tempered by the fact that one cannot stray radically from the truth even when self-promoting in front of a reasonably intelligent audience). To freak out over a small amount of self-promotion and label the whole story an "advertorial" is, to say the least, an overreaction from some strange mixture of ignorance (of journalism) and paranoia.

Taking it to next step and using specialized skills to take down a news agency (whatever one may think of its content) is, to my mind, an act of cyberterrorism-lite. If we envision real cyberterrorism as attacks on the IT infrastructure of utilities such as water, electricity, gas or telecommunications that prevent delivery of these services, then why not consider information/news as a utility that has been attacked in Latvia by an electronic terrorist?

OK, to be fair, and as a journalist, I try to be fair, LETA's IT infrastructure leaves much to be desired. It is not exactly a digital fortress. For that matter, most housing in Riga doesn't have steel doors, state-of-the-art locks and alarms. That explains, but does not excuse the successful activities of burglars. Except in this case, nothing was "stolen", but the homeowner was locked in and prevented from doing his business.

Also to be fair, there are hacking activities and "thefts" of information from those in power and with power over the population that should be hacked -- like Wikileaks or the activities of Neo (exposed as Ilmars Poikāns), who obtained government and municipal salary data from the Latvian State Revenue Service. However, a privately-owned news agency (clinging to its old label of "national news agency", whatever that means...) is not an agent of state power.

It should be mentioned that the censorious cyberterrorist was cheered on by a number of commentators on the usual Latvian news portals (what the British Bethlehem Asylum for the Insane -- hence bedlam -- was for part of the 19th century as a place to be "entertained" by the antics of the mad, has been replaced by the commentators on portals such as - a place to read the howlings and ravings of the deranged).

In any case, one can only hope that this does not herald the start of more of what I can only call mad-dog (it takes little to trigger the rabid) cyberattacks on the media. But all it takes is one skilled wacko, and in Latvia, we have found him. 

1 comment:

Juris Kaža said...

A Latvian blogger with the nick Black Halt sent a paranoid tweet alleging that I removed some kind of link to his blog (in Latvian) saying that this blog post was a crock of shit. I don't do stuff like that with any comments that are on topic (if you are selling viagra or snake oil or offering to launder King Zog's fortune, then you will fucking be put in the spam can!).
So here is the link to the dude's blog:

I see he posted some time ago on anti-forensic countermeasures, which could fit into a puzzle I'm putting together. McB.....has a posse?