Boing Boing 

Spies can't make cyberspace secure AND vulnerable to their own attacks


In his Sunday Observer column, John Naughton makes an important point that's hammered home by the escape of the NSA/GCHQ Regin cyberweapon into the wild: spies who make war on the Internet can't be trusted with its security.

Read the rest

E-cigs and malware: real threat or Yellow Peril 2.0?


After a redditor claimed to have gotten a computer virus from factory-installed malware on an e-cig charger, the Guardian reported out the story and concluded that it's possible.

Read the rest

FBI secretly seeking legal power to hack any computer, anywhere


The Bureau is seeking a rule-change from the Administrative Office of the US Courts that would give it the power to distribute malware, hack, and trick any computer, anywhere in the world, in the course of investigations; it's the biggest expansion of FBI spying power in its history and they're hoping to grab it without an act of Congress or any public scrutiny or debate.

Read the rest

Malware authors use Gmail drafts as dead-drops to talk to bots

Once you've successfully infected your victim's computer with malware, you want to be able to send it orders -- so you spawn an invisible Internet Explorer window, login to an anonymous Gmail account, and check in the Drafts folder for secret orders.

Read the rest

Malware needs to know if it's in the Matrix


Once a security researcher discovers a new strain of malicious software -- running a virtual machine on a test-bench -- and adds its signature to anti-virus and network monitor blacklists, it's game over. So today's malware devotes enormous energy to figuring out if it's running on a real computer, or inside one of its enemies' virtual worlds.

Read the rest

Animation explains the dangers of Computercop, the malware that US police agencies distribute to the public

Dave from EFF writes, "Here's a funny, easy-to-understand animation explaining why ComputerCOP parental monitoring software is actually dangerous to kids. More than 245 local law enforcement agencies have purchased this software in bulk and handed it out to families for free."

Using an imaginary kid named Timmy, who gets "pantsed" by ComputerCOP, the animation by Fusion also ties ComputerCOP to the unnecessary equipment locals cops have obtained, like mine-resistant trucks. Fusion's cartoon is based on an EFF investigation published on Wednesday.

Who needs the NSA? Anyone could spy on your kids thanks to ComputerCop

(Thanks, Dave!)

Mobile malware infections race through Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution


The protesters are dependent on mobile apps to coordinate their huge, seemingly unstoppable uprising, and someone -- maybe the Politburo, maybe a contractor -- has released virulent Ios and Android malware into their cohort, and the pathogens are blazing through their electronic ecosystem.

Read the rest

Hundreds of US police forces have distributed malware as "Internet safety software"

Law enforcement agencies have been buying and distributing Computercop, advising citizens that the software is the "first step" for protecting their kids; one sheriff bought copies for every family in the county.

Read the rest

Researchers publish secret details of cops' phone-surveillance malware


Kaspersky Labs (Russia) and Citizen Lab (University of Toronto) have independently published details of phone-hacking tools sold to police departments worldwide by the Italian firm Hacking Team (here's Kaspersky's report and Citizen Lab's). The tools can be used to attack Android, Ios, Windows Mobile and Blackberry devices, with the most sophisticated attacks reserved for Android and Ios.

The spyware can covertly record sound, images and keystrokes, capture screenshots, and access the phones' storage and GPS. The tools are designed to detect attempts to search for them and to delete themselves without a trace if they sense that they are under attack.

Hacking Team insists that its tools are only sold to "democratic" police forces, but Citizen Lab's report suggests that the tool was used by the Saudi government to target dissidents.

The means of infection is device-specific. If police have physical access, it's simple. Android devices can be attacked by infecting a PC with a virus that installs the police malware when the device is connected to it. This attack also works on jailbroken Iphones.

Read the rest

100 creeps busted in massive voyeurware sweep


More than 100 people around the world have been arrested in a coordinated sweep of RATers (people who deploy "remote access trojans" that let them spy on people through their computers cameras and mics, as well as capturing their keystrokes and files). The accused are said to have used the Blackshades trojan, which sold for $40 from bshades.eu, mostly for sexual exploitation of victims (though some were also accused of committing financial fraud).

A US District Court in Manhattan handed down indictments for Alex Yücel and Brendan Johnston, who are said to have operated bshades.eu. Yücel, a Swedish national, was arrested in Moldova and is awaiting extradition to the USA. Johnstone is alleged to have been employed by Yücel to market and support Blackshades.

Read the rest

Forged certificates common in HTTPS sessions

In Analyzing Forged SSL Certificates in the Wild [PDF] a paper authored by researchers at CMU and Facebook, we learn that "a small but significant percentage" of HTTPS connections are made using forged certificates generated by adware and malware. Disturbingly, some of this malware may be working by attacking anti-virus software and stealing its keys, and the authors also speculate that anti-virus authors may be giving their keys out to governments in order to allow police to carry out man-in-the-middle attacks.

The researchers used a technique to detect forged-cert connections that has post-Heartbleed applications, since it would allow sites to discover whether their visitors are being man-in-the-middled through keys stolen before Heartbleed was widely known. This all points to a larger problem with HTTPS, which has been under increased scrutiny since Heartbleed, but whose defects were well understood within the security community for a long time. I co-wrote this editorial for Nature with Ben Laurie in 2012 describing a system called "Certificate Transparency" that makes it easier to audit and remediate problems with SSL certificates, which Google is now adding to Chrome.

Read the rest

xkcd explains how the Heartbleed bug works

Here's a larger version. And here is a literal explanation.

Fedbizopps: the US government's searchable database of defense-contractor opportunities


Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "The government often makes itself more accessible to businesses than the general public. For Sunshine Week, we compiled this guide to using FedBizOpps to keep an eye on surveillance technology contracts."

Fedbizopps is a weird, revealing window into the world of creepy surveillance, arms, and technology contractors who build and maintain the most oppressive and unethical parts of the apparatus of the US government. Everything from drone-testing of biological and chemical weapons to license plate cameras to weaponized bugs and other malware are there. The EFF post also has links to data-mining tools that help estimate just how much money the private arms dealers extract from the tax-coffers.

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

Guy who "fixed" women's computers spied through their webcams


A London court has found a man named Andrew Meldrum guilty of "unauthorised access to computer material" and "voyeurism." Meldrum "helped" young women fix their computers and covertly installed snoopware on them, and subsequently spied on them via their webcams. He is to be sentenced in April. A forensics expert claims that this sort of thing is "very common."

Read the rest

Photos of colorful sunsets and cute kitties will drain your bank account

Image appended with the list of targeted institutions

Trend Micro’s security analysts have recently discovered that images of sunsets (and some cats) being shared on the Internet are carrying malware that can hack into bank accounts and begin drawing funds.

The ZBOT malware, detected as TSPY_ZBOT.TFZAH, downloads a JPEG file into the affected system without the user’s knowledge. The user does not even see this particular image, but if someone did happen to see it it would look like an ordinary photo. We encountered an image of a sunset, but other security researchers reported encountering a cat image. (This particular photo appears to have been lifted from popular photo-sharing sites, as it appears in these sites if you search for sunset.)

Using steganography, a list of banks and financial institutions that will be monitored is hidden inside the image. The list includes institutions from across the globe, particularly in Europe and the Middle East. Once the user visits any of the listed sites, the malware will proceed to steal information such as user credentials.

Read the rest

Careto (the Mask): long-running, sophisticated APT malware

Researchers at Kaspersky Labs have uncovered a new, long-lived piece of espionage malware called Careto (Spanish for "Mask"). The software, which attacks Windows, Mac OS and GNU/Linux, has been running since at least 2007 and has successfully targeted at least 380 victims in 31 countries, gaining access via directed spear-phishing attacks, which included setting up fake sites to impersonate The Guardian. The Mask was thought to be the work of a government, and its targets were "government institutions, diplomatic offices and embassies, energy, oil and gas companies, research organizations and activists." It is possible that the Mask also targeted Android and Ios devices.

Read the rest

Your refrigerator probably hasn't joined a botnet


A mediagenic press-release from Proofpoint, a security firm, announced that its researchers had discovered a 100,000-device-strong botnet made up of hacked "Internet of Things" appliances, such as refrigerators. The story's very interesting, but also wildly implausible as Ars Technica's Dan Goodin explains.

The report is light on technical details, and the details that the company supplied to Goodin later just don't add up. Nevertheless, the idea of embedded systems being recruited to botnets isn't inherently implausible, and some of the attacks that Ang Cui has demonstrated scare the heck out of me.

For more speculation, see my story The Brave Little Toaster, from MIT's TRSF.

Read the rest

HEADWATER: NSA program for sabotaging Huawei routers over the Internet


Bruce Schneier leads a discussion of HEADWATER, the NSA's tool for compromising Huawei routers over the Internet and turning them into snoops. It's one of the entries from the notorious TAO catalog:

Read the rest

Botnet of 20,000 point-of-sale machines


Details are emerging about Stardust, a piece of malicious software that targets point-of-sale credit-card processing machines. Stardust has reportedly compromised over 20,000 PoS machines and turned them into a easy-to-control botnet. The malware's masters can monitor the botnet in realtime and issue fine-grained commands to its components, harvesting a titanic volume of payment card details.

Read the rest

Apps come bundled with secret Bitcoin mining programs, paper over the practice with EULAs


Researchers at Malwarebytes have discovered that some programs covertly install Bitcoin-mining software on users' computers, papering over the practice by including sneaky language in their license agreements allowing for "computer calculations, security."

The malicious programs include YourFreeProxy from Mutual Public, AKA We Build Toolbars, LLC, AKA WBT. YourFreeProxy comes with a program called Monitor.exe, which repeatedly phones home to WBT, eventually silently downloading and installing a Bitcoin mining program called "jhProtominer."

Read the rest

Linux.Darlloz worm attacks embedded systems


A Symantec researcher has discovered a worm that runs on embedded Linux systems, like those found in set-top boxes and routers. It's common for owners of these devices to forget about them, letting them run in the background for so long as they don't misbehave -- and as a result, they are often out of date. The worm, called Linux.Darlloz, attacks out-of-date Linux installations running on Intel hardware (a small minority in the embedded systems world), but it would not be hard to modify it to attack embedded linuces on other chips.

In addition to being out-of-date, many of these systems have "forever day" bugs that will never be patched by their vendors, making them especially hard to secure. The anonymously authored "Internet Census 2012: Port scanning /0 using insecure embedded devices" showed that a dedicated attacker could compromise well over a million devices without much work, recruiting them to run unprecedented denial of service attacks (I wonder if anyone's thought of using this method for mining Bitcoins?).

As the researcher Ang Cui has demonstrated, embedded systems attacks are especially pernicious because it's difficult to boot them from known-good sources. Once an attacker compromises your router, printer, or set-top box, she can reprogram it to give the appearance of accepting updates without actually installing them, meaning that the system can never be provably restored to your control.

The details of the Linux.Darlloz show a much more primitive and unambitious attack, but it hints at a pretty frightening future for the compromised Internet-of-Things (I wrote a short story about this, called "The Brave Little Toaster").

Read the rest

badBIOS: airgap-jumping malware that may use ultrasonic networking to communicate

Security researcher Dragos Ruiu has been painstakingly untangling a weird, scary piece of malicious software that compromises the BIOS of the computers it attacks, allowing it to infect machines with different operating systems. He's dubbed it "badBIOS" and has seen it infect machines that aren't connected to the Internet. It appears that its initial vector may be a USB exploit, spreading by memory stick, but after that, it appears that it continues to communicate with other infected machines by ultrasonic networking through its hosts' mics and speakers (!). On Ars Technica, Dan Goodin has a deep dive into the strange, freaky world of badBIOS.

Read the rest

EFF's guide to the NSA's official malware

Alan sez, "EFF's Deeplinks blog brings us an update on what we know (so far) about how the NSA has been deploying malware onto servers and peoples' computers.

The template for attacking people with malware used by the NSA is in widespread use by criminals and fraudsters, as well as foreign intelligence agencies, so it's important to understand and defend against this threat to avoid being a victim to the plethora of attackers out there.

Read the rest

Android vs malware: how to run a secure, open ecosystem


A presentation by Android Security chief Adrian Ludwig at Berlin's Virus Bulletin conference lays out a fascinating picture of the security dynamic in the open Android ecosystem, through which Android users are able to install apps from the official, Google-operated Play Store, as well as from anywhere else they fancy. Ludwig describes a "defense-in-depth" strategy that is based on continuous monitoring of the overall Android world to come up with responses to malicious software. According to Ludwig, only 0.12 percent of Android apps have characteristics that Google thinks of as "potentially harmful" and there are lots of good apps that share these characteristics, so that number doesn't represent the number of infections. There's also a lot of material on the kind of badware they find on mobile handsets, from commercial spyware that looks at users' browser history and location data to snoopware that covertly spies through the camera and mic to fraudware that sends out premium-rate SMSes in the background.

Read the rest

Keylogger service provides peek inside Nigerian 419 scammers' tactics


Security researcher Brian Krebs has had a look at the contents of "BestRecovery" (now called "PrivateRecovery") a service used by Nigerian 419 scammers to store the keystrokes of victims who have been infected with keyloggers. It appears that many of the scammers -- known locally as "Yahoo Boys" -- also plant keyloggers on each other, and Krebs has been able to get a look at the internal workings of these con artists. He's assembled a slideshow of the scammers' Facebook profiles and other information.

Read the rest

Anonymous Web-host shut down, owner arrested; Tor users compromised by Javascript exploit

FreedomWeb, an Irish company known for providing hosting for Tor "hidden services" -- services reached over the Tor anonymized/encrypted network -- has shut down after its owner, Eric Eoin Marques, was arrested over allegations that he had facilitated the spread of child pornography. Users of Tor hidden services report that their copies of "Tor Browser" (a modified, locked-down version of Firefox that uses Tor by default) were infected with malicious Javascript that de-anonymized them, and speculate that this may have originated with with FBI. Tor Browser formerly came with Javascript disabled by default, but it was switched back on again recently to make the browser more generally useful. Some are predicting an imminent Bitcoin crash precipitated by the shutdown.

Read the rest

FBI pays for malware so it can spy on us with our phones and computers

The Wall Street Journal covers the FBI's use of malware to take over peoples' computers and phones, including one package that is used to turn the microphone in Android devices into a remote listening device. The story is alarming, but misses the two most significant points:

1. That this undermines the security of all of us, not just the people whom the FBI spies upon. The fact that the FBI and other law enforcement organizations have created a market for bugs that can be turned into spyware means that people who find bugs are less likely to present them to the manufacturers for patching. That means that when those bugs are independently identified by criminals, we're all at risk of having our devices subverted.

2. The same companies that sell malware to the FBI also sell it to dictatorships around the world. The FBI legitimizes the development of spyware that is used by despots to decide whom to arrest, whom to disappear, and whom to murder.

Read the rest

When advanced black-hat hacking goes automatic, script kiddies turn into ninjas

In "The anti-virus age is over," Graham Sutherland argues that the targeted, hard-to-stop attacks used by government-level hackers and other "advanced persistent threats" are now so automatable that they have become the domain of everyday script-kiddie creeps. Normally, the advanced techniques are only used against specific, high-value targets -- they're so labor-intensive that it's not worth trying them on millions of people in order to get a few more machines for a spam-sending botnet, or to extract a few credit-card numbers and passwords with a key-logger.

But all attacks tend to migrate from the realm of hand-made, labor-intensive and high-skill techniques to automated techniques that can be deployed with little technical expertise against millions of random targets.

Signature-based analysis, both static (e.g. SHA1 hash) and heuristic (e.g. pattern matching) is useless against polymorphic malware, which is becoming a big concern when you consider how easy it is to write code generators these days. By the time an identifying pattern is found in a particular morphing engine, the bad guys have already written a new one. When you consider that even most browser scripting languages are Turing complete, it becomes evident that the same malware behaviour is almost infinitely re-writeable, with little effort on the developer’s part. Behavioural analysis might provide a low-success-rate detection method, but it’s a weak indicator of malintent at best.

We’ve also seen a huge surge in attacks that fit the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) model in the last few years. These threats have a specific target and goal, rather than randomly attacking targets to grab the low-hanging fruit. Attacks under the APT model can involve social engineering, custom malware, custom exploits / payloads and undisclosed 0-day vulnerabilities – exactly the threats that anti-malware solutions have difficulty handling.

This was the premise and theme of my novella Knights of the Rainbow Table (also available as a free audiobook). It's a funny old world.

The anti-virus age is over.