New research is able to recover sound waves in a room by observing minute changes in the room’s light bulbs. This technique works from a distance, even from a building across the street through a window.
In an experiment using three different telescopes with different lens diameters from a distance of 25 meters (a little over 82 feet) the researchers were successfully able to capture sound being played in a remote room, including The Beatles’ Let It Be, which was distinguishable enough for Shazam to recognize it, and a speech from President Trump that Google’s speech recognition API could successfully transcribe. With more powerful telescopes and a more sensitive analog-to-digital converter, the researchers believe the eavesdropping distances could be even greater.
It’s not expensive: less than $1,000 worth of equipment is required. And unlike other techniques like bouncing a laser off the window and measuring the vibrations, it’s completely passive.
Posted on June 16, 2020 at 10:20 AM •
Remember Spectre and Meltdown? Back in early 2018, I wrote:
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.
That has turned out to be true. Here’s a new vulnerability:
On Tuesday, two separate academic teams disclosed two new and distinctive exploits that pierce Intel’s Software Guard eXtension, by far the most sensitive region of the company’s processors.
The new SGX attacks are known as SGAxe and CrossTalk. Both break into the fortified CPU region using separate side-channel attacks, a class of hack that infers sensitive data by measuring timing differences, power consumption, electromagnetic radiation, sound, or other information from the systems that store it. The assumptions for both attacks are roughly the same. An attacker has already broken the security of the target machine through a software exploit or a malicious virtual machine that compromises the integrity of the system. While that’s a tall bar, it’s precisely the scenario that SGX is supposed to defend against.
Another news article.
Posted on June 11, 2020 at 6:40 AM •
I previously wrote about hacking voice assistants with lasers. Turns you can do much the same thing with ultrasonic waves:
Voice assistants — the demo targeted Siri, Google Assistant, and Bixby — are designed to respond when they detect the owner’s voice after noticing a trigger phrase such as ‘Ok, Google’.
Ultimately, commands are just sound waves, which other researchers have already shown can be emulated using ultrasonic waves which humans can’t hear, providing an attacker has a line of sight on the device and the distance is short.
What SurfingAttack adds to this is the ability to send the ultrasonic commands through a solid glass or wood table on which the smartphone was sitting using a circular piezoelectric disc connected to its underside.
Although the distance was only 43cm (17 inches), hiding the disc under a surface represents a more plausible, easier-to-conceal attack method than previous techniques.
Research paper. Demonstration video.
Posted on March 23, 2020 at 6:19 AM •
Not that serious, but interesting:
In late 2011, Intel introduced a performance enhancement to its line of server processors that allowed network cards and other peripherals to connect directly to a CPU’s last-level cache, rather than following the standard (and significantly longer) path through the server’s main memory. By avoiding system memory, Intel’s DDIOshort for Data-Direct I/Oincreased input/output bandwidth and reduced latency and power consumption.
Now, researchers are warning that, in certain scenarios, attackers can abuse DDIO to obtain keystrokes and possibly other types of sensitive data that flow through the memory of vulnerable servers. The most serious form of attack can take place in data centers and cloud environments that have both DDIO and remote direct memory access enabled to allow servers to exchange data. A server leased by a malicious hacker could abuse the vulnerability to attack other customers. To prove their point, the researchers devised an attack that allows a server to steal keystrokes typed into the protected SSH (or secure shell session) established between another server and an application server.
Posted on September 16, 2019 at 6:39 AM •
Several high-security electronic locks are vulnerable to side-channel attacks involving power monitoring.
Posted on August 14, 2019 at 12:36 PM •
Yet another side-channel attack on smartphones: “Hearing your touch: A new acoustic side channel on smartphones,” by Ilia Shumailov, Laurent Simon, Jeff Yan, and Ross Anderson.
Abstract: We present the first acoustic side-channel attack that recovers what users type on the virtual keyboard of their touch-screen smartphone or tablet. When a user taps the screen with a finger, the tap generates a sound wave that propagates on the screen surface and in the air. We found the device’s microphone(s) can recover this wave and “hear” the finger’s touch, and the wave’s distortions are characteristic of the tap’s location on the screen. Hence, by recording audio through the built-in microphone(s), a malicious app can infer text as the user enters it on their device. We evaluate the effectiveness of the attack with 45 participants in a real-world environment on an Android tablet and an Android smartphone. For the tablet, we recover 61% of 200 4-digit PIN-codes within 20 attempts, even if the model is not trained with the victim’s data. For the smartphone, we recover 9 words of size 7-13 letters with 50 attempts in a common side-channel attack benchmark. Our results suggest that it not always sufficient to rely on isolation mechanisms such as TrustZone to protect user input. We propose and discuss hardware, operating-system and application-level mechanisms to block this attack more effectively. Mobile devices may need a richer capability model, a more user-friendly notification system for sensor usage and a more thorough evaluation of the information leaked by the underlying hardware.
Posted on April 1, 2019 at 9:44 AM •
It’s only a prototype, but this USB cable has an embedded Wi-Fi controller. Whoever controls that Wi-Fi connection can remotely execute commands on the attached computer.
Posted on February 14, 2019 at 6:53 AM •
It’s amazing that this is even possible: “SonarSnoop: Active Acoustic Side-Channel Attacks“:
Abstract: We report the first active acoustic side-channel attack. Speakers are used to emit human inaudible acoustic signals and the echo is recorded via microphones, turning the acoustic system of a smart phone into a sonar system. The echo signal can be used to profile user interaction with the device. For example, a victim’s finger movements can be inferred to steal Android phone unlock patterns. In our empirical study, the number of candidate unlock patterns that an attacker must try to authenticate herself to a Samsung S4 Android phone can be reduced by up to 70% using this novel acoustic side-channel. Our approach can be easily applied to other application scenarios and device types. Overall, our work highlights a new family of security threats.
Posted on September 5, 2018 at 6:05 AM •
Yet another way of eavesdropping on someone’s computer activity: using the webcam microphone to “listen” to the computer’s screen.
Posted on August 31, 2018 at 6:29 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 •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.