Japan's Directorate for Signals Intelligence

The Intercept has a long article on Japan's equivalent of the NSA: the Directorate for Signals Intelligence. Interesting, but nothing really surprising.

The directorate has a history that dates back to the 1950s; its role is to eavesdrop on communications. But its operations remain so highly classified that the Japanese government has disclosed little about its work ­ even the location of its headquarters. Most Japanese officials, except for a select few of the prime minister's inner circle, are kept in the dark about the directorate's activities, which are regulated by a limited legal framework and not subject to any independent oversight.

Now, a new investigation by the Japanese broadcaster NHK -- produced in collaboration with The Intercept -- reveals for the first time details about the inner workings of Japan's opaque spy community. Based on classified documents and interviews with current and former officials familiar with the agency's intelligence work, the investigation shines light on a previously undisclosed internet surveillance program and a spy hub in the south of Japan that is used to monitor phone calls and emails passing across communications satellites.

The article includes some new documents from the Snowden archive.

Posted on May 21, 2018 at 9:54 AM3 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: Flying Squid

Flying squid are real.

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 May 18, 2018 at 4:20 PM51 Comments

Maliciously Changing Someone's Address

Someone changed the address of UPS corporate headquarters to his own apartment in Chicago. The company discovered it three months later.

The problem, of course, is that in the US there isn't any authentication of change-of-address submissions:

According to the Postal Service, nearly 37 million change-of-address requests ­ known as PS Form 3575 ­ were submitted in 2017. The form, which can be filled out in person or online, includes a warning below the signature line that "anyone submitting false or inaccurate information" could be subject to fines and imprisonment.

To cut down on possible fraud, post offices send a validation letter to both an old and new address when a change is filed. The letter includes a toll-free number to call to report anything suspicious.

Each year, only a tiny fraction of the requests are ever referred to postal inspectors for investigation. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service could not provide a specific number to the Tribune, but officials have previously said that the number of change-of-address investigations in a given year totals 1,000 or fewer typically.

While fraud involving change-of-address forms has long been linked to identity thieves, the targets are usually unsuspecting individuals, not massive corporations.

Posted on May 18, 2018 at 6:20 AM27 Comments

Accessing Cell Phone Location Information

The New York Times is reporting about a company called Securus Technologies that gives police the ability to track cell phone locations without a warrant:

The service can find the whereabouts of almost any cellphone in the country within seconds. It does this by going through a system typically used by marketers and other companies to get location data from major cellphone carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, documents show.

Another article.

Boing Boing post.

Posted on May 16, 2018 at 6:16 AM49 Comments

Sending Inaudible Commands to Voice Assistants

Researchers have demonstrated the ability to send inaudible commands to voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.

Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant. Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online ­-- simply with music playing over the radio.

A group of students from University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University showed in 2016 that they could hide commands in white noise played over loudspeakers and through YouTube videos to get smart devices to turn on airplane mode or open a website.

This month, some of those Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon's Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.

Posted on May 15, 2018 at 6:13 AM36 Comments

Details on a New PGP Vulnerability

A new PGP vulnerability was announced today. Basically, the vulnerability makes use of the fact that modern e-mail programs allow for embedded HTML objects. Essentially, if an attacker can intercept and modify a message in transit, he can insert code that sends the plaintext in a URL to a remote website. Very clever.

The EFAIL attacks exploit vulnerabilities in the OpenPGP and S/MIME standards to reveal the plaintext of encrypted emails. In a nutshell, EFAIL abuses active content of HTML emails, for example externally loaded images or styles, to exfiltrate plaintext through requested URLs. To create these exfiltration channels, the attacker first needs access to the encrypted emails, for example, by eavesdropping on network traffic, compromising email accounts, email servers, backup systems or client computers. The emails could even have been collected years ago.

The attacker changes an encrypted email in a particular way and sends this changed encrypted email to the victim. The victim's email client decrypts the email and loads any external content, thus exfiltrating the plaintext to the attacker.

A few initial comments:

1. Being able to intercept and modify e-mails in transit is the sort of thing the NSA can do, but is hard for the average hacker. That being said, there are circumstances where someone can modify e-mails. I don't mean to minimize the seriousness of this attack, but that is a consideration.

2. The vulnerability isn't with PGP or S/MIME itself, but in the way they interact with modern e-mail programs. You can see this in the two suggested short-term mitigations: "No decryption in the e-mail client," and "disable HTML rendering."

3. I've been getting some weird press calls from reporters wanting to know if this demonstrates that e-mail encryption is impossible. No, this just demonstrates that programmers are human and vulnerabilities are inevitable. PGP almost certainly has fewer bugs than your average piece of software, but it's not bug free.

3. Why is anyone using encrypted e-mail anymore, anyway? Reliably and easily encrypting e-mail is an insurmountably hard problem for reasons having nothing to do with today's announcement. If you need to communicate securely, use Signal. If having Signal on your phone will arouse suspicion, use WhatsApp.

I'll post other commentaries and analyses as I find them.

EDITED TO ADD (5/14): News articles.

Slashdot thread.

Posted on May 14, 2018 at 1:36 PM82 Comments

Critical PGP Vulnerability

EFF is reporting that a critical vulnerability has been discovered in PGP and S/MIME. No details have been published yet, but one of the researchers wrote:

We'll publish critical vulnerabilities in PGP/GPG and S/MIME email encryption on 2018-05-15 07:00 UTC. They might reveal the plaintext of encrypted emails, including encrypted emails sent in the past. There are currently no reliable fixes for the vulnerability. If you use PGP/GPG or S/MIME for very sensitive communication, you should disable it in your email client for now.

This sounds like a protocol vulnerability, but we'll learn more tomorrow.

News articles.

Posted on May 14, 2018 at 9:33 AM26 Comments

Friday Squid Blogging: How the Squid Lost Its Shell

Squids used to have shells.

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 May 11, 2018 at 4:17 PM54 Comments

Airline Ticket Fraud

New research: "Leaving on a jet plane: the trade in fraudulently obtained airline tickets:"

Abstract: Every day, hundreds of people fly on airline tickets that have been obtained fraudulently. This crime script analysis provides an overview of the trade in these tickets, drawing on interviews with industry and law enforcement, and an analysis of an online blackmarket. Tickets are purchased by complicit travellers or resellers from the online blackmarket. Victim travellers obtain tickets from fake travel agencies or malicious insiders. Compromised credit cards used to be the main method to purchase tickets illegitimately. However, as fraud detection systems improved, offenders displaced to other methods, including compromised loyalty point accounts, phishing, and compromised business accounts. In addition to complicit and victim travellers, fraudulently obtained tickets are used for transporting mules, and for trafficking and smuggling. This research details current prevention approaches, and identifies additional interventions, aimed at the act, the actor, and the marketplace.

Blog post.

Posted on May 11, 2018 at 6:24 AM10 Comments

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