Last year, I wrote about the potential for doxers to alter documents before they leaked them. It was a theoretical threat when I wrote it, but now Citizen Lab has documented this technique in the wild:
This report describes an extensive Russia-linked phishing and disinformation campaign. It provides evidence of how documents stolen from a prominent journalist and critic of Russia was tampered with and then “leaked” to achieve specific propaganda aims. We name this technique “tainted leaks.” The report illustrates how the twin strategies of phishing and tainted leaks are sometimes used in combination to infiltrate civil society targets, and to seed mistrust and disinformation. It also illustrates how domestic considerations, specifically concerns about regime security, can motivate espionage operations, particularly those targeting civil society.
Posted on May 29, 2017 at 10:22 AM •
Here’s a nice profile of Citizen Lab and its director, Ron Diebert.
Citizen Lab is a jewel. There should be more of them.
Posted on February 7, 2017 at 2:08 PM •
Forbes is reporting that the Israeli cyberweapons arms manufacturer Wintego has a man-in-the-middle exploit against WhatsApp.
It’s a weird story. I’m not sure how they do it, but something doesn’t sound right.
Another possibility is that CatchApp is malware thrust onto a device over Wi-Fi that specifically targets WhatsApp. But it’s almost certain the product cannot crack the latest standard of WhatsApp cryptography, said Matthew Green, a cryptography expert and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute. Green, who has been impressed by the quality of the Signal code, added: “They would have to defeat both the encryption to and from the server and the end-to-end Signal encryption. That does not seem feasible at all, even with a Wi-Fi access point.
“I would bet mundanely the password stuff is just plain phishing. You go to some site, it asks for your Google account, you type it in without looking closely at the address bar.
“But the WhatsApp stuff manifestly should not be vulnerable like that. Interesting.”
Neither WhatsApp nor the crypto whizz behind Signal, Moxie Marlinspike, were happy to comment unless more specific details were revealed about the tool’s capability. Either Wintego is embellishing what its real capability is, or it has a set of exploits that the rest of the world doesn’t yet know about.
Posted on October 4, 2016 at 1:47 PM •
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 AM •
A Citizen Lab research study of Chinese attack and espionage tactics against Tibetan networks and users.
This report describes the latest iteration in a long-running espionage campaign against the Tibetan community. We detail how the attackers continuously adapt their campaigns to their targets, shifting tactics from document-based malware to conventional phishing that draws on “inside” knowledge of community activities. This adaptation appears to track changes in security behaviors within the Tibetan community, which has been promoting a move from sharing attachments via e-mail to using cloud-based file sharing alternatives such as Google Drive.
We connect the attack group’s infrastructure and techniques to a group previously identified by Palo Alto Networks, which they named Scarlet Mimic. We provide further context on Scarlet Mimic’s targeting and tactics, and the intended victims of their attack campaigns. In addition, while Scarlet Mimic may be conducting malware attacks using other infrastructure, we analyze how the attackers re-purposed a cluster of their malware Command and Control (C2) infrastructure to mount the recent phishing campaign.
This move is only the latest development in the ongoing cat and mouse game between attack groups like Scarlet Mimic and the Tibetan community. The speed and ease with which attackers continue to adapt highlights the challenges faced by Tibetans who are trying to remain safe online.
Posted on March 10, 2016 at 2:16 PM •
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 PM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.