As we all know, the problems with backdoors are less the cryptography and more the systems surrounding the cryptography.
Entries Tagged "Microsoft"
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I think the best hacks are the ones that are obvious once they’re explained, but no one has thought of them before. Here’s an example:
Instagram ($2000), Google ($0) and Microsoft ($500) were vulnerable to direct money theft via premium phone number calls. They all offer services to supply users with a token via a computer-voiced phone call, but neglected to properly verify whether supplied phone numbers were legitimate, non-premium numbers. This allowed a dedicated attacker to steal thousands of EUR/USD/GBP/… . Microsoft was exceptionally vulnerable to mass exploitation by supporting virtually unlimited concurrent calls to one premium number. The vulnerabilities were submitted to the respective Bug Bounty programs and properly resolved.
On the Intercept, Micah Lee has a good article that talks about how Microsoft is collecting the hard-drive encryption keys of Windows 10 users, and how to disable that “feature.”
EDITED TO ADD (1/13): More useful information.
Two former Kaspersky employees have accused the company of faking malware to harm rival antivirus products. They would falsely classify legitimate files as malicious, tricking other antivirus companies that blindly copied Kaspersky’s data into deleting them from their customers’ computers.
In one technique, Kaspersky’s engineers would take an important piece of software commonly found in PCs and inject bad code into it so that the file looked like it was infected, the ex-employees said. They would send the doctored file anonymously to VirusTotal.
Then, when competitors ran this doctored file through their virus detection engines, the file would be flagged as potentially malicious. If the doctored file looked close enough to the original, Kaspersky could fool rival companies into thinking the clean file was problematic as well.
The former Kaspersky employees said Microsoft was one of the rivals that were targeted because many smaller security companies followed the Redmond, Washington-based company’s lead in detecting malicious files. They declined to give a detailed account of any specific attack.
Microsoft’s antimalware research director, Dennis Batchelder, told Reuters in April that he recalled a time in March 2013 when many customers called to complain that a printer code had been deemed dangerous by its antivirus program and placed in “quarantine.”
Batchelder said it took him roughly six hours to figure out that the printer code looked a lot like another piece of code that Microsoft had previously ruled malicious. Someone had taken a legitimate file and jammed a wad of bad code into it, he said. Because the normal printer code looked so much like the altered code, the antivirus program quarantined that as well.
Over the next few months, Batchelder’s team found hundreds, and eventually thousands, of good files that had been altered to look bad.
Kaspersky denies it.
EDITED TO ADD (8/19): Here’s an October 2013 presentation by Microsoft on the attacks.
EDITED TO ADD (9/11): A dissenting opinion.
Regin is another military–grade surveillance malware (tech details from Symantec and Kaspersky). It seems to have been in operation between 2008 and 2011. The Intercept has linked it to NSA/GCHQ operations, although I am still skeptical of the NSA/GCHQ hacking Belgian cryptographer Jean-Jacques Quisquater.
EDITED TO ADD (12/10): More information.
If you’ve been reading the news recently, you might think that corporate America is doing its best to thwart NSA surveillance.
Google just announced that it is encrypting Gmail when you access it from your computer or phone, and between data centers. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg personally called President Obama to complain about the NSA using Facebook as a means to hack computers, and Facebook’s Chief Security Officer explained to reporters that the attack technique has not worked since last summer. Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, and others are now regularly publishing “transparency reports,” listing approximately how many government data requests the companies have received and complied with.
On the government side, last week the NSA’s General Counsel Rajesh De seemed to have thrown those companies under a bus by stating that—despite their denials—they knew all about the NSA’s collection of data under both the PRISM program and some unnamed “upstream” collections on the communications links.
Yes, it may seem like the public/private surveillance partnership has frayed—but, unfortunately, it is alive and well. The main focus of massive Internet companies and government agencies both still largely align: to keep us all under constant surveillance. When they bicker, it’s mostly role-playing designed to keep us blasé about what’s really going on.
The U.S. intelligence community is still playing word games with us. The NSA collects our data based on four different legal authorities: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, Executive Order 12333 of 1981 and modified in 2004 and 2008, Section 215 of the Patriot Act of 2001, and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008. Be careful when someone from the intelligence community uses the caveat “not under this program” or “not under this authority”; almost certainly it means that whatever it is they’re denying is done under some other program or authority. So when De said that companies knew about NSA collection under Section 702, it doesn’t mean they knew about the other collection programs.
The big Internet companies know of PRISM—although not under that code name—because that’s how the program works; the NSA serves them with FISA orders. Those same companies did not know about any of the other surveillance against their users conducted on the far more permissive EO 12333. Google and Yahoo did not know about MUSCULAR, the NSA’s secret program to eavesdrop on their trunk connections between data centers. Facebook did not know about QUANTUMHAND, the NSA’s secret program to attack Facebook users. And none of the target companies knew that the NSA was harvesting their users’ address books and buddy lists.
These companies are certainly pissed that the publicity surrounding the NSA’s actions is undermining their users’ trust in their services, and they’re losing money because of it. Cisco, IBM, cloud service providers, and others have announced that they’re losing billions, mostly in foreign sales.
These companies are doing their best to convince users that their data is secure. But they’re relying on their users not understanding what real security looks like. IBM’s letter to its clients last week is an excellent example. The letter lists five "simple facts" that it hopes will mollify its customers, but the items are so qualified with caveats that they do the exact opposite to anyone who understands the full extent of NSA surveillance. And IBM’s spending $1.2B on data centers outside the U.S. will only reassure customers who don’t realize that National Security Letters require a company to turn over data, regardless of where in the world it is stored.
Google’s recent actions, and similar actions of many Internet companies, will definitely improve its users’ security against surreptitious government collection programs—both the NSA’s and other governments’—but their assurances deliberately ignores the massive security vulnerability built into its services by design. Google, and by extension, the U.S. government, still has access to your communications on Google’s servers.
Google could change that. It could encrypt your e-mail so only you could decrypt and read it. It could provide for secure voice and video so no one outside the conversations could eavesdrop.
It doesn’t. And neither does Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, or any of the others.
Why not? They don’t partly because they want to keep the ability to eavesdrop on your conversations. Surveillance is still the business model of the Internet, and every one of those companies wants access to your communications and your metadata. Your private thoughts and conversations are the product they sell to their customers. We also have learned that they read your e-mail for their own internal investigations.
But even if this were not true, even if—for example—Google were willing to forgo data mining your e-mail and video conversations in exchange for the marketing advantage it would give it over Microsoft, it still won’t offer you real security. It can’t.
The biggest Internet companies don’t offer real security because the U.S. government won’t permit it.
This isn’t paranoia. We know that the U.S. government ordered the secure e-mail provider Lavabit to turn over its master keys and compromise every one of its users. We know that the U.S. government convinced Microsoft—either through bribery, coercion, threat, or legal compulsion—to make changes in how Skype operates, to make eavesdropping easier.
We don’t know what sort of pressure the U.S. government has put on Google and the others. We don’t know what secret agreements those companies have reached with the NSA. We do know the NSA’s BULLRUN program to subvert Internet cryptography was successful against many common protocols. Did the NSA demand Google’s keys, as it did with Lavabit? Did its Tailored Access Operations group break into to Google’s servers and steal the keys?
We just don’t know.
The best we have are caveat-laden pseudo-assurances. At SXSW earlier this month, CEO Eric Schmidt tried to reassure the audience by saying that he was “pretty sure that information within Google is now safe from any government’s prying eyes.” A more accurate statement might be, “Your data is safe from governments, except for the ways we don’t know about and the ways we cannot tell you about. And, of course, we still have complete access to it all, and can sell it at will to whomever we want.” That’s a lousy marketing pitch, but as long as the NSA is allowed to operate using secret court orders based on secret interpretations of secret law, it’ll never be any different.
Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the others are already on the record as supporting these legislative changes. It would be better if they openly acknowledged their users’ insecurity and increased their pressure on the government to change, rather than trying to fool their users and customers.
This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.
I think this is a good move on Microsoft’s part:
Microsoft is recommending that customers and CA’s stop using SHA-1 for cryptographic applications, including use in SSL/TLS and code signing. Microsoft Security Advisory 2880823 has been released along with the policy announcement that Microsoft will stop recognizing the validity of SHA-1 based certificates after 2016.
A new Snowden document shows that the NSA is harvesting contact lists—e-mail address books, IM buddy lists, etc.—from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, and others.
Unlike PRISM, this unnamed program collects the data from the Internet . This is similar to how the NSA identifies Tor users. They get direct access to the Internet backbone, either through secret agreements with companies like AT&T, or surreptitiously, by doing things like tapping undersea cables. Once they have the data, they have powerful packet inspectors—code names include TUMULT, TURBULENCE, and TURMOIL—that run a bunch of different identification and copying systems. One of them, code name unknown, searches for these contact lists and copies them. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc., have no idea that this is happening, nor have they consented to their data being harvested in this way.
These contact lists provide the NSA with the same sort of broad surveillance that the Verizon (and others) phone-record “metadata” collection programs provide: information about who are our friends, lovers, confidants, associates. This is incredibly intimate information, all collected without any warrant or due process. Metadata equals surveillance; always remember that.
During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers….
Note that Gmail, which uses SSL by default, provides the NSA with much less data than Yahoo, which doesn’t, despite the fact that Gmail has many more users than Yahoo does. (It’s actually kind of amazing how small that Gmail number is.) This implies that, despite BULLRUN, encryption works. Ubiquitous use of SSL can foil NSA eavesdropping. This is the same lesson we learned from the NSA’s attempts to break Tor: encryption works.
One more amusing bit: the NSA has a spam problem.
Spam has proven to be a significant problem for the NSA—clogging databases with information that holds no foreign intelligence value. The majority of all e-mails, one NSA document says, “are SPAM from ‘fake addresses and never ‘delivered’ to targets.”
EDITED TO ADD: The New York Times makes this observation:
Spokesmen for the eavesdropping organizations reassured The Post that we shouldn’t bother our heads with all of this. They have “checks and balances built into our tools,” said one intelligence official.
Since the Snowden leaks began, the administration has adopted an interesting definition of that term. It used to be that “checks and balances” referred to one branch of the government checking and balancing the other branches—like the Supreme Court deciding whether laws are constitutional.
Now the N.S.A., the C.I.A. and the White House use the term to refer to a secret organization reviewing the actions it has taken and deciding in secret by itself whether they were legal and constitutional.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.