September 15, 2022
by Bruce Schneier
Fellow and Lecturer, Harvard Kennedy School
A free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on security: computer and otherwise.
For back issues, or to subscribe, visit Crypto-Gram’s web page.
These same essays and news items appear in the Schneier on Security blog, along with a lively and intelligent comment section. An RSS feed is available.
- $23 Million YouTube Royalties Scam
- Remotely Controlling Touchscreens
- Zoom Exploit on MacOS
- USB “Rubber Ducky” Attack Tool
- Hyundai Uses Example Keys for Encryption System
- Signal Phone Numbers Exposed in Twilio Hack
- Mudge Files Whistleblower Complaint against Twitter
- Man-in-the-Middle Phishing Attack
- Security and Cheap Complexity
- Levels of Assurance for DoD Microelectronics
- FTC Sues Data Broker
- High-School Graduation Prank Hack
- Clever Phishing Scam Uses Legitimate PayPal Messages
- Montenegro Is the Victim of a Cyberattack
- The LockBit Ransomware Gang Is Surprisingly Professional
- Facebook Has No Idea What Data It Has
- Responsible Disclosure for Cryptocurrency Security
- New Linux Cryptomining Malware
- FBI Seizes Stolen Cryptocurrencies
- Weird Fallout from Peiter Zatko’s Twitter Whistleblowing
- Upcoming Speaking Engagements
No one knows how common this scam is, and how much money total is being stolen in this way. Presumably this is not an uncommon fraud.
While the size of the heist and the breadth of the scheme may be very unique, it’s certainly a situation that many YouTube content creators have faced before. YouTube’s Content ID system, meant to help creators, has been weaponized by bad faith actors in order to make money off content that isn’t theirs. While some false claims are just mistakes caused by automated systems, the MediaMuv case is a perfect example of how fraudsters are also purposefully taking advantage of digital copyright rules.
YouTube attempts to be cautious with who it provides CMS and Content ID tool access because of how powerful these systems are. As a result, independent creators and artists cannot check for these false copyright claims nor do they have the power to directly act on them. They need to go through a digital rights management company that does have access. And it seems like thieves are doing the same, falsifying documents to gain access to these YouTube tools through these third parties that are “trusted” with these tools by YouTube.
From a news article:
It’s important to note that the attack has a few key limitations. Firstly, the hackers need to know the target’s phone passcode, or launch the attack while the phone is unlocked. Secondly, the victim needs to put the phone face down, otherwise the battery and motherboard will block the electromagnetic signal. Thirdly, the antenna array has to be no more than four centimeters (around 1.5 inches) away. For all these reasons the researchers themselves admit that the “invisible finger” technique is a proof of concept that at this point is far from being a threat outside of a university lab.
EDITED TO ADD (9/12): The project has a website.
The exploit works by targeting the installer for the Zoom application, which needs to run with special user permissions in order to install or remove the main Zoom application from a computer. Though the installer requires a user to enter their password on first adding the application to the system, Wardle found that an auto-update function then continually ran in the background with superuser privileges.
When Zoom issued an update, the updater function would install the new package after checking that it had been cryptographically signed by Zoom. But a bug in how the checking method was implemented meant that giving the updater any file with the same name as Zoom’s signing certificate would be enough to pass the test—so an attacker could substitute any kind of malware program and have it be run by the updater with elevated privilege.
It seems that it’s not entirely fixed:
Following responsible disclosure protocols, Wardle informed Zoom about the vulnerability in December of last year. To his frustration, he says an initial fix from Zoom contained another bug that meant the vulnerability was still exploitable in a slightly more roundabout way, so he disclosed this second bug to Zoom and waited eight months before publishing the research.
EDITED TO ADD: Disclosure works. The vulnerability seems to be patched now.
Already, previous versions of the Rubber Ducky could carry out attacks like creating a fake Windows pop-up box to harvest a user’s login credentials or causing Chrome to send all saved passwords to an attacker’s webserver. But these attacks had to be carefully crafted for specific operating systems and software versions and lacked the flexibility to work across platforms.
The newest Rubber Ducky aims to overcome these limitations. It ships with a major upgrade to the DuckyScript programming language, which is used to create the commands that the Rubber Ducky will enter into a target machine. While previous versions were mostly limited to writing keystroke sequences, DuckyScript 3.0 is a feature-rich language, letting users write functions, store variables, and use logic flow controls (i.e., if this… then that).
That means, for example, the new Ducky can run a test to see if it’s plugged into a Windows or Mac machine and conditionally execute code appropriate to each one or disable itself if it has been connected to the wrong target. It also can generate pseudorandom numbers and use them to add variable delay between keystrokes for a more human effect.
Perhaps most impressively, it can steal data from a target machine by encoding it in binary format and transmitting it through the signals meant to tell a keyboard when the CapsLock or NumLock LEDs should light up. With this method, an attacker could plug it in for a few seconds, tell someone, “Sorry, I guess that USB drive is broken,” and take it back with all their passwords saved.
A developer says it was possible to run their own software on the car infotainment hardware after discovering the vehicle’s manufacturer had secured its system using keys that were not only publicly known but had been lifted from programming examples.
“Turns out the [AES] encryption key in that script is the first AES 128-bit CBC example key listed in the NIST document SP800-38A [PDF]”.
Luck held out, in a way. “Greenluigi1” found within the firmware image the RSA public key used by the updater, and searched online for a portion of that key. The search results pointed to a common public key that shows up in online tutorials like “RSA Encryption & Decryption Example with OpenSSL in C.“
EDITED TO ADD (8/23): Slashdot post.
Here’s what our users need to know:
- All users can rest assured that their message history, contact lists, profile information, whom they’d blocked, and other personal data remain private and secure and were not affected.
- For about 1,900 users, an attacker could have attempted to re-register their number to another device or learned that their number was registered to Signal. This attack has since been shut down by Twilio. 1,900 users is a very small percentage of Signal’s total users, meaning that most were not affected.
We are notifying these 1,900 users directly, and prompting them to re-register Signal on their devices.
If you were not notified, don’t worry about it. But it does bring up the old question: Why does Signal require a phone number to use? It doesn’t have to be that way.
[2022.08.24] Peiter Zatko, aka Mudge, has filed a whistleblower complaint with the SEC against Twitter, claiming that it violated an eleven-year-old FTC settlement by having lousy security. And he should know; he was Twitter’s chief security officer until he was fired in January.
EDITED TO ADD (9/2): More info.
Microsoft observed a campaign that inserted an attacker-controlled proxy site between the account users and the work server they attempted to log into. When the user entered a password into the proxy site, the proxy site sent it to the real server and then relayed the real server’s response back to the user. Once the authentication was completed, the threat actor stole the session cookie the legitimate site sent, so the user doesn’t need to be reauthenticated at every new page visited. The campaign began with a phishing email with an HTML attachment leading to the proxy server.
The anomaly of cheap complexity. For most of human history, a more complex device was more expensive to build than a simpler device. This is not the case in modern computing. It is often more cost-effective to take a very complicated device, and make it simulate simplicity, than to make a simpler device. This is because of economies of scale: complex general-purpose CPUs are cheap. On the other hand, custom-designed, simpler, application-specific devices, which could in principle be much more secure, are very expensive.
This is driven by two fundamental principles in computing: Universal computation, meaning that any computer can simulate any other; and Moore’s law, predicting that each year the number of transistors on a chip will grow exponentially. ARM Cortex-M0 CPUs cost pennies, though they are more powerful than some supercomputers of the 20th century.
The same is true in the software layers. A (huge and complex) general-purpose operating system is free, but a simpler, custom-designed, perhaps more secure OS would be very expensive to build. Or as Dullien asks, “How did this research code someone wrote in two weeks 20 years ago end up in a billion devices?”
This is correct. Today, it’s easier to build complex systems than it is to build simple ones. As recently as twenty years ago, if you wanted to build a refrigerator you would create custom refrigerator controller hardware and embedded software. Today, you just grab some standard microcontroller off the shelf and write a software application for it. And that microcontroller already comes with an IP stack, a microphone, a video port, Bluetooth, and a whole lot more. And since those features are there, engineers use them.
The introductory report in a DoD microelectronics series outlines the process for determining levels of hardware assurance for systems and custom microelectronic components, which include application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and other devices containing reprogrammable digital logic.
The levels of hardware assurance are determined by the national impact caused by failure or subversion of the top-level system and the criticality of the component to that top-level system. The guidance helps programs acquire a better understanding of their system and components so that they can effectively mitigate against threats.
The report was published last month, but I only just noticed it.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued Kochava, a large location data provider, for allegedly selling data that the FTC says can track people at reproductive health clinics and places of worship, according to an announcement from the agency.
“Defendant’s violations are in connection with acquiring consumers’ precise geolocation data and selling the data in a format that allows entities to track the consumers’ movements to and from sensitive locations, including, among others, locations associated with medical care, reproductive health, religious worship, mental health temporary shelters, such as shelters for the homeless, domestic violence survivors, or other at risk populations, and addiction recovery,” the lawsuit reads.
During the process, the group broke into the school’s IT systems; repurposed software used to monitor students’ computers; discovered a new vulnerability (and reported it); wrote their own scripts; secretly tested their system at night; and managed to avoid detection in the school’s network. Many of the techniques were not sophisticated, but they were pretty much all illegal.
It has a happy ending: no one was prosecuted.
A spokesperson for the D214 school district tells WIRED they can confirm the events in Duong’s blog post happened. They say the district does not condone hacking and the “incident highlights the importance of the extensive cybersecurity learning opportunities the District offers to students.”
“The District views this incident as a penetration test, and the students involved presented the data in a professional manner,” the spokesperson says, adding that its tech team has made changes to avoid anything similar happening again in the future.
The school also invited the students to a debrief, asking them to explain what they had done. “We were kind of scared at the idea of doing the debrief because we have to join a Zoom call, potentially with personally identifiable information,” Duong says. Eventually, he decided to use his real name, while other members created anonymous accounts. During the call, Duong says, they talked through the hack and he provided more details on ways the school could secure its system.
EDITED TO ADD (9/13): Here’s Minh Duong’s Defcon slides. You can see the table of contents of their report on page 59, and the school’s response on page 60.
Basically, the scammers use the PayPal invoicing system to send the email. The email lists a phone number to dispute the charge, which is not PayPal and quickly turns into a request to download and install a remote-access tool.
A combination of ransomware and distributed denial-of-service attacks, the onslaught disrupted government services and prompted the country’s electrical utility to switch to manual control.
But the attack against Montenegro’s infrastructure seemed more sustained and extensive, with targets including water supply systems, transportation services and online government services, among many others.
Government officials in the country of just over 600,000 people said certain government services remained temporarily disabled for security reasons and that the data of citizens and businesses were not endangered.
The Director of the Directorate for Information Security, Dusan Polovic, said 150 computers were infected with malware at a dozen state institutions and that the data of the Ministry of Public Administration was not permanently damaged. Polovic said some retail tax collection was affected.
Russia is being blamed, but I haven’t seen any evidence other than “they’re the obvious perpetrator.”
EDITED TO ADD (9/12): The Montenegro government is hedging on that Russia attribution. It seems to be a regular criminal ransomware attack. The Cuba Ransomware gang has Russian members, but that’s not the same thing as the government.
The DDoS attack last weekend that put a temporary stop to leaking Entrust data was seen as an opportunity to explore the triple extortion tactic to apply more pressure on victims to pay a ransom.
LockBitSupp said that the ransomware operator is now looking to add DDoS as an extortion tactic on top of encrypting data and leaking it.
“I am looking for dudosers [DDoSers] in the team, most likely now we will attack targets and provide triple extortion, encryption + date leak + dudos, because I have felt the power of dudos and how it invigorates and makes life more interesting,” LockBitSupp wrote in a post on a hacker forum.
The gang also promised to share over torrent 300GB of data stolen from Entrust so “the whole world will know your secrets.”
LockBit’s spokesperson said that they would share the Entrust data leak privately with anyone that contacts them before making it available over torrent.
They’re expanding: locking people out of their data, publishing it if the victim doesn’t pay, and DDoSing their network as an additional incentive.
Facebook’s stonewalling has been revealing on its own, providing variations on the same theme: It has amassed so much data on so many billions of people and organized it so confusingly that full transparency is impossible on a technical level. In the March 2022 hearing, Zarashaw and Steven Elia, a software engineering manager, described Facebook as a data-processing apparatus so complex that it defies understanding from within. The hearing amounted to two high-ranking engineers at one of the most powerful and resource-flush engineering outfits in history describing their product as an unknowable machine.
The special master at times seemed in disbelief, as when he questioned the engineers over whether any documentation existed for a particular Facebook subsystem. “Someone must have a diagram that says this is where this data is stored,” he said, according to the transcript. Zarashaw responded: “We have a somewhat strange engineering culture compared to most where we don’t generate a lot of artifacts during the engineering process. Effectively the code is its own design document often.” He quickly added, “For what it’s worth, this is terrifying to me when I first joined as well.”
Facebook’s inability to comprehend its own functioning took the hearing up to the edge of the metaphysical. At one point, the court-appointed special master noted that the “Download Your Information” file provided to the suit’s plaintiffs must not have included everything the company had stored on those individuals because it appears to have no idea what it truly stores on anyone. Can it be that Facebook’s designated tool for comprehensively downloading your information might not actually download all your information? This, again, is outside the boundaries of knowledge.
“The solution to this is unfortunately exactly the work that was done to create the DYI file itself,” noted Zarashaw. “And the thing I struggle with here is in order to find gaps in what may not be in DYI file, you would by definition need to do even more work than was done to generate the DYI files in the first place.”
The systemic fogginess of Facebook’s data storage made answering even the most basic question futile. At another point, the special master asked how one could find out which systems actually contain user data that was created through machine inference.
“I don’t know,” answered Zarashaw. “It’s a rather difficult conundrum.”
I’m not surprised. These systems are so complex that no humans understand them anymore. That allows us to do things we couldn’t do otherwise, but it’s also a problem.
EDITED TO ADD: Another article.
Why can’t the cryptocurrency industry solve the problem the way the software and hardware industries do, by patching and updating security as flaws are found? Two reasons: First, many customers don’t have an ongoing relationship with the hardware and software providers that protect their funds—nor do they have an incentive to update security on a regular basis. Turning to a new security provider or using updated software creates risks; leaving everything the way it was feels safer. So users won’t be rushing to pay for and install new security patches.
Second, cryptocurrency is famously and deliberately decentralized, anonymized, and low friction. That means that the company responsible for hardware or software security may have no way to identify who used its product, or to get the patch to those users. It also means that many wallets with security flaws will be publicly accessible, protected only by an elaborate password. Once word of the flaw leaks, the password can be reverse engineered by anyone, and the legitimate owners are likely to find themselves in a race to move their assets before the thieves do. Even in the software industry, hackers routinely reverse engineer Microsoft’s patches to find the security flaws they fix and then try to exploit them before the patches have been fully installed.
He doesn’t have any good ideas to fix this. I don’t either. Just add it to the pile of blockchain’s many problems.
The malware was dubbed “Shikitega” for its extensive use of the popular Shikata Ga Nai polymorphic encoder, which allows the malware to “mutate” its code to avoid detection. Shikitega alters its code each time it runs through one of several decoding loops that AT&T said each deliver multiple attacks, beginning with an ELF file that’s just 370 bytes.
Shikitega also downloads Mettle, a Metasploit interpreter that gives the attacker the ability to control attached webcams and includes a sniffer, multiple reverse shells, process control, shell command execution and additional abilities to control the affected system.
The final stage also establishes persistence, which Shikitega does by downloading and executing five shell scripts that configure a pair of cron jobs for the current user and a pair for the root user using crontab, which it can also install if not available.
Shikitega also uses cloud hosting solutions to store parts of its payload, which it further uses to obfuscate itself by contacting via IP address instead of domain name. “Without [a] domain name, it’s difficult to provide a complete list of indicators for detections since they are volatile and they will be used for legitimate purposes in a short period of time,” AT&T said.
Bottom line: Shikitega is a nasty piece of code. AT&T recommends Linux endpoint and IoT device managers keep security patches installed, keep EDR software up to date and make regular backups of essential systems.
[2022.09.13] The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the FBI has recovered over $30 million in cryptocurrency stolen by North Korean hackers earlier this year. It’s only a fraction of the $540 million stolen, but it’s something.
The Axie Infinity recovery represents a shift in law enforcement’s ability to trace funds through a web of so-called crypto addresses, the virtual accounts where cryptocurrencies are stored. These addresses can be created quickly without them being linked to a cryptocurrency company that could freeze the funds.
In its effort to mask the stolen crypto, Lazarus Group used more than 12,000 different addresses, according to Chainalysis. Unlike bank transactions that happen through private networks, movement between crypto accounts is visible to the world on the blockchain.
Advanced blockchain-monitoring tools and cooperation from centralized crypto exchanges enabled the FBI to trace the crypto to where Lazarus Group tried to cash out, investigators said.
The money was laundered through the Tornado Cash mixer.
For the record, I have not been contacted. I’m not sure if I should feel slighted.
[2022.09.14] This is a current list of where and when I am scheduled to speak:
- I’m speaking as part of a Geneva Centre for Security Policy course on Cyber Security in the Context of International Security, online, on September 22, 2022.
- I’m speaking at IT-Security INSIDE 2022 in Zurich, Switzerland, on September 22, 2022.
The list is maintained on this page.
Since 1998, CRYPTO-GRAM has been a free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on security technology. To subscribe, or to read back issues, see Crypto-Gram’s web page.
You can also read these articles on my blog, Schneier on Security.
Please feel free to forward CRYPTO-GRAM, in whole or in part, to colleagues and friends who will find it valuable. Permission is also granted to reprint CRYPTO-GRAM, as long as it is reprinted in its entirety.
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 © 2022 by Bruce Schneier.