Following a recent Supreme Court ruling, the Justice Department will no longer prosecute “good faith” security researchers with cybercrimes:
The policy for the first time directs that good-faith security research should not be charged. Good faith security research means accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability, where such activity is carried out in a manner designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the security or safety of the class of devices, machines, or online services to which the accessed computer belongs, or those who use such devices, machines, or online services.
The new policy states explicitly the longstanding practice that “the department’s goals for CFAA enforcement are to promote privacy and cybersecurity by upholding the legal right of individuals, network owners, operators, and other persons to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information stored in their information systems.” Accordingly, the policy clarifies that hypothetical CFAA violations that have concerned some courts and commentators are not to be charged. Embellishing an online dating profile contrary to the terms of service of the dating website; creating fictional accounts on hiring, housing, or rental websites; using a pseudonym on a social networking site that prohibits them; checking sports scores at work; paying bills at work; or violating an access restriction contained in a term of service are not themselves sufficient to warrant federal criminal charges. The policy focuses the department’s resources on cases where a defendant is either not authorized at all to access a computer or was authorized to access one part of a computer—such as one email account—and, despite knowing about that restriction, accessed a part of the computer to which his authorized access did not extend, such as other users’ emails.
EDITED TO ADD (6/14): Josephine Wolff writes about this update.
Posted on May 24, 2022 at 6:11 AM •
I just don’t think it’s possible to create a hack-proof computer system, especially when the system is physically in the hands of the hackers. The Sony Playstation 5 is the latest example:
Hackers may have just made some big strides towards possibly jailbreaking the PlayStation 5 over the weekend, with the hacking group Fail0verflow claiming to have managed to obtain PS5 root keys allowing them to decrypt the console’s firmware.
The two exploits are particularly notable due to the level of access they theoretically give to the PS5’s software. Decrypted firmware which is possible through Fail0verflow’s keys would potentially allow for hackers to further reverse engineer the PS5 software and potentially develop the sorts of hacks that allowed for things like installing Linux, emulators, or even pirated games on past Sony consoles.
In 1999, Adam Shostack and I wrote a paper discussing the security challenges of giving people devices that included embedded secrets that needed to be kept from those people. We were writing about smart cards, but our lessons were general. And they’re no less applicable today.
Posted on November 10, 2021 at 6:17 AM •
Apple’s NeuralHash algorithm—the one it’s using for client-side scanning on the iPhone—has been reverse-engineered.
Turns out it was already in iOS 14.3, and someone noticed:
Early tests show that it can tolerate image resizing and compression, but not cropping or rotations.
We also have the first collision: two images that hash to the same value.
The next step is to generate innocuous images that NeuralHash classifies as prohibited content.
This was a bad idea from the start, and Apple never seemed to consider the adversarial context of the system as a whole, and not just the cryptography.
Posted on August 18, 2021 at 11:51 AM •
Interesting research: “Who Can Find My Devices? Security and Privacy of Apple’s Crowd-Sourced Bluetooth Location Tracking System“:
Abstract: Overnight, Apple has turned its hundreds-of-million-device ecosystem into the world’s largest crowd-sourced location tracking network called offline finding (OF). OF leverages online finder devices to detect the presence of missing offline devices using Bluetooth and report an approximate location back to the owner via the Internet. While OF is not the first system of its kind, it is the first to commit to strong privacy goals. In particular, OF aims to ensure finder anonymity, untrackability of owner devices, and confidentiality of location reports. This paper presents the first comprehensive security and privacy analysis of OF. To this end, we recover the specifications of the closed-source OF protocols by means of reverse engineering. We experimentally show that unauthorized access to the location reports allows for accurate device tracking and retrieving a user’s top locations with an error in the order of 10 meters in urban areas. While we find that OF’s design achieves its privacy goals, we discover two distinct design and implementation flaws that can lead to a location correlation attack and unauthorized access to the location history of the past seven days, which could deanonymize users. Apple has partially addressed the issues following our responsible disclosure. Finally, we make our research artifacts publicly available.
There is also code available on GitHub, which allows arbitrary Bluetooth devices to be tracked via Apple’s Find My network.
Posted on March 15, 2021 at 6:16 AM •
Slate magazine was able to cleverly read the Ghislaine Maxwell deposition and reverse-engineer many of the redacted names.
We’ve long known that redacting is hard in the modern age, but most of the failures to date have been a result of not realizing that covering digital text with a black bar doesn’t always remove the text from the underlying digital file. As far as I know, this reverse-engineering technique is new.
EDITED TO ADD: A similar technique was used in 1991 to recover the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Posted on October 27, 2020 at 6:34 AM •
As expected, IoT devices are filled with vulnerabilities:
As a thought experiment, Martin Hron, a researcher at security company Avast, reverse engineered one of the older coffee makers to see what kinds of hacks he could do with it. After just a week of effort, the unqualified answer was: quite a lot. Specifically, he could trigger the coffee maker to turn on the burner, dispense water, spin the bean grinder, and display a ransom message, all while beeping repeatedly. Oh, and by the way, the only way to stop the chaos was to unplug the power cord.
In any event, Hron said the ransom attack is just the beginning of what an attacker could do. With more work, he believes, an attacker could program a coffee maker—and possibly other appliances made by Smarter—to attack the router, computers, or other devices connected to the same network. And the attacker could probably do it with no overt sign anything was amiss.
Posted on September 29, 2020 at 6:16 AM •
New research: “Security Analysis of the Democracy Live Online Voting System“:
Abstract: Democracy Live’s OmniBallot platform is a web-based system for blank ballot delivery, ballot marking, and (optionally) online voting. Three states—Delaware, West Virginia, and New Jersey—recently announced that they will allow certain voters to cast votes online using OmniBallot, but, despite the well established risks of Internet voting, the system has never been the subject of a public, independent security review.
EDITED TO ADD: This post has been translated into Portuguese.
Posted on June 9, 2020 at 6:26 AM •
Human Rights Watch has reverse engineered an app used by the Chinese police to conduct mass surveillance on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. The details are fascinating, and chilling.
Boing Boing post.
Posted on May 13, 2019 at 6:37 AM •
Last month, the NSA released Ghidra, a software reverse-engineering tool. Early reactions are uniformly positive.
Three news articles.
Posted on April 8, 2019 at 9:50 AM •
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 •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.