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More Attacks against Computer Automatic Update Systems

Last month, Kaspersky discovered that Asus’s live update system was infected with malware, an operation it called Operation Shadowhammer. Now we learn that six other companies were targeted in the same operation.

As we mentioned before, ASUS was not the only company used by the attackers. Studying this case, our experts found other samples that used similar algorithms. As in the ASUS case, the samples were using digitally signed binaries from three other Asian vendors:

  • Electronics Extreme, authors of the zombie survival game called Infestation: Survivor Stories,
  • Innovative Extremist, a company that provides Web and IT infrastructure services but also used to work in game development,
  • Zepetto, the South Korean company that developed the video game Point Blank.

According to our researchers, the attackers either had access to the source code of the victims’ projects or they injected malware at the time of project compilation, meaning they were in the networks of those companies. And this reminds us of an attack that we reported on a year ago: the CCleaner incident.

Also, our experts identified three additional victims: another video gaming company, a conglomerate holding company and a pharmaceutical company, all in South Korea. For now we cannot share additional details about those victims, because we are in the process of notifying them about the attack.

Me on supply chain security.

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China Spying on Undersea Internet Cables

Supply chain security is an insurmountably hard problem. The recent focus is on Chinese 5G equipment, but the problem is much broader. This opinion piece looks at undersea communications cables:

But now the Chinese conglomerate Huawei Technologies, the leading firm working to deliver 5G telephony networks globally, has gone to sea. Under its Huawei Marine Networks component, it is constructing or improving nearly 100 submarine cables around the world. Last year it completed a cable stretching nearly 4,000 miles from Brazil to Cameroon. (The cable is partly owned by China Unicom, a state-controlled telecom operator.) Rivals claim that Chinese firms are able to lowball the bidding because they receive subsidies from Beijing.

Just as the experts are justifiably concerned about the inclusion of espionage “back doors” in Huawei’s 5G technology, Western intelligence professionals oppose the company’s engagement in the undersea version, which provides a much bigger bang for the buck because so much data rides on so few cables.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. For years, the US and the Five Eyes have had a monopoly on spying on the Internet around the globe. Other countries want in.

As I have repeatedly said, we need to decide if we are going to build our future Internet systems for security or surveillance. Either everyone gets to spy, or no one gets to spy. And I believe we must choose security over surveillance, and implement a defense-dominant strategy.

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Malware Installed in Asus Computers through Hacked Update Process

Kaspersky Labs is reporting on a new supply chain attack they call “Shadowhammer.”

In January 2019, we discovered a sophisticated supply chain attack involving the ASUS Live Update Utility. The attack took place between June and November 2018 and according to our telemetry, it affected a large number of users.

[…]

The goal of the attack was to surgically target an unknown pool of users, which were identified by their network adapters’ MAC addresses. To achieve this, the attackers had hardcoded a list of MAC addresses in the trojanized samples and this list was used to identify the actual intended targets of this massive operation. We were able to extract more than 600 unique MAC addresses from over 200 samples used in this attack. Of course, there might be other samples out there with different MAC addresses in their list.

We believe this to be a very sophisticated supply chain attack, which matches or even surpasses the Shadowpad and the CCleaner incidents in complexity and techniques. The reason that it stayed undetected for so long is partly due to the fact that the trojanized updaters were signed with legitimate certificates (eg: “ASUSTeK Computer Inc.”). The malicious updaters were hosted on the official liveupdate01s.asus[.]com and liveupdate01.asus[.]com ASUS update servers.

The sophistication of the attack leads to the speculation that a nation-state — and one of the cyber powers — is responsible.

As I have previously written, supply chain security is “an incredibly complex problem.” These attacks co-opt the very mechanisms we need to trust for our security. And the international nature of our industry results in an array of vulnerabilities that are very hard to secure.

Kim Zetter has a really good article on this. Check if your computer is infected here, or use this diagnostic tool from Asus.

Another news article.

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That Bloomberg Supply-Chain-Hack Story

Back in October, Bloomberg reported that China has managed to install backdoors into server equipment that ended up in networks belonging to — among others — Apple and Amazon. Pretty much everybody has denied it (including the US DHS and the UK NCSC). Bloomberg has stood by its story — and is still standing by it.

I don’t think it’s real. Yes, it’s plausible. But first of all, if someone actually surreptitiously put malicious chips onto motherboards en masse, we would have seen a photo of the alleged chip already. And second, there are easier, more effective, and less obvious ways of adding backdoors to networking equipment.

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Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Falsely Labeled as Octopus

Two New Yorkers have been charged with importing squid from Peru and then reselling it as octopus.

Yet another problem that a blockchain-enabled supply-chain system won’t solve.

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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