Radio relay attacks are technically complicated to execute, but conceptually easy to understand: attackers simply extend the range of your existing key using what is essentially a high-tech walkie-talkie. One thief stands near you while you’re in the grocery store, intercepting your key’s transmitted signal with a radio transceiver. Another stands near your car, with another transceiver, taking the signal from their friend and passing it on to the car. Since the car and the key can now talk, through the thieves’ range extenders, the car has no reason to suspect the key isn’t inside—and fires right up.
But Tesla’s credit card keys, like many digital keys stored in cell phones, don’t work via radio. Instead, they rely on a different protocol called Near Field Communication or NFC. Those keys had previously been seen as more secure, since their range is so limited and their handshakes with cars are more complex.
Now, researchers seem to have cracked the code. By reverse-engineering the communications between a Tesla Model Y and its credit card key, they were able to properly execute a range-extending relay attack against the crossover. While this specific use case focuses on Tesla, it’s a proof of concept—NFC handshakes can, and eventually will, be reverse-engineered.
Posted on September 15, 2022 at 10:28 AM •
Stewart Baker discusses why the industry-norm responsible disclosure for software vulnerabilities fails for cryptocurrency software.
Why can’t the cryptocurrency industry solve the problem the way the software and hardware industries do, by patching and updating security as flaws are found? Two reasons: First, many customers don’t have an ongoing relationship with the hardware and software providers that protect their funds—nor do they have an incentive to update security on a regular basis. Turning to a new security provider or using updated software creates risks; leaving everything the way it was feels safer. So users won’t be rushing to pay for and install new security patches.
Second, cryptocurrency is famously and deliberately decentralized, anonymized, and low friction. That means that the company responsible for hardware or software security may have no way to identify who used its product, or to get the patch to those users. It also means that many wallets with security flaws will be publicly accessible, protected only by an elaborate password. Once word of the flaw leaks, the password can be reverse engineered by anyone, and the legitimate owners are likely to find themselves in a race to move their assets before the thieves do. Even in the software industry, hackers routinely reverse engineer Microsoft’s patches to find the security flaws they fix and then try to exploit them before the patches have been fully installed.
He doesn’t have any good ideas to fix this. I don’t either. Just add it to the pile of blockchain’s many problems.
Posted on September 9, 2022 at 8:33 AM •
This vulnerability was reported to Zoom last December:
The exploit works by targeting the installer for the Zoom application, which needs to run with special user permissions in order to install or remove the main Zoom application from a computer. Though the installer requires a user to enter their password on first adding the application to the system, Wardle found that an auto-update function then continually ran in the background with superuser privileges.
When Zoom issued an update, the updater function would install the new package after checking that it had been cryptographically signed by Zoom. But a bug in how the checking method was implemented meant that giving the updater any file with the same name as Zoom’s signing certificate would be enough to pass the test—so an attacker could substitute any kind of malware program and have it be run by the updater with elevated privilege.
It seems that it’s not entirely fixed:
Following responsible disclosure protocols, Wardle informed Zoom about the vulnerability in December of last year. To his frustration, he says an initial fix from Zoom contained another bug that meant the vulnerability was still exploitable in a slightly more roundabout way, so he disclosed this second bug to Zoom and waited eight months before publishing the research.
EDITED TO ADD: Disclosure works. The vulnerability seems to be patched now.
Posted on August 17, 2022 at 6:11 AM •
I haven’t written about Apple’s Lockdown Mode yet, mostly because I haven’t delved into the details. This is how Apple describes it:
Lockdown Mode offers an extreme, optional level of security for the very few users who, because of who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. Turning on Lockdown Mode in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura further hardens device defenses and strictly limits certain functionalities, sharply reducing the attack surface that potentially could be exploited by highly targeted mercenary spyware.
At launch, Lockdown Mode includes the following protections:
- Messages: Most message attachment types other than images are blocked. Some features, like link previews, are disabled.
- Apple services: Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are blocked if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request.
- Wired connections with a computer or accessory are blocked when iPhone is locked.
- Configuration profiles cannot be installed, and the device cannot enroll into mobile device management (MDM), while Lockdown Mode is turned on.
What Apple has done here is really interesting. It’s common to trade security off for usability, and the results of that are all over Apple’s operating systems—and everywhere else on the Internet. What they’re doing with Lockdown Mode is the reverse: they’re trading usability for security. The result is a user experience with fewer features, but a much smaller attack surface. And they aren’t just removing random features; they’re removing features that are common attack vectors.
There aren’t a lot of people who need Lockdown Mode, but it’s an excellent option for those who do.
EDITED TO ADD (7/31): An analysis of the effect of Lockdown Mode on Safari.
Posted on July 26, 2022 at 7:57 AM •
This is a dangerous vulnerability:
An assessment from security firm BitSight found six vulnerabilities in the Micodus MV720, a GPS tracker that sells for about $20 and is widely available. The researchers who performed the assessment believe the same critical vulnerabilities are present in other Micodus tracker models. The China-based manufacturer says 1.5 million of its tracking devices are deployed across 420,000 customers. BitSight found the device in use in 169 countries, with customers including governments, militaries, law enforcement agencies, and aerospace, shipping, and manufacturing companies.
BitSight discovered what it said were six “severe” vulnerabilities in the device that allow for a host of possible attacks. One flaw is the use of unencrypted HTTP communications that makes it possible for remote hackers to conduct adversary-in-the-middle attacks that intercept or change requests sent between the mobile application and supporting servers. Other vulnerabilities include a flawed authentication mechanism in the mobile app that can allow attackers to access the hardcoded key for locking down the trackers and the ability to use a custom IP address that makes it possible for hackers to monitor and control all communications to and from the device.
The security firm said it first contacted Micodus in September to notify company officials of the vulnerabilities. BitSight and CISA finally went public with the findings on Tuesday after trying for months to privately engage with the manufacturer. As of the time of writing, all of the vulnerabilities remain unpatched and unmitigated.
These are computers and computer vulnerabilities, but because the computers are attached to cars, the vulnerabilities become potentially life-threatening. CISA writes:
These vulnerabilities could impact access to a vehicle fuel supply, vehicle control, or allow locational surveillance of vehicles in which the device is installed.
I wouldn’t have buried “vehicle control” in the middle of that sentence.
Posted on July 21, 2022 at 8:36 AM •
This is a new vulnerability against Apple’s M1 chip. Researchers say that it is unpatchable.
Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, however, have created a novel hardware attack, which combines memory corruption and speculative execution attacks to sidestep the security feature. The attack shows that pointer authentication can be defeated without leaving a trace, and as it utilizes a hardware mechanism, no software patch can fix it.
The attack, appropriately called “Pacman,” works by “guessing” a pointer authentication code (PAC), a cryptographic signature that confirms that an app hasn’t been maliciously altered. This is done using speculative execution—a technique used by modern computer processors to speed up performance by speculatively guessing various lines of computation—to leak PAC verification results, while a hardware side-channel reveals whether or not the guess was correct.
What’s more, since there are only so many possible values for the PAC, the researchers found that it’s possible to try them all to find the right one.
It’s not obvious how to exploit this vulnerability in the wild, so I’m unsure how important this is. Also, I don’t know if it also applies to Apple’s new M2 chip.
Research paper. Another news article.
Posted on June 15, 2022 at 6:05 AM •
Interesting vulnerability in Tesla’s NFC key cards:
Martin Herfurt, a security researcher in Austria, quickly noticed something odd about the new feature: Not only did it allow the car to automatically start within 130 seconds of being unlocked with the NFC card, but it also put the car in a state to accept entirely new keys—with no authentication required and zero indication given by the in-car display.
“The authorization given in the 130-second interval is too general… [it’s] not only for drive,” Herfurt said in an online interview. “This timer has been introduced by Tesla…in order to make the use of the NFC card as a primary means of using the car more convenient. What should happen is that the car can be started and driven without the user having to use the key card a second time. The problem: within the 130-second period, not only the driving of the car is authorized, but also the [enrolling] of a new key.”
Posted on June 14, 2022 at 7:19 AM •
Following a recent Supreme Court ruling, the Justice Department will no longer prosecute “good faith” security researchers with cybercrimes:
The policy for the first time directs that good-faith security research should not be charged. Good faith security research means accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability, where such activity is carried out in a manner designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the security or safety of the class of devices, machines, or online services to which the accessed computer belongs, or those who use such devices, machines, or online services.
The new policy states explicitly the longstanding practice that “the department’s goals for CFAA enforcement are to promote privacy and cybersecurity by upholding the legal right of individuals, network owners, operators, and other persons to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information stored in their information systems.” Accordingly, the policy clarifies that hypothetical CFAA violations that have concerned some courts and commentators are not to be charged. Embellishing an online dating profile contrary to the terms of service of the dating website; creating fictional accounts on hiring, housing, or rental websites; using a pseudonym on a social networking site that prohibits them; checking sports scores at work; paying bills at work; or violating an access restriction contained in a term of service are not themselves sufficient to warrant federal criminal charges. The policy focuses the department’s resources on cases where a defendant is either not authorized at all to access a computer or was authorized to access one part of a computer—such as one email account—and, despite knowing about that restriction, accessed a part of the computer to which his authorized access did not extend, such as other users’ emails.
EDITED TO ADD (6/14): Josephine Wolff writes about this update.
Posted on May 24, 2022 at 6:11 AM •
Both Google and Mandiant are reporting a significant increase in the number of zero-day vulnerabilities reported in 2021.
2021 included the detection and disclosure of 58 in-the-wild 0-days, the most ever recorded since Project Zero began tracking in mid-2014. That’s more than double the previous maximum of 28 detected in 2015 and especially stark when you consider that there were only 25 detected in 2020. We’ve tracked publicly known in-the-wild 0-day exploits in this spreadsheet since mid-2014.
While we often talk about the number of 0-day exploits used in-the-wild, what we’re actually discussing is the number of 0-day exploits detected and disclosed as in-the-wild. And that leads into our first conclusion: we believe the large uptick in in-the-wild 0-days in 2021 is due to increased detection and disclosure of these 0-days, rather than simply increased usage of 0-day exploits.
In 2021, Mandiant Threat Intelligence identified 80 zero-days exploited in the wild, which is more than double the previous record volume in 2019. State-sponsored groups continue to be the primary actors exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities, led by Chinese groups. The proportion of financially motivated actors—particularly ransomware groups—deploying zero-day exploits also grew significantly, and nearly 1 in 3 identified actors exploiting zero-days in 2021 was financially motivated. Threat actors exploited zero-days in Microsoft, Apple, and Google products most frequently, likely reflecting the popularity of these vendors. The vast increase in zero-day exploitation in 2021, as well as the diversification of actors using them, expands the risk portfolio for organizations in nearly every industry sector and geography, particularly those that rely on these popular systems.
Posted on April 27, 2022 at 1:40 PM •
Wyze ignored a vulnerability in its home security cameras for three years. Bitdefender, who discovered the vulnerability, let the company get away with it.
In case you’re wondering, no, that is not normal in the security community. While experts tell me that the concept of a “responsible disclosure timeline” is a little outdated and heavily depends on the situation, we’re generally measuring in days, not years. “The majority of researchers have policies where if they make a good faith effort to reach a vendor and don’t get a response, that they publicly disclose in 30 days,” Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and former chief security officer at Facebook, tells me.
Posted on April 4, 2022 at 6:13 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.