Entries Tagged "Iran"

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How the Iranian Government Hacks Dissidents

Citizen Lab has a new report on an Iranian government hacking program that targets dissidents. From a Washington Post op-ed by Ron Deibert:

Al-Ameer is a net savvy activist, and so when she received a legitimate looking email containing a PowerPoint attachment addressed to her and purporting to detail “Assad Crimes,” she could easily have opened it. Instead, she shared it with us at the Citizen Lab.

As we detail in a new report, the attachment led our researchers to uncover an elaborate cyberespionage campaign operating out of Iran. Among the malware was a malicious spyware, including a remote access tool called “Droidjack,” that allows attackers to silently control a mobile device. When Droidjack is installed, a remote user can turn on the microphone and camera, remove files, read encrypted messages, and send spoofed instant messages and emails. Had she opened it, she could have put herself, her friends, her family and her associates back in Syria in mortal danger.

Here’s the report. And a news article.

Posted on August 9, 2016 at 5:26 AMView Comments

Iranian Phishing

CitizenLab is reporting on Iranian hacking attempts against activists, which include a real-time man-in-the-middle attack against Google’s two-factor authentication.

This report describes an elaborate phishing campaign against targets in Iran’s diaspora, and at least one Western activist. The ongoing attacks attempt to circumvent the extra protections conferred by two-factor authentication in Gmail, and rely heavily on phone-call based phishing and “real time” login attempts by the attackers. Most of the attacks begin with a phone call from a UK phone number, with attackers speaking in either English or Farsi.

The attacks point to extensive knowledge of the targets’ activities, and share infrastructure and tactics with campaigns previously linked to Iranian threat actors. We have documented a growing number of these attacks, and have received reports that we cannot confirm of targets and victims of highly similar attacks, including in Iran. The report includes extra detail to help potential targets recognize similar attacks. The report closes with some security suggestions, highlighting the importance of two-factor authentication.

The report quotes my previous writing on the vulnerabilities of two-factor authentication:

As researchers have observed for at least a decade, a range of attacks are available against 2FA. Bruce Schneier anticipated in 2005, for example, that attackers would develop real time attacks using both man-in-the-middle attacks, and attacks against devices. The”real time” phishing against 2FA that Schneier anticipated were reported at least 9 years ago.

Today, researchers regularly point out the rise of “real-time” 2FA phishing, much of it in the context of online fraud. A 2013 academic article provides a systematic overview of several of these vectors. These attacks can take the form of theft of 2FA credentials from devices (e.g. “Man in the Browser” attacks), or by using 2FA login pages. Some of the malware-based campaigns that target 2FA have been tracked for several years, are highly involved, and involve convincing targets to install separate Android apps to capture one-time passwords. Another category of these attacks works by exploiting phone number changes, SIM card registrations, and badly protected voicemail

Boing Boing article. Hacker News thread.

Posted on August 27, 2015 at 12:36 PMView Comments

Duqu 2.0

Kaspersky Labs has discovered and publicized details of a new nation-state surveillance malware system, called Duqu 2.0. It’s being attributed to Israel.

There’s a lot of details, and I recommend reading them. There was probably a Kerberos zero-day vulnerability involved, allowing the attackers to send updates to Kaspersky’s clients. There’s code specifically targeting anti-virus software, both Kaspersky and others. The system includes anti-sniffer defense, and packet-injection code. It’s designed to reside in RAM so that it better avoids detection. This is all very sophisticated.

Eugene Kaspersky wrote an op-ed condemning the attack—and making his company look good—and almost, but not quite, comparing attacking his company to attacking the Red Cross:

Historically companies like mine have always played an important role in the development of IT. When the number of Internet users exploded, cybercrime skyrocketed and became a serious threat to the security of billions of Internet users and connected devices. Law enforcement agencies were not prepared for the advent of the digital era, and private security companies were alone in providing protection against cybercrime ­ both to individuals and to businesses. The security community has been something like a group of doctors for the Internet; we even share some vocabulary with the medical profession: we talk about ‘viruses’, ‘disinfection’, etc. And obviously we’re helping law enforcement develop its skills to fight cybercrime more effectively.

One thing that struck me from a very good Wired article on Duqu 2.0:

Raiu says each of the infections began within three weeks before the P5+1 meetings occurred at that particular location. “It cannot be coincidental,” he says. “Obviously the intention was to spy on these meetings.”

Initially Kaspersky was unsure all of these infections were related, because one of the victims appeared not to be part of the nuclear negotiations. But three weeks after discovering the infection, Raiu says, news outlets began reporting that negotiations were already taking place at the site. “Somehow the attackers knew in advance that this was one of the [negotiation] locations,” Raiu says.

Exactly how the attackers spied on the negotiations is unclear, but the malware contained modules for sniffing WiFi networks and hijacking email communications. But Raiu believes the attackers were more sophisticated than this. “I don’t think their style is to infect people connecting to the WiFi. I think they were after some kind of room surveillance—to hijack the audio through the teleconference or hotel phone systems.”

Those meetings are talks about Iran’s nuclear program, which we previously believed Israel spied on. Look at the details of the attack, though: hack the hotel’s Internet, get into the phone system, and turn the hotel phones into room bugs. Very clever.

Posted on June 12, 2015 at 6:18 AMView Comments

US Also Tried Stuxnet Against North Korea

According to a Reuters article, the US military tried to launch Stuxnet against North Korea in addition to Iran:

According to one U.S. intelligence source, Stuxnet’s developers produced a related virus that would be activated when it encountered Korean-language settings on an infected machine.

But U.S. agents could not access the core machines that ran Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, said another source, a former high-ranking intelligence official who was briefed on the program.

The official said the National Security Agency-led campaign was stymied by North Korea’s utter secrecy, as well as the extreme isolation of its communications systems.

Posted on June 1, 2015 at 6:33 AMView Comments

More on the Captured U.S. Drone

There’s a report that Iran hacked the drones’ GPS systems:

“The GPS navigation is the weakest point,” the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran’s “electronic ambush” of the highly classified US drone. “By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.”

The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used—which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data—made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.

More stories

The Aviationist has consistently had the best analysis of this, and here it talks about the Tehran Times report that Iran has four Israeli and three U.S. drones.

My original blog post.

Posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:01 PMView Comments

Iranians Capture U.S. Drone

Iran has captured a U.S. surveillance drone. No one is sure how it happened. Looking at the pictures of the drone, it wasn’t shot down and it didn’t crash. The various fail-safe mechanisms on the drone seem to have failed; otherwise, it would have returned home. The U.S. claims that it was a simple “malfunction,” but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The Iranians claim they used “electronic warfare” to capture the drone, implying that they somehow took control of it in the air and steered it to the ground. It would be a serious security design failure if they could do that. Two years ago, there was a story about al Qaeda intercepting video signals from drones. The command-and-control channel is different; I assumed that there was some pretty strong encryption protecting that.

EDITED TO ADD (12/14): Photo analysis of the captured drone.

Posted on December 13, 2011 at 6:30 AMView Comments

Tor Arms Race

Iran blocks Tor, and Tor releases a workaround on the same day.

How did the filter work technically? Tor tries to make its traffic look like a web browser talking to an https web server, but if you look carefully enough you can tell some differences. In this case, the characteristic of Tor’s SSL handshake they looked at was the expiry time for our SSL session certificates: we rotate the session certificates every two hours, whereas normal SSL certificates you get from a certificate authority typically last a year or more. The fix was to simply write a larger expiration time on the certificates, so our certs have more plausible expiry times.

Posted on September 26, 2011 at 6:41 AMView Comments

More Stuxnet News

This long New York Times article includes some interesting revelations. The article claims that Stuxnet was a joint Israeli-American project, and that its effectiveness was tested on live equipment: “Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium.”

The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.

My two previous Stuxnet posts. And an alternate theory: The Chinese did it.

EDITED TO ADD (2/12): More opinions on Stuxnet.

Posted on January 17, 2011 at 12:31 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.