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Friday Squid Blogging: China Launches Six New Squid Jigging Vessels

From Pingtan Marine Enterprise:

The 6 large-scale squid jigging vessels are normally operating vessels that returned to China earlier this year from the waters of Southwest Atlantic Ocean for maintenance and repair. These vessels left the port of Mawei on December 17, 2020 and are sailing to the fishing grounds in the international waters of the Southeast Pacific Ocean for operation.

I wonder if the company will include this blog post in its PR roundup.

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 January 15, 2021 at 4:03 PM73 Comments

Click Here to Kill Everybody Sale

For a limited time, I am selling signed copies of Click Here to Kill Everybody in hardcover for just $6, plus shipping.

Note that I have had occasional problems with international shipping. The book just disappears somewhere in the process. At this price, international orders are at the buyer’s risk. Also, the USPS keeps reminding us that shipping — both US and international — may be delayed during the pandemic.

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

Order here.

EDITED TO ADD: I was able to get another 500 from the publisher, since the first 500 sold out so quickly.

Please be patient on delivery. There are already 550 orders, and that’s a lot of work to sign and mail. I’m going to be doing them a few at a time over the next several weeks. So all of you people reading this paragraph before ordering, understand that there are a lot of people ahead of you in line.

EDITED TO ADD (1/16): I am sold out. If I can get more copies, I’ll hold another sale after I sign and mail the 1000 copies that you all purchased.

Posted on January 15, 2021 at 12:26 PM26 Comments

Cell Phone Location Privacy

We all know that our cell phones constantly give our location away to our mobile network operators; that’s how they work. A group of researchers has figured out a way to fix that. “Pretty Good Phone Privacy” (PGPP) protects both user identity and user location using the existing cellular networks. It protects users from fake cell phone towers (IMSI-catchers) and surveillance by cell providers.

It’s a clever system. The players are the user, a traditional mobile network operator (MNO) like AT&T or Verizon, and a new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). MVNOs aren’t new. They’re intermediaries like Cricket and Boost.

Here’s how it works:

  1. One-time setup: The user’s phone gets a new SIM from the MVNO. All MVNO SIMs are identical.
  2. Monthly: The user pays their bill to the MVNO (credit card or otherwise) and the phone gets anonymous authentication (using Chaum blind signatures) tokens for each time slice (e.g., hour) in the coming month.
  3. Ongoing: When the phone talks to a tower (run by the MNO), it sends a token for the current time slice. This is relayed to a MVNO backend server, which checks the Chaum blind signature of the token. If it’s valid, the MVNO tells the MNO that the user is authenticated, and the user receives a temporary random ID and an IP address. (Again, this is now MVNOs like Boost already work.)
  4. On demand: The user uses the phone normally.

The MNO doesn’t have to modify its system in any way. The PGPP MVNO implementation is in software. The user’s traffic is sent to the MVNO gateway and then out onto the Internet, potentially even using a VPN.

All connectivity is data connectivity in cell networks today. The user can choose to be data-only (e.g., use Signal for voice), or use the MVNO or a third party for VoIP service that will look just like normal telephony.

The group prototyped and tested everything with real phones in the lab. Their approach adds essentially zero latency, and doesn’t introduce any new bottlenecks, so it doesn’t have performance/scalability problems like most anonymity networks. The service could handle tens of millions of users on a single server, because it only has to do infrequent authentication, though for resilience you’d probably run more.

The paper is here.

Posted on January 15, 2021 at 6:36 AM20 Comments

Finding the Location of Telegram Users

Security researcher Ahmed Hassan has shown that spoofing the Android’s “People Nearby” feature allows him to pinpoint the physical location of Telegram users:

Using readily available software and a rooted Android device, he’s able to spoof the location his device reports to Telegram servers. By using just three different locations and measuring the corresponding distance reported by People Nearby, he is able to pinpoint a user’s precise location.

[…]

A proof-of-concept video the researcher sent to Telegram showed how he could discern the address of a People Nearby user when he used a free GPS spoofing app to make his phone report just three different locations. He then drew a circle around each of the three locations with a radius of the distance reported by Telegram. The user’s precise location was where all three intersected.

[…]

Fixing the problem — or at least making it much harder to exploit it — wouldn’t be hard from a technical perspective. Rounding locations to the nearest mile and adding some random bits generally suffices. When the Tinder app had a similar disclosure vulnerability, developers used this kind of technique to fix it.

Posted on January 14, 2021 at 6:08 AM17 Comments

On US Capitol Security — By Someone Who Manages Arena-Rock-Concert Security

Smart commentary:

…I was floored on Wednesday when, glued to my television, I saw police in some areas of the U.S. Capitol using little more than those same mobile gates I had ­ the ones that look like bike racks that can hook together ­ to try to keep the crowds away from sensitive areas and, later, push back people intent on accessing the grounds. (A new fence that appears to be made of sturdier material was being erected on Thursday.) That’s the same equipment and approximately the same amount of force I was able to use when a group of fans got a little feisty and tried to get backstage at a Vanilla Ice show.

[…]

There’s not ever going to be enough police or security at any event to stop people if they all act in unison; if enough people want to get to Vanilla Ice at the same time, they’re going to get to Vanilla Ice. Social constructs and basic decency, not lightweight security gates, are what hold everyone except the outliers back in a typical crowd.

[…]

When there are enough outliers in a crowd, it throws the normal dynamics of crowd control off; everyone in my business knows this. Citizens tend to hold each other to certain standards ­ which is why my 40,000-person town does not have 40,000 police officers, and why the 8.3 million people of New York City aren’t policed by 8.3 million police officers.

Social norms are the fabric that make an event run smoothly — and, really, hold society together. There aren’t enough police in your town to handle it if everyone starts acting up at the same time.

I like that she uses the term “outliers,” and I make much the same points in Liars and Outliers.

Posted on January 13, 2021 at 6:06 AM48 Comments

Cloning Google Titan 2FA keys

This is a clever side-channel attack:

The cloning works by using a hot air gun and a scalpel to remove the plastic key casing and expose the NXP A700X chip, which acts as a secure element that stores the cryptographic secrets. Next, an attacker connects the chip to hardware and software that take measurements as the key is being used to authenticate on an existing account. Once the measurement-taking is finished, the attacker seals the chip in a new casing and returns it to the victim.

Extracting and later resealing the chip takes about four hours. It takes another six hours to take measurements for each account the attacker wants to hack. In other words, the process would take 10 hours to clone the key for a single account, 16 hours to clone a key for two accounts, and 22 hours for three accounts.

By observing the local electromagnetic radiations as the chip generates the digital signatures, the researchers exploit a side channel vulnerability in the NXP chip. The exploit allows an attacker to obtain the long-term elliptic curve digital signal algorithm private key designated for a given account. With the crypto key in hand, the attacker can then create her own key, which will work for each account she targeted.

The attack isn’t free, but it’s not expensive either:

A hacker would first have to steal a target’s account password and also gain covert possession of the physical key for as many as 10 hours. The cloning also requires up to $12,000 worth of equipment and custom software, plus an advanced background in electrical engineering and cryptography. That means the key cloning — ­were it ever to happen in the wild — ­would likely be done only by a nation-state pursuing its highest-value targets.

That last line about “nation-state pursuing its highest-value targets” is just not true. There are many other situations where this attack is feasible.

Note that the attack isn’t against the Google system specifically. It exploits a side-channel attack in the NXP chip. Which means that other systems are probably vulnerable:

While the researchers performed their attack on the Google Titan, they believe that other hardware that uses the A700X, or chips based on the A700X, may also be vulnerable. If true, that would include Yubico’s YubiKey NEO and several 2FA keys made by Feitian.

Posted on January 12, 2021 at 6:16 AM32 Comments

Changes in WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy

If you’re a WhatsApp user, pay attention to the changes in the privacy policy that you’re being forced to agree with.

In 2016, WhatsApp gave users a one-time ability to opt out of having account data turned over to Facebook. Now, an updated privacy policy is changing that. Come next month, users will no longer have that choice. Some of the data that WhatsApp collects includes:

  • User phone numbers
  • Other people’s phone numbers stored in address books
  • Profile names
  • Profile pictures and
  • Status message including when a user was last online
  • Diagnostic data collected from app logs

Under the new terms, Facebook reserves the right to share collected data with its family of companies.

EDITED TO ADD (1/13): WhatsApp tries to explain.

Posted on January 11, 2021 at 6:17 AM40 Comments

APT Horoscope

This delightful essay matches APT hacker groups up with astrological signs. This is me:

Capricorn is renowned for its discipline, skilled navigation, and steadfastness. Just like Capricorn, Helix Kitten (also known as APT 35 or OilRig) is a skilled navigator of vast online networks, maneuvering deftly across an array of organizations, including those in aerospace, energy, finance, government, hospitality, and telecommunications. Steadfast in its work and objectives, Helix Kitten has a consistent track record of developing meticulous spear-phishing attacks.

Posted on January 8, 2021 at 2:19 PM3 Comments

Russia’s SolarWinds Attack and Software Security

The information that is emerging about Russia’s extensive cyberintelligence operation against the United States and other countries should be increasingly alarming to the public. The magnitude of the hacking, now believed to have affected more than 250 federal agencies and businesses — ­primarily through a malicious update of the SolarWinds network management software — ­may have slipped under most people’s radar during the holiday season, but its implications are stunning.

According to a Washington Post report, this is a massive intelligence coup by Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR). And a massive security failure on the part of the United States is also to blame. Our insecure Internet infrastructure has become a critical national security risk­ — one that we need to take seriously and spend money to reduce.

President-elect Joe Biden’s initial response spoke of retaliation, but there really isn’t much the United States can do beyond what it already does. Cyberespionage is business as usual among countries and governments, and the United States is aggressively offensive in this regard. We benefit from the lack of norms in this area and are unlikely to push back too hard because we don’t want to limit our own offensive actions.

Biden took a more realistic tone last week when he spoke of the need to improve US defenses. The initial focus will likely be on how to clean the hackers out of our networks, why the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command failed to detect this intrusion and whether the 2-year-old Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has the resources necessary to defend the United States against attacks of this caliber. These are important discussions to have, but we also need to address the economic incentives that led to SolarWinds being breached and how that insecure software ended up in so many critical US government networks.

Software has become incredibly complicated. Most of us almost don’t know all of the software running on our laptops and what it’s doing. We don’t know where it’s connecting to on the Internet­ — not even which countries it’s connecting to­ — and what data it’s sending. We typically don’t know what third party libraries are in the software we install. We don’t know what software any of our cloud services are running. And we’re rarely alone in our ignorance. Finding all of this out is incredibly difficult.

This is even more true for software that runs our large government networks, or even the Internet backbone. Government software comes from large companies, small suppliers, open source projects and everything in between. Obscure software packages can have hidden vulnerabilities that affect the security of these networks, and sometimes the entire Internet. Russia’s SVR leveraged one of those vulnerabilities when it gained access to SolarWinds’ update server, tricking thousands of customers into downloading a malicious software update that gave the Russians access to those networks.

The fundamental problem is one of economic incentives. The market rewards quick development of products. It rewards new features. It rewards spying on customers and users: collecting and selling individual data. The market does not reward security, safety or transparency. It doesn’t reward reliability past a bare minimum, and it doesn’t reward resilience at all.

This is what happened at SolarWinds. A New York Times report noted the company ignored basic security practices. It moved software development to Eastern Europe, where Russia has more influence and could potentially subvert programmers, because it’s cheaper.

Short-term profit was seemingly prioritized over product security.

Companies have the right to make decisions like this. The real question is why the US government bought such shoddy software for its critical networks. This is a problem that Biden can fix, and he needs to do so immediately.

The United States needs to improve government software procurement. Software is now critical to national security. Any system for acquiring software needs to evaluate the security of the software and the security practices of the company, in detail, to ensure they are sufficient to meet the security needs of the network they’re being installed in. Procurement contracts need to include security controls of the software development process. They need security attestations on the part of the vendors, with substantial penalties for misrepresentation or failure to comply. The government needs detailed best practices for government and other companies.

Some of the groundwork for an approach like this has already been laid by the federal government, which has sponsored the development of a “Software Bill of Materials” that would set out a process for software makers to identify the components used to assemble their software.

This scrutiny can’t end with purchase. These security requirements need to be monitored throughout the software’s life cycle, along with what software is being used in government networks.

None of this is cheap, and we should be prepared to pay substantially more for secure software. But there’s a benefit to these practices. If the government evaluations are public, along with the list of companies that meet them, all network buyers can benefit from them. The US government acting purely in the realm of procurement can improve the security of nongovernmental networks worldwide.

This is important, but it isn’t enough. We need to set minimum safety and security standards for all software: from the code in that Internet of Things appliance you just bought to the code running our critical national infrastructure. It’s all one network, and a vulnerability in your refrigerator’s software can be used to attack the national power grid.

The IOT Cybersecurity Improvement Act, signed into law last month, is a start in this direction.

The Biden administration should prioritize minimum security standards for all software sold in the United States, not just to the government but to everyone. Long gone are the days when we can let the software industry decide how much emphasis to place on security. Software security is now a matter of personal safety: whether it’s ensuring your car isn’t hacked over the Internet or that the national power grid isn’t hacked by the Russians.

This regulation is the only way to force companies to provide safety and security features for customers — just as legislation was necessary to mandate food safety measures and require auto manufacturers to install life-saving features such as seat belts and air bags. Smart regulations that incentivize innovation create a market for security features. And they improve security for everyone.

It’s true that creating software in this sort of regulatory environment is more expensive. But if we truly value our personal and national security, we need to be prepared to pay for it.

The truth is that we’re already paying for it. Today, software companies increase their profits by secretly pushing risk onto their customers. We pay the cost of insecure personal computers, just as the government is now paying the cost to clean up after the SolarWinds hack. Fixing this requires both transparency and regulation. And while the industry will resist both, they are essential for national security in our increasingly computer-dependent worlds.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

Posted on January 8, 2021 at 6:27 AM30 Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.