Blog: December 2017 Archives

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Populations Are Exploding

New research:

"Global proliferation of cephalopods"

Summary: Human activities have substantially changed the world's oceans in recent decades, altering marine food webs, habitats and biogeochemical processes. Cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish and octopuses) have a unique set of biological traits, including rapid growth, short lifespans and strong life-history plasticity, allowing them to adapt quickly to changing environmental conditions. There has been growing speculation that cephalopod populations are proliferating in response to a changing environment, a perception fuelled by increasing trends in cephalopod fisheries catch. To investigate long-term trends in cephalopod abundance, we assembled global time-series of cephalopod catch rates (catch per unit of fishing or sampling effort). We show that cephalopod populations have increased over the last six decades, a result that was remarkably consistent across a highly diverse set of cephalopod taxa. Positive trends were also evident for both fisheries-dependent and fisheries-independent time-series, suggesting that trends are not solely due to factors associated with developing fisheries. Our results suggest that large-scale, directional processes, common to a range of coastal and oceanic environments, are responsible. This study presents the first evidence that cephalopod populations have increased globally, indicating that these ecologically and commercially important invertebrates may have benefited from a changing ocean environment.

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 December 29, 2017 at 4:23 PM124 Comments

The "Extended Random" Feature in the BSAFE Crypto Library

Matthew Green wrote a fascinating blog post about the NSA's efforts to increase the amount of random data exposed in the TLS protocol, and how it interacts with the NSA's backdoor into the DUAL_EC_PRNG random number generator to weaken TLS.

Posted on December 28, 2017 at 6:30 AM12 Comments

Post-Quantum Algorithms

NIST has organized a competition for public-key algorithms secure against a quantum computer. It recently published all of its Round 1 submissions. (Details of the NIST efforts are here. A timeline for the new algorithms is here.)

Posted on December 27, 2017 at 6:28 AM30 Comments

Acoustical Attacks against Hard Drives

Interesting destructive attack: "Acoustic Denial of Service Attacks on HDDs":

Abstract: Among storage components, hard disk drives (HDDs) have become the most commonly-used type of non-volatile storage due to their recent technological advances, including, enhanced energy efficacy and significantly-improved areal density. Such advances in HDDs have made them an inevitable part of numerous computing systems, including, personal computers, closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems, medical bedside monitors, and automated teller machines (ATMs). Despite the widespread use of HDDs and their critical role in real-world systems, there exist only a few research studies on the security of HDDs. In particular, prior research studies have discussed how HDDs can potentially leak critical private information through acoustic or electromagnetic emanations. Borrowing theoretical principles from acoustics and mechanics, we propose a novel denial-of-service (DoS) attack against HDDs that exploits a physical phenomenon, known as acoustic resonance. We perform a comprehensive examination of physical characteristics of several HDDs and create acoustic signals that cause significant vibrations in HDDs internal components. We demonstrate that such vibrations can negatively influence the performance of HDDs embedded in real-world systems. We show the feasibility of the proposed attack in two real-world case studies, namely, personal computers and CCTVs.

Posted on December 26, 2017 at 9:34 AM57 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Gonatus Squid Eating a Dragonfish

There's a video:

Last July, Choy was on a ship off the shore of Monterey Bay, looking at the video footage transmitted by an ROV many feet below. A Gonatus squid was spotted sucking off the face of a "really huge dragonfish," she says. "It took a little while to figure out what's going on here, who's eating whom, how is this going to end?" (The squid won.)

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 December 22, 2017 at 4:05 PM105 Comments

Amazon's Door Lock Is Amazon's Bid to Control Your Home

Interesting essay about Amazon's smart lock:

When you add Amazon Key to your door, something more sneaky also happens: Amazon takes over.

You can leave your keys at home and unlock your door with the Amazon Key app -- but it's really built for Amazon deliveries. To share online access with family and friends, I had to give them a special code to SMS (yes, text) to unlock the door. (Amazon offers other smartlocks that have physical keypads).

The Key-compatible locks are made by Yale and Kwikset, yet don't work with those brands' own apps. They also can't connect with a home-security system or smart-home gadgets that work with Apple and Google software.

And, of course, the lock can't be accessed by businesses other than Amazon. No Walmart, no UPS, no local dog-walking company.

Keeping tight control over Key might help Amazon guarantee security or a better experience. "Our focus with smart home is on making things simpler for customers ­-- things like providing easy control of connected devices with your voice using Alexa, simplifying tasks like reordering household goods and receiving packages," the Amazon spokeswoman said.

But Amazon is barely hiding its goal: It wants to be the operating system for your home. Amazon says Key will eventually work with dog walkers, maids and other service workers who bill through its marketplace. An Amazon home security service and grocery delivery from Whole Foods can't be far off.

This is happening all over. Everyone wants to control your life: Google, Apple, Amazon...everyone. It's what I've been calling the feudal Internet. I fear it's going to get a lot worse.

Posted on December 22, 2017 at 6:25 AM41 Comments

GCHQ Found -- and Disclosed -- a Windows 10 Vulnerability

Now this is good news. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) -- part of GCHQ -- found a serious vulnerability in Windows Defender (their anti-virus component). Instead of keeping it secret and all of us vulnerable, it alerted Microsoft.

I'd like believe the US does this, too.

Posted on December 19, 2017 at 6:06 AM94 Comments

Lessons Learned from the Estonian National ID Security Flaw

Estonia recently suffered a major flaw in the security of their national ID card. This article discusses the fix and the lessons learned from the incident:

In the future, the infrastructure dependency on one digital identity platform must be decreased, the use of several alternatives must be encouraged and promoted. In addition, the update and replacement capacity, both remote and physical, should be increased. We also recommend the government to procure the readiness to act fast in force majeure situations from the eID providers.. While deciding on the new eID platforms, the need to replace cryptographic primitives must be taken into account -- particularly the possibility of the need to replace algorithms with those that are not even in existence yet.

Posted on December 18, 2017 at 6:08 AM48 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Baby Sea Otters Prefer Shrimp to Squid

At least, this one does.

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 December 15, 2017 at 4:21 PM164 Comments

Tracking People Without GPS

Interesting research:

The trick in accurately tracking a person with this method is finding out what kind of activity they're performing. Whether they're walking, driving a car, or riding in a train or airplane, it's pretty easy to figure out when you know what you're looking for.

The sensors can determine how fast a person is traveling and what kind of movements they make. Moving at a slow pace in one direction indicates walking. Going a little bit quicker but turning at 90-degree angles means driving. Faster yet, we're in train or airplane territory. Those are easy to figure out based on speed and air pressure.

After the app determines what you're doing, it uses the information it collects from the sensors. The accelerometer relays your speed, the magnetometer tells your relation to true north, and the barometer offers up the air pressure around you and compares it to publicly available information. It checks in with The Weather Channel to compare air pressure data from the barometer to determine how far above sea level you are. Google Maps and data offered by the US Geological Survey Maps provide incredibly detailed elevation readings.

Once it has gathered all of this information and determined the mode of transportation you're currently taking, it can then begin to narrow down where you are. For flights, four algorithms begin to estimate the target's location and narrows down the possibilities until its error rate hits zero.

If you're driving, it can be even easier. The app knows the time zone you're in based on the information your phone has provided to it. It then accesses information from your barometer and magnetometer and compares it to information from publicly available maps and weather reports. After that, it keeps track of the turns you make. With each turn, the possible locations whittle down until it pinpoints exactly where you are.

To demonstrate how accurate it is, researchers did a test run in Philadelphia. It only took 12 turns before the app knew exactly where the car was.

This is a good example of how powerful synthesizing information from disparate data sources can be. We spend too much time worried about individual data collection systems, and not enough about analysis techniques of those systems.

Research paper.

Posted on December 15, 2017 at 6:18 AM58 Comments

Security Planner

Security Planner is a custom security advice tool from Citizen Lab. Answer a few questions, and it gives you a few simple things you can do to improve your security. It's not meant to be comprehensive, but instead to give people things they can actually do to immediately improve their security. I don't see it replacing any of the good security guides out there, but instead augmenting them.

The advice is peer reviewed, and the team behind Security Planner is committed to keeping it up to date.

Note: I am an advisor to this project.

Posted on December 14, 2017 at 7:01 AM49 Comments

E-Mail Tracking

Good article on the history and practice of e-mail tracking:

The tech is pretty simple. Tracking clients embed a line of code in the body of an email­ -- usually in a 1x1 pixel image, so tiny it's invisible, but also in elements like hyperlinks and custom fonts. When a recipient opens the email, the tracking client recognizes that pixel has been downloaded, as well as where and on what device. Newsletter services, marketers, and advertisers have used the technique for years, to collect data about their open rates; major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter followed suit in their ongoing quest to profile and predict our behavior online.

But lately, a surprising­ -- and growing­ -- number of tracked emails are being sent not from corporations, but acquaintances. "We have been in touch with users that were tracked by their spouses, business partners, competitors," says Florian Seroussi, the founder of OMC. "It's the wild, wild west out there."

According to OMC's data, a full 19 percent of all "conversational" email is now tracked. That's one in five of the emails you get from your friends. And you probably never noticed.

I admit it's enticing. I would very much like the statistics that adding trackers to Crypto-Gram would give me. But I still don't do it.

Posted on December 13, 2017 at 6:14 AM47 Comments

Remote Hack of a Boeing 757

Last month, the DHS announced that it was able to remotely hack a Boeing 757:

"We got the airplane on Sept. 19, 2016. Two days later, I was successful in accomplishing a remote, non-cooperative, penetration," said Robert Hickey, aviation program manager within the Cyber Security Division of the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate.

"[Which] means I didn't have anybody touching the airplane, I didn't have an insider threat. I stood off using typical stuff that could get through security and we were able to establish a presence on the systems of the aircraft." Hickey said the details of the hack and the work his team are doing are classified, but said they accessed the aircraft's systems through radio frequency communications, adding that, based on the RF configuration of most aircraft, "you can come to grips pretty quickly where we went" on the aircraft.

Posted on December 12, 2017 at 6:08 AM60 Comments

Surveillance inside the Body

The FDA has approved a pill with an embedded sensor that can report when it is swallowed. The pill transmits information to a wearable patch, which in turn transmits information to a smartphone.

Posted on December 11, 2017 at 6:37 AM40 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Embryos Coming to Life

Beautiful video.

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 December 8, 2017 at 7:03 AM117 Comments

Security Vulnerabilities in Certificate Pinning

New research found that many banks offer certificate pinning as a security feature, but fail to authenticate the hostname. This leaves the systems open to man-in-the-middle attacks.

From the paper:

Abstract: Certificate verification is a crucial stage in the establishment of a TLS connection. A common security flaw in TLS implementations is the lack of certificate hostname verification but, in general, this is easy to detect. In security-sensitive applications, the usage of certificate pinning is on the rise. This paper shows that certificate pinning can (and often does) hide the lack of proper hostname verification, enabling MITM attacks. Dynamic (black-box) detection of this vulnerability would typically require the tester to own a high security certificate from the same issuer (and often same intermediate CA) as the one used by the app. We present Spinner, a new tool for black-box testing for this vulnerability at scale that does not require purchasing any certificates. By redirecting traffic to websites which use the relevant certificates and then analysing the (encrypted) network traffic we are able to determine whether the hostname check is correctly done, even in the presence of certificate pinning. We use Spinner to analyse 400 security-sensitive Android and iPhone apps. We found that 9 apps had this flaw, including two of the largest banks in the world: Bank of America and HSBC. We also found that TunnelBear, one of the most popular VPN apps was also vulnerable. These apps have a joint user base of tens of millions of users.

News article.

Posted on December 8, 2017 at 6:15 AM17 Comments

Germany Preparing Backdoor Law

The German Interior Minister is preparing a bill that allows the government to mandate backdoors in encryption.

No details about how likely this is to pass. I am skeptical.

Posted on December 6, 2017 at 9:06 AM47 Comments

Matt Blaze on Securing Voting Machines

Matt Blaze's House testimony on the security of voting machines is an excellent read. (Details on the entire hearing is here.) I have not watched the video.

Posted on December 5, 2017 at 6:39 AM37 Comments

"Crypto" Is Being Redefined as Cryptocurrencies

I agree with Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, "Cryptocurrencies aren't 'crypto'":

Lately on the internet, people in the world of Bitcoin and other digital currencies are starting to use the word "crypto" as a catch-all term for the lightly regulated and burgeoning world of digital currencies in general, or for the word "cryptocurrency" -- which probably shouldn't even be called "currency," by the way.


To be clear, I'm not the only one who is mad about this. Bitcoin and other technologies indeed do use cryptography: all cryptocurrency transactions are secured by a "public key" known to all and a "private key" known only to one party­ -- this is the basis for a swath of cryptographic approaches (known as public key, or asymmetric cryptography) like PGP. But cryptographers say that's not really their defining trait.

"Most cryptocurrency barely has anything to do with serious cryptography," Matthew Green, a renowned computer scientist who studies cryptography, told me via email. "Aside from the trivial use of digital signatures and hash functions, it's a stupid name."

It is a stupid name.

Posted on December 4, 2017 at 9:14 AM93 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Research into Squid-Eating Beaked Whales

Beaked whales, living off the coasts of Ireland, feed on squid.

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 December 1, 2017 at 4:22 PM109 Comments

Needless Panic Over a Wi-FI Network Name

A Turkish Airlines flight made an emergency landing because someone named his wireless network (presumably from his smartphone) "bomb on board."

In 2006, I wrote an essay titled "Refuse to be Terrorized." (I am also reminded of my 2007 essay, "The War on the Unexpected." A decade later, it seems that the frequency of incidents like the one above is less, although not zero. Progress, I suppose.

Posted on December 1, 2017 at 9:56 AM62 Comments

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