Entries Tagged "spyware"

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Hacking Your Computer Monitor

Here’s an interesting hack against a computer’s monitor:

A group of researchers has found a way to hack directly into the tiny computer that controls your monitor without getting into your actual computer, and both see the pixels displayed on the monitor — effectively spying on you — and also manipulate the pixels to display different images.

I’ve written a lot about the Internet of Things, and how everything is now a computer. But while it’s true for cars and refrigerators and thermostats, it’s also true for all the parts of your computer. Your keyboard, hard drives, and monitor are all individual computers, and what you think of as your computer is actually a collection of computers working together. So just as the NSA directly attacks the computer that is the hard drive, this attack targets the computer that is your monitor.

Posted on August 11, 2016 at 1:09 PMView Comments

Researchers Discover Tor Nodes Designed to Spy on Hidden Services

Two researchers have discovered over 100 Tor nodes that are spying on hidden services. Cory Doctorow explains:

These nodes — ordinary nodes, not exit nodes — sorted through all the traffic that passed through them, looking for anything bound for a hidden service, which allowed them to discover hidden services that had not been advertised. These nodes then attacked the hidden services by making connections to them and trying common exploits against the server-software running on them, seeking to compromise and take them over.

The researchers used “honeypot” .onion servers to find the spying computers: these honeypots were .onion sites that the researchers set up in their own lab and then connected to repeatedly over the Tor network, thus seeding many Tor nodes with the information of the honions’ existence. They didn’t advertise the honions’ existence in any other way and there was nothing of interest at these sites, and so when the sites logged new connections, the researchers could infer that they were being contacted by a system that had spied on one of their Tor network circuits.

This attack was already understood as a theoretical problem for the Tor project, which had recently undertaken a rearchitecting of the hidden service system that would prevent it from taking place.

No one knows who is running the spying nodes: they could be run by criminals, governments, private suppliers of “infowar” weapons to governments, independent researchers, or other scholars (though scholarly research would not normally include attempts to hack the servers once they were discovered).

The Tor project is working on redesigning its system to block this attack.

Vice Motherboard article. Defcon talk announcement.

Posted on July 8, 2016 at 7:01 AMView Comments

Stealth Falcon: New Malware from (Probably) the UAE

Citizen Lab has the details:

This report describes a campaign of targeted spyware attacks carried out by a sophisticated operator, which we call Stealth Falcon. The attacks have been conducted from 2012 until the present, against Emirati journalists, activists, and dissidents. We discovered this campaign when an individual purporting to be from an apparently fictitious organization called “The Right to Fight” contacted Rori Donaghy. Donaghy, a UK-based journalist and founder of the Emirates Center for Human Rights, received a spyware-laden email in November 2015, purporting to offer him a position on a human rights panel. Donaghy has written critically of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government in the past, and had recently published a series of articles based on leaked emails involving members of the UAE government.

Circumstantial evidence suggests a link between Stealth Falcon and the UAE government. We traced digital artifacts used in this campaign to links sent from an activist’s Twitter account in December 2012, a period when it appears to have been under government control. We also identified other bait content employed by this threat actor. We found 31 public tweets sent by Stealth Falcon, 30 of which were directly targeted at one of 27 victims. Of the 27 targets, 24 were obviously linked to the UAE, based on their profile information (e.g., photos, “UAE” in account name, location), and at least six targets appeared to be operated by people who were arrested, sought for arrest, or convicted in absentia by the UAE government, in relation to their Twitter activity.

The attack on Donaghy — and the Twitter attacks — involved a malicious URL shortening site. When a user clicks on a URL shortened by Stealth Falcon operators, the site profiles the software on a user’s computer, perhaps for future exploitation, before redirecting the user to a benign website containing bait content. We queried the URL shortener with every possible short URL, and identified 402 instances of bait content which we believe were sent by Stealth Falcon, 73% of which obviously referenced UAE issues. Of these URLs, only the one sent to Donaghy definitively contained spyware. However, we were able to trace the spyware Donaghy received to a network of 67 active command and control (C2) servers, suggesting broader use of the spyware, perhaps by the same or other operators.

News story.

Posted on June 2, 2016 at 7:49 AMView Comments

Mapping FinFisher Users

Citizen Lab continues to do excellent work exposing the world’s cyber-weapons arms manufacturers. Its latest report attempts to track users of Gamma International’s FinFisher:

This post describes the results of Internet scanning we recently conducted to identify the users of FinFisher, a sophisticated and user-friendly spyware suite sold exclusively to governments. We devise a method for querying FinFisher’s “anonymizing proxies” to unmask the true location of the spyware’s master servers. Since the master servers are installed on the premises of FinFisher customers, tracing the servers allows us to identify which governments are likely using FinFisher. In some cases, we can trace the servers to specific entities inside a government by correlating our scan results with publicly available sources. Our results indicate 32 countries where at least one government entity is likely using the spyware suite, and we are further able to identify 10 entities by name. Despite the 2014 FinFisher breach, and subsequent disclosure of sensitive customer data, our scanning has detected more servers in more countries than ever before.

Here’s the map of suspected FinFisher users, including some pretty reprehensible governments.

Two news articles.

Posted on October 16, 2015 at 2:33 PMView Comments

Everyone Wants You To Have Security, But Not from Them

In December, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was interviewed at the CATO Institute Surveillance Conference. One of the things he said, after talking about some of the security measures his company has put in place post-Snowden, was: “If you have important information, the safest place to keep it is in Google. And I can assure you that the safest place to not keep it is anywhere else.”

The surprised me, because Google collects all of your information to show you more targeted advertising. Surveillance is the business model of the Internet, and Google is one of the most successful companies at that. To claim that Google protects your privacy better than anyone else is to profoundly misunderstand why Google stores your data for free in the first place.

I was reminded of this last week when I appeared on Glenn Beck’s show along with cryptography pioneer Whitfield Diffie. Diffie said:

You can’t have privacy without security, and I think we have glaring failures in computer security in problems that we’ve been working on for 40 years. You really should not live in fear of opening an attachment to a message. It ought to be confined; your computer ought to be able to handle it. And the fact that we have persisted for decades without solving these problems is partly because they’re very difficult, but partly because there are lots of people who want you to be secure against everyone but them. And that includes all of the major computer manufacturers who, roughly speaking, want to manage your computer for you. The trouble is, I’m not sure of any practical alternative.

That neatly explains Google. Eric Schmidt does want your data to be secure. He wants Google to be the safest place for your data ­ as long as you don’t mind the fact that Google has access to your data. Facebook wants the same thing: to protect your data from everyone except Facebook. Hardware companies are no different. Last week, we learned that Lenovo computers shipped with a piece of adware called Superfish that broke users’ security to spy on them for advertising purposes.

Governments are no different. The FBI wants people to have strong encryption, but it wants backdoor access so it can get at your data. UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants you to have good security, just as long as it’s not so strong as to keep the UK government out. And, of course, the NSA spends a lot of money ensuring that there’s no security it can’t break.

Corporations want access to your data for profit; governments want it for security purposes, be they benevolent or malevolent. But Diffie makes an even stronger point: we give lots of companies access to our data because it makes our lives easier.

I wrote about this in my latest book, Data and Goliath:

Convenience is the other reason we willingly give highly personal data to corporate interests, and put up with becoming objects of their surveillance. As I keep saying, surveillance-based services are useful and valuable. We like it when we can access our address book, calendar, photographs, documents, and everything else on any device we happen to be near. We like services like Siri and Google Now, which work best when they know tons about you. Social networking apps make it easier to hang out with our friends. Cell phone apps like Google Maps, Yelp, Weather, and Uber work better and faster when they know our location. Letting apps like Pocket or Instapaper know what we’re reading feels like a small price to pay for getting everything we want to read in one convenient place. We even like it when ads are targeted to exactly what we’re interested in. The benefits of surveillance in these and other applications are real, and significant.

Like Diffie, I’m not sure there is any practical alternative. The reason the Internet is a worldwide mass-market phenomenon is that all the technological details are hidden from view. Someone else is taking care of it. We want strong security, but we also want companies to have access to our computers, smart devices, and data. We want someone else to manage our computers and smart phones, organize our e-mail and photos, and help us move data between our various devices.

Those “someones” will necessarily be able to violate our privacy, either by deliberately peeking at our data or by having such lax security that they’re vulnerable to national intelligence agencies, cybercriminals, or both. Last week, we learned that the NSA broke into the Dutch company Gemalto and stole the encryption keys for billions ­ yes, billions ­ of cell phones worldwide. That was possible because we consumers don’t want to do the work of securely generating those keys and setting up our own security when we get our phones; we want it done automatically by the phone manufacturers. We want our data to be secure, but we want someone to be able to recover it all when we forget our password.

We’ll never solve these security problems as long as we’re our own worst enemy. That’s why I believe that any long-term security solution will not only be technological, but political as well. We need laws that will protect our privacy from those who obey the laws, and to punish those who break the laws. We need laws that require those entrusted with our data to protect our data. Yes, we need better security technologies, but we also need laws mandating the use of those technologies.

This essay previously appeared on Forbes.com.

EDITED TO ADD: French translation.

Posted on February 26, 2015 at 6:47 AMView Comments

More on Hacking Team's Government Spying Software

Hacking Team is an Italian malware company that sells exploit tools to governments. Both Kaspersky Lab and Citizen Lab have published detailed reports on its capabilities against Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry smart phones.

They allow, for example, for covert collection of emails, text messages, call history and address books, and they can be used to log keystrokes and obtain search history data. They can take screenshots, record audio from the phones to monitor calls or ambient conversations, hijack the phone’s camera to snap pictures or piggyback on the phone’s GPS system to monitor the user’s location. The Android version can also enable the phone’s Wi-Fi function to siphon data from the phone wirelessly instead of using the cell network to transmit it. The latter would incur data charges and raise the phone owner’s suspicion.

[…]

Once on a system, the iPhone module uses advance techniques to avoid draining the phone’s battery, turning on the phone’s microphone, for example, only under certain conditions.

“They can just turn on the mic and record everything going on around the victim, but the battery life is limited, and the victim can notice something is wrong with the iPhone, so they use special triggers,” says Costin Raiu, head of Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis team.

One of those triggers might be when the victim’s phone connects to a specific WiFi network, such as a work network, signaling the owner is in an important environment. “I can’t remember having seen such advanced techniques in other mobile malware,” he says.

Hacking Team’s mobile tools also have a “crisis” module that kicks in when they sense the presence of certain detection activities occurring on a device, such as packet sniffing, and then pause the spyware’s activity to avoid detection. There is also a “wipe” function to erase the tool from infected systems.

Hacking Team claims to sell its tools only to ethical governments, but Citizen Lab has found evidence of their use in Saudi Arabia. It can’t be certain the Saudi government is a customer, but there’s good circumstantial evidence. In general, circumstantial evidence is all we have. Citizen Lab has found Hacking Team servers in many countries, but it’s a perfectly reasonable strategy for Country A to locate its servers in Country B.

And remember, this is just one example of government spyware. Assume that the NSA — as well as the governments of China, Russia, and a handful of other countries — have their own systems that are at least as powerful.

Posted on June 26, 2014 at 6:37 AMView Comments

RCS Spyware and Citizen Lab

Remote-Controlled System (RCS) is a piece of spyware sold exclusively to governments by a Milan company called Hacking Team. Recently, Citizen Lab found this spyware being used by the Ethiopian government against journalists, including American journalists.

More recently, Citizen Lab mapped the software and who’s using it:

Hacking Team advertises that their RCS spyware is “untraceable” to a specific government operator. However, we claim to identify a number of current or former government users of the spyware by pinpointing endpoints, and studying instances of RCS that we have observed. We suspect that agencies of these twenty-one governments are current or former users of RCS: Azerbaijan, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Panama, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, and Uzbekistan.

Both articles on the Citizen Lab website are worth reading; the details are fascinating. And more are coming.

Finally, congratulations to Citizen Lab for receiving a 2014 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, along with the $1M prize. This organization is one of the good guys, and I’m happy to see it get money to continue its work.

Posted on February 20, 2014 at 9:19 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.