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Sending Inaudible Commands to Voice Assistants

Researchers have demonstrated the ability to send inaudible commands to voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.

Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online ­– simply with music playing over the radio.

A group of students from University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University showed in 2016 that they could hide commands in white noise played over loudspeakers and through YouTube videos to get smart devices to turn on airplane mode or open a website.

This month, some of those Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.

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IoT Inspector Tool from Princeton

Researchers at Princeton University have released IoT Inspector, a tool that analyzes the security and privacy of IoT devices by examining the data they send across the Internet. They’ve already used the tool to study a bunch of different IoT devices. From their blog post:

Finding #3: Many IoT Devices Contact a Large and Diverse Set of Third Parties

In many cases, consumers expect that their devices contact manufacturers’ servers, but communication with other third-party destinations may not be a behavior that consumers expect.

We have found that many IoT devices communicate with third-party services, of which consumers are typically unaware. We have found many instances of third-party communications in our analyses of IoT device network traffic. Some examples include:

  • Samsung Smart TV. During the first minute after power-on, the TV talks to Google Play, Double Click, Netflix, FandangoNOW, Spotify, CBS, MSNBC, NFL, Deezer, and Facebook­even though we did not sign in or create accounts with any of them.

  • Amcrest WiFi Security Camera. The camera actively communicates with cellphonepush.quickddns.com using HTTPS. QuickDDNS is a Dynamic DNS service provider operated by Dahua. Dahua is also a security camera manufacturer, although Amcrest’s website makes no references to Dahua. Amcrest customer service informed us that Dahua was the original equipment manufacturer.

  • Halo Smoke Detector. The smart smoke detector communicates with broker.xively.com. Xively offers an MQTT service, which allows manufacturers to communicate with their devices.

  • Geeni Light Bulb. The Geeni smart bulb communicates with gw.tuyaus.com, which is operated by TuYa, a China-based company that also offers an MQTT service.

We also looked at a number of other devices, such as Samsung Smart Camera and TP-Link Smart Plug, and found communications with third parties ranging from NTP pools (time servers) to video storage services.

Their first two findings are that “Many IoT devices lack basic encryption and authentication” and that “User behavior can be inferred from encrypted IoT device traffic.” No surprises there.

Boingboing post.

Related: IoT Hall of Shame.

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Two NSA Algorithms Rejected by the ISO

The ISO has rejected two symmetric encryption algorithms: SIMON and SPECK. These algorithms were both designed by the NSA and made public in 2013. They are optimized for small and low-cost processors like IoT devices.

The risk of using NSA-designed ciphers, of course, is that they include NSA-designed backdoors. Personally, I doubt that they’re backdoored. And I always like seeing NSA-designed cryptography (particularly its key schedules). It’s like examining alien technology.

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Public Hearing on IoT Risks

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission is holding hearings on IoT risks:

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC, Commission, or we) will conduct a public hearing to receive information from all interested parties about potential safety issues and hazards associated with internet-connected consumer products. The information received from the public hearing will be used to inform future Commission risk management work. The Commission also requests written comments.

Maybe I should send them my book manuscript.

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The Effects of the Spectre and Meltdown Vulnerabilities

On January 3, the world learned about a series of major security vulnerabilities in modern microprocessors. Called Spectre and Meltdown, these vulnerabilities were discovered by several different researchers last summer, disclosed to the microprocessors’ manufacturers, and patched­ — at least to the extent possible.

This news isn’t really any different from the usual endless stream of security vulnerabilities and patches, but it’s also a harbinger of the sorts of security problems we’re going to be seeing in the coming years. These are vulnerabilities in computer hardware, not software. They affect virtually all high-end microprocessors produced in the last 20 years. Patching them requires large-scale coordination across the industry, and in some cases drastically affects the performance of the computers. And sometimes patching isn’t possible; the vulnerability will remain until the computer is discarded.

Spectre and Meltdown aren’t anomalies. They represent a new area to look for vulnerabilities and a new avenue of attack. They’re the future of security­ — and it doesn’t look good for the defenders.

Modern computers do lots of things at the same time. Your computer and your phone simultaneously run several applications — ­or apps. Your browser has several windows open. A cloud computer runs applications for many different computers. All of those applications need to be isolated from each other. For security, one application isn’t supposed to be able to peek at what another one is doing, except in very controlled circumstances. Otherwise, a malicious advertisement on a website you’re visiting could eavesdrop on your banking details, or the cloud service purchased by some foreign intelligence organization could eavesdrop on every other cloud customer, and so on. The companies that write browsers, operating systems, and cloud infrastructure spend a lot of time making sure this isolation works.

Both Spectre and Meltdown break that isolation, deep down at the microprocessor level, by exploiting performance optimizations that have been implemented for the past decade or so. Basically, microprocessors have become so fast that they spend a lot of time waiting for data to move in and out of memory. To increase performance, these processors guess what data they’re going to receive and execute instructions based on that. If the guess turns out to be correct, it’s a performance win. If it’s wrong, the microprocessors throw away what they’ve done without losing any time. This feature is called speculative execution.

Spectre and Meltdown attack speculative execution in different ways. Meltdown is more of a conventional vulnerability; the designers of the speculative-execution process made a mistake, so they just needed to fix it. Spectre is worse; it’s a flaw in the very concept of speculative execution. There’s no way to patch that vulnerability; the chips need to be redesigned in such a way as to eliminate it.

Since the announcement, manufacturers have been rolling out patches to these vulnerabilities to the extent possible. Operating systems have been patched so that attackers can’t make use of the vulnerabilities. Web browsers have been patched. Chips have been patched. From the user’s perspective, these are routine fixes. But several aspects of these vulnerabilities illustrate the sorts of security problems we’re only going to be seeing more of.

First, attacks against hardware, as opposed to software, will become more common. Last fall, vulnerabilities were discovered in Intel’s Management Engine, a remote-administration feature on its microprocessors. Like Spectre and Meltdown, they affected how the chips operate. Looking for vulnerabilities on computer chips is new. Now that researchers know this is a fruitful area to explore, security researchers, foreign intelligence agencies, and criminals will be on the hunt.

Second, because microprocessors are fundamental parts of computers, patching requires coordination between many companies. Even when manufacturers like Intel and AMD can write a patch for a vulnerability, computer makers and application vendors still have to customize and push the patch out to the users. This makes it much harder to keep vulnerabilities secret while patches are being written. Spectre and Meltdown were announced prematurely because details were leaking and rumors were swirling. Situations like this give malicious actors more opportunity to attack systems before they’re guarded.

Third, these vulnerabilities will affect computers’ functionality. In some cases, the patches for Spectre and Meltdown result in significant reductions in speed. The press initially reported 30%, but that only seems true for certain servers running in the cloud. For your personal computer or phone, the performance hit from the patch is minimal. But as more vulnerabilities are discovered in hardware, patches will affect performance in noticeable ways.

And then there are the unpatchable vulnerabilities. For decades, the computer industry has kept things secure by finding vulnerabilities in fielded products and quickly patching them. Now there are cases where that doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s because computers are in cheap products that don’t have a patch mechanism, like many of the DVRs and webcams that are vulnerable to the Mirai (and other) botnets — ­groups of Internet-connected devices sabotaged for coordinated digital attacks. Sometimes it’s because a computer chip’s functionality is so core to a computer’s design that patching it effectively means turning the computer off. This, too, is becoming more common.

Increasingly, everything is a computer: not just your laptop and phone, but your car, your appliances, your medical devices, and global infrastructure. These computers are and always will be vulnerable, but Spectre and Meltdown represent a new class of vulnerability. Unpatchable vulnerabilities in the deepest recesses of the world’s computer hardware is the new normal. It’s going to leave us all much more vulnerable in the future.

This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

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Daniel Miessler on My Writings about IoT Security

Daniel Miessler criticizes my writings about IoT security:

I know it’s super cool to scream about how IoT is insecure, how it’s dumb to hook up everyday objects like houses and cars and locks to the internet, how bad things can get, and I know it’s fun to be invited to talk about how everything is doom and gloom.

I absolutely respect Bruce Schneier a lot for what he’s contributed to InfoSec, which makes me that much more disappointed with this kind of position from him.

InfoSec is full of those people, and it’s beneath people like Bruce to add their voices to theirs. Everyone paying attention already knows it’s going to be a soup sandwich — a carnival of horrors — a tragedy of mistakes and abuses of trust.

It’s obvious. Not interesting. Not novel. Obvious. But obvious or not, all these things are still going to happen.

I actually agree with everything in his essay. “We should obviously try to minimize the risks, but we don’t do that by trying to shout down the entire enterprise.” Yes, definitely.

I don’t think the IoT must be stopped. I do think that the risks are considerable, and will increase as these systems become more pervasive and susceptible to class breaks. And I’m trying to write a book that will help navigate this. I don’t think I’m the prophet of doom, and don’t want to come across that way. I’ll give the manuscript another read with that in mind.

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New Book Coming in September: “Click Here to Kill Everybody”

My next book is still on track for a September 2018 publication. Norton is still the publisher. The title is now Click Here to Kill Everybody: Peril and Promise on a Hyperconnected Planet, which I generally refer to as CH2KE.

The table of contents has changed since I last blogged about this, and it now looks like this:

  • Introduction: Everything is Becoming a Computer
  • Part 1: The Trends
    • 1. Computers are Still Hard to Secure
    • 2. Everyone Favors Insecurity
    • 3. Autonomy and Physical Agency Bring New Dangers
    • 4. Patching is Failing as a Security Paradigm
    • 5. Authentication and Identification are Getting Harder
    • 6. Risks are Becoming Catastrophic
  • Part 2: The Solutions
    • 7. What a Secure Internet+ Looks Like
    • 8. How We Can Secure the Internet+
    • 9. Government is Who Enables Security
    • 10. How Government Can Prioritize Defense Over Offense
    • 11. What’s Likely to Happen, and What We Can Do in Response
    • 12. Where Policy Can Go Wrong
    • 13. How to Engender Trust on the Internet+
  • Conclusion: Technology and Policy, Together

Two questions for everyone.

1. I’m not really happy with the subtitle. It needs to be descriptive, to counterbalance the admittedly clickbait title. It also needs to telegraph: “everyone needs to read this book.” I’m taking suggestions.

2. In the book I need a word for the Internet plus the things connected to it plus all the data and processing in the cloud. I’m using the word “Internet+,” and I’m not really happy with it. I don’t want to invent a new word, but I need to strongly signal that what’s coming is much more than just the Internet — and I can’t find any existing word. Again, I’m taking suggestions.

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Amazon’s Door Lock Is Amazon’s Bid to Control Your Home

Interesting essay about Amazon’s smart lock:

When you add Amazon Key to your door, something more sneaky also happens: Amazon takes over.

You can leave your keys at home and unlock your door with the Amazon Key app — but it’s really built for Amazon deliveries. To share online access with family and friends, I had to give them a special code to SMS (yes, text) to unlock the door. (Amazon offers other smartlocks that have physical keypads).

The Key-compatible locks are made by Yale and Kwikset, yet don’t work with those brands’ own apps. They also can’t connect with a home-security system or smart-home gadgets that work with Apple and Google software.

And, of course, the lock can’t be accessed by businesses other than Amazon. No Walmart, no UPS, no local dog-walking company.

Keeping tight control over Key might help Amazon guarantee security or a better experience. “Our focus with smart home is on making things simpler for customers ­– things like providing easy control of connected devices with your voice using Alexa, simplifying tasks like reordering household goods and receiving packages,” the Amazon spokeswoman said.

But Amazon is barely hiding its goal: It wants to be the operating system for your home. Amazon says Key will eventually work with dog walkers, maids and other service workers who bill through its marketplace. An Amazon home security service and grocery delivery from Whole Foods can’t be far off.

This is happening all over. Everyone wants to control your life: Google, Apple, Amazon…everyone. It’s what I’ve been calling the feudal Internet. I fear it’s going to get a lot worse.

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