Tag Archives: Europe

iSIGHT – INTELLIGENT AIMS

Intelligence Start-Up Goes Behind Enemy Lines to Get Ahead of Hackers

By NICOLE PERLROTHSEPT. 13, 2015

One of scores of intelligence analysts working at his computer at the headquarters of the security firm iSight in Chantilly, Va. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

CHANTILLY, Va. — On a recent Wednesday morning, 100 intelligence analysts crammed into a nondescript conference room here and dialed into a group call with 100 counterparts in Argentina, Brazil, Cyprus, India, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Taiwan and Ukraine.

As they worked their way around the room, the analysts briefed one another on the latest developments in the “dark web.”

A security firm in Pakistan was doing a little moonlighting, selling its espionage tools for as little as $500. Several American utility companies were under attack. A group of criminals were up to old tricks, infecting victims with a new form of “ransomware,” which encrypts PCs until victims pay a ransom.

The analysts, employees of iSight Partners, a company that provides intelligence about threats to computer security in much the same way military scouts provide intelligence about enemy troops, were careful not to name names or clients, in case someone, somewhere, was listening on the open line.
John Watters, iSight’s chief, evokes military jargon to talk about his company’s focus. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

For the last eight years, iSight has been quietly assembling what may be the largest private team of experts in a nascent business called threat intelligence. Of the company’s 311 employees, 243 are so-called cyberintelligence professionals, a statistic that executives there say would rank iSight, if it were a government-run cyberintelligence agency, among the 10 largest in the world, though that statistic is impossible to verify given the secretive nature of these operations.

ISight analysts spend their days digging around the underground web, piecing together hackers’ intentions, targets and techniques to provide their clients with information like warnings of imminent attacks and the latest tools and techniques being used to break into computer networks.

The company’s focus is what John P. Watters, iSight’s chief executive, calls “left of boom,” which is military jargon for the moment before an explosive device detonates. Mr. Watters, a tall, 51-year-old Texan whose standard uniform consists of Hawaiian shirts and custom cowboy boots, frequently invokes war analogies when talking about online threats.

“When we went into Iraq, the biggest loss of life wasn’t from snipers,” he said. It was from concealed explosive devices. “We didn’t get ahead of the threat until we started asking ourselves, ‘Who’s making the bombs? How are they getting their materials? How are they detonating them? And how do we get into that cycle before the bombs are ever placed there?’”

“Our business,” Mr. Watters continued, “is tracking the arms merchants and bomb makers so we can be left of boom and avoid the impact altogether.”

ISight’s investors, who have put $60 million into the company so far, believe that its services fill a critical gap in the battle to get ahead of threats. Most security companies, like FireEye, Symantec, Palo Alto Networks and Intel’s security unit, focus on blocking or detecting intrusions as they occur or responding to attacks after the fact.

ISight goes straight to the enemy. Its analysts — many of them fluent in Russian, Mandarin, Portuguese or 21 other languages — infiltrate the underground, where they watch criminals putting their schemes together and selling their tools.

The analysts’ reports help clients — including 280 government agencies, as well as banks and credit-card, health care, retail and oil and gas companies — prioritize the most imminent and possibly destructive threats.

Security experts say the need for such intelligence has never been greater. For the last three years, businesses have been investing in “big data” analytic tools that sound alarms anytime someone does something unusual, like gain access to a server in China, set up a private connection or siphon unusually large amounts of data from a corporate network.

The result is near constant and confusing noise. “Except for the most mature organizations, most businesses are drowning in alerts,” said Jason Clark, the chief security officer at Optiv, a security firm.

The average organization receives 16,937 alerts a week. Only 19 percent of them are deemed “reliable,” and only 4 percent are investigated, according to a study released in January by the Ponemon Institute, which tracks data breaches. By the time criminals make enough noise to merit a full investigation, it can take financial services companies more than three months, on average, to discover them, and retailers more than six months.

“Just generating more alerts is wasting billions of dollars of venture capital,” said David Cowan, an iSight investor and a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners. The last thing an executive in charge of network security needs is more alerts, he said: “They don’t have time. They need human, actionable threat intelligence.”

Mr. Cowan and others point to what happened to Target in 2013, when the retailer ignored an alert that ultimately could have stopped criminals from stealing 40 million customers’ payment details from its network.

A year earlier, iSight warned its clients that criminals were compiling and selling malware that was specifically designed to scrape payment data off cash registers. Had Target received that warning, the blip on its network might not have gone unnoticed.

“Target faced the same problem every retailer does every day,” Mr. Watters said. “They are awash in a sea of critical alerts every day. Without threat intelligence, they had roulette odds of picking the right one.”

Gartner, the research firm, estimates that the market for threat intelligence like iSight’s could grow to $1 billion in two years from $255 million in 2013. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 60 percent of businesses will incorporate threat intelligence into their defensive security strategy.

ISight, which plans to file for an initial public offering of stock next year, hopes to capitalize, as do the dozens of other cyberthreat intelligence outfits now flooding the market, each with a slightly different approach.

That proliferation of start-ups has led to a new complaint from computer security chiefs: overlapping information — sometimes as much as 40 percent — in the reports they receive, none of which is cheap. ISight charges customers based on size, and while it does not disclose pricing, some customers say they pay $500,000 or more annually for the company’s services, as much as five times what low-end services charge.

ISight makes 90 percent of its revenue from subscriptions to its six intelligence streams, each focused on a particular threat, including cyberespionage and cybercrime.

The company’s most recent competition comes from its oldest clients, particularly banks, which have been hiring former intelligence analysts to start internal operations. One former client, which declined to be named because of concerns that doing so could violate a nondisclosure agreement, said it had been able to build its own intelligence program at half the cost of its canceled iSight subscriptions.

But most businesses do not have the same resources as, say, a company like Bank of America, whose chief executive recently said there was no cap on the bank’s cybersecurity budget.

Many of those businesses remain paralyzed by the drumbeat of alarms that expensive security technologies are sounding on their networks.

At iSight’s threat center, the company’s approach is perhaps best summed up by a logo emblazoned on a T-shirt worn by one of its top analysts: “Someone should do something.”

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THE ASH-FIRE from POLITICAL CAUSE

The Hammer of Truth has always been a far harder and far hotter forge-tool than the soft language of lies. But it is the soft language of lies that is the cold black ash-fire which so thoroughly melts and molds the timid hearts of modern men.

 

BRIDGE OF SIGHS – ACCULTURATION

For your Monday Acculturation

 

A LOATHSOME SLIME

Our Ancient and Medieval ancestors were much, much more ingenious that most modern people give them credit for. Someone should create/produce an app/algorithm to scour ancient and medieval medicinal texts (and other kinds of texts) to see what other advantages could be gleaned.

Rather than doing this kind of work (and this is hardly the first example I’ve seen of such historical re-creation) by piecemeal examination and experimentation.

By the way I not long ago finished another set of brilliant lectures by Mike Drought of Wheaton College.

Take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together… take wine and bullocks gall, mix with the leek… let it stand nine days in the brass vessel…

So goes a thousand-year-old Anglo Saxon recipe to vanquish a stye, an infected eyelash follicle.

The medieval medics might have been on to something. A modern-day recreation of this remedy seems to alleviate infections caused by the bacteria that are usually responsible for styes. The work might ultimately help create drugs for hard-to-treat skin infections.

The project was born when a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, UK, got talking to an Anglo Saxon scholar. They decided to test a recipe from an Old English medical compendium called Bald’s Leechbook, housed in the British Library.

Some of the ingredients, such as copper from the brass vessel, kill bacteria grown in a dish – but it was unknown if they would work on a real infection or how they would combine.

Careful collection

Sourcing authentic ingredients was a major challenge, says Freya Harrison, the microbiologist. They had to hope for the best with the leeks and garlic because modern crop varieties are likely to be quite different to ancient ones – even those branded as heritage. For the wine they used an organic vintage from a historic English vineyard.

As “brass vessels” would be hard to sterilise – and expensive – they used glass bottles with squares of brass sheet immersed in the mixture. Bullocks gall was easy, though, as cow’s bile salts are sold as a supplement for people who have had their gall bladders removed.

After nine days of stewing, the potion had killed all the soil bacteria introduced by the leek and garlic. “It was self-sterilising,” says Harrison. “That was the first inkling that this crazy idea just might have some use.”

A side effect was that it made the lab smell of garlic. “It was not unpleasant,” says Harrison. “It’s all edible stuff. Everyone thought we were making lunch.”

The potion was tested on scraps of skin taken from mice infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This is an antibiotic-resistant version of the bacteria that causes styes, more commonly known as the hospital superbug MRSA. The potion killed 90 per cent of the bacteria. Vancomycin, the antibiotic generally used for MRSA, killed about the same proportion when it was added to the skin scraps.

A loathsome slime

Unexpectedly, the ingredients had little effect unless they were all brought together. “The big challenge is trying to find out why that combination works,” says Steve Diggle, another of the researchers. Do the components work in synergy or do they trigger the formation of new potent compounds?

Using exactly the right method also seems to be crucial, says Harrison, as another group tried to recreate the remedy in 2005 and found that their potion failed to kill bacteria grown in a dish. “With the nine-day waiting period, the preparation turned into a kind of loathsome, odorous slime,” says Michael Drout of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

If the 9th Century recipe does lead to new drugs, they might be useful against MRSA skin infections such as those that cause foot ulcers in people with diabetes. “These are usually antibiotic-resistant,” says Diggle. However, he doesn’t recommend people try this at home.

It wouldn’t be the first modern drug to be derived from ancient manuscripts – the widely used antimalarial drug artemisinin was discovered by scouring historical Chinese medical texts.

Harrison is due to present the research at the Society for General Microbiology conference in Birmingham, UK, this week.

DIE TECHNIKER IST KAPUT!

This was absolutely freakin hilarious. I laughed for a long, long time…

So last month, an electric door at the University of Mainz in Germany broke down.

So last month, an electric door at the University of Mainz in Germany broke down.

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“BROKEN. The technician has been informed.”

The next day the door wasn’t fixed: “Technician also broken.”

The next day the door wasn't fixed: "Technician also broken."

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Then a second notice appeared, referencing a contestant on the German version of Wife Swap. It reads: “Everything stays exactly the way it is!”

Then a second notice appeared, referencing a contestant on the German version of Wife Swap. It reads: “Everything stays exactly the way it is!”

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And suddenly the meme floodgates opened.

And suddenly the meme floodgates opened.

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A day later, and the university’s meme lovers had left the door looking like this.

A day later, and the university's meme lovers had left the door looking like this.

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Three days later, and the door still wasn’t working. In fact it looked like this.

Three days later, and the door still wasn't working. In fact it looked like this.

And then – OMG. The memes had gone. GONE.

And then – OMG. The memes had gone. GONE.

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But one lone memeist decided to hold firm against the unknown meme removers.

But one lone memeist decided to hold firm against the unknown meme removers.

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The university dean could obviously take a joke. He thanked the memeists for their creativity, but said they sadly had to be removed due to fire regulations.

Then came a note PROMISING that the technician had been informed, but they were just waiting on a single technical part, which would be there in a few days.

Then came a note PROMISING that the technician had been informed, but they were just waiting on a single technical part, which would be there in a few days.

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Brandschutzvorschriften = fire safety regulations, of course.

But the memes continued to build…

But the memes continued to build...

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…and build…

...and build...

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“If the door fails, Europe fails.”

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Until finally: It was repaired!

FIRE OVER LOCH NESS

Meteor over Loch Ness: This is how the photographer captured the breath-taking picture

John Alasdair Macdonald said capturing the image on film was a ‘fluke’

This stunning image of a shooting star is what award-winning photographs are made of – but the man behind the lens said capturing the sight was an “absolute fluke”.

John Alasdair Macdonald, a tour guide in the Scottish Highlands, caught the meteor on film at about 9pm last night.

Based in Drumnadrochit, on the west shore of Loch Ness, Mr Macdonald had taken his Sony RX100 compact camera outside to capture some photographs of the stars on what he described as a “beautiful night”.

But as he clicked away, the meteor soared right into his  sights.

“As my wife said, it was just sheer dumb luck,” Mr Macdonald told The Independent: “It was a complete fluke, an absolute fluke”.

Mr Macdonald posted the image on the Facebook page of his tour website, The Hebridean Explorer, where it quickly attracted a lot of attention.

Asked whether the experience had inspired him to pursue his photography skills on a more professional level, Mr Macdonald said: “I think that’s as good as I’m going to get!”

Meteors are small particles of space debris that burn up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, making them appear like falling stars.

The one photographed by Mr Macdonald was part of a meteor shower seen over north-west Scotland last night.

Stornoway Coastguard said it had received a number of “flare reports” that were later found to be related to the phenomenon.

A spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency told the Herald Scotland:  “We had six calls after 9pm and 9.20pm to Stornoway reporting it as flare activity

“With multiple sightings being received from across the north west of Scotland, the sightings have been attributed to meteor activity.”