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Wednesday, 26 June 2019 06:37

'No IoCs or victim accounts': Researcher questions coverage of APT10 report Featured

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'No IoCs or victim accounts': Researcher questions coverage of APT10 report Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

A well-known researcher from security outfit Chronicle Security has questioned why tech and mainstream media have given blanket coverage to research by the US/Israeli firm Cybereason, which detailed intrusions into a number of telecommunications firms by a Chinese group known as APT10, when the research did not provide any indicators of compromise or accounts from victims.

Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, who formerly worked with Kaspersky, said in a tweet that additionally the APT10 group had already been publicly written about by BAE, PwC, Kaspersky, FireEye and CrowdStrike.

"With such a broad claim, who would publish a story unsubstantiated by IoCs (indicators of compromise) nor victim accounts?" he asked.

He added a conciliatory note to Amit Serper of Cybereason, one of the researchers involved in the APT10 findings.

"No offence to Cybereason or @0xAmit," Guerrero-Saade wrote. "Just wish the reporters had sprung for greater context or verification."

Serper responded by saying that the company had various restrictions put in place that prevented it from providing IoCs.

"We have all sorts of restrictions that keep us from publishing any IoCs since this is a targeted attack and a very sensitive issue that's being investigated," he wrote in a tweet.

"Rest assured that the relevant people have the IoCs. Wish I could share them, but I can't."

And he added: "I fought hard to be able to share IoCs and I lost. I wish I could get into the 'why' but I can't. For those reasons exactly. You can take my word for it or not, I'll respect you either way."

In its research, released on Tuesday US time, researchers Mor Levi, Assaf Dahan and Serper wrote that the operation, which they dubbed Operation Soft Cell, had been active since at least 2012 and was aimed at obtaining CDR data (call logs, cell tower locations etc).

The blog post detailing Cybereason's findings said the campaign, given the name Operation Soft Cell, had targeted 20 military officials, dissidents, spies and law enforcement officials all of whom were and took place in firms across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The release of the Cybereason research comes at a time when the US and China are locked in a trade war that has substantially elevated bilateral tensions.

Guerrero-Saade's scepticism is not without reason, as there have been at least two instances of so-called big technology yarns in the recent past turning out to be highly questionable.

Last year, the news agency Bloomberg published claims that security testing by Amazon in 2015 had revealed the existence of tiny chips that were not part of the original mainboard design.

It said that this led to an extensive investigation by US Government agencies which found servers built using these boards in data centres belonging to the Department of Defence, on warships, and for processing data being handled by CIA drones.

The story drew denials aplenty from the companies involved and also the government. No proof has ever been offered to back it up.

Again, in 2018, an Israeli outfit known as CTS Labs published details of a number of flaws in AMD processors after giving AMD just 24 hours to respond to their claims. The firm set up a separate website for this, and the findings were accompanied by a white paper in which technical details had been redacted.

Soon after this, a company named Viceroy Research issued an analysis with the dramatic headline: "AMD – The Obituary". It appeared to be an effort to push down AMD's share price.

There was plenty of pushback at the time and the whole episode has now been more or less forgotten.

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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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