Blog: December 2019 Archives

Hacking School Surveillance Systems

Lance Vick is suggesting that students hack their schools' surveillance systems.

"This is an ethical minefield that I feel students would be well within their rights to challenge, and if needed, undermine," he said.

Of course, there are a lot more laws in place against this sort of thing than there were in -- say -- the 1980s, but it's still worth thinking about.

EDITED TO ADD (1/2): Another essay on the topic.

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 10:20 AM15 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: New Species of Bobtail Squid

Euprymna brenneri was discovered in the waters of Okinawa.

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 27, 2019 at 4:13 PM156 Comments

Chinese Hackers Bypassing Two-Factor Authentication

Interesting story of how a Chinese state-sponsored hacking group is bypassing the RSA SecurID two-factor authentication system.

How they did it remains unclear; although, the Fox-IT team has their theory. They said APT20 stole an RSA SecurID software token from a hacked system, which the Chinese actor then used on its computers to generate valid one-time codes and bypass 2FA at will.

Normally, this wouldn't be possible. To use one of these software tokens, the user would need to connect a physical (hardware) device to their computer. The device and the software token would then generate a valid 2FA code. If the device was missing, the RSA SecureID software would generate an error.

The Fox-IT team explains how hackers might have gone around this issue:

The software token is generated for a specific system, but of course this system specific value could easily be retrieved by the actor when having access to the system of the victim.

As it turns out, the actor does not actually need to go through the trouble of obtaining the victim's system specific value, because this specific value is only checked when importing the SecurID Token Seed, and has no relation to the seed used to generate actual 2-factor tokens. This means the actor can actually simply patch the check which verifies if the imported soft token was generated for this system, and does not need to bother with stealing the system specific value at all.

In short, all the actor has to do to make use of the 2 factor authentication codes is to steal an RSA SecurID Software Token and to patch 1 instruction, which results in the generation of valid tokens.

Posted on December 26, 2019 at 6:19 AM18 Comments

ToTok Is an Emirati Spying Tool

The smartphone messaging app ToTok is actually an Emirati spying tool:

But the service, ToTok, is actually a spying tool, according to American officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.

ToTok, introduced only months ago, was downloaded millions of times from the Apple and Google app stores by users throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. While the majority of its users are in the Emirates, ToTok surged to become one of the most downloaded social apps in the United States last week, according to app rankings and App Annie, a research firm.

Apple and Google have removed it from their app stores. If you have it on your phone, delete it now.

Posted on December 24, 2019 at 1:13 PM30 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Streamlined Quick Unfolding Investigation Drone

Yet another squid acronym.

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 20, 2019 at 4:06 PM112 Comments

Lousy IoT Security

DTEN makes smart screens and whiteboards for videoconferencing systems. Forescout found that their security is terrible:

In total, our researchers discovered five vulnerabilities of four different kinds:

  • Data exposure: PDF files of shared whiteboards (e.g. meeting notes) and other sensitive files (e.g., OTA -- over-the-air updates) were stored in a publicly accessible AWS S3 bucket that also lacked TLS encryption (CVE-2019-16270, CVE-2019-16274).
  • Unauthenticated web server: a web server running Android OS on port 8080 discloses all whiteboards stored locally on the device (CVE-2019-16271).

  • Arbitrary code execution: unauthenticated root shell access through Android Debug Bridge (ADB) leads to arbitrary code execution and system administration (CVE-2019-16273).

  • Access to Factory Settings: provides full administrative access and thus a covert ability to capture Windows host data from Android, including the Zoom meeting content (audio, video, screenshare) (CVE-2019-16272).

These aren't subtle vulnerabilities. These are stupid design decisions made by engineers who had no idea how to create a secure system. And this, in a nutshell, is the problem with the Internet of Things.

From a Wired article:

One issue that jumped out at the researchers: The DTEN system stored notes and annotations written through the whiteboard feature in an Amazon Web Services bucket that was exposed on the open internet. This means that customers could have accessed PDFs of each others' slides, screenshots, and notes just by changing the numbers in the URL they used to view their own. Or anyone could have remotely nabbed the entire trove of customers' data. Additionally, DTEN hadn't set up HTTPS web encryption on the customer web server to protect connections from prying eyes. DTEN fixed both of these issues on October 7. A few weeks later, the company also fixed a similar whiteboard PDF access issue that would have allowed anyone on a company's network to access all of its stored whiteboard data.

[...]

The researchers also discovered two ways that an attacker on the same network as DTEN devices could manipulate the video conferencing units to monitor all video and audio feeds and, in one case, to take full control. DTEN hardware runs Android primarily, but uses Microsoft Windows for Zoom. The researchers found that they can access a development tool known as "Android Debug Bridge," either wirelessly or through USB ports or ethernet, to take over a unit. The other bug also relates to exposed Android factory settings. The researchers note that attempting to implement both operating systems creates more opportunities for misconfigurations and exposure. DTEN says that it will push patches for both bugs by the end of the year.

Boing Boing article.

Posted on December 19, 2019 at 6:31 AM53 Comments

Attacker Causes Epileptic Seizure over the Internet

This isn't a first, but I think it will be the first conviction:

The GIF set off a highly unusual court battle that is expected to equip those in similar circumstances with a new tool for battling threatening trolls and cyberbullies. On Monday, the man who sent Eichenwald the moving image, John Rayne Rivello, was set to appear in a Dallas County district court. A last-minute rescheduling delayed the proceeding until Jan. 31, but Rivello is still expected to plead guilty to aggravated assault. And he may be the first of many.

The Epilepsy Foundation announced on Monday it lodged a sweeping slate of criminal complaints against a legion of copycats who targeted people with epilepsy and sent them an onslaught of strobe GIFs -- a frightening phenomenon that unfolded in a short period of time during the organization's marking of National Epilepsy Awareness Month in November.

[...]

Rivello's supporters -- among them, neo-Nazis and white nationalists, including Richard Spencer -- have also argued that the issue is about freedom of speech. But in an amicus brief to the criminal case, the First Amendment Clinic at Duke University School of Law argued Rivello's actions were not constitutionally protected.

"A brawler who tattoos a message onto his knuckles does not throw every punch with the weight of First Amendment protection behind him," the brief stated. "Conduct like this does not constitute speech, nor should it. A deliberate attempt to cause physical injury to someone does not come close to the expression which the First Amendment is designed to protect."

Another article.

EDITED TO ADD(12/19): More articles.

EDITED TO ADD (1/14): There was a similar case in Germany in 2012 -- that attacker was convicted.

Posted on December 18, 2019 at 5:34 AM55 Comments

Iranian Attacks on Industrial Control Systems

New details:

At the CyberwarCon conference in Arlington, Virginia, on Thursday, Microsoft security researcher Ned Moran plans to present new findings from the company's threat intelligence group that show a shift in the activity of the Iranian hacker group APT33, also known by the names Holmium, Refined Kitten, or Elfin. Microsoft has watched the group carry out so-called password-spraying attacks over the past year that try just a few common passwords across user accounts at tens of thousands of organizations. That's generally considered a crude and indiscriminate form of hacking. But over the last two months, Microsoft says APT33 has significantly narrowed its password spraying to around 2,000 organizations per month, while increasing the number of accounts targeted at each of those organizations almost tenfold on average.

[...]

The hackers' motivation -- and which industrial control systems they've actually breached -- remains unclear. Moran speculates that the group is seeking to gain a foothold to carry out cyberattacks with physically disruptive effects. "They're going after these producers and manufacturers of control systems, but I don't think they're the end targets," says Moran. "They're trying to find the downstream customer, to find out how they work and who uses them. They're looking to inflict some pain on someone's critical infrastructure that makes use of these control systems."

It's unclear whether the attackers are causing any actual damage, or just gaining access for some future use.

Posted on December 17, 2019 at 6:05 AM13 Comments

Security Vulnerabilities in the RCS Texting Protocol

Interesting research:

SRLabs founder Karsten Nohl, a researcher with a track record of exposing security flaws in telephony systems, argues that RCS is in many ways no better than SS7, the decades-old phone system carriers still used for calling and texting, which has long been known to be vulnerable to interception and spoofing attacks. While using end-to-end encrypted internet-based tools like iMessage and WhatsApp obviates many of those of SS7 issues, Nohl says that flawed implementations of RCS make it not much safer than the SMS system it hopes to replace.

Posted on December 16, 2019 at 6:00 AM8 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Color-Changing Properties of the Opalescent Inshore Squid

Interesting stuff.

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 13, 2019 at 4:02 PM130 Comments

EFF on the Mechanics of Corporate Surveillance

EFF has published a comprehensible and very readable "deep dive" into the technologies of corporate surveillance, both on the Internet and off. Well worth reading and sharing.

Boing Boing post.

Posted on December 13, 2019 at 6:01 AM22 Comments

Scaring People into Supporting Backdoors

Back in 1998, Tim May warned us of the "Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse": "terrorists, pedophiles, drug dealers, and money launderers." I tended to cast it slightly differently. This is me from 2005:

Beware the Four Horsemen of the Information Apocalypse: terrorists, drug dealers, kidnappers, and child pornographers. Seems like you can scare any public into allowing the government to do anything with those four.

Which particular horseman is in vogue depends on time and circumstance. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the US government has been pushing the terrorist scare story. Recently, it seems to have switched to pedophiles and child exploitation. It began in September, with a long New York Times story on child sex abuse, which included this dig at encryption:

And when tech companies cooperate fully, encryption and anonymization can create digital hiding places for perpetrators. Facebook announced in March plans to encrypt Messenger, which last year was responsible for nearly 12 million of the 18.4 million worldwide reports of child sexual abuse material, according to people familiar with the reports. Reports to the authorities typically contain more than one image, and last year encompassed the record 45 million photos and videos, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

(That's wrong, by the way. Facebook Messenger already has an encrypted option. It's just not turned on by default, like it is in WhatsApp.)

That was followed up by a conference by the US Department of Justice: "Lawless Spaces: Warrant Proof Encryption and its Impact on Child Exploitation Cases." US Attorney General William Barr gave a speech on the subject. Then came an open letter to Facebook from Barr and others from the UK and Australia, using "protecting children" as the basis for their demand that the company not implement strong end-to-end encryption. (I signed on to another another open letter in response.) Then, the FBI tried to get Interpol to publish a statement denouncing end-to-end encryption.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on backdoors: "Encryption and Lawful Access: Evaluating Benefits and Risks to Public Safety and Privacy." Video, and written testimonies, are available at the link. Eric Neuenschwander from Apple was there to support strong encryption, but the other witnesses were all against it. New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance was true to form:

In fact, we were never able to view the contents of his phone because of this gift to sex traffickers that came, not from God, but from Apple.

It was a disturbing hearing. The Senators asked technical questions to people who couldn't answer them. The result was that an adjunct law professor was able to frame the issue of strong encryption as an externality caused by corporate liability dumping, and another example of Silicon Valley's anti-regulation stance.

Let me be clear. None of us who favor strong encryption is saying that child exploitation isn't a serious crime, or a worldwide problem. We're not saying that about kidnapping, international drug cartels, money laundering, or terrorism. We are saying three things. One, that strong encryption is necessary for personal and national security. Two, that weakening encryption does more harm than good. And three, law enforcement has other avenues for criminal investigation than eavesdropping on communications and stored devices. This is one example, where people unraveled a dark-web website and arrested hundreds by analyzing Bitcoin transactions. This is another, where policy arrested members of a WhatsApp group.

So let's have reasoned policy debates about encryption -- debates that are informed by technology. And let's stop it with the scare stories.

EDITED TO ADD (12/13): The DoD just said that strong encryption is essential for national security.

All DoD issued unclassified mobile devices are required to be password protected using strong passwords. The Department also requires that data-in-transit, on DoD issued mobile devices, be encrypted (e.g. VPN) to protect DoD information and resources. The importance of strong encryption and VPNs for our mobile workforce is imperative. Last October, the Department outlined its layered cybersecurity approach to protect DoD information and resources, including service men and women, when using mobile communications capabilities.

[...]

As the use of mobile devices continues to expand, it is imperative that innovative security techniques, such as advanced encryption algorithms, are constantly maintained and improved to protect DoD information and resources. The Department believes maintaining a domestic climate for state of the art security and encryption is critical to the protection of our national security.

Posted on December 12, 2019 at 6:11 AM49 Comments

Reforming CDA 230

There's a serious debate on reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. I am in the process of figuring out what I believe, and this is more a place to put resources and listen to people's comments.

The EFF has written extensively on why it is so important and dismantling it will be catastrophic for the Internet. Danielle Citron disagrees. (There's also this law journal article by Citron and Ben Wittes.) Sarah Jeong's op-ed. Another op-ed. Another paper.

Here are good news articles.

Reading all of this, I am reminded of this decade-old quote by Dan Geer. He's addressing Internet service providers:

Hello, Uncle Sam here.

You can charge whatever you like based on the contents of what you are carrying, but you are responsible for that content if it is illegal; inspecting brings with it a responsibility for what you learn.

-or-

You can enjoy common carrier protections at all times, but you can neither inspect nor act on the contents of what you are carrying and can only charge for carriage itself. Bits are bits.

Choose wisely. No refunds or exchanges at this window.

We can revise this choice for the social-media age:

Hi Facebook/Twitter/YouTube/everyone else:

You can build a communications based on inspecting user content and presenting it as you want, but that business model also conveys responsibility for that content.

-or-

You can be a communications service and enjoy the protections of CDA 230, in which case you cannot inspect or control the content you deliver.

Facebook would be an example of the former. WhatsApp would be an example of the latter.

I am honestly undecided about all of this. I want CDA230 to protect things like the commenting section of this blog. But I don't think it should protect dating apps when they are used as a conduit for abuse. And I really don't want society to pay the cost for all the externalities inherent in Facebook's business model.

Posted on December 10, 2019 at 6:16 AM41 Comments

Failure Modes in Machine Learning

Interesting taxonomy of machine-learning failures (pdf) that encompasses both mistakes and attacks, or -- in their words -- intentional and unintentional failure modes. It's a good basis for threat modeling.

Posted on December 9, 2019 at 5:56 AM6 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squidfall Safety

Watchmen supporting material.

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 6, 2019 at 4:20 PM134 Comments

Andy Ellis on Risk Assessment

Andy Ellis, the CSO of Akamai, gave a great talk about the psychology of risk at the Business of Software conference this year.

I've written about this before.

One quote of mine: "The problem is our brains are intuitively suited to the sorts of risk management decisions endemic to living in small family groups in the East African highlands in 100,000 BC, and not to living in the New York City of 2008."

EDITED TO ADD (12/13): Epigenetics and the human brain.

Posted on December 6, 2019 at 6:55 AM11 Comments

Election Machine Insecurity Story

Interesting story of a flawed computer voting machine and a paper ballot available for recount. All ended well, but only because of that paper backup.

Vote totals in a Northampton County judge's race showed one candidate, Abe Kassis, a Democrat, had just 164 votes out of 55,000 ballots across more than 100 precincts. Some machines reported zero votes for him. In a county with the ability to vote for a straight-party ticket, one candidate's zero votes was a near statistical impossibility. Something had gone quite wrong.

Boing Boing post.

Posted on December 5, 2019 at 6:06 AM32 Comments

RSA-240 Factored

This just in:

We are pleased to announce the factorization of RSA-240, from RSA's challenge list, and the computation of a discrete logarithm of the same size (795 bits):

RSA-240 = 12462036678171878406583504460810659043482037465167880575481878888328 966680118821085503603957027250874750986476843845862105486553797025393057189121 768431828636284694840530161441643046806687569941524699318570418303051254959437 1372159029236099 = 509435952285839914555051023580843714132648382024111473186660296521821206469746 700620316443478873837606252372049619334517 * 244624208838318150567813139024002896653802092578931401452041221336558477095178 155258218897735030590669041302045908071447

[...]

The previous records were RSA-768 (768 bits) in December 2009 [2], and a 768-bit prime discrete logarithm in June 2016 [3].

It is the first time that two records for integer factorization and discrete logarithm are broken together, moreover with the same hardware and software.

Both computations were performed with the Number Field Sieve algorithm, using the open-source CADO-NFS software [4].

The sum of the computation time for both records is roughly 4000 core-years, using Intel Xeon Gold 6130 CPUs as a reference (2.1GHz). A rough breakdown of the time spent in the main computation steps is as follows.

RSA-240 sieving: 800 physical core-years
RSA-240 matrix: 100 physical core-years
DLP-240 sieving: 2400 physical core-years
DLP-240 matrix: 700 physical core-years

The computation times above are well below the time that was spent with the previous 768-bit records. To measure how much of this can be attributed to Moore's law, we ran our software on machines that are identical to those cited in the 768-bit DLP computation [3], and reach the conclusion that sieving for our new record size on these old machines would have taken 25% less time than the reported sieving time of the 768-bit DLP computation.

EDITED TO ADD (12/4): News article. Dan Goodin points out that the speed improvements were more due to improvements in the algorithms than from Moore's Law.

Posted on December 3, 2019 at 2:12 PM46 Comments

The Story of Tiversa

The New Yorker has published the long and interesting story of the cybersecurity firm Tiversa.

Watching "60 Minutes," Boback saw a remarkable new business angle. Here was a multibillion-dollar industry with a near-existential problem and no clear solution. He did not know it then, but, as he turned the opportunity over in his mind, he was setting in motion a sequence of events that would earn him millions of dollars, friendships with business élites, prime-time media attention, and respect in Congress. It would also place him at the center of one of the strangest stories in the brief history of cybersecurity; he would be mired in lawsuits, countersuits, and counter-countersuits, which would gather into a vortex of litigation so ominous that one friend compared it to the Bermuda Triangle. He would be accused of fraud, of extortion, and of manipulating the federal government into harming companies that did not do business with him. Congress would investigate him. So would the F.B.I.

Posted on December 3, 2019 at 6:19 AM13 Comments

Cameras that Automatically Detect Mobile Phone Use

New South Wales is implementing a camera system that automatically detects when a driver is using a mobile phone.

EDITED TO ADD (12/13): The Dutch police are testing these, too.

Posted on December 2, 2019 at 5:56 AM55 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.