All posts by mitch tanenbaum

Security News for the Week Ending July 3, 2020

Apple Likely to Make Charger, Earphones Extra on Next iPhone

Before everyone goes crazy, first this is a rumor – a likely accurate rumor, but a rumor, and second, it is likely aligned with the EU’s directive to reduce electronic waste. Your old charger and old earphones probably still work and if, say, 50% of people agree with that, that is a lot of electronic waste avoided. People who are less Apple-friendly say that Apple reduces costs, improves its environmental image and gets many people to buy unbundled, high margin accessories. Do not expect Apple to reduce the price over this. Credit: The Register

Apple Says NO to Advertisers

And now another Apple story. Apple has decided not to implement 16 new web APIs because they might enable advertisers to track users. This only applies to Safari, the default browser on Apple devices, which represents 17% of web users and since Apple doesn’t make it’s livelihood by selling people’s data, it is a win-win. It doesn’t cost Apple anything and it helps their customers. It is OK if everyone wins. Credit: Metacurity

Hackers Selling 100 Million+ Hacked Credentials

A seller of stolen credentials is flooding the black market with stolen userids and passwords. 14 companies worth of breached databases from 2020 represent 130+ million userids. Sites affected include Homechef, Minted, Tokopedia and almost a dozen more. That is just from the first 6 months of this year. In case that is not enough, the broker is selling a number of older databases. Beware of password reuse (also called stuffing) attacks where hackers try those passwords on other sites. Credit: Bleeping Computer

Location Data Used on Specific Voters So Candidates Knew Who Voted

Money is money. A data broker sold location data on Black Lives Matters protesters so that (police) could track their movements and also sold location data on evangelicals so that the (Trump campaign) knew whether people who were favorable to them had not voted so that they could get out the vote in a very targeted manner. All legal. Expect it to be used this year, likely by many candidates. I put the names in parentheses because the broker didn’t exactly say who they sold the data to. Credit: Vice

Denial of Service Attacks up 542% in First Quarter

Distributed Denial of Service attacks jumped more than 500% between fourth quarter last year and first quarter of this year and more than 250% year to year according to NexusGuard. Likely this is due to work from home. The attacks are going after businesses and ISPs. Are you ready? Credit: Dark Reading

Get Ready for Encryption Fireworks

Since the early 1990s, there has been a battle going on between the federal government and privacy advocates. Privacy advocates want strong encryption. The government wants weak encryption that it can break. Except of course for the encryption that they use.

They claim they need it is to hunt down terrorists, but that didn’t get any traction.

Then they claimed it was to hunt down pedophiles.

There are several bills in play right now and none of them really solve the problem. Not even a little bit.

One bill is the earnit act which, in typical Congressional fashion, kicks the can down the road. Since actually figuring out how to solve the problem of bad guys using encryption while at the same time protecting the rest of us, the earnit act proposes to create a commission to make recommendations to the Attorney General, who is not required to accept any of the recommendations and can create his own. Then if the tech community doesn’t accept whatever he says, they will lose the protection they have for content posted by users. Since Congress has like one person who understands tech out of 500, what they don’t seem to realize is that this will not achieve the goal that Republicans have getting more right wing content on the web. Instead what tech companies will have to do is dramatically restrict user posted content to make sure that they do not post any content from either side that would get them sued for helping pedophiles or promoting violence or whatever. Facebook will go back to what Zuckerberg originally planned it for – figuring out which girls he wanted to go out with or something slightly less PG than that. If they lose their immunity, they will restrict content.

If that happens, billions of dollars of investor capital value will go up in flames. I don’t have any Facebook or Twitter stock, but if you do and the bill passes, you should sell.

Sen. Graham introduced a new version of the bill to solve this problem. He wants to let the states decide. That way Twitter will have to comply with 50 state laws. That will definitely make things easier.

The Post says that legislators are far less sympathetic to tech companies and that may be true, but the President seems to like to use at least one tech company and if laws pass that remove protections, those companies are far more likely to censor him than they are now when they have immunity.

There are definitely two camps in Congress right now – those that want to protect people’s privacy and those that want to get rid of privacy because it is inconvenient to them.

Another bill, called the lead act, would literally ban strong encryption and make it a crime to use encryption that doesn’t have a backdoor.

Except, of course, crooks, how do I say this, DON’T CARE MUCH ABOUT THE LAW. So they will use strong encryption except for the dumb ones and we don’t really fix anything.

I am sure if the law requires a back door to private conversations, no crooks will ever discover how it works.

Kind of like how Apple tries to make it impossible to jailbreak their phones.

And their phones are typically jailbroken within 24-48 hours of a new software release.

I am not saying that there is not a problem. What I am saying is that there is no simple solution and rather than passing the buck to a committee or the states, figure out the answer. Even if it takes a couple of years. Figure out the right answer.

I must be thinking of a different organization than Congress. Credit: WaPo

Very Creative Phishing Attack

It all starts with a calendar invite, but there is a setup. The con is that your bank account has been compromised and you need to fix it.

The attack starts with an email titled (like) “Fraud Detection from Message Center”. This part of the attack uses a real but compromised Office 365 account, complete with legit email security like DKIM and SPF.

The invite is hosted on the real Office 365 Sharepoint.com and contains a link. Clicking on the link causes another relatively simple document to open with another link.

Since hackers are equal opportunity crooks, when the user clicks on this link, they get transferred to a phishing site hosted at Google where the user is presented with a very convincing Wells Fargo site page.

The user is then prompted for the login information, PIN, various account number details and email credentials.

Assuming the user falls for all of this, they are taken to a legitimate Wells Fargo login page designed to make the user think the account was secured, when in fact, the user just gave the hacker the keys to the cookie jar. And likely all of his or her money.

According to the security vendor (Cofence), this is not the first time that hackers have used Google’s infrastructure to host malware. Credit: SC Magazine

So what should you be doing?

Education. Education. Education.

Anti-phishing training should be a requirement at all companies and for all employees. At the low end there is free training, but for most companies, there is a moderate cost solution that is highly effective.

Some companies send the same phishing email to everyone, maybe once a quarter. That is not an effective approach to train employees. The program needs to be much more active in order to be effective.

As you can see from the sophistication of the attack above, the hackers are working overtime to steal your money.

You need to work equally hard to protect it.

If you need help with your anti-phishing training, please contact us.

Don’t Want to Use Two Factor Authentication? You Might Want to Rethink that Decision

So you think two factor authentication is a pain?

Well it can be.

But let me suggest that decision can be a really bad idea and here is why.

Hackers are using two factor to BLOCK your ability to recover your account if it is hacked. This is already happening.

Here is how it works.

Hackers compromise an account. That could be done via password stuffing or any number of other methods.

Then the hackers turn on multifactor authentication and point that to a phone or email the hackers control.

Once you realize that your account has been compromised, you contact the provider. The web site says they will send a proof of ownership code to the phone or email registered to the account. Which is in the hands of the hacker.

At least some sites are saying tough luck. You are welcome to create a new account, but of course, you will lose all your data and in the meantime, if the hacker wants to extort you, they can put whatever THEY want on, say, what used to be your social media account. And there isn’t much that you can do. That could be any sort of nasty, reputation damaging stuff. And you have no way to tell visitors that it isn’t you.

You can sue the web site in court. Good luck with that one. In 2022.

In one case we just heard about, the hacker used a stolen xBox account to buy games with the former owner’s credit card. You can, of course, cancel the card if you think of it, but that is a pain.

Some sites will allow you to regain control. It may require that you send them copies of your identity documents. Assuming that the hacker didn’t change that information on your account after it was hacked. That can take a week or more. Depending on what the account is used for, well, that could be a problem in and of itself.

Bottom line – reconsider whether two factor authentication is really that much of a bother. Consider the alternative. Credit: Brian Krebs

Security News for the Week Ending June 26, 2020

Anonymous Gonna Rise Again. Question Mark?

A hacker or hackers claiming to be affiliated the non-group Anonymous has posted a million documents coming from over 200 police departments and other law enforcement agencies. While the documents do no purport to show illegal activities, they are likely both embarrassing and also confidential. The fact that the police could not protect their own information is probably not great for their reputations either. Credit: Wired

Republican Senators Create Bill to End Use of Warrant-proof Encryption

Senators Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn say that they plan to introduce a bill that will require service providers and device manufacturers to insert backdoors into their software and devices so that cops can decrypt the devices when they want to.

They have not published the bill yet and we have no idea whether it will get any traction, so who knows, but the main issue is that there is nothing to stop bad actors from installing software from web sites in countries that don’t really case about what Mrs Graham and Cotton or Ms. Blackburn want. Sure you will catch stupid crooks, but we catch them anyway. Credit: ZDNet

Pentagon Creates List of Companies Controlled by Chinese PLA

There is a 1999 law that requires the Pentagon to produce a list of companies controlled by the Chinese military. Always prompt, 21 years later the Pentagon has produced that list. Huawei is one of those companies, of course. At this point it is not clear what the White House will do with that list, but we assume that it will be used to add pressure to China. Credit: Time

Feds Ask FCC to Deny China Access to New Fiber Optic Cable from US

Team Telecom, that federation of executive branch agencies that has been completely toothless in stopping China from compromising our telecom has finally decided that to feels its Wheaties. Renamed CAFPUSTSS, they say we should not drop an undersea fiber cable in Hong Kong for China to tap. The proposed cable would have a speed of 144 terabits per second, otherwise known as way fast. If the White House has its way, the cable will go from the U.S. to the Philippines and Taiwan and bypass Hong Kong. Google owns the Taiwan segment and Facebook owns the Philippines segment, but China owns the proposed Hong Kong segment. Credit: CSO Online

Hackers Use Captcha to Thwart Detection

Captcha, those annoying puzzles/questions/pictures that websites use to try and distinguish bots from humans, is now being used by the baddies. The hackers are putting their malware, like infected spreadsheets, on websites behind a captcha, likely to try and avoid detection by the good guys. If the good guys automated testing cannot complete the captcha, it won’t test the content behind it, leaving it available for victims to download and get infected. Credit: ARS Technica

Chinese Bank Forced Western Companies to Install Malware

Security firm Trustwave has discovered malware laced tax software in two of it’s western customer’s networks after they opened offices in China.

The bank said the software was required to pay local taxes. In fact the software did perform that function.

Trustwave calls this malware GoldenSpy and said that it installed a backdoor in their client’s computer. The backdoor allowed the Chinese to connect to the computer, install other malware and run Windows commands.

GoldenSpy installs two copies of itself and will automatically reinstall itself if one of the copies is discovered. It also has other self-protection measures.

It also waits two hours after the tax software is installed to silently install the backdoors.

There is no way to prove how the malware got there, but given they are in China and a western company, you can draw your own conclusions. Credit: ZDNet

Okay, so what does this mean?

It is not completely clear, but certainly it raises some questions.

Assuming you are not doing business in China, should you worry?

There is nothing special about the technique used and, in fact, the NSA is reported to have used it against folks that they want to monitor.

The technique could be used by

  • Competitors
  • Hackers
  • Nation state actors
  • and probably a host of others

Since *you* installed the software voluntarily, most of the security controls in your system will not detect it.

We have seen a number of attacks like this over the years. Sometimes hackers compromise a developer’s computer and insert the malware there. That way, when it gets checked in and compiled, it is not detected.

But that is only one way the malware can get there.

Traditional anti-virus/anti-malware software will not detect this.

What will detect this is software similar to Trustwave. They do managed security services (we offer a similar product that is well suited to small businesses).

What the software needs to do is detect unusual behavior like accessing data that it should not, connecting to web sites that it should not, installing software etc.

Generally interpreting what the alerts mean requires an expert.

What is less clear is how frequently this happens because most companies do not have software/services like these companies did. There also are no laws requiring companies to report these types of attacks unless the company is publicly traded and the attack materially affects the company’s balance sheet.

Assuming that the software doesn’t break anything, it likely would go undetected. Forever!

If you do not have anything in place to detect this type of malware, you should definitely consider it.

Historically, these types of attacks are designed to steal intellectual property. IP Theft is more difficult to detect because there are no systems in place nationally to detect these types of theft like there is for credit card fraud. In addition, IP theft has a long shelf life. If you steal information about a company’s business processes, for example, that information will be valuable until the company no longer uses those business processes, which could be decades later.

If the IP theft is controlled by a competitor, then that competitor could use that information to unfairly compete with the company who’s information was stolen.

If you need more information, please contact us.