Blog: July 2022 Archives

New UEFI Rootkit

Kaspersky is reporting on a new UEFI rootkit that survives reinstalling the operating system and replacing the hard drive. From an article:

The firmware compromises the UEFI, the low-level and highly opaque chain of firmware required to boot up nearly every modern computer. As the software that bridges a PC’s device firmware with its operating system, the UEFI—short for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface—is an OS in its own right. It’s located in an SPI-connected flash storage chip soldered onto the computer motherboard, making it difficult to inspect or patch the code. Because it’s the first thing to run when a computer is turned on, it influences the OS, security apps, and all other software that follows.

Both links have lots of technical details; the second contains a list of previously discovered UEFI rootkits. Also relevant are the NSA’s capabilities—now a decade old—in this area.

Posted on July 28, 2022 at 6:16 AM38 Comments

Securing Open-Source Software

Good essay arguing that open-source software is a critical national-security asset and needs to be treated as such:

Open source is at least as important to the economy, public services, and national security as proprietary code, but it lacks the same standards and safeguards. It bears the qualities of a public good and is as indispensable as national highways. Given open source’s value as a public asset, an institutional structure must be built that sustains and secures it.

This is not a novel idea. Open-source code has been called the “roads and bridges” of the current digital infrastructure that warrants the same “focus and funding.” Eric Brewer of Google explicitly called open-source software “critical infrastructure” in a recent keynote at the Open Source Summit in Austin, Texas. Several nations have adopted regulations that recognize open-source projects as significant public assets and central to their most important systems and services. Germany wants to treat open-source software as a public good and launched a sovereign tech fund to support open-source projects “just as much as bridges and roads,” and not just when a bridge collapses. The European Union adopted a formal open-source strategy that encourages it to “explore opportunities for dedicated support services for open source solutions [it] considers critical.”

Designing an institutional framework that would secure open source requires addressing adverse incentives, ensuring efficient resource allocation, and imposing minimum standards. But not all open-source projects are made equal. The first step is to identify which projects warrant this heightened level of scrutiny—projects that are critical to society. CISA defines critical infrastructure as industry sectors “so vital to the United States that [its] incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on our physical or economic security or public health or safety.” Efforts should target the open-source projects that share those features.

Posted on July 27, 2022 at 7:03 AM23 Comments

Apple’s Lockdown Mode

I haven’t written about Apple’s Lockdown Mode yet, mostly because I haven’t delved into the details. This is how Apple describes it:

Lockdown Mode offers an extreme, optional level of security for the very few users who, because of who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. Turning on Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura further hardens device defenses and strictly limits certain functionalities, sharply reducing the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware.

At launch, Lockdown Mode includes the following protections:

  • Messages: Most message attachment types other than images are blocked. Some features, like link previews, are disabled.
  • Web browsing: Certain complex web technologies, like just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, are disabled unless the user excludes a trusted site from Lockdown Mode.
  • Apple services: Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are blocked if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request.
  • Wired connections with a computer or accessory are blocked when iPhone is locked.
  • Configuration profiles cannot be installed, and the device cannot enroll into mobile device management (MDM), while Lockdown Mode is turned on.

What Apple has done here is really interesting. It’s common to trade security off for usability, and the results of that are all over Apple’s operating systems—and everywhere else on the Internet. What they’re doing with Lockdown Mode is the reverse: they’re trading usability for security. The result is a user experience with fewer features, but a much smaller attack surface. And they aren’t just removing random features; they’re removing features that are common attack vectors.

There aren’t a lot of people who need Lockdown Mode, but it’s an excellent option for those who do.

News article.

EDITED TO ADD (7/31): An analysis of the effect of Lockdown Mode on Safari.

Posted on July 26, 2022 at 7:57 AM22 Comments

Critical Vulnerabilities in GPS Trackers

This is a dangerous vulnerability:

An assessment from security firm BitSight found six vulnerabilities in the Micodus MV720, a GPS tracker that sells for about $20 and is widely available. The researchers who performed the assessment believe the same critical vulnerabilities are present in other Micodus tracker models. The China-based manufacturer says 1.5 million of its tracking devices are deployed across 420,000 customers. BitSight found the device in use in 169 countries, with customers including governments, militaries, law enforcement agencies, and aerospace, shipping, and manufacturing companies.

BitSight discovered what it said were six “severe” vulnerabilities in the device that allow for a host of possible attacks. One flaw is the use of unencrypted HTTP communications that makes it possible for remote hackers to conduct adversary-in-the-middle attacks that intercept or change requests sent between the mobile application and supporting servers. Other vulnerabilities include a flawed authentication mechanism in the mobile app that can allow attackers to access the hardcoded key for locking down the trackers and the ability to use a custom IP address that makes it possible for hackers to monitor and control all communications to and from the device.

The security firm said it first contacted Micodus in September to notify company officials of the vulnerabilities. BitSight and CISA finally went public with the findings on Tuesday after trying for months to privately engage with the manufacturer. As of the time of writing, all of the vulnerabilities remain unpatched and unmitigated.

These are computers and computer vulnerabilities, but because the computers are attached to cars, the vulnerabilities become potentially life-threatening. CISA writes:

These vulnerabilities could impact access to a vehicle fuel supply, vehicle control, or allow locational surveillance of vehicles in which the device is installed.

I wouldn’t have buried “vehicle control” in the middle of that sentence.

Posted on July 21, 2022 at 8:36 AM14 Comments

Russia Creates Malware False-Flag App

The Russian hacking group Turla released an Android app that seems to aid Ukrainian hackers in their attacks against Russian networks. It’s actually malware, and provides information back to the Russians:

The hackers pretended to be a “community of free people around the world who are fighting russia’s aggression”—much like the IT Army. But the app they developed was actually malware. The hackers called it CyberAzov, in reference to the Azov Regiment or Battalion, a far-right group that has become part of Ukraine’s national guard. To add more credibility to the ruse they hosted the app on a domain “spoofing” the Azov Regiment: cyberazov[.]com.

[…]

The app actually didn’t DDoS anything, but was designed to map out and figure out who would want to use such an app to attack Russian websites, according to Huntely.

[…]

Google said the fake app wasn’t hosted on the Play Store, and that the number of installs “was miniscule.”

Details from Google’s Threat Analysis Group here.

Posted on July 20, 2022 at 10:32 AM8 Comments

NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware Used against Thailand Pro-Democracy Activists and Leaders

Yet another basic human rights violation, courtesy of NSO Group: Citizen Lab has the details:

Key Findings

  • We discovered an extensive espionage campaign targeting Thai pro-democracy protesters, and activists calling for reforms to the monarchy.
  • We forensically confirmed that at least 30 individuals were infected with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.
  • The observed infections took place between October 2020 and November 2021.
  • The ongoing investigation was triggered by notifications sent by Apple to Thai civil society members in November 2021. Following the notification, multiple recipients made contact with civil society groups, including the Citizen Lab.
  • The report describes the results of an ensuing collaborative investigation by the Citizen Lab, and Thai NGOs iLaw, and DigitalReach.
  • A sample of the victims was independently analyzed by Amnesty International’s Security Lab which confirms the methodology used to determine Pegasus infections.

[…]

NSO Group has denied any wrongdoing and maintains that its products are to be used “in a legal manner and according to court orders and the local law of each country.” This justification is problematic, given the presence of local laws that infringe on international human rights standards and the lack of judicial oversight, transparency, and accountability in governmental surveillance, which could result in abuses of power. In Thailand, for example, Section 112 of the Criminal Code (also known as the lèse-majesté law), which criminalizes defamation, insults, and threats to the Thai royal family, has been criticized for being “fundamentally incompatible with the right to freedom of expression,” while the amended Computer Crime Act opens the door to potential rights violations, as it “gives overly broad powers to the government to restrict free speech [and] enforce surveillance and censorship.” Both laws have been used in concert to prosecute lawyers and activists, some of whom were targeted with Pegasus.

More details. News articles.

A few months ago, Ronan Farrow wrote a really good article on NSO Group and its problems. The company was itself hacked in 2021.

L3Harris Corporation was looking to buy NSO Group, but dropped its bid after the Biden administration expressed concerns. The US government blacklisted NSO Group last year, and the company is even more toxic than it was as a result—and a mess internally.

In another story, the nephew of jailed Hotel Rwanda dissident was also hacked by Pegasus.

EDITED TO ADD (7/28): The House Intelligence Committee held hearings on what to do about this rogue industry. It’s important to remember that while NSO Group gets all the heat, there are many other companies that do the same thing.

John-Scott Railton at the hearing:

If NSO Group goes bankrupt tomorrow, there are other companies, perhaps seeded with U.S. venture capital, that will attempt to step in to fill the gap. As long as U.S. investors see the mercenary spyware industry as a growth market, the U.S. financial sector is poised to turbocharge the problem and set fire to our collective cybersecurity and privacy.

Posted on July 19, 2022 at 9:40 AM17 Comments

Facebook Is Now Encrypting Links to Prevent URL Stripping

Some sites, including Facebook, add parameters to the web address for tracking purposes. These parameters have no functionality that is relevant to the user, but sites rely on them to track users across pages and properties.

Mozilla introduced support for URL stripping in Firefox 102, which it launched in June 2022. Firefox removes tracking parameters from web addresses automatically, but only in private browsing mode or when the browser’s Tracking Protection feature is set to strict. Firefox users may enable URL stripping in all Firefox modes, but this requires manual configuration. Brave Browser strips known tracking parameters from web addresses as well.

Facebook has responded by encrypting the entire URL into a single ciphertext blob.

Since it is no longer possible to identify the tracking part of the web address, it is no longer possible to remove it from the address automatically. In other words: Facebook has the upper hand in regards to URL-based tracking at the time, and there is little that can be done about it short of finding a way to decrypt the information.

Posted on July 18, 2022 at 9:49 AM39 Comments

San Francisco Police Want Real-Time Access to Private Surveillance Cameras

Surely no one could have predicted this:

The new proposal—championed by Mayor London Breed after November’s wild weekend of orchestrated burglaries and theft in the San Francisco Bay Area—would authorize the police department to use non-city-owned security cameras and camera networks to live monitor “significant events with public safety concerns” and ongoing felony or misdemeanor violations.

Currently, the police can only request historical footage from private cameras related to specific times and locations, rather than blanket monitoring. Mayor Breed also complained the police can only use real-time feeds in emergencies involving “imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.”

If approved, the draft ordinance would also allow SFPD to collect historical video footage to help conduct criminal investigations and those related to officer misconduct. The draft law currently stands as the following, which indicates the cops can broadly ask for and/or get access to live real-time video streams:

The proposed Surveillance Technology Policy would authorize the Police Department to use surveillance cameras and surveillance camera networks owned, leased, managed, or operated by non-City entities to: (1) temporarily live monitor activity during exigent circumstances, significant events with public safety concerns, and investigations relating to active misdemeanor and felony violations; (2) gather and review historical video footage for the purposes of conducting a criminal investigation; and (3) gather and review historical video footage for the purposes of an internal investigation regarding officer misconduct.

Posted on July 15, 2022 at 6:17 AM34 Comments

New Browser De-anonymization Technique

Researchers have a new way to de-anonymize browser users, by correlating their behavior on one account with their behavior on another:

The findings, which NJIT researchers will present at the Usenix Security Symposium in Boston next month, show how an attacker who tricks someone into loading a malicious website can determine whether that visitor controls a particular public identifier, like an email address or social media account, thus linking the visitor to a piece of potentially personal data.

When you visit a website, the page can capture your IP address, but this doesn’t necessarily give the site owner enough information to individually identify you. Instead, the hack analyzes subtle features of a potential target’s browser activity to determine whether they are logged into an account for an array of services, from YouTube and Dropbox to Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and more. Plus the attacks work against every major browser, including the anonymity-focused Tor Browser.

[…]

“Let’s say you have a forum for underground extremists or activists, and a law enforcement agency has covertly taken control of it,” Curtmola says. “They want to identify the users of this forum but can’t do this directly because the users use pseudonyms. But let’s say that the agency was able to also gather a list of Facebook accounts who are suspected to be users of this forum. They would now be able to correlate whoever visits the forum with a specific Facebook identity.”

Posted on July 14, 2022 at 9:31 AM26 Comments

Post-Roe Privacy

This is an excellent essay outlining the post-Roe privacy threat model. (Summary: period tracking apps are largely a red herring.)

Taken together, this means the primary digital threat for people who take abortion pills is the actual evidence of intention stored on your phone, in the form of texts, emails, and search/web history. Cynthia Conti-Cook’s incredible article “Surveilling the Digital Abortion Diary details what we know now about how digital evidence has been used to prosecute women who have been pregnant. That evidence includes search engine history, as in the case of the prosecution of Latice Fisher in Mississippi. As Conti-Cook says, Ms. Fisher “conduct[ed] internet searches, including how to induce a miscarriage, ‘buy abortion pills, mifepristone online, misoprostol online,’ and ‘buy misoprostol abortion pill online,'” and then purchased misoprostol online. Those searches were the evidence that she intentionally induced a miscarriage. Text messages are also often used in prosecutions, as they were in the prosecution of Purvi Patel, also discussed in Conti-Cook’s article.

These examples are why advice from reproductive access experts like Kate Bertash focuses on securing text messages (use Signal and auto-set messages to disappear) and securing search queries (use a privacy-focused web browser, and use DuckDuckGo or turn Google search history off). After someone alerts police, digital evidence has been used to corroborate or show intent. But so far, we have not seen digital evidence be a first port of call for prosecutors or cops looking for people who may have self-managed an abortion. We can be vigilant in looking for any indications that this policing practice may change, but we can also be careful to ensure we’re focusing on mitigating the risks we know are indeed already being used to prosecute abortion-seekers.

[…]

As we’ve discussed above, just tracking your period doesn’t necessarily put you at additional risk of prosecution, and would only be relevant should you both become (or be suspected of becoming) pregnant, and then become the target of an investigation. Period tracking is also extremely useful if you need to determine how pregnant you might be, especially if you need to evaluate the relative access and legal risks for your abortion options.

It’s important to remember that if an investigation occurs, information from period trackers is probably less legally relevant than other information from your phone.

See also EFF’s privacy guide for those seeking an abortion.

Posted on July 13, 2022 at 6:00 AM67 Comments

Security Vulnerabilities in Honda’s Keyless Entry System

Honda vehicles from 2021 to 2022 are vulnerable to this attack:

On Thursday, a security researcher who goes by Kevin2600 published a technical report and videos on a vulnerability that he claims allows anyone armed with a simple hardware device to steal the code to unlock Honda vehicles. Kevin2600, who works for cybersecurity firm Star-V Lab, dubbed the attack RollingPWN.

[…]

In a phone call, Kevin2600 explained that the attack relies on a weakness that allows someone using a software defined radio—such as HackRF—to capture the code that the car owner uses to open the car, and then replay it so that the hacker can open the car as well. In some cases, he said, the attack can be performed from 30 meters (approximately 98 feet) away.

In the videos, Kevin2600 and his colleagues show how the attack works by unlocking different models of Honda cars with a device connected to a laptop.

The Honda models that Kevin2600 and his colleagues tested the attack on use a so-called rolling code mechanism, which means that­—in theory­—every time the car owner uses the keyfob, it sends a different code to open it. This should make it impossible to capture the code and use it again. But the researchers found that there is a flaw that allows them to roll back the codes and reuse old codes to open the car, Kevin2600 said.

Posted on July 12, 2022 at 7:23 AM13 Comments

Nigerian Prison Break

There was a massive prison break in Abuja, Nigeria:

Armed with bombs, Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPGs) and General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMG), the attackers, who arrived at about 10:05 p.m. local time, gained access through the back of the prison, using dynamites to destroy the heavily fortified facility, freeing 600 out of the prison’s 994 inmates, according to the country’s defense minister, Bashir Magashi….

What’s interesting to me is how the defenders got the threat model wrong. That attack isn’t normally associated with a prison break; it sounds more like a military action in a civil war.

Posted on July 11, 2022 at 6:35 AM10 Comments

Ubiquitous Surveillance by ICE

Report by Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology published a comprehensive report on the surprising amount of mass surveillance conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Our two-year investigation, including hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests and a comprehensive review of ICE’s contracting and procurement records, reveals that ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency. Since its founding in 2003, ICE has not only been building its own capacity to use surveillance to carry out deportations but has also played a key role in the federal government’s larger push to amass as much information as possible about all of our lives. By reaching into the digital records of state and local governments and buying databases with billions of data points from private companies, ICE has created a surveillance infrastructure that enables it to pull detailed dossiers on nearly anyone, seemingly at any time. In its efforts to arrest and deport, ICE has ­ without any judicial, legislative or public oversight ­ reached into datasets containing personal information about the vast majority of people living in the U.S., whose records can end up in the hands of immigration enforcement simply because they apply for driver’s licenses; drive on the roads; or sign up with their local utilities to get access to heat, water and electricity.

ICE has built its dragnet surveillance system by crossing legal and ethical lines, leveraging the trust that people place in state agencies and essential service providers, and exploiting the vulnerability of people who volunteer their information to reunite with their families. Despite the incredible scope and evident civil rights implications of ICE’s surveillance practices, the agency has managed to shroud those practices in near-total secrecy, evading enforcement of even the handful of laws and policies that could be invoked to impose limitations. Federal and state lawmakers, for the most part, have yet to confront this reality.

Posted on July 7, 2022 at 1:18 PM15 Comments

NIST Announces First Four Quantum-Resistant Cryptographic Algorithms

NIST’s post-quantum computing cryptography standard process is entering its final phases. It announced the first four algorithms:

For general encryption, used when we access secure websites, NIST has selected the CRYSTALS-Kyber algorithm. Among its advantages are comparatively small encryption keys that two parties can exchange easily, as well as its speed of operation.

For digital signatures, often used when we need to verify identities during a digital transaction or to sign a document remotely, NIST has selected the three algorithms CRYSTALS-Dilithium, FALCON and SPHINCS+ (read as “Sphincs plus”). Reviewers noted the high efficiency of the first two, and NIST recommends CRYSTALS-Dilithium as the primary algorithm, with FALCON for applications that need smaller signatures than Dilithium can provide. The third, SPHINCS+, is somewhat larger and slower than the other two, but it is valuable as a backup for one chief reason: It is based on a different math approach than all three of NIST’s other selections.

NIST has not chosen a public-key encryption standard. The remaining candidates are BIKE, Classic McEliece, HQC, and SIKE.

I have a lot to say on this process, and have written an essay for IEEE Security & Privacy about it. It will be published in a month or so.

Posted on July 6, 2022 at 11:49 AM38 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.