Entries Tagged "SMS"

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TOTEGHOSTLY 2.0: NSA Exploit of the Day

Today’s item from the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) group implant catalog:

TOTEGHOSTLY 2.0

(TS//SI//REL) TOTEGHOSTLY 2.0 is STRAITBIZARRE based implant for the Windows Mobile embedded operating system and uses the CHIMNEYPOOL framework. TOTEGHOSTLY 2.0 is compliant with the FREEFLOW project, therefore it is supported in the TURBULENCE architecture.

(TS//SI//REL) TOTEGHOSTLY 2.0 is a software implant for the Windows Mobile operating system that utilizes modular mission applications to provide specific SIGINT functionality. This functionality includes the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device, SMS retrieval, contact list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell tower location, etc. Command, control, and data exfiltration can occur over SMS messaging or a GPRS data connection. A FRIEZERAMP interface using HTTPSlink2 transport module handles encrypted communications.

(TS//SI//REL) The initial release of TOTEGHOSTLY 2.0 will focus on installing the implant via close access methods. A remote installation capability will be pursued for a future release.

(TS//SI//REL) TOTEGHOSTLY 2.0 will be controlled using an interface tasked through the NCC (Network Control Center) utilizing the XML based tasking and data forward scheme under the TURBULENCE architecture following the TAO GENIE Initiative.

Unit Cost: $0

Status: (U) In development

Page, with graphics, is here. General information about TAO and the catalog is here.

In the comments, feel free to discuss how the exploit works, how we might detect it, how it has probably been improved since the catalog entry in 2008, and so on.

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 2:18 PMView Comments

NSA Collects Hundreds of Millions of Text Messages Daily

No surprise here. Although we learned some new codenames:

  • DISHFIRE: The NSA’s program to collect text messages and text-message metadata.
  • PREFER: The NSA’s program to perform automatic analysis on the text-message data and metadata.

The documents talk about not just collecting chatty text messages, but vCards, SIM card changes, missed calls, roaming information indicating border crossings, travel itineraries, and financial transactions.

Posted on January 17, 2014 at 5:32 AMView Comments

Text Message Retention Policies

The FBI wants cell phone carriers to store SMS messages for a long time, enabling them to conduct surveillance backwards in time. Nothing new there—data retention laws are being debated in many countries around the world—but this was something I did not know:

Wireless providers’ current SMS retention policies vary. An internal Justice Department document (PDF) that the ACLU obtained through the Freedom of Information Act shows that, as of 2010, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint did not store the contents of text messages. Verizon did for up to five days, a change from its earlier no-logs-at-all position, and Virgin Mobile kept them for 90 days. The carriers generally kept metadata such as the phone numbers associated with the text for 90 days to 18 months; AT&T was an outlier, keeping it for as long as seven years.

An e-mail message from a detective in the Baltimore County Police Department, leaked by Antisec and reproduced in a 2011 Wired article, says that Verizon keeps “text message content on their servers for 3-5 days.” And: “Sprint stores their text message content going back 12 days and Nextel content for 7 days. AT&T/Cingular do not preserve content at all. Us Cellular: 3-5 days Boost Mobile LLC: 7 days”

That second set of data is from 2009.

Leaks seems to be the primary way we learn how our privacy is being violated these days—we need more of them.

EDITED TO ADD (4/12): Discussion of Canadian policy.

Posted on March 21, 2013 at 1:17 PMView Comments

SMS of Death

This will be hard to fix:

Using only Short Message Service (SMS) communications—messages that can be sent between mobile phones—a pair of security researchers were able to force low-end phones to shut down abruptly and knock them off a cellular network. As well as text messages, the SMS protocol can be used to transmit small programs, called “binaries,” that run on a phone. Network operators use these files to, for example, change the settings on a device remotely. The researchers used the same approach to attack phones. They performed their tricks on handsets made by Nokia, LG, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Micromax, a popular Indian cell-phone manufacturer.

[…]

The researchers were able to create malicious SMS messages for each type of phone they studied. The messages affect the phones without any response from the user. Because feature phones are so common, Mulliner says, such an attack “could take out a large percentage of mobile communications.”

To target a specific user, an attacker would need to know what kind of phone he or she uses, since each platform requires a different message. But Mulliner says that attackers could easily knock out large numbers of phones by sending a set of five SMS messages—targeted to the five most popular models—to every device on a specific network. Mulliner notes that there are Internet-based services that send SMS messages en masse either cheaply or free, making it possible for an antagonist with limited resources to carry out such an attack from anywhere in the world.

EDITED TO ADD (1/9): A response from one of the researchers.

EDITED TO ADD (1/12): Their talk is online.

Posted on January 6, 2011 at 1:13 PMView Comments

Reporting Unruly Football Fans via Text Message

This system is available in most NFL stadiums:

Fans still are urged to complain to an usher or call a security hotline in the stadium to report unruly behavior. But text-messaging lines—typically advertised on stadium scoreboards and on signs where fans gather—are aimed at allowing tipsters to surreptitiously alert security personnel via cellphone without getting involved with rowdies or missing part of a game.

As of this week, 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams had installed a text-message line or telephone hotline. Three clubs have neither: the New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans. Ahlerich says he will “strongly urge” all clubs to have text lines in place for the 2009 season. A text line will be available at the Super Bowl for the first time when this season’s championship game is played at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 1.

“If there’s someone around you that’s just really ruining your day, now you don’t have to sit there in silence,” says Jeffrey Miller, the NFL’s director of strategic security. “You can do this. It’s very easy. It’s quick. And you get an immediate response.”

The article talks a lot about false alarms and prank calls, but—in general—this seems like a good use of technology.

Posted on January 8, 2009 at 6:44 AMView Comments

Bulk Text Messaging

This seems very worrisome:

Federal regulators approved a plan on Wednesday to create a nationwide emergency alert system using text messages delivered to cellphones.

The real question is whether the benefits outweigh the risks. I could certainly imagine scenarios where getting short text messages out to everyone in a particular geographic area is a good thing, but I can also imagine the hacking possibilities.

And once this system is developed for emergency use, can a bulk SMS business be far behind?

Posted on April 11, 2008 at 6:22 AMView Comments

Broadening CALEA

In 1994, Congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). Basically, this is the law that forces the phone companies to make your telephone calls—including cell phone calls—available for government wiretapping.

But now the government wants access to VoIP calls, and SMS messages, and everything else. They’re doing their best to interpret CALEA as broadly as possible, but they’re also pursuing a legal angle. Ars Technica has the story:

The government hopes to shore up the legal basis for the program by passing amended legislation. The EFF took a look at the amendments and didn’t like what it found.

According to the Administration, the proposal would “confirm [CALEA’s] coverage of push-to-talk, short message service, voice mail service and other communications services offered on a commercial basis to the public,” along with “confirm[ing] CALEA’s application to providers of broadband Internet access, and certain types of ‘Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol’ (VOIP).” Many of CALEA’s express exceptions and limitations are also removed. Most importantly, while CALEA’s applicability currently depends on whether broadband and VOIP can be considered “substantial replacements” for existing telephone services, the new proposal would remove this limit.

Posted on July 28, 2006 at 11:09 AMView Comments

SMS Denial-of-Service Attack

This is a clever piece of research. Turns out you can jam cell phones with SMS messages. Text messages are transmitted on the same channel that is used to set up voice calls, so if you flood the network with one, then the other can’t happen. The researchers believe that sending 165 text messages a second is enough to disrupt all the cell phones in Manhattan.

From the paper:

ABSTRACT: Cellular networks are a critical component of the economic and social infrastructures in which we live. In addition to voice services, these networks deliver alphanumeric text messages to the vast majority of wireless subscribers. To encourage the expansion of this new service, telecommunications companies offer connections between their networks and the Internet. The ramifications of such connections, however, have not been fully recognized. In this paper, we evaluate the security impact of the SMS interface on the availability of the cellular phone network. Specifically, we demonstrate the ability to deny voice service to cities the size of Washington D.C. and Manhattan with little more than a cable modem. Moreover, attacks targeting the entire United States are feasible with resources available to medium-sized zombie networks. This analysis begins with an exploration of the structure of cellular networks. We then characterize network behavior and explore a number of reconnaissance techniques aimed at effectively targeting attacks on these systems. We conclude by discussing countermeasures that mitigate or eliminate the threats introduced by these attacks.

There’s a New York Times article and a thread on Slashdot.

Posted on October 7, 2005 at 7:43 AMView Comments

The Failure of Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication isn’t our savior. It won’t defend against phishing. It’s not going to prevent identity theft. It’s not going to secure online accounts from fraudulent transactions. It solves the security problems we had ten years ago, not the security problems we have today.

The problem with passwords is that they’re too easy to lose control of. People give them to other people. People write them down, and other people read them. People send them in e-mail, and that e-mail is intercepted. People use them to log into remote servers, and their communications are eavesdropped on. They’re also easy to guess. And once any of that happens, the password no longer works as an authentication token because you can’t be sure who is typing that password in.

Two-factor authentication mitigates this problem. If your password includes a number that changes every minute, or a unique reply to a random challenge, then it’s harder for someone else to intercept. You can’t write down the ever-changing part. An intercepted password won’t be good the next time it’s needed. And a two-factor password is harder to guess. Sure, someone can always give his password and token to his secretary, but no solution is foolproof.

These tokens have been around for at least two decades, but it’s only recently that they have gotten mass-market attention. AOL is rolling them out. Some banks are issuing them to customers, and even more are talking about doing it. It seems that corporations are finally waking up to the fact that passwords don’t provide adequate security, and are hoping that two-factor authentication will fix their problems.

Unfortunately, the nature of attacks has changed over those two decades. Back then, the threats were all passive: eavesdropping and offline password guessing. Today, the threats are more active: phishing and Trojan horses.

Here are two new active attacks we’re starting to see:

  • Man-in-the-Middle attack. An attacker puts up a fake bank website and entices user to that website. User types in his password, and the attacker in turn uses it to access the bank’s real website. Done right, the user will never realize that he isn’t at the bank’s website. Then the attacker either disconnects the user and makes any fraudulent transactions he wants, or passes along the user’s banking transactions while making his own transactions at the same time.

  • Trojan attack. Attacker gets Trojan installed on user’s computer. When user logs into his bank’s website, the attacker piggybacks on that session via the Trojan to make any fraudulent transaction he wants.

See how two-factor authentication doesn’t solve anything? In the first case, the attacker can pass the ever-changing part of the password to the bank along with the never-changing part. And in the second case, the attacker is relying on the user to log in.

The real threat is fraud due to impersonation, and the tactics of impersonation will change in response to the defenses. Two-factor authentication will force criminals to modify their tactics, that’s all.

Recently I’ve seen examples of two-factor authentication using two different communications paths: call it “two-channel authentication.” One bank sends a challenge to the user’s cell phone via SMS and expects a reply via SMS. If you assume that all your customers have cell phones, then this results in a two-factor authentication process without extra hardware. And even better, the second authentication piece goes over a different communications channel than the first; eavesdropping is much, much harder.

But in this new world of active attacks, no one cares. An attacker using a man-in-the-middle attack is happy to have the user deal with the SMS portion of the log-in, since he can’t do it himself. And a Trojan attacker doesn’t care, because he’s relying on the user to log in anyway.

Two-factor authentication is not useless. It works for local login, and it works within some corporate networks. But it won’t work for remote authentication over the Internet. I predict that banks and other financial institutions will spend millions outfitting their users with two-factor authentication tokens. Early adopters of this technology may very well experience a significant drop in fraud for a while as attackers move to easier targets, but in the end there will be a negligible drop in the amount of fraud and identity theft.

This essay will appear in the April issue of Communications of the ACM.

Posted on March 15, 2005 at 7:54 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.