LOS ANGELES (AP) — Everyone has a theory about who really hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.
Despite President Barack Obama's conclusion that North Korea was the culprit, the Internet's newest game of whodunit continues. Top theories include disgruntled Sony insiders, hired hackers, other foreign governments or Internet hooligans. Even some experts are undecided, with questions about why the communist state would steal and leak gigabytes of data, email threats to some Sony employees and their families and then threaten moviegoers who planned to watch "The Interview" on Christmas.
"Somebody's done it. And right now this knowledge is known to God and whoever did it," said Martin Libicki, a cyber security expert at RAND in Arlington, Virginia, who thinks it probably was North Korea. "So we gather up a lot of evidence, and the evidence that the FBI has shown so far doesn't allow one to distinguish between somebody who is North Korea and somebody who wants to look like North Korea."
Perhaps the only point of agreement among those guessing is that even the most dramatic cybercrimes can be really, really hard to solve convincingly. When corporations are breached, investigators seldom focus on attributing the crime because their priority is assessing damage and preventing it from happening again.
"Attribution is a very hard game to play," said Mike Fey, president of security company Blue Coat Systems Inc. and former chief technology officer at McAfee Inc. "Like any criminal activity, how they get away with it is a very early step in the planning process, and framing another organization or individual is a great way to get away with something.
Fey added: "If they're smart enough and capable enough to commit a high profile attack, they're very often smart enough and capable enough to masquerade as someone else. It can be very difficult to find that true smoking gun."
In a report earlier this month, Fey's company described a malicious software tool called Inception, in which attackers suggested a link to China, used home routers in South Korea, included comments in Hindi, with text in Arabic, the words "God_Save_The_Queen" in another string, and used other techniques to show links to the United States, Ukraine or Russia.
Unlike crimes in the physical world, forensic investigators in the cyber world can't dust for fingerprints or corroborate evidence by interviewing suspects. In prior closed-book cases, cyber criminals caught bragging online were only charged after evidence was found on their hard drives.
"The NSA (National Security Agency) has penetrated a lot of computers, but until Ed Snowden came around, nobody was certain because the NSA has the world's best operational security. They know how to cover their tracks and fingerprints very well," Libicki said.
After Sony was hacked, investigators analyzed network logs, the hacking tool and the remains of their crippled network. The investigation began after the attackers announced themselves and wiped the systems by crippling Sony's hard drives. Security professionals discovered that the hackers had been conducting surveillance on it since the spring. And if not for the theatrics of the Guardians of Peace, as the hackers call themselves, the breach could have easily continued for months without knowledge of the compromise.
Because North Korea is so isolated and its Internet infrastructure is not directly connected to the outside world, it's more difficult to trace attacks originating there. North Korea has vehemently denied that it was responsible for the attack.
To complicate matters, roughly 10 percent of home computers are compromised by hackers, allowing their use to conduct attacks on others, said Clifford Neuman, a director of the University of Southern California Center for Computer Systems Security. These compromised machines become networks of computers controlled remotely by hackers and borrowed or rented in an underground economy.
Botnets "could be used by cyber terrorists or nation states to steal sensitive data, raise funds, limit attribution of cyber attacks or disrupt access to critical national infrastructure," Gordon Snow, then-assistant director of the FBI's cyber division, told a Senate panel in 2011.
The FBI worked with other U.S. agencies, including the National Security Agency, on the Sony investigation to trace the attacks. The FBI said clues included similarities to other tools developed by North Korea in specific lines of computer code, encryption algorithms and data deletion methods. It also discovered that computer Internet addresses known to be operated by North Korea were communicating directly with other computers used to deploy and control the hacking tools and collect the stolen Sony files.
The FBI said some of its evidence against North Korea was so sensitive it couldn't be revealed. Neuman said that could include reviewing evidence of communications or even recorded conversations between suspected hackers before or during the breach and subsequent leaks of Sony's confidential business information.
"Attribution to any high degree of certainty will always be impossible," said Chris Finan, a former White House cyber security adviser. "At some point these are always judgment calls. You can do things like corroborate using intelligence sources and methods. But ultimately you're still looking at a pool of evidence and you're drawing a conclusion."
Even knowing North Korea was involved doesn't mean others weren't, too.
"It's very difficult to understand the chain of command in something like this," Fey said. "Is this a hacking-for-hire scenario? Is it truly delivered by an organization? Or, is it possible there's some alternate nefarious plot under way none of us understand yet."
He later added: "One last idea. What if all this is just a movie-goer (who) can't stand the idea of another Seth Rogan movie?"
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams.
NEW YORK (AP) — Rocker Jon Bon Jovi donned a New York Police Department T-shirt on stage. Well-wishers delivered home-baked cookies by the hundreds to police in Cincinnati. In Mooresville, North Carolina, police and sheriff's officers were treated by residents to a chili dinner.
At a time when many in the nation's police community feel embattled, Americans in cities and towns across the country are making an effort to express support and gratitude.
"I'm showing a little solidarity for my brothers in the NYPD and all of those who protect and serve us every day," Bon Jovi told a cheering crowd at his concert Monday in Red Bank, New Jersey.
The surge of support is linked to two distinct but overlapping developments.
The immediate catalyst was the killings of two New York City police officers as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday. For many of those making appreciative gestures, there also was a desire to counter the widespread protests — steeped with criticism of police — that followed grand jury decisions not to charge white officers for their roles in the deaths of black men Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York.
Becky Grizovic, of Walton, Kentucky, helps orchestrate a campaign called Cookies for a Cop that provides treats to officers in more than 200 departments in 23 states. She was joined by her husband, son and a neighbor in delivering cookies to Cincinnati police stations on Monday.
At the District 2 station house, Capt. Jeffrey Butler said the gesture was especially appreciated in light of the deaths of the two officers in New York.
"The reason that this started is that I've just been so disheartened by the news," Grizovic said in a phone interview. "I wanted to do something positive to lift their spirits because this is so hard on all of them."
Rallies and vigils in support of police have taken place recently in several locations, including Nashville, Tennessee; West Orange, New Jersey; Annapolis, Maryland, and New York City's Riverdale neighborhood.
Among those gathering Monday night in Nashville was Merri Puckett, a retired police officer.
"The police are really taking a hard hit right now," she told The Tennessean newspaper. "Ninety-nine percent of the officers out there are doing a good job, and it's a thankless job and they need to know that the public supports them."
In Minden, Nevada, there was a one-man rally in support of local officers.
John Munk, a retired sheriff's deputy, stood in front of the post office with a sign reading, "God Bless Law Enforcement."
"It's disheartening how people are treating law enforcement across the country," Munk told the Record-Courier of nearby Gardnerville. "I wanted to do this to show what a great community we have here."
Another former officer, Rick Goforth, was the chef and organizer for Monday night's dinner in Mooresville, North Carolina, for which he served up 30 quarts of chili.
"I told the chief ... loosen your gun belt, man," Goforth joked with a reporter from Charlotte's WCNC-TV.
The police chief, Carl Robbins, said it's been a difficult time for officers, particularly after the two deaths in New York.
In New York's bustling Times Square, several officers reported that people on the street were shouting out words of encouragement — a sound they weren't hearing before the weekend killings.
"It's uplifting," said one officer, who — under NYPD rules — was not supposed to do media interviews while on street duty.
On Staten Island, the New York borough where Eric Garner died after being placed in an officer's chokehold, artist Scott LoBaido created a large, illuminated outdoor sculpture in tribute to the two slain police officers. In Indianapolis and some other localities, Facebook campaigns were urging people to adorn their porches with blue lights in support of local police.
For the moment, the deaths of the two New York City officers has somewhat muted the long-running protest campaign sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. However, a coalition of groups involved in those protests has signaled they will persevere.
"We continue to see elected officials and police leadership twist this tragedy into an opportunity for them to silence the cries for justice from families who have lost their loved ones to police violence," said the coalition, which includes Ferguson Action and Youth United for Change. "Our families matter, too."
Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister, Tom Hays and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — While the Senate report on the CIA's interrogation program and the spy agency's official response clash on almost every aspect of the long-secret operation, both reports largely agree the agency mismanaged the now-shuttered program.
The reports differ sharply on various aspects of the program from the brutality and effectiveness of its methods and the agency's secret dealings with the Bush White House, Congress and the media.
The 525-page summary from the Senate Intelligence Committee paints a chaotic landscape of bureaucratic dysfunction, showing an agency unprepared to take control of terrorist prisoners, unqualified field interrogators who overstepped their legal authority and CIA bosses ignorant about exactly how many detainees were warehoused in their overseas prisons. CIA oversight, the Senate committee found, "was deeply flawed throughout the program's duration."
The CIA agrees in its official response that "the agency made serious missteps in the management and operation of the program." But it said the breakdowns came in the program's early days and that internal changes corrected much of the disarray before President George W. Bush ordered the "black site" prisons emptied in 2006.
The divide over the depth of the CIA's management failures reflects a long-standing history of conflict between the agency and its critics over how mistakes should be corrected — and whether reforms should come from within or be forced from outside.
The committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the panel aimed to "ensure coercive interrogation practices are not used by our government again." The agency has proposed a series of changes that would more tightly monitor its covert action programs, but CIA Director John Brennan has been less clear about whether the agency would ever again use interrogation techniques that President Barack Obama calls torture.
"We are not contemplating at all getting back into the detention program," Brennan said at a recent news conference. But he added that the agency would "defer to the policymakers."
The most glaring human evidence of mismanagement cited by the committee is its description of the agency's wrongful detention of at least 26 prisoners and CIA officials' inability to account for 44 detainees held in one overseas prison facility. The report cites the prison only as "Detention Site Cobalt," but former U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive material identified it as the agency's now-abandoned dungeon in Afghanistan known as the "Salt Pit."
The Senate report cites the high-profile case of Khalid al-Masri, a Lebanese man living in Germany who was grabbed in 2003 by Macedonian authorities and handed over to U.S. officials on erroneous suspicions of terrorist ties. Al-Masri was flown to the Salt Pit, where he was subjected to abusive interrogation tactics and held for months until his captors turned him loose on an Albanian road in April 2004. He sued the U.S. government unsuccessfully in American courts but won compensation from Macedonia in a 2012 judgment by the European Court of Human Rights.
The Senate report said the al-Masri case was only the most well-known of nearly a dozen instances where "officers at CIA headquarters continued to fail to properly monitor justifications for the capture and detention of detainees."
The agency agreed that mistaken detentions "remain a blemish on CIA's record of interpreting and working within its terrorism authorities." But the CIA questioned the Senate's numbers and said that internal reforms tightened oversight.
"CIA acknowledges that it detained at least six individuals who failed to meet the proper standard for detention," the agency wrote. It said some detainees counted by the Senate were not part of the CIA's program.
The Senate report said CIA cables and memos showed that agency headquarters officials were stunned in 2003 to learn that they had 44 previously unreported detainees in one prison — also identified by the former officials as the Salt Pit. All of the detainees had been held in solitary confinement for months and many had no known intelligence value. The report says most were later released, with some given CIA compensation.
Both reports blame poor record-keeping, particularly the lack of documents justifying each suspect's detention. The CIA agreed that "many of the appropriate records are either absent or inadequate, especially during the 2002-2003 period." But the agency said that standards tightened, adding that the Senate report "tars CIA's entire (detention and interrogation) effort with the mistakes of the first months."
The Senate report said mismanagement ran the duration of the program. The committee said the CIA failed to assess the effectiveness of its coercive tactics, lacked enough linguists to interpret for some detainees, repeatedly used interrogators who were untrained with a history of violence and did little to discipline interrogators and officers in cases that included overstepping guidelines and the 2002 death of a Salt Pit detainee.
In each case, the CIA acknowledged problems, but said it either made corrections or suggested the Senate committee overstated its evidence.
Some CIA veterans said there were no apparent signs of mismanagement inside the agency's Langley headquarters at the time.
"You know there are problems with a major program if it gets talked about in the hallways. That was not something I heard at the time," said Robert Wallace, a former senior CIA executive who headed the agency's Office of Technical Services before retiring in 2004.
Other former CIA veterans said hints of chaos made the rounds in overseas stations.
"We heard through the grapevine that these things were being done," said Charles Faddis, a former CIA counterterrorism veteran. He said he agreed with the overall thrust of the report's major criticisms but said the Senate should have kept the document secret.
Faddis, who was posted in Iraq during that post-9/11 period and now heads Orion Strategic Services, a national security consulting firm, said that he told colleagues in Iraq they had to adhere to long-standing guidelines forbidding physical coercion when questioning Iraqi detainees.
"I told them it doesn't matter what you're hearing," he said, "these are the rules and that's the way it is."
DANDRIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — An injured Marine received an early present just before Christmas — a home for the holidays.
Marine Sgt. Bradley Walker, who was injured in Iraq in 2006 became the latest recipient of a new custom built home from national non-profit Homes For Our Troops.
For the third year in a row, the organization has built specially adapted homes mortgage-free for severely injured veterans across the nation between Veteran's Day and Christmas.
Family, friends, veteran organizations, volunteers and business officials that helped donate items to the home all attended a key giving ceremony at Walker's new residence in the Holly Oaks Subdivision of Dandridge on the Saturday before Christmas.
HFOT president ret. Maj. Gen. Tim McHale welcomed Walker "home for the holidays" and thanked everyone in attendance.
McHale said his organizations' goal is to honor the sacrifices of service members who have been severely injured while defending the country.
"We don't see this as charity. We see this as a moral obligation to the men and women who have gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. They defended our freedom the least we can go is give them a form of freedom in return," McHale said.
Before cutting the ribbon to enter his home, Walker was given an American flag to raise and switch with the flying flag of his military branch on the flagpole of his home, a tradition of the non-profit.
Walker was on his second Marine deployment when he lost both of his legs in an IED blast in Haqlaniyah, Iraq on Nov. 27, 2006.
A member of the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, Walker was driving a security vehicle returning from a mission when his vehicle triggered an IED along the Euphrates River.
Knocked unconscious by the blast and suffering the traumatic amputations of both of his legs, Walker received lifesaving aid from his squad; stabilizing him and preparing him for a medical evacuation by helicopter.
Walker would later be transferred back to the U.S. where he was hospitalized in Bethesda, Maryland and spent more than two years in rehabilitation at Walter Reed Hospital where he received prosthetic legs.
The new home is just the start for a lot of new beginnings as Walker was beside his fianceé Anna Lilly, during the entire ceremony. The couple plan to wed next year.
Walker, who is originally from Dandridge, has been living with his father in a home that isn't very accessible to him when he is in his wheelchair.
In his father's house, Walker can't access some of the areas like the laundry room because he can't get his wheelchair through the door.
Walker said the biggest benefit of the new home is its accessibility and how it will instantly improve his mobility.
The home has 155 special features, from wide hallways to powered doors to rollover cabinet features and a therapy tub, all to unlock the freedom and independence for Walker.
Walker said the home is a place where he can live without any added stressors providing needed features for independence.
"One thing that will make it so much easier is the access in the kitchen, everything is this house is made for someone in a wheelchair to be able to access any part, the large tub, shower everything," he said.
Walker had found out about Home For Our Troops through fellow Marines, in particularly Kenny Lyons, of Virginia who received a home through the organization after going through rehabilitation with Walker.
Lyons was present for Walker's home groundbreaking and the key ceremony.
Walker said the entire process to get the home took him two years, after going for an initial meeting to the organization's headquarters in Massachusetts.
The home itself took a little over six months to build.
With the keys to his new home, which was complete with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, large closets, and extra spacious kitchen, dining and living areas, Walker was rendered almost speechless at the final result.
"It's going to take a while for it to all soak in. I still feel like I'm dreaming and haven't got out of bed yet," he said.
"Homes For Our Troops is very important because their mission and goal to get homes for wounded service members. It's great to be a part of the HFOT family. It's all very surreal. Words can't express everything I'm feeling right now," Walker said.