Blog: November 2021 Archives

Intel Is Maintaining Legacy Technology for Security Research

Interesting:

Intel’s issue reflects a wider concern: Legacy technology can introduce cybersecurity weaknesses. Tech makers constantly improve their products to take advantage of speed and power increases, but customers don’t always upgrade at the same pace. This creates a long tail of old products that remain in widespread use, vulnerable to attacks.

Intel’s answer to this conundrum was to create a warehouse and laboratory in Costa Rica, where the company already had a research-and-development lab, to store the breadth of its technology and make the devices available for remote testing. After planning began in mid-2018, the Long-Term Retention Lab was up and running in the second half of 2019.

The warehouse stores around 3,000 pieces of hardware and software, going back about a decade. Intel plans to expand next year, nearly doubling the space to 27,000 square feet from 14,000, allowing the facility to house 6,000 pieces of computer equipment.

Intel engineers can request a specific machine in a configuration of their choice. It is then assembled by a technician and accessible through cloud services. The lab runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, typically with about 25 engineers working any given shift.

Slashdot thread.

Posted on November 30, 2021 at 1:28 AM34 Comments

Apple Sues NSO Group

Piling more on NSO Group’s legal troubles, Apple is suing it:

The complaint provides new information on how NSO Group infected victims’ devices with its Pegasus spyware. To prevent further abuse and harm to its users, Apple is also seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices.

NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware is favored by totalitarian governments around the world, who use it to hack Apple phones and computers.

More news:

Apple’s legal complaint provides new information on NSO Group’s FORCEDENTRY, an exploit for a now-patched vulnerability previously used to break into a victim’s Apple device and install the latest version of NSO Group’s spyware product, Pegasus. The exploit was originally identified by the Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto.

The spyware was used to attack a small number of Apple users worldwide with dangerous malware and spyware. Apple’s lawsuit seeks to ban NSO Group from further harming individuals by using Apple’s products and services. The lawsuit also seeks redress for NSO Group’s flagrant violations of US federal and state law, arising out of its efforts to target and attack Apple and its users.

NSO Group and its clients devote the immense resources and capabilities of nation-states to conduct highly targeted cyberattacks, allowing them to access the microphone, camera, and other sensitive data on Apple and Android devices. To deliver FORCEDENTRY to Apple devices, attackers created Apple IDs to send malicious data to a victim’s device — allowing NSO Group or its clients to deliver and install Pegasus spyware without a victim’s knowledge. Though misused to deliver FORCEDENTRY, Apple servers were not hacked or compromised in the attacks.

This follows in the footsteps of Facebook, which is also suing NSO Group and demanding a similar prohibition. And while the idea of the intermediary suing the attacker, and not the victim, is somewhat novel, I think it makes a lot of sense. I have a law journal article about to be published with Jon Penney on the Facebook case.

Posted on November 24, 2021 at 9:29 AM51 Comments

New Rowhammer Technique

Rowhammer is an attack technique involving accessing — that’s “hammering” — rows of bits in memory, millions of times per second, with the intent of causing bits in neighboring rows to flip. This is a side-channel attack, and the result can be all sorts of mayhem.

Well, there is a new enhancement:

All previous Rowhammer attacks have hammered rows with uniform patterns, such as single-sided, double-sided, or n-sided. In all three cases, these “aggressor” rows — meaning those that cause bitflips in nearby “victim” rows — are accessed the same number of times.

Research published on Monday presented a new Rowhammer technique. It uses non-uniform patterns that access two or more aggressor rows with different frequencies. The result: all 40 of the randomly selected DIMMs in a test pool experienced bitflips, up from 13 out of 42 chips tested in previous work from the same researchers.

[…]

The non-uniform patterns work against Target Row Refresh. Abbreviated as TRR, the mitigation works differently from vendor to vendor but generally tracks the number of times a row is accessed and recharges neighboring victim rows when there are signs of abuse. The neutering of this defense puts further pressure on chipmakers to mitigate a class of attacks that many people thought more recent types of memory chips were resistant to.

Posted on November 19, 2021 at 8:31 AM20 Comments

Is Microsoft Stealing People’s Bookmarks?

I received email from two people who told me that Microsoft Edge enabled synching without warning or consent, which means that Microsoft sucked up all of their bookmarks. Of course they can turn synching off, but it’s too late.

Has this happened to anyone else, or was this user error of some sort? If this is real, can some reporter write about it?

(Not that “user error” is a good justification. Any system where making a simple mistake means that you’ve forever lost your privacy isn’t a good one. We see this same situation with sharing contact lists with apps on smartphones. Apps will repeatedly ask, and only need you to accidentally click “okay” once.)

EDITED TO ADD: It’s actually worse than I thought. Edge urges users to store passwords, ID numbers, and even passport numbers, all of which get uploaded to Microsoft by default when synch is enabled.

Posted on November 17, 2021 at 7:53 AM62 Comments

Wire Fraud Scam Upgraded with Bitcoin

The FBI has issued a bulletin describing a bitcoin variant of a wire fraud scam:

As the agency describes it, the scammer will contact their victim and somehow convince them that they need to send money, either with promises of love, further riches, or by impersonating an actual institution like a bank or utility company. After the mark is convinced, the scammer will have them get cash (sometimes out of investment or retirement accounts), and head to an ATM that sells cryptocurrencies and supports reading QR codes. Once the victim’s there, they’ll scan a QR code that the scammer sent them, which will tell the machine to send any crypto purchased to the scammer’s address. Just like that, the victim loses their money, and the scammer has successfully exploited them.

[…]

The “upgrade” (as it were) for scammers with the crypto ATM method is two-fold: it can be less friction than sending a wire transfer, and at the end the scammer has cryptocurrency instead of fiat. With wire transfers, you have to fill out a form, and you may give that form to an actual person (who could potentially vibe check you). Using the ATM method, there’s less time to reflect on the fact that you’re about to send money to a stranger. And, if you’re a criminal trying to get your hands on Bitcoin, you won’t have to teach your targets how to buy coins on the internet and transfer them to another wallet — they probably already know how to use an ATM and scan a QR code.

Posted on November 16, 2021 at 6:18 AM15 Comments

Why I Hate Password Rules

The other day, I was creating a new account on the web. It was financial in nature, which means it gets one of my most secure passwords. I used Password Safe to generate this 16-character alphanumeric password:

:s^Twd.J;3hzg=Q~

Which was rejected by the site, because it didn’t meet its password security rules.

It took me a minute to figure out what was wrong with it. The site wanted at least two numbers.

Sheesh.

Okay, that’s not really why I don’t like password rules. I don’t like them because they’re all different. Even if someone has a strong password generation system, it is likely that whatever they come up with won’t pass somebody’s ruleset.

Posted on November 16, 2021 at 5:33 AM91 Comments

Book Sale: Click Here to Kill Everybody and Data and Goliath

For a limited time, I am selling signed copies of Click Here to Kill Everybody and Data and Goliath, both in paperback, for just $6 each plus shipping.

I have 500 copies of each book available. When they’re gone, the sale is over and the price will revert to normal.

Order here and here.

Please be patient on delivery. It’s a lot of work to sign and mail hundreds of books. And the pandemic is causing mail slowdowns all over the world. I’ll send them out as quickly as I can, but I can’t guarantee any particular delivery date. Also, signed but not personalized books will arrive faster.

EDITED TO ADD (11/17): I am sold out. The sale is over.

Posted on November 15, 2021 at 2:34 PM9 Comments

MacOS Zero-Day Used against Hong Kong Activists

Google researchers discovered a MacOS zero-day exploit being used against Hong Kong activists. It was a “watering hole” attack, which means the malware was hidden in a legitimate website. Users visiting that website would get infected.

From an article:

Google’s researchers were able to trigger the exploits and study them by visiting the websites compromised by the hackers. The sites served both iOS and MacOS exploit chains, but the researchers were only able to retrieve the MacOS one. The zero-day exploit was similar to another in-the-wild vulnerability analyzed by another Google researcher in the past, according to the report.

In addition, the zero-day exploit used in this hacking campaign is “identical” to an exploit previously found by cybersecurity research group Pangu Lab, Huntley said. Pangu Lab’s researchers presented the exploit at a security conference in China in April of this year, a few months before hackers used it against Hong Kong users.

The exploit was discovered in August. Apple patched the vulnerability in September. China is, of course, the obvious suspect, given the victims.

EDITED TO ADD (11/15): Another story.

Posted on November 12, 2021 at 9:07 AM20 Comments

Hacking the Sony Playstation 5

I just don’t think it’s possible to create a hack-proof computer system, especially when the system is physically in the hands of the hackers. The Sony Playstation 5 is the latest example:

Hackers may have just made some big strides towards possibly jailbreaking the PlayStation 5 over the weekend, with the hacking group Fail0verflow claiming to have managed to obtain PS5 root keys allowing them to decrypt the console’s firmware.

[…]

The two exploits are particularly notable due to the level of access they theoretically give to the PS5’s software. Decrypted firmware ­ which is possible through Fail0verflow’s keys ­ would potentially allow for hackers to further reverse engineer the PS5 software and potentially develop the sorts of hacks that allowed for things like installing Linux, emulators, or even pirated games on past Sony consoles.

In 1999, Adam Shostack and I wrote a paper discussing the security challenges of giving people devices that included embedded secrets that needed to be kept from those people. We were writing about smart cards, but our lessons were general. And they’re no less applicable today.

Posted on November 10, 2021 at 6:17 AM14 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Game Cryptocurrency Was a Scam

The Squid Game cryptocurrency was a complete scam:

The SQUID cryptocurrency peaked at a price of $2,861 before plummeting to $0 around 5:40 a.m. ET., according to the website CoinMarketCap. This kind of theft, commonly called a “rug pull” by crypto investors, happens when the creators of the crypto quickly cash out their coins for real money, draining the liquidity pool from the exchange.

I don’t know why anyone would trust an investment — any investment — that you could buy but not sell.

Wired story.

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 November 5, 2021 at 4:11 PM183 Comments

US Blacklists NSO Group

The Israeli cyberweapons arms manufacturer — and human rights violator, and probably war criminal — NSO Group has been added to the US Department of Commerce’s trade blacklist. US companies and individuals cannot sell to them. Aside from the obvious difficulties this causes, it’ll make it harder for them to buy zero-day vulnerabilities on the open market.

This is another step in the ongoing US actions against the company.

Posted on November 4, 2021 at 6:52 AM52 Comments

Using Fake Student Accounts to Shill Brands

It turns out that it’s surprisingly easy to create a fake Harvard student and get a harvard.edu email account. Scammers are using that prestigious domain name to shill brands:

Basically, it appears that anyone with $300 to spare can ­– or could, depending on whether Harvard successfully shuts down the practice — advertise nearly anything they wanted on Harvard.edu, in posts that borrow the university’s domain and prestige while making no mention of the fact that it in reality they constitute paid advertising….

A Harvard spokesperson said that the university is working to crack down on the fake students and other scammers that have gained access to its site. They also said that the scammers were creating the fake accounts by signing up for online classes and then using the email address that process provided to infiltrate the university’s various blogging platforms.

Posted on November 3, 2021 at 6:10 AM11 Comments

Hiding Vulnerabilities in Source Code

Really interesting research demonstrating how to hide vulnerabilities in source code by manipulating how Unicode text is displayed. It’s really clever, and not the sort of attack one would normally think about.

From Ross Anderson’s blog:

We have discovered ways of manipulating the encoding of source code files so that human viewers and compilers see different logic. One particularly pernicious method uses Unicode directionality override characters to display code as an anagram of its true logic. We’ve verified that this attack works against C, C++, C#, JavaScript, Java, Rust, Go, and Python, and suspect that it will work against most other modern languages.

This potentially devastating attack is tracked as CVE-2021-42574, while a related attack that uses homoglyphs –- visually similar characters –- is tracked as CVE-2021-42694. This work has been under embargo for a 99-day period, giving time for a major coordinated disclosure effort in which many compilers, interpreters, code editors, and repositories have implemented defenses.

Website for the attack. Rust security advisory.

Brian Krebs has a blog post.

EDITED TO ADD (11/12): An older paper on similar issues.

Posted on November 1, 2021 at 10:58 AM101 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.