Blog: October 2022 Archives

Apple Only Commits to Patching Latest OS Version

People have suspected this for a while, but Apple has made it official. It only commits to fully patching the latest version of its OS, even though it claims to support older versions.

From ArsTechnica:

In other words, while Apple will provide security-related updates for older versions of its operating systems, only the most recent upgrades will receive updates for every security problem Apple knows about. Apple currently provides security updates to macOS 11 Big Sur and macOS 12 Monterey alongside the newly released macOS Ventura, and in the past, it has released security updates for older iOS versions for devices that can’t install the latest upgrades.

This confirms something that independent security researchers have been aware of for a while but that Apple hasn’t publicly articulated before. Intego Chief Security Analyst Joshua Long has tracked the CVEs patched by different macOS and iOS updates for years and generally found that bugs patched in the newest OS versions can go months before being patched in older (but still ostensibly “supported”) versions, when they’re patched at all.

Posted on October 31, 2022 at 6:29 AM29 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Chinese Squid Fishing

China claims that it is “engaging in responsible squid fishing”:

Chen Xinjun, dean of the College of Marine Sciences at Shanghai Ocean University, made the remarks in response to recent accusations by foreign reporters and actor Leonardo DiCaprio that China is depleting its own fish stock and that Chinese boats have sailed to other waters to continue deep-sea fishing, particularly near Ecuador, affecting local fish stocks in the South American nation.

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 October 28, 2022 at 3:57 PM85 Comments

Critical Vulnerability in Open SSL

There are no details yet, but it’s really important that you patch Open SSL 3.x when the new version comes out on Tuesday.

How bad is “Critical”? According to OpenSSL, an issue of critical severity affects common configurations and is also likely exploitable.

It’s likely to be abused to disclose server memory contents, and potentially reveal user details, and could be easily exploited remotely to compromise server private keys or execute code execute remotely. In other words, pretty much everything you don’t want happening on your production systems.

Slashdot thread.

Posted on October 28, 2022 at 8:12 AM9 Comments

Australia Increases Fines for Massive Data Breaches

After suffering two large, and embarrassing, data breaches in recent weeks, the Australian government increased the fine for serious data breaches from $2.2 million to a minimum of $50 million. (That’s $50 million AUD, or $32 million USD.)

This is a welcome change. The problem is one of incentives, and Australia has now increased the incentive for companies to secure the personal data or their users and customers.

EDITED TO ADD (10/15): I got the details wrong. One, this is a proposed increase. Two, the amount of $50 million AUD is only applicable in very few cases.

Posted on October 26, 2022 at 6:13 AM25 Comments

On the Randomness of Automatic Card Shufflers

Many years ago, Matt Blaze and I talked about getting our hands on a casino-grade automatic shuffler and looking for vulnerabilities. We never did it—I remember that we didn’t even try very hard—but this article shows that we probably would have found non-random properties:

…the executives had recently discovered that one of their machines had been hacked by a gang of hustlers. The gang used a hidden video camera to record the workings of the card shuffler through a glass window. The images, transmitted to an accomplice outside in the casino parking lot, were played back in slow motion to figure out the sequence of cards in the deck, which was then communicated back to the gamblers inside. The casino lost millions of dollars before the gang were finally caught.

Stanford mathematician Persi Diaconis found other flaws:

With his collaborator Susan Holmes, a statistician at Stanford, Diaconis travelled to the company’s Las Vegas showroom to examine a prototype of their new machine. The pair soon discovered a flaw. Although the mechanical shuffling action appeared random, the mathematicians noticed that the resulting deck still had rising and falling sequences, which meant that they could make predictions about the card order.

New Scientist article behind a paywall. Slashdot thread.

Posted on October 24, 2022 at 6:37 AM17 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: The Reproductive Habits of Giant Squid

Interesting:

A recent study on giant squid that have washed ashore along the Sea of Japan coast has raised the possibility that the animal has a different reproductive method than many other types of squid.

Almost all squid and octopus species are polygamous, with multiple males passing sperm to a single female. Giant squids were thought to have a similar form reproduction.

However, a group led by Professor Noritaka Hirohashi, 57, a professor of reproductive biology in the Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences at Shimane University suspects differently.

They examined 66 sperm “bags” attached to five different locations on the body of a female that washed ashore in Ine Town of Kyoto Prefecture in 2020, and found that all of them were from the same male.

It is rare for a female with sperm attached to be found, and further verification is needed, but the study’s results indicate that giant squid, unlike other squids, may be “monogamous.” That is, females may receive sperm from only one certain male. Hirohashi and his colleagues published their findings in an international scientific journal in July of 2021.

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 October 21, 2022 at 3:12 PM69 Comments

Adversarial ML Attack that Secretly Gives a Language Model a Point of View

Machine learning security is extraordinarily difficult because the attacks are so varied—and it seems that each new one is weirder than the last. Here’s the latest: a training-time attack that forces the model to exhibit a point of view: Spinning Language Models: Risks of Propaganda-As-A-Service and Countermeasures.”

Abstract: We investigate a new threat to neural sequence-to-sequence (seq2seq) models: training-time attacks that cause models to “spin” their outputs so as to support an adversary-chosen sentiment or point of view—but only when the input contains adversary-chosen trigger words. For example, a spinned summarization model outputs positive summaries of any text that mentions the name of some individual or organization.

Model spinning introduces a “meta-backdoor” into a model. Whereas conventional backdoors cause models to produce incorrect outputs on inputs with the trigger, outputs of spinned models preserve context and maintain standard accuracy metrics, yet also satisfy a meta-task chosen by the adversary.

Model spinning enables propaganda-as-a-service, where propaganda is defined as biased speech. An adversary can create customized language models that produce desired spins for chosen triggers, then deploy these models to generate disinformation (a platform attack), or else inject them into ML training pipelines (a supply-chain attack), transferring malicious functionality to downstream models trained by victims.

To demonstrate the feasibility of model spinning, we develop a new backdooring technique. It stacks an adversarial meta-task onto a seq2seq model, backpropagates the desired meta-task output to points in the word-embedding space we call “pseudo-words,” and uses pseudo-words to shift the entire output distribution of the seq2seq model. We evaluate this attack on language generation, summarization, and translation models with different triggers and meta-tasks such as sentiment, toxicity, and entailment. Spinned models largely maintain their accuracy metrics (ROUGE and BLEU) while shifting their outputs to satisfy the adversary’s meta-task. We also show that, in the case of a supply-chain attack, the spin functionality transfers to downstream models.

This new attack dovetails with something I’ve been worried about for a while, something Latanya Sweeney has dubbed “persona bots.” This is what I wrote in my upcoming book (to be published in February):

One example of an extension of this technology is the “persona bot,” an AI posing as an individual on social media and other online groups. Persona bots have histories, personalities, and communication styles. They don’t constantly spew propaganda. They hang out in various interest groups: gardening, knitting, model railroading, whatever. They act as normal members of those communities, posting and commenting and discussing. Systems like GPT-3 will make it easy for those AIs to mine previous conversations and related Internet content and to appear knowledgeable. Then, once in a while, the AI might post something relevant to a political issue, maybe an article about a healthcare worker having an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, with worried commentary. Or maybe it might offer its developer’s opinions about a recent election, or racial justice, or any other polarizing subject. One persona bot can’t move public opinion, but what if there were thousands of them? Millions?

These are chatbots on a very small scale. They would participate in small forums around the Internet: hobbyist groups, book groups, whatever. In general they would behave normally, participating in discussions like a person does. But occasionally they would say something partisan or political, depending on the desires of their owners. Because they’re all unique and only occasional, it would be hard for existing bot detection techniques to find them. And because they can be replicated by the millions across social media, they could have a greater effect. They would affect what we think, and—just as importantly—what we think others think. What we will see as robust political discussions would be persona bots arguing with other persona bots.

Attacks like these add another wrinkle to that sort of scenario.

Posted on October 21, 2022 at 6:53 AM8 Comments

Museum Security

Interesting interview:

Banks don’t take millions of dollars and put them in plastic bags and hang them on the wall so everybody can walk right up to them. But we do basically the same thing in museums and hang the assets right out on the wall. So it’s our job, then, to either use technology or develop technology that protects the art, to hire honest guards that are trainable and able to meet the challenge and alert and so forth. And we have to keep them alert because it’s the world’s most boring job. It might be great for you to go to a museum and see it for a day, but they stand in that same gallery year after year, and so they get mental fatigue. And so we have to rotate them around and give them responsibilities that keep them stimulated and keep them fresh.

It’s a challenge. But we try to predict the items that might be most vulnerable. Which are not necessarily most valuable; some things have symbolic significance to them. And then we try to predict what the next targets might be and advise our clients that they maybe need to put special security on those items.

Posted on October 19, 2022 at 6:16 AM38 Comments

Qatar Spyware

Everyone visiting Qatar for the World Cup needs to install spyware on their phone.

Everyone travelling to Qatar during the football World Cup will be asked to download two apps called Ehteraz and Hayya.

Briefly, Ehteraz is an covid-19 tracking app, while Hayya is an official World Cup app used to keep track of match tickets and to access the free Metro in Qatar.

In particular, the covid-19 app Ehteraz asks for access to several rights on your mobile., like access to read, delete or change all content on the phone, as well as access to connect to WiFi and Bluetooth, override other apps and prevent the phone from switching off to sleep mode.

The Ehteraz app, which everyone over 18 coming to Qatar must download, also gets a number of other accesses such as an overview of your exact location, the ability to make direct calls via your phone and the ability to disable your screen lock.

The Hayya app does not ask for as much, but also has a number of critical aspects. Among other things, the app asks for access to share your personal information with almost no restrictions. In addition, the Hayya app provides access to determine the phone’s exact location, prevent the device from going into sleep mode, and view the phone’s network connections.

Despite what the article says, I don’t know how mandatory this actually is. I know people who visited Saudi Arabia when that country had a similarly sketchy app requirement. Some of them just didn’t bother downloading the apps, and were never asked about it at the border.

Posted on October 18, 2022 at 6:57 AM34 Comments

Hacking Automobile Keyless Entry Systems

Suspected members of a European car-theft ring have been arrested:

The criminals targeted vehicles with keyless entry and start systems, exploiting the technology to get into the car and drive away.

As a result of a coordinated action carried out on 10 October in the three countries involved, 31 suspects were arrested. A total of 22 locations were searched, and over EUR 1 098 500 in criminal assets seized.

The criminals targeted keyless vehicles from two French car manufacturers. A fraudulent tool—marketed as an automotive diagnostic solution, was used to replace the original software of the vehicles, allowing the doors to be opened and the ignition to be started without the actual key fob.

Among those arrested feature the software developers, its resellers and the car thieves who used this tool to steal vehicles.

The article doesn’t say how the hacking tool got installed into cars. Were there crooked auto mechanics, dealers, or something else?

Posted on October 17, 2022 at 10:07 AM12 Comments

Regulating DAOs

In August, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned the cryptocurrency platform Tornado Cash, a virtual currency “mixer” designed to make it harder to trace cryptocurrency transactions—and a worldwide favorite money-laundering platform. Americans are now forbidden from using it. According to the US government, Tornado Cash was sanctioned because it allegedly laundered over $7 billion in cryptocurrency, $455 million of which was stolen by a North Korean state-sponsored hacking group.

Tornado Cash is not a traditional company run by human beings, but instead a series of “smart contracts”: self-executing code that exists only as software. Critics argue that prohibiting Americans from using Tornado Cash is a restraint of free speech, pointing to court rulings in the 1990s that established that computer language is a form of language, and that software programs are a form of speech. They also suggest that the Treasury Department has the authority to sanction only humans and not software.

We think that the most useful way to understand the speech issues involved with regulating Tornado Cash and other decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) is through an analogy: the golem. There are many versions of the Jewish golem legend, but in most of them, a person-like clay statue comes to life after someone writes the word “truth” in Hebrew on its forehead, and eventually starts doing terrible things. The golem stops only when a rabbi erases one of those letters, turning “truth” into the Hebrew word for “death,” and the golem ceases to function.

The analogy between DAOs and golems is quite precise, and has important consequences for the relationship between free speech and code. Ultimately, just as the golem needed the intervention of a rabbi to stop wreaking havoc on the world, so too do DAOs need to be subject to regulation.

The equivalency of code and free speech was established during the first “crypto wars” of the 1990s, which were about cryptography, not cryptocurrencies. US agencies tried to use export control laws to prevent sophisticated cryptography software from being exported outside the US. Activists and lawyers cleverly showed how code could be transformed into speech and vice versa, turning the source code for a cryptographic product into a printed book and daring US authorities to prevent its export. In 1996, US District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled that computer code is a language, just like German or French, and that coded programs deserve First Amendment protection. That such code is also functional, instructing a computer to do something, was irrelevant to its expressive capabilities, according to Patel’s ruling. However, both a concurring and dissenting opinion argued that computer code also has the “functional purpose of controlling computers and, in that regard, does not command protection under the First Amendment.”

This disagreement highlights the awkward distinction between ordinary language and computer code. Language does not change the world, except insofar as it persuades, informs, or compels other people. Code, however, is a language where words have inherent power. Type the appropriate instructions and the computer will implement them without hesitation, second-guessing, or independence of will. They are like the words inscribed on a golem’s forehead (or the written instructions that, in some versions of the folklore, are placed in its mouth). The golem has no choice, because it is incapable of making choices. The words are code, and the golem is no different from a computer.

Unlike ordinary organizations, DAOs don’t rely on human beings to carry out many of their core functions. Instead, those functions have been translated into a set of instructions that are implemented in software. In the case of Tornado Cash, its code exists as part of Ethereum, a widely used cryptocurrency that can also run arbitrary computer code.

Cryptocurrency zealots thought that DAOs would allow them to place their trust in secure computer code, which would do exactly what they wanted it to do, rather than fallible human beings who might fail or cheat. Humans could still have input, but under rules that were enshrined in self-running software. The past several years of DAO activity has taught these zealots a series of painful and expensive lessons on the limits of both computer security and incomplete contracts: Software has bugs, and contracts may do weird things under unanticipated circumstances. The combination frequently results in multimillion-dollar frauds and thefts.

Further complicating the matter is that individual DAOs can have very different rules. DAOs were supposed to create truly decentralized services that could never turn into a source of state power and coercion. Today, some DAOs talk a big game about decentralization, but provide power to founders and big investors like Andreessen Horowitz. Others are deliberately set up to frustrate outside control. Indeed, the creators of Tornado Cash explicitly wanted to create a golem-like entity that would be immune from law. In doing so, they were following in a long libertarian tradition.

In 2014, Gavin Woods, one of Ethereum’s core developers, gave a talk on what he called “allegality” of decentralized software services. Woods’s argument was very simple. Companies like PayPal employ real people and real lawyers. That meant that “if they provide a service to you that is deemed wrong or illegal … then they get fucked … maybe [go] to prison.” But cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin “had no operator.” By using software running on blockchains rather than people to run your organization, you could do an end-run around normal, human law. You could create services that “cannot be shut down. Not by a court, not by a police force, not by a nation state.” People would be able to set whatever rules they wanted, regardless of what any government prohibited.

Woods’s speech helped inspire the first DAO (The DAO), and his ideas live on in Tornado Cash. Tornado Cash was designed, in its founder’s words, “to be unstoppable.” The way the protocol is “designed, decentralized and autonomous …[,] there’s nobody in charge.” The people who ran Tornado Cash used a decentralized protocol running on the Ethereum computing platform, which is itself radically decentralized. But they used indelible ink. The protocol was deliberately instructed never to accept an update command.

Other elements of Tornado Cash—­its website, and the GitHub repository where its source code was stored—­have been taken down. But the protocol that actually mixes cryptocurrency is still available through the Ethereum network, even if it doesn’t have a user-friendly front end. Like a golem that has been set in motion, it will just keep on going, taking in, processing, and returning cryptocurrency according to its original instructions.

This gets us to the argument that the US government, by sanctioning a software program, is restraining free speech. Not only is it more complicated than that, but it’s complicated in ways that undercut this argument. OFAC’s actions aren’t aimed against free speech and the publication of source code, as its clarifications have made clear. Researchers are not prohibited from copying, posting, “discussing, teaching about, or including open-source code in written publications, such as textbooks.” GitHub could potentially still host the source code and the project. OFAC’s actions are aimed at preventing persons from using software applications that undercut one of the most basic functions of government: regulating activities that it deems endangers national security.

The question is whether the First Amendment covers golems. When your words are used not to persuade or argue, but to animate a mindless entity that will exist as long as the Ethereum blockchain exists and will carry out your final instructions no matter what, should your golem be immune from legal action?

When Patel issued her famous ruling, she caustically dismissed the argument that “even one drop of ‘direct functionality'” overwhelmed people’s expressive rights. Arguably, the question with Tornado Cash is whether a possibly notional droplet of free speech expressivity can overwhelm the direct functionality of running code, especially code designed to refuse any further human intervention. The Tornado Cash protocol will accept and implement the routine commands described by its protocol: It will still launder cryptocurrency. But the protocol itself is frozen.

We certainly don’t think that the US government should ban DAOs or code running on Ethereum or other blockchains, or demand any universal right of access to their workings. That would be just as sweeping—and wrong—as the general claim that encrypted messaging results in a “lawless space,” or the contrary notion that regulating code is always a prior restraint on free speech. There is wide scope for legitimate disagreement about government regulation of code and its legal authorities over distributed systems.

However, it’s hard not to sympathize with OFAC’s desire to push back against a radical effort to undermine the very idea of government authority. What would happen if the Tornado Cash approach to the law prevailed? That is, what would be the outcome if judges and politicians decided that entities like Tornado Cash could not be regulated, on free speech or any other grounds?

Likely, anyone who wanted to facilitate illegal activities would have a strong incentive to turn their operation into a DAO—and then throw away the key. Ethereum’s programming language is Turing-complete. That means, as Woods argued back in 2014, that one could turn all kinds of organizational rules into software, whether or not they were against the law.

In practice, it wouldn’t be so easy. Turning business principles into running code is hard, and doing it without creating bugs or loopholes is much harder still. Ethereum and other blockchains still have hard limits on computing power. But human ingenuity can accomplish many things when there’s a lot of money at stake.

People have legitimate reasons for seeking anonymity in their financial transactions, but these reasons need to be weighed against other harms to society. As privacy advocate Cory Doctorow wrote recently: “When you combine anonymity with finance—­not the right to speak anonymously, but the right to run an investment fund anonymously—you’re rolling out the red carpet for serial scammers, who can run a scam, get caught, change names, and run it again, incorporating the lessons they learned.”

It’s a mistake to defend DAOs on the grounds that code is free speech. Some code is speech, but not all code is speech. And code can also directly affect the world. DAOs, which are in essence autonomous golems, made from code rather than clay, make this distinction especially stark.

This will become even more important as robots become more capable and prevalent. Robots are even more obviously golems than DAOs are, performing actions in the physical world. Should their code enjoy a safe harbor from the law? What if robots, like DAOs, are designed to obey only their initial instructions, however unlawful­—and refuse all further updates or commands? Assuming that code is free speech and only free speech, and ignoring its functional purpose, will at best tangle the law up in knots.

Tying free speech arguments to the cause of DAOs like Tornado Cash imperils some of the important free speech victories that were won in the past. But the risks for everyone might be even greater if that argument wins. A world where democratic governments are unable to enforce their laws is not a world where civic spaces or civil liberties will thrive.

This essay was written with Henry Farrell, and previously appeared on Lawfare.com.

EDITED TO ADD (10/26): Peter Van Valkenburgh wrote a rebuttal to our essay. My co-author responds. And Evan Geer, who started this whole conversation, responds to Henry.

Posted on October 14, 2022 at 9:08 AM51 Comments

Digital License Plates

California just legalized digital license plates, which seems like a solution without a problem.

The Rplate can reportedly function in extreme temperatures, has some customization features, and is managed via Bluetooth using a smartphone app. Rplates are also equipped with an LTE antenna, which can be used to push updates, change the plate if the vehicle is reported stolen or lost, and notify vehicle owners if their car may have been stolen.

Perhaps most importantly to the average car owner, Reviver said Rplate owners can renew their registration online through the Reviver mobile app.

That’s it?

Right now, an Rplate for a personal vehicle (the battery version) runs to $19.95 a month for 48 months, which will total $975.60 if kept for the full term. If opting to pay a year at a time, the price is $215.40 a year for the same four-year period, totaling $861.60. Wired plates for commercial vehicles run $24.95 for 48 months, and $275.40 if paid yearly.

That’s a lot to pay for the luxury of not having to find an envelope and stamp.

Plus, the privacy risks:

Privacy risks are an obvious concern when thinking about strapping an always-connected digital device to a car, but the California law has taken steps that may address some of those concerns.

“The bill would generally prohibit an alternative device [i.e. digital plate] from being equipped with GPS or other vehicle location tracking capability,” California’s legislative digest said of the new law. Commercial fleets are exempt from the rule, unsurprisingly.

More important are the security risks. Do we think for a minute that your digital license plate is secure from denial-of-service attacks, or number swapping attacks, or whatever new attacks will be dreamt up? Seems like a piece of stamped metal is the most secure option.

Posted on October 13, 2022 at 6:19 AM58 Comments

Recovering Passwords by Measuring Residual Heat

Researchers have used thermal cameras and ML guessing techniques to recover passwords from measuring the residual heat left by fingers on keyboards. From the abstract:

We detail the implementation of ThermoSecure and make a dataset of 1,500 thermal images of keyboards with heat traces resulting from input publicly available. Our first study shows that ThermoSecure successfully attacks 6-symbol, 8-symbol, 12-symbol, and 16-symbol passwords with an average accuracy of 92%, 80%, 71%, and 55% respectively, and even higher accuracy when thermal images are taken within 30 seconds. We found that typing behavior significantly impacts vulnerability to thermal attacks, where hunt-and-peck typists are more vulnerable than fast typists (92% vs 83% thermal attack success if performed within 30 seconds). The second study showed that the keycaps material has a statistically significant effect on the effectiveness of thermal attacks: ABS keycaps retain the thermal trace of users presses for a longer period of time, making them more vulnerable to thermal attacks, with a 52% average attack accuracy compared to 14% for keyboards with PBT keycaps.

“ABS” is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, which some keys are made of. Others are made of Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT). PBT keys are less vulnerable.

But, honestly, if someone can train a camera at your keyboard, you have bigger problems.

News article.

Posted on October 12, 2022 at 6:30 AM22 Comments

Inserting a Backdoor into a Machine-Learning System

Interesting research: “ImpNet: Imperceptible and blackbox-undetectable backdoors in compiled neural networks, by Tim Clifford, Ilia Shumailov, Yiren Zhao, Ross Anderson, and Robert Mullins:

Abstract: Early backdoor attacks against machine learning set off an arms race in attack and defence development. Defences have since appeared demonstrating some ability to detect backdoors in models or even remove them. These defences work by inspecting the training data, the model, or the integrity of the training procedure. In this work, we show that backdoors can be added during compilation, circumventing any safeguards in the data preparation and model training stages. As an illustration, the attacker can insert weight-based backdoors during the hardware compilation step that will not be detected by any training or data-preparation process. Next, we demonstrate that some backdoors, such as ImpNet, can only be reliably detected at the stage where they are inserted and removing them anywhere else presents a significant challenge. We conclude that machine-learning model security requires assurance of provenance along the entire technical pipeline, including the data, model architecture, compiler, and hardware specification.

Ross Anderson explains the significance:

The trick is for the compiler to recognise what sort of model it’s compiling—whether it’s processing images or text, for example—and then devising trigger mechanisms for such models that are sufficiently covert and general. The takeaway message is that for a machine-learning model to be trustworthy, you need to assure the provenance of the whole chain: the model itself, the software tools used to compile it, the training data, the order in which the data are batched and presented—in short, everything.

Posted on October 11, 2022 at 7:18 AM5 Comments

Complex Impersonation Story

This is a story of one piece of what is probably a complex employment scam. Basically, real programmers are having their resumes copied and co-opted by scammers, who apply for jobs (or, I suppose, get recruited from various job sites), then hire other people with Western looks and language skills are to impersonate those first people on Zoom job interviews. Presumably, sometimes the scammers get hired and…I suppose…collect paychecks for a while until they get found out and fired. But that requires a bunch of banking fraud as well, so I don’t know.

EDITED TO ADD (10/11): Brian Krebs writes about fake LinkedIn profiles, which is probably another facet of this fraud system. Someone needs to unravel all of the threads.

Posted on October 10, 2022 at 6:09 AM21 Comments

Spyware Maker Intellexa Sued by Journalist

The Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis was spied on by his own government, with a commercial spyware product called “Predator.” That product is sold by a company in North Macedonia called Cytrox, which is in turn owned by an Israeli company called Intellexa.

Koukakis is suing Intellexa.

The lawsuit filed by Koukakis takes aim at Intellexa and its executive, alleging a criminal breach of privacy and communication laws, reports Haaretz. The founder of Intellexa, a former Israeli intelligence commander named Taj Dilian, is listed as one of the defendants in the suit, as is another shareholder, Sara Hemo, and the firm itself. The objective of the suit, Koukakis says, is to spur an investigation to determine whether a criminal indictment should be brought against the defendants.

Why does it always seem to be Israel? The world would be a much safer place if that government stopped this cyberweapons arms trade from inside its borders.

Posted on October 7, 2022 at 6:13 AM20 Comments

NSA Employee Charged with Espionage

An ex-NSA employee has been charged with trying to sell classified data to the Russians (but instead actually talking to an undercover FBI agent).

It’s a weird story, and the FBI affidavit raises more questions than it answers. The employee only worked for the NSA for three weeks—which is weird in itself. I can’t figure out how he linked up with the undercover FBI agent. It’s not clear how much of this was the employee’s idea, and whether he was goaded by the FBI agent. Still, hooray for not leaking NSA secrets to the Russians. (And, almost ten years after Snowden, do we still have this much trouble vetting people before giving them security clearances?)

Mr. Dalke, who had already left the N.S.A. but told the agent that he still worked there on a temporary assignment, then revealed that had taken “highly sensitive information” related to foreign targeting of U.S. systems and information on cyber operations, the prosecutors said. He offered the information in exchange for cryptocurrency and said he was in “financial need.” Court records show he had nearly $84,000 in debt between student loans and credit cards.

EDITED TO ADD (10/5): Marcy Wheeler notes that the FBI seems to be sitting on some common recruitment point, and collecting potential Russian spies.

Posted on October 4, 2022 at 6:30 AM33 Comments

Detecting Deepfake Audio by Modeling the Human Acoustic Tract

This is interesting research:

In this paper, we develop a new mechanism for detecting audio deepfakes using techniques from the field of articulatory phonetics. Specifically, we apply fluid dynamics to estimate the arrangement of the human vocal tract during speech generation and show that deepfakes often model impossible or highly-unlikely anatomical arrangements. When parameterized to achieve 99.9% precision, our detection mechanism achieves a recall of 99.5%, correctly identifying all but one deepfake sample in our dataset.

From an article by two of the researchers:

The first step in differentiating speech produced by humans from speech generated by deepfakes is understanding how to acoustically model the vocal tract. Luckily scientists have techniques to estimate what someone—or some being such as a dinosaur—would sound like based on anatomical measurements of its vocal tract.

We did the reverse. By inverting many of these same techniques, we were able to extract an approximation of a speaker’s vocal tract during a segment of speech. This allowed us to effectively peer into the anatomy of the speaker who created the audio sample.

From here, we hypothesized that deepfake audio samples would fail to be constrained by the same anatomical limitations humans have. In other words, the analysis of deepfaked audio samples simulated vocal tract shapes that do not exist in people.

Our testing results not only confirmed our hypothesis but revealed something interesting. When extracting vocal tract estimations from deepfake audio, we found that the estimations were often comically incorrect. For instance, it was common for deepfake audio to result in vocal tracts with the same relative diameter and consistency as a drinking straw, in contrast to human vocal tracts, which are much wider and more variable in shape.

This is, of course, not the last word. Deepfake generators will figure out how to use these techniques to create harder-to-detect fake voices. And the deepfake detectors will figure out another, better, detection technique. And the arms race will continue.

Slashdot thread.

Posted on October 3, 2022 at 6:25 AM36 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.