9 min read

Keren Elazari, a world renowned cybersecurity analyst and senior researcher at the Tel Aviv University Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, author and speaker spoke earlier this year at Six, about the future of cybersecurity and a range of real world attacks in recent years. She also dived into the consequences as well as possible motivations behind such attacks.

The Six event covers various press conferences and hackathons. The Six event organizes around one billion security events on a daily basis. The cybersecurity events organized by Six has international experts who answer various questions and give insights on various topics.

This article highlights few insights from this year’s Six on Cybersecurity talk by Keren Elazari on The Future of Cybersecurity from a hacker’s perspective.

How hackers used Starbucks’ free WiFi to use customer CPU resources for crypto mining

“What if I told you that in 10 seconds I could take over your computer, generate thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrencies all while you are drinking your morning coffee? You might think it’s impossible, by this is exactly what happened in Argentina earlier this year.” – Keren Elazari


Earlier this year, the Starbucks customers  at Argentina experienced a slight delay of 10 seconds after logging into the website for free Wi-Fi. So what exactly happened? A security researcher discovered that the computer was running Coinhive, a type of distributed cryptocurrency mining software for those ten seconds. It was running on all the machines in Argentinian Starbucks that logged in for free Wi-Fi and the software generated a lot of  monero, the cryptocurrency (money).

The hacker didn’t even have to code a JavaScript for this attack as he just had to buy the code from Coinhive. The business model of the company behind Coinhive allows anyone to monetize the user’s CPU. Cyber criminals can earn a lot of money from technologies like Coinhive.

There are actually some news sites in the US that are looking at using such coinhiving solution as an alternative to paying for the news. This is an example of how creative technologies made by cybercriminals can even generate completely new business models.

IoT brings a whole new set of vulnerabilities to your ecosystem

“According to the Munich security conference report, they are expecting this year double the amount of devices than there are humans on this planet. This is not going to change. We definitely need an immune system for new digital universe because it is expanding without a stop.”  

Devices like cameras, CCTVs, webcams etc could be used by potential hackers to spy of users. But even if measures such as blocking its vision with tape is taken, web cams can be hacked, not with an intention to steal pictures but to hack of other devices.

How the Mirai DDoS attack used webcams to bring down the likes of Airbnb and Amazon

This is what happened 2 years ago, when the massive internet DDoS attack – Mirai took place. Over the course of a weekend it took down websites all over the world.

Websites like Amazon, Airbnb, and large news sites etc were down, due to which these companies faced losses. This attack was supercharged by the numerous devices in people’s homes. These devices where for DDoS attack because they were using basic internet protocols such as DNS which can be easily subverted. Even worse, many of the devices used default username password combinations.

It’s important to change the passwords for the newly purchased devices. With shodan, a search engine, one can check the internet connected devices in their organizations or at home. This is helpful as it improves protection for the organizations from getting hacked.

How hackers used a smart fish tank to steal data from a casino and an AI caught it

“Hackers have found very creative, very fast automatic ways to identify devices that they can use and they will utilize any resource online. It would just become a part of their digital army. Speaking of which even an aquarium, a fish tank was hacked recently.”

Recently, a smart fish tank in a US Casino was hacked. It had smart sensors that would check the temperature and the feeding schedule of the fish and the salinity of the water. While, hacking a fish tank does not appear to have any monetary incentive to a hacker, its connection to the internet make it a valuable access point.. The hackers, who already had access to the casino network, used the outgoing internet connection of the aquarium to send out 10 gigabytes of data from the casino. As the data was going of this connection, there was no firewall and it got noticed by none. The suspicious activity was flaggedby a self learning algorithm which realized that there was something fishy as the outgoing connection had no relation with the fish tank setup.

How WannaCry used Ransomware attacks to target organizations

“I don’t think we should shame organizations for having to deal with ransomware because it is a little bit like a flu in a sense that these attacks are designed to propagate and infect as many computers as they can.”- Keren Elazari

In May 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack by the WannaCry ransomware cryptoworm, affected the computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system by encrypting data and the criminals demanded ransom payments in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. This attack affected the UK National Health Service the most as according to NHS, 30% of that national health services were not functioning. 80 out of the 236 trusts got affected in England. As per the UK government, North Korea was behind this attack as they are need of money because they are under sanctions. The Lazarus Group, a cybercrime group from North Korea attacked the Swift infrastructure and also attacked the central bank of Bangladesh last year.

NotPetya – The Wiper attack

“Whoever was hacking the tax company in the Ukraine wanted to create an effective virus that would destroy the evidence of everything they have been doing for two years in a bunch of Ukrainian companies. It might have been an accident that it infected so many other companies in the world.”

In June, 2017, NotPetya, a wiper attack affected enterprise networks across Europe. The Ukrainian companies got highly affected. This attack appeared like a ransomware attack as it demanded some payment but it actually was a wiper attack. This attack affected the data and wiped off the data stored for two years. Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company got highly affected by this attack. The company faced a heavy loss of amount $300 million and was a collateral damage. Out-of-life operation systems were most affected by this virus.

The software vulnerability used in both of these attacks, ransomware and wiper was a code named, EternalBlue, a cyber weapon which was discovered and developed by National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA couldn’t keep a track of EternalBlue and the criminals took advantage of this and attacked using using this cyber weapon.

Earlier this year, a cyber attack was made on the German government IT network. This attack affected the defence and interior ministries’ private networks.

Why might motivate nation state actors back cyber-attacks?

“The story is never simple when it comes to cyber attackers. Sometimes the motivations of a nation or nation state actors can be hidden behind what seems like a financial or criminal activity.”

One of the reasons behind a nation or state backing a cyber-attack could be the the financial aspect, they might be under sanctions and need money for developing nuclear weapons. Another reason could be that the state or country is in a state of chaos or confusion and it is trying to create a dynamic from which they could benefit. Lastly, it could be an accident, where the cyber attack sometimes gets more effective than what the state has ever imagined of.

What can organizations do to safeguard themselves from such cyberattacks?

  1. Consider making hundreds of security decisions everyday while putting personal details like credit card on a website, downloading a software that cause trouble to the system, etc.
  2. Instead of using a recycled password, go for a new one.
  3. Educating employees in the organizations about penetration testing.
  4. Sharing details of the past experience with regards to hacking, will help in working towards it.
  5. Developing a cybersecurity culture in the organization will bring change.
  6. Invite a Red team to the organizations to review the system.
  7. Encourage Bug Bounty Programs for reporting bugs in organization.
  8. Security professionals can work in collaboration with programs like Mayhem. Mayhem is an automated system that helps in finding the bugs in a system. It won the hacking challenge in 2016 but beaten by humans the next year.

“Just imagine you are in a big ball room and you are looking at the hacking competition between completely automated supercomputers  and this (Mayhem) ladies and gentlemen is the winner and I think is also the future.”

Just two years ago, Mayhem, a machine won in a hacking competition organized by United  States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Las Vegas, where seven machines (supercomputers) competed against each other. Mayhem is the first non-human to win a hacking competition. In 2017, Mayhem competed against humans, though humans won it. But we can still imagine how smart are smart computers.

What does the Future of Cybersecurity look like?

“In the years to come, automation, machine learning, algorithms, AI will be an integral part, not just of every aspect of society, but [also an] integral part of cybersecurity. That’s why I believe we need more such technologies and more humans that know how to work alongside and together with these automated creatures.

If you like me think that friendly hackers, technology, and building  an ecosystem will a good way to create a safer society, I hope you take the red pill and wake up to this reality,” concludes Elazari.

As 2018 comes to a close plagued with security breaches across industries, Keren’s insightful talk on cybersecurity is a must watch for everyone entering 2019.

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