Dmitri Alperovitch

March 23, 2017 – Crowdstrike co-founder and donor to the Clinton Foundation, Dmitri Alperovitch, is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank with openly anti-Russian sentiments

Dmitri Alperovitch (Credit: Sebastian Gabriel/picture alliance)

“The cyber security firm outsourced by the Democratic National Committee, CrowdStrike, reportedly misread data, falsely attributing a hacking in Ukraine to the Russians in December 2016. Voice of America, a US Government funded media outlet, reported, “the CrowdStrike report, released in December, asserted that Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app, resulting in heavy losses of howitzers in Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed separatists. But the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) told VOA that CrowdStrike erroneously used IISS data as proof of the intrusion. IISS disavowed any connection to the CrowdStrike report.

(…) The investigation methods used to come to the conclusion that the Russian Government led the hacks of the DNCClinton Campaign Chair John Podesta, and the DCCC were further called into question by a recent BuzzFeed report by Jason Leopold, who has developed a notable reputation from leading several non-partisan Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for investigative journalism purposes. On March 15 that the Department of Homeland Security released just two heavily redacted pages of unclassified information in response to an FOIA request for definitive evidence of Russian election interference allegations. Leopold wrote, “what the agency turned over to us and Ryan Shapiro, a PhD candidate at MIT and a research affiliate at Harvard University, is truly bizarre: a two-page intelligence assessment of the incident, dated Aug. 22, 2016, that contains information DHS culled from the internet. It’s all unclassified — yet DHS covered nearly everything in wide swaths of black ink. Why? Not because it would threaten national security, but because it would reveal the methods DHS uses to gather intelligence, methods that may amount to little more than using Google.”

Hillary Clinton accepts the Atlantic Council’s 2013 Distinguished International Leadership Award. (Credit: YouTube)

In lieu of substantive evidence provided to the public that the alleged hacks which led to Wikileaks releases of DNC and Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta’s emails were orchestrated by the Russian Government, CrowdStrike’s bias has been cited as undependable in its own assessment, in addition to its skeptical methods and conclusions. The firm’s CTO and co-founder, Dmitri Alperovitch, is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank with openly anti-Russian sentiments that is funded by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, who also happened to donate at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.

In 2013, the Atlantic Council awarded Hillary Clinton it’s Distinguished International Leadership Award. In 2014, the Atlantic Council hosted one of several events with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who took over after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in early 2014, who now lives in exile in Russia.” (Read more: CounterPunch, 3/23/2017)

December 30, 2016 – The credibility of cyber firm Crowdstrike, claiming Russia hacked the DNC, comes under serious question

Jeffrey Carr (Credit: Vimeo)

“The cyber security firm hired to inspect the DNC hack and determine who was responsible is a firm called Crowdstrike. Its conclusion that Russia was responsible was released last year, but several people began to call its analysis into question upon further inspection.

Jeffrey Carr was one of the most prominent cynics, and as he noted in his December post, FBI/DHS Joint Analysis Report: A Fatally Flawed Effort:

The FBI/DHS Joint Analysis Report (JAR) “Grizzly Steppe” was released yesterday as part of the White House’s response to alleged Russian government interference in the 2016 election process. It adds nothing to the call for evidence that the Russian government was responsible for hacking the DNC, the DCCC, the email accounts of Democratic party officials, or for delivering the content of those hacks to Wikileaks.

It merely listed every threat group ever reported on by a commercial cybersecurity company that is suspected of being Russian-made and lumped them under the heading of Russian Intelligence Services (RIS) without providing any supporting evidence that such a connection exists.

Unlike Crowdstrike, ESET doesn’t assign APT28/Fancy Bear/Sednit to a Russian Intelligence Service or anyone else for a very simple reason. Once malware is deployed, it is no longer under the control of the hacker who deployed it or the developer who created it. It can be reverse-engineered, copied, modified, shared and redeployed again and again by anyone. In other words — malware deployed is malware enjoyed!

If ESET could do it, so can others. It is both foolish and baseless to claim, as Crowdstrike does, that X-Agent is used solely by the Russian government when the source code is there for anyone to find and use at will.

If the White House had unclassified evidence that tied officials in the Russian government to the DNC attack, they would have presented it by now. The fact that they didn’t means either that the evidence doesn’t exist or that it is classified.

If it’s classified, an independent commission should review it because this entire assignment of blame against the Russian government is looking more and more like a domestic political operation run by the White House that relied heavily on questionable intelligence generated by a for-profit cybersecurity firm with a vested interest in selling “attribution-as-a-service”.

Nevertheless, countless people, including the entirety of the corporate media, put total faith in the analysis of Crowdstrike despite the fact that the FBI was denied access to perform its own analysis. Which makes me wonder, did the U.S. government do any real analysis of its own on the DNC hack, or did it just copy/paste Crowdstrike?

As The Hill reported in January:

The FBI requested direct access to the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) hacked computer servers but was denied, Director James Comey told lawmakers on Tuesday.

The bureau made “multiple requests at different levels,” according to Comey, but ultimately struck an agreement with the DNC that a “highly respected private company” would get access and share what it found with investigators.

“We’d always prefer to have access hands-on ourselves if that’s possible,” Comey said, noting that he didn’t know why the DNC rebuffed the FBI’s request.

This is nuts. Are all U.S. government agencies simply listening to what Crowdstike said in coming to their “independent” conclusions that Russia hacked the DNC? If so, that’s a huge problem. Particularly considering what Voice of America published yesterday in a piece titled, Cyber Firm at Center of Russian Hacking Charges Misread Data:

An influential British think tank and Ukraine’s military are disputing a report that the U.S. cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike has used to buttress its claims of Russian hacking in the presidential election.

The CrowdStrike report, released in December, asserted that Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app, resulting in heavy losses of howitzers in Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed separatists.

But the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) told VOA that CrowdStrike erroneously used IISS data as proof of the intrusion. IISS disavowed any connection to the CrowdStrike report. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense also has claimed combat losses and hacking never happened.

The challenges to CrowdStrike’s credibility are significant because the firm was the first to link last year’s hacks of Democratic Party computers to Russian actors, and because CrowdStrike co-founder Dimiti Alperovitch has trumpeted its Ukraine report as more evidence of Russian election tampering.

(Read more: Michael Krieger/Liberty Blitzkrieg, 3/22/2017)

December 29, 2016 – Tech experts disagree with Crowdstrike’s assessment and are critical of the FBI/DHS Joint Analysis Report (JAR)

(…)  “Breitbart News has interviewed tech experts who do not agree with the CrowdStrike assessment or Obama administration’s claims that the DNC/DCCC hacks clearly committed by Russian state actors, with much criticism aimed at the FBI/DHS Joint Analysis Report (JAR) “Grizzly Steppe” that was released at the end of December. As ZDNet reported after the JAR report was released by the Obama administration on the same day that they announced sanctions against Russia:

Mark Maunder, CEO, Wordfence (Credit: public domain)

The JAR included “specific indicators of compromise, including IP addresses and a PHP malware sample.” But what does this really prove? Wordfence, a WordPress security company specializing in analyzing PHP malware, examined these indicators and didn’t find any hard evidence of Russian involvement. Instead, Wordfence found the attack software was P.AS. 3.1.0, an out-of-date, web-shell hacking tool. The newest version, 4.1.1b, is more sophisticated. Its website claims it was written in the Ukraine.

Mark Maunder, Wordfence’s CEO, concluded that since the attacks were made “several versions behind the most current version of P.A.S sic which is 4.1.1b. One might reasonably expect Russian intelligence operatives to develop their own tools or at least use current malicious tools from outside sources.”

Rob Graham, CEO of Errata Security (Credit: public domain)

True, as Errata Security CEO Rob Graham pointed out in a blog post, P.A.S is popular among Russia/Ukraine hackers. But it’s “used by hundreds if not thousands of hackers, mostly associated with Russia, but also throughout the rest of the world.” In short, just because the attackers used P.A.S., that’s not enough evidence to blame it on the Russian government.

Jeffrey Carr (Credit: public domain)

Independent cybersecurity experts, such as Jeffrey Carr, have cited numerous errors that the media and CrowdStrike have made in discussing the hacking in what Carr refers to as a “runaway train” of misinformation.

For example, CrowdStrike has named a threat group that they have given the name “Fancy Bear” for the hacks and then said this threat group is Russian intelligence. In December 2016Carr wrote in a post on Medium:

A common misconception of “threat group” is that [it] refers to a group of people. It doesn’t. Here’s how ESET describes SEDNIT, one of the names for the threat group known as APT28, Fancy Bear, etc. This definition is found on p.12 of part two “En Route with Sednit: Observing the Comings and Goings”:

As security researchers, what we call “the Sednit group” is merely a set of software and the related network infrastructure, which we can hardly correlate with any specific organization.

Unlike CrowdStrike, ESET doesn’t assign APT28/Fancy Bear/Sednit to a Russian Intelligence Service or anyone else for a very simple reason. Once malware is deployed, it is no longer under the control of the hacker who deployed it or the developer who created it. It can be reverse-engineered, copied, modified, shared and redeployed again and again by anyone.

Despite these and other criticisms from technical experts with no political ax to grind, the House Intelligence Committee has called no independent cybersecurity professionals to challenge the Democrats’ claims of “Russian hacking” that have been repeated ad naseum by the media.

Instead of presenting counter-arguments to allow the general public to make up their own minds, the House committee has invited Shawn Henry and Dmitri Alperovitch from CrowdStrike. (Read more: Breitbart, 3/09/2017)

January 2015 – May 25, 2016: There are 14,409 emails in the Wikileaks DNC email archive that are taken after Crowdstrike installs their security software

“Yesterday, Scott Ritter published a savage and thorough critique of the role of Dmitri Alperovitch and Crowdstrike, who are uniquely responsible for the attribution of the DNC hack to Russia. Ritter calls it “one of the greatest cons in modern American history”.  Ritter’s article gives a fascinating account of an earlier questionable incident in which Alperovitch first rose to prominence – his attribution of the “Shady Rat” malware to the Chinese government at a time when there was a political appetite for such an attribution. Ritter portrays the DNC incident as Shady Rat 2.  Read the article.

My post today is a riff on a single point in the Ritter article, using analysis that I had in inventory but not written up.  I’ve analysed the dates of the emails in the Wikileaks DNC email archive: the pattern (to my knowledge) has never been analysed. The results are a surprise – standard descriptions of the incident are misleading.

Nov 7, 2017: story picked up by Luke Rosniak at Daily Caller here 

On April 29, DNC IT staff noticed anomalous activity and brought it to the attention of senior DNC officials: Chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, DNC’s Chief Executive, Amy Dacey, the DNC’s Technology Director, Andrew Brown, and Michael Sussman, a lawyer for Perkins Coie, a Washington, DC law firm that represented the DNC. After dithering for a few days, on May 4, the DNC (Sussman) contacted Crowdstrike (Shawn Henry), who installed their software on May 5.

Dmitri Alperovich sits before a Crowdstrike/DNC timeline published by Esquire, with one addition by an observant viewer. (Credit: Christopher Leaman/Esquire)

According to a hagiography of Crowdstrike’s detection by Thomas Rid last year, Crowdstrike detected “Russia” in  the network in the early morning of May 6:

At six o’clock on the morning of May 6, Dmitri Alperovitch woke up in a Los Angeles hotel to an alarming email. Alperovitch is the thirty-six-year-old cofounder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, and late the previous night, his company had been asked by the Democratic National Committee to investigate a possible breach of its network. A CrowdStrike security expert had sent the DNC a proprietary software package, called Falcon, that monitors the networks of its clients in real time. Falcon “lit up,” the email said, within ten seconds of being installed at the DNC: Russia was in the network.

In many accounts of the incident (e.g. Wikipedia here), it’s been reported that “both groups of intruders were successfully expelled from the systems within hours after detection”. This was not the case, as Ritter pointed out: data continued to be exfiltrated AFTER the installation of Crowdstrike software, including the emails that ultimately brought down Wasserman-Schultz:

Moreover, the performance of CrowdStrike’s other premier product, Overwatch, in the DNC breach leaves much to be desired. Was CrowdStrike aware that the hackers continued to exfiltrate data (some of which ultimately proved to be the undoing of the DNC Chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the entire DNC staff) throughout the month of May 2016, while Overwatch was engaged?

This is an important and essentially undiscussed question.

Distribution of Dates

The DNC Leak emails are generally said to commence in January 2015 (e.g. CNN here) and continue until the Crowdstrike expulsion. In other email leak archives (e.g Podesta emails; Climategate), the number of emails per month tends to be relatively uniform (at least to one order of magnitude).  However, this is not the case for the DNC Leak as shown in the below graphic of the number of emails per day:

Figure 1. Number of emails per day in Wikileaks DNC archive from Jan 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. Calculated from monthly data through March 31, 2016, then weekly until April 15, then daily. No emails after May 25, 2016.

There are only a couple of emails per month (~1/day) through 2015 and up to April 18, 2016. Nearly all of these early emails were non-confidential emails involving DNCPress or innocuous emails to/from Jordan Kaplan of the DNC.  There is a sudden change on April 19, 2016 when 425 emails in the archive. This is also the first day on which emails from hillaryclinton.com occur in the archive – a point that is undiscussed, but relevant given the ongoing controversy about security of the Clinton server (the current version of which was never examined by the FBI) The following week, the number of daily emails in the archive exceeded 1000, reaching a maximum daily rate of nearly 1500 in the third week of May. There is a pronounced weekly cycle to the archive (quieter on the week-ends).

Rid’s Esquire hagiography described a belated cleansing of the DNC computer system on June 10-12, following which Crowdstrike celebrated:

Ultimately, the teams decided it was necessary to replace the software on every computer at the DNC. Until the network was clean, secrecy was vital. On the afternoon of Friday, June 10, all DNC employees were instructed to leave their laptops in the office. Alperovitch told me that a few people worried that Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, was clearinghouse. “Those poor people thought they were getting fired,” he says. For the next two days, three CrowdStrike employees worked inside DNC headquarters, replacing the software and setting up new login credentials using what Alperovitch considers to be the most secure means of choosing a password: flipping through the dictionary at random. (After this article was posted online, Alperovitch noted that the passwords included random characters in addition to the words.) The Overwatch team kept an eye on Falcon to ensure there were no new intrusions. On Sunday night, once the operation was complete, Alperovitch took his team to celebrate at the Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão.

Curiously, the last email in the archive was noon, May 25 – about 14 days before Crowdstrike changed all the passwords on the week-end of June 10-12. Two days later (June 14), the DNC arranged for a self-serving article in the Washington Post in which they announced the hack and blamed it on the Russians. Crowdstrike published a technical report purporting to support the analysis and the story went viral.

There were no fewer than 14409 emails in the Wikileaks archive dating after Crowdstrike’s installation of its security software. In fact, more emails were hacked after Crowdstrike’s discovery on May 6 than before. Whatever actions were taken by Crowdstrike on May 6, they did nothing to stem the exfiltration of emails from the DNC. (Read more: Climate Audit/Steve McIntire, 9/02/2017)