Blog: July 2018 Archives

Hacking a Robot Vacuum

The Diqee 360 robotic vacuum cleaner can be turned into a surveillance device. The attack requires physical access to the device, so in the scheme of things it's not a big deal. But why in the world is the vacuum equipped with a microphone?

Posted on July 31, 2018 at 6:40 AM36 Comments

The Poor Cybersecurity of US Space Assets

Good policy paper (summary here) on the threats, current state, and potential policy solutions for the poor security of US space systems.

Posted on July 30, 2018 at 12:08 PM17 Comments

Identifying People by Metadata

Interesting research: "You are your Metadata: Identification and Obfuscation of Social Media Users using Metadata Information," by Beatrice Perez, Mirco Musolesi, and Gianluca Stringhini.

Abstract: Metadata are associated to most of the information we produce in our daily interactions and communication in the digital world. Yet, surprisingly, metadata are often still categorized as non-sensitive. Indeed, in the past, researchers and practitioners have mainly focused on the problem of the identification of a user from the content of a message.

In this paper, we use Twitter as a case study to quantify the uniqueness of the association between metadata and user identity and to understand the effectiveness of potential obfuscation strategies. More specifically, we analyze atomic fields in the metadata and systematically combine them in an effort to classify new tweets as belonging to an account using different machine learning algorithms of increasing complexity. We demonstrate that through the application of a supervised learning algorithm, we are able to identify any user in a group of 10,000 with approximately 96.7% accuracy. Moreover, if we broaden the scope of our search and consider the 10 most likely candidates we increase the accuracy of the model to 99.22%. We also found that data obfuscation is hard and ineffective for this type of data: even after perturbing 60% of the training data, it is still possible to classify users with an accuracy higher than 95%. These results have strong implications in terms of the design of metadata obfuscation strategies, for example for data set release, not only for Twitter, but, more generally, for most social media platforms.

Posted on July 30, 2018 at 6:35 AM28 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Deception

This is a fantastic video of a squid attracting prey with a tentacle that looks like a smaller 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 July 27, 2018 at 4:12 PM175 Comments

New Report on Police Digital Forensics Techniques

According to a new CSIS report, "going dark" is not the most pressing problem facing law enforcement in the age of digital data:

Over the past year, we conducted a series of interviews with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, attorneys, service providers, and civil society groups. We also commissioned a survey of law enforcement officers from across the country to better understand the full range of difficulties they are facing in accessing and using digital evidence in their cases. Survey results indicate that accessing data from service providers -- much of which is not encrypted -- is the biggest problem that law enforcement currently faces in leveraging digital evidence.

This is a problem that has not received adequate attention or resources to date. An array of federal and state training centers, crime labs, and other efforts have arisen to help fill the gaps, but they are able to fill only a fraction of the need. And there is no central entity responsible for monitoring these efforts, taking stock of the demand, and providing the assistance needed. The key federal entity with an explicit mission to assist state and local law enforcement with their digital evidence needs­ -- the National Domestic Communications Assistance Center (NDCAC)­has a budget of $11.4 million, spread among several different programs designed to distribute knowledge about service providers' poli­cies and products, develop and share technical tools, and train law enforcement on new services and tech­nologies, among other initiatives.

From a news article:

In addition to bemoaning the lack of guidance and help from tech companies -- a quarter of survey respondents said their top issue was convincing companies to hand over suspects' data -- law enforcement officials also reported receiving barely any digital evidence training. Local police said they'd received only 10 hours of training in the past 12 months; state police received 13 and federal officials received 16. A plurality of respondents said they only received annual training. Only 16 percent said their organizations scheduled training sessions at least twice per year.

This is a point that Susan Landau has repeatedly made, and also one I make in my new book. The FBI needs technical expertise, not backdoors.

Here's the report.

Posted on July 27, 2018 at 12:10 PM30 Comments

Google Employees Use a Physical Token as Their Second Authentication Factor

Krebs on Security is reporting that all 85,000 Google employees use two-factor authentication with a physical token.

A Google spokesperson said Security Keys now form the basis of all account access at Google.

"We have had no reported or confirmed account takeovers since implementing security keys at Google," the spokesperson said. "Users might be asked to authenticate using their security key for many different apps/reasons. It all depends on the sensitivity of the app and the risk of the user at that point in time."

Now Google is selling that security to its users:

On Wednesday, the company announced its new Titan security key, a device that protects your accounts by restricting two-factor authentication to the physical world. It's available as a USB stick and in a Bluetooth variation, and like similar products by Yubico and Feitian, it utilizes the protocol approved by the FIDO alliance. That means it'll be compatible with pretty much any service that enables users to turn on Universal 2nd Factor Authentication (U2F).

Posted on July 26, 2018 at 12:18 PM49 Comments

Major Bluetooth Vulnerability

Bluetooth has a serious security vulnerability:

In some implementations, the elliptic curve parameters are not all validated by the cryptographic algorithm implementation, which may allow a remote attacker within wireless range to inject an invalid public key to determine the session key with high probability. Such an attacker can then passively intercept and decrypt all device messages, and/or forge and inject malicious messages.

Paper. Website. Three news articles.

This is serious. Update your software now, and try not to think about all of the Bluetooth applications that can't be updated.

Posted on July 25, 2018 at 2:08 PM25 Comments

On Financial Fraud

There are some good lessons in this article on financial fraud:

That's how we got it so wrong. We were looking for incidental breaches of technical regulations, not systematic crime. And the thing is, that's normal. The nature of fraud is that it works outside your field of vision, subverting the normal checks and balances so that the world changes while the picture stays the same. People in financial markets have been missing the wood for the trees for as long as there have been markets.

[..]

Trust -- particularly between complete strangers, with no interactions beside relatively anonymous market transactions -- is the basis of the modern industrial economy. And the story of the development of the modern economy is in large part the story of the invention and improvement of technologies and institutions for managing that trust.

And as industrial society develops, it becomes easier to be a victim. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith described how prosperity derived from the division of labour -- the 18 distinct operations that went into the manufacture of a pin, for example. While this was going on, the modern world also saw a growing division of trust. The more a society benefits from the division of labour in checking up on things, the further you can go into a con game before you realise that you're in one.

[...]

Libor teaches us a valuable lesson about commercial fraud -- that unlike other crimes, it has a problem of denial as well as one of detection. There are very few other criminal acts where the victim not only consents to the criminal act, but voluntarily transfers the money or valuable goods to the criminal. And the hierarchies, status distinctions and networks that make up a modern economy also create powerful psychological barriers against seeing fraud when it is happening. White-collar crime is partly defined by the kind of person who commits it: a person of high status in the community, the kind of person who is always given the benefit of the doubt.

[...]

Fraudsters don't play on moral weaknesses, greed or fear; they play on weaknesses in the system of checks and balances -- the audit processes that are meant to supplement an overall environment of trust. One point that comes up again and again when looking at famous and large-scale frauds is that, in many cases, everything could have been brought to a halt at a very early stage if anyone had taken care to confirm all the facts. But nobody does confirm all the facts. There are just too bloody many of them. Even after the financial rubble has settled and the arrests been made, this is a huge problem.

Posted on July 25, 2018 at 6:29 AM28 Comments

Nicholas Weaver on Cryptocurrencies

This is well-worth reading (non-paywalled version). Here's the opening:

Cryptocurrencies, although a seemingly interesting idea, are simply not fit for purpose. They do not work as currencies, they are grossly inefficient, and they are not meaningfully distributed in terms of trust. Risks involving cryptocurrencies occur in four major areas: technical risks to participants, economic risks to participants, systemic risks to the cryptocurrency ecosystem, and societal risks.

I haven't written much about cryptocurrencies, but I share Weaver's skepticism.

EDITED TO ADD (8/2): Paul Krugman on cryptocurrencies.

Posted on July 24, 2018 at 6:29 AM59 Comments

1Password's Travel Mode

The 1Password password manager has just introduced "travel mode," which allows you to delete your stored passwords when you're in other countries or crossing borders:

Your vaults aren't just hidden; they're completely removed from your devices as long as Travel Mode is on. That includes every item and all your encryption keys. There are no traces left for anyone to find. So even if you're asked to unlock 1Password by someone at the border, there's no way for them to tell that Travel Mode is even enabled.

In 1Password Teams, Travel Mode is even cooler. If you're a team administrator, you have total control over which secrets your employees can travel with. You can turn Travel Mode on and off for your team members, so you can ensure that company information stays safe at all times.

The way this works is important. If the scary border police demand that you unlock your 1Password vault, those passwords/keys are not there for the border police to find.

The only flaw -- and this is minor -- is that the system requires you to lie. When the scary border police ask you "do you have any other passwords?" or "have you enabled travel mode," you can't tell them the truth. In the US, lying to a federal office is a felony.

I previously described a system that doesn't require you to lie. It's more complicated to implement, though.

This is a great feature, and I'm happy to see it implemented.

Posted on July 23, 2018 at 6:17 AM60 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Dead Squid on Prince Edward Island

A beach on Prince Edward Island is littered with dead squid. No one knows why.

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 July 20, 2018 at 4:34 PM198 Comments

New Report on Chinese Intelligence Cyber-Operations

The company ProtectWise just published a long report linking a bunch of Chinese cyber-operations over the past few years.

The always interesting gruqq has some interesting commentary on the group and its tactics.

Lots of detailed information in the report, but I admit that I have never heard of ProtectWise or its research team 401TRG. Independent corroboration of this information would be helpful.

Posted on July 20, 2018 at 6:38 AM19 Comments

Suing South Carolina Because Its Election Machines Are Insecure

A group called Protect Democracy is suing South Carolina because its insecure voting machines are effectively denying people the right to vote.

Note: I am an advisor to Protect Democracy on its work related to election cybersecurity, and submitted a declaration in litigation it filed, challenging President Trump's now-defunct "election integrity" commission.

Posted on July 19, 2018 at 6:17 AM34 Comments

Defeating the iPhone Restricted Mode

Recently, Apple introduced restricted mode to protect iPhones from attacks by companies like Cellebrite and Greyshift, which allow attackers to recover information from a phone without the password or fingerprint. Elcomsoft just announced that it can easily bypass it.

There is an important lesson in this: security is hard. Apple Computer has one of the best security teams on the planet. This feature was not tossed out in a day; it was designed and implemented with a lot of thought and care. If this team could make a mistake like this, imagine how bad a security feature is when implemented by a team without this kind of expertise.

This is the reason actual cryptographers and security engineers are very skeptical when a random company announces that their product is "secure." We know that they don't have the requisite security expertise to design and implement security properly. We know they didn't take the time and care. We know that their engineers think they understand security, and designed to a level that they couldn't break.

Getting security right is hard for the best teams on the world. It's impossible for average teams.

Posted on July 18, 2018 at 6:25 AM40 Comments

Installing a Credit Card Skimmer on a POS Terminal

Watch how someone installs a credit card skimmer in just a couple of seconds. I don't know if the skimmer just records the data and is collected later, or if it transmits the data back to some base station.

Posted on July 17, 2018 at 6:20 AM30 Comments

Reasonably Clever Extortion E-mail Based on Password Theft

Imagine you've gotten your hands on a file of e-mail addresses and passwords. You want to monetize it, but the site it's for isn't very valuable. How do you use it? You convince the owners of the password to send you money.

I recently saw a spam e-mail that ties the password to a porn site. The e-mail title contains the password, which is sure to get the recipient's attention.

I do know, yhhaabor, is your password. You may not know me and you're most likely thinking why you're getting this email, right?

actually, I actually setup a malware on the adult video clips (pornographic material) web site and you know what, you visited this web site to have fun (you know what I mean). While you were watching videos, your web browser began operating as a RDP (Remote Desktop) having a key logger which provided me accessibility to your display and web camera. after that, my software obtained your entire contacts from your Messenger, social networks, and email.

What exactly did I do?

I created a double-screen video. First part shows the video you were viewing (you've got a fine taste ; )), and 2nd part displays the recording of your webcam.

What should you do?

Well, I believe, $2900 is a reasonable price for our little secret. You will make the payment through Bitcoin (if you don't know this, search "how to buy bitcoin" in Google).

This is clever. The valid password establishes legitimacy. There's a decent chance the recipient has visited porn sites, and maybe set up an account for which they can't remember the password. The RDP attack is plausible, as is turning on the camera and downloading the contacts file.

Of course, it all fails because there isn't enough detail. If the attacker actually did all of this, they would include the name of the porn site and attached the video file.

But it's a clever attack, and one I have not seen before. If the attacker asked for an order of magnitude less money, I think they would make more.

EDITED TO ADD: Brian Krebs has written about this, too.

Posted on July 16, 2018 at 6:30 AM58 Comments

Gas Pump Hack

This is weird:

Police in Detroit are looking for two suspects who allegedly managed to hack a gas pump and steal over 600 gallons of gasoline, valued at about $1,800. The theft took place in the middle of the day and went on for about 90 minutes, with the gas station attendant unable to thwart the hackers.

The theft, reported by Fox 2 Detroit, took place at around 1pm local time on June 23 at a Marathon gas station located about 15 minutes from downtown Detroit. At least 10 cars are believed to have benefitted from the free-flowing gas pump, which still has police befuddled.

Here's what is known about the supposed hack: Per Fox 2 Detroit, the thieves used some sort of remote device that allowed them to hijack the pump and take control away from the gas station employee. Police confirmed to the local publication that the device prevented the clerk from using the gas station's system to shut off the individual pump.

Slashdot post.

Hard to know what's true, but it seems like a good example of a hack against a cyber-physical system.

Posted on July 13, 2018 at 6:18 AM48 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Antifungal Squid-Egg Coating

The Hawaiian bobtail squid coats its eggs with antifungal bacteria.

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 July 12, 2018 at 4:03 PM244 Comments

WPA3

Everyone is writing about the new WPA3 Wi-Fi security standard, and how it improves security over the current WPA2 standard.

This summary is as good as any other:

The first big new feature in WPA3 is protection against offline, password-guessing attacks. This is where an attacker captures data from your Wi-Fi stream, brings it back to a private computer, and guesses passwords over and over again until they find a match. With WPA3, attackers are only supposed to be able to make a single guess against that offline data before it becomes useless; they'll instead have to interact with the live Wi-Fi device every time they want to make a guess. (And that's harder since they need to be physically present, and devices can be set up to protect against repeat guesses.)

WPA3's other major addition, as highlighted by the Alliance, is forward secrecy. This is a privacy feature that prevents older data from being compromised by a later attack. So if an attacker captures an encrypted Wi-Fi transmission, then cracks the password, they still won't be able to read the older data -- they'd only be able to see new information currently flowing over the network.

Note that we're just getting the new standard this week. Actual devices that implement the standard are still months away.

Posted on July 12, 2018 at 6:11 AM31 Comments

Department of Commerce Report on the Botnet Threat

Last month, the US Department of Commerce released a report on the threat of botnets and what to do about it. I note that it explicitly said that the IoT makes the threat worse, and that the solutions are largely economic.

The Departments determined that the opportunities and challenges in working toward dramatically reducing threats from automated, distributed attacks can be summarized in six principal themes.

  1. Automated, distributed attacks are a global problem. The majority of the compromised devices in recent noteworthy botnets have been geographically located outside the United States. To increase the resilience of the Internet and communications ecosystem against these threats, many of which originate outside the United States, we must continue to work closely with international partners.

  2. Effective tools exist, but are not widely used. While there remains room for improvement, the tools, processes, and practices required to significantly enhance the resilience of the Internet and communications ecosystem are widely available, and are routinely applied in selected market sectors. However, they are not part of common practices for product development and deployment in many other sectors for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) lack of awareness, cost avoidance, insufficient technical expertise, and lack of market incentives

  3. Products should be secured during all stages of the lifecycle. Devices that are vulnerable at time of deployment, lack facilities to patch vulnerabilities after discovery, or remain in service after vendor support ends make assembling automated, distributed threats far too easy.

  4. Awareness and education are needed. Home users and some enterprise customers are often unaware of the role their devices could play in a botnet attack and may not fully understand the merits of available technical controls. Product developers, manufacturers, and infrastructure operators often lack the knowledge and skills necessary to deploy tools, processes, and practices that would make the ecosystem more resilient.

  5. Market incentives should be more effectively aligned. Market incentives do not currently appear to align with the goal of "dramatically reducing threats perpetrated by automated and distributed attacks." Product developers, manufacturers, and vendors are motivated to minimize cost and time to market, rather than to build in security or offer efficient security updates. Market incentives must be realigned to promote a better balance between security and convenience when developing products.

  6. Automated, distributed attacks are an ecosystem-wide challenge. No single stakeholder community can address the problem in isolation.

[...]

The Departments identified five complementary and mutually supportive goals that, if realized, would dramatically reduce the threat of automated, distributed attacks and improve the resilience and redundancy of the ecosystem. A list of suggested actions for key stakeholders reinforces each goal. The goals are:

  • Goal 1: Identify a clear pathway toward an adaptable, sustainable, and secure technology marketplace.
  • Goal 2: Promote innovation in the infrastructure for dynamic adaptation to evolving threats.
  • Goal 3: Promote innovation at the edge of the network to prevent, detect, and mitigate automated, distributed attacks.
  • Goal 4: Promote and support coalitions between the security, infrastructure, and operational technology communities domestically and around the world
  • Goal 5: Increase awareness and education across the ecosystem.

Posted on July 11, 2018 at 6:08 AM56 Comments

Recovering Keyboard Inputs through Thermal Imaging

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, are able to recover user passwords by way of thermal imaging. The tech is pretty straightforward, but it's interesting to think about the types of scenarios in which it might be pulled off.

Abstract: As a warm-blooded mammalian species, we humans routinely leave thermal residues on various objects with which we come in contact. This includes common input devices, such as keyboards, that are used for entering (among other things) secret information, such as passwords and PINs. Although thermal residue dissipates over time, there is always a certain time window during which thermal energy readings can be harvested from input devices to recover recently entered, and potentially sensitive, information.

To-date, there has been no systematic investigation of thermal profiles of keyboards, and thus no efforts have been made to secure them. This serves as our main motivation for constructing a means for password harvesting from keyboard thermal emanations. Specifically, we introduce Thermanator, a new post factum insider attack based on heat transfer caused by a user typing a password on a typical external keyboard. We conduct and describe a user study that collected thermal residues from 30 users entering 10 unique passwords (both weak and strong) on 4 popular commodity keyboards. Results show that entire sets of key-presses can be recovered by non-expert users as late as 30 seconds after initial password entry, while partial sets can be recovered as late as 1 minute after entry. Furthermore, we find that Hunt-and-Peck typists are particularly vulnerable. We also discuss some Thermanator mitigation strategies.

The main take-away of this work is three-fold: (1) using external keyboards to enter (already much-maligned) passwords is even less secure than previously recognized, (2) post factum (planned or impromptu) thermal imaging attacks are realistic, and finally (3) perhaps it is time to either stop using keyboards for password entry, or abandon passwords altogether.

News article.

Posted on July 10, 2018 at 6:18 AM36 Comments

PROPagate Code Injection Seen in the Wild

Last year, researchers wrote about a new Windows code injection technique called PROPagate. Last week, it was first seen in malware:

This technique abuses the SetWindowsSubclass function -- a process used to install or update subclass windows running on the system -- and can be used to modify the properties of windows running in the same session. This can be used to inject code and drop files while also hiding the fact it has happened, making it a useful, stealthy attack.

It's likely that the attackers have observed publically available posts on PROPagate in order to recreate the technique for their own malicious ends.

Posted on July 9, 2018 at 6:13 AM14 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Unexpectedly Playing a Part in US/China Trade War

Chinese buyers are canceling orders to buy US squid in advance of an expected 25% tariff.

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 July 6, 2018 at 4:27 PM99 Comments

The NSA's Domestic Surveillance Centers

The Intercept has a long story about the NSA's domestic interception points.

Includes some new Snowden documents.

Posted on July 6, 2018 at 9:16 AM15 Comments

California Passes New Privacy Law

The California legislature unanimously passed the strongest data privacy law in the nation. This is great news, but I have a lot of reservations. The Internet tech companies pressed to get this law passed out of self-defense. A ballot initiative was already going to be voted on in November, one with even stronger data privacy protections. The author of that initiative agreed to pull it if the legislature passed something similar, and that's why it did. This law doesn't take effect until 2020, and that gives the legislature a lot of time to amend the law before it actually protects anyone's privacy. And a conventional law is much easier to amend than a ballot initiative. Just as the California legislature gutted its net neutrality law in committee at the behest of the telcos, I expect it to do the same with this law at the behest of the Internet giants.

So: tentative hooray, I guess.

Posted on July 3, 2018 at 10:24 AM24 Comments

Traffic Analysis of the LTE Mobile Standard

Interesting research in using traffic analysis to learn things about encrypted traffic. It's hard to know how critical these vulnerabilities are. They're very hard to close without wasting a huge amount of bandwidth.

The active attacks are more interesting.

EDITED TO ADD (7/3): More information.

I have been thinking about this, and now believe the attacks are more serious than I previously wrote.

Posted on July 2, 2018 at 9:35 AM16 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.

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