Selling miniature replicas to unsuspecting shoppers:
Online marketplaces sell tiny pink cowboy hats. They also sell miniature pencil sharpeners, palm-size kitchen utensils, scaled-down books and camping chairs so small they evoke the Stonehenge scene in “This Is Spinal Tap.” Many of the minuscule objects aren’t clearly advertised.
But there is no doubt some online sellers deliberately trick customers into buying smaller and often cheaper-to-produce items, Witcher said. Common tactics include displaying products against a white background rather than in room sets or on models, or photographing items with a perspective that makes them appear bigger than they really are. Dimensions can be hidden deep in the product description, or not included at all.
In those instances, the duped consumer “may say, well, it’s only $1, $2, maybe $3—what’s the harm?” Witcher said. When the item arrives the shopper may be confused, amused or frustrated, but unlikely to complain or demand a refund.
“When you aggregate that to these companies who are selling hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of these items over time, that adds up to a nice chunk of change,” Witcher said. “It’s finding a loophole in how society works and making money off of it.”
Defrauding a lot of people out of a small amount each can be a very successful way of making money.
Posted on November 9, 2023 at 7:09 AM •
The Flipper Zero is an incredibly versatile hacking device. Now it can be used to crash iPhones in its vicinity by sending them a never-ending stream of pop-ups.
These types of hacks have been possible for decades, but they require special equipment and a fair amount of expertise. The capabilities generally required expensive SDRs—short for software-defined radios—that, unlike traditional hardware-defined radios, use firmware and processors to digitally re-create radio signal transmissions and receptions. The $200 Flipper Zero isn’t an SDR in its own right, but as a software-controlled radio, it can do many of the same things at an affordable price and with a form factor that’s much more convenient than the previous generations of SDRs.
Posted on November 6, 2023 at 9:45 AM •
The islands of Åland are an important tax hack:
Although Åland is part of the Republic of Finland, it has its own autonomous parliament. In areas where Åland has its own legislation, the group of islands essentially operates as an independent nation.
This allows Scandinavians to avoid the notoriously high alcohol taxes:
Åland is a member of the EU and its currency is the euro, but Åland’s relationship with the EU is regulated by way of a special protocol. In order to maintain the important sale of duty-free goods on ferries operating between Finland and Sweden, Åland is not part of the EU’s VAT area.
Basically, ferries between the two countries stop at the island, and people stock up—I mean really stock up, hand trucks piled with boxes—on tax-free alcohol. Åland gets the revenue, and presumably docking fees.
The purpose of the special status of the Åland Islands was to maintain the right to tax free sales in the ship traffic. The ship traffic is of vital importance for the province’s communication, and the intention was to support the economy of the province this way.
Posted on October 30, 2023 at 7:10 AM •
Interesting New York Times article about high-school students hacking the grading system.
What’s not helping? The policies many school districts are adopting that make it nearly impossible for low-performing students to fail—they have a grading floor under them, they know it, and that allows them to game the system.
Several teachers whom I spoke with or who responded to my questionnaire mentioned policies stating that students cannot get lower than a 50 percent on any assignment, even if the work was never done, in some cases. A teacher from Chapel Hill, N.C., who filled in the questionnaire’s “name” field with “No, no, no,” said the 50 percent floor and “NO attendance enforcement” leads to a scenario where “we get students who skip over 100 days, have a 50 percent, complete a couple of assignments to tip over into 59.5 percent and then pass.”
It’s a basic math hack. If a student needs two-thirds of the points—over 65%—to pass, then they have to do two-thirds of the work. But if doing zero work results in a 50% grade, then they only have to do a little bit of work to get over the pass line.
I know this is a minor thing in the universe of problems with secondary education and grading, but I found the hack interesting. (And this is exactly the sort of thing I explore in my latest book: A Hacker’s Mind.
Posted on October 13, 2023 at 7:12 AM •
Turns out pumps at gas stations are controlled via Bluetooth, and that the connections are insecure. No details in the article, but it seems that it’s easy to take control of the pump and have it dispense gas without requiring payment.
It’s a complicated crime to monetize, though. You need to sell access to the gas pump to others.
EDITED TO ADD (10/13): Reader Jeff Hall says that story is not accurate, and that the gas pumps do not have a Bluetooth connection.
Posted on October 3, 2023 at 7:01 AM •
A Brazilian spyware app vendor was hacked by activists:
In an undated note seen by TechCrunch, the unnamed hackers described how they found and exploited several security vulnerabilities that allowed them to compromise WebDetetive’s servers and access its user databases. By exploiting other flaws in the spyware maker’s web dashboard—used by abusers to access the stolen phone data of their victims—the hackers said they enumerated and downloaded every dashboard record, including every customer’s email address.
The hackers said that dashboard access also allowed them to delete victim devices from the spyware network altogether, effectively severing the connection at the server level to prevent the device from uploading new data. “Which we definitely did. Because we could. Because #fuckstalkerware,” the hackers wrote in the note.
The note was included in a cache containing more than 1.5 gigabytes of data scraped from the spyware’s web dashboard. That data included information about each customer, such as the IP address they logged in from and their purchase history. The data also listed every device that each customer had compromised, which version of the spyware the phone was running, and the types of data that the spyware was collecting from the victim’s phone.
Posted on September 1, 2023 at 7:07 AM •
This article talks about new Mexican laws about food labeling, and the lengths to which food manufacturers are going to ensure that they are not effective. There are the typical high-pressure lobbying tactics and lawsuits. But there’s also examples of companies hacking the laws:
Companies like Coca-Cola and Kraft Heinz have begun designing their products so that their packages don’t have a true front or back, but rather two nearly identical labels—except for the fact that only one side has the required warning. As a result, supermarket clerks often place the products with the warning facing inward, effectively hiding it.
Other companies have gotten creative in finding ways to keep their mascots, even without reformulating their foods, as is required by law. Bimbo, the international bread company that owns brands in the United States such as Entenmann’s and Takis, for example, technically removed its mascot from its packaging. It instead printed the mascot on the actual food product—a ready to eat pancake—and made the packaging clear, so the mascot is still visible to consumers.
Posted on August 25, 2023 at 7:03 AM •
The UK Electoral Commission discovered last year that it was hacked the year before. That’s fourteen months between the hack and the discovery. It doesn’t know who was behind the hack.
We worked with external security experts and the National Cyber Security Centre to investigate and secure our systems.
If the hack was by a major government, the odds are really low that it has resecured its systems—unless it burned the network to the ground and rebuilt it from scratch (which seems unlikely).
Posted on August 16, 2023 at 7:17 AM •
The NSA discovered the intrusion in 2020—we don’t know how—and alerted the Japanese. The Washington Post has the story:
The hackers had deep, persistent access and appeared to be after anything they could get their hands on—plans, capabilities, assessments of military shortcomings, according to three former senior U.S. officials, who were among a dozen current and former U.S. and Japanese officials interviewed, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.
The 2020 penetration was so disturbing that Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, and Matthew Pottinger, who was White House deputy national security adviser at the time, raced to Tokyo. They briefed the defense minister, who was so concerned that he arranged for them to alert the prime minister himself.
Beijing, they told the Japanese officials, had breached Tokyo’s defense networks, making it one of the most damaging hacks in that country’s modern history.
Posted on August 14, 2023 at 7:02 AM •
A bunch of networks, including US Government networks, have been hacked by the Chinese. The hackers used forged authentication tokens to access user email, using a stolen Microsoft Azure account consumer signing key. Congress wants answers. The phrase “negligent security practices” is being tossed about—and with good reason. Master signing keys are not supposed to be left around, waiting to be stolen.
Actually, two things went badly wrong here. The first is that Azure accepted an expired signing key, implying a vulnerability in whatever is supposed to check key validity. The second is that this key was supposed to remain in the the system’s Hardware Security Module—and not be in software. This implies a really serious breach of good security practice. The fact that Microsoft has not been forthcoming about the details of what happened tell me that the details are really bad.
I believe this all traces back to SolarWinds. In addition to Russia inserting malware into a SolarWinds update, China used a different SolarWinds vulnerability to break into networks. We know that Russia accessed Microsoft source code in that attack. I have heard from informed government officials that China used their SolarWinds vulnerability to break into Microsoft and access source code, including Azure’s.
I think we are grossly underestimating the long-term results of the SolarWinds attacks. That backdoored update was downloaded by over 14,000 networks worldwide. Organizations patched their networks, but not before Russia—and others—used the vulnerability to enter those networks. And once someone is in a network, it’s really hard to be sure that you’ve kicked them out.
Sophisticated threat actors are realizing that stealing source code of infrastructure providers, and then combing that code for vulnerabilities, is an excellent way to break into organizations who use those infrastructure providers. Attackers like Russia and China—and presumably the US as well—are prioritizing going after those providers.
EDITED TO ADD: Commentary:
This is from Microsoft’s explanation. The China attackers “acquired an inactive MSA consumer signing key and used it to forge authentication tokens for Azure AD enterprise and MSA consumer to access OWA and Outlook.com. All MSA keys active prior to the incident—including the actor-acquired MSA signing key—have been invalidated. Azure AD keys were not impacted. Though the key was intended only for MSA accounts, a validation issue allowed this key to be trusted for signing Azure AD tokens. The actor was able to obtain new access tokens by presenting one previously issued from this API due to a design flaw. This flaw in the GetAccessTokenForResourceAPI has since been fixed to only accept tokens issued from Azure AD or MSA respectively. The actor used these tokens to retrieve mail messages from the OWA API.”
Posted on August 7, 2023 at 7:03 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.