Security News for the Week Ending January 24, 2020

Breaches Gone Wild – Very Wild

Since EU’s GDPR went into effect on May 25, 2018 – about 18 months ago – 160,000 Breaches have been reported to EU authorities.  A calculator will tell you that means that people are reporting between 250 and 300 security incidents A DAY!

If you think that magically, 18 months ago, the number of breaches that were occurring skyrocketed – well that is not likely.  At least one of the data protection authorities says that there is over-reporting, but that two thirds of the reports are legitimate.

So far companies have PAID about $125 million in fines and the largest single fine was about $55 million.  Expect many more fines in the future since the authorities have not processed most of those 160,000 reports.  Source: ZDNet

Hacker Posts 500,000 Userid/Password Combinations

A hacker who is changing his business model posted the userids, passwords and IP addresses of 515,000 servers, routers and IoT devices on the Internet.  The hacker had used the compromised devices to attack other computers in Distributed Denial of Service attacks.

But he has decided to change his business model and instead use powerful servers in data centers to attack his victims, so he didn’t need all of these devices any more.

What is not clear is why he published the list.  He certainly could have sold it.  Maybe he thought that if the list became public people who change their passwords from the default or easy to guess ones that they were using.  Source: ZDNet


New York State Want to Ban Government Agencies From Paying Ransoms

Two NY Senators, a Republican and a Democrat, have each introduced bills that would outlaw using taxpayer money to pay ransoms.  One of the bills includes language to create a fund to help local municipalities improve their security.  Given the number of attacks on government networks, this would cause some tension.  If a city could pay a ransom and get operational in a few days vs. if they didn’t have good backups, it could take months to recover.  Stay tuned.  Source: ZDNet


U.N. Report: Bezos Hacked By Saudi Prince MBS

While some people are questioning the report by U.N. experts that Amazon and Washington Post CEO Jeff Bezos phone was hacked by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman.  The report says that the hacking can be tied directly to a Whatsapp message sent from MBS’s phone.  Give other things MBS is accused of doing, this is certainly possible.  While the Saudis, not surprisingly, called the report absurd, others are calling for an investigation.  Source: The Register

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Swatting is on the Rise

Swatting, the very illegal and sometimes deadly practice of making a prank call to 911 in attempt to get SWAT police to storm a building is apparently on the rise.  The premise is often that someone is holding a hostage or threatening to murder someone which puts the cops in a no win situation.  If they don’t treat it seriously and someone is being threatened they get in trouble.  If they do treat it seriously and it is a fake, the police can do a lot of damage and, in some cases, kill people.  That happened recently when the victim, who it turns out was not even the person who was supposed to be SWATted came out of his house when the police arrived and the police shot and killed him.  The guy who did it was caught and prosecuted and is serving 20 years at least.

One of the challenges is that the police in almost every city in the country are NOT trained to figure out which 911 calls are real and which ones are hoaxes.  In the case of the Kansas man above who was killed, the caller was smart enough to evade the 911 call recording and tracking mechanisms by calling the non-emergency police number.

According to the NY Times, this is a problem on both coasts with police being called to multiple executives homes over the last few months.

Corporate security at some tech companies are working on dealing with the threat, but we should remember that the police in Kansas went to the “wrong” house (it was the house they were told to go to, but it was not the house the SWATter wanted them to go to).

Seattle is the only city in the country where the police have created a high risk register where executives can register their family members so the cops can attempt to reach someone to try and figure out if it is a hoax or not.

We don’t really know how frequent this is happening because unless things go horribly wrong, the police try and keep things quiet.  In addition, the victims also don’t talk about it because that would only bring attention to them.

Information for this post came from CNet.

Recent SWATting events include one in Victorville that ended well when the cops figured out it was a fake and another one in Washington that targeted the author of a book.

SWATting has been around for years;  the FBI even put out an alert in 2013, but the frequency has been increasing enough that it is a threat to public safety.



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A New Brexit Deal Is Proposed

As we get closer to the January 31st deadline for the UK to sort of kind of leave the EU, the bill that the PM’s side so carefully drafted may or may not hold together.

Over the last two days, the House of Lords voted against Johnson 5 times, forcing the bill back to the House of Commons, which will likely try to undo the changes.  What the House of Lords does after that is not clear.  Read the details of the changes here.

What is in the bill with regard to security and privacy is this:

  1. After the 31st, the UK will enter a transition period lasting until the end of this year during which time the EU and UK will negotiate about what happens on January 1, 2021.
  2. Apparently there is no option to extend this 11 month negotiating period and if the EU and UK can’t agree, the UK will leave in a so-called “hard exit” where the UK becomes a third country with whatever agreements might have been created during the next 11 months.
  3. In the meantime, UK companies will need to continue to follow GDPR.
  4. Companies will also need to comply with the UK Data Protection Act of 2019.
  5.  As a result of 3 and 4, data can continue to flow between the EU and UK for the next 11 months.
  6. The UK will try to negotiate an “adequacy decision” meaning that the EU says that the UK’s data protection laws are adequate so that data can flow permanently.  Historically, these determinations have taken way longer than 11 months, so that doesn’t seem likely.
  7. Alternatively they could write and approve a privacy-shield type law like the US has with the EU.  While this could be done more quickly, the courts may strike down the US Privacy Shield law this year so,  I am not sure what this means.
  8.  If 6 or 7 doesn’t happen then companies will need to figure out a different solution such as Binding Corporate Rules, but those are both complex and not easy to get approved.
  9. In the case of moving data between the UK and US, Privacy Shield still works, at least in the short term, but it will need some changes.
  10. The UK says that it plans to keep complying with GDPR long term (because they do want to be able to facilitate commerce between the EU and UK).

Bottom line, things are moving forward, but there is still a lot of uncertainty.  Some information for this post came from CSO Online.

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Does Your Incident Response Plan Address TLS Certificate Revocation?

Warning: Sorry, this post is way more technical than most of my posts.  If you are an executive reading this, you may want to show this to your security or IT folks and ask “how are we handling this?”.  They should be able to explain that to you in English.

Incident response is all about having already considered the scenarios and having a plan for dealing with it.

Consider this scenario:

You have a web site, mail server or other system which is encrypts traffic using a TLS (or more generally X.509) certificate.  That protection works with a secret encryption key and a public key.  Those keys expire after a time period such as one, two or three years (I have seen ones as long as 10 years).

This all works as long as the secret key remains secret.

But what happens if you have an incident where the secret key, which may live on a server or an admin’s workstation (IT SHOULD NOT!) gets compromised?  How do you deal with that.

The problem is that if the private (secret) key is no longer secret, then a hacker can masquerade as you and even encrypt the data with their victim.  There is nothing that a victim can see that would make them suspicious.

If the secret key gets compromised, you can get a new one, but the challenge is how to revoke the old one.  This is something the industry has been wrestling with for years.

FIRST ATTEMPT: Certificate revocation lists:  The certificate authorities that you get your TLS certificates from maintain a list of revoked certificates.  It turns out that this process was so unwieldy that many browsers don’t even look at these lists any more, so that measure is useless.

SECOND ATTEMPT: OCSP or Online Certificate Status Protocol is an attempt at fixing the first attempt.  Instead of browsers having to maintain and update lists in each user’s computer when you try to connect to a secure web site, the browser can make another connection to the certificate authority’s OCSP server to see if the certificate is good.  Only problem is that what do you do if the OCSP server doesn’t respond?  Do you deny access or do you cross your fingers and hope that the same hacker who stole your certificate is not blocking your access to the OCSP server?  Plus, it means that every time you establish a connection to a  secure web site (almost all of them now), it will take twice as long because you have to make a second connection.

THIRD ATTEMPT:  OCSP Stapling.  With OCSP Stapling, the SERVER sends a copy of the OCSP certificate at the same time that you are negotiating the connection.  The server updates the OCSP proof frequently (say every 10 minutes) so there is much less overhead from the browser’s standpoint.    It turns out that some stapling implementations don’t work right and a hacker might tell the victim’s browser not to use OCSP or stapling and the victim would not know any better.

FOURTH ATTEMPT: As I am guessing that you can tell by now, this problem does not have any easy answers.  The next attempt was ACME or Automated Certificate Management Environment.  ACME creates certificates that have a relatively short life expectancy.  For example, Let’s Encrypt creates certificates that only last 90 days and automatically renews them.  But 90 days is a long time for a hacker to be able to run amuck with your credentials.  What you want to do is make it last only a day or a few hours.  This means if the vendor that is issuing the ACME based certificates is down, you won’t be able to get a new certificate and you will be down.  Still, this is way better than the first three attempts.

FIFTH ATTEMPT: (is this getting a bit out of hand?)  There is a new standard in the pipeline with the Internet Engineering body (IETF).  It is designed for big firms right now, but it will evolve.  It does require a change in the browser to make it work, but Firefox already has it and it is likely that Chromium (the basis for Chrome, Brave, Opera, Edge and others) will likely have it soon.  But remember, this is, right now, only for the big folks.  This is called Credential Delegation.  With Credential Delegation, the certificate authority issues the web site owner a normal signed credential but the web site owner has the ability to create delegated credentials that might only last a day or an hour.  They can only do this to the same domain that the certificate authority originally issued their certificate for.  The win here is that if a Delegated Credential is compromised, it will only be usable for a couple of hours to a couple of days.  For example, Facebook is one of the early adopters and is testing it.  If someone were to steal a Facebook credential but that credential was only good for say, 6 hours – or 30 minutes – the amount of damage they could do is greatly limited.

Here are a couple of takeaways:

1. If you are using traditional TLS certificates, do not create certificates that are valid for more than one year.  At least you are beginning to reduce the risk window.

2. Make sure that your certificate provider supports OCSP.

3. Make sure that your certificate provider implements OCSP stapling and that you have enabled it on your server.

4. If your certificate provider supports it, implement OCSP MUST STAPLE.  This will cause the connection to fail if there is no attestation attached to the connection that a hacker uses to try and scam a victim.

5. Use an ACME provider if possible.  Again, we are trying to reduce the time window that a hacker can use your stolen information.  If that window is reduced from one year or two years down to 90 days or 30 days, that is a huge win.

6. Watch for progress on Credential Delegation.  If might be a year away, but when it happens and is available for everyone, you will have the ability to close that window that a hacker can use your stolen certificate down to a day or a couple of days.  Much better than a year.

I know this is a very technical post;  if you have questions, please reach out to us.

For more technical information, see here, here, and here.


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Security News for the Week Ending January 17, 2020

Orphaned Data in the Cloud

Researchers at security firm vpnMentor found an unsecured S3 bucket with passport, tax forms, background checks, job applications and other sensitive data for thousands of employees of British consultancies.  Many of the firms involved are no longer in business.

The researchers reported this to Amazon and the UK’s Computer Emergency Response Team (UK CERT) on December 9 and the bucket was taken offline by Amazon (likely at the request/order of UK CERT) on December 19th.

For people who were affected, if these companies are out of business, there is no one to sue.  Under GDPR, it is unclear who the government can go after if the companies no longer exist.  I suspect that the problem of orphaned data is only going to become a bigger problem over time.  This includes data stored by employees who have left the company and who did not “register” their data trove with their company’s data managers.  Another reason to get a better handle on where  your data is stored.  Source: UK Computing


Ransomware 2.0 Continues and Expands

I recently coined/used a term called ransomware 2.0 where the hackers threaten to publish and/or sell data exfiltrated during ransomware attacks.  While we saw threats in the past, we did not see any follow through.  In part, this is likely due to the fact that they did not, in fact, exfiltrate the data.

However, first with Maze and now with REvil, hackers are following through and publishing some data and selling other data.  REvil is the ransomware that is afflicting Travelex.

Companies will need to change their ransomware protection strategy in order to protect themselves against this form of attack.  Backups are no longer sufficient. Source: Bleeping Computer


The Travelex Saga (Continued)

FRIDAY January 17, 2019

Travelex says that the first of its customer facing systems in Britain is now back online.  The automated ordering system that some of its bank customers use is now working, but its public web site is still down.  Virgin Money, Tesco Bank and Barclays still say their connections are down.  Source: Reuters

WEDNESDAY January 15, 2019

Likely this incident falls under the purview of GDPR and  the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office says that Travelex did not report this to them within the legally mandated 72 hour window.  Travelex says that no customer data was compromised  in the attack (even though the hackers were publicly threatening to sell and/or publish the stolen data and that Travelex was said to be negotiating with them).   When asked if they paid the ransom, Travelex said “There is an ongoing investigation. We have taken advice from a number of experts and we are not going to discuss this.”  Translated, this means that we know we are going to get our butts kicked in court and by the ICO, so we are just going to be quiet now.  If the ICO finds that they did not report and there was a GDPR covered event, they could fine them up to 4% of the global annual revenue OF THEIR PARENT COMPANY, Finablr.  Their revenue is estimated to be around $1.5 billion.  That of course, is just one of the costs.  Their public web site is still down and has been down for 16 days now.  Source: UK Computing

MONDAY January 13, 2019

Travelex says that they are making good progress with their recovery, whatever that means.  They say that services will be restored soon.  Their website, however, is still down. Trtavelex is still saying that they have not seen evidence that customer data that was encrypted was exfiltrated, although the hackers who say that they are responsible claim that they will be releasing the data on the 14th (tomorrow) if they don’t get paid.  Source: ZDNet


Nemty Ransomware Joins the Ransomware 2.0 Crowd

The ransomware 2.0 community (steal your data before encrypting it and threaten to publish it if you don’t pay up) is becoming more crowded every day.  Now Nemty says they are creating a website to post stolen data of companies that have the nerve not to pay them.  Backups are no longer sufficient.  Source:  SC Magazine

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Top EU Court Says ‘National Security’ Does Not Override Everything Else

This is not a done deal yet, but it is a very interesting development and one, if it holds, that could have significant impact on a lot of countries, including the U.S.

Over the last few years, a number of countries have enacted laws that allow their intelligence apparatuses to override many privacy laws and hoover up vast quantities of data without any particular justification – just in case.   They say that they don’t know what they might need – until they do.  And, there is some justification to that story.  Some.  Justification.

The EU high court, technically called the Court of Justice of the European Union or ECJ can appoint an advocate to advise it on matters where they feel that is  justified.

In this case, Privacy International, a privacy rights organization, sued both the UK and France, saying that their respective laws that require businesses to hand over anything they ask for just because they say the magic words “national security”.

Specifically, this case says that the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act (also referred to as the Snooper’s Charter) and France’s Data Retention law go too far.

What happened yesterday is that the Advocate General advising the high court released his opinion.

The opinion says screaming terrorist is insufficient to violate people’s rights under the European Directive on privacy and electronic communications.

Very importantly, the ECJ has not handed down it’s opinion yet;  this is just the advise from the AG.  HOWEVER, the ECJ does agree with the AG about 80 percent of the time.

*IF* the ECJ does agree with the AG, that will mean several things:

  1. UK’s Snooper’s Charter is likely illegal under EU law and will need to be revised if the UK wants to enforce it in the EU.
  2. Likely France’s Data Retention law would violate EU law.
  3. For those of us in the U.S., it would likely mean that the U.S. government’s use of large scale data vacuum cleaners also does not comply with E.U. law.

The AG said that whatever the government does by itself is OK IF IT IS INTENDED TO SAFEGUARD NATIONAL SECURITY AND IS UNDERTAKEN BY THE PUBLIC AUTHORITIES THEMSELVES, WITHOUT REQUIRING THE COOPERATION OF PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS.  So, for example, they could intercept data on fiber optic Internet cables but they can’t ask AT&T to let them tap those cables (which they did) and cannot ask Google or Facebook to hand over their encryption keys.

What the AG is saying is that rather than vacuuming up terabytes of data per hour, that hoovering needs to be done “on an exceptional and temporary basis” and only when justified by “overriding considerations relating to threats to public security or national security”.

When the U.K. leaves the E.U. – maybe this month – it doesn’t have to be bound by E.U. law, but if it doesn’t agree to abide by E.U. law, then companies in the E.U. will not be able to send data to the U.K. and U.K. companies will not be able to collect any data of E.U. residents.

Probably more important for U.S. companies is this.

A few years ago, when the E.U.  started enacting privacy laws, they said that laws in the U.S. were not adequate to protect the privacy of E.U. citizens so data collected by U.S. companies could not be sent to the U.S.

In response to that, the U.S. and E.U. came up with this agreement called Safe Harbor which supposedly protected the privacy rights of E.U. residents.

Unfortunately, this same court ruled that Safe Harbor didn’t really protect the rights of E.U. citizens.  This threw U.S. businesses that suck large quantities of data out of the E.U. into a bit of a tailspin.

After Safe Harbor was struck down, the U.S. got out a large tube of lipstick and put it on Safe Harbor.  The new agreement was called Privacy Shield and it is under review by this same court right now.

If the ECJ agrees with the AG in this different case, it seems like a REALLY small step to say that Privacy Shield doesn’t hack it either, which would create tailspin 2.0.

That would require that the U.S. and E.U. try a third time to come up with something that the courts will hold as adequate.

Various authorities have gotten their respective countries to pass laws that say as long as they claim “national security” privacy laws do not apply.  Countries who have done this include the U.S., U.K. and Australia, three of the “five eyes” countries.

This battle is far from over, but this is a very interesting development.  Source: The Register


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