SSL and internet security news

Monthly Archive: November 2019

NTSB Investigation of Fatal Driverless Car Accident

Autonomous systems are going to have to do much better than this.

The Uber car that hit and killed Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Ariz., in March 2018 could not recognize all pedestrians, and was being driven by an operator likely distracted by streaming video, according to documents released by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) this week.

But while the technical failures and omissions in Uber’s self-driving car program are shocking, the NTSB investigation also highlights safety failures that include the vehicle operator’s lapses, lax corporate governance of the project, and limited public oversight.

The details of what happened in the seconds before the collision are worth reading. They describe a cascading series of issues that led to the collision and the fatality.

As computers continue to become part of things, and affect the world in a direct physical manner, this kind of thing will become even more important.

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Identifying and Arresting Ransomware Criminals

The Wall Street Journal has a story about how two people were identified as the perpetrators of a ransomware scheme. They were found because — as generally happens — they made mistakes covering their tracks. They were investigated because they had the bad luck of locking up Washington, DC’s video surveillance cameras a week before the 2017 inauguration.

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Fooling Voice Assistants with Lasers

Interesting:

Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant are vulnerable to attacks that use lasers to inject inaudible­ — and sometimes invisible­ — commands into the devices and surreptitiously cause them to unlock doors, visit websites, and locate, unlock, and start vehicles, researchers report in a research paper published on Monday. Dubbed Light Commands, the attack works against Facebook Portal and a variety of phones.

Shining a low-powered laser into these voice-activated systems allows attackers to inject commands of their choice from as far away as 360 feet (110m). Because voice-controlled systems often don’t require users to authenticate themselves, the attack can frequently be carried out without the need of a password or PIN. Even when the systems require authentication for certain actions, it may be feasible to brute force the PIN, since many devices don’t limit the number of guesses a user can make. Among other things, light-based commands can be sent from one building to another and penetrate glass when a vulnerable device is kept near a closed window.

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xHelper Malware for Android

xHelper is not interesting because of its infection mechanism; the user has to side-load an app onto his phone. It’s not interesting because of its payload; it seems to do nothing more than show unwanted ads. it’s interesting because of its persistence:

Furthermore, even if users spot the xHelper service in the Android operating system’s Apps section, removing it doesn’t work, as the trojan reinstalls itself every time, even after users perform a factory reset of the entire device.

How xHelper survives factory resets is still a mystery; however, both Malwarebytes and Symantec said xHelper doesn’t tamper with system services system apps. In addition, Symantec also said that it was “unlikely that Xhelper comes preinstalled on devices.”

In some cases, users said that even when they removed the xHelper service and then disabled the “Install apps from unknown sources” option, the setting kept turning itself back on, and the device was reinfected in a matter of minutes after being cleaned.

From Symantec:

We first began seeing Xhelper apps in March 2019. Back then, the malware’s code was relatively simple, and its main function was visiting advertisement pages for monetization purposes. The code has changed over time. Initially, the malware’s ability to connect to a C&C server was written directly into the malware itself, but later this functionality was moved to an encrypted payload, in an attempt to evade signature detection. Some older variants included empty classes that were not implemented at the time, but the functionality is now fully enabled. As described previously, Xhelper’s functionality has expanded drastically in recent times.

We strongly believe that the malware’s source code is still a work in progress.

It’s a weird piece of malware. That level of persistence speaks to a nation-state actor. The continuous evolution of the malware implies an organized actor. But sending unwanted ads is far too noisy for any serious use. And the infection mechanism is pretty random. I just don’t know.

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Eavesdropping on SMS Messages inside Telco Networks

Fireeye reports on a Chinese-sponsored espionage effort to eavesdrop on text messages:

FireEye Mandiant recently discovered a new malware family used by APT41 (a Chinese APT group) that is designed to monitor and save SMS traffic from specific phone numbers, IMSI numbers and keywords for subsequent theft. Named MESSAGETAP, the tool was deployed by APT41 in a telecommunications network provider in support of Chinese espionage efforts. APT41’s operations have included state-sponsored cyber espionage missions as well as financially-motivated intrusions. These operations have spanned from as early as 2012 to the present day. For an overview of APT41, see our August 2019 blog post or our full published report.

Yet another example that demonstrates why end-to-end message encryption is so important.

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Details of an Airbnb Fraud

This is a fascinating article about a bait-and-switch Airbnb fraud. The article focuses on one particular group of scammers and how they operate, using the fact that Airbnb as a company doesn’t do much to combat fraud on its platform. But I am more interested in how the fraudsters essentially hacked the complex sociotechnical system that is Airbnb.

The whole article is worth reading.

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Obfuscation as a Privacy Tool

This essay discusses the futility of opting out of surveillance, and suggests data obfuscation as an alternative.

We can apply obfuscation in our own lives by using practices and technologies that make use of it, including:

  • The secure browser Tor, which (among other anti-surveillance technologies) muddles our Internet activity with that of other Tor users, concealing our trail in that of many others.
  • The browser plugins TrackMeNot and AdNauseam, which explore obfuscation techniques by issuing many fake search requests and loading and clicking every ad, respectively.
  • The browser extension Go Rando, which randomly chooses your emotional “reactions” on Facebook, interfering with their emotional profiling and analysis.
  • Playful experiments like Adam Harvey’s “HyperFace” project, finding patterns on textiles that fool facial recognition systems ­ not by hiding your face, but by creating the illusion of many faces.

I am generally skeptical about obfuscation tools. I think of this basically as a signal-to-noise problem, and that adding random noise doesn’t do much to obfuscate the signal. But against broad systems of financially motivated corporate surveillance, it might be enough.

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Homemade TEMPEST Receiver

Tom’s Guide writes about home brew TEMPEST receivers:

Today, dirt-cheap technology and free software make it possible for ordinary citizens to run their own Tempest programs and listen to what their own — and their neighbors’ — electronic devices are doing.

Elliott, a researcher at Boston-based security company Veracode, showed that an inexpensive USB dongle TV tuner costing about $10 can pick up a broad range of signals, which can be “tuned” and interpreted by software-defined radio (SDR) applications running on a laptop computer.

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Friday Squid Blogging: Triassic Kraken

Research paper: “Triassic Kraken: The Berlin Ichthyosaur Death Assemblage Interpreted as a Giant Cephalopod Midden“:

Abstract: The Luning Formation at Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park, Nevada, hosts a puzzling assemblage of at least 9 huge (≤14 m) juxtaposed ichthyosaurs (Shonisaurus popularis). Shonisaurs were cephalopod eating predators comparable to sperm whales (Physeter). Hypotheses presented to explain the apparent mass mortality at the site have included: tidal flat stranding, sudden burial by slope failure, and phytotoxin poisoning. Citing the wackestone matrix, J. A. Holger argued convincingly for a deeper water setting, but her phytotoxicity hypothesis cannot explain how so many came to rest at virtually the same spot. Skeletal articulation indicates that animals were deposited on the sea floor shortly after death. Currents or other factors placed them in a north south orientation. Adjacent skeletons display different taphonomic histories and degrees of disarticulation, ruling out catastrophic mass death, but allowing a scenario in which dead ichthyosaurs were sequentially transported to a sea floor midden. We hypothesize that the shonisaurs were killed and carried to the site by an enormous Triassic cephalopod, a “kraken,” with estimated length of approximately 30 m, twice that of the modern Colossal Squid Mesonychoteuthis. In this scenario, shonisaurs were ambushed by a Triassic kraken, drowned, and dumped on a midden like that of a modern octopus. Where vertebrae in the assemblage are disarticulated, disks are arranged in curious linear patterns with almost geometric regularity. Close fitting due to spinal ligament contraction is disproved by the juxtaposition of different-sized vertebrae from different parts of the vertebral column. The proposed Triassic kraken, which could have been the most intelligent invertebrate ever, arranged the vertebral discs in biserial patterns, with individual pieces nesting in a fitted fashion as if they were part of a puzzle. The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each amphicoelous vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker. Thus the tessellated vertebral disc pavement may represent the earliest known self portrait. The submarine contest between cephalopods and seagoing tetrapods has a long history. A Triassic kraken would have posed a deadly risk for shonisaurs as they dove in pursuit of their smaller cephalopod prey.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

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