Hacking Team supported Italian Special Operations Group with BGP Routing Hijack

Documents leaked online after the Hacking Team hack revealed how the Italian firm supported the Italian Special Operations Group with BGP Routing Hijack.

We are following day by day the evolution of the recent Hacking Team hack, the hackers posted online 400 GB of source code, company emails and documents, a treasure for hackers, cyber spies and security experts.

The stolen data includes a number of exploits codes for Adobe Flash zero-days, the last one reported by the media during the weekend.

The analysis of the emails leaked online suggests that in 2013 the company hijacked Internet address space belonging to spammer-friendly Internet service provider in a bid to regain control over a spy network Hacking Team apparently had set up for the Italian National Military Police.

Hacking Team has sold surveillance malware worldwide to a number of Governments and Intelligence agencies, its codes are considered by experts technological jewels that allowed the company to syphon data from the targets, record communications, keystrokes, and much more.

The Hacking Team created an effective surveillance network that they maintained with various techniques, as explained by Brian Krebs the experts of the Italian surveillance firm used a method quite similar to the one adopted by spammers and cyber criminals to maintain their botnets.

According to a leaked email, in 2013 the Hacking Team has hidden its control servers at the Santrex ISP, an internet service provider ordinary used also by spammers, in that circumstance the company set up a command and control network for the Special Operations Group of the Italian National Military Police (INMP). The network was used by the Italian law enforcement to investigate on organized crime and terrorism.

Unfortunately, Santrex unexpectedly shut down all of its servers due to a series of internal network issues that caused continuous outages.

As I documented in October 2013Santrex unexpectedly shut down all of its servers, following a series of internal network issues and extensive downtime. Santrex made that decision after several months of incessant attacks, hacks and equipment failures at its facilities caused massive and costly problems for the ISP and its customers. The company’s connectivity problems essentially made it impossible for either Hacking Team or the INMP to maintain control over the machines infected with the spyware.” states Krebs.

At this point, the Italian law enforcement lost the control of the surveillance network so the INMP and Hacking Team put a plan into action to restore control of their network.

The OpenDNS Security Labs documented how the INMP and Hacking Team regain control over the Internet addresses abandoned by the Santrex ISP by using “BGP hijacking,” to redirect the traffic and migrate their hacking infrastructure.


Despite nobody noticed the hack OpenDNS discovered the attack by reviewing historic BGP records.

Spammers sometimes hijack Internet address ranges that are not used for periods of time, basically attackers “announce” to the rest of the Internet that their hosting services managed these address space and in case no one notices it and express explicit opposition to the change the hackers gain the control of the Internet address ranges.

The case demonstrates how law enforcement and intelligence agencies could rely on malicious infrastructure to hit their targets, in March 2014 I reported how the NSA used a sophisticated hacking platform codenamed Turbine to take control of C&C servers managed by cyber criminal organizations.

Pierluigi Paganini

July 14, 2015

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