Interesting article on people using banks of smartphones to commit ad fraud for profit.
No one knows how prevalent ad fraud is on the Internet. I believe it is surprisingly high — here’s an article that places losses between $6.5 and $19 billion annually — and something companies like Google and Facebook would prefer remain unresearched.
Posted on August 6, 2019 at 6:20 AM •
Google has released an open-source cryptographic tool: Private Join and Compute. From a Wired article:
Private Join and Compute uses a 1970s methodology known as “commutative encryption” to allow data in the data sets to be encrypted with multiple keys, without it mattering which order the keys are used in. This is helpful for multiparty computation, where you need to apply and later peel away multiple layers of encryption without affecting the computations performed on the encrypted data. Crucially, Private Join and Compute also uses methods first developed in the ’90s that enable a system to combine two encrypted data sets, determine what they have in common, and then perform mathematical computations directly on this encrypted, unreadable data through a technique called homomorphic encryption.
True homomorphic encryption isn’t possible, and my guess is that it will never be feasible for most applications. But limited application tricks like this have been around for decades, and sometimes they’re useful.
Boing Boing article.
Posted on July 2, 2019 at 6:24 AM •
In 2017, some Android phones came with a backdoor pre-installed:
Criminals in 2017 managed to get an advanced backdoor preinstalled on Android devices before they left the factories of manufacturers, Google researchers confirmed on Thursday.
Triada first came to light in 2016 in articles published by Kaspersky here and here, the first of which said the malware was “one of the most advanced mobile Trojans” the security firm’s analysts had ever encountered. Once installed, Triada’s chief purpose was to install apps that could be used to send spam and display ads. It employed an impressive kit of tools, including rooting exploits that bypassed security protections built into Android and the means to modify the Android OS’ all-powerful Zygote process. That meant the malware could directly tamper with every installed app. Triada also connected to no fewer than 17 command and control servers.
In July 2017, security firm Dr. Web reported that its researchers had found Triada built into the firmware of several Android devices, including the Leagoo M5 Plus, Leagoo M8, Nomu S10, and Nomu S20. The attackers used the backdoor to surreptitiously download and install modules. Because the backdoor was embedded into one of the OS libraries and located in the system section, it couldn’t be deleted using standard methods, the report said.
On Thursday, Google confirmed the Dr. Web report, although it stopped short of naming the manufacturers. Thursday’s report also said the supply chain attack was pulled off by one or more partners the manufacturers used in preparing the final firmware image used in the affected devices.
This is a supply chain attack. It seems to be the work of criminals, but it could just as easily have been a nation-state.
Posted on June 21, 2019 at 11:42 AM •
The Nest home alarm system shipped with a secret microphone, which — according to the company — was only an accidental secret:
On Tuesday, a Google spokesperson told Business Insider the company had made an “error.”
“The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs,” the spokesperson said. “That was an error on our part.”
Where are the consumer protection agencies? They should be all over this.
And while they’re figuring out which laws Google broke, they should also look at American Airlines. Turns out that some of their seats have built-in cameras:
American Airlines spokesperson Ross Feinstein confirmed to BuzzFeed News that cameras are present on some of the airlines’ in-flight entertainment systems, but said “they have never been activated, and American is not considering using them.” Feinstein added, “Cameras are a standard feature on many in-flight entertainment systems used by multiple airlines. Manufacturers of those systems have included cameras for possible future uses, such as hand gestures to control in-flight entertainment.”
That makes it all okay, doesn’t it?
Actually, I kind of understand the airline seat camera thing. My guess is that whoever designed the in-flight entertainment system just specced a standard tablet computer, and they all came with unnecessary features like cameras. This is how we end up with refrigerators with Internet connectivity and Roombas with microphones. It’s cheaper to leave the functionality in than it is to remove it.
Still, we need better disclosure laws.
Posted on March 4, 2019 at 6:04 AM •
This is clever:
Malicious apps hosted in the Google Play market are trying a clever trick to avoid detection — they monitor the motion-sensor input of an infected device before installing a powerful banking trojan to make sure it doesn’t load on emulators researchers use to detect attacks.
The thinking behind the monitoring is that sensors in real end-user devices will record motion as people use them. By contrast, emulators used by security researchers — and possibly Google employees screening apps submitted to Play — are less likely to use sensors. Two Google Play apps recently caught dropping the Anubis banking malware on infected devices would activate the payload only when motion was detected first. Otherwise, the trojan would remain dormant.
Posted on January 21, 2019 at 6:47 AM •
BuzzFeed is reporting on a scheme where fraudsters buy legitimate Android apps, track users’ behavior in order to mimic it in a way that evades bot detectors, and then uses bots to perpetuate an ad-fraud scheme.
After being provided with a list of the apps and websites connected to the scheme, Google investigated and found that dozens of the apps used its mobile advertising network. Its independent analysis confirmed the presence of a botnet driving traffic to websites and apps in the scheme. Google has removed more than 30 apps from the Play store, and terminated multiple publisher accounts with its ad networks. Google said that prior to being contacted by BuzzFeed News it had previously removed 10 apps in the scheme and blocked many of the websites. It continues to investigate, and published a blog post to detail its findings.
The company estimates this operation stole close to $10 million from advertisers who used Google’s ad network to place ads in the affected websites and apps. It said the vast majority of ads being placed in these apps and websites came via other major ad networks.
Lots of details in both the BuzzFeed and the Google links.
The Internet advertising industry is rife with fraud, at all levels. This is just one scheme among many.
Posted on October 25, 2018 at 6:49 AM •
Google is tracking you, even if you turn off tracking:
Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”
That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.
For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like “chocolate chip cookies,” or “kids science kits,” pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude - accurate to the square foot - and save it to your Google account.
On the one hand, this isn’t surprising to technologists. Lots of applications use location data. On the other hand, it’s very surprising — and counterintuitive — to everyone else. And that’s why this is a problem.
I don’t think we should pick on Google too much, though. Google is a symptom of the bigger problem: surveillance capitalism in general. As long as surveillance is the business model of the Internet, things like this are inevitable.
Posted on August 14, 2018 at 6:22 AM •
Krebs on Security is reporting that all 85,000 Google employees use two-factor authentication with a physical token.
A Google spokesperson said Security Keys now form the basis of all account access at Google.
“We have had no reported or confirmed account takeovers since implementing security keys at Google,” the spokesperson said. “Users might be asked to authenticate using their security key for many different apps/reasons. It all depends on the sensitivity of the app and the risk of the user at that point in time.”
Now Google is selling that security to its users:
On Wednesday, the company announced its new Titan security key, a device that protects your accounts by restricting two-factor authentication to the physical world. It’s available as a USB stick and in a Bluetooth variation, and like similar products by Yubico and Feitian, it utilizes the protocol approved by the FIDO alliance. That means it’ll be compatible with pretty much any service that enables users to turn on Universal 2nd Factor Authentication (U2F).
Posted on July 26, 2018 at 12:18 PM •
The Norwegian Consumer Council just published an excellent report on the deceptive practices tech companies use to trick people into giving up their privacy.
From the executive summary:
Facebook and Google have privacy intrusive defaults, where users who want the privacy friendly option have to go through a significantly longer process. They even obscure some of these settings so that the user cannot know that the more privacy intrusive option was preselected.
The popups from Facebook, Google and Windows 10 have design, symbols and wording that nudge users away from the privacy friendly choices. Choices are worded to compel users to make certain choices, while key information is omitted or downplayed. None of them lets the user freely postpone decisions. Also, Facebook and Google threaten users with loss of functionality or deletion of the user account if the user does not choose the privacy intrusive option.
The combination of privacy intrusive defaults and the use of dark patterns, nudge users of Facebook and Google, and to a lesser degree Windows 10, toward the least privacy friendly options to a degree that we consider unethical. We question whether this is in accordance with the principles of data protection by default and data protection by design, and if consent given under these circumstances can be said to be explicit, informed and freely given.
I am a big fan of the Norwegian Consumer Council. They’ve published some excellent research.
Posted on June 28, 2018 at 6:29 AM •
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 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.