The Russian banking giant Alfa announced, in a press statement, that hackers targeted its cyber infrastructure in a large-scale DNS Botnet attack. The purpose appears to have been to make it seem as though the bank had been communicating with the Trump Organization. The bank is now asking U.S. to assist it to uncover the culprits.
On Friday, the bank revealed that their servers were under three cyber attacks targeting the domain name server (DNS) since mid-February. It is unclear who was behind these attacks; the details show unknown hackers allegedly used Amazon and Google servers to send requests to a Trump Organization server posing to look like they came from Alfa Bank, pushing the Trump server to respond back to the bank.
An Alfa Bank spokesperson said: “The cyber attacks are an attempt by unknown parties to manufacture the illusion of contact between Alfa Bank’s DNS servers and ’Trump servers’’.
Furthermore, Alfa Bank revealed that it is ready to work with the U.S. law enforcement agency to identify the individuals involved in the campaign. The bank has already hired Stroz Friedberg, a US-based cyber security firm to get into the depth of the matter.
“The cyber attacks are an attempt by unknown parties to manufacture the illusion of contact between Alfa Bank’s DNS servers and ‘Trump servers,” an Alfa Bank representative said in a statement. “We have gone to the U.S. Justice Department and offered our complete cooperation to get to the bottom of this sham and fraud.”
On February 18, 2017, the bank claims it experienced suspicious cyber activity from an unidentified third-party. Specifically, the unidentified third-party repeatedly sent suspicious DNS queries from servers in the U.S. to a Trump Organization server. The unidentified individuals made it look as though these queries originated from variants of MOSCow.ALFAintRa.nET.
The use of upper and lower case indicated the human intervention in the process. Moreover, Alfa Bank says it received more than 1,340 DNS responses containing mail.trump-email.com.moscow.alfaintra.net.
Last week, CNN reported that the FBI’s counterintelligence team was investigating if there was a computer server connection between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank during the U.S. election, according to sources close to the investigation. The bank has now denied that there was ever a conversation between both parties.
Mark McArdle, CTO at cyber security company eSentire commented on the issue and said that:
“A botnet is typically associated with an attack that leverages scale, as it can employ thousands (potentially millions with IoT devices) of devices and use them to coordinate an attack on a target. We’ve seen this with some big DDoS attacks. We also see botnets being used as platforms for large-scale spamming. However, the number of DNS connections reported in the Alfa Bank attacks (1,340 in once case) don’t indicate massive scale. A botnet, however, can be used to add another layer of obfuscation between you and your attacker. Following the breadcrumbs back could bring you to a PVR that has been hacked and is now part of a botnet. I suspect in this case, the botnet is being used more for obfuscation of identity than scale. The attackers may be using a botnet to send spoofed DNS requests to a legitimate Trump server using a spoofed “reply-to” address inside Alfa-Bank’s infrastructure.
Spoofing DNS lookups is not very difficult since DNS is not authenticated, and the ability to spoof source addresses is unfortunately still available – all you need is a system to launch your attack from that is connected to the Internet via an ISP that doesn’t filter out spoofed source addresses. While this type of attack has been around for a while, what’s new in this case is that someone is using it to try and contrive evidence of a relationship where neither party sought one.
Additionally, there is also reference in Alfa Bank’s statement about Spam messages from firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s also possible to spoof email (spammers do this all the time). A spoofed email could include a reference to a legitimate Trump Org server and a real connection would be established if a user clicked on it (or selected “show images” in the email). Again, this does not mean the email came from Trump Org, just that it was sent in order to attempt to solicit “a connection” between Trump Org and Alfa-Bank.”
Either way, identity is difficult to determine unless cryptographic certificates are used, and ultimate hack attribution is even more difficult.
This is not the first time that allegations surrounding Trump’s relations with Russia have emerged. Some believe Russia hacked the US election to give Trump a way to win the presidency while some believe that Russian media was involved in spreading fake news against Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton. Either way, nothing has been proven yet.