Blog: February 2018 Archives

Apple to Store Encryption Keys in China

Apple is bowing to pressure from the Chinese government and storing encryption keys in China. While I would prefer it if it would take a stand against China, I really can't blame it for putting its business model ahead of its desires for customer privacy.

Two more articles.

Posted on February 28, 2018 at 6:19 AM62 Comments

Cellebrite Unlocks iPhones for the US Government

Forbes reports that the Israeli company Cellebrite can probably unlock all iPhone models:

Cellebrite, a Petah Tikva, Israel-based vendor that's become the U.S. government's company of choice when it comes to unlocking mobile devices, is this month telling customers its engineers currently have the ability to get around the security of devices running iOS 11. That includes the iPhone X, a model that Forbes has learned was successfully raided for data by the Department for Homeland Security back in November 2017, most likely with Cellebrite technology.

[...]

It also appears the feds have already tried out Cellebrite tech on the most recent Apple handset, the iPhone X. That's according to a warrant unearthed by Forbes in Michigan, marking the first known government inspection of the bleeding edge smartphone in a criminal investigation. The warrant detailed a probe into Abdulmajid Saidi, a suspect in an arms trafficking case, whose iPhone X was taken from him as he was about to leave America for Beirut, Lebanon, on November 20. The device was sent to a Cellebrite specialist at the DHS Homeland Security Investigations Grand Rapids labs and the data extracted on December 5.

This story is based on some excellent reporting, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. We don't know exactly what was extracted from any of the phones. Was it metadata or data, and what kind of metadata or data was it.

The story I hear is that Cellebrite hires ex-Apple engineers and moves them to countries where Apple can't prosecute them under the DMCA or its equivalents. There's also a credible rumor that Cellebrite's mechanisms only defeat the mechanism that limits the number of password attempts. It does not allow engineers to move the encrypted data off the phone and run an offline password cracker. If this is true, then strong passwords are still secure.

EDITED TO ADD (3/1): Another article, with more information. It looks like there's an arms race going on between Apple and Cellebrite. At least, if Cellebrite is telling the truth -- which they may or may not be.

Posted on February 27, 2018 at 5:58 AM58 Comments

E-Mail Leaves an Evidence Trail

If you're going to commit an illegal act, it's best not to discuss it in e-mail. It's also best to Google tech instructions rather than asking someone else to do it:

One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here's the relevant passage from the indictment. I've bolded the most important bits:

Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI's income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a "Word" document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that "Word" document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the "Word" document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.

So here's the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller's investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company's income, but he couldn't figure out how to edit the PDF. He therefore had Gates turn it into a Microsoft Word document for him, which led the two to bounce the documents back-and-forth over email. As attorney and blogger Susan Simpson notes on Twitter, Manafort's inability to complete a basic task on his own seems to have effectively "created an incriminating paper trail."

If there's a lesson here, it's that the Internet constantly generates data about what people are doing on it, and that data is all potential evidence. The FBI is 100% wrong that they're going dark; it's really the golden age of surveillance, and the FBI's panic is really just its own lack of technical sophistication.

Posted on February 26, 2018 at 3:39 PM43 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: The Symbiotic Relationship Between the Bobtail Squid and a Particular Microbe

This is the story of the Hawaiian bobtail squid and Vibrio fischeri.

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 February 23, 2018 at 4:20 PM163 Comments

Election Security

I joined a letter supporting the Secure Elections Act (S. 2261):

The Secure Elections Act strikes a careful balance between state and federal action to secure American voting systems. The measure authorizes appropriation of grants to the states to take important and time-sensitive actions, including:

  • Replacing insecure paperless voting systems with new equipment that will process a paper ballot;

  • Implementing post-election audits of paper ballots or records to verify electronic tallies;

  • Conducting "cyber hygiene" scans and "risk and vulnerability" assessments and supporting state efforts to remediate identified vulnerabilities.

    The legislation would also create needed transparency and accountability in elections systems by establishing clear protocols for state and federal officials to communicate regarding security breaches and emerging threats.

Posted on February 23, 2018 at 6:11 AM62 Comments

Harassment By Package Delivery

People harassing women by delivering anonymous packages purchased from Amazon.

On the one hand, there is nothing new here. This could have happened decades ago, pre-Internet. But the Internet makes this easier, and the article points out that using prepaid gift cards makes this anonymous. I am curious how much these differences make a difference in kind, and what can be done about it.

Posted on February 22, 2018 at 6:04 AM53 Comments

New Spectre/Meltdown Variants

Researchers have discovered new variants of Spectre and Meltdown. The software mitigations for Spectre and Meltdown seem to block these variants, although the eventual CPU fixes will have to be expanded to account for these new attacks.

Posted on February 21, 2018 at 6:13 AM49 Comments

Facebook Will Verify the Physical Location of Ad Buyers with Paper Postcards

It's not a great solution, but it's something:

The process of using postcards containing a specific code will be required for advertising that mentions a specific candidate running for a federal office, Katie Harbath, Facebook's global director of policy programs, said. The requirement will not apply to issue-based political ads, she said.

"If you run an ad mentioning a candidate, we are going to mail you a postcard and you will have to use that code to prove you are in the United States," Harbath said at a weekend conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State, where executives from Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google also spoke.

"It won't solve everything," Harbath said in a brief interview with Reuters following her remarks.

But sending codes through old-fashioned mail was the most effective method the tech company could come up with to prevent Russians and other bad actors from purchasing ads while posing as someone else, Harbath said.

It does mean a several-days delay between purchasing an ad and seeing it run.

Posted on February 20, 2018 at 6:34 AM61 Comments

On the Security of Walls

Interesting history of the security of walls:

Dún Aonghasa presents early evidence of the same principles of redundant security measures at work in 13th century castles, 17th century star-shaped artillery fortifications, and even "defense in depth" security architecture promoted today by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and countless other security organizations world-wide.

Security advances throughout the centuries have been mostly technical adjustments in response to evolving weaponry. Fortification -- the art and science of protecting a place by imposing a barrier between you and an enemy -- is as ancient as humanity. From the standpoint of theory, however, there is very little about modern network or airport security that could not be learned from a 17th century artillery manual. That should trouble us more than it does.

Fortification depends on walls as a demarcation between attacker and defender. The very first priority action listed in the 2017 National Security Strategy states: "We will secure our borders through the construction of a border wall, the use of multilayered defenses and advanced technology, the employment of additional personnel, and other measures." The National Security Strategy, as well as the executive order just preceding it, are just formal language to describe the recurrent and popular idea of a grand border wall as a central tool of strategic security. There's been a lot said about the costs of the wall. But, as the American finger hovers over the Hadrian's Wall 2.0 button, whether or not a wall will actually improve national security depends a lot on how walls work, but moreso, how they fail.

Lots more at the link.

Posted on February 19, 2018 at 4:24 PM23 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Pin

There's a squid pin on Kickstarter.

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 February 16, 2018 at 4:08 PM208 Comments

New National Academies Report on Crypto Policy

The National Academies has just published "Decrypting the Encryption Debate: A Framework for Decision Makers." It looks really good, although I have not read it yet.

Not much news or analysis yet. Please post any links you find in the comments, and I will summarize them here.

Posted on February 16, 2018 at 9:17 AM27 Comments

Can Consumers' Online Data Be Protected?

Everything online is hackable. This is true for Equifax's data and the federal Office of Personal Management's data, which was hacked in 2015. If information is on a computer connected to the Internet, it is vulnerable.

But just because everything is hackable doesn't mean everything will be hacked. The difference between the two is complex, and filled with defensive technologies, security best practices, consumer awareness, the motivation and skill of the hacker and the desirability of the data. The risks will be different if an attacker is a criminal who just wants credit card details ­ and doesn't care where he gets them from ­ or the Chinese military looking for specific data from a specific place.

The proper question isn't whether it's possible to protect consumer data, but whether a particular site protects our data well enough for the benefits provided by that site. And here, again, there are complications.

In most cases, it's impossible for consumers to make informed decisions about whether their data is protected. We have no idea what sorts of security measures Google uses to protect our highly intimate Web search data or our personal e-mails. We have no idea what sorts of security measures Facebook uses to protect our posts and conversations.

We have a feeling that these big companies do better than smaller ones. But we're also surprised when a lone individual publishes personal data hacked from the infidelity site AshleyMadison.com, or when the North Korean government does the same with personal information in Sony's network.

Think about all the companies collecting personal data about you ­ the websites you visit, your smartphone and its apps, your Internet-connected car -- and how little you know about their security practices. Even worse, credit bureaus and data brokers like Equifax collect your personal information without your knowledge or consent.

So while it might be possible for companies to do a better job of protecting our data, you as a consumer are in no position to demand such protection.

Government policy is the missing ingredient. We need standards and a method for enforcement. We need liabilities and the ability to sue companies that poorly secure our data. The biggest reason companies don't protect our data online is that it's cheaper not to. Government policy is how we change that.

This essay appeared as half of a point/counterpoint with Priscilla Regan, in a CQ Researcher report titled "Privacy and the Internet."

Posted on February 14, 2018 at 6:43 AM56 Comments

Jumping Air Gaps

Nice profile of Mordechai Guri, who researches a variety of clever ways to steal data over air-gapped computers.

Guri and his fellow Ben-Gurion researchers have shown, for instance, that it's possible to trick a fully offline computer into leaking data to another nearby device via the noise its internal fan generates, by changing air temperatures in patterns that the receiving computer can detect with thermal sensors, or even by blinking out a stream of information from a computer hard drive LED to the camera on a quadcopter drone hovering outside a nearby window. In new research published today, the Ben-Gurion team has even shown that they can pull data off a computer protected by not only an air gap, but also a Faraday cage designed to block all radio signals.

Here's a page with all the research results.

BoingBoing post.

Posted on February 13, 2018 at 6:26 AM79 Comments

Internet Security Threats at the Olympics

There are a lot:

The cybersecurity company McAfee recently uncovered a cyber operation, dubbed Operation GoldDragon, attacking South Korean organizations related to the Winter Olympics. McAfee believes the attack came from a nation state that speaks Korean, although it has no definitive proof that this is a North Korean operation. The victim organizations include ice hockey teams, ski suppliers, ski resorts, tourist organizations in Pyeongchang, and departments organizing the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Meanwhile, a Russia-linked cyber attack has already stolen and leaked documents from other Olympic organizations. The so-called Fancy Bear group, or APT28, began its operations in late 2017 --­ according to Trend Micro and Threat Connect, two private cybersecurity firms­ -- eventually publishing documents in 2018 outlining the political tensions between IOC officials and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officials who are policing Olympic athletes. It also released documents specifying exceptions to anti-doping regulations granted to specific athletes (for instance, one athlete was given an exception because of his asthma medication). The most recent Fancy Bear leak exposed details about a Canadian pole vaulter's positive results for cocaine. This group has targeted WADA in the past, specifically during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Assuming the attribution is right, the action appears to be Russian retaliation for the punitive steps against Russia.

A senior analyst at McAfee warned that the Olympics may experience more cyber attacks before closing ceremonies. A researcher at ThreatConnect asserted that organizations like Fancy Bear have no reason to stop operations just because they've already stolen and released documents. Even the United States Department of Homeland Security has issued a notice to those traveling to South Korea to remind them to protect themselves against cyber risks.

One presumes the Olympics network is sufficiently protected against the more pedestrian DDoS attacks and the like, but who knows?

EDITED TO ADD: There was already one attack.

Posted on February 12, 2018 at 6:36 AM40 Comments

Calling Squid "Calamari" Makes It More Appetizing

Research shows that what a food is called affects how we think about it.

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 February 9, 2018 at 4:17 PM148 Comments

Water Utility Infected by Cryptocurrency Mining Software

A water utility in Europe has been infected by cryptocurrency mining software. This is a relatively new attack: hackers compromise computers and force them to mine cryptocurrency for them. This is the first time I've seen it infect SCADA systems, though.

It seems that this mining software is benign, and doesn't affect the performance of the hacked computer. (A smart virus doesn't kill its host.) But that's not going to always be the case.

Posted on February 8, 2018 at 11:55 AM62 Comments

Cabinet of Secret Documents from Australia

This story of leaked Australian government secrets is unlike any other I've heard:

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

Yes, that really happened. The person who bought and opened the file cabinets contacted the Australian Broadcasting Corp, who is now publishing a bunch of it.

There's lots of interesting (and embarassing) stuff in the documents, although most of it is local politics. I am more interested in the government's reaction to the incident: they're pushing for a law making it illegal for the press to publish government secrets it received through unofficial channels.

"The one thing I would point out about the legislation that does concern me particularly is that classified information is an element of the offence," he said.

"That is to say, if you've got a filing cabinet that is full of classified information ... that means all the Crown has to prove if they're prosecuting you is that it is classified ­ nothing else.

"They don't have to prove that you knew it was classified, so knowledge is beside the point."

[...]

Many groups have raised concerns, including media organisations who say they unfairly target journalists trying to do their job.

But really anyone could be prosecuted just for possessing classified information, regardless of whether they know about it.

That might include, for instance, if you stumbled across a folder of secret files in a regular skip bin while walking home and handed it over to a journalist.

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.

The proposed law is older than this leak, but the leak is giving it new life. The Australian opposition party is being cagey on whether they will support the law. They don't want to appear weak on national security, so I'm not optimistic.

EDITED TO ADD (2/8): The Australian government backed down on that new security law.

EDITED TO ADD (2/13): Excellent political cartoon.

Posted on February 7, 2018 at 6:19 AM51 Comments

Poor Security at the UK National Health Service

The Guardian is reporting that "every NHS trust assessed for cyber security vulnerabilities has failed to meet the standard required."

This is the same NHS that was debilitated by WannaCry.

EDITED TO ADD (2/13): More news.

And don't think that US hospitals are much better.

Posted on February 6, 2018 at 6:33 AM55 Comments

Sensitive Super Bowl Security Documents Left on an Airplane

A CNN reporter found some sensitive -- but, technically, not classified -- documents about Super Bowl security in the front pocket of an airplane seat.

Posted on February 5, 2018 at 3:46 PM42 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Kraken Pie

Pretty, but contains no actual squid ingredients.

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 February 2, 2018 at 4:36 PM116 Comments

Signed Malware

Stuxnet famously used legitimate digital certificates to sign its malware. A research paper from last year found that the practice is much more common than previously thought.

Now, researchers have presented proof that digitally signed malware is much more common than previously believed. What's more, it predated Stuxnet, with the first known instance occurring in 2003. The researchers said they found 189 malware samples bearing valid digital signatures that were created using compromised certificates issued by recognized certificate authorities and used to sign legitimate software. In total, 109 of those abused certificates remain valid. The researchers, who presented their findings Wednesday at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, found another 136 malware samples signed by legitimate CA-issued certificates, although the signatures were malformed.

The results are significant because digitally signed software is often able to bypass User Account Control and other Windows measures designed to prevent malicious code from being installed. Forged signatures also represent a significant breach of trust because certificates provide what's supposed to be an unassailable assurance to end users that the software was developed by the company named in the certificate and hasn't been modified by anyone else. The forgeries also allow malware to evade antivirus protections. Surprisingly, weaknesses in the majority of available AV programs prevented them from detecting known malware that was digitally signed even though the signatures weren't valid.

Posted on February 2, 2018 at 6:38 AM45 Comments

Jackpotting Attacks Against US ATMs

Brian Krebs is reporting sophisticated jackpotting attacks against US ATMs. The attacker gains physical access to the ATM, plants malware using specialized electronics, and then later returns and forces the machine to dispense all the cash it has inside.

The Secret Service alert explains that the attackers typically use an endoscope -- a slender, flexible instrument traditionally used in medicine to give physicians a look inside the human body -- to locate the internal portion of the cash machine where they can attach a cord that allows them to sync their laptop with the ATM's computer.

"Once this is complete, the ATM is controlled by the fraudsters and the ATM will appear Out of Service to potential customers," reads the confidential Secret Service alert.

At this point, the crook(s) installing the malware will contact co-conspirators who can remotely control the ATMs and force the machines to dispense cash.

"In previous Ploutus.D attacks, the ATM continuously dispensed at a rate of 40 bills every 23 seconds," the alert continues. Once the dispense cycle starts, the only way to stop it is to press cancel on the keypad. Otherwise, the machine is completely emptied of cash, according to the alert.

Lots of details in the article.

Posted on February 1, 2018 at 6:23 AM24 Comments

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

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