What does it mean to “hack back” and is it a good idea?

There is more and more talk about companies hacking back against those who attack them in cyber space and whether allowing them to take such measures is a good idea. Right now, hacking back, or active defense, as it is often called, is illegal under the federal unauthorized access law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. There are current federal efforts to change this, along with some woefully misguided rumblings by some state legislators (who do not seem to understand that the CFAA supersedes anything they pass to the contrary).

So, the question is whether hacking back a good idea or will it cause more harm than good? Shawn Tuma was a guest on the KLIF morning show to discuss this issue. Go here to listen to what he had to say about it.

What are your thoughts?

former employee = current data thief

Fifth Circuit Upholds CFAA Conviction for Former Employee’s Misuse Causing Damage Based on Circumstantial Evidence

In United States v. Anastasio N. Laoutaris, 2018 WL 614943 (5th Cir. Jan. 29, 2018), the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict finding Laoutaris guilty of two counts of computer intrusion causing damage, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)(A) and (c)(4)(B)(i) of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Laoutaris had been an IT engineer for Locke Lord LLP; following the termination of his employment, he accessed to the firm’s computer network and issued instructions and commands that caused significant damage to the network, including deleting or disabling hundreds of user accounts, desktop and laptop accounts, and user e-mail accounts. This post-termination access was without authorization. He was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,697,800 and sentenced to 115 months’ imprisonment.

On appeal, Laoutaris argued that “the evidence at trial was insufficient to support the jury’s verdict for both counts of conviction because there was no proof he was the person who accessed Locke’s network and caused the damage that occurred on the relevant dates.” Further, Laoutaris had an expert testify that the attacks came from China.

The Fifth Circuit disagreed and found “[t]he evidence at trial shows a rational jury could have found each essential element for the § 1030(a)(5)(A) offenses charged against Laoutaris, who elected to testify. Contrary to his assertions, there was ample circumstantial evidence identifying him as the perpetrator of these offenses.”

The government’s brief indicates that the following evidence was admitted on this issue, beginning at page 6:

At trial, the government presented a substantial volume of circumstantial evidence identifying Laoutaris as the intruder. Logs created by the servers on the Locke Lord network showed that the intruder on December 1 and December 5 connected to the network using LogMeIn, which was installed on the HOBK01 backup server in Houston, and accessed the network using the credentials of a Windows “master services account” called svc_gn and its associated password. (ROA.1463-1515, 2835-47.) The IP address of the intruder on December 1 and December 5 was 75.125.127.4. (ROA.2768, 2835.)
That IP address was assigned to The Planet. (ROA.1077-79.) Laoutaris was an employee of The Planet at the time. (ROA.1068-70; see also ROA.2635-83.) Kelly Hurst, Laoutaris’s supervisor at The Planet, testified that the IP address was The Planet’s public wireless network at the Houston corporate office, which employees would be able to use while working out of The Planet’s corporate office. (ROA.1077-78.)
*7 Laoutaris was also associated with the LogMeIn software running on the Houston backup server. The software program was installed by a person who identified his email address as “c_hockland@hotmail.com.” (ROA.1304-07, 2848.) Records from Microsoft established that the account was created by “A.N. Laoutaris.” (ROA.2587.) Further, several Locke Lord employees testified that “c_hockland@hotmail.com” was an email address they knew to be associated with Laoutaris. (ROA.1306.) Additionally, Laoutaris’s personnel file included his resume, where he used the email address, and an email he sent on his last day providing c_hockland@hotmail.com as his forwarding email address. (ROA.2550.) Even after he quit, Laoutaris used that email address to send a message to a former colleague at Locke Lord making disparaging comments about the firm and his former supervisor. (ROA.2559-60.) Laoutaris continued using the email address as recently as July 2014, after he was indicted. (ROA.2681.)
The government also presented evidence establishing that Laoutaris had the password for the “svc_gn” account. The “svc_gn” account was the “master of all masters” account that had “no limits” on what it could do within the Locke Lord network. (ROA.1147.) IT engineers at Locke Lord explained that all of the engineers would from time to time use the “svc_gn” account when performing various tasks on the network and that all the *8 engineers had the password. (ROA.1147.) The jury heard evidence that Laoutaris asked for, and received, the password for the “svc_gn” account shortly before quitting the law firm. On August 10, 2011, a few days before Laoutaris quit, he requested the password from Michael Ger and Stan Guzic, two of the other IT engineers at Locke Lord. (ROA.2556-57.) Guzic testified that Laoutaris “constantly asked us for the password” and thus “to help him remember it, we used his name within the password itself” – specifically, “4nick8.” (ROA.1151.)
Not only was Laoutaris specifically tied to the December 1 and December 5 attacks, the government presented evidence tying him to at least 12 unauthorized intrusions into the Locke Lord network through LogMeIn. (ROA.2703-16, 2746, 2756, 2758, 2760, 2762, 2764, 2766, 2768, 2835, 2849.) Each of those intrusions originated from an IP address that was tied back to Laoutaris – either his home or his place of employment. (ROA.2703-16.)
The government’s brief also provides an excellent example of how to calculate a loss in a case such as this, beginning at page 12.

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Shawn Tuma (@shawnetuma) is an attorney with an internationally recognized reputation in cybersecurity, computer fraud, and data privacy law. He is a Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Attorney at Scheef & Stone, LLP, a full-service commercial law firm in Texas that represents businesses of all sizes throughout the United States and, through its Mackrell International network, around the world.

Y2K18? Are #Spectre and #Meltdown the Y2K Apocalypse, Eighteen Years Late?

Hear Shawn Tuma interviewed on News Radio 570 KLIF – Experts: Update Settings and Download Updates to Protect from “Meltdown” and “Spectre”

CLICK HERE if you are impatient and only want to know what you should do ASAP to protect against Spectre and Meltdown

With Y2K we had a warning. So much of a warning that it pushed me into cyber law in 1998. We were told of an apocalypse if we did not heed the warning and fix the problem. Whether we did, or whether it was a lot of hype is still being debated, but the problem was averted. When the ball dropped on NYE 2000, the planes were still flying, power grid still operating, and banks still banking.

Fast forward eighteen years, NYE 2018, the ball drops and, while we are closing out a year when the word cybersecurity (yes, it is one word, not two) has become a part of everybody’s vernacular, the only thing we were thinking of when hearing the words “Spectre” and “Meltdown” was a James Bond movie marathon on New Year’s Day.

Just a few days later we are now talking about a global threat to the world’s computers — all of them from the most powerful supercomputers to, yes, even Apple computers, all the way to the computer you carry in your pocket (i.e., your smartphone) — that isn’t just a programming or software glitch, but is also a hardware problem, going to the very heart of the computer: it’s CPU.

The threat timing? Imminent — this isn’t something that is going to happen, this is something that has already happened and has just recently been discovered.

Now unlike with Y2K, the problem in and of itself will not directly cause a failure but is a vulnerability that has been exposed that will allow others — the bad guys (whoever they may be) — to exploit the vulnerability. But take no comfort in this because you can bet, to the bad guys, the revelation of this vulnerability made this exploit Target of Opportunity #1 for all.

The fix? This where it gets good. “Meltdown” can likely be mitigated with software patches, which programmers at major companies are fervently writing as I write. The problem is, these patches will lead to a degradation of computer performance by 20% to 30% — but they are not optional. You must install them.

“Spectre” is where it could get really nasty. This will likely require a redesign of the computer processors themselves — a wholesale hardware redesign that focuses more on security vis-a-vis performance. Then, in order to implement the fix, the hardware will have to be replaced — the CPUs in all of the world’s computers upgraded.

Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Is this the real Y2K apocalypse arriving eighteen years late — Y2K18 or Y2K8teen? It could be.

But, if history is any indication it will not reach worst-case scenario levels, but things could still get really, really bad even if worst-case scenarios are not even on the radar. In fact, as this post is being written some researchers with clout are saying that the fix may not require the wholesale replacement of hardware — and I’m sure there will be more softening of this as we go along.

However, remember, “Wanna Cry” was only one exploit to a specific outdated Windows operating system that was revealed and had a patch issued for months before it actually hit. We all had better take this one seriously.

What can you do? When the patches come out from Microsoft, Apple, etc. and they tell you to install the patch to protect your computer, do it, immediately, and with a smile because losing 20% to 30% of your computing power is far better than losing 100%!

3 Legal Points for InfoSec Teams to Consider Before an Incident

secureworldAs a teaser to my presentation at SecureWorld – Dallas last week, I did a brief interview with SecureWorld and talked about three of the points I would make in my lunch keynote, The Legal Case for Cybersecurity. If you’re going to SecureWorld – Denver next week, join me for the lunch keynote on Thursday (11/2) as I will again be making The Legal Case for Cybersecurity.

In the SecureWorld article, Why InfoSec Teams Need to Think with a ‘Legal’ Mind, Before an Incident, we discuss these three points:

  1. There are three general types of “cyber laws” that infosec needs to understand;
  2. Sadly, far too many companies do not take cybersecurity seriously until after they have had a significant incident; and
  3. Companies’ need for implementing and continuously maturing a cyber risk management program (such as my CyberGard).

 

What do we in the United States really want from our cyber laws?

In my newsfeed are articles in prominent publications discussing the problems with the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act from very different perspectives.

www.businesscyberrisk.comIn the “the CFAA is dangerous for security researchers” corner we have White Hat Hackers and the Internet of Bodies, in Law360, discussing how precarious the CFAA (and presumably, the state hacking laws such as Texas’ Breach of Computer Security / Harmful Access by Computer laws) and Digital Millenium Copyright Act can be for security researchers.

In the “the CFAA prevents companies from defending themselves” corner we have New Bill Would Allow Hacking Victims to ‘Hack Back’, in The Hill, discussing The Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act (ACDC). ACDC (what a great acronym!) would allow companies more latitude in defending themselves against those intruding into their networks by permitting them to use techniques described as “active defense,” under certain conditions, though not permitting companies to counterattack.

Now, instead of thinking about these two measures in isolation, think of them together. What if we were to get both of them passed into law? What if we got one or the other?

This reminds me of a piece I wrote about the CFAA and the broader national policy discussion a few years ago, Hunter Moore or Aaron Swartz: Do we hate the CFAA? Do we love the CFAA? Do we even have a clue? In that piece I stated,

The CFAA has become a national lightening rod with many loving it, many hating it, and far too many loving it and hating it at the same time, without even realizing it. Before we go any further, however, consider this quote:

The CFAA was tailor-made to punish precisely the kind of behavior that [guess who?] is charged with: breaking into other people’s accounts and disseminating their … information.

Quick! Who is that referring to? Hunter Moore? Edward Snowden? Aaron Swartz? Sandra Teague?

I used this overly simplified example to try and make a point that, philosophically, we as a nation need to stop looking at each of these cases and laws in isolation and need to look at the bigger picture of how it all fits together. Picking and choosing based upon our own personal likes and dislikes due to the emotional tug of the facts is no way to develop, maintain, and mature a body of law on any subject matter — much less one as complicated as cyber.

Take this discussion and add into the mix new security-based laws such as NYDFS and then mix in the 48 states + HIPAA, GLBA, etc. breach notification laws, the conundrum of cybersecurity law schizophrenia, and then see what we have to work with. Does it all make sense?

What do you think? Where do we begin? Who needs to be involved in working this out? What are the first questions we need to ask?

Hacking Into A Company You Sold Can Get You Jail Time

A federal judge sentenced David Kent to a year and a day in prison and ordered him to pay $3.3 million in restitution and pay a $20,000 fine for accessing the computer network of Rigzone.com, an industry-specific networking website. Kent founded Rigzone.com, sold it for $51 million, and after the sale accessed the company’s network to obtain information to use for launching a competitor to Rigzone.com. The Complaint describes how Kent was able to do this by exploiting a source code vulnerability that he knew of from the original creation of the website. This is a big no-no. Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, this type of unauthorized access is considered hacking just as if the Russians did it with super-secret James Bond-like gadgets and gizmos.

USA v. Kent, 1:16-cr-00385, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

 

FUD and Voting Machine Hacking: An Important Point and Important Lesson

This morning I am doing radio interviews as a Fox News Radio contributor. My topic? The DEFCON Voting Village demonstration of hacking voting machines that have been, or may currently be, used in US elections. Here are a couple of the news stories if you are unfamiliar: Hacking a US electronic voting booth takes less than 90 minutes | New Scientist and To Fix Voting Machines, Hackers Tear Them Apart | Wired

With all of the talk about hacking or rigging elections, this is a great topic to pique people’s interest for a radio interview but it can also generate a great deal of FUD. And, I really do not like FUD because it detracts from the real issues and lessons that we can learn from situations. So, there is one very important point and one very important lesson that I have tried to make during these interviews and that I hope will rise above the FUD:

IMPORTANT POINT: The voting machines used in this example were obtained from eBay and government auctions because they had been decommissioned. This means they were old. Unfortunately, some had been used in recent elections — which is a big problem — but generally speaking, we’re talking about outdated technology.

IMPORTANT LESSON: Voting machines are computers and, while (IMO) no computer will be secure they can certainly be more secure. We must be vigilant about the security of the voting machines and other election infrastructure that we use in our voting process and demand that current, state of the art equipment be used, where security is baked in from the outset and is continuously maintained as an ongoing process, from now on until further notice.

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Shawn Tuma (@shawnetuma) is an attorney with an internationally recognized reputation in cybersecurity, computer fraud, and data privacy law. He is a Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Attorney at Scheef & Stone, LLP, a full-service commercial law firm in Texas that represents businesses of all sizes throughout the United States and, through its Mackrell International network, around the world.

Fifth Circuit: Employee Taking Data to Work for Competitor Violates Texas Hacking Law

former employee = current data thiefBefore leaving his employment at Merritt Hawkins & Associates (MHA), Larry Gresham allegedly accessed MHA’s computer network and copied 400 of MHA’s proprietary files and then deleted hundreds of files in an attempt to hide his activities. A jury found Gresham’s actions violated the Harmful Access by Computer Act (HACA), Texas unauthorized access law (i.e., “hacking law”). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the jury’s verdict. Merritt Hawkins & Associates, L.L.C. v. Gresham, 2017 WL 2662840 (5th Cir. June 21, 2017).

Here are three key points from this case about the Texas Harmful Access by Computer Act (civil) or Breach of Computer Security (criminal) laws:

  1. An employee may violate HACA / BCS by accessing his employer’s computer system without its “effective consent” (i.e., (a) by using it for a purpose other than that for which consent was given, (b) in violation of a clear and conspicuous prohibition, or (c) in violation of an express agreement) and taking data to use for non-company business related purposes.
  2. An award of $50,000 in damages for the missing and stolen computer files was supported by sufficient evidence, in the following form:
    1. the owner of the company’s testimony that he would have to pay an employee at least $100 an hour to recreate every file that was deleted and that it would be more expensive to search the company’s database to see if any files remained, even though he admitted that it was difficult to calculate the damages, especially for those that were taken but not deleted;
    2. a computer forensics expert testified that he billed the company over $60,000 for his work assessing the damage to its computer system, excluding litigation costs; and
    3. the company’s IT employee testified about the expenses he incurred and the hours he worked trying to restore the computer files.
  3. “A prevailing party on a Harmful Access by Computer claim ‘is entitled’ to attorneys’ fees.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 143.002.

See these resources for more information about the Texas Harmful Access by Computer Act and Breach of Computer Security laws:

______________________

Shawn Tuma (@shawnetuma) is an attorney with an internationally recognized reputation in cybersecurity, computer fraud, and data privacy law. He is a Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Attorney at Scheef & Stone, LLP, a full-service commercial law firm in Texas that represents businesses of all sizes throughout the United States and, through its Mackrell International network, around the world.

New Hacking Technique Revealed, Viruses in Online Video Subtitles

Check Point security group has released information revealing how hackers are now using online video subtitles as a source to transport viruses into personal computers, granting hackers to endless information for very little work.

This method of hacking requires a user to do nothing other than opening up their favorite videos online. According to a recent article, this is not even potential danger but is the real thing because it’s already being used successfully by the hackers.

Hackers are very knowledgeable and creative which is why most seem to be one step behind them in most cases. A few years ago people were panicking because of pop-ups, surveys, or phishing links. Now hackers are able to encrypt information by using techniques that can bypass many security products and it is more destructive than anything seen before.

This drastic increase in hackers using the technique of online video subtitles as a source to transport viruses is no surprise. Check Point stated they “estimate there are approximately 200 million video players and streamers” and online video streams have a massive audience making these defenseless targets very beneficial investments. Using this technique, these hackers are able to take complete control of a computer with minimal effort.

Big streaming sites such as VLC, Stremio, Popcorn Time, and others are assisting users in defense by providing updated patches for blocking viruses. Unfortunately downloading these patches is the only defense (other than completely avoiding online videos) and as we saw recently with the #WannaCry ransomware outbreak, counting on people to keep their systems patched seems to be too much to ask. Hopefully, that will begin to change.

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Seth Tuma is a student at Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara, California.

“Thank You” to 2 Legal Leaders that I Respect

There are many ways to honor someone. For me, one of the greatest privileges is knowing that others have found some value or usefulness in my work, especially by referencing it to others. What is unfortunate, however, is when you did not learn about it for quite some time and realize you never properly thanked them!

So . . .  here I am in a meeting with an attorney and her clients to discuss my consulting with them (behind the scenes) to help the attorney with various cyber issues that are involved in the case. Now you already know that I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable in the area of cyber law but even in this area, there is still a lot out there I do not know. An issue about the Wiretap Act comes up — specifically, the Texas version of the Wiretap Act — and I do not have a good answer for the question.

So . . . I change the subject momentarily while I do what any reasonable Texas attorney should do; I use my iPad to discretely pull up Judge Emily Miskel’s (@emilymiskel) very well-respected article that discusses this issue, Peeping Toms in the New Millennium: Digital Dos and Don’ts, that she co-authored with Mark I. Unger (@miunger) and Kristal C. Thomson.

In perusing Peeping Toms in the New Millennium (while maintaining normal conversation) I not only found the answer to the question that I was looking for, but I also discovered that the article included a reference to one of my blog posts, 3 Key Takeaways About Texas’ Unauthorized Access Law, that discusses the case Miller v. Talley Dunn Gallery, LLC.

Given the tremendous respect that I have for Judge Emily Miskel and Mark Unger (I have not met Kristal but she is in good company!), I was both humbled and honored. So, now, here is my proper “THANK YOU!

Finally, if you’re like me (and Judge Miskel, and Mark, and presumably Kristal) and you geek out on this kind of stuff and want further reading, let me direct you to my original blog post that discusses the Texas Breach of Computer Security and Harmful Access by Computer Act laws, which are explained in more detail than you could ever ask for starting on page 25 of this guide: Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Texas Computer Crime Laws.

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Shawn Tuma (@shawnetuma) is a business lawyer with an internationally recognized reputation in cybersecurity, computer fraud, and data privacy law. He is a Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Partner at Scheef & Stone, LLP, a full-service commercial law firm in Texas that represents businesses of all sizes throughout the United States and, through its Mackrell International network, around the world.