When law-enforcement depends on cyber-insecurity, we're all at risk


It's not enough to pass rules limiting use of "stingray" mobile-phone surveillance devices by civilians: for so long as cops depend on these devices, the vulnerabilities they exploit will not be fixed, leaving us all at risk.

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Save the net, break up the NSA

Bruce Schneier nails it: "efficiency is not the most important goal here; security and liberty are."

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GCHQ's black bag of dirty hacking tricks revealed

The dirty tricks used by JTRIG -- the toolsmiths of the UK spy agency GCHQ -- have been published, with details on how the agency manipulates public opinion, censors Youtube, games pageview statistics, spy on Ebay use, conduct DDoS attacks, and connect two unsuspecting parties with one another by phone.

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Google's badass "Security Princess" profiled


Parisa Tabriz 's title at Google is "Security Princess" -- meaning that she runs the adversarial internal team tasked with continuously testing and probing Google's security to find flaws before the enemy does.

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Meet the ninja who protects First Look from the crooked spies it reports on


First Look Media was founded to report on sensitive, adversarial stories about the world's spy agencies. Imagine being the sysadmin in charge of ensuring that the spies being busted in the site's articles didn't hack the site itself.

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Anti-forensic mobile OS gets your phone to lie for you

In Android Anti-forensics: Modifying CyanogenMod Karl-Johan Karlsson and William Bradley Glisson present a version of the Cyanogenmod alternate operating system for Android devices, modified so that it generates plausible false data to foil forensic analysis by law enforcement. The idea is to create a mobile phone that "lies" for you so that adversaries who coerce you into letting them take a copy of its data can't find out where you've been, who you've been talking to, or what you've been talking about.

I'm interested in this project but wonder about how to make it practical for daily use. Presently, it maintains a hidden set of true data, and a trick set of false data intended to be fetched by forensic tools. Presumably, this only works until the forensic tools are modified to spot the real data. But you can conceptually imagine a phone that maintains a normal address book and SMS history, etc -- all the things that are useful to have in daily use -- but that, on a certain signal (say, when an alternate unlock code is entered, or after a certain number of failed unlock attempts) scrubs all that and replaces it with plausible deniability data.

Obviously, this kind of thing doesn't work against state-level actors who can subpoena (or coerce) your location data and call history from your carrier, but those people don't need to seize your phone in the first place.

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Mysterious announcement from Truecrypt declares the project insecure and dead

The abrupt announcement that the widely used, anonymously authored disk-encryption tool Truecrypt is insecure and will no longer be maintained shocked the crypto world–after all, this was the tool Edward Snowden himself lectured on at a Cryptoparty in Hawai’i. Cory Doctorow tries to make sense of it all.

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Estonia's online voting system is horrifically insecure and can't be trusted

Jason Kitcat writes, "I'm currently in Tallinn, Estonia as part of a team of independent security and elections researchers sharing our findings that the Estonian online e-voting system has serious flaws. We monitored the e-voting system in live use as accredited observers during municipal elections in October 2013. Then, using the source code the Estonian National Election Committee publishes, a replica of the system was built at the University of Michigan."

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Former NSA boss defends breaking computer security (in the name of national security)


For me, the most under-reported, under-appreciated element of the Snowden leaks is the BULLRUN/EDGEHILL program, through which the NSA and GCHQ spend $250,000,000/year sabotaging information security. In a great Wired story, Andy Greenberg analyzes former NSA chief Keith Alexander's defense of the stockpiling of vulnerabilities to attack "bad guys." There is no delusion more deadly than the idea that spies will make us more secure by weakening our computers' security to make it easier to spy on us.

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Hacking the hospital: medical devices have terrible default security


Scott Erven is head of information security for a healthcare provider called Essentia Health, and his Friday presentation at Chicago's Thotcon, "Just What The Doctor Ordered?" is a terrifying tour through the disastrous state of medical device security.

Wired's Kim Zetter summarizes Erven's research, which ranges from the security of implanted insulin pumps and defibrillators to surgical robots and MRIs. Erven and his team discovered that hospitals are full of fundamentally insecure devices, and that these insecurities are not the result of obscure bugs buried deep in their codebase (as was the case with the disastrous Heartbleed vulnerability), but rather these are incredibly stupid, incredibly easy to discover mistakes, such as hardcoded easy default passwords. For example: surgical robots have their own internal firewall. If you run a vulnerability scanner against that firewall, it just crashes, and leaves the robot wide open.

The backups for image repositories for X-rays and other scanning equipment have no passwords. Drug-pumps can be reprogrammed over the Internet with ease. Defibrillators can be made to deliver shocks -- or to withhold them when needed. Doctors' instructions to administer therapies can be intercepted and replayed, adding them to other patients' records. You can turn off the blood fridge, crash life-support equipment and reset it to factory defaults. The devices themselves are all available on the whole hospital network, so once you compromise an employee's laptop with a trojan, you can roam free. You can change CT scanner parameters and cause them to over-irradiate patients.

The one bright spot is that anaesthesia and ventilators are not generally networked and are more secure.

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Google Maps' spam problem presents genuine security issues


Bryan Seely, a Microsoft Engineer demonstrated an attack against Google Maps through which he was able to set up fake Secret Service offices in the company's geo-database, complete with fake phone numbers that rang a switch under his control and then were forwarded to real Secret Service offices, allowing him to intercept and record phone-calls made to the Secret Service (including one call from a police officer reporting counterfeit money). Seely was able to attack Google Maps by adding two ATMs to the database through its Google Places crowdsourcing tool, verifying them through a phone verification service (since discontinued by Google), then changing them into Secret Service offices. According to Seely, the disabling of the phone-verification service would not prevent him from conducting this attack again.

As Dune Lawrence points out, this is a higher-stakes version of a common spam-attack on Google Maps practiced by locksmith, carpet cleaning, and home repair services. Spammers flood Google Maps with listing for fake "local" companies offering these services, and rake in high commissions when you call to get service, dispatching actual local tradespeople who often charge more than you were quoted (I fell victim to this once, when I had a key break off in the lock of my old office-door in London and called what appeared to be a "local" locksmith, only to reach a call-center who dispatched a locksmith who took two hours to arrive and charged a huge premium over what I later learned by local locksmiths would have charged).

A detailed post by Dan Austin describes this problem, points out that Google is more than four years late in delivering promised fixes to the problem, and offers solutions of his own. He suggests that the high Google Adwords revenue from spammy locksmiths and other services is responsible for the slow response to the problem.

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Samsung Galaxy back-door allows for over-the-air filesystem access


Developers from the Replicant project (a free Android offshoot) have documented a serious software back-door in Samsung's Android phones, which "provides remote access to the data stored on the device." They believe it is "likely" that the backdoor could provide "over-the-air remote control" to "access the phone's file system."

At issue is Samsung's proprietary IPC protocol, used in its modems. This protocol implements a set of commands called "RFS commands." The Replicant team says that it can't find "any particular legitimacy nor relevant use-case" for adding these commands, but adds that "it is possible that these were added for legitimate purposes, without the intent of doing harm by providing a back-door. Nevertheless, the result is the same and it allows the modem to access the phone's storage."

The Replicant site includes proof-of-concept sourcecode for a program that will access the file-system over the modem. Replicant has created a replacement for the relevant Samsung software that does not allow for back-door access.

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How the NSA plans to automatically infect "millions" of computers with spyware




A new Snowden leak, detailed in a long, fascinating piece in The Intercept, explains the NSA's TURBINE initiative, intended to automate malicious software infections. These infections -- called "implants" in spy jargon -- have historically been carried out on a narrow, surgical scale, targeted at people of demonstrated value to spies, due to the expense and difficulty of arranging the attacks.

But TURBINE, which was carried out with other "Five Eyes" spy agencies as part of the NSA's $67.6M "Owning the Net" plan, is intended to automate the infection process, allowing for "millions" of infections at once.

The article mentions an internal NSA message-board posting called "I hunt sys admins," sheds some light on the surveillance practices at the NSA. In the post, an NSA operative explains that he targets systems administrators at companies, especially telecoms companies, as a "means to an end" -- that is, infiltrating the companies' networks. As Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher point out, this admission shows that malware attacks are not targeted solely or even particularly at people suspected of terrorism or other crimes -- rather, they are aimed at the people who maintain the infrastructure of critical networks and systems to allow the NSA to control those systems.

The malware that TURBINE implants can compromise systems in a variety of ways, including hijacking computer cameras and microphones, harvesting Web-browsing history and email traffic, logging passwords and other keystrokes, etc.

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Security as a public health discipline, not an engineering one

In my latest Guardian column, If GCHQ wants to improve national security it must fix our technology, I argue that computer security isn't really an engineering issue, it's a public health issue. As with public health, it's more important to be sure that our pathogens are disclosed, understood and disclosed than it is to keep them secret so we can use them against our enemies.

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Break up the NSA and save American spooks from themselves

On CNN, Bruce Schneier lays out the current organizational structure of the NSA, dividing its activities in to three categories: spying on specific people; spying on everyone; and breaking the Internet to make spying easier. He then proposes a new structure for the American intelligence apparat: move spying on specific people to a totally separate US Cyber Command under the DoD ("attacking enemy networks is an offensive military operation, and should be part of an offensive military unit"); move spying on Americans to the FBI and create safeguards to be sure this is done in accord with the law and the Constitution; and terminate the NSA's program of undermining security.

Instead, put the NSA in charge of improving the security of Internet users -- including American residents, businesses and government agencies -- so that the nation is resilient. As Schneier writes: "We need the NSA's expertise to secure our social networks, business systems, computers, phones and critical infrastructure. Just recall the recent incidents of hacked accounts -- from Target to Kickstarter. What once seemed occasional now seems routine. Any NSA work to secure our networks and infrastructure can be done openly -- no secrecy required."

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