Entries Tagged "SSH"

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Powerful Bit-Flipping Attack

New research: “Flip Feng Shui: Hammering a Needle in the Software Stack,” by Kaveh Razavi, Ben Gras, Erik Bosman Bart Preneel, Cristiano Giuffrida, and Herbert Bos.

Abstract: We introduce Flip Feng Shui (FFS), a new exploitation vector which allows an attacker to induce bit flips over arbitrary physical memory in a fully controlled way. FFS relies on hardware bugs to induce bit flips over memory and on the ability to surgically control the physical memory layout to corrupt attacker-targeted data anywhere in the software stack. We show FFS is possible today with very few constraints on the target data, by implementing an instance using the Rowhammer bug and memory deduplication (an OS feature widely deployed in production). Memory deduplication allows an attacker to reverse-map any physical page into a virtual page she owns as long as the page’s contents are known. Rowhammer, in turn, allows an attacker to flip bits in controlled (initially unknown) locations in the target page.

We show FFS is extremely powerful: a malicious VM in a practical cloud setting can gain unauthorized access to a co-hosted victim VM running OpenSSH. Using FFS, we exemplify end-to-end attacks breaking OpenSSH public-key authentication, and forging GPG signatures from trusted keys, thereby compromising the Ubuntu/Debian update mechanism. We conclude by discussing mitigations and future directions for FFS attacks.

Posted on August 16, 2016 at 7:09 AMView Comments

Details about Juniper's Firewall Backdoor

Last year, we learned about a backdoor in Juniper firewalls, one that seems to have been added into the code base.

There’s now some good research: “A Systematic Analysis of the Juniper Dual EC Incident,” by Stephen Checkoway, Shaanan Cohney, Christina Garman, Matthew Green, Nadia Heninger, Jacob Maskiewicz, Eric Rescorla, Hovav Shacham, and Ralf-Philipp Weinmann:

Abstract: In December 2015, Juniper Networks announced that unknown attackers had added unauthorized code to ScreenOS, the operating system for their NetScreen VPN routers. This code created two vulnerabilities: an authentication bypass that enabled remote administrative access, and a second vulnerability that allowed passive decryption of VPN traffic. Reverse engineering of ScreenOS binaries revealed that the first of these vulnerabilities was a conventional back door in the SSH password checker. The second is far more intriguing: a change to the Q parameter used by the Dual EC pseudorandom number generator. It is widely known that Dual EC has the unfortunate property that an attacker with the ability to choose Q can, from a small sample of the generator’s output, predict all future outputs. In a 2013 public statement, Juniper noted the use of Dual EC but claimed that ScreenOS included countermeasures that neutralized this form of attack.

In this work, we report the results of a thorough independent analysis of the ScreenOS randomness subsystem, as well as its interaction with the IKE VPN key establishment protocol. Due to apparent flaws in the code, Juniper’s countermeasures against a Dual EC attack are never executed. Moreover, by comparing sequential versions of ScreenOS, we identify a cluster of additional changes that were introduced concurrently with the inclusion of Dual EC in a single 2008 release. Taken as a whole, these changes render the ScreenOS system vulnerable to passive exploitation by an attacker who selects Q. We demonstrate this by installing our own parameters, and showing that it is possible to passively decrypt a single IKE handshake and its associated VPN traffic in isolation without observing any other network traffic.

We still don’t know who installed the back door.

Posted on April 19, 2016 at 5:59 AMView Comments

Back Door in Juniper Firewalls

Juniper has warned about a malicious back door in its firewalls that automatically decrypts VPN traffic. It’s been there for years.

Hopefully details are forthcoming, but the folks at Hacker News have pointed to this page about Juniper’s use of the DUAL_EC_DBRG random number generator. For those who don’t immediately recognize that name, it’s the pseudo-random-number generator that was backdoored by the NSA. Basically, the PRNG uses two secret parameters to create a public parameter, and anyone who knows those secret parameters can predict the output. In the standard, the NSA chose those parameters. Juniper doesn’t use those tainted parameters. Instead:

ScreenOS does make use of the Dual_EC_DRBG standard, but is designed to not use Dual_EC_DRBG as its primary random number generator. ScreenOS uses it in a way that should not be vulnerable to the possible issue that has been brought to light. Instead of using the NIST recommended curve points it uses self-generated basis points and then takes the output as an input to FIPS/ANSI X.9.31 PRNG, which is the random number generator used in ScreenOS cryptographic operations.

This means that all anyone has to do to break the PRNG is to hack into the firewall and copy or modify those “self-generated basis points.”

Here’s a good summary of what we know. The conclusion:

Again, assuming this hypothesis is correct then, if it wasn’t the NSA who did this, we have a case where a US government backdoor effort (Dual-EC) laid the groundwork for someone else to attack US interests. Certainly this attack would be a lot easier given the presence of a backdoor-friendly RNG already in place. And I’ve not even discussed the SSH backdoor which, as Wired notes, could have been the work of a different group entirely. That backdoor certainly isn’t NOBUS — Fox-IT claim to have found the backdoor password in six hours.

More details to come, I’m sure.

EDITED TO ADD (12/21): A technical overview of the SSH backdoor.

EDITED TO ADD (12/22): Matthew Green wrote a really good technical post about this.

They then piggybacked on top of it to build a backdoor of their own, something they were able to do because all of the hard work had already been done for them. The end result was a period in which someone — maybe a foreign government — was able to decrypt Juniper traffic in the U.S. and around the world. And all because Juniper had already paved the road.

Another good article.

Posted on December 21, 2015 at 6:52 AMView Comments

The Logjam (and Another) Vulnerability against Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange

Logjam is a new attack against the Diffie-Hellman key-exchange protocol used in TLS. Basically:

The Logjam attack allows a man-in-the-middle attacker to downgrade vulnerable TLS connections to 512-bit export-grade cryptography. This allows the attacker to read and modify any data passed over the connection. The attack is reminiscent of the FREAK attack, but is due to a flaw in the TLS protocol rather than an implementation vulnerability, and attacks a Diffie-Hellman key exchange rather than an RSA key exchange. The attack affects any server that supports DHE_EXPORT ciphers, and affects all modern web browsers. 8.4% of the Top 1 Million domains were initially vulnerable.

Here’s the academic paper.

One of the problems with patching the vulnerability is that it breaks things:

On the plus side, the vulnerability has largely been patched thanks to consultation with tech companies like Google, and updates are available now or coming soon for Chrome, Firefox and other browsers. The bad news is that the fix rendered many sites unreachable, including the main website at the University of Michigan, which is home to many of the researchers that found the security hole.

This is a common problem with version downgrade attacks; patching them makes you incompatible with anyone who hasn’t patched. And it’s the vulnerability the media is focusing on.

Much more interesting is the other vulnerability that the researchers found:

Millions of HTTPS, SSH, and VPN servers all use the same prime numbers for Diffie-Hellman key exchange. Practitioners believed this was safe as long as new key exchange messages were generated for every connection. However, the first step in the number field sieve — the most efficient algorithm for breaking a Diffie-Hellman connection — is dependent only on this prime. After this first step, an attacker can quickly break individual connections.

The researchers believe the NSA has been using this attack:

We carried out this computation against the most common 512-bit prime used for TLS and demonstrate that the Logjam attack can be used to downgrade connections to 80% of TLS servers supporting DHE_EXPORT. We further estimate that an academic team can break a 768-bit prime and that a nation-state can break a 1024-bit prime. Breaking the single, most common 1024-bit prime used by web servers would allow passive eavesdropping on connections to 18% of the Top 1 Million HTTPS domains. A second prime would allow passive decryption of connections to 66% of VPN servers and 26% of SSH servers. A close reading of published NSA leaks shows that the agency’s attacks on VPNs are consistent with having achieved such a break.

Remember James Bamford’s 2012 comment about the NSA’s cryptanalytic capabilities:

According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”


The breakthrough was enormous, says the former official, and soon afterward the agency pulled the shade down tight on the project, even within the intelligence community and Congress. “Only the chairman and vice chairman and the two staff directors of each intelligence committee were told about it,” he says. The reason? “They were thinking that this computing breakthrough was going to give them the ability to crack current public encryption.”

And remember Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s introduction to the 2013 “Black Budget“:

Also, we are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit internet traffic.

It’s a reasonable guess that this is what both Bamford’s source and Clapper are talking about. It’s an attack that requires a lot of precomputation — just the sort of thing a national intelligence agency would go for.

But that requirement also speaks to its limitations. The NSA isn’t going to put this capability at collection points like Room 641A at AT&T’s San Francisco office: the precomputation table is too big, and the sensitivity of the capability is too high. More likely, an analyst identifies a target through some other means, and then looks for data by that target in databases like XKEYSCORE. Then he sends whatever ciphertext he finds to the Cryptanalysis and Exploitation Services (CES) group, which decrypts it if it can using this and other techniques.

Ross Anderson wrote about this earlier this month, almost certainly quoting Snowden:

As for crypto capabilities, a lot of stuff is decrypted automatically on ingest (e.g. using a “stolen cert”, presumably a private key obtained through hacking). Else the analyst sends the ciphertext to CES and they either decrypt it or say they can’t.

The analysts are instructed not to think about how this all works. This quote also applied to NSA employees:

Strict guidelines were laid down at the GCHQ complex in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on how to discuss projects relating to decryption. Analysts were instructed: “Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods underpinning Bullrun.”

I remember the same instructions in documents I saw about the NSA’s CES.

Again, the NSA has put surveillance ahead of security. It never bothered to tell us that many of the “secure” encryption systems we were using were not secure. And we don’t know what other national intelligence agencies independently discovered and used this attack.

The good news is now that we know reusing prime numbers is a bad idea, we can stop doing it.

EDITED TO ADD: The DH precomputation easily lends itself to custom ASIC design, and is something that pipelines easily. Using BitCoin mining hardware as a rough comparison, this means a couple orders of magnitude speedup.

EDITED TO ADD (5/23): Good analysis of the cryptography.

EDITED TO ADD (5/24): Good explanation by Matthew Green.

Posted on May 21, 2015 at 6:30 AMView Comments

The Techniques for Distributing Child Porn

Fascinating history of an illegal industry:

Today’s schemes are technologically very demanding and extremely complex. It starts with the renting of computer servers in several countries. First the Carders are active to obtain the credit cards and client identities wrongfully. These data are then passed to the falsifiers who manufacture wonderful official documents so that they can be used to identify oneself. These identities and credit card infos are then sold as credit card kits to operators. There is still an alternative where no credit card is needed: in the U.S. one can buy so-called Visa or MasterCard gift cards. However, these with a certain amount of money charged Visa or MasterCard cards usually only usable in the U.S.. Since this anonymous gift cards to buy, these are used to over the Internet with fake identities to pay. Using a false identity and well-functioning credit card servers are then rented and domains purchased as an existing, unsuspecting person. Most of the time an ID is required and in that case they will simply send a forged document. There is yet another alternative: a payment system called WebMoney (webmoney.ru) that is in Eastern Europe as widespread as PayPal in Western Europe. Again, accounts are opened with false identities. Then the business is very simple in Eastern Europe: one buys domains and rents servers via WebMoney and uses it to pay.

As soon as the server is available, a qualified server admin connects to it via a chain of servers in various countries with the help of SSH on the new server. Today complete partitions are encrypted with TrueCrypt and all of the operating system logs are turned off. Because people consider the servers in Germany very reliable, fast and inexpensive, these are usually configured as HIDDEN CONTENT SERVERS. In other words, all the illegal files such as pictures, videos, etc. are uploaded on these servers – naturally via various proxies (and since you are still wondering what these proxies can be – I’ll explain that later). These servers are using firewalls, completely sealed and made inaccessible except by a few servers all over the world – so-called PROXY SERVERs or FORWARD SERVERs. If the server is shut down or Someone logs in from the console, the TrueCrypt partition is unmounted. Just as was done on the content servers, logs are turned off and TrueCrypt is installed on the so-called proxy servers or forward servers. The Russians have developed very clever software that can be used as a proxy server (in addition to the possibilities of SSL tunneling and IP Forwarding). These proxy servers accept incoming connections from the retail customers and route them to the content Servers in Germany – COMPLETELY ANONYMOUSLY AND UNIDENTIFIABLY. The communication link can even be configured to be encrypted. Result: the server in Germany ATTRACTS NO ATTENTION AND STAYS COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS because its IP is not used by anyone except for the proxy server that uses it to route the traffic back and forth through a tunnel – using similar technology as is used with large enterprise VPNs. I stress that these proxy servers are everywhere in the world and only consume a lot of traffic, have no special demands, and above all are completely empty.

Networks of servers around the world are also used at the DNS level. The DNS has many special features: the refresh times have a TTL (Time To Live) of approximately 10 minutes, the entries usually have multiple IP entries in the round robin procedure at each request and rotate the visitor to any of the forward proxy servers. But what is special are the different zones of the DNS linked with extensive GeoIP databases … Way, there are pedophiles in authorities and hosting providers, allowing the Russian server administrators access to valuable information about IP blocks etc. that can be used in conjuction with the DNA. Each one who has little technical knowledge will understabd the importance and implications of this… But what I have to report to you is much more significant than this, and maybe they will finally understand to what extent the public is cheated by the greedy politicians who CANNOT DO ANYTHING against child pornography but use it as a means to justify total monitoring.

Posted on March 11, 2009 at 5:49 AMView Comments

Keyboards and Covert Channels

Interesting research.


This paper introduces JitterBugs, a class of inline interception mechanisms that covertly transmit data by perturbing the timing of input events likely to affect externally observable network traffic. JitterBugs positioned at input devices deep within the trusted environment (e.g., hidden in cables or connectors) can leak sensitive data without compromising the host or its software. In particular, we show a practical Keyboard JitterBug that solves the data exfiltration problem for keystroke loggers by leaking captured passwords through small variations in the precise times at which keyboard events are delivered to the host. Whenever an interactive communication application (such as SSH, Telnet, instant messaging, etc) is running, a receiver monitoring the host’s network traffic can recover the leaked data, even when the session or link is encrypted. Our experiments suggest that simple Keyboard JitterBugs can be a practical technique for capturing and exfiltrating typed secrets under conventional OSes and interactive network applications, even when the receiver is many hops away on the Internet.

Posted on November 8, 2006 at 1:26 PM

The Potential for an SSH Worm

SSH, or secure shell, is the standard protocol for remotely accessing UNIX systems. It’s used everywhere: universities, laboratories, and corporations (particularly in data-intensive back office services). Thanks to SSH, administrators can stack hundreds of computers close together into air-conditioned rooms and administer them from the comfort of their desks.

When a user’s SSH client first establishes a connection to a remote server, it stores the name of the server and its public key in a known_hosts database. This database of names and keys allows the client to more easily identify the server in the future.

There are risks to this database, though. If an attacker compromises the user’s account, the database can be used as a hit-list of follow-on targets. And if the attacker knows the username, password, and key credentials of the user, these follow-on targets are likely to accept them as well.

A new paper from MIT explores the potential for a worm to use this infection mechanism to propagate across the Internet. Already attackers are exploiting this database after cracking passwords. The paper also warns that a worm that spreads via SSH is likely to evade detection by the bulk of techniques currently coming out of the worm detection community.

While a worm of this type has not been seen since the first Internet worm of 1988, attacks have been growing in sophistication and most of the tools required are already in use by attackers. It’s only a matter of time before someone writes a worm like this.

One of the countermeasures proposed in the paper is to store hashes of host names in the database, rather than the names themselves. This is similar to the way hashes of passwords are stored in password databases, so that security need not rely entirely on the secrecy of the database.

The authors of the paper have worked with the open source community, and version 4.0 of OpenSSH has the option of hashing the known-hosts database. There is also a patch for OpenSSH 3.9 that does the same thing.

The authors are also looking for more data to judge the extent of the problem. Details about the research, the patch, data collection, and whatever else thay have going on can be found here.

Posted on May 10, 2005 at 9:06 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.