Charles V of Spain Secret Code Cracked

Diplomatic code cracked after 500 years:

In painstaking work backed by computers, Pierrot found “distinct families” of about 120 symbols used by Charles V. “Whole words are encrypted with a single symbol” and the emperor replaced vowels coming after consonants with marks, she said, an inspiration probably coming from Arabic.

In another obstacle, he used meaningless symbols to mislead any adversary trying to decipher the message.

The breakthrough came in June when Pierrot managed to make out a phrase in the letter, and the team then cracked the code with the help of Camille Desenclos, a historian. “It was painstaking and long work but there was really a breakthrough that happened in one day, where all of a sudden we had the right hypothesis,” she said.

Posted on November 29, 2022 at 7:19 AM10 Comments

Computer Repair Technicians Are Stealing Your Data

Laptop technicians routinely violate the privacy of the people whose computers they repair:

Researchers at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, recovered logs from laptops after receiving overnight repairs from 12 commercial shops. The logs showed that technicians from six of the locations had accessed personal data and that two of those shops also copied data onto a personal device. Devices belonging to females were more likely to be snooped on, and that snooping tended to seek more sensitive data, including both sexually revealing and non-sexual pictures, documents, and financial information.

[…]

In three cases, Windows Quick Access or Recently Accessed Files had been deleted in what the researchers suspect was an attempt by the snooping technician to cover their tracks. As noted earlier, two of the visits resulted in the logs the researchers relied on being unrecoverable. In one, the researcher explained they had installed antivirus software and performed a disk cleanup to “remove multiple viruses on the device.” The researchers received no explanation in the other case.

[…]

The laptops were freshly imaged Windows 10 laptops. All were free of malware and other defects and in perfect working condition with one exception: the audio driver was disabled. The researchers chose that glitch because it required only a simple and inexpensive repair, was easy to create, and didn’t require access to users’ personal files.

Half of the laptops were configured to appear as if they belonged to a male and the other half to a female. All of the laptops were set up with email and gaming accounts and populated with browser history across several weeks. The researchers added documents, both sexually revealing and non-sexual pictures, and a cryptocurrency wallet with credentials.

A few notes. One: this is a very small study—only twelve laptop repairs. Two, some of the results were inconclusive, which indicated—but did not prove—log tampering by the technicians. Three, this study was done in Canada. There would probably be more snooping by American repair technicians.

The moral isn’t a good one: if you bring your laptop in to be repaired, you should expect the technician to snoop through your hard drive, taking what they want.

Research paper.

Posted on November 28, 2022 at 10:44 AM15 Comments

The US Has a Shortage of Bomb-Sniffing Dogs

Nothing beats a dog’s nose for detecting explosives. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough dogs:

Last month, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a nearly 100-page report about working dogs and the need for federal agencies to better safeguard their health and wellness. The GOA says that as of February the US federal government had approximately 5,100 working dogs, including detection dogs, across three federal agencies. Another 420 dogs “served the federal government in 24 contractor-managed programs within eight departments and two independent agencies,” the GAO report says.

The report also underscores the demands placed on detection dogs and the potential for overwork if there aren’t enough dogs available. “Working dogs might need the strength to suddenly run fast, or to leap over a tall barrier, as well as the physical stamina to stand or walk all day,” the report says. “They might need to search over rubble or in difficult environmental conditions, such as extreme heat or cold, often wearing heavy body armor. They also might spend the day detecting specific scents among thousands of others, requiring intense mental concentration. Each function requires dogs to undergo specialized training.”

A decade and a half ago I was optimistic about bomb-sniffing bees and wasps, but nothing seems to have come of that.

Posted on November 23, 2022 at 11:23 AM25 Comments

Apple’s Device Analytics Can Identify iCloud Users

Researchers claim that supposedly anonymous device analytics information can identify users:

On Twitter, security researchers Tommy Mysk and Talal Haj Bakry have found that Apple’s device analytics data includes an iCloud account and can be linked directly to a specific user, including their name, date of birth, email, and associated information stored on iCloud.

Apple has long claimed otherwise:

On Apple’s device analytics and privacy legal page, the company says no information collected from a device for analytics purposes is traceable back to a specific user. “iPhone Analytics may include details about hardware and operating system specifications, performance statistics, and data about how you use your devices and applications. None of the collected information identifies you personally,” the company claims.

Apple was just sued for tracking iOS users without their consent, even when they explicitly opt out of tracking.

Posted on November 22, 2022 at 10:28 AM3 Comments

Breaking the Zeppelin Ransomware Encryption Scheme

Brian Krebs writes about how the Zeppelin ransomware encryption scheme was broken:

The researchers said their break came when they understood that while Zeppelin used three different types of encryption keys to encrypt files, they could undo the whole scheme by factoring or computing just one of them: An ephemeral RSA-512 public key that is randomly generated on each machine it infects.

“If we can recover the RSA-512 Public Key from the registry, we can crack it and get the 256-bit AES Key that encrypts the files!” they wrote. “The challenge was that they delete the [public key] once the files are fully encrypted. Memory analysis gave us about a 5-minute window after files were encrypted to retrieve this public key.”

Unit 221B ultimately built a “Live CD” version of Linux that victims could run on infected systems to extract that RSA-512 key. From there, they would load the keys into a cluster of 800 CPUs donated by hosting giant Digital Ocean that would then start cracking them. The company also used that same donated infrastructure to help victims decrypt their data using the recovered keys.

A company offered recovery services based on this break, but was reluctant to advertise because it didn’t want Zeppelin’s creators to fix their encryption flaw.

Technical details.

Posted on November 21, 2022 at 7:08 AM10 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Brains

Researchers have new evidence of how squid brains develop:

Researchers from the FAS Center for Systems Biology describe how they used a new live-imaging technique to watch neurons being created in the embryo in almost real-time. They were then able to track those cells through the development of the nervous system in the retina. What they saw surprised them.

The neural stem cells they tracked behaved eerily similar to the way these cells behave in vertebrates during the development of their nervous system.

It suggests that vertebrates and cephalopods, despite diverging from each other 500 million years ago, not only are using similar mechanisms to make their big brains but that this process and the way the cells act, divide, and are shaped may essentially layout the blueprint required develop this kind of nervous system.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

Posted on November 18, 2022 at 5:12 PM218 Comments

First Review of A Hacker’s Mind

Kirkus reviews A Hacker’s Mind:

A cybersecurity expert examines how the powerful game whatever system is put before them, leaving it to others to cover the cost.

Schneier, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and author of such books as Data and Goliath and Click Here To Kill Everybody, regularly challenges his students to write down the first 100 digits of pi, a nearly impossible task­—but not if they cheat, concerning which he admonishes, “Don’t get caught.” Not getting caught is the aim of the hackers who exploit the vulnerabilities of systems of all kinds. Consider right-wing venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who located a hack in the tax code: “Because he was one of the founders of PayPal, he was able to use a $2,000 investment to buy 1.7 million shares of the company at $0.001 per share, turning it into $5 billion—all forever tax free.” It was perfectly legal—and even if it weren’t, the wealthy usually go unpunished. The author, a fluid writer and tech communicator, reveals how the tax code lends itself to hacking, as when tech companies like Apple and Google avoid paying billions of dollars by transferring profits out of the U.S. to corporate-friendly nations such as Ireland, then offshoring the “disappeared” dollars to Bermuda, the Caymans, and other havens. Every system contains trap doors that can be breached to advantage. For example, Schneier cites “the Pudding Guy,” who hacked an airline miles program by buying low-cost pudding cups in a promotion that, for $3,150, netted him 1.2 million miles and “lifetime Gold frequent flier status.” Since it was all within the letter if not the spirit of the offer, “the company paid up.” The companies often do, because they’re gaming systems themselves. “Any rule can be hacked,” notes the author, be it a religious dietary restriction or a legislative procedure. With technology, “we can hack more, faster, better,” requiring diligent monitoring and a demand that everyone play by rules that have been hardened against tampering.

An eye-opening, maddening book that offers hope for leveling a badly tilted playing field.

I got a starred review. Libraries make decisions on what to buy based on starred reviews. Publications make decisions about what to review based on starred reviews. This is a big deal.

Book’s webpage.

Posted on November 18, 2022 at 1:08 PM28 Comments

Successful Hack of Time-Triggered Ethernet

Time-triggered Ethernet (TTE) is used in spacecraft, basically to use the same hardware to process traffic with different timing and criticality. Researchers have defeated it:

On Tuesday, researchers published findings that, for the first time, break TTE’s isolation guarantees. The result is PCspooF, an attack that allows a single non-critical device connected to a single plane to disrupt synchronization and communication between TTE devices on all planes. The attack works by exploiting a vulnerability in the TTE protocol. The work was completed by researchers at the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“Our evaluation shows that successful attacks are possible in seconds and that each successful attack can cause TTE devices to lose synchronization for up to a second and drop tens of TT messages—both of which can result in the failure of critical systems like aircraft or automobiles,” the researchers wrote. “We also show that, in a simulated spaceflight mission, PCspooF causes uncontrolled maneuvers that threaten safety and mission success.”

Much more detail in the article—and the research paper.

Posted on November 18, 2022 at 10:04 AM7 Comments

Failures in Twitter’s Two-Factor Authentication System

Twitter is having intermittent problems with its two-factor authentication system:

Not all users are having problems receiving SMS authentication codes, and those who rely on an authenticator app or physical authentication token to secure their Twitter account may not have reason to test the mechanism. But users have been self-reporting issues on Twitter since the weekend, and WIRED confirmed that on at least some accounts, authentication texts are hours delayed or not coming at all. The meltdown comes less than two weeks after Twitter laid off about half of its workers, roughly 3,700 people. Since then, engineers, operations specialists, IT staff, and security teams have been stretched thin attempting to adapt Twitter’s offerings and build new features per new owner Elon Musk’s agenda.

On top of that, it seems that the system has a new vulnerability:

A researcher contacted Information Security Media Group on condition of anonymity to reveal that texting “STOP” to the Twitter verification service results in the service turning off SMS two-factor authentication.

“Your phone has been removed and SMS 2FA has been disabled from all accounts,” is the automated response.

The vulnerability, which ISMG verified, allows a hacker to spoof the registered phone number to disable two-factor authentication. That potentially exposes accounts to a password reset attack or account takeover through password stuffing.

This is not a good sign.

Posted on November 17, 2022 at 5:53 AM29 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.