Blog: August 2017 Archives

Journalists Generally Do Not Use Secure Communication

This should come as no surprise:

Alas, our findings suggest that secure communications haven't yet attracted mass adoption among journalists. We looked at 2,515 Washington journalists with permanent credentials to cover Congress, and we found only 2.5 percent of them solicit end-to-end encrypted communication via their Twitter bios. That's just 62 out of all the broadcast, newspaper, wire service, and digital reporters. Just 28 list a way to reach them via Signal or another secure messaging app. Only 22 provide a PGP public key, a method that allows sources to send encrypted messages. A paltry seven advertise a secure email address. In an era when anything that can be hacked will be and when the president has declared outright war on the media, this should serve as a frightening wake-up call.


When journalists don't step up, sources with sensitive information face the burden of using riskier modes of communication to initiate contact­ -- and possibly conduct all of their exchanges­ -- with reporters. It increases their chances of getting caught, putting them in danger of losing their job or facing prosecution. It's burden enough to make them think twice about whistleblowing.

I forgive them for not using secure e-mail. It's hard to use and confusing. But secure messaging is easy.

Posted on August 31, 2017 at 6:52 AM74 Comments

A Framework for Cyber Security Insurance

New paper: "Policy measures and cyber insurance: a framework," by Daniel Woods and Andrew Simpson, Journal of Cyber Policy, 2017.

Abstract: The role of the insurance industry in driving improvements in cyber security has been identified as mutually beneficial for both insurers and policy-makers. To date, there has been no consideration of the roles governments and the insurance industry should pursue in support of this public­-private partnership. This paper rectifies this omission and presents a framework to help underpin such a partnership, giving particular consideration to possible government interventions that might affect the cyber insurance market. We have undertaken a qualitative analysis of reports published by policy-making institutions and organisations working in the cyber insurance domain; we have also conducted interviews with cyber insurance professionals. Together, these constitute a stakeholder analysis upon which we build our framework. In addition, we present a research roadmap to demonstrate how the ideas described might be taken forward.

Posted on August 30, 2017 at 1:22 PM10 Comments

Proof that HMAC-DRBG has No Back Doors

New research: "Verified Correctness and Security of mbedTLS HMAC-DRBG," by Katherine Q. Ye, Matthew Green, Naphat Sanguansin, Lennart Beringer, Adam Petcher, and Andrew W. Appel.

Abstract: We have formalized the functional specification of HMAC-DRBG (NIST 800-90A), and we have proved its cryptographic security -- that its output is pseudorandom -- using a hybrid game-based proof. We have also proved that the mbedTLS implementation (C program) correctly implements this functional specification. That proof composes with an existing C compiler correctness proof to guarantee, end-to-end, that the machine language program gives strong pseudorandomness. All proofs (hybrid games, C program verification, compiler, and their composition) are machine-checked in the Coq proof assistant. Our proofs are modular: the hybrid game proof holds on any implementation of HMAC-DRBG that satisfies our functional specification. Therefore, our functional specification can serve as a high-assurance reference.

Posted on August 30, 2017 at 6:37 AM37 Comments

The NSA's 2014 Media Engagement and Outreach Plan

Interesting post-Snowden reading, just declassified.

(U) External Communication will address at least one of "fresh look" narratives:

  1. (U) NSA does not access everything.
  2. (U) NSA does not collect indiscriminately on U.S. Persons and foreign nationals.
  3. (U) NSA does not weaken encryption.
  4. (U) NSA has value to the nation.

There's lots more.

Posted on August 30, 2017 at 6:15 AM26 Comments

Ross Anderson on the History of the Crypto Wars in the UK

Ross Anderson gave a talk on the history of the Crypto Wars in the UK. I am intimately familiar with the US story, but didn't know as much about Britain's version.

Hour-long video. Summary.

Posted on August 29, 2017 at 6:38 AM6 Comments

Hacking a Phone Through a Replacement Touchscreen

Researchers demonstrated a really clever hack: they hid malware in a replacement smart phone screen. The idea is that you would naively bring your smart phone in for repair, and the repair shop would install this malicious screen without your knowledge. The malware is hidden in touchscreen controller software, which is trusted by the phone.

The concern arises from research that shows how replacement screens -- one put into a Huawei Nexus 6P and the other into an LG G Pad 7.0 -- can be used to surreptitiously log keyboard input and patterns, install malicious apps, and take pictures and e-mail them to the attacker. The booby-trapped screens also exploited operating system vulnerabilities that bypassed key security protections built into the phones. The malicious parts cost less than $10 and could easily be mass-produced. Most chilling of all, to most people, the booby-trapped parts could be indistinguishable from legitimate ones, a trait that could leave many service technicians unaware of the maliciousness. There would be no sign of tampering unless someone with a background in hardware disassembled the repaired phone and inspected it.

Academic paper. BoingBoing post.

Posted on August 28, 2017 at 6:22 AM31 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Prehistoric Dolphins that Ate Squid

Paleontologists have discovered a prehistoric toothless dolphin that fed by vacuuming up squid:

There actually are modern odontocetes that don't really use their teeth either. Male beaked whales, for example, usually have one pair of teeth that is only used to fight for females, whose teeth stay completely hidden in their gums. Beaked whales, along with pilot whales and sperm whales, also catch squid by sucking them into their mouths. But all of these whales evolved recently. Inermorostrum xenops seems to have evolved its toothless suction-feeding independently and much, much earlier than modern suction-feeding whales. "It's a highly specialized species but it's essentially a dead end," says Boessenecker. Evolution, far from being some linear progression, often works this way, hitting dead ends and retrying failed experiments from millions of years earlier.

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 August 25, 2017 at 4:48 PM191 Comments

Military Robots as a Nature Analog

This very interesting essay looks at the future of military robotics and finds many analogs in nature:

Imagine a low-cost drone with the range of a Canada goose, a bird that can cover 1,500 miles in a single day at an average speed of 60 miles per hour. Planet Earth profiled a single flock of snow geese, birds that make similar marathon journeys, albeit slower. The flock of six-pound snow geese was so large it formed a sky-darkening cloud 12 miles long. How would an aircraft carrier battlegroup respond to an attack from millions of aerial kamikaze explosive drones that, like geese, can fly hundreds of miles? A single aircraft carrier costs billions of dollars, and the United States relies heavily on its ten aircraft carrier strike groups to project power around the globe. But as military robots match more capabilities found in nature, some of the major systems and strategies upon which U.S. national security currently relies -- perhaps even the fearsome aircraft carrier strike group -- might experience the same sort of technological disruption that the smartphone revolution brought about in the consumer world.

Posted on August 25, 2017 at 6:34 AM29 Comments

Your Personal Bodycam

Shonin is a personal bodycam up on Kickstarter.

There are a lot of complicated issues surrounding bodycams -- for example, it's obvious that police bodycams reduce violence -- but the one thing everyone is certain about is that they will proliferate. I'm not sure society is fully ready for the ramifications of this level of recording.

Posted on August 23, 2017 at 6:41 AM31 Comments

Insider Attack on Lottery Software

Eddie Tipton, a programmer for the Multi-State Lottery Association, secretly installed software that allowed him to predict jackpots.

What's surprising to me is how many lotteries don't use real random number generators. What happened to picking golf balls out of wind-blown steel cages on television?

Posted on August 22, 2017 at 6:40 AM29 Comments

iOS 11 Allows Users to Disable Touch ID

A new feature in Apple's new iPhone operating system -- iOS 11 -- will allow users to quickly disable Touch ID.

A new setting, designed to automate emergency services calls, lets iPhone users tap the power button quickly five times to call 911. This doesn't automatically dial the emergency services by default, but it brings up the option to and also temporarily disables Touch ID until you enter a passcode.

This is useful in situations where the police cannot compel you to divulge your password, but can compel you to press your finger on the reader.

Posted on August 21, 2017 at 6:57 AM16 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Brittle Star Catches a Squid

Watch a brittle star catch a squid, and then lose it to another brittle star.

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 August 18, 2017 at 4:27 PM146 Comments

More on My LinkedIn Account

I have successfully gotten the fake LinkedIn account in my name deleted. To prevent someone from doing this again, I signed up for LinkedIn. This is my first -- and only -- post on that account:

My Only LinkedIn Post (Yes, Really)

Welcome to my LinkedIn page. It looks empty because I'm never here. I don't log in, I never post anything, and I won't read any notes or comments you leave on this site. Nor will I accept any invitations or click on any "connect" links. I'm sure LinkedIn is a nice place; I just don't have the time.

If you're looking for me, visit my webpage at There you'll find my blog, and just about everything I've written. My e-mail address is, if you want to talk to me personally.

I mirror my blog on my Facebook page ( and my Twitter feed (@schneierblog), but I don't visit those, either.

Now I hear that LinkedIn is e-mailing people on my behalf, suggesting that they friend, follow, connect, or whatever they do there with me. I assure you that I have nothing to do with any of those e-mails, nor do I care what anyone does in response.

Posted on August 18, 2017 at 2:14 PM47 Comments

Unfixable Automobile Computer Security Vulnerability

There is an unpatchable vulnerability that affects most modern cars. It's buried in the Controller Area Network (CAN):

Researchers say this flaw is not a vulnerability in the classic meaning of the word. This is because the flaw is more of a CAN standard design choice that makes it unpatchable.

Patching the issue means changing how the CAN standard works at its lowest levels. Researchers say car manufacturers can only mitigate the vulnerability via specific network countermeasures, but cannot eliminate it entirely.

Details on how the attack works are here:

The CAN messages, including errors, are called "frames." Our attack focuses on how CAN handles errors. Errors arise when a device reads values that do not correspond to the original expected value on a frame. When a device detects such an event, it writes an error message onto the CAN bus in order to "recall" the errant frame and notify the other devices to entirely ignore the recalled frame. This mishap is very common and is usually due to natural causes, a transient malfunction, or simply by too many systems and modules trying to send frames through the CAN at the same time.

If a device sends out too many errors, then­ -- as CAN standards dictate -- ­it goes into a so-called Bus Off state, where it is cut off from the CAN and prevented from reading and/or writing any data onto the CAN. This feature is helpful in isolating clearly malfunctioning devices and stops them from triggering the other modules/systems on the CAN.

This is the exact feature that our attack abuses. Our attack triggers this particular feature by inducing enough errors such that a targeted device or system on the CAN is made to go into the Bus Off state, and thus rendered inert/inoperable. This, in turn, can drastically affect the car's performance to the point that it becomes dangerous and even fatal, especially when essential systems like the airbag system or the antilock braking system are deactivated. All it takes is a specially-crafted attack device, introduced to the car's CAN through local access, and the reuse of frames already circulating in the CAN rather than injecting new ones (as previous attacks in this manner have done).

Slashdot thread.

Posted on August 18, 2017 at 6:40 AM97 Comments

Do the Police Need a Search Warrant to Access Cell Phone Location Data?

The US Supreme Court is deciding a case that will establish whether the police need a warrant to access cell phone location data. This week I signed on to an amicus brief from a wide array of security technologists outlining the technical arguments as why the answer should be yes. Susan Landau summarized our arguments.

A bunch of tech companies also submitted a brief.

Posted on August 17, 2017 at 6:12 AM61 Comments

Hacking a Gene Sequencer by Encoding Malware in a DNA Strand

One of the common ways to hack a computer is to mess with its input data. That is, if you can feed the computer data that it interprets -- or misinterprets -- in a particular way, you can trick the computer into doing things that it wasn't intended to do. This is basically what a buffer overflow attack is: the data input overflows a buffer and ends up being executed by the computer process.

Well, some researchers did this with a computer that processes DNA, and they encoded their malware in the DNA strands themselves:

To make the malware, the team translated a simple computer command into a short stretch of 176 DNA letters, denoted as A, G, C, and T. After ordering copies of the DNA from a vendor for $89, they fed the strands to a sequencing machine, which read off the gene letters, storing them as binary digits, 0s and 1s.

Erlich says the attack took advantage of a spill-over effect, when data that exceeds a storage buffer can be interpreted as a computer command. In this case, the command contacted a server controlled by Kohno's team, from which they took control of a computer in their lab they were using to analyze the DNA file.

News articles. Research paper.

Posted on August 15, 2017 at 6:00 AM38 Comments

Bank Robbery Tactic

This video purports to be a bank robbery in Kiev. He first threatens a teller, who basically ignores him because she's behind bullet-proof glass. But then the robber threatens one of her co-workers, who is on his side of the glass. Interesting example of a security system failing for an unexpected reason.

The video is weird, though. The robber seems very unsure of himself, and never really points the gun at anyone or even holds it properly.

Posted on August 14, 2017 at 6:03 AM23 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Eyeballs

Details on how a squid's eye corrects for underwater distortion:

Spherical lenses, like the squids', usually can't focus the incoming light to one point as it passes through the curved surface, which causes an unclear image. The only way to correct this is by bending each ray of light differently as it falls on each location of the lens's surface. S-crystallin, the main protein in squid lenses, evolved the ability to do this by behaving as patchy colloids­ -- small molecules that have spots of molecular glue that they use to stick together in clusters.

Research paper.

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 August 11, 2017 at 4:24 PM292 Comments

I Seem to Have a LinkedIn Account

I seem to have a LinkedIn account.

This comes as a surprise, since I don't have a LinkedIn account, and have never logged in to LinkedIn.

Does anyone have any contacts into the company? I would like to report this fraudulent account, and possibly get control of it. I'm not on LinkedIn, but the best defense against this is probably to create a real account.

Posted on August 11, 2017 at 2:34 PM50 Comments

Confusing Self-Driving Cars by Altering Road Signs

Researchers found that they could confuse the road sign detection algorithms of self-driving cars by adding stickers to the signs on the road. They could, for example, cause a car to think that a stop sign is a 45 mph speed limit sign. The changes are subtle, though -- look at the photo from the article.

Research paper:

"Robust Physical-World Attacks on Machine Learning Models," by Ivan Evtimov, Kevin Eykholt, Earlence Fernandes, Tadayoshi Kohno, Bo Li, Atul Prakash, Amir Rahmati, and Dawn Song:

Abstract: Deep neural network-based classifiers are known to be vulnerable to adversarial examples that can fool them into misclassifying their input through the addition of small-magnitude perturbations. However, recent studies have demonstrated that such adversarial examples are not very effective in the physical world--they either completely fail to cause misclassification or only work in restricted cases where a relatively complex image is perturbed and printed on paper. In this paper we propose a new attack algorithm--Robust Physical Perturbations (RP2)-- that generates perturbations by taking images under different conditions into account. Our algorithm can create spatially-constrained perturbations that mimic vandalism or art to reduce the likelihood of detection by a casual observer. We show that adversarial examples generated by RP2 achieve high success rates under various conditions for real road sign recognition by using an evaluation methodology that captures physical world conditions. We physically realized and evaluated two attacks, one that causes a Stop sign to be misclassified as a Speed Limit sign in 100% of the testing conditions, and one that causes a Right Turn sign to be misclassified as either a Stop or Added Lane sign in 100% of the testing conditions.

Posted on August 11, 2017 at 6:31 AM47 Comments

Turning an Amazon Echo into an Eavesdropping Device

For once, the real story isn't as bad as it seems. A researcher has figured out how to install malware onto an Echo that causes it to stream audio back to a remote controller, but:

The technique requires gaining physical access to the target Echo, and it works only on devices sold before 2017. But there's no software fix for older units, Barnes warns, and the attack can be performed without leaving any sign of hardware intrusion.

The way to implement this attack is by intercepting the Echo before it arrives at the target location. But if you can do that, there are a lot of other things you can do. So while this is a vulnerability that needs to be fixed -- and seems to have inadvertently been fixed -- it's not a cause for alarm.

Posted on August 10, 2017 at 1:54 PM11 Comments

More on the Vulnerabilities Equities Process

Richard Ledgett -- a former Deputy Director of the NSA -- argues against the US government disclosing all vulnerabilities:

Proponents argue that this would allow patches to be developed, which in turn would help ensure that networks are secure. On its face, this argument might seem to make sense -- but it is a gross oversimplification of the problem, one that not only would not have the desired effect but that also would be dangerous.

Actually, he doesn't make that argument at all. He basically says that security is a lot more complicated than finding and disclosing vulnerabilities -- something I don't think anyone disagrees with. His conclusion:

Malicious software like WannaCry and Petya is a scourge in our digital lives, and we need to take concerted action to protect ourselves. That action must be grounded in an accurate understanding of how the vulnerability ecosystem works. Software vendors need to continue working to build better software and to provide patching support for software deployed in critical infrastructure. Customers need to budget and plan for upgrades as part of the going-in cost of IT, or for compensatory measures when upgrades are impossible. Those who discover vulnerabilities need to responsibly disclose them or, if they are retained for national security purposes, adequately safeguard them. And the partnership of intelligence, law enforcement and industry needs to work together to identify and disrupt actors who use these vulnerabilities for their criminal and destructive ends. No single set of actions will solve the problem; we must work together to protect ourselves. As for blame, we should place it where it really lies: on the criminals who intentionally and maliciously assembled this destructive ransomware and released it on the world.

I don't think anyone would argue with any of that, either. The question is whether the US government should prioritize attack over defense, and security over surveillance. Disclosing, especially in a world where the secrecy of zero-day vulnerabilities is so fragile, greatly improves the security of our critical systems.

Posted on August 9, 2017 at 6:40 AM88 Comments

Uber Drivers Hacking the System to Cause Surge Pricing

Interesting story about Uber drivers who have figured out how to game the company's algorithms to cause surge pricing:

According to the study. drivers manipulate Uber's algorithm by logging out of the app at the same time, making it think that there is a shortage of cars.


The study said drivers have been coordinating forced surge pricing, after interviews with drivers in London and New York, and research on online forums such as In a post on the website for drivers, seen by the researchers, one person said: "Guys, stay logged off until surge. Less supply high demand = surge."


Passengers, of course, have long had tricks to avoid surge pricing.

I expect to see more of this sort of thing as algorithms become more prominent in our lives.

Posted on August 8, 2017 at 9:35 AM27 Comments

Hacking Slot Machines by Reverse-Engineering the Random Number Generators

Interesting story:

The venture is built on Alex's talent for reverse engineering the algorithms -- known as pseudorandom number generators, or PRNGs -- that govern how slot machine games behave. Armed with this knowledge, he can predict when certain games are likeliest to spit out money­insight that he shares with a legion of field agents who do the organization's grunt work.

These agents roam casinos from Poland to Macau to Peru in search of slots whose PRNGs have been deciphered by Alex. They use phones to record video of a vulnerable machine in action, then transmit the footage to an office in St. Petersburg. There, Alex and his assistants analyze the video to determine when the games' odds will briefly tilt against the house. They then send timing data to a custom app on an agent's phone; this data causes the phones to vibrate a split second before the agent should press the "Spin" button. By using these cues to beat slots in multiple casinos, a four-person team can earn more than $250,000 a week.

It's an interesting article; I have no idea how much of it is true.

The sad part is that the slot-machine vulnerability is so easy to fix. Although the article says that "writing such algorithms requires tremendous mathematical skill," it's really only true that designing the algorithms requires that skill. Using any secure encryption algorithm or hash function as a PRNG is trivially easy. And there's no reason why the system can't be designed with a real RNG. There is some randomness in the system somewhere, and it can be added into the mix as well. The programmers can use a well-designed algorithm, like my own Fortuna, but even something less well-thought-out is likely to foil this attack.

Posted on August 7, 2017 at 6:00 AM40 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Fake News

I never imagined that there would be fake news about squid. (That website lets you write your own stories.)

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 August 4, 2017 at 4:24 PM201 Comments

Penetrating a Casino's Network through an Internet-Connected Fish Tank

Attackers used a vulnerability in an Internet-connected fish tank to successfully penetrate a casino's network.

BoingBoing post.

Posted on August 4, 2017 at 6:22 AM47 Comments

Splitting the NSA and US Cyber Command

Rumor is that the Trump administration will separate the NSA and US Cyber Command. I have long thought this was a good idea. Here's a good discussion of what it does and doesn't mean.

Posted on August 3, 2017 at 6:29 AM14 Comments

Voting Machine Security

Last week, DefCon hosted a "Voter Hacker Village" event. Every single voting machine there was easily hackable.

Here are detailed details. There should be a summary report soon; I'll add it to this post when it's published.

Posted on August 2, 2017 at 12:59 PM38 Comments

Detecting Stingrays

Researchers are developing technologies that can detect IMSI-catchers: those fake cell phone towers that can be used to surveil people in the area.

This is good work, but it's unclear to me whether these devices can detect all the newer IMSI-catchers that are being sold to governments worldwide.

News article.

Posted on August 2, 2017 at 7:39 AM21 Comments

NSA Collects MS Windows Error Information

Back in 2013, Der Spiegel reported that the NSA intercepts and collects Windows bug reports:

One example of the sheer creativity with which the TAO spies approach their work can be seen in a hacking method they use that exploits the error-proneness of Microsoft's Windows. Every user of the operating system is familiar with the annoying window that occasionally pops up on screen when an internal problem is detected, an automatic message that prompts the user to report the bug to the manufacturer and to restart the program. These crash reports offer TAO specialists a welcome opportunity to spy on computers.

When TAO selects a computer somewhere in the world as a target and enters its unique identifiers (an IP address, for example) into the corresponding database, intelligence agents are then automatically notified any time the operating system of that computer crashes and its user receives the prompt to report the problem to Microsoft. An internal presentation suggests it is NSA's powerful XKeyscore spying tool that is used to fish these crash reports out of the massive sea of Internet traffic.

The automated crash reports are a "neat way" to gain "passive access" to a machine, the presentation continues. Passive access means that, initially, only data the computer sends out into the Internet is captured and saved, but the computer itself is not yet manipulated. Still, even this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person's computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim's computer.

Although the method appears to have little importance in practical terms, the NSA's agents still seem to enjoy it because it allows them to have a bit of a laugh at the expense of the Seattle-based software giant. In one internal graphic, they replaced the text of Microsoft's original error message with one of their own reading, "This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine." ("Sigint" stands for "signals intelligence.")

The article talks about the (limited) value of this information with regard to specific target computers, but I have another question: how valuable would this database be for finding new zero-day Windows vulnerabilities to exploit? Microsoft won't have the incentive to examine and fix problems until they happen broadly among its user base. The NSA has a completely different incentive structure.

I don't remember this being discussed back in 2013.

EDITED TO ADD (8/6): Slashdot thread.

EDITED TO ADD (8/14): Adam S, a former Microsoft employee, writes in a comment that this information is very helpful in finding zero-days, and cites this as an example. He also says that this information is now TLS encrypted, and has been since Windows 8 or 10.

Posted on August 1, 2017 at 6:00 AM89 Comments

Vulnerabilities in Car Washes

Articles about serious vulnerabilities in IoT devices and embedded systems are now dime-a-dozen. This one concerns Internet-connected car washes:

A group of security researchers have found vulnerabilities in internet-connected drive-through car washes that would let hackers remotely hijack the systems to physically attack vehicles and their occupants. The vulnerabilities would let an attacker open and close the bay doors on a car wash to trap vehicles inside the chamber, or strike them with the doors, damaging them and possibly injuring occupants.

Posted on August 1, 2017 at 5:47 AM7 Comments

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.