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Surveillance of the Internet Backbone

Vice has an article about how data brokers sell access to the Internet backbone. This is netflow data. It’s useful for cybersecurity forensics, but can also be used for things like tracing VPN activity.

At a high level, netflow data creates a picture of traffic flow and volume across a network. It can show which server communicated with another, information that may ordinarily only be available to the server owner or the ISP carrying the traffic. Crucially, this data can be used for, among other things, tracking traffic through virtual private networks, which are used to mask where someone is connecting to a server from, and by extension, their approximate physical location.

In the hands of some governments, that could be dangerous.

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REvil is Off-Line

This is an interesting development:

Just days after President Biden demanded that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia shut down ransomware groups attacking American targets, the most aggressive of the groups suddenly went off-line early Tuesday.

[…]

Gone was the publicly available “happy blog” the group maintained, listing some of its victims and the group’s earnings from its digital extortion schemes. Internet security groups said the custom-made sites ­- think of them as virtual conference rooms — where victims negotiated with REvil over how much ransom they would pay to get their data unlocked also disappeared. So did the infrastructure for making payments.

Okay. So either the US took them down, Russia took them down, or they took themselves down.

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Iranian State-Sponsored Hacking Attempts

Interesting attack:

Masquerading as UK scholars with the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the threat actor TA453 has been covertly approaching individuals since at least January 2021 to solicit sensitive information. The threat actor, an APT who we assess with high confidence supports Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence collection efforts, established backstopping for their credential phishing infrastructure by compromising a legitimate site of a highly regarded academic institution to deliver personalized credential harvesting pages disguised as registration links. Identified targets included experts in Middle Eastern affairs from think tanks, senior professors from well-known academic institutions, and journalists specializing in Middle Eastern coverage.

These connection attempts were detailed and extensive, often including lengthy conversations prior to presenting the next stage in the attack chain. Once the conversation was established, TA453 delivered a “registration link” to a legitimate but compromised website belonging to the University of London’s SOAS radio. The compromised site was configured to capture a variety of credentials. Of note, TA453 also targeted the personal email accounts of at least one of their targets. In subsequent phishing emails, TA453 shifted their tactics and began delivering the registration link earlier in their engagement with the target without requiring extensive conversation. This operation, dubbed SpoofedScholars, represents one of the more sophisticated TA453 campaigns identified by Proofpoint.

The report details the tactics.

News article.

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More Russian Hacking

Two reports this week. The first is from Microsoft, which wrote:

As part of our investigation into this ongoing activity, we also detected information-stealing malware on a machine belonging to one of our customer support agents with access to basic account information for a small number of our customers. The actor used this information in some cases to launch highly-targeted attacks as part of their broader campaign.

The second is from the NSA, CISA, FBI, and the UK’s NCSC, which wrote that the GRU is continuing to conduct brute-force password guessing attacks around the world, and is in some cases successful. From the NSA press release:

Once valid credentials were discovered, the GTsSS combined them with various publicly known vulnerabilities to gain further access into victim networks. This, along with various techniques also detailed in the advisory, allowed the actors to evade defenses and collect and exfiltrate various information in the networks, including mailboxes.

News article.

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Insurance and Ransomware

As ransomware becomes more common, I’m seeing more discussions about the ethics of paying the ransom. Here’s one more contribution to that issue: a research paper that the insurance industry is hurting more than it’s helping.

However, the most pressing challenge currently facing the industry is ransomware. Although it is a societal problem, cyber insurers have received considerable criticism for facilitating ransom payments to cybercriminals. These add fuel to the fire by incentivising cybercriminals’ engagement in ransomware operations and enabling existing operators to invest in and expand their capabilities. Growing losses from ransomware attacks have also emphasised that the current reality is not sustainable for insurers either.

To overcome these challenges and champion the positive effects of cyber insurance, this paper calls for a series of interventions from government and industry. Some in the industry favour allowing the market to mature on its own, but it will not be possible to rely on changing market forces alone. To date, the UK government has taken a light-touch approach to the cyber insurance industry. With the market undergoing changes amid growing losses, more coordinated action by government and regulators is necessary to help the industry reach its full potential.

The interventions recommended here are still relatively light, and reflect the fact that cyber insurance is only a potential incentive for managing societal cyber risk.They include: developing guidance for minimum security standards for underwriting; expanding data collection and data sharing; mandating cyber insurance for government suppliers; and creating a new collaborative approach between insurers and intelligence and law enforcement agencies around ransomware.

Finally, although a well-functioning cyber insurance industry could improve cyber security practices on a societal scale, it is not a silver bullet for the cyber security challenge. It is important to remember that the primary purpose of cyber insurance is not to improve cyber security, but to transfer residual risk. As such, it should be one of many tools that governments and businesses can draw on to manage cyber risk more effectively.

Basically, the insurance industry incents companies to do the cheapest mitigation possible. Often, that’s paying the ransom.

News article.

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Risks of Evidentiary Software

Over at Lawfare, Susan Landau has an excellent essay on the risks posed by software used to collect evidence (a Breathalyzer is probably the most obvious example).

Bugs and vulnerabilities can lead to inaccurate evidence, but the proprietary nature of software makes it hard for defendants to examine it.

The software engineers proposed a three-part test. First, the court should have access to the “Known Error Log,” which should be part of any professionally developed software project. Next the court should consider whether the evidence being presented could be materially affected by a software error. Ladkin and his co-authors noted that a chain of emails back and forth are unlikely to have such an error, but the time that a software tool logs when an application was used could easily be incorrect. Finally, the reliability experts recommended seeing whether the code adheres to an industry standard used in an non-computerized version of the task (e.g., bookkeepers always record every transaction, and thus so should bookkeeping software).

[…]

Inanimate objects have long served as evidence in courts of law: the door handle with a fingerprint, the glove found at a murder scene, the Breathalyzer result that shows a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. But the last of those examples is substantively different from the other two. Data from a Breathalyzer is not the physical entity itself, but rather a software calculation of the level of alcohol in the breath of a potentially drunk driver. As long as the breath sample has been preserved, one can always go back and retest it on a different device.

What happens if the software makes an error and there is no sample to check or if the software itself produces the evidence? At the time of our writing the article on the use of software as evidence, there was no overriding requirement that law enforcement provide a defendant with the code so that they might examine it themselves.

[…]

Given the high rate of bugs in complex software systems, my colleagues and I concluded that when computer programs produce the evidence, courts cannot assume that the evidentiary software is reliable. Instead the prosecution must make the code available for an “adversarial audit” by the defendant’s experts. And to avoid problems in which the government doesn’t have the code, government procurement contracts must include delivery of source code­ — code that is more-or-less readable by people — ­for every version of the code or device.

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The Future of Machine Learning and Cybersecurity

The Center for Security and Emerging Technology has a new report: “Machine Learning and Cybersecurity: Hype and Reality.” Here’s the bottom line:

The report offers four conclusions:

  • Machine learning can help defenders more accurately detect and triage potential attacks. However, in many cases these technologies are elaborations on long-standing methods — not fundamentally new approaches — that bring new attack surfaces of their own.
  • A wide range of specific tasks could be fully or partially automated with the use of machine learning, including some forms of vulnerability discovery, deception, and attack disruption. But many of the most transformative of these possibilities still require significant machine learning breakthroughs.
  • Overall, we anticipate that machine learning will provide incremental advances to cyber defenders, but it is unlikely to fundamentally transform the industry barring additional breakthroughs. Some of the most transformative impacts may come from making previously un- or under-utilized defensive strategies available to more organizations.
  • Although machine learning will be neither predominantly offense-biased nor defense-biased, it may subtly alter the threat landscape by making certain types of strategies more appealing to attackers or defenders.

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Is 85% of US Critical Infrastructure in Private Hands?

Most US critical infrastructure is run by private corporations. This has major security implications, because it’s putting a random power company in — say — Ohio — up against the Russian cybercommand, which isn’t a fair fight.

When this problem is discussed, people regularly quote the statistic that 85% of US critical infrastructure is in private hands. It’s a handy number, and matches our intuition. Still, I have never been able to find a factual basis, or anyone who knows where the number comes from. Paul Rosenzweig investigates, and reaches the same conclusion.

So we don’t know the percentage, but I think we can safely say that it’s a lot.

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