Friday Squid Blogging: The Evolution of Squid Eyes

New research:

The researchers from the FAS Center for Systems Biology discovered a network of genes important in squid eye development that are known to also play a crucial role in limb development across animals, including vertebrates and insects. The scientists say these genes have been repurposed in squid to make camera-lens-type eyes.

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 January 14, 2022 at 4:12 PM44 Comments

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

This is a current list of where and when I am scheduled to speak:

  • I’m giving an online-only talk on “Securing a World of Physically Capable Computers” as part of Teleport’s Security Visionaries 2022 series, on January 18, 2022.
  • I’m speaking at IT-S Now 2022 in Vienna on June 2, 2022.
  • I’m speaking at the 14th International Conference on Cyber Conflict, CyCon 2022, in Tallinn, Estonia on June 3, 2022.
  • I’m speaking at the RSA Conference 2022 in San Francisco, June 6-9, 2022.

The list is maintained on this page.

Posted on January 14, 2022 at 12:02 PM0 Comments

Using EM Waves to Detect Malware

I don’t even know what I think about this. Researchers have developed a malware detection system that uses EM waves: “Obfuscation Revealed: Leveraging Electromagnetic Signals for Obfuscated Malware Classification.”

Abstract: The Internet of Things (IoT) is constituted of devices that are exponentially growing in number and in complexity. They use numerous customized firmware and hardware, without taking into consideration security issues, which make them a target for cybercriminals, especially malware authors.

We will present a novel approach of using side channel information to identify the kinds of threats that are targeting the device. Using our approach, a malware analyst is able to obtain precise knowledge about malware type and identity, even in the presence of obfuscation techniques which may prevent static or symbolic binary analysis. We recorded 100,000 measurement traces from an IoT device infected by various in-the-wild malware samples and realistic benign activity. Our method does not require any modification on the target device. Thus, it can be deployed independently from the resources available without any overhead. Moreover, our approach has the advantage that it can hardly be detected and evaded by the malware authors. In our experiments, we were able to predict three generic malware types (and one benign class) with an accuracy of 99.82%. Even more, our results show that we are able to classify altered malware samples with unseen obfuscation techniques during the training phase, and to determine what kind of obfuscations were applied to the binary, which makes our approach particularly useful for malware analysts.

This seems impossible. It’s research, not a commercial product. But it’s fascinating if true.

Posted on January 14, 2022 at 6:13 AM25 Comments

Using Foreign Nationals to Bypass US Surveillance Restrictions

Remember when the US and Australian police surreptitiously owned and operated the encrypted cell phone app ANOM? They arrested 800 people in 2021 based on that operation.

New documents received by Motherboard show that over 100 of those phones were shipped to users in the US, far more than previously believed.

What’s most interesting to me about this new information is how the US used the Australians to get around domestic spying laws:

For legal reasons, the FBI did not monitor outgoing messages from Anom devices determined to be inside the U.S. Instead, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) monitored them on behalf of the FBI, according to previously published court records. In those court records unsealed shortly before the announcement of the Anom operation, FBI Special Agent Nicholas Cheviron wrote that the FBI received Anom user data three times a week, which contained the messages of all of the users of Anom with some exceptions, including “the messages of approximately 15 Anom users in the U.S. sent to any other Anom device.”

[…]

Stewart Baker, partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, and Bryce Klehm, associate editor of Lawfare, previously wrote that “The ‘threat to life; standard echoes the provision of U.S. law that allows communications providers to share user data with law enforcement without legal process under 18 U.S.C. § 2702. Whether the AFP was relying on this provision of U.S. law or a more general moral imperative to take action to prevent imminent threats is not clear.” That section of law discusses the voluntary disclosure of customer communications or records.

When asked about the practice of Australian law enforcement monitoring devices inside the U.S. on behalf of the FBI, Senator Ron Wyden told Motherboard in a statement “Multiple intelligence community officials have confirmed to me, in writing, that intelligence agencies cannot ask foreign partners to conduct surveillance that the U.S. would be legally prohibited from doing itself. The FBI should follow this same standard. Allegations that the FBI outsourced warrantless surveillance of Americans to a foreign government raise troubling questions about the Justice Department’s oversight of these practices.”

I and others have long suspected that the NSA uses foreign nationals to get around restrictions that prevent it from spying on Americans. It is interesting to see the FBI using the same trick.

Posted on January 13, 2022 at 9:35 AM42 Comments

Faking an iPhone Reboot

Researchers have figured how how to intercept and fake an iPhone reboot:

We’ll dissect the iOS system and show how it’s possible to alter a shutdown event, tricking a user that got infected into thinking that the phone has been powered off, but in fact, it’s still running. The “NoReboot” approach simulates a real shutdown. The user cannot feel a difference between a real shutdown and a “fake shutdown.” There is no user-interface or any button feedback until the user turns the phone back “on.”

It’s a complicated hack, but it works.

Uses are obvious:

Historically, when malware infects an iOS device, it can be removed simply by restarting the device, which clears the malware from memory.

However, this technique hooks the shutdown and reboot routines to prevent them from ever happening, allowing malware to achieve persistence as the device is never actually turned off.

I see this as another manifestation of the security problems that stem from all controls becoming software controls. Back when the physical buttons actually did things — like turn the power, the Wi-Fi, or the camera on and off — you could actually know that something was on or off. Now that software controls those functions, you can never be sure.

Posted on January 12, 2022 at 6:15 AM30 Comments

People Are Increasingly Choosing Private Web Search

DuckDuckGo has had a banner year:

And yet, DuckDuckGo. The privacy-oriented search engine netted more than 35 billion search queries in 2021, a 46.4% jump over 2020 (23.6 billion). That’s big. Even so, the company, which bills itself as the “Internet privacy company,” offering a search engine and other products designed to “empower you to seamlessly take control of your personal information online without any tradeoffs,” remains a rounding error compared to Google in search.

I use it. It’s not as a good a search engine as Google. Or, at least, Google often gets me what I want faster than DuckDuckGo does. To solve that, I use use the feature that allows me to use Google’s search engine through DuckDuckGo: prepend “!Google” to searches. Basically, DuckDuckGo launders my search.

EDITED TO ADD (1/12): I was wrong. DuckDuckGo does not provide privacy protections when searching using Google.

Posted on January 6, 2022 at 6:29 AM59 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.