Tracking Secret German Organizations with Apple AirTags

A German activist is trying to track down a secret government intelligence agency. One of her research techniques is to mail Apple AirTags to see where they actually end up:

Wittmann says that everyone she spoke to denied being part of this intelligence agency. But what she describes as a “good indicator,” would be if she could prove that the postal address for this “federal authority” actually leads to the intelligence service’s apparent offices.

“To understand where mail ends up,” she writes (in translation), “[you can do] a lot of manual research. Or you can simply send a small device that regularly transmits its current position (a so-called AirTag) and see where it lands.”

She sent a parcel with an AirTag and watched through Apple’s Find My system as it was delivered via the Berlin sorting center to a sorting office in Cologne-Ehrenfeld. And then appears at the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Cologne.

So an AirTag addressed to a telecommunications authority based in one part of Germany, ends up in the offices of an intelligence agency based in another part of the country.

Wittmann’s research is also now detailed in the German Wikipedia entry for the federal telecommunications service. It recounts how following her original discovery in December 2021, subsequent government press conferences have denied that there is such a federal telecommunications service at all.

Here’s the original Medium post, in German.

In a similar story, someone used an AirTag to track her furniture as a moving company lied about its whereabouts.

Posted on January 28, 2022 at 6:13 AM16 Comments

New DeadBolt Ransomware Targets NAT Devices

There’s a new ransomware that targets NAT devices made by QNAP:

The attacks started today, January 25th, with QNAP devices suddenly finding their files encrypted and file names appended with a .deadbolt file extension.

Instead of creating ransom notes in each folder on the device, the QNAP device’s login page is hijacked to display a screen stating, “WARNING: Your files have been locked by DeadBolt”….

[…]

BleepingComputer is aware of at least fifteen victims of the new DeadBolt ransomware attack, with no specific region being targeted.

As with all ransomware attacks against QNAP devices, the DeadBolt attacks only affect devices accessible to the Internet.

As the threat actors claim the attack is conducted through a zero-day vulnerability, it is strongly advised that all QNAP users disconnect their devices from the Internet and place them behind a firewall.

Posted on January 26, 2022 at 10:04 AM16 Comments

Merck Wins Insurance Lawsuit re NotPetya Attack

The insurance company Ace American has to pay for the losses:

On 6th December 2021, the New Jersey Superior Court granted partial summary judgment (attached) in favour of Merck and International Indemnity, declaring that the War or Hostile Acts exclusion was inapplicable to the dispute.

Merck suffered US$1.4 billion in business interruption losses from the Notpetya cyber attack of 2017 which were claimed against “all risks” property re/insurance policies providing coverage for losses resulting from destruction or corruption of computer data and software.

The parties disputed whether the Notpetya malware which affected Merck’s computers in 2017 was an instrument of the Russian government, so that the War or Hostile Acts exclusion would apply to the loss.

The Court noted that Merck was a sophisticated and knowledgeable party, but there was no indication that the exclusion had been negotiated since it was in standard language. The Court, therefore, applied, under New Jersey law, the doctrine of construction of insurance contracts that gives prevalence to the reasonable expectations of the insured, even in exceptional circumstances when the literal meaning of the policy is plain.

Merck argued that the attack was not “an official state action,” which I’m surprised wasn’t successfully disputed.

Slashdot thread.

Posted on January 25, 2022 at 9:35 AM13 Comments

Linux-Targeted Malware Increased by 35%

Crowdstrike is reporting that malware targeting Linux has increased considerably in 2021:

Malware targeting Linux systems increased by 35% in 2021 compared to 2020.

XorDDoS, Mirai and Mozi malware families accounted for over 22% of Linux-targeted threats observed by CrowdStrike in 2021.

Ten times more Mozi malware samples were observed in 2021 compared to 2020.

Lots of details in the report.

News article:

The Crowdstrike findings aren’t surprising as they confirm an ongoing trend that emerged in previous years.

For example, an Intezer report analyzing 2020 stats found that Linux malware families increased by 40% in 2020 compared to the previous year.

In the first six months of 2020, a steep rise of 500% in Golang malware was recorded, showing that malware authors were looking for ways to make their code run on multiple platforms.

This programming, and by extension, targeting trend, has already been confirmed in early 2022 cases and is likely to continue unabated.

Slashdot thread.

Posted on January 24, 2022 at 6:27 AM15 Comments

China’s Olympics App Is Horribly Insecure

China is mandating that athletes download and use a health and travel app when they attend the Winter Olympics next month. Citizen Lab examined the app and found it riddled with security holes.

Key Findings:

  • MY2022, an app mandated for use by all attendees of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, has a simple but devastating flaw where encryption protecting users’ voice audio and file transfers can be trivially sidestepped. Health customs forms which transmit passport details, demographic information, and medical and travel history are also vulnerable. Server responses can also be spoofed, allowing an attacker to display fake instructions to users.
  • MY2022 is fairly straightforward about the types of data it collects from users in its public-facing documents. However, as the app collects a range of highly sensitive medical information, it is unclear with whom or which organization(s) it shares this information.
  • MY2022 includes features that allow users to report “politically sensitive” content. The app also includes a censorship keyword list, which, while presently inactive, targets a variety of political topics including domestic issues such as Xinjiang and Tibet as well as references to Chinese government agencies.
  • While the vendor did not respond to our security disclosure, we find that the app’s security deficits may not only violate Google’s Unwanted Software Policy and Apple’s App Store guidelines but also China’s own laws and national standards pertaining to privacy protection, providing potential avenues for future redress.

News article:

It’s not clear whether the security flaws were intentional or not, but the report speculated that proper encryption might interfere with some of China’s ubiquitous online surveillance tools, especially systems that allow local authorities to snoop on phones using public wireless networks or internet cafes. Still, the researchers added that the flaws were probably unintentional, because the government will already be receiving data from the app, so there wouldn’t be a need to intercept the data as it was being transferred.

[…]

The app also included a list of 2,422 political keywords, described within the code as “illegalwords.txt,” that worked as a keyword censorship list, according to Citizen Lab. The researchers said the list appeared to be a latent function that the app’s chat and file transfer function was not actively using.

The US government has already advised athletes to leave their personal phones and laptops home and bring burners.

Posted on January 21, 2022 at 6:06 AM12 Comments

San Francisco Police Illegally Spying on Protesters

Last summer, the San Francisco police illegally used surveillance cameras at the George Floyd protests. The EFF is suing the police:

This surveillance invaded the privacy of protesters, targeted people of color, and chills and deters participation and organizing for future protests. The SFPD also violated San Francisco’s new Surveillance Technology Ordinance. It prohibits city agencies like the SFPD from acquiring, borrowing, or using surveillance technology, without prior approval from the city’s Board of Supervisors, following an open process that includes public participation. Here, the SFPD went through no such process before spying on protesters with this network of surveillance cameras.

It’s feels like a pretty easy case. There’s a law, and the SF police didn’t follow it.

Tech billionaire Chris Larsen is on the side of the police. He thinks that the surveillance is a good thing, and wrote an op-ed defending it.

I wouldn’t be writing about this at all except that Chris is a board member of EPIC, and used his EPIC affiliation in the op-ed to bolster his own credentials. (Bizarrely, he linked to an EPIC page that directly contradicts his position.) In his op-ed, he mischaracterized the EFF’s actions and the facts of the lawsuit. It’s a mess.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit wrote a good rebuttal to Larsen’s piece. And this week, EPIC published what is effectively its own rebuttal:

One of the fundamental principles that underlies EPIC’s work (and the work of many other groups) on surveillance oversight is that individuals should have the power to decide whether surveillance tools are used in their communities and to impose limits on their use. We have fought for years to shed light on the development, procurement, and deployment of such technologies and have worked to ensure that they are subject to independent oversight through hearings, legal challenges, petitions, and other public forums. The CCOPS model, which was developed by ACLU affiliates and other coalition partners in California and implemented through the San Francisco ordinance, is a powerful mechanism to enable public oversight of dangerous surveillance tools. The access, retention, and use policies put in place by the neighborhood business associations operating these networks provide necessary, but not sufficient, protections against abuse. Strict oversight is essential to promote both privacy and community safety, which includes freedom from arbitrary police action and the freedom to assemble.

So far, EPIC has not done anything about Larsen still being on its board. (Others have criticized them for keeping him on.) I don’t know if I have an opinion on this. Larsen has done good work on financial privacy regulations, which is a good thing. But he seems to be funding all these surveillance cameras in San Francisco, which is really bad.

Posted on January 20, 2022 at 6:13 AM38 Comments

Are Fake COVID Testing Sites Harvesting Data?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a bunch of writing about what seems to be fake COVID-19 testing sites. They take your name and info, and do a nose swab, but you never get test results. Speculation centered around data harvesting, but that didn’t make sense because it was far too labor intensive for that and — sorry to break it to you — your data isn’t worth all that much.

It seems to be multilevel marketing fraud instead:

The Center for COVID Control is a management company to Doctors Clinical Laboratory. It provides tests and testing supplies, software, personal protective equipment and marketing services — online and printed — to testing sites, said a person who was formerly associated with the Center for COVID Control. Some of the sites are owned independently but operate in partnership with the chain under its name and with its guidance.

[…]

Doctors Clinical Lab, the lab Center for COVID Control uses to process tests, makes money by billing patients’ insurance companies or seeking reimbursement from the federal government for testing. Insurance statements reviewed by Block Club show the lab has, in multiple instances, billed insurance companies $325 for a PCR test, $50 for a rapid test, $50 for collecting a person’s sample and $80 for a “supplemental fee.”

In turn, the testing sites are paid for providing samples to the lab to be processed, said a person formerly associated with the Center for COVID Control.

In a January video talking to testing site operators, Syed said the Center for COVID Control will no longer provide them with PCR tests, but it will continue supplying them with rapid tests at a cost of $5 per test. The companies will keep making money for the rapid tests they collect, he said.

“You guys will continue making the $28.50 you’re making for the rapid test,” Syed said in the video.

Read the article for the messy details. Or take a job and see for yourself.

Posted on January 19, 2022 at 6:10 AM14 Comments

UK Government to Launch PR Campaign Undermining End-to-End Encryption

Rolling Stone is reporting that the UK government has hired the M&C Saatchi advertising agency to launch an anti-encryption advertising campaign. Presumably they’ll lean heavily on the “think of the children!” rhetoric we’re seeing in this current wave of the crypto wars. The technical eavesdropping mechanisms have shifted to client-side scanning, which won’t actually help — but since that’s not really the point, it’s not argued on its merits.

Posted on January 18, 2022 at 6:05 AM51 Comments

An Examination of the Bug Bounty Marketplace

Here’s a fascinating report: “Bounty Everything: Hackers and the Making of the Global Bug Marketplace.” From a summary:

…researchers Ryan Ellis and Yuan Stevens provide a window into the working lives of hackers who participate in “bug bounty” programs­ — programs that hire hackers to discover and report bugs or other vulnerabilities in their systems. This report illuminates the risks and insecurities for hackers as gig workers, and how bounty programs rely on vulnerable workers to fix their vulnerable systems.

Ellis and Stevens’s research offers a historical overview of bounty programs and an analysis of contemporary bug bounty platforms — ­the new intermediaries that now structure the vast majority of bounty work. The report draws directly from interviews with hackers, who recount that bounty programs seem willing to integrate a diverse workforce in their practices, but only on terms that deny them the job security and access enjoyed by core security workforces. These inequities go far beyond the difference experienced by temporary and permanent employees at companies such as Google and Apple, contend the authors. The global bug bounty workforce is doing piecework — they are paid for each bug, and the conditions under which a bug is paid vary greatly from one company to the next.

Posted on January 17, 2022 at 6:16 AM21 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.