October 15, 2020
by Bruce Schneier
Fellow and Lecturer, Harvard Kennedy School
A free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on security: computer and otherwise.
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- Interesting Attack on the EMV Smartcard Payment Standard
- Upcoming Speaking Engagements
- Privacy Analysis of Ambient Light Sensors
- How the FIN7 Cybercrime Gang Operates
- New Bluetooth Vulnerability
- Matt Blaze on OTP Radio Stations
- Nihilistic Password Security Questions
- Former NSA Director Keith Alexander Joins Amazon’s Board of Directors
- Amazon Delivery Drivers Hacking Scheduling System
- Interview with the Author of the 2000 Love Bug Virus
- Documented Death from a Ransomware Attack
- Iranian Government Hacking Android
- CEO of NS8 Charged with Securities Fraud
- On Executive Order 12333
- Hacking a Coffee Maker
- Negotiating with Ransomware Gangs
- Detecting Deep Fakes with a Heartbeat
- COVID-19 and Acedia
- On Risk-Based Authentication
- Swiss-Swedish Diplomatic Row Over Crypto AG
- New Privacy Features in iOS 14
- Hacking Apple for Profit
- Google Responds to Warrants for “About” Searches
[2020.09.14] It’s complicated, but it’s basically a man-in-the-middle attack that involves two smartphones. The first phone reads the actual smartcard, and then forwards the required information to a second phone. That second phone actually conducts the transaction on the POS terminal. That second phone is able to convince the POS terminal to conduct the transaction without requiring the normally required PIN.
From a news article:
The researchers were able to demonstrate that it is possible to exploit the vulnerability in practice, although it is a fairly complex process. They first developed an Android app and installed it on two NFC-enabled mobile phones. This allowed the two devices to read data from the credit card chip and exchange information with payment terminals. Incidentally, the researchers did not have to bypass any special security features in the Android operating system to install the app.
To obtain unauthorized funds from a third-party credit card, the first mobile phone is used to scan the necessary data from the credit card and transfer it to the second phone. The second phone is then used to simultaneously debit the amount at the checkout, as many cardholders do nowadays. As the app declares that the customer is the authorized user of the credit card, the vendor does not realize that the transaction is fraudulent. The crucial factor is that the app outsmarts the card’s security system. Although the amount is over the limit and requires PIN verification, no code is requested.
The paper: “The EMV Standard: Break, Fix, Verify.”
Abstract: EMV is the international protocol standard for smartcard payment and is used in over 9 billion cards worldwide. Despite the standard’s advertised security, various issues have been previously uncovered, deriving from logical flaws that are hard to spot in EMV’s lengthy and complex specification, running over 2,000 pages.
We formalize a comprehensive symbolic model of EMV in Tamarin, a state-of-the-art protocol verifier. Our model is the first that supports a fine-grained analysis of all relevant security guarantees that EMV is intended to offer. We use our model to automatically identify flaws that lead to two critical attacks: one that defrauds the cardholder and another that defrauds the merchant. First, criminals can use a victim’s Visa contact-less card for high-value purchases, without knowledge of the card’s PIN. We built a proof-of-concept Android application and successfully demonstrated this attack on real-world payment terminals. Second, criminals can trick the terminal into accepting an unauthentic offline transaction, which the issuing bank should later decline, after the criminal has walked away with the goods. This attack is possible for implementations following the standard, although we did not test it on actual terminals for ethical reasons. Finally, we propose and verify improvements to the standard that prevent these attacks, as well as any other attacks that violate the considered security properties.The proposed improvements can be easily implemented in the terminals and do not affect the cards in circulation.
[2020.09.14] This is a current list of where and when I am scheduled to speak:
- I’m speaking at the Cybersecurity Law & Policy Scholars Virtual Conference on September 17, 2020.
- I’m keynoting the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s online symposium, Canadians Connected, on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.
- I’m giving a webinar as part of the Online One Conference 2020 on September 29, 2020.
- I’m speaking at the (ISC)² Security Congress 2020, November 16-18, 2020.
The list is maintained on this page.
The secret of FIN7’s success is their operational art of cyber crime. They managed their resources and operations effectively, allowing them to successfully attack and exploit hundreds of victim organizations. FIN7 was not the most elite hacker group, but they developed a number of fascinating innovations. Looking at the process triangle (people, process, technology), their technology wasn’t sophisticated, but their people management and business processes were.
Their business… is crime! And every business needs business goals, so I wrote a mock FIN7 mission statement:
Our mission is to proactively leverage existing long-term, high-impact growth strategies so that we may deliver the kind of results on the bottom line that our investors expect and deserve.
How does FIN7 actualize this vision? This is CrimeOps:
- Repeatable business process
- CrimeBosses manage workers, projects, data and money.
- CrimeBosses don’t manage technical innovation. They use incremental improvement to TTP to remain effective, but no more
- Frontline workers don’t need to innovate (because the process is repeatable)
The issue is with a protocol called Cross-Transport Key Derivation (or CTKD, for short). When, say, an iPhone is getting ready to pair up with Bluetooth-powered device, CTKD’s role is to set up two separate authentication keys for that phone: one for a “Bluetooth Low Energy” device, and one for a device using what’s known as the “Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rate” standard. Different devices require different amounts of data—and battery power—from a phone. Being able to toggle between the standards needed for Bluetooth devices that take a ton of data (like a Chromecast), and those that require a bit less (like a smartwatch) is more efficient. Incidentally, it might also be less secure.
According to the researchers, if a phone supports both of those standards but doesn’t require some sort of authentication or permission on the user’s end, a hackery sort who’s within Bluetooth range can use its CTKD connection to derive its own competing key. With that connection, according to the researchers, this sort of erzatz authentication can also allow bad actors to weaken the encryption that these keys use in the first place—which can open its owner up to more attacks further down the road, or perform “man in the middle” style attacks that snoop on unprotected data being sent by the phone’s apps and services.
Patches are not immediately available at the time of writing. The only way to protect against BLURtooth attacks is to control the environment in which Bluetooth devices are paired, in order to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks, or pairings with rogue devices carried out via social engineering (tricking the human operator).
However, patches are expected to be available at one point. When they’ll be, they’ll most likely be integrated as firmware or operating system updates for Bluetooth capable devices.
The timeline for these updates is, for the moment, unclear, as device vendors and OS makers usually work on different timelines, and some may not prioritize security patches as others. The number of vulnerable devices is also unclear and hard to quantify.
Many Bluetooth devices can’t be patched.
Final note: this seems to be another example of simultaneous discovery:
According to the Bluetooth SIG, the BLURtooth attack was discovered independently by two groups of academics from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Purdue University.
[2020.09.18] Matt Blaze discusses (also here) an interesting mystery about a Cuban one-time-pad radio station, and a random number generator error that probably helped arrest a pair of Russian spies in the US.
[2020.09.22] Amazon drivers—all gig workers who don’t work for the company—are hanging cell phones in trees near Amazon delivery stations, fooling the system into thinking that they are closer than they actually are:
The phones in trees seem to serve as master devices that dispatch routes to multiple nearby drivers in on the plot, according to drivers who have observed the process. They believe an unidentified person or entity is acting as an intermediary between Amazon and the drivers and charging drivers to secure more routes, which is against Amazon’s policies.
The perpetrators likely dangle multiple phones in the trees to spread the work around to multiple Amazon Flex accounts and avoid detection by Amazon, said Chetan Sharma, a wireless industry consultant. If all the routes were fed through one device, it would be easy for Amazon to detect, he said.
“They’re gaming the system in a way that makes it harder for Amazon to figure it out,” Sharma said. “They’re just a step ahead of Amazon’s algorithm and its developers.”
The story he went on to tell is strikingly straightforward. De Guzman was poor, and internet access was expensive. He felt that getting online was almost akin to a human right (a view that was ahead of its time). Getting access required a password, so his solution was to steal the passwords from those who’d paid for them. Not that de Guzman regarded this as stealing: He argued that the password holder would get no less access as a result of having their password unknowingly “shared.” (Of course, his logic conveniently ignored the fact that the internet access provider would have to serve two people for the price of one.)
De Guzman came up with a solution: a password-stealing program. In hindsight, perhaps his guilt should have been obvious, because this was almost exactly the scheme he’d mapped out in a thesis proposal that had been rejected by his college the previous year.
I think this is the first documented case of a cyberattack causing a fatality. UK hospitals had to redirect patients during the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack, but there were no documented fatalities from that event.
The police are treating this as a homicide.
The reports, which were reviewed by The New York Times in advance of their release, say that the hackers have successfully infiltrated what were thought to be secure mobile phones and computers belonging to the targets, overcoming obstacles created by encrypted applications such as Telegram and, according to Miaan, even gaining access to information on WhatsApp. Both are popular messaging tools in Iran. The hackers also have created malware disguised as Android applications, the reports said.
It looks like the standard technique of getting the victim to open a document or application.
[2020.09.25] The founder and CEO of the Internet security company NS8 has been arrested and “charged in a Complaint in Manhattan federal court with securities fraud, fraud in the offer and sale of securities, and wire fraud.”
I admit that I’ve never even heard of the company before.
[2020.09.28] Mark Jaycox has written a long article on the US Executive Order 12333: “No Oversight, No Limits, No Worries: A Primer on Presidential Spying and Executive Order 12,333“:
Abstract: Executive Order 12,333 (“EO 12333”) is a 1980s Executive Order signed by President Ronald Reagan that, among other things, establishes an overarching policy framework for the Executive Branch’s spying powers. Although electronic surveillance programs authorized by EO 12333 generally target foreign intelligence from foreign targets, its permissive targeting standards allow for the substantial collection of Americans’ communications containing little to no foreign intelligence value. This fact alone necessitates closer inspection.
This working draft conducts such an inspection by collecting and coalescing the various declassifications, disclosures, legislative investigations, and news reports concerning EO 12333 electronic surveillance programs in order to provide a better understanding of how the Executive Branch implements the order and the surveillance programs it authorizes. The Article pays particular attention to EO 12333’s designation of the National Security Agency as primarily responsible for conducting signals intelligence, which includes the installation of malware, the analysis of internet traffic traversing the telecommunications backbone, the hacking of U.S.-based companies like Yahoo and Google, and the analysis of Americans’ communications, contact lists, text messages, geolocation data, and other information.
After exploring the electronic surveillance programs authorized by EO 12333, this Article proposes reforms to the existing policy framework, including narrowing the aperture of authorized surveillance, increasing privacy standards for the retention of data, and requiring greater transparency and accountability.
EDITED TO ADD (10/12): Good New York Times article from 1983 on EO 12333, pointing out that Congress had never limited its power. It still hasn’t.
And a related article on the FISA Court.
As a thought experiment, Martin Hron, a researcher at security company Avast, reverse engineered one of the older coffee makers to see what kinds of hacks he could do with it. After just a week of effort, the unqualified answer was: quite a lot. Specifically, he could trigger the coffee maker to turn on the burner, dispense water, spin the bean grinder, and display a ransom message, all while beeping repeatedly. Oh, and by the way, the only way to stop the chaos was to unplug the power cord.
In any event, Hron said the ransom attack is just the beginning of what an attacker could do. With more work, he believes, an attacker could program a coffee maker—and possibly other appliances made by Smarter—to attack the router, computers, or other devices connected to the same network. And the attacker could probably do it with no overt sign anything was amiss.
For now, it seems that paying ransomware, while obviously risky and empowering/encouraging ransomware attackers, can perhaps be comported so as not to break any laws (like anti-terrorist laws, FCPA, conspiracy and others) and even if payment is arguably unlawful, seems unlikely to be prosecuted. Thus, the decision whether to pay or ignore a ransomware demand, seems less of a legal, and more of a practical, determination almost like a cost-benefit analysis.
The arguments for rendering a ransomware payment include:
- Payment is the least costly option;
- Payment is in the best interest of stakeholders (e.g. a hospital patient in desperate need of an immediate operation whose records are locked up);
- Payment can avoid being fined for losing important data;
- Payment means not losing highly confidential information; and
- Payment may mean not going public with the data breach.
The arguments against rendering a ransomware payment include:
- Payment does not guarantee that the right encryption keys with the proper decryption algorithms will be provided;
- Payment further funds additional criminal pursuits of the attacker, enabling a cycle of ransomware crime;
- Payment can do damage to a corporate brand;
- Payment may not stop the ransomware attacker from returning;
- If victims stopped making ransomware payments, the ransomware revenue stream would stop and ransomware attackers would have to move on to perpetrating another scheme; and
- Using Bitcoin to pay a ransomware attacker can put organizations at risk. Most victims must buy Bitcoin on entirely unregulated and free-wheeling exchanges that can also be hacked, leaving buyers’ bank account information stored on these exchanges vulnerable.
When confronted with a ransomware attack, the options all seem bleak. Pay the hackers and the victim may not only prompt future attacks, but there is also no guarantee that the hackers will restore a victim’s dataset. Ignore the hackers and the victim may incur significant financial damage or even find themselves out of business. The only guarantees during a ransomware attack are the fear, uncertainty and dread inevitably experienced by the victim.
In particular, video of a person’s face contains subtle shifts in color that result from pulses in blood circulation. You might imagine that these changes would be too minute to detect merely from a video, but viewing videos that have been enhanced to exaggerate these color shifts will quickly disabuse you of that notion. This phenomenon forms the basis of a technique called photoplethysmography, or PPG for short, which can be used, for example, to monitor newborns without having to attach anything to a their very sensitive skin.
Deep fakes don’t lack such circulation-induced shifts in color, but they don’t recreate them with high fidelity. The researchers at SUNY and Intel found that “biological signals are not coherently preserved in different synthetic facial parts” and that “synthetic content does not contain frames with stable PPG.” Translation: Deep fakes can’t convincingly mimic how your pulse shows up in your face.
The inconsistencies in PPG signals found in deep fakes provided these researchers with the basis for a deep-learning system of their own, dubbed FakeCatcher, which can categorize videos of a person’s face as either real or fake with greater than 90 percent accuracy. And these same three researchers followed this study with another demonstrating that this approach can be applied not only to revealing that a video is fake, but also to show what software was used to create it.
Of course, this is an arms race. I expect deep fake programs to become good enough to fool FakeCatcher in a few months.
[2020.10.02] Note: This isn’t my usual essay topic. Still, I want to put it on my blog.
Six months into the pandemic with no end in sight, many of us have been feeling a sense of unease that goes beyond anxiety or distress. It’s a nameless feeling that somehow makes it hard to go on with even the nice things we regularly do.
What’s blocking our everyday routines is not the anxiety of lockdown adjustments, or the worries about ourselves and our loved ones—real though those worries are. It isn’t even the sense that, if we’re really honest with ourselves, much of what we do is pretty self-indulgent when held up against the urgency of a global pandemic.
It is something more troubling and harder to name: an uncertainty about why we would go on doing much of what for years we’d taken for granted as inherently valuable.
What we are confronting is something many writers in the pandemic have approached from varying angles: a restless distraction that stems not just from not knowing when it will all end, but also from not knowing what that end will look like. Perhaps the sharpest insight into this feeling has come from Jonathan Zecher, a historian of religion, who linked it to the forgotten Christian term: acedia.
Acedia was a malady that apparently plagued many medieval monks. It’s a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.
What could this particular form of melancholy mean in an urgent global crisis? On the face of it, all of us care very much about the health risks to those we know and don’t know. Yet lurking alongside such immediate cares is a sense of dislocation that somehow interferes with how we care.
The answer can be found in an extreme thought experiment about death. In 2013, philosopher Samuel Scheffler explored a core assumption about death. We all assume that there will be a future world that survives our particular life, a world populated by people roughly like us, including some who are related to us or known to us. Though we rarely or acknowledge it, this presumed future world is the horizon towards which everything we do in the present is oriented.
But what, Scheffler asked, if we lose that assumed future world—because, say, we are told that human life will end on a fixed date not far after our own death? Then the things we value would start to lose their value. Our sense of why things matter today is built on the presumption that they will continue to matter in the future, even when we ourselves are no longer around to value them.
Our present relations to people and things are, in this deep way, future-oriented. Symphonies are written, buildings built, children conceived in the present, but always with a future in mind. What happens to our ethical bearings when we start to lose our grip on that future?
It’s here, moving back to the particular features of the global pandemic, that we see more clearly what drives the restlessness and dislocation so many have been feeling. The source of our current acedia is not the literal loss of a future; even the most pessimistic scenarios surrounding COVID-19 have our species surviving. The dislocation is more subtle: a disruption in pretty much every future frame of reference on which just going on in the present relies.
Moving around is what we do as creatures, and for that we need horizons. COVID-19 has erased many of the spatial and temporal horizons we rely on, even if we don’t notice them very often. We don’t know how the economy will look, how social life will go on, how our home routines will be changed, how work will be organized, how universities or the arts or local commerce will survive.
What unsettles us is not only fear of change. It’s that, if we can no longer trust in the future, many things become irrelevant, retrospectively pointless. And by that we mean from the perspective of a future whose basic shape we can no longer take for granted. This fundamentally disrupts how we weigh the value of what we are doing right now. It becomes especially hard under these conditions to hold on to the value in activities that, by their very nature, are future-directed, such as education or institution-building.
That’s what many of us are feeling. That’s today’s acedia.
Naming this malaise may seem more trouble than its worth, but the opposite is true. Perhaps the worst thing about medieval acedia was that monks struggled with its dislocation in isolation. But today’s disruption of our sense of a future must be a shared challenge. Because what’s disrupted is the structure of care that sustains why we go on doing things together, and this can only be repaired through renewed solidarity.
Such solidarity, however, has one precondition: that we openly discuss the problem of acedia, and how it prevents us from facing our deepest future uncertainties. Once we have done that, we can recognize it as a problem we choose to face together—across political and cultural lines—as families, communities, nations and a global humanity. Which means doing so in acceptance of our shared vulnerability, rather than suffering each on our own.
This essay was written with Nick Couldry, and previously appeared on CNN.com.
[2020.10.05] Interesting usability study: “More Than Just Good Passwords? A Study on Usability and Security Perceptions of Risk-based Authentication“:
Abstract: Risk-based Authentication (RBA) is an adaptive security measure to strengthen password-based authentication. RBA monitors additional features during login, and when observed feature values differ significantly from previously seen ones, users have to provide additional authentication factors such as a verification code. RBA has the potential to offer more usable authentication, but the usability and the security perceptions of RBA are not studied well.
We present the results of a between-group lab study (n=65) to evaluate usability and security perceptions of two RBA variants, one 2FA variant, and password-only authentication. Our study shows with significant results that RBA is considered to be more usable than the studied 2FA variants, while it is perceived as more secure than password-only authentication in general and comparably se-cure to 2FA in a variety of application types. We also observed RBA usability problems and provide recommendations for mitigation.Our contribution provides a first deeper understanding of the users’perception of RBA and helps to improve RBA implementations for a broader user acceptance.
[2020.10.06] Previously I have written about the Swedish-owned Swiss-based cryptographic hardware company: Crypto AG. It was a CIA-owned Cold War operation for decades. Today it is called Crypto International, still based in Switzerland but owned by a Swedish company.
It’s back in the news:
Late last week, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said she had canceled a meeting with her Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis slated for this month after Switzerland placed an export ban on Crypto International, a Swiss-based and Swedish-owned cybersecurity company.
The ban was imposed while Swiss authorities examine long-running and explosive claims that a previous incarnation of Crypto International, Crypto AG, was little more than a front for U.S. intelligence-gathering during the Cold War.
Linde said the Swiss ban was stopping “goods”—which experts suggest could include cybersecurity upgrades or other IT support needed by Swedish state agencies—from reaching Sweden.
She told public broadcaster SVT that the meeting with Cassis was “not appropriate right now until we have fully understood the Swiss actions.”
EDITED TO ADD (10/13): Lots of information on Crypto AG.
One of the worst of all the bugs they found would have allowed criminals to create a worm that would automatically steal all the photos, videos, and documents from someone’s iCloud account and then do the same to the victim’s contacts.
Lots of details in this blog post by one of the hackers.
[2020.10.13] One of the things we learned from the Snowden documents is that the NSA conducts “about” searches. That is, searches based on activities and not identifiers. A normal search would be on a name, or IP address, or phone number. An about search would something like “show me anyone that has used this particular name in a communications,” or “show me anyone who was at this particular location within this time frame.” These searches are legal when conducted for the purpose of foreign surveillance, but the worry about using them domestically is that they are unconstitutionally broad. After all, the only way to know who said a particular name is to know what everyone said, and the only way to know who was at a particular location is to know where everyone was. The very nature of these searches requires mass surveillance.
The FBI does not conduct mass surveillance. But many US corporations do, as a normal part of their business model. And the FBI uses that surveillance infrastructure to conduct its own about searches. Here’s an arson case where the FBI asked Google who searched for a particular street address:
Homeland Security special agent Sylvette Reynoso testified that her team began by asking Google to produce a list of public IP addresses used to google the home of the victim in the run-up to the arson. The Chocolate Factory [Google] complied with the warrant, and gave the investigators the list. As Reynoso put it:
On June 15, 2020, the Honorable Ramon E. Reyes, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York, authorized a search warrant to Google for users who had searched the address of the Residence close in time to the arson.
The records indicated two IPv6 addresses had been used to search for the address three times: one the day before the SUV was set on fire, and the other two about an hour before the attack. The IPv6 addresses were traced to Verizon Wireless, which told the investigators that the addresses were in use by an account belonging to Williams.
Google’s response is that this is rare:
While word of these sort of requests for the identities of people making specific searches will raise the eyebrows of privacy-conscious users, Google told The Register the warrants are a very rare occurrence, and its team fights overly broad or vague requests.
“We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement,” Google’s director of law enforcement and information security Richard Salgado told us. “We require a warrant and push to narrow the scope of these particular demands when overly broad, including by objecting in court when appropriate.
“These data demands represent less than one per cent of total warrants and a small fraction of the overall legal demands for user data that we currently receive.”
Here’s another example of what seems to be about data leading to a false arrest.
According to the lawsuit, police investigating the murder knew months before they arrested Molina that the location data obtained from Google often showed him in two places at once, and that he was not the only person who drove the Honda registered under his name.
Avondale police knew almost two months before they arrested Molina that another man his stepfather sometimes drove Molina’s white Honda. On October 25, 2018, police obtained records showing that Molina’s Honda had been impounded earlier that year after Molina’s stepfather was caught driving the car without a license.
Data obtained by Avondale police from Google did show that a device logged into Molina’s Google account was in the area at the time of Knight’s murder. Yet on a different date, the location data from Google also showed that Molina was at a retirement community in Scottsdale (where his mother worked) while debit card records showed that Molina had made a purchase at a Walmart across town at the exact same time.
Molina’s attorneys argue that this and other instances like it should have made it clear to Avondale police that Google’s account-location data is not always reliable in determining the actual location of a person.
“About” searches might be rare, but that doesn’t make them a good idea. We have knowingly and willingly built the architecture of a police state, just so companies can show us ads. (And it is increasingly apparent that the advertising-supported Internet is heading for a crash.)
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Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist, called a security guru by the Economist. He is the author of over one dozen books—including his latest, We Have Root—as well as hundreds of articles, essays, and academic papers. His newsletter and blog are read by over 250,000 people. Schneier is a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School; a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, AccessNow, and the Tor Project; and an Advisory Board Member of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and VerifiedVoting.org. He is the Chief of Security Architecture at Inrupt, Inc.
Copyright © 2020 by Bruce Schneier.