Blog: April 2022 Archives

Friday Squid Blogging: Ten-Foot Long Squid Washed onto Japanese Shore—ALIVE

This is rare:

An about 3-meter-long giant squid was found stranded on a beach here on April 20, in what local authorities said was a rare occurrence.

At around 10 a.m., a nearby resident spotted the squid at Ugu beach in Obama, Fukui Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast. According to the Obama Municipal Government, the squid was still alive when it was found. It is unusual for a giant squid to be washed ashore alive, officials said.

The deep-sea creature will be transported to Echizen Matsushima Aquarium in the prefectural city of Sakai.

Sadly, I do not expect the giant squid to survive, certainly not long enough for me to fly there and see it. But if any Japanese readers can supply more information, I would very much appreciate it.

BoingBoing post. Video.

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 April 29, 2022 at 4:08 PM195 Comments

Video Conferencing Apps Sometimes Ignore the Mute Button

New research: “Are You Really Muted?: A Privacy Analysis of Mute Buttons in Video Conferencing Apps“:

Abstract: In the post-pandemic era, video conferencing apps (VCAs) have converted previously private spaces—bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens—into semi-public extensions of the office. And for the most part, users have accepted these apps in their personal space, without much thought about the permission models that govern the use of their personal data during meetings. While access to a device’s video camera is carefully controlled, little has been done to ensure the same level of privacy for accessing the microphone. In this work, we ask the question: what happens to the microphone data when a user clicks the mute button in a VCA? We first conduct a user study to analyze users’ understanding of the permission model of the mute button. Then, using runtime binary analysis tools, we trace raw audio in many popular VCAs as it traverses the app from the audio driver to the network. We find fragmented policies for dealing with microphone data among VCAs—some continuously monitor the microphone input during mute, and others do so periodically. One app transmits statistics of the audio to its telemetry servers while the app is muted. Using network traffic that we intercept en route to the telemetry server, we implement a proof-of-concept background activity classifier and demonstrate the feasibility of inferring the ongoing background activity during a meeting—cooking, cleaning, typing, etc. We achieved 81.9% macro accuracy on identifying six common background activities using intercepted outgoing telemetry packets when a user is muted.

The paper will be presented at PETS this year.

News article.

Posted on April 29, 2022 at 9:18 AM18 Comments

Microsoft Issues Report of Russian Cyberattacks against Ukraine

Microsoft has a comprehensive report on the dozens of cyberattacks—and even more espionage operations—Russia has conducted against Ukraine as part of this war:

At least six Russian Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors and other unattributed threats, have conducted destructive attacks, espionage operations, or both, while Russian military forces attack the country by land, air, and sea. It is unclear whether computer network operators and physical forces are just independently pursuing a common set of priorities or actively coordinating. However, collectively, the cyber and kinetic actions work to disrupt or degrade Ukrainian government and military functions and undermine the public’s trust in those same institutions.

[…]

Threat groups with known or suspected ties to the GRU have continuously developed and used destructive wiper malware or similarly destructive tools on targeted Ukrainian networks at a pace of two to three incidents a week since the eve of invasion. From February 23 to April 8, we saw evidence of nearly 40 discrete destructive attacks that permanently destroyed files in hundreds of systems across dozens of organizations in Ukraine.

Posted on April 28, 2022 at 9:15 AM18 Comments

Zero-Day Vulnerabilities Are on the Rise

Both Google and Mandiant are reporting a significant increase in the number of zero-day vulnerabilities reported in 2021.

Google:

2021 included the detection and disclosure of 58 in-the-wild 0-days, the most ever recorded since Project Zero began tracking in mid-2014. That’s more than double the previous maximum of 28 detected in 2015 and especially stark when you consider that there were only 25 detected in 2020. We’ve tracked publicly known in-the-wild 0-day exploits in this spreadsheet since mid-2014.

While we often talk about the number of 0-day exploits used in-the-wild, what we’re actually discussing is the number of 0-day exploits detected and disclosed as in-the-wild. And that leads into our first conclusion: we believe the large uptick in in-the-wild 0-days in 2021 is due to increased detection and disclosure of these 0-days, rather than simply increased usage of 0-day exploits.

Mandiant:

In 2021, Mandiant Threat Intelligence identified 80 zero-days exploited in the wild, which is more than double the previous record volume in 2019. State-sponsored groups continue to be the primary actors exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities, led by Chinese groups. The proportion of financially motivated actors­—particularly ransomware groups—­deploying zero-day exploits also grew significantly, and nearly 1 in 3 identified actors exploiting zero-days in 2021 was financially motivated. Threat actors exploited zero-days in Microsoft, Apple, and Google products most frequently, likely reflecting the popularity of these vendors. The vast increase in zero-day exploitation in 2021, as well as the diversification of actors using them, expands the risk portfolio for organizations in nearly every industry sector and geography, particularly those that rely on these popular systems.

News article.

Posted on April 27, 2022 at 1:40 PM32 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Skin–Inspired Insulating Material

Interesting:

Drawing inspiration from cephalopod skin, engineers at the University of California, Irvine invented an adaptive composite material that can insulate beverage cups, restaurant to-go bags, parcel boxes and even shipping containers.

[…]

“The metal islands in our composite material are next to one another when the material is relaxed and become separated when the material is stretched, allowing for control of the reflection and transmission of infrared light or heat dissipation,” said Gorodetsky. “The mechanism is analogous to chromatophore expansion and contraction in a squid’s skin, which alters the reflection and transmission of visible light.”

Chromatophore size changes help squids communicate and camouflage their bodies to evade predators and hide from prey. Gorodetsky said by mimicking this approach, his team has enabled “tunable thermoregulation” in their material, which can lead to improved energy efficiency and protect sensitive fingers from hot surfaces.

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 April 22, 2022 at 4:04 PM130 Comments

Java Cryptography Implementation Mistake Allows Digital-Signature Forgeries

Interesting implementation mistake:

The vulnerability, which Oracle patched on Tuesday, affects the company’s implementation of the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm in Java versions 15 and above. ECDSA is an algorithm that uses the principles of elliptic curve cryptography to authenticate messages digitally.

[…]

ECDSA signatures rely on a pseudo-random number, typically notated as K, that’s used to derive two additional numbers, R and S. To verify a signature as valid, a party must check the equation involving R and S, the signer’s public key, and a cryptographic hash of the message. When both sides of the equation are equal, the signature is valid.

[…]

For the process to work correctly, neither R nor S can ever be a zero. That’s because one side of the equation is R, and the other is multiplied by R and a value from S. If the values are both 0, the verification check translates to 0 = 0 X (other values from the private key and hash), which will be true regardless of the additional values. That means an adversary only needs to submit a blank signature to pass the verification check successfully.

Madden wrote:

Guess which check Java forgot?

That’s right. Java’s implementation of ECDSA signature verification didn’t check if R or S were zero, so you could produce a signature value in which they are both 0 (appropriately encoded) and Java would accept it as a valid signature for any message and for any public key. The digital equivalent of a blank ID card.

More details.

Posted on April 22, 2022 at 7:09 AM24 Comments

Clever Cryptocurrency Theft

Beanstalk Farms is a decentralized finance project that has a majority stake governance system: basically people have proportional votes based on the amount of currency they own. A clever hacker used a “flash loan” feature of another decentralized finance project to borrow enough of the currency to give himself a controlling stake, and then approved a $182 million transfer to his own wallet.

It is insane to me that cryptocurrencies are still a thing.

Posted on April 20, 2022 at 8:57 AM69 Comments

Undetectable Backdoors in Machine-Learning Models

New paper: “Planting Undetectable Backdoors in Machine Learning Models“:

Abstract: Given the computational cost and technical expertise required to train machine learning models, users may delegate the task of learning to a service provider. We show how a malicious learner can plant an undetectable backdoor into a classifier. On the surface, such a backdoored classifier behaves normally, but in reality, the learner maintains a mechanism for changing the classification of any input, with only a slight perturbation. Importantly, without the appropriate “backdoor key”, the mechanism is hidden and cannot be detected by any computationally-bounded observer. We demonstrate two frameworks for planting undetectable backdoors, with incomparable guarantees.

First, we show how to plant a backdoor in any model, using digital signature schemes. The construction guarantees that given black-box access to the original model and the backdoored version, it is computationally infeasible to find even a single input where they differ. This property implies that the backdoored model has generalization error comparable with the original model. Second, we demonstrate how to insert undetectable backdoors in models trained using the Random Fourier Features (RFF) learning paradigm or in Random ReLU networks. In this construction, undetectability holds against powerful white-box distinguishers: given a complete description of the network and the training data, no efficient distinguisher can guess whether the model is “clean” or contains a backdoor.

Our construction of undetectable backdoors also sheds light on the related issue of robustness to adversarial examples. In particular, our construction can produce a classifier that is indistinguishable from an “adversarially robust” classifier, but where every input has an adversarial example! In summary, the existence of undetectable backdoors represent a significant theoretical roadblock to certifying adversarial robustness.

EDITED TO ADD (4/20): Cory Doctorow wrote about this as well.

Posted on April 19, 2022 at 3:12 PM21 Comments

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

This is a current list of where and when I am scheduled to speak:

  • I’m speaking at Future Summits in Antwerp, Belgium, on May 18, 2022.
  • I’m speaking at IT-S Now 2022 in Vienna, Austria, on June 2, 2022.
  • I’m speaking at the 14th International Conference on Cyber Conflict, CyCon 2022, in Tallinn, Estonia, on June 3, 2022.
  • I’m speaking at the RSA Conference 2022 in San Francisco, June 6-9, 2022.
  • I’m speaking at the Dublin Tech Summit in Dublin, Ireland, June 15-16, 2022.

The list is maintained on this page.

Posted on April 14, 2022 at 11:41 AM0 Comments

Industrial Control System Malware Discovered

The Department of Energy, CISA, the FBI, and the NSA jointly issued an advisory describing a sophisticated piece of malware called Pipedream that’s designed to attack a wide range of industrial control systems. This is clearly from a government, but no attribution is given. There’s also no indication of how the malware was discovered. It seems not to have been used yet.

More information. News article.

Posted on April 14, 2022 at 10:46 AM20 Comments

Russian Cyberattack against Ukrainian Power Grid Prevented

A Russian cyberweapon, similar to the one used in 2016, was detected and removed before it could be used.

Key points:

  • ESET researchers collaborated with CERT-UA to analyze the attack against the Ukrainian energy company
  • The destructive actions were scheduled for 2022-04-08 but artifacts suggest that the attack had been planned for at least two weeks
  • The attack used ICS-capable malware and regular disk wipers for Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems
  • We assess with high confidence that the attackers used a new version of the Industroyer malware, which was used in 2016 to cut power in Ukraine
  • We assess with high confidence that the APT group Sandworm is responsible for this new attack

News article.

EDITED TO ADD: Better news coverage from Wired.

Posted on April 13, 2022 at 6:32 AM12 Comments

De-anonymizing Bitcoin

Andy Greenberg wrote a long article—an excerpt from his new book—on how law enforcement de-anonymized bitcoin transactions to take down a global child porn ring.

Within a few years of Bitcoin’s arrival, academic security researchers—and then companies like Chainalysis—began to tear gaping holes in the masks separating Bitcoin users’ addresses and their real-world identities. They could follow bitcoins on the blockchain as they moved from address to address until they reached one that could be tied to a known identity. In some cases, an investigator could learn someone’s Bitcoin addresses by transacting with them, the way an undercover narcotics agent might conduct a buy-and-bust. In other cases, they could trace a target’s coins to an account at a cryptocurrency exchange where financial regulations required users to prove their identity. A quick subpoena to the exchange from one of Chainalysis’ customers in law enforcement was then enough to strip away any illusion of Bitcoin’s anonymity.

Chainalysis had combined these techniques for de-anonymizing Bitcoin users with methods that allowed it to “cluster” addresses, showing that anywhere from dozens to millions of addresses sometimes belonged to a single person or organization. When coins from two or more addresses were spent in a single transaction, for instance, it revealed that whoever created that “multi-input” transaction must have control of both spender addresses, allowing Chainalysis to lump them into a single identity. In other cases, Chainalysis and its users could follow a “peel chain”—a process analogous to tracking a single wad of cash as a user repeatedly pulled it out, peeled off a few bills, and put it back in a different pocket. In those peel chains, bitcoins would be moved out of one address as a fraction was paid to a recipient and then the remainder returned to the spender at a “change” address. Distinguishing those change addresses could allow an investigator to follow a sum of money as it hopped from one address to the next, charting its path through the noise of Bitcoin’s blockchain.

Thanks to tricks like these, Bitcoin had turned out to be practically the opposite of untraceable: a kind of honeypot for crypto criminals that had, for years, dutifully and unerasably recorded evidence of their dirty deals. By 2017, agencies like the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the IRS’s Criminal Investigation division (or IRS-CI) had traced Bitcoin transactions to carry out one investigative coup after another, very often with the help of Chainalysis.

Posted on April 11, 2022 at 6:04 AM38 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Do Squid Have Emotions?

Scientists are now debating whether octopuses, squid, and crabs have emotions. Short answer: we don’t know, but can’t rule it out.

There may be a point when humans can no longer assume that crayfish, shrimp, and other invertebrates don’t feel pain and other emotions.

“If they can no longer be considered immune to felt pain, invertebrate experiences will need to become part of our species’ moral landscape,” she says. “But pain is just one morally relevant emotion. Invertebrates such as octopuses may experience other emotions such as curiosity in exploration, affection for individuals, or excitement in anticipation of a future reward.”

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 April 8, 2022 at 4:12 PM117 Comments

AirTags Are Used for Stalking Far More than Previously Reported

Ever since Apple introduced AirTags, security people have warned that they could be used for stalking. But while there have been a bunch of anecdotal stories, this is the first vaguely scientific survey:

Motherboard requested records mentioning AirTags in a recent eight month period from dozens of the country’s largest police departments. We obtained records from eight police departments.

Of the 150 total police reports mentioning AirTags, in 50 cases women called the police because they started getting notifications that their whereabouts were being tracked by an AirTag they didn’t own. Of those, 25 could identify a man in their lives—ex-partners, husbands, bosses—who they strongly suspected planted the AirTags on their cars in order to follow and harass them. Those women reported that current and former intimate partners­—the most likely people to harm women overall—­are using AirTags to stalk and harass them.

Eight police departments over eight months yielded fifty cases. And that’s only where the victim (1) realized they were being tracked by someone else’s AirTag, and (2) contacted the police. That’s going to multiply out to a lot of AirTag stalking in the country, and the world.

EDITED TO ADD (4/13): AirTags are being used by Ukrainians to track goods stolen by Russians and, as a nice side effect, to track the movements of Russian troops.

Posted on April 8, 2022 at 6:06 AM37 Comments

US Disrupts Russian Botnet

The Justice Department announced the disruption of a Russian GRU-controlled botnet:

The Justice Department today announced a court-authorized operation, conducted in March 2022, to disrupt a two-tiered global botnet of thousands of infected network hardware devices under the control of a threat actor known to security researchers as Sandworm, which the U.S. government has previously attributed to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (the GRU). The operation copied and removed malware from vulnerable internet-connected firewall devices that Sandworm used for command and control (C2) of the underlying botnet. Although the operation did not involve access to the Sandworm malware on the thousands of underlying victim devices worldwide, referred to as “bots,” the disabling of the C2 mechanism severed those bots from the Sandworm C2 devices’ control.

The botnet “targets network devices manufactured by WatchGuard Technologies Inc. (WatchGuard) and ASUSTek Computer Inc. (ASUS).” And note that only the command-and-control mechanism was disrupted. Those devices are still vulnerable.

The Justice Department made a point that they did this before the botnet was used for anything offensive.

Four more news articles. Slashdot post.

EDITED TO ADD (4/13): WatchGuard knew and fixed it nearly a year ago, but tried to keep it hidden. The patches were reverse-engineered.

Posted on April 7, 2022 at 9:31 AM9 Comments

Hackers Using Fake Police Data Requests against Tech Companies

Brian Krebs has a detailed post about hackers using fake police data requests to trick companies into handing over data.

Virtually all major technology companies serving large numbers of users online have departments that routinely review and process such requests, which are typically granted as long as the proper documents are provided and the request appears to come from an email address connected to an actual police department domain name.

But in certain circumstances ­—such as a case involving imminent harm or death—­ an investigating authority may make what’s known as an Emergency Data Request (EDR), which largely bypasses any official review and does not require the requestor to supply any court-approved documents.

It is now clear that some hackers have figured out there is no quick and easy way for a company that receives one of these EDRs to know whether it is legitimate. Using their illicit access to police email systems, the hackers will send a fake EDR along with an attestation that innocent people will likely suffer greatly or die unless the requested data is provided immediately.

In this scenario, the receiving company finds itself caught between two unsavory outcomes: Failing to immediately comply with an EDR -­- and potentially having someone’s blood on their hands -­- or possibly leaking a customer record to the wrong person.

Another article claims that both Apple and Facebook (or Meta, or whatever they want to be called now) fell for this scam.

We allude to this kind of risk in our 2015 “Keys Under Doormats” paper:

Third, exceptional access would create concentrated targets that could attract bad actors. Security credentials that unlock the data would have to be retained by the platform provider, law enforcement agencies, or some other trusted third party. If law enforcement’s keys guaranteed access to everything, an attacker who gained access to these keys would enjoy the same privilege. Moreover, law enforcement’s stated need for rapid access to data would make it impractical to store keys offline or split keys among multiple keyholders, as security engineers would normally do with extremely high-value credentials.

The “credentials” are even more insecure than we could have imagined: access to an email address. And the data, of course, isn’t very secure. But imagine how this kind of thing could be abused with a law enforcement encryption backdoor.

Posted on April 5, 2022 at 6:04 AM32 Comments

Wyze Camera Vulnerability

Wyze ignored a vulnerability in its home security cameras for three years. Bitdefender, who discovered the vulnerability, let the company get away with it.

In case you’re wondering, no, that is not normal in the security community. While experts tell me that the concept of a “responsible disclosure timeline” is a little outdated and heavily depends on the situation, we’re generally measuring in days, not years. “The majority of researchers have policies where if they make a good faith effort to reach a vendor and don’t get a response, that they publicly disclose in 30 days,” Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and former chief security officer at Facebook, tells me.

Posted on April 4, 2022 at 6:13 AM34 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Migration and Climate Change

New research on the changing migration of the Doryteuthis opalescens as a result of climate change.

News article:

Stanford researchers have solved a mystery about why a species of squid native to California has been found thriving in the Gulf of Alaska about 1,800 miles north of its expected range: climate change.

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 April 1, 2022 at 4:06 PM182 Comments

Bypassing Two-Factor Authentication

These techniques are not new, but they’re increasingly popular:

…some forms of MFA are stronger than others, and recent events show that these weaker forms aren’t much of a hurdle for some hackers to clear. In the past few months, suspected script kiddies like the Lapsus$ data extortion gang and elite Russian-state threat actors (like Cozy Bear, the group behind the SolarWinds hack) have both successfully defeated the protection.

[…]

Methods include:

  • Sending a bunch of MFA requests and hoping the target finally accepts one to make the noise stop.
  • Sending one or two prompts per day. This method often attracts less attention, but “there is still a good chance the target will accept the MFA request.”
  • Calling the target, pretending to be part of the company, and telling the target they need to send an MFA request as part of a company process.

FIDO2 multi-factor authentication systems are not susceptible to these attacks, because they are tied to a physical computer.

And even though there are attacks against these two-factor systems, they’re much more secure than not having them at all. If nothing else, they block pretty much all automated attacks.

Posted on April 1, 2022 at 6:12 AM55 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.