Briton Arrested in Hacking of US Military, Government Sites
This time it's not Anonymous. It's not the Syrian Electronic Army or China, either. It's a British man who allegedly hacked into U.S. government computer systems with ill intent.
The U.S. and Britain are both charging the man with breaking into computer systems the military runs. His apparent motive: stealing confidential and disrupting operations, according to authorities. Lauri Love, 28, allegedly penetrated computer systems belonging to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The hacks resulted in millions of dollars of losses, the FBI said.
"According to the indictment, Lauri Love and conspirators hacked into thousands of networks, including many belonging to the United States military and other government agencies," said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. "As part of their alleged scheme, they stole military data and personal identifying information belonging to servicemen and women. Such conduct endangers the security of our country and is an affront to those who serve."
Setting Up Back Doors
Law enforcement authorities in the United Kingdom, including investigators with the Cyber Crime Unit of the National Crime Agency, arrested Love at his residence on Oct. 25, 2013, in connection with an ongoing NCA investigation. Love was previously charged in New Jersey by federal complaint, also unsealed in connection with his arrest. He also is charged in a criminal complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia with alleged conduct related to other intrusions.
According to the indictment unsealed in Newark federal court, between October 2012 and October 2013, Love and fellow conspirators sought out and hacked into thousands of computer systems. Once inside the compromised networks, Love and his conspirators placed hidden "shells" or "back doors" within the networks, which allowed them to return to the compromised computer systems at a later date and steal confidential data. The stolen data included the personally identifying information of thousands of individuals, some of whom were military servicemen and servicewomen, as well as other non-public material.
Love and his conspirators planned and executed the attacks in secure online chat forums known as Internet relay chats, or IRC, the FBI reported. They communicated in these chats about identifying and locating computer networks vulnerable to cyberattacks and gaining access to and stealing massive amounts of data from those networks. According to the FBI, they also discussed the object of the conspiracy, which was to hack into the computer networks of the government victims and steal large quantities of non-public data, including personally identifying information to disrupt the operations and infrastructure of the United States government.
Leveraging SQL Injections
Love and conspirators often deployed what is known as an SQL injection attack to gain entry to the government victims' computer servers, the FBI said. SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a type of programing language designed to manage data held in particular types of databases; the hackers identified vulnerabilities in SQL databases and used those vulnerabilities to infiltrate a computer network.
According to the FBI, they also exploited vulnerabilities in a Web application platform that some of the targeted agencies used known as Cold Fusion. Like SQL Injection attacks, this method of hacking allowed the conspirators to gain unauthorized access to secure databases of the victims. Once the network was infiltrated, Love and his conspirators placed malicious code, or malware, on the system, the FBI reported. This malware created a back door or shell, leaving the system vulnerable and helping Love and the conspirators maintain access to the network.
Love and his conspirators took steps to conceal their identities and illegal hacking activities. To mask their IP addresses, the conspirators used proxy and Tor servers to launch the attacks. They also frequently changed their nicknames in online chat rooms, using multiple identities to communicate with each other.
If convicted, Love faces a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, on each of the two counts with which he is charged.