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Thursday, 13 October 2016 11:17

Met attack not as 'massive' as reported Featured

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An intrusion into the Bureau of Meteorology's network last year was not half as "massive" as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation tried to make it out to be.

Instead, the details of the incident, as outlined in the Australian Cyber Security Centre's 2016 report, paint a picture of a much smaller incident.

In its report, the ABC's Chris Uhlmann wrote: "China is being blamed for a major cyber attack on the computers at the Bureau of Meteorology, which has compromised sensitive systems across the federal government."

The reality appears to be different. The ACSC report says the Australian Signals Directorate investigated the source of suspicious activity on two computers on the BoM's network and found remote access tools which are popular with "state-sponsored cyber adversaries".

While such tools are common on Windows systems, they are unlikely to be found on supercomputers, which in the main run Linux. The ABC however hinted at a supercomputer compromise with Uhlmann writing, "The bureau owns one of Australia's largest supercomputers and provides critical information to a host of agencies. Its systems straddle the nation, including one link into the Department of Defence at Russell Offices in Canberra."

In a bid to further hype up things, Uhlmann added: "In the event of a conflict, compromising Australia's ability to accurately forecast weather would affect the operation of military and commercial aircraft."

The ACSC report said the ASD discovered evidence of the attackers looking for and duplicating documents from the BoM network, adding that it was likely this information would have been stolen.

The ASD also found a password dumping utility that had been used by the intruders and discovered malicious use of at least one legitimate domain administrator account.

At least six further hosts that the attackers had tried to access were identified, including domain controllers and file servers.

"The presence of password dumping utilities and complete access by the adversary to domain controllers suggested all passwords on the Bureau’s network were already compromised at the time of the investigation," the ACSC report said.

Evidence was also found suggesting the use of network scanning and time-stamp modification tools, used to analyse the network architecture and assist in hiding the attackers' tools on hosts.

While the ACSC attributed the primary compromise to a foreign intelligence service, it said security controls in place were insufficient to protect the network from more common threats associated with cybercrime.

"CryptoLocker ransomware found on the network represented the most significant threat to the Bureau’s data retention and continuity of operations."

The report said the implementation of security controls outlined in ASD’s Strategies to Mitigate Targeted Cyber Intrusions publication would greatly improve the BoM's corporate network security.

The full ACSC report is available here.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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