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Security Vulnerabilities in Certificate Pinning

New research found that many banks offer certificate pinning as a security feature, but fail to authenticate the hostname. This leaves the systems open to man-in-the-middle attacks.

From the paper:

Abstract: Certificate verification is a crucial stage in the establishment of a TLS connection. A common security flaw in TLS implementations is the lack of certificate hostname verification but, in general, this is easy to detect. In security-sensitive applications, the usage of certificate pinning is on the rise. This paper shows that certificate pinning can (and often does) hide the lack of proper hostname verification, enabling MITM attacks. Dynamic (black-box) detection of this vulnerability would typically require the tester to own a high security certificate from the same issuer (and often same intermediate CA) as the one used by the app. We present Spinner, a new tool for black-box testing for this vulnerability at scale that does not require purchasing any certificates. By redirecting traffic to websites which use the relevant certificates and then analysing the (encrypted) network traffic we are able to determine whether the hostname check is correctly done, even in the presence of certificate pinning. We use Spinner to analyse 400 security-sensitive Android and iPhone apps. We found that 9 apps had this flaw, including two of the largest banks in the world: Bank of America and HSBC. We also found that TunnelBear, one of the most popular VPN apps was also vulnerable. These apps have a joint user base of tens of millions of users.

News article.

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Google’s Data on Login Thefts

This is interesting research and data:

With Google accounts as a case-study, we teamed up with the University of California, Berkeley to better understand how hijackers attempt to take over accounts in the wild. From March 2016 to March 2017, we analyzed several black markets to see how hijackers steal passwords and other sensitive data.


Our research tracked several black markets that traded third-party password breaches, as well as 25,000 blackhat tools used for phishing and keylogging. In total, these sources helped us identify 788,000 credentials stolen via keyloggers, 12 million credentials stolen via phishing, and 3.3 billion credentials exposed by third-party breaches.

The report.

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New Research in Invisible Inks

It’s a lot more chemistry than I understand:

Invisible inks based on “smart” fluorescent materials have been shining brightly (if only you could see them) in the data-encryption/decryption arena lately…. But some of the materials are costly or difficult to prepare, and many of these inks remain somewhat visible when illuminated with ambient or ultraviolet light. Liang Li and coworkers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University may have come up with a way to get around those problems. The team prepared a colorless solution of an inexpensive lead-based metal-organic framework (MOF) compound and used it in an ink-jet printer to create completely invisible patterns on paper. Then they exposed the paper to a methylammonium bromide decryption solution…revealing the pattern…. They rendered the pattern invisible again by briefly treating the paper with a polar solvent….

Full paper.

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Attack on Old ANSI Random Number Generator

Almost 20 years ago, I wrote a paper that pointed to a potential flaw in the ANSI X9.17 RNG standard. Now, new research has found that the flaw exists in some implementations of the RNG standard.

Here’s the research paper, the website — complete with cute logo — for the attack, and Matthew Green’s excellent blog post on the research.

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E-Mail Tracking

Interesting survey paper: on the privacy implications of e-mail tracking:

Abstract: We show that the simple act of viewing emails contains privacy pitfalls for the unwary. We assembled a corpus of commercial mailing-list emails, and find a network of hundreds of third parties that track email recipients via methods such as embedded pixels. About 30% of emails leak the recipient’s email address to one or more of these third parties when they are viewed. In the majority of cases, these leaks are intentional on the part of email senders, and further leaks occur if the recipient clicks links in emails. Mail servers and clients may employ a variety of defenses, but we analyze 16 servers and clients and find that they are far from comprehensive. We propose, prototype, and evaluate a new defense, namely stripping tracking tags from emails based on enhanced versions of existing web tracking protection lists.

Blog post on the research.

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New Techniques in Fake Reviews

Research paper: “Automated Crowdturfing Attacks and Defenses in Online Review Systems.”

Abstract: Malicious crowdsourcing forums are gaining traction as sources of spreading misinformation online, but are limited by the costs of hiring and managing human workers. In this paper, we identify a new class of attacks that leverage deep learning language models (Recurrent Neural Networks or RNNs) to automate the generation of fake online reviews for products and services. Not only are these attacks cheap and therefore more scalable, but they can control rate of content output to eliminate the signature burstiness that makes crowdsourced campaigns easy to detect.

Using Yelp reviews as an example platform, we show how a two phased review generation and customization attack can produce reviews that are indistinguishable by state-of-the-art statistical detectors. We conduct a survey-based user study to show these reviews not only evade human detection, but also score high on “usefulness” metrics by users. Finally, we develop novel automated defenses against these attacks, by leveraging the lossy transformation introduced by the RNN training and generation cycle. We consider countermeasures against our mechanisms, show that they produce unattractive cost-benefit tradeoffs for attackers, and that they can be further curtailed by simple constraints imposed by online service providers.

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A Framework for Cyber Security Insurance

New paper: “Policy measures and cyber insurance: a framework,” by Daniel Woods and Andrew Simpson, Journal of Cyber Policy, 2017.

Abstract: The role of the insurance industry in driving improvements in cyber security has been identified as mutually beneficial for both insurers and policy-makers. To date, there has been no consideration of the roles governments and the insurance industry should pursue in support of this publicĀ­-private partnership. This paper rectifies this omission and presents a framework to help underpin such a partnership, giving particular consideration to possible government interventions that might affect the cyber insurance market. We have undertaken a qualitative analysis of reports published by policy-making institutions and organisations working in the cyber insurance domain; we have also conducted interviews with cyber insurance professionals. Together, these constitute a stakeholder analysis upon which we build our framework. In addition, we present a research roadmap to demonstrate how the ideas described might be taken forward.

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