A reporter interviews a Uyghur human-rights advocate, and uses the Otter.ai transcription app.
The next day, I received an odd note from Otter.ai, the automated transcription app that I had used to record the interview. It read: “Hey Phelim, to help us improve your Otter’s experience, what was the purpose of this particular recording with titled ‘Mustafa Aksu’ created at ‘2021-11-08 11:02:41’?”
Customer service or Chinese surveillance? Turns out it’s hard to tell.
EDITED TO ADD (3/12): Another article.
Posted on February 17, 2022 at 10:40 AM •
China is mandating that athletes download and use a health and travel app when they attend the Winter Olympics next month. Citizen Lab examined the app and found it riddled with security holes.
- MY2022, an app mandated for use by all attendees of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, has a simple but devastating flaw where encryption protecting users’ voice audio and file transfers can be trivially sidestepped. Health customs forms which transmit passport details, demographic information, and medical and travel history are also vulnerable. Server responses can also be spoofed, allowing an attacker to display fake instructions to users.
- MY2022 is fairly straightforward about the types of data it collects from users in its public-facing documents. However, as the app collects a range of highly sensitive medical information, it is unclear with whom or which organization(s) it shares this information.
- MY2022 includes features that allow users to report “politically sensitive” content. The app also includes a censorship keyword list, which, while presently inactive, targets a variety of political topics including domestic issues such as Xinjiang and Tibet as well as references to Chinese government agencies.
- While the vendor did not respond to our security disclosure, we find that the app’s security deficits may not only violate Google’s Unwanted Software Policy and Apple’s App Store guidelines but also China’s own laws and national standards pertaining to privacy protection, providing potential avenues for future redress.
It’s not clear whether the security flaws were intentional or not, but the report speculated that proper encryption might interfere with some of China’s ubiquitous online surveillance tools, especially systems that allow local authorities to snoop on phones using public wireless networks or internet cafes. Still, the researchers added that the flaws were probably unintentional, because the government will already be receiving data from the app, so there wouldn’t be a need to intercept the data as it was being transferred.
The app also included a list of 2,422 political keywords, described within the code as “illegalwords.txt,” that worked as a keyword censorship list, according to Citizen Lab. The researchers said the list appeared to be a latent function that the app’s chat and file transfer function was not actively using.
The US government has already advised athletes to leave their personal phones and laptops home and bring burners.
Posted on January 21, 2022 at 6:06 AM •
Google researchers discovered a MacOS zero-day exploit being used against Hong Kong activists. It was a “watering hole” attack, which means the malware was hidden in a legitimate website. Users visiting that website would get infected.
From an article:
Google’s researchers were able to trigger the exploits and study them by visiting the websites compromised by the hackers. The sites served both iOS and MacOS exploit chains, but the researchers were only able to retrieve the MacOS one. The zero-day exploit was similar to another in-the-wild vulnerability analyzed by another Google researcher in the past, according to the report.
In addition, the zero-day exploit used in this hacking campaign is “identical” to an exploit previously found by cybersecurity research group Pangu Lab, Huntley said. Pangu Lab’s researchers presented the exploit at a security conference in China in April of this year, a few months before hackers used it against Hong Kong users.
The exploit was discovered in August. Apple patched the vulnerability in September. China is, of course, the obvious suspect, given the victims.
EDITED TO ADD (11/15): Another story.
Posted on November 12, 2021 at 9:07 AM •
Someone has been hacking telecommunications networks around the world:
- LightBasin (aka UNC1945) is an activity cluster that has been consistently targeting the telecommunications sector at a global scale since at least 2016, leveraging custom tools and an in-depth knowledge of telecommunications network architectures.
- Recent findings highlight this cluster’s extensive knowledge of telecommunications protocols, including the emulation of these protocols to facilitate command and control (C2) and utilizing scanning/packet-capture tools to retrieve highly specific information from mobile communication infrastructure, such as subscriber information and call metadata.
- The nature of the data targeted by the actor aligns with information likely to be of significant interest to signals intelligence organizations.
- CrowdStrike Intelligence assesses that LightBasin is a targeted intrusion actor that will continue to target the telecommunications sector. This assessment is made with high confidence and is based on tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), target scope, and objectives exhibited by this activity cluster. There is currently not enough available evidence to link the cluster’s activity to a specific country-nexus.
Some relation to China is reported, but this is not a definitive attribution.
Posted on October 22, 2021 at 6:13 AM •
The MIT Technology Review is reporting that 2021 is a blockbuster year for zero-day exploits:
One contributing factor in the higher rate of reported zero-days is the rapid global proliferation of hacking tools.
Powerful groups are all pouring heaps of cash into zero-days to use for themselves — and they’re reaping the rewards.
At the top of the food chain are the government-sponsored hackers. China alone is suspected to be responsible for nine zero-days this year, says Jared Semrau, a director of vulnerability and exploitation at the American cybersecurity firm FireEye Mandiant. The US and its allies clearly possess some of the most sophisticated hacking capabilities, and there is rising talk of using those tools more aggressively.
Few who want zero-days have the capabilities of Beijing and Washington. Most countries seeking powerful exploits don’t have the talent or infrastructure to develop them domestically, and so they purchase them instead.
It’s easier than ever to buy zero-days from the growing exploit industry. What was once prohibitively expensive and high-end is now more widely accessible.
And cybercriminals, too, have used zero-day attacks to make money in recent years, finding flaws in software that allow them to run valuable ransomware schemes.
“Financially motivated actors are more sophisticated than ever,” Semrau says. “One-third of the zero-days we’ve tracked recently can be traced directly back to financially motivated actors. So they’re playing a significant role in this increase which I don’t think many people are giving credit for.”
No one we spoke to believes that the total number of zero-day attacks more than doubled in such a short period of time — just the number that have been caught. That suggests defenders are becoming better at catching hackers in the act.
You can look at the data, such as Google’s zero-day spreadsheet, which tracks nearly a decade of significant hacks that were caught in the wild.
One change the trend may reflect is that there’s more money available for defense, not least from larger bug bounties and rewards put forward by tech companies for the discovery of new zero-day vulnerabilities. But there are also better tools.
Posted on September 24, 2021 at 9:51 AM •
We knew the basics of this story, but it’s good to have more detail.
Here’s me in 2015 about this Juniper hack. Here’s me in 2007 on the NSA backdoor.
Posted on September 9, 2021 at 6:13 AM •
I’m starting to see writings about a Chinese espionage tool that exploits website vulnerabilities to try and identify Chinese dissidents.
Posted on August 18, 2021 at 6:23 AM •
China is making sure that all newly discovered zero-day exploits are disclosed to the government.
Under the new rules, anyone in China who finds a vulnerability must tell the government, which will decide what repairs to make. No information can be given to “overseas organizations or individuals” other than the product’s manufacturer.
No one may “collect, sell or publish information on network product security vulnerabilities,” say the rules issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China and the police and industry ministries.
This just blocks the cyber-arms trade. It doesn’t prevent researchers from telling the products’ companies, even if they are outside of China.
Posted on July 14, 2021 at 6:04 AM •
News from Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology:
China Claims Its AI Can Beat Human Pilots in Battle: Chinese state media reported that an AI system had successfully defeated human pilots during simulated dogfights. According to the Global Times report, the system had shot down several PLA pilots during a handful of virtual exercises in recent years. Observers outside China noted that while reports coming out of state-controlled media outlets should be taken with a grain of salt, the capabilities described in the report are not outside the realm of possibility. Last year, for example, an AI agent defeated a U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot five times out of five as part of DARPA’s AlphaDogfight Trial (which we covered at the time). While the Global Times report indicated plans to incorporate AI into future fighter planes, it is not clear how far away the system is from real-world testing. At the moment, the system appears to be used only for training human pilots. DARPA, for its part, is aiming to test dogfights with AI-piloted subscale jets later this year and with full-scale jets in 2023 and 2024.
Posted on June 25, 2021 at 8:53 AM •
Really good long article about the Chinese hacking of RSA, Inc. They were able to get copies of the seed values to the SecurID authentication token, a harbinger of supply-chain attacks to come.
Posted on May 27, 2021 at 6:41 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.