Blog: September 2016 Archives
Last week, Yahoo! announced that it was hacked pretty massively in 2014. Over half a billion usernames and passwords were affected, making this the largest data breach of all time.
Yahoo! claimed it was a government that did it:
A recent investigation by Yahoo! Inc. has confirmed that a copy of certain user account information was stolen from the company’s network in late 2014 by what it believes is a state-sponsored actor.
I did a bunch of press interviews after the hack, and repeatedly said that “state-sponsored actor” is often code for “please don’t blame us for our shoddy security because it was a really sophisticated attacker and we can’t be expected to defend ourselves against that.”
Well, it turns out that Yahoo! had shoddy security and it was a bunch of criminals that hacked them. The first story is from the New York Times, and outlines the many ways Yahoo! ignored security issues.
But when it came time to commit meaningful dollars to improve Yahoo’s security infrastructure, Ms. Mayer repeatedly clashed with Mr. Stamos, according to the current and former employees. She denied Yahoo’s security team financial resources and put off proactive security defenses, including intrusion-detection mechanisms for Yahoo’s production systems.
The second story is from the Wall Street Journal:
InfoArmor said the hackers, whom it calls “Group E,” have sold the entire Yahoo database at least three times, including one sale to a state-sponsored actor. But the hackers are engaged in a moneymaking enterprise and have “a significant criminal track record,” selling data to other criminals for spam or to affiliate marketers who aren’t acting on behalf of any government, said Andrew Komarov, chief intelligence officer with InfoArmor Inc.
That is not the profile of a state-sponsored hacker, Mr. Komarov said. “We don’t see any reason to say that it’s state sponsored,” he said. “Their clients are state sponsored, but not the actual hackers.”
Interesting research from Sasha Romanosky at RAND:
Abstract: In 2013, the US President signed an executive order designed to help secure the nation’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks. As part of that order, he directed the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop a framework that would become an authoritative source for information security best practices. Because adoption of the framework is voluntary, it faces the challenge of incentivizing firms to follow along. Will frameworks such as that proposed by NIST really induce firms to adopt better security controls? And if not, why? This research seeks to examine the composition and costs of cyber events, and attempts to address whether or not there exist incentives for firms to improve their security practices and reduce the risk of attack. Specifically, we examine a sample of over 12 000 cyber events that include data breaches, security incidents, privacy violations, and phishing crimes. First, we analyze the characteristics of these breaches (such as causes and types of information compromised). We then examine the breach and litigation rate, by industry, and identify the industries that incur the greatest costs from cyber events. We then compare these costs to bad debts and fraud within other industries. The findings suggest that public concerns regarding the increasing rates of breaches and legal actions may be excessive compared to the relatively modest financial impact to firms that suffer these events. Public concerns regarding the increasing rates of breaches and legal actions, conflict, however, with our findings that show a much smaller financial impact to firms that suffer these events. Specifically, we find that the cost of a typical cyber incident in our sample is less than $200 000 (about the same as the firm’s annual IT security budget), and that this represents only 0.4% of their estimated annual revenues.
The result is that it often makes business sense to underspend on cybersecurity and just pay the costs of breaches:
Romanosky analyzed 12,000 incident reports and found that typically they only account for 0.4 per cent of a company’s annual revenues. That compares to billing fraud, which averages at 5 per cent, or retail shrinkage (ie, shoplifting and insider theft), which accounts for 1.3 per cent of revenues.
As for reputational damage, Romanosky found that it was almost impossible to quantify. He spoke to many executives and none of them could give a reliable metric for how to measure the PR cost of a public failure of IT security systems.
He also noted that the effects of a data incident typically don’t have many ramifications on the stock price of a company in the long term. Under the circumstances, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest too much in cyber security.
What’s being left out of these costs are the externalities. Yes, the costs to a company of a cyberattack are low to them, but there are often substantial additional costs borne by other people. The way to look at this is not to conclude that cybersecurity isn’t really a problem, but instead that there is a significant market failure that governments need to address.
A new malware tries to detect if it’s running in a virtual machine or sandboxed test environment by looking for signs of normal use and not executing if they’re not there.
From a news article:
A typical test environment consists of a fresh Windows computer image loaded into a VM environment. The OS image usually lacks documents and other telltale signs of real world use, Fenton said. The malware sample that Fenton found…looks for existing documents on targeted PCs.
If no Microsoft Word documents are found, the VBA macro code execution terminates, shielding the malware from automated analysis and detection. Alternately, if more than two Word documents are found on the targeted system, the macro will download and install the malware payload.
EDITED TO ADD (10/16): Some details.
Neural networks are good at identifying faces, even if they’re blurry:
In a paper released earlier this month, researchers at UT Austin and Cornell University demonstrate that faces and objects obscured by blurring, pixelation, and a recently-proposed privacy system called P3 can be successfully identified by a neural network trained on image datasets—in some cases at a more consistent rate than humans.
“We argue that humans may no longer be the ‘gold standard’ for extracting information from visual data,” the researchers write. “Recent advances in machine learning based on artificial neural networks have led to dramatic improvements in the state of the art for automated image recognition. Trained machine learning models now outperform humans on tasks such as object recognition and determining the geographic location of an image.”
The vulnerability has been fixed.
Remember, a modern car isn’t an automobile with a computer in it. It’s a computer with four wheels and an engine. Actually, it’s a distributed 20-400-computer system with four wheels and an engine.
As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.
Roughly three weeks later, there is a operation program available to crack ACBL hand records.
- Given three consecutive boards, all the remaining boards for that session can be determined.
- The program can be easily parallelized. This analysis can be finished while sessions are still running
this would permit the following type of attack:
- A confederate watch boards 1-3 of the USBF team trials on vugraph
- The confederate uses Amazon web services to crack all the rest of the boards for that session
- The confederate texts the hands to a players smart phone
- The player hits the head, whips out his smart phone, and …
Research paper: “Security and Privacy Vulnerabilities of In-Car Wireless Networks: A Tire Pressure Monitoring System Case Study,” by Ishtiaq Rouf, Rob Miller, Hossen Mustafa, Travis Taylor, Sangho Oh, Wenyuan Xu, Marco Gruteser, Wade Trapper, Ivan Seskar:
Abstract: Wireless networks are being integrated into the modern automobile. The security and privacy implications of such in-car networks, however, have are not well understood as their transmissions propagate beyond the confines of a car’s body. To understand the risks associated with these wireless systems, this paper presents a privacy and security evaluation of wireless Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems using both laboratory experiments with isolated tire pressure sensor modules and experiments with a complete vehicle system. We show that eavesdropping is easily possible at a distance of roughly 40m from a passing vehicle. Further, reverse-engineering of the underlying protocols revealed static 32 bit identifiers and that messages can be easily triggered remotely, which raises privacy concerns as vehicles can be tracked through these identifiers. Further, current protocols do not employ authentication and vehicle implementations do not perform basic input validation, thereby allowing for remote spoofing of sensor messages. We validated this experimentally by triggering tire pressure warning messages in a moving vehicle from a customized software radio attack platform located in a nearby vehicle. Finally, the paper concludes with a set of recommendations for improving the privacy and security of tire pressure monitoring systems and other forthcoming in-car wireless sensor networks.
Remember the San Bernardino killer’s iPhone, and how the FBI maintained that they couldn’t get the encryption key without Apple providing them with a universal backdoor? Many of us computer-security experts said that they were wrong, and there were several possible techniques they could use. One of them was manually removing the flash chip from the phone, extracting the memory, and then running a brute-force attack without worrying about the phone deleting the key.
The FBI said it was impossible. We all said they were wrong. Now, Sergei Skorobogatov has proved them wrong. Here’s his paper:
Abstract: This paper is a short summary of a real world mirroring attack on the Apple iPhone 5c passcode retry counter under iOS 9. This was achieved by desoldering the NAND Flash chip of a sample phone in order to physically access its connection to the SoC and partially reverse engineering its proprietary bus protocol. The process does not require any expensive and sophisticated equipment. All needed parts are low cost and were obtained from local electronics distributors. By using the described and successful hardware mirroring process it was possible to bypass the limit on passcode retry attempts. This is the first public demonstration of the working prototype and the real hardware mirroring process for iPhone 5c. Although the process can be improved, it is still a successful proof-of-concept project. Knowledge of the possibility of mirroring will definitely help in designing systems with better protection. Also some reliability issues related to the NAND memory allocation in iPhone 5c are revealed. Some future research directions are outlined in this paper and several possible countermeasures are suggested. We show that claims that iPhone 5c NAND mirroring was infeasible were ill-advised.
Susan Landau explains why this is important:
The moral of the story? It’s not, as the FBI has been requesting, a bill to make it easier to access encrypted communications, as in the proposed revised Burr-Feinstein bill. Such “solutions” would make us less secure, not more so. Instead we need to increase law enforcement’s capabilities to handle encrypted communications and devices. This will also take more funding as well as redirection of efforts. Increased security of our devices and simultaneous increased capabilities of law enforcement are the only sensible approach to a world where securing the bits, whether of health data, financial information, or private emails, has become of paramount importance.
Or: The FBI needs computer-security expertise, not backdoors.
Patrick Ball writes about the dangers of backdoors.
EDITED TO ADD (9/23): Good article from the Economist.
In the past few years, the devastating effects of hackers breaking into an organization’s network, stealing confidential data, and publishing everything have been made clear. It happened to the Democratic National Committee, to Sony, to the National Security Agency, to the cyber-arms weapons manufacturer Hacking Team, to the online adultery site Ashley Madison, and to the Panamanian tax-evasion law firm Mossack Fonseca.
This style of attack is known as organizational doxing. The hackers, in some cases individuals and in others nation-states, are out to make political points by revealing proprietary, secret, and sometimes incriminating information. And the documents they leak do that, airing the organizations’ embarrassments for everyone to see.
In all of these instances, the documents were real: the email conversations, still-secret product details, strategy documents, salary information, and everything else. But what if hackers were to alter documents before releasing them? This is the next step in organizational doxing—and the effects can be much worse.
It’s one thing to have all of your dirty laundry aired in public for everyone to see. It’s another thing entirely for someone to throw in a few choice items that aren’t real.
Recently, Russia has started using forged documents as part of broader disinformation campaigns, particularly in relation to Sweden’s entering of a military partnership with NATO, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Forging thousands—or more—documents is difficult to pull off, but slipping a single forgery in an actual cache is much easier. The attack could be something subtle. Maybe a country that anonymously publishes another country’s diplomatic cables wants to influence yet a third country, so adds some particularly egregious conversations about that third country. Or the next hacker who steals and publishes email from climate change researchers invents a bunch of over-the-top messages to make his political point even stronger. Or it could be personal: someone dumping email from thousands of users making changes in those by a friend, relative, or lover.
Imagine trying to explain to the press, eager to publish the worst of the details in the documents, that everything is accurate except this particular email. Or that particular memo. That the salary document is correct except that one entry. Or that the secret customer list posted up on WikiLeaks is correct except that there’s one inaccurate addition. It would be impossible. Who would believe you? No one. And you couldn’t prove it.
It has long been easy to forge documents on the Internet. It’s easy to create new ones, and modify old ones. It’s easy to change things like a document’s creation date, or a photograph’s location information. With a little more work, pdf files and images can be altered. These changes will be undetectable. In many ways, it’s surprising that this kind of manipulation hasn’t been seen before. My guess is that hackers who leak documents don’t have the secondary motives to make the data dumps worse than they already are, and nation-states have just gotten into the document leaking business.
Major newspapers do their best to verify the authenticity of leaked documents they receive from sources. They only publish the ones they know are authentic. The newspapers consult experts, and pay attention to forensics. They have tense conversations with governments, trying to get them to verify secret documents they’re not actually allowed to admit even exist. This is only possible because the news outlets have ongoing relationships with the governments, and they care that they get it right. There are lots of instances where neither of these two things are true, and lots of ways to leak documents without any independent verification at all.
No one is talking about this, but everyone needs to be alert to the possibility. Sooner or later, the hackers who steal an organization’s data are going to make changes in them before they release them. If these forgeries aren’t questioned, the situations of those being hacked could be made worse, or erroneous conclusions could be drawn from the documents. When someone says that a document they have been accused of writing is forged, their arguments at least should be heard.
This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.
Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large nation state. China or Russia would be my first guesses.
First, a little background. If you want to take a network off the Internet, the easiest way to do it is with a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS). Like the name says, this is an attack designed to prevent legitimate users from getting to the site. There are subtleties, but basically it means blasting so much data at the site that it’s overwhelmed. These attacks are not new: hackers do this to sites they don’t like, and criminals have done it as a method of extortion. There is an entire industry, with an arsenal of technologies, devoted to DDoS defense. But largely it’s a matter of bandwidth. If the attacker has a bigger fire hose of data than the defender has, the attacker wins.
Recently, some of the major companies that provide the basic infrastructure that makes the Internet work have seen an increase in DDoS attacks against them. Moreover, they have seen a certain profile of attacks. These attacks are significantly larger than the ones they’re used to seeing. They last longer. They’re more sophisticated. And they look like probing. One week, the attack would start at a particular level of attack and slowly ramp up before stopping. The next week, it would start at that higher point and continue. And so on, along those lines, as if the attacker were looking for the exact point of failure.
The attacks are also configured in such a way as to see what the company’s total defenses are. There are many different ways to launch a DDoS attack. The more attack vectors you employ simultaneously, the more different defenses the defender has to counter with. These companies are seeing more attacks using three or four different vectors. This means that the companies have to use everything they’ve got to defend themselves. They can’t hold anything back. They’re forced to demonstrate their defense capabilities for the attacker.
I am unable to give details, because these companies spoke with me under condition of anonymity. But this all is consistent with what Verisign is reporting. Verisign is the registrar for many popular top-level Internet domains, like .com and .net. If it goes down, there’s a global blackout of all websites and e-mail addresses in the most common top-level domains. Every quarter, Verisign publishes a DDoS trends report. While its publication doesn’t have the level of detail I heard from the companies I spoke with, the trends are the same: “in Q2 2016, attacks continued to become more frequent, persistent, and complex.”
There’s more. One company told me about a variety of probing attacks in addition to the DDoS attacks: testing the ability to manipulate Internet addresses and routes, seeing how long it takes the defenders to respond, and so on. Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services.
Who would do this? It doesn’t seem like something an activist, criminal, or researcher would do. Profiling core infrastructure is common practice in espionage and intelligence gathering. It’s not normal for companies to do that. Furthermore, the size and scale of these probes—and especially their persistence—points to state actors. It feels like a nation’s military cybercommand trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar. It reminds me of the US’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.
What can we do about this? Nothing, really. We don’t know where the attacks come from. The data I see suggests China, an assessment shared by the people I spoke with. On the other hand, it’s possible to disguise the country of origin for these sorts of attacks. The NSA, which has more surveillance in the Internet backbone than everyone else combined, probably has a better idea, but unless the US decides to make an international incident over this, we won’t see any attribution.
But this is happening. And people should know.
This essay previously appeared on Lawfare.com.
EDITED TO ADD: Slashdot thread.
EDITED TO ADD (9/15): Podcast with me on the topic.
EDITED TO ADD (10/6): More.
It costs less than $60.
For just a few bucks, you can pick up a USB stick that destroys almost anything that it’s plugged into. Laptops, PCs, televisions, photo booths—you name it.
Once a proof-of-concept, the pocket-sized USB stick now fits in any security tester’s repertoire of tools and hacks, says the Hong Kong-based company that developed it. It works like this: when the USB Kill stick is plugged in, it rapidly charges its capacitors from the USB power supply, and then discharges—all in the matter of seconds.
On unprotected equipment, the device’s makers say it will “instantly and permanently disable unprotected hardware”.
You might be forgiven for thinking, “Well, why exactly?” The lesson here is simple enough. If a device has an exposed USB port—such as a copy machine or even an airline entertainment system—it can be used and abused, not just by a hacker or malicious actor, but also electrical attacks.
The malware “Mal/Miner-C” infects Internet-exposed Seagate Central Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices, and from there takes over connected computers to mine for cryptocurrency. About 77% of all drives have been infected.
EDITED TO ADD (9/13): More news.
Research on color-changing materials:
What do squid and jellyfish skin have in common with human skin? All three have inspired a team of chemists to create materials that change color or texture in response to variations in their surroundings. These materials could be used for encrypting secret messages, creating anti-glare surfaces, or detecting moisture or damage.
They don’t really mean “encrypting”; they mean hiding. But interesting nonetheless.
We have leak from yet another cyberweapons arms manufacturer: the Italian company RCS Labs. Vice Motherboard reports on a surveillance video demo:
The video shows an RCS Lab employee performing a live demo of the company’s spyware to an unidentified man, including a tutorial on how to use the spyware’s control software to perform a man-in-the-middle attack and infect a target computer who wanted to visit a specific website.
RCS Lab’s spyware, called Mito3, allows agents to easily set up these kind of attacks just by applying a rule in the software settings. An agent can choose whatever site he or she wants to use as a vector, click on a dropdown menu and select “inject HTML” to force the malicious popup to appear, according to the video.
Mito3 allows customers to listen in on the target, intercept voice calls, text messages, video calls, social media activities, and chats, apparently both on computer and mobile platforms. It also allows police to track the target and geo-locate it thanks to the GPS. It even offers automatic transcription of the recordings, according to a confidential brochure obtained by Motherboard.
Brian Krebs reports that the Israeli DDOS service vDOS has earned $600K in the past two years. The information was obtained from a hack and data dump of the company’s information.
EDITED TO ADD (9/11): The owners have been arrested.
Ever since Ian Krstić, Apple’s Head of Security Engineering and Architecture, presented the company’s key backup technology at Black Hat 2016, people have been pointing to it as evidence that the company can create a secure backdoor for law enforcement.
It’s not. Matthew Green and Steve Bellovin have both explained why not. And the same group of us that wrote the “Keys Under Doormats” paper on why backdoors are a bad idea have also explained why Apple’s technology does not enable it to build secure backdoors for law enforcement. Michael Specter did the bulk of the writing.
The problem with Tait’s argument becomes clearer when you actually try to turn Apple’s Cloud Key Vault into an exceptional access mechanism. In that case, Apple would have to replace the HSM with one that accepts an additional message from Apple or the FBI—or an agency from any of the 100+ countries where Apple sells iPhones—saying “OK, decrypt,” as well as the user’s password. In order to do this securely, these messages would have to be cryptographically signed with a second set of keys, which would then have to be used as often as law enforcement access is required. Any exceptional access scheme made from this system would have to have an additional set of keys to ensure authorized use of the law enforcement access credentials.
Managing access by a hundred-plus countries is impractical due to mutual mistrust, so Apple would be stuck with keeping a second signing key (or database of second signing keys) for signing these messages that must be accessed for each and every law enforcement agency. This puts us back at the situation where Apple needs to protect another repeatedly-used, high-value public key infrastructure: an equivalent situation to what has already resulted in the theft of Bitcoin wallets, RealTek’s code signing keys, and Certificate Authority failures, among many other disasters.
Repeated access of private keys drastically increases their probability of theft, loss, or inappropriate use. Apple’s Cloud Key Vault does not have any Apple-owned private key, and therefore does not indicate that a secure solution to this problem actually exists.
It is worth noting that the exceptional access schemes one can create from Apple’s CKV (like the one outlined above) inherently entails the precise issues we warned about in our previous essay on the danger signs for recognizing flawed exceptional access systems. Additionally, the Risks of Key Escrow and Keys Under Doormats papers describe further technical and nontechnical issues with exceptional access schemes that must be addressed. Among the nontechnical hurdles would be the requirement, for example, that Apple run a large legal office to confirm that requests for access from the government of Uzbekistan actually involved a device that was located in that country, and that the request was consistent with both US law and Uzbek law.
My colleagues and I do not argue that the technical community doesn’t know how to store high-value encryption keys—to the contrary that’s the whole point of an HSM. Rather, we assert that holding on to keys in a safe way such that any other party (i.e. law enforcement or Apple itself) can also access them repeatedly without high potential for catastrophic loss is impossible with today’s technology, and that any scheme running into fundamental sociotechnical challenges such as jurisdiction must be evaluated honestly before any technical implementation is considered.
If anyone has 1) a transcript of the talk, or 2) can read the French articles better than I can, I would appreciate details.
Yet another leaked catalog of Internet attack services, this one specializing in disinformation:
But Aglaya had much more to offer, according to its brochure. For eight to 12 weeks campaigns costing €2,500 per day, the company promised to “pollute” internet search results and social networks like Facebook and Twitter “to manipulate current events.” For this service, which it labelled “Weaponized Information,” Aglaya offered “infiltration,” “ruse,” and “sting” operations to “discredit a target” such as an “individual or company.”
“[We] will continue to barrage information till it gains ‘traction’ & top 10 search results yield a desired results on ANY Search engine,” the company boasted as an extra “benefit” of this service.
Aglaya also offered censorship-as-a-service, or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, for only €600 a day, using botnets to “send dummy traffic” to targets, taking them offline, according to the brochure. As part of this service, customers could buy an add-on to “create false criminal charges against Targets in their respective countries” for a more costly €1 million.
Some of Aglaya’s offerings, according to experts who reviewed the document for Motherboard, are likely to be exaggerated or completely made-up. But the document shows that there are governments interested in these services, which means there will be companies willing to fill the gaps in the market and offer them.
The Intercept has published a 120-page catalog of spy gear from the British defense company Cobham. This is equipment available to police forces. The catalog was leaked by someone inside the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Easy recipe. You can get the red pepper flakes and red pepper paste at most grocery stores.
As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.
I was reading this 2014 McAfee report on the economic impact of cybercrime, and came across this interesting quote on how security is a tax on the Internet economy:
Another way to look at the opportunity cost of cybercrime is to see it as a share of the Internet economy. Studies estimate that the Internet economy annually generates between $2 trillion and $3 trillion, a share of the global economy that is expected to grow rapidly. If our estimates are right, cybercrime extracts between 15% and 20% of the value created by the Internet, a heavy tax on the potential for economic growth and job creation and a share of revenue that is significantly larger than any other transnational criminal activity.
Of course you can argue with the numbers, and there’s good reason to believe that the actual costs of cybercrime are much lower. And, of course, those costs are largely indirect costs. It’s not that cybercriminals are getting away with all that value; it’s largely spent on security products and services from companies like McAfee (and my own IBM Security).
In Liars and Outliers I talk about security as a tax on the honest.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.