Kaspersky is reporting on a series of bank hacks—called DarkVishnya—perpetrated through malicious hardware being surreptitiously installed into the target network:
In 2017-2018, Kaspersky Lab specialists were invited to research a series of cybertheft incidents. Each attack had a common springboard: an unknown device directly connected to the company’s local network. In some cases, it was the central office, in others a regional office, sometimes located in another country. At least eight banks in Eastern Europe were the targets of the attacks (collectively nicknamed DarkVishnya), which caused damage estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.
Each attack can be divided into several identical stages. At the first stage, a cybercriminal entered the organization’s building under the guise of a courier, job seeker, etc., and connected a device to the local network, for example, in one of the meeting rooms. Where possible, the device was hidden or blended into the surroundings, so as not to arouse suspicion.
The devices used in the DarkVishnya attacks varied in accordance with the cybercriminals’ abilities and personal preferences. In the cases we researched, it was one of three tools:
- netbook or inexpensive laptop
- Raspberry Pi computer
- Bash Bunny, a special tool for carrying out USB attacks
Inside the local network, the device appeared as an unknown computer, an external flash drive, or even a keyboard. Combined with the fact that Bash Bunny is comparable in size to a USB flash drive, this seriously complicated the search for the entry point. Remote access to the planted device was via a built-in or USB-connected GPRS/3G/LTE modem.
Posted on December 7, 2018 at 10:50 AM •
Back in October, Bloomberg reported that China has managed to install backdoors into server equipment that ended up in networks belonging to—among others—Apple and Amazon. Pretty much everybody has denied it (including the US DHS and the UK NCSC). Bloomberg has stood by its story—and is still standing by it.
I don’t think it’s real. Yes, it’s plausible. But first of all, if someone actually surreptitiously put malicious chips onto motherboards en masse, we would have seen a photo of the alleged chip already. And second, there are easier, more effective, and less obvious ways of adding backdoors to networking equipment.
EDITED TO ADD (12/17): SuperMicro now denies it.
Posted on November 30, 2018 at 6:28 AM •
Back in January, we learned about a class of vulnerabilities against microprocessors that leverages various performance and efficiency shortcuts for attack. I wrote that the first two attacks would be just the start:
It shouldn’t be surprising that microprocessor designers have been building insecure hardware for 20 years. What’s surprising is that it took 20 years to discover it. In their rush to make computers faster, they weren’t thinking about security. They didn’t have the expertise to find these vulnerabilities. And those who did were too busy finding normal software vulnerabilities to examine microprocessors. Security researchers are starting to look more closely at these systems, so expect to hear about more vulnerabilities along these lines.
Spectre and Meltdown are pretty catastrophic vulnerabilities, but they only affect the confidentiality of data. Now that they—and the research into the Intel ME vulnerability—have shown researchers where to look, more is coming—and what they’ll find will be worse than either Spectre or Meltdown. There will be vulnerabilities that will allow attackers to manipulate or delete data across processes, potentially fatal in the computers controlling our cars or implanted medical devices. These will be similarly impossible to fix, and the only strategy will be to throw our devices away and buy new ones.
We saw several variants over the year. And now researchers have discovered seven more.
Researchers say they’ve discovered the seven new CPU attacks while performing “a sound and extensible systematization of transient execution attacks”—a catch-all term the research team used to describe attacks on the various internal mechanisms that a CPU uses to process data, such as the speculative execution process, the CPU’s internal caches, and other internal execution stages.
The research team says they’ve successfully demonstrated all seven attacks with proof-of-concept code. Experiments to confirm six other Meltdown-attacks did not succeed, according to a graph published by researchers.
Microprocessor designers have spent the year rethinking the security of their architectures. My guess is that they have a lot more rethinking to do.
Posted on November 14, 2018 at 3:30 PM •
Interesting research: “Self-encrypting deception: weaknesses in the encryption of solid state drives (SSDs)“:
Abstract: We have analyzed the hardware full-disk encryption of several SSDs by reverse engineering their firmware. In theory, the security guarantees offered by hardware encryption are similar to or better than software implementations. In reality, we found that many hardware implementations have critical security weaknesses, for many models allowing for complete recovery of the data without knowledge of any secret. BitLocker, the encryption software built into Microsoft Windows will rely exclusively on hardware full-disk encryption if the SSD advertises supported for it. Thus, for these drives, data protected by BitLocker is also compromised. This challenges the view that hardware encryption is preferable over software encryption. We conclude that one should not rely solely on hardware encryption offered by SSDs.
EDITED TO ADD: The NSA is known to attack firmware of SSDs.
EDITED TO ADD (11/13): CERT advisory. And older research.
Posted on November 6, 2018 at 6:51 AM •
I’ve blogged twice about the Bloomberg story that China bugged Supermicro networking equipment destined to the US. We still don’t know if the story is true, although I am increasingly skeptical because of the lack of corroborating evidence to emerge.
We don’t know anything more, but this is the most comprehensive rebuttal of the story I have read.
Posted on October 29, 2018 at 3:19 PM •
Bloomberg has another story about hardware surveillance implants in equipment made in China. This implant is different from the one Bloomberg reported on last week. That story has been denied by pretty much everyone else, but Bloomberg is sticking by its story and its sources. (I linked to other commentary and analysis here.)
Again, I have no idea what’s true. The story is plausible. The denials are about what you’d expect. My lone hesitation to believing this is not seeing a photo of the hardware implant. If these things were in servers all over the US, you’d think someone would have come up with a photograph by now.
EDITED TO ADD (10/12): Three more links worth reading.
Posted on October 11, 2018 at 6:29 AM •
Bloomberg is reporting about a Chinese espionage operating involving inserting a tiny chip into computer products made in China.
I’ve written about (alternate link) this threat more generally. Supply-chain security is an insurmountably hard problem. Our IT industry is inexorably international, and anyone involved in the process can subvert the security of the end product. No one wants to even think about a US-only anything; prices would multiply many times over.
We cannot trust anyone, yet we have no choice but to trust everyone. No one is ready for the costs that solving this would entail.
EDITED TO ADD: Apple, Amazon, and others are denying that this attack is real. Stay tuned for more information.
EDITED TO ADD (9/6): TheGrugq comments. Bottom line is that we still don’t know. I think that precisely exemplifies the greater problem.
EDITED TO ADD (10/7): Both the US Department of Homeland Security and the UK National Cyber Security Centre claim to believe the tech companies. Bloomberg is standing by its story. Nicholas Weaver writes that the story is plausible.
Posted on October 4, 2018 at 11:30 AM •
If someone has physical access to your locked—but still running—computer, they can probably break the hard drive’s encryption. This is a “cold boot” attack, and one we thought solved. We have not:
To carry out the attack, the F-Secure researchers first sought a way to defeat the the industry-standard cold boot mitigation. The protection works by creating a simple check between an operating system and a computer’s firmware, the fundamental code that coordinates hardware and software for things like initiating booting. The operating system sets a sort of flag or marker indicating that it has secret data stored in its memory, and when the computer boots up, its firmware checks for the flag. If the computer shuts down normally, the operating system wipes the data and the flag with it. But if the firmware detects the flag during the boot process, it takes over the responsibility of wiping the memory before anything else can happen.
Looking at this arrangement, the researchers realized a problem. If they physically opened a computer and directly connected to the chip that runs the firmware and the flag, they could interact with it and clear the flag. This would make the computer think it shut down correctly and that the operating system wiped the memory, because the flag was gone, when actually potentially sensitive data was still there.
So the researchers designed a relatively simple microcontroller and program that can connect to the chip the firmware is on and manipulate the flag. From there, an attacker could move ahead with a standard cold boot attack. Though any number of things could be stored in memory when a computer is idle, Segerdahl notes that an attacker can be sure the device’s decryption keys will be among them if she is staring down a computer’s login screen, which is waiting to check any inputs against the correct ones.
Posted on September 24, 2018 at 6:52 AM •
Another speculative-execution attack against Intel’s SGX.
At a high level, SGX is a new feature in modern Intel CPUs which allows computers to protect users’ data even if the entire system falls under the attacker’s control. While it was previously believed that SGX is resilient to speculative execution attacks (such as Meltdown and Spectre), Foreshadow demonstrates how speculative execution can be exploited for reading the contents of SGX-protected memory as well as extracting the machine’s private attestation key. Making things worse, due to SGX’s privacy features, an attestation report cannot be linked to the identity of its signer. Thus, it only takes a single compromised SGX machine to erode trust in the entire SGX ecosystem.
The details of the Foreshadow attack are a little more complicated than those of Meltdown. In Meltdown, the attempt to perform an illegal read of kernel memory triggers the page fault mechanism (by which the processor and operating system cooperate to determine which bit of physical memory a memory access corresponds to, or they crash the program if there’s no such mapping). Attempts to read SGX data from outside an enclave receive special handling by the processor: reads always return a specific value (-1), and writes are ignored completely. The special handling is called “abort page semantics” and should be enough to prevent speculative reads from being able to learn anything.
However, the Foreshadow researchers found a way to bypass the abort page semantics. The data structures used to control the mapping of virtual-memory addresses to physical addresses include a flag to say whether a piece of memory is present (loaded into RAM somewhere) or not. If memory is marked as not being present at all, the processor stops performing any further permissions checks and immediately triggers the page fault mechanism: this means that the abort page mechanics aren’t used. It turns out that applications can mark memory, including enclave memory, as not being present by removing all permissions (read, write, execute) from that memory.
EDITED TO ADD: Intel has responded:
L1 Terminal Fault is addressed by microcode updates released earlier this year, coupled with corresponding updates to operating system and hypervisor software that are available starting today. We’ve provided more information on our web site and continue to encourage everyone to keep their systems up-to-date, as it’s one of the best ways to stay protected.
I think this is the “more information” they’re referring to, although this is a comprehensive link to everything the company is saying about the vulnerability.
Posted on August 16, 2018 at 11:43 AM •
We don’t know if this is error or deliberate action, but five backdoors have been discovered already this year.
Posted on August 1, 2018 at 6:22 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.