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Cyberattack Momentarily Pauses Trading at Bitfinex Crypto Exchange

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DDoS attacks have become common in recent days. There have been many digital currency exchanges that have been targeted by hackers over the years in these short attacks that make the networks unavailable momentarily. The latest victim of the attack has been Bitfinex, which is among the leading exchanges in the world.

The attack forced the exchange to be closed briefly on Tuesday during the morning hours. The attack was typical of previously recorded attacks in other exchanges and the objective was to disrupt the services. DDoS attacks are known to be quite potent and capable of shutting down even the strongest systems.

Bitfinex Confirmed the Veracity of the Attack

The communication team at Bitfinex came out to clarify the issue after users reported issues with the system. A message from the company’s website indicated that the attack was indeed carried out on one of the company’s service providers, which resulted in a service outage for a while. Several users had already noted the system was behaving in a slow and passive manner.

The statement from the company explained that the issues observed were as reported due to the overloading caused in the systems by the said attack. The attack had ramifications on the markets as the price of Bitcoin fell by 2%.

The financial markets like forex, stock, and even crypto rely a lot on the news coming out from the media. Media channels that carry crypto trading information can momentarily influence what is going on in the markets as the recent attack has shown.

Even though the recent attack has had an effect on the market, they will be reversed in due course especially since services at the exchange have gone back to normal. As of 11 a.m. ET, Bitfinex was said to have restored its normal operations. The company also assured users that they were doing everything to follow up on the situation. Earlier news from the company was however conflicting since the attack was not mentioned. The company had instead chosen to claim that a planned maintenance was ongoing.

Regarding the extent of the attack, only trading operations were affected the most. As Bitfinex has revealed, the user data for its clients was not compromised nor exposed to risk. There has not been any major attack that compromised clients’ funds in recent history.

Bitfinex has been on the market for over five years now. The company has had an interesting journey since it was established in Hong Kong. Over the years, the company has had a fair share of challenges and successes. In overall, its successes have been more profound as it occupies a formidable position in the market today.

When it was founded, its main goal was to act as a peer-to-peer exchange for bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency at the time. As time went by and the market diversified, the currency exchange platform also grew and accommodated other cryptocurrencies as well. The history of attacks on this exchange and others is quite familiar to crypto traders. Last year, another major attacked that targeted various exchanges also hit Bitfinex.

Attacks on Exchanges are Common

One of the few major attacks that resulted in the loss of bitcoin was the famous attack of August 2016 where over 100,000 bitcoin were lost.

Security is often a major challenge for all digital financial platforms. There have been many efforts done over the years to overcome security challenges and there has definitely been an improvement in this area. The attackers on the system are however always bolder as time passes. This year, attackers stole crypto units of a minor digital currency to the tune of nearly $500 million in value. This happened on a well-known Japanese exchange, Coincheck. Youbit, a South Korean exchange that has a substantial number of users also lost nearly 20% of its digital assets after a successful attack on the system was performed.

There are indeed many more cases recorded over the world as attacks on exchange platforms are rampant. One of the most famous attacks was in 2014 when Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based exchange was successfully attacked with profound losses. Assets of over 700,000 users were lost in the process and the exchange came tumbling down. This attack was major because the exchange was at the top of the market at that time.

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Student @ Advanced Digital Sciences Center, Singapore. Travelled to 30+ countries, passion for basketball.

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Why an Email Verifier Is A Necessary Tool for Your Business

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business email verifier

Most people promoting their businesses through email have realized they need to use an email verifier to keep their email lists clean. There are several reasons why your emails bounce or are reported as Spam, thus affecting your sending reputation. That’s why an email cleaning service is a necessary tool for any email marketer. But the question arises, what exactly is an email verifier and how does it help you?

To understand what an email verifier does, let’s talk about the several features it provides:

  • Email Bounce Checker: Online marketing and email promotions have become an integral part of any business advertisement model. However, if your emails are unable to reach genuine users and your email bounce backs are increasing day by day, an email verifier can save the day. It removes fake and invalid email addresses from your list, helping you reach your customers and increase your conversions.
  • Spam Trap and Abuse E-mail Checker: Spam traps and abuse emails will get you a bad reputation and might even get you blacklisted. An email verifier checks your email contacts and identifies any kind of risk prevailing email addresses. Otherwise, sending emails to spam complainers will cause your emails to land into the Spam folder, even when you’re emailing users who want to hear from you.
  • A.I. Email Scoring & Catch-All Validation: Email verifier ZeroBounce offers an email scoring system that incorporates the use of artificial intelligence to validate your email addresses. The system tells you which leads pose a high risk and which ones are safe to use.
  • E-mail Address List Append: This feature adds missing users’ data to your database. This process not only reveals full-fledged data about subscribers, but also helps you eradicate fake or inactive email accounts. Moreover, knowing your users or recipients allows you to personalize your emails according to their needs and expectations.

A good email verifier helps email marketers maintain a clean sending reputation with ISPs and ESPs. It also helps you reach a broader, genuine audience and eliminate inactive and fake leads.

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Wars: From Weapons to Cyberattacks

Alexandra Goman

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Historically war focused on public contests which involve arms, e.g. Gentili’s concept of war. The main goal of such contests is to inflict damage to soldiers of an opposing side. Through this lens, cyberwar may be seen as a contest which perhaps involves certain arms. But it should be noted that these contests are very seldom public, mostly due to attribution problem. Even more, cyberattacks do not kill or wound soldiers; instead they aim to disrupt a property. It is, however, somewhat debatable, because such disruption of a system (like meddling with the nuclear facilities of Iran) may have an effect on both, civilians and combatants in a longer run. However, these secondary consequences are not the primary goal of a cyberattack, thus, there should be a difference between a cyberwar and a war.

The element of war being public is very important, as war is always openly declared. Additionally, an opposing side is given a chance to respond to the enemy by whatever means it deems necessary. In the context of cyberwar, this is more complicated. In case of cyberattacks, it is very difficult to determine the source and the initial attacker (more precisely, an attribution problem which is to be addressed further). Moreover, many attackers prefer to remain silent. This argument is further exacerbated by the lack of evidence. At this date the best example of cyber warfare, going somewhat public, is Stuxnet – not attributed to and officially admitted.

In the end, the attack became public but it was hidden for a year before its discovery. The specialists did notice the Iranian centrifuges malfunctioning[1] but they failed to identify the source of problems. This cyberattack was new because it did not hijack a computer or extort money; it was specifically designed to sabotage an industrial facility, uranium enrichment plant in Natanz.

However, attribution still falls behind. U.S and Israel are believed to launch Stuxnet, however they denied their involvement. Moreover, not any other country as officially admitted that. Based on the previous argument, for war to happen it has to be public. The case of Stuxnet or its similar computer programs does not therefore prove the case of cyberwar.

Moreover, if war is seen as a repeated series of contests and battles, pursued for a common cause and reason (for example, to change the behavior of the adversary), then there should be more attacks than just one. Nothing seems to preclude that one state may attempt launching a series of cyberattacks against an enemy in the future, which consequently be named a war. However, the adversary should be able to respond to the attacks.

Another view argues that the just war tradition[2] can accommodate cyberwar; however there are also some questions to take into consideration. In cyberwar, a cyber tool is just means which is used by military or the government to achieve a certain goal. This fits the just war tradition very well, because the just war tradition does not say much about means used in war. It is more focused on effects and intentions (See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online).

The example of cyberweapons and the debate around them prove that they are discussed in the same way as any other evolving technology. If agents, effects, and intentions are identified, cyberwar should supposedly apply to the just war tradition similarly to any other types of war. However, cyber means has unique characteristics: ubiquity, uncontrollability of cyberspace and its growing importance in everyday life. These characteristics make cyberwar more dangerous, and therefore it increases the threat in relation to cyberwar.

Another useful concept of war to which cyber is being applied is the concept of war by the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz. It presents the trinity of war: violence, instrumental role, and political nature (Clausewitz, 1832). Any offensive action which is considered as an act of war has to meet all three elements.

Firstly, any war is violent where the use of force compels the opponent to do the will of the attacker (Ibid., 1). It is lethal and has casualties. Secondly, an act of war has a goal which may be achieved in the end of the war (or failed to achieve in case the attacker is defeated). The end of war, in this sense, happens when the opponent surrenders or cannot sustain any more damage. The third element represents political character. As Clausewitz puts it, “war is a mere continuation of politics by other means” (Ibid., p. 29). A state has a will that it wants to enforce on another (or other) states through the use of force.  When applying this model to cyber, there are some complications.

Cyber activities may be effective without violence and do not need to be instrumental to work. According to Rid, even if they have any political motivation, they are likely to be interested in avoiding attribution for some period of time. That is why, he highlights, cybercrime has been thriving and was more successful that acts of war (Rid, 2012, p.16).  However, in all three aspects, the use of force is essential.

In the case of war, the damage is inflicted through the use of force. It may be a bomb, dropped on the city; or a drone-strike that destroys its target. In any case, the use of force is followed by casualties: buildings destroyed, or people killed. However, in cyberspace the situation is different. The actual use of force in cyberspace is a more complicated notion.

[1] International Atomic Energy Agency (2010). IAEA statement on Iranian Enrichment Announcement. [online] Available at: https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/iaea-statement-iranian-enrichment-announcement [Accessed on 28.12.2017].

[2] Jus bellum iustum (Lat.) – sometimes referred both as “just war tradition” and “just war theory”. Just war theory explains justifications for how and why wars are fought. The historical approach is concerned with historical rules or agreements applied to different wars (e.g. Hague convention). The theory deals with the military ethics and describes the forms that a war may take.  Ethics is divided into two groups: jus ad bellum (the right to go to war) and jus in bello (right conduct of war). (See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online). In the text Cook applies cyberwar to the just war tradition, rather than theory. In his belief, “tradition” describes something which evolves as the product of culture (In Ohlin, Govern and Finkelstein, 2015, p. 16).

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Stuxnet: a New Era in Global Security

Alexandra Goman

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Stuxnet was a malware which affected an Iranian nuclear facility (along with couple of other industrial sites across the world). It was found in 2010 but it took quite a while to actually discover it. What is particular about it is the fact that it crossed the line between cyber and physical domain, showing that it was possible to use a code to damage a critical infrastructure.  Before it, a general debate in national / global security on how a critical infrastructure can be targeted and damaged through the information system has only been theoretical.  After Stuxnet it was evident that cyberspace could be exploited and used to launch cyberattacks in order to cause physical damage. So what actually happened?

On June 17, 2010 Sergey Ulazin from a small security company in Belarus received a help-request for technical support from a customer in Iran. Arbitrary BSODs (a stop error after a system crash) and computer reboots were reported. After careful examination and a regular check for system malfunction, it was discovered that a malware infection was probably involved (The Man Who Found Stuxnet – Sergey Ulasen in the Spotlight). Having a stealthy nature and strange payload, it was later named Stuxnet, according to the file-name found in the code. A computer worm infected at least 14 industrial sites in Iran along with the uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz.

It carried genuine digital certificates (they guarantee that you can trust a file) from recognized companies, and it was well-developed and direct. The malware was able to determine the target it was looking for. In case, it was not, it did nothing and moved on to another system. This “fingerprinting of the control systems” proved that it was not just an average malicious program, but a targeted malware that meant to destroy.

Although Stuxnet relied on a physical person to install it (via USB flash drive), the worm spreads on its own between computers with Windows operating system. It affects other machines, regardless of the connection to the Internet though a local computer network. It could also infect other USB flash drives and jump into other computers through it. Moreover, it proliferates very quickly.

Once the worm infects a system, it waits, checking if necessary parameters are met. As soon as they are, it activates a sequence that causes industrial process to self-destruct. Symantec, a software company that provides cyber security software and services, conducted a thorough analysis of Stuxnet and found that Iran, Indonesia and India were the most affected countries in the early days of infection. The nuclear facility at Natanz was one of the most affected.

Furthermore, the principle is that this malware identifies a target, then records the data and finally decides what normal operations are. After this, it plays pre-recorded data on the computers of the personnel so that they think that the centrifuges are running normally, when in fact they are not. In the end, it erases itself from the system so that it cannot be traced and/or found.

The International Atomic Energy Agency inspected the Natanz facility and confirmed (International Atomic Energy Agency (2010)) that the centrifuges were malfunctioning and producing less than 20% of enriched uranium. However, at that time, the reason for that was unknown. The most detailed damage assessment came later from the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. It claimed that Stuxnet destroyed 984 centrifuges. However, Iran has not provided such a number, and the IAEA failed to give precise information on the damage.

Stuxnet crossed this line where a code infects software or digital programs, what it actually did, it affected the physical equipment. This has brought a new technological revolution. Before, viruses were used by cyber pranksters and minor rowdies to cause a system to crash on computers of innocent victims. But state-to-state attacks and a cyberwar were not discussed and were not thought of, as it was something out of science fiction scenarios. Stuxnet has changed this perception, and opened a new era in global security.

A former chief of industrial control systems cyber security research said that Stuxnet was “the first view of something … that doesn’t need outside guidance by a human – but can still take control of your infrastructure. This is the first direct example of weaponized software, highly customized and designed to find a particular target.” It is not hard to imagine that similar malicious programs can be developed in the future and used to achieve a military and/or political goal.

Many believe that the cyberattacks on Iran nuclear facility were meant to slow down Iran nuclear program. However, enrichment recovered within a year, and did not permanently damage nuclear program. Some experts also say that it had no effect on nuclear program whatsoever and the whole situation around Stuxnet was over-hyped by the media. Others are also saying that evidence on the malware has been inconclusive and Stuxnet may have, in fact, helped in speeding up Iranian nuclear program. The media reaction towards cyberattacks may have been exaggerated because of the secrecy around cyber issues but in end Stuxnet has made a good story.

As to the parties involved, the attack was not tied to a specific name and/or a country. Yet, it widely believed to be launched by U.S. and Israel. The sophistication of the program required considerable amount of resources, including extensive financial support and skilled specialists. This is why many security companies and experts agree on attributing the complex malware to one or more states. Among them is Kaspersky Lab, a multinational cyber security company, who says that the attack was launched with a specific motivation in mind. The attackers wanted to access industrial control systems which monitor and control infrastructure and processes of the facility. (Similar systems are used in power plants, communication systems, airports, and even military sites). Moreover, such an attack required significant amount of intelligence data so Kaspersky Lab is convinced that it was likely supported by a nation state.

Although the identity of the attacker is still unknown, many experts in international politics believe that the attack was clearly politically-motivated and aimed to slow down the development of Iran’s nuclear program. The United States and Israel both deny their involvement in Stuxnet, however, some leaked information (WikiLeaks, CBC interview with a former CIA director Michael Hayden etc.) suggests that the claims might have some credibility. Regardless the claims made, it is important to highlight that no country officially declared that it launched an offensive cyberattack.

All in all, Stuxnet has revolutionized the way we look at malicious digital programs and boosted a debate about cyber tools used for political purpose. After all, we are living in a highly digitalized world where we are dependent on technology. Military is no exception. Digital technologies are widely being incorporated into military planning and operations. Modern nuclear and conventional weapons systems rely and depend on information systems for launching, targeting, command and control, including technologies that govern safety and security. It is clear that future military conflicts will all include a digital aspect and cyber technologies. Stuxnet was just an early version of software that could potentially destroy an industrial site, specifically a nuclear facility. If malware actually achieved its goals, consequences would have been disastrous and could cause an international crisis.

 After all, as experts once have said, “Major concern is no longer weapons of mass destruction, but weapons of mass disruption” (Cetron and Davies, 2009).

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