Mickens on Security

James Mickens, for your amusement. A somewhat random sample:

My point is that security people need to get their priorities straight. The "threat model" section of a security paper resembles the script for a telenovela that was written by a paranoid schizophrenic: there are elaborate narratives and grand conspiracy theories, and there are heroes and villains with fantastic (yet oddly constrained) powers that necessitate a grinding battle of emotional and technical attrition. In the real world, threat models are much simpler (see Figure 1). Basically, you're either dealing with Mossad or not-Mossad. If your adversary is not-Mossad, then you'll probably be fine if you pick a good password and don't respond to emails from ChEaPestPAiNPi11s@virus-basket.biz.ru. If your adversary is the Mossad, YOU'RE GONNA DIE AND THERE'S NOTHING THAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. The Mossad is not intimidated by the fact that you employ https://. If the Mossad wants your data, they're going to use a drone to replace your cellphone with a piece of uranium that's shaped like a cellphone, and when you die of tumors filled with tumors, they're going to hold a press conference and say "It wasn't us" as they wear t-shirts that say "IT WAS DEFINITELY US," and then they're going to buy all of your stuff at your estate sale so that they can directly look at the photos of your vacation instead of reading your insipid emails about them. In summary, https:// and two dollars will get you a bus ticket to nowhere. Also, SANTA CLAUS ISN'T REAL. When it rains, it pours.

Posted on August 28, 2015 at 3:58 PM17 Comments

German BfV - NSA Cooperation

The German newspaper Zeit is reporting the BfV, Germany's national intelligence agency, (probably) illegally traded data about Germans to the NSA in exchange for access to XKeyscore. From Ars Technica:

Unlike Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the domestic-oriented BfV does not employ bulk surveillance of the kind also deployed on a vast scale by the NSA and GCHQ. Instead, it is only allowed to monitor individual suspects in Germany and, even to do that, must obtain the approval of a special parliamentary commission. Because of this targeted approach, BfV surveillance is mainly intended to gather the content of specific conversations, whether in the form of e-mails, telephone exchanges, or even faxes, if anyone still uses them. Inevitably, though, metadata is also gathered, but as Die Zeit explains, "whether the collection of this [meta]data is consistent with the restrictions outlined in Germany's surveillance laws is a question that divides legal experts."

The BfV had no problems convincing itself that it was consistent with Germany's laws to collect metadata, but rarely bothered since­ -- remarkably­ -- all analysis was done by hand before 2013, even though metadata by its very nature lends itself to large-scale automated processing. This explains the eagerness of the BfV to obtain the NSA's XKeyscore software after German agents had seen its powerful metadata analysis capabilities in demonstrations.

It may also explain the massive expansion of the BfV that the leaked document published by Netzpolitik had revealed earlier this year. As Die Zeit notes, the classified budget plans "included the information that the BfV intended to create 75 new positions for the 'mass data analysis of Internet content.' Seventy-five new positions is a significant amount for any government agency."

Note that the documents this story is based on seem to have not been provided by Snowden.

Posted on August 28, 2015 at 9:23 AM11 Comments

Iranian Phishing

CitizenLab is reporting on Iranian hacking attempts against activists, which include a real-time man-in-the-middle attack against Google's two-factor authentication.

This report describes an elaborate phishing campaign against targets in Iran's diaspora, and at least one Western activist. The ongoing attacks attempt to circumvent the extra protections conferred by two-factor authentication in Gmail, and rely heavily on phone-call based phishing and "real time" login attempts by the attackers. Most of the attacks begin with a phone call from a UK phone number, with attackers speaking in either English or Farsi.

The attacks point to extensive knowledge of the targets' activities, and share infrastructure and tactics with campaigns previously linked to Iranian threat actors. We have documented a growing number of these attacks, and have received reports that we cannot confirm of targets and victims of highly similar attacks, including in Iran. The report includes extra detail to help potential targets recognize similar attacks. The report closes with some security suggestions, highlighting the importance of two-factor authentication.

The report quotes my previous writing on the vulnerabilities of two-factor authentication:

As researchers have observed for at least a decade, a range of attacks are available against 2FA. Bruce Schneier anticipated in 2005, for example, that attackers would develop real time attacks using both man-in-the-middle attacks, and attacks against devices. The"real time" phishing against 2FA that Schneier anticipated were reported at least 9 years ago.

Today, researchers regularly point out the rise of "real-time" 2FA phishing, much of it in the context of online fraud. A 2013 academic article provides a systematic overview of several of these vectors. These attacks can take the form of theft of 2FA credentials from devices (e.g. "Man in the Browser" attacks), or by using 2FA login pages. Some of the malware-based campaigns that target 2FA have been tracked for several years, are highly involved, and involve convincing targets to install separate Android apps to capture one-time passwords. Another category of these attacks works by exploiting phone number changes, SIM card registrations, and badly protected voicemail

Boing Boing article. Hacker News thread.

Posted on August 27, 2015 at 12:36 PM15 Comments

Defending All the Targets Is Impossible

In the wake of the recent averted mass shooting on the French railroads, officials are realizing that there are just too many potential targets to defend.

The sheer number of militant suspects combined with a widening field of potential targets have presented European officials with what they concede is a nearly insurmountable surveillance task. The scale of the challenge, security experts fear, may leave the Continent entering a new climate of uncertainty, with added risk attached to seemingly mundane endeavors, like taking a train.

The article talks about the impossibility of instituting airport-like security at train stations, but of course even if were feasible to do that, it would only serve to move the threat to some other crowded space.

Posted on August 27, 2015 at 6:57 AM76 Comments

Regularities in Android Lock Patterns


Marte Løge, a 2015 graduate of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, recently collected and analyzed almost 4,000 ALPs as part of her master's thesis. She found that a large percentage of them­ -- 44 percent­ -- started in the top left-most node of the screen. A full 77 percent of them started in one of the four corners. The average number of nodes was about five, meaning there were fewer than 9,000 possible pattern combinations. A significant percentage of patterns had just four nodes, shrinking the pool of available combinations to 1,624. More often than not, patterns moved from left to right and top to bottom, another factor that makes guessing easier.

Posted on August 26, 2015 at 6:24 AM20 Comments

Movie Plot Threat: Terrorists Attacking US Prisons

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts wins an award for his movie-plot threat: terrorists attacking the maximum-security federal prison at Ft. Leavenworth:

In an Aug. 14 letter to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, Roberts stressed that Kansas in general -- and Leavenworth, in particular -- are not ideal for a domestic detention facility.

"Fort Leavenworth is neither the ideal nor right location for moving Guantánamo detainees," Roberts wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter. "The installation lies right on the Missouri River, providing terrorists with the possibility of covert travel underwater and attempting access to the detention facility."

Not just terrorists, but terrorists with a submarine! This is why Ft. Leavenworth, a prison from which no one has ever escaped, is unsuitable for housing Guantanamo detainees.

I've never understood the argument that terrorists are too dangerous to house in US prisons. They're just terrorists, it's not like they're Magneto.

Posted on August 25, 2015 at 2:19 PM59 Comments

Are Data Breaches Getting Larger?

This research says that data breaches are not getting larger over time.

"Hype and Heavy Tails: A Closer Look at Data Breaches," by Benjamin Edwards, Steven Hofmeyr, and Stephanie Forrest:

Abstract: Recent widely publicized data breaches have exposed the personal information of hundreds of millions of people. Some reports point to alarming increases in both the size and frequency of data breaches, spurring institutions around the world to address what appears to be a worsening situation. But, is the problem actually growing worse? In this paper, we study a popular public dataset and develop Bayesian Generalized Linear Models to investigate trends in data breaches. Analysis of the model shows that neither size nor frequency of data breaches has increased over the past decade. We find that the increases that have attracted attention can be explained by the heavy-tailed statistical distributions underlying the dataset. Specifically, we find that data breach size is log-normally distributed and that the daily frequency of breaches is described by a negative binomial distribution. These distributions may provide clues to the generative mechanisms that are responsible for the breaches. Additionally, our model predicts the likelihood of breaches of a particular size in the future. For example, we find that in the next year there is only a 31% chance of a breach of 10 million records or more in the US. Regardless of any trend, data breaches are costly, and we combine the model with two different cost models to project that in the next three years breaches could cost up to $55 billion.

The paper was presented at WEIS 2015.

Posted on August 25, 2015 at 6:27 AM23 Comments

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