Blog: December 2021 Archives

Friday Squid Blogging: Deep-Dwelling Squid

We have discovered a squid—(Oegopsida, Magnapinnidae, Magnapinna sp.)—that lives at 6,000 meters deep.

:They’re really weird,” says Vecchione. “They drift along with their arms spread out and these really long, skinny, spaghetti-like extensions dangling down underneath them.” Microscopic suckers on those filaments enable the squid to capture their prey.

But the squid that Jamieson and Vecchione saw in the footage captured 6,212 meters below the ocean’s surface is a small one. They estimate that its mantle measured 10 centimeters long—­about a third the size of the largest-known magnapinnid. And the characteristically long extensions observed on other magnapinnids were nowhere to be seen in the video. That could mean, says Vecchione, that this bigfin squid was a juvenile.

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 December 31, 2021 at 4:03 PM142 Comments

Apple AirTags Are Being Used to Track People and Cars

This development suprises no one who has been paying attention:

Researchers now believe AirTags, which are equipped with Bluetooth technology, could be revealing a more widespread problem of tech-enabled tracking. They emit a digital signal that can be detected by devices running Apple’s mobile operating system. Those devices then report where an AirTag has last been seen. Unlike similar tracking products from competitors such as Tile, Apple added features to prevent abuse, including notifications like the one Ms. Estrada received and automatic beeping. (Tile plans to release a feature to prevent the tracking of people next year, a spokeswoman for that company said.)

[…]

A person who doesn’t own an iPhone might have a harder time detecting an unwanted AirTag. AirTags aren’t compatible with Android smartphones. Earlier this month, Apple released an Android app that can scan for AirTags—but you have to be vigilant enough to download it and proactively use it.

Apple declined to say if it was working with Google on technology that would allow Android phones to automatically detect its trackers.

People who said they have been tracked have called Apple’s safeguards insufficient. Ms. Estrada said she was notified four hours after her phone first noticed the rogue gadget. Others said it took days before they were made aware of an unknown AirTag. According to Apple, the timing of the alerts can vary depending on the iPhone’s operating system and location settings.

Posted on December 31, 2021 at 9:52 AM59 Comments

Stolen Bitcoins Returned

The US has returned $154 million in bitcoins stolen by a Sony employee.

However, on December 1, following an investigation in collaboration with Japanese law enforcement authorities, the FBI seized the 3879.16242937 BTC in Ishii’s wallet after obtaining the private key, which made it possible to transfer all the bitcoins to the FBI’s bitcoin wallet.

Posted on December 22, 2021 at 10:20 AM33 Comments

More on NSO Group and Cytrox: Two Cyberweapons Arms Manufacturers

Citizen Lab published another report on the spyware used against two Egyptian nationals. One was hacked by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The other was hacked both by Pegasus and by the spyware from another cyberweapons arms manufacturer: Cytrox.

We haven’t heard a lot about Cytrox and its Predator spyware. According to Citzen Lab:

We conducted Internet scanning for Predator spyware servers and found likely Predator customers in Armenia, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Madagascar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Serbia.

Cytrox was reported to be part of Intellexa, the so-called “Star Alliance of spyware,” which was formed to compete with NSO Group, and which describes itself as “EU-based and regulated, with six sites and R&D labs throughout Europe.”

In related news, Google’s Project Zero has published a detailed analysis of NSO Group’s zero-click iMessage exploit: FORCED ENTRY.

Based on our research and findings, we assess this to be one of the most technically sophisticated exploits we’ve ever seen, further demonstrating that the capabilities NSO provides rival those previously thought to be accessible to only a handful of nation states.

By the way, this vulnerability was patched on 13 Sep 2021 in iOS 14.8.

Posted on December 20, 2021 at 9:17 AM56 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: UK Recognizes Squid as Sentient Beings

This seems big:

The UK government has officially included decapod crustaceans—including crabs, lobsters, and crayfish—and cephalopod mollusks—including octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish—in its Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. This means they are now recognized as “sentient beings” in the UK.

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 17, 2021 at 4:01 PM215 Comments

More Log4j News

Log4j is being exploited by all sorts of attackers, all over the Internet:

At that point it was reported that there were over 100 attempts to exploit the vulnerability every minute. “Since we started to implement our protection we prevented over 1,272,000 attempts to allocate the vulnerability, over 46% of those attempts were made by known malicious groups,” said cybersecurity company Check Point.

And according to Check Point, attackers have now attempted to exploit the flaw on over 40% of global networks.

And a second vulnerability was found, in the patch for the first vulnerability. This is likely not to be the last.

Posted on December 16, 2021 at 9:50 AM28 Comments

On the Log4j Vulnerability

It’s serious:

The range of impacts is so broad because of the nature of the vulnerability itself. Developers use logging frameworks to keep track of what happens in a given application. To exploit Log4Shell, an attacker only needs to get the system to log a strategically crafted string of code. From there they can load arbitrary code on the targeted server and install malware or launch other attacks. Notably, hackers can introduce the snippet in seemingly benign ways, like by sending the string in an email or setting it as an account username.

Threat advisory from Cisco. Cloudflare found it in the wild before it was disclosed. CISA is very concerned, saying that hundreds of millions of devices are likely affected.

Posted on December 14, 2021 at 9:55 AM56 Comments

NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware Used Against US State Department Officials

NSO Group’s descent into Internet pariah status continues. Its Pegasus spyware was used against nine US State Department employees. We don’t know which NSO Group customer trained the spyware on the US. But the company does:

NSO Group said in a statement on Thursday that it did not have any indication their tools were used but canceled access for the relevant customers and would investigate based on the Reuters inquiry.

“If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO’s tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place,” said an NSO spokesperson, who added that NSO will also “cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.”

Posted on December 13, 2021 at 6:16 AM66 Comments

New German Government is Pro-Encryption and Anti-Backdoors

I hope this is true:

According to Jens Zimmermann, the German coalition negotiations had made it “quite clear” that the incoming government of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the business-friendly liberal FDP would reject “the weakening of encryption, which is being attempted under the guise of the fight against child abuse” by the coalition partners.

Such regulations, which are already enshrined in the interim solution of the ePrivacy Regulation, for example, “diametrically contradict the character of the coalition agreement” because secure end-to-end encryption is guaranteed there, Zimmermann said.

Introducing backdoors would undermine this goal of the coalition agreement, he added.

I have written about this.

Posted on December 8, 2021 at 1:19 PM29 Comments

Someone Is Running Lots of Tor Relays

Since 2017, someone is running about a thousand—10% of the total—Tor servers in an attempt to deanonymize the network:

Grouping these servers under the KAX17 umbrella, Nusenu says this threat actor has constantly added servers with no contact details to the Tor network in industrial quantities, operating servers in the realm of hundreds at any given point.

The actor’s servers are typically located in data centers spread all over the world and are typically configured as entry and middle points primarily, although KAX17 also operates a small number of exit points.

Nusenu said this is strange as most threat actors operating malicious Tor relays tend to focus on running exit points, which allows them to modify the user’s traffic. For example, a threat actor that Nusenu has been tracking as BTCMITM20 ran thousands of malicious Tor exit nodes in order to replace Bitcoin wallet addresses inside web traffic and hijack user payments.

KAX17’s focus on Tor entry and middle relays led Nusenu to believe that the group, which he described as “non-amateur level and persistent,” is trying to collect information on users connecting to the Tor network and attempting to map their routes inside it.

In research published this week and shared with The Record, Nusenu said that at one point, there was a 16% chance that a Tor user would connect to the Tor network through one of KAX17’s servers, a 35% chance they would pass through one of its middle relays, and up to 5% chance to exit through one.

Slashdot thread.

Posted on December 7, 2021 at 6:25 AM46 Comments

Thieves Using AirTags to “Follow” Cars

From Ontario and not surprising:

Since September 2021, officers have investigated five incidents where suspects have placed small tracking devices on high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them. Brand name “air tags” are placed in out-of-sight areas of the target vehicles when they are parked in public places like malls or parking lots. Thieves then track the targeted vehicles to the victim’s residence, where they are stolen from the driveway.

Thieves typically use tools like screwdrivers to enter the vehicles through the driver or passenger door, while ensuring not to set off alarms. Once inside, an electronic device, typically used by mechanics to reprogram the factory setting, is connected to the onboard diagnostics port below the dashboard and programs the vehicle to accept a key the thieves have brought with them. Once the new key is programmed, the vehicle will start and the thieves drive it away.

I’m not sure if there’s anything that can be done:

When Apple first released AirTags earlier this year, concerns immediately sprung up about nefarious use cases for the covert trackers. Apple responded with a slew of anti-stalking measures, but those are more intended for keeping people safe than cars. An AirTag away from its owner will sound an alarm, letting anyone nearby know that it’s been left behind, but it can take up to 24 hours for that alarm to go off—more than enough time to nab a car in the dead of night.

Posted on December 6, 2021 at 10:25 AM54 Comments

Testing Faraday Cages

Matt Blaze tested a variety of Faraday cages for phones, both commercial and homemade.

The bottom line:

A quick and likely reliable “go/no go test” can be done with an Apple AirTag and an iPhone: drop the AirTag in the bag under test, and see if the phone can locate it and activate its alarm (beware of caching in the FindMy app when doing this).

This test won’t tell you the exact attenuation level, of course, but it will tell you if the attenuation is sufficient for most practical purposes. It can also detect whether an otherwise good bag has been damaged and compromised.

At least in the frequency ranges I tested, two commercial Faraday pouches (the EDEC OffGrid and Mission Darkness Window pouches) yielded excellent performance sufficient to provide assurance of signal isolation under most real-world circumstances. None of the makeshift solutions consistently did nearly as well, although aluminum foil can, under ideal circumstances (that are difficult to replicate) sometimes provide comparable levels of attenuation.

Posted on December 3, 2021 at 6:13 AM69 Comments

Smart Contract Bug Results in $31 Million Loss

A hacker stole $31 million from the blockchain company MonoX Finance , by exploiting a bug in software the service uses to draft smart contracts.

Specifically, the hack used the same token as both the tokenIn and tokenOut, which are methods for exchanging the value of one token for another. MonoX updates prices after each swap by calculating new prices for both tokens. When the swap is completed, the price of tokenIn­that is, the token sent by the user­decreases and the price of tokenOut­or the token received by the user­increases.

By using the same token for both tokenIn and tokenOut, the hacker greatly inflated the price of the MONO token because the updating of the tokenOut overwrote the price update of the tokenIn. The hacker then exchanged the token for $31 million worth of tokens on the Ethereum and Polygon blockchains.

The article goes on to talk about how common these sorts of attacks are. The basic problem is that the code is the ultimate authority—there is no adjudication protocol—so if there’s a vulnerability in the code, there is no recourse. And, of course, there are lots of vulnerabilities in code.

To me, this is reason enough never to use smart contracts for anything important. Human-based adjudication systems are not useless pre-Internet human baggage, they’re vital.

Posted on December 2, 2021 at 8:32 AM49 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.