Entries Tagged "smartphones"
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Researchers have discovered and revealed 146 vulnerabilities in various incarnations of Android smartphone firmware. The vulnerabilities were found by scanning the phones of 29 different Android makers, and each is unique to a particular phone or maker. They were found using automatic tools, and it is extremely likely that many of the vulnerabilities are not exploitable — making them bugs but not security concerns. There is no indication that any of these vulnerabilities were put there on purpose, although it is reasonable to assume that other organizations do this same sort of scanning and use the findings for attack. And since they’re firmware bugs, in many cases there is no ability to patch them.
I see this as yet another demonstration of how hard supply chain security is.
Free Wi-Fi hotspots can track your location, even if you don’t connect to them. This is because your phone or computer broadcasts a unique MAC address.
What distinguishes location-based marketing hotspot providers like Zenreach and Euclid is that the personal information you enter in the captive portal — like your email address, phone number, or social media profile — can be linked to your laptop or smartphone’s Media Access Control (MAC) address. That’s the unique alphanumeric ID that devices broadcast when Wi-Fi is switched on.
MAC addresses alone don’t contain identifying information besides the make of a device, such as whether a smartphone is an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy. But as long as a device’s MAC address is linked to someone’s profile, and the device’s Wi-Fi is turned on, the movements of its owner can be followed by any hotspot from the same provider.
The defense is to turn Wi-Fi off on your phone when you’re not using it.
EDITED TO ADD: Note that the article is from 2018. Not that I think anything is different today….
Maria Farrell has a really interesting framing of information/device privacy:
What our smartphones and relationship abusers share is that they both exert power over us in a world shaped to tip the balance in their favour, and they both work really, really hard to obscure this fact and keep us confused and blaming ourselves. Here are some of the ways our unequal relationship with our smartphones is like an abusive relationship:
- They isolate us from deeper, competing relationships in favour of superficial contact
— ‘user engagement’ — that keeps their hold on us strong. Working with social media, they insidiously curate our social lives, manipulating us emotionally with dark patterns to keep us scrolling.
- They tell us the onus is on us to manage their behavior. It’s our job to tiptoe around them and limit their harms. Spending too much time on a literally-designed-to-be-behaviorally-addictive phone? They send company-approved messages about our online time, but ban from their stores the apps that would really cut our use. We just need to use willpower. We just need to be good enough to deserve them.
- They betray us, leaking data / spreading secrets. What we shared privately with them is suddenly public. Sometimes this destroys lives, but hey, we only have ourselves to blame. They fight nasty and under-handed, and are so, so sorry when they get caught that we’re meant to feel bad for them. But they never truly change, and each time we take them back, we grow weaker.
- They love-bomb us when we try to break away, piling on the free data or device upgrades, making us click through page after page of dark pattern, telling us no one understands us like they do, no one else sees everything we really are, no one else will want us.
- It’s impossible to just cut them off. They’ve wormed themselves into every part of our lives, making life without them unimaginable. And anyway, the relationship is complicated. There is love in it, or there once was. Surely we can get back to that if we just manage them the way they want us to?
Nope. Our devices are basically gaslighting us. They tell us they work for and care about us, and if we just treat them right then we can learn to trust them. But all the evidence shows the opposite is true.
EDITED TO ADD (9/22) Cindy Cohn echoed a similar sentiment in her essay about John Barlow and his legacy.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy convened an Encryption Working Group to attempt progress on the “going dark” debate. They have released their report: “Moving the Encryption Policy Conversation Forward.
The main contribution seems to be that attempts to backdoor devices like smartphones shouldn’t also backdoor communications systems:
Conclusion: There will be no single approach for requests for lawful access that can be applied to every technology or means of communication. More work is necessary, such as that initiated in this paper, to separate the debate into its component parts, examine risks and benefits in greater granularity, and seek better data to inform the debate. Based on our attempt to do this for one particular area, the working group believes that some forms of access to encrypted information, such as access to data at rest on mobile phones, should be further discussed. If we cannot have a constructive dialogue in that easiest of cases, then there is likely none to be had with respect to any of the other areas. Other forms of access to encrypted information, including encrypted data-in-motion, may not offer an achievable balance of risk vs. benefit, and as such are not worth pursuing and should not be the subject of policy changes, at least for now. We believe that to be productive, any approach must separate the issue into its component parts.
I don’t believe that backdoor access to encryption data at rest offers “an achievable balance of risk vs. benefit” either, but I agree that the two aspects should be treated independently.
EDITED TO ADD (9/12): This report does an important job moving the debate forward. It advises that policymakers break the issues into component parts. Instead of talking about restricting all encryption, it separates encrypted data at rest (storage) from encrypted data in motion (communication). It advises that policymakers pick the problems they have some chance of solving, and not demand systems that put everyone in danger. For example: no key escrow, and no use of software updates to break into devices).
Data in motion poses challenges that are not present for data at rest. For example, modern cryptographic protocols for data in motion use a separate “session key” for each message, unrelated to the private/public key pairs used to initiate communication, to preserve the message’s secrecy independent of other messages (consistent with a concept known as “forward secrecy”). While there are potential techniques for recording, escrowing, or otherwise allowing access to these session keys, by their nature, each would break forward secrecy and related concepts and would create a massive target for criminal and foreign intelligence adversaries. Any technical steps to simplify the collection or tracking of session keys, such as linking keys to other keys or storing keys after they are used, would represent a fundamental weakening of all the communications.
These are all big steps forward given who signed on to the report. Not just the usual suspects, but also Jim Baker — former general counsel of the FBI — and Chris Inglis: former deputy director of the NSA.
China is being blamed for a massive surveillance operation that targeted Uyghur Muslims. This story broke in waves, the first wave being about the iPhone.
Earlier this year, Google’s Project Zero found a series of websites that have been using zero-day vulnerabilities to indiscriminately install malware on iPhones that would visit the site. (The vulnerabilities were patched in iOS 12.1.4, released on February 7.)
Earlier this year Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) discovered a small collection of hacked websites. The hacked sites were being used in indiscriminate watering hole attacks against their visitors, using iPhone 0-day.
There was no target discrimination; simply visiting the hacked site was enough for the exploit server to attack your device, and if it was successful, install a monitoring implant. We estimate that these sites receive thousands of visitors per week.
TAG was able to collect five separate, complete and unique iPhone exploit chains, covering almost every version from iOS 10 through to the latest version of iOS 12. This indicated a group making a sustained effort to hack the users of iPhones in certain communities over a period of at least two years.
This upends pretty much everything we know about iPhone hacking. We believed that it was hard. We believed that effective zero-day exploits cost $2M or $3M, and were used sparingly by governments only against high-value targets. We believed that if an exploit was used too frequently, it would be quickly discovered and patched.
None of that is true here. This operation used fourteen zero-days exploits. It used them indiscriminately. And it remained undetected for two years. (I waited before posting this because I wanted to see if someone would rebut this story, or explain it somehow.)
Google’s announcement left out of details, like the URLs of the sites delivering the malware. That omission meant that we had no idea who was behind the attack, although the speculation was that it was a nation-state.
Subsequent reporting added that malware against Android phones and the Windows operating system were also delivered by those websites. And then that the websites were targeted at Uyghurs. Which leads us all to blame China.
So now this is a story of a large, expensive, indiscriminate, Chinese-run surveillance operation against an ethnic minority in their country. And the politics will overshadow the tech. But the tech is still really impressive.
EDITED TO ADD: New data on the value of smartphone exploits:
According to the company, starting today, a zero-click (no user interaction) exploit chain for Android can get hackers and security researchers up to $2.5 million in rewards. A similar exploit chain impacting iOS is worth only $2 million.
EDITED TO ADD (9/6): Apple disputes some of the claims Google made about the extent of the vulnerabilities and the attack.
EDITED TO ADD (9/7): More on Apple’s pushbacks.
This wasn’t a small operation:
A Pakistani man bribed AT&T call-center employees to install malware and unauthorized hardware as part of a scheme to fraudulently unlock cell phones, according to the US Department of Justice. Muhammad Fahd, 34, was extradited from Hong Kong to the US on Friday and is being detained pending trial.
An indictment alleges that “Fahd recruited and paid AT&T insiders to use their computer credentials and access to disable AT&T’s proprietary locking software that prevented ineligible phones from being removed from AT&T’s network,” a DOJ announcement yesterday said. “The scheme resulted in millions of phones being removed from AT&T service and/or payment plans, costing the company millions of dollars. Fahd allegedly paid the insiders hundreds of thousands of dollars — paying one co-conspirator $428,500 over the five-year scheme.”
In all, AT&T insiders received more than $1 million in bribes from Fahd and his co-conspirators, who fraudulently unlocked more than 2 million cell phones, the government alleged. Three former AT&T customer service reps from a call center in Bothell, Washington, already pleaded guilty and agreed to pay the money back to AT&T.
Interesting article on people using banks of smartphones to commit ad fraud for profit.
No one knows how prevalent ad fraud is on the Internet. I believe it is surprisingly high — here’s an article that places losses between $6.5 and $19 billion annually — and something companies like Google and Facebook would prefer remain unresearched.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.