All posts by mitch tanenbaum

5G Security Is a Mess and Banning Huawei WILL NOT Help

The President is right that cellular security is a problem, but not for the reason that he thinks – although that is a problem too.

Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum have discovered a way to compromise 4G cellular security – the cell service that almost all of us use now.

It allows them to impersonate the phone’s owner and book fee based services that get charged to the owner’s phone bill.

It also could impact law enforcement investigations because it would also allow a hacker to access websites using the victim’s identity. In fact do anything the real owner can do.

If the attacker wanted to blackmail someone, they could upload sensitive or compromising information and then lead the cops to that info. The cops would believe the owner did it. Hackers could threaten to do that in order to blackmail someone.

The vulnerability affects all LTE devices – Apple, Android, Windows – even Cellular IoT devices.

And the only way to fix it is by changing the hardware – at both the user end and the cell company end. Any bets on that getting fixed? I didn’t think so.

The team is trying to figure a fix for the next generation (5G). They say that it is possible.

But it is going to cost the cell carriers money.

The additional security requires the phones to transmit more bits, costing the carriers overhead.

And all 5G phones would have to be replaced (DO NOT buy one if you have not already done so).

And the base stations would have to be expanded.

Other than that, it is a piece of cake.

The problem is the lack of integrity protection: data packets are transmitted encrypted between the mobile phone and the base station, which protects the data against eavesdropping. However, it is possible to modify the exchanged data packets.

For more info see Help Net Security and CSO Magazine.

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Security News for the Week Ending February 21, 2020

US Gov Warns of Ransomware Attacks on Pipeline Operations

DHS’s CISA issued an alert this week to all U.S. critical infrastructure that a U.S. natural gas compressor station suffered a ransomware attack. While they claim that the attackers did not get control of the gas compression hardware, they did come damn close. The ransomware took all of the machines that manage the compressor station offline. The utility was able to remotely WATCH the compressor station, but that remote site was not configured to be able run the site. The result was that other compressor stations on the same pipeline had to be shut down for safety reasons and the entire pipeline wound up being shut down for two days.

It appears that there was no customer impact in this case (perhaps this station fed other downstream stations that were able to be fed from other pipelines), CISA says that there was a loss of revenue to the company. The article provides guidance on protecting industrial control networks.

While this time the bad guys were not able to take over the controllers that run the compressors, that may not be true next time. Source: Bleeping Computer

Amazon Finally Turns on Two Factor Authentication for Ring Web Site After PR Disaster

After many intrusions into customer’s Ring video cameras where hackers took over cameras and talked to kids using very inappropriate language, Ring finally made two factor authentication mandatory for all users. While other competitors turned on two factor authentication years ago, Amazon didn’t, probably because they thought customers might consider it “inconvenient”. Source: Bleeping Computer

Real-ID Requirement To Get On An Airplane is Oct 1st

After 9-11, Congress passed the Real ID act (in 2005) to set a single national standard for IDs used to get on airplanes and get into government buildings. For years, Homeland Security has been granting extensions and now, the current plan is for Real ID to go into effect for getting on airplanes and into government buildings in about 8 months.

DHS says that only 34% of the ID cards in the US are Real ID compliant.

That means that IF the government doesn’t change the rules and if people don’t have some other form of approved ID, potentially 66% of the people will not be able to get on an airplane after October 1 or even enter a federal office building.

That might cause some chaos. Driver’s license officials say that even if they work 24-7, they could not issue all of the remaining ID cards by October 1. Will DHS blink? Again? After all, we are coming up n the 20th anniversary of 9-11 and if terrorists have not been able to blow up airplanes or government buildings using non-Real-ID compliant IDs in the last 19 years, is this really a critical problem? Better off to have a Real ID compliant ID card and not have to argue the point. Source: MSN

Sex Works

One more time Hamas tricked Israeli soldiers into installing spyware on their phones. The Palestinians created fake personas on Facebook, Instagram and Telegram, including pictures of pretty young women such as this one.

View image on Twitter

Unfortunately for the Palestinians, the Israeli Defense Forces caught wind of their plan and actually took out their hacking system before they were able to do much damage.

What is more interesting is that this is the third time in three years that the Palestinians have tried this trick. And, it keeps working. Source: Threatpost

AT&T, Verizon Join IBM in Exiting RSA Over Coronavirus

As fears of Coronavirus spread, the effect on the economy is growing. Mobile World Congress, the largest mobile-focused tech conference in the world, being held in Barcelona this year, was cancelled. Source: The Verge

Last Week, IBM cancelled their attendance and booth at RSA in San Francisco. This week their cancellations were joined by Verizon and AT&T. My guess is that attendance will be down significantly as well, without regard to whether tickets were already paid for or not. The total of exhibitors and sponsors who have decided to cancel is now up to 14. Source: Business Insider

These events generate huge income for businesses in the host cities and are very important for vendors looking for business.

This is likely going to continue to be an issue for event organizers and more events are likely to be cancelled.

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An Attack Backdoor

I was interviewed by the local affiliate of a national TV network earlier today about a hack where a young lady got her bank account emptied out in a matter of seconds after she provided a caller a single 6 digit number. Hopefully this lady will eventually get her money back, but not without a lot of pain. Here is how the story unfolded.

The victim received a phone call from someone claiming to be from Venmo asking if she made a particular $450 transaction. This person was not from Venmo and there was no such transaction.

She said that she did not make such a transaction and the fake Venmo rep said that he was going to send a code to her phone to validate that he was talking to her and he needed her to tell him what the code was. She did and he said it was all good. Except that it wasn’t. She hung up.

Here is what happened next.

The hacker was actually trying to log on to her Venmo account. When she later looked in her spam folder, she saw a number of emails from Venmo saying that someone was trying to log in to her Venmo account and failed.

TIP #1 – Make sure that security alerts from financial service vendors make it into your inbox and not into spam.

What the hacker did while she was on the phone is tell Venmo that he forgot the password to her account. They sent her a one time password to her phone and she gave that code to the hacker. The hacker then entered that code into the forgot my password screen and Venmo let him reset her password. He now “owned” her Venmo account. This is called social engineering in that the attacker doesn’t actually break into the account but rather asks the victim to let him into it. The style of attack is called a man in the middle attack because the hacker is in the middle between the victim and the web site the he wants access to.

TIP #2 – If you get a call like this from a financial institution (or Twitter or other social media company), listen to what they tell you and if they ask for any information, hang up and call back to a known good number (say from the bank’s web site). DO NOT negotiate that with the caller – they understand they have lost the war if you do that and they will give you many reasons why you should not do that.

TIP #3 – If a supposed rep CALLS YOU and asks you to give him or her a code, HANG UP IMMEDIATELY. Refer to Tip #2. Occasionally, companies that YOU CALL may ask you to do that to verify your identity. It is a VERY bad practice but companies sometimes do that. If you are confident that you called the right number, then even though I think this is a horrible security practice, it may be required. You should tell the person that you think this is a horrible security practice and see if there is a different option.

The laws that protect CONSUMER (very different than businesses) financial accounts are pretty strong. Your liability for fraudulent use of your checking or savings account or credit card is pretty limited. Less so for debit cards (which is why I recommend that people never select the DEBIT option at stores and gas stations. Businesses want you to do that because it saves them a little bit on the transaction fee. If you think that you do not want to run up a big credit card bill to have to pay at the end of the month, if you are using a debit card, there is NO DIFFERENCE in terms of what happens whether you select credit or debit. In both cases, the money will be removed from the account that the card is linked to in a few minutes to maybe 24 hours.

TIP#4 – Always select credit and not debit when you are using you debit card in a store or gas pump. If you use your debit card as a debit card and enter your PIN, if the card reader has been hacked, the hacker can clone your card and use it at an ATM. From there, they can empty your bank account. They cannot do that if you use it as a credit card because they won’t have your PIN.

TIP#5 – Banks always set a DAILY CASH LIMIT and DAILY TRANSACTION LIMIT on your debit card (and probably also on your credit card, although that is likely looser). The cash limit restricts the amount of cash you or a hacker pretending to be you can withdraw from your bank account in any given day. The transaction limit is the total amount you can spend in any given day. You should talk to your bank about what these numbers are and set them as low as you can while not inconveniencing yourself too much. This is a risk- benefit trade-off. The higher the limit, the less likely you will be blocked from doing something and the more money a bad guy can get away with before being detected.

In this case, whether the victim will get her money back is less clear than if she was dealing with the bank directly. Venmo is considered a “non-bank money transmitter” so it is not required to comply with all of the banking laws and you are not protected in the same way as if you were dealing with a bank. It is required to comply with “Reg E” under certain circumstances, which does protect you to a degree. This is a risk you accept if you choose to use Venmo or any similar service. My guess is that her bank will work with Venmo and get her money back, but it is a much more slippery slope than the same situation with a bank. See this article for details on this situation.

TIP #6 – DO NOT use “accounts” at sites like Venmo and Paypal where they act like a bank and store money for you. Those accounts are not protected under federal banking laws. If you tie those accounts to an actual bank account, you have more protection under federal law.

TIP #7 – If you are more paranoid than some or just risk averse, but you want to use services like this, tie them to a separate bank account that is not linked to any of your other bank accounts. That way, if the account is compromised, your liability is absolutely limited to what is in the account. I have one of these and I never keep more than $200 in that account. Even though the account is not linked to any of my other accounts, I can transfer money in out of the account online.

TIP #8 – Always use two factor authentication for financial accounts and if possible use an app for that second factor. These apps are way more secure than text messages. Free apps to do this include Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator and Authy, among others. The web site has to be set up to use one or more of these apps.

Hopefully this person will get her money back, but you can use her pain to improve your security.

Last tip – TIP #9 – All banks offer the ability to receive an email or preferably a text message any time a charge or credit to your account happens. This includes checks, debit card transactions, credit card transactions and even ATM transactions. You will receive text messages within seconds of the charge happening. Recently one of my cards was compromised and as SOON AS I got the first text message, I was on the phone with my bank’s fraud department (call the number on the back of your credit or debit card and ask for the fraud department). Banks are very motivated to stop this fraud because they eat the losses. In my case, as I was talking to the fraud department, the card was being used in three different stores. They immediately shut down the account, credited those charges and sent me a new card. If you think it is annoying getting text messages about the use of your account, think about how annoying it is if a hacker empties that account.

If you need more assistance, please contact us.

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Get Smart’s Cone Of Silence Revisited

Anyone remember the CONE OF SILENCE from the old TV series “Get Smart”? Here is a picture to remind you.

The idea was that no one can eavesdrop on conversations inside the cone of silence.

Today, with Amazon Echos and similar devices everywhere, some people would like to bring back the cone of silence.

Ben Zhao had a problem. He bought an Echo, but when he brought it home, his wife Heather was not pleased. She sort of suggested that Ben needed to UNPLUG it.

The two of them are computer science professors at the University of Chicago. So they decided to turn lemons into lemonade. With the help of another prof, decided to recreate the cone of silence. They invented the “bracelet of silence”. Works better, much smaller. Doesn’t crush the desk when you use it.

The bracelet that only a true geek could love (see picture below) has 24 speakers that emit ultrasonic noise .

While most people will hear nothing (except maybe dogs and children), the Alexas and similar devices will hear the high frequency noise instead of the conversations.

A problem that people have to deal with when trying to avoid being recorded is that they don’t always know if there are any microphones in the room. Or where they are.

Many jamming devices are directional, meaning that you have to point the jammer at the microphone. If you don’t even know that there is a microphone, never mind where it is, a directional jammer is a bit hard to use.

Enter the bracelet of silence.

A bit geeky, but, apparently, it works. They demoed it during the call with the reporter who wrote the article.

Unfortunately, this is one of a kind.

But now that it been invented, maybe someone will commercialize it.

*I* would buy one.

Source: NY Times

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Crypto Backdoors and Huawei

Note: If you didn’t know that I am against crypto backdoors before, let me just tell you up front, because that fact will be clear by the end.

The world works in the most mysterious ways.

The FBI has been trying to get phone makers (Apple especially) to install crypto backdoors into iPhones for them for years. What they call lawful access.

The scientists say that there is no way to do this in a way that would be secure. A way where only the good guys can access your stuff and the bad guys cannot.

Sometimes the universe demonstrates things in a way that scientists can’t.

The U.S. has been saying for a long time that the Chinese company Huawei – the world leader in 5G cellular technology – is bad and that they are closely connected to the Chinese military. All of this is likely true.

What they haven’t said is why and they are not really telling the whole truth now – likely because the whole truth is classified. They probably don’t want the Chinese to know what our spies know.

Huawei cell hardware has a crypto backdoor. Not necessarily because they wanted to put it in but more likely because cell providers in many countries are required to provide a backdoor. If Huawei didn’t build one in, they couldn’t sell their hardware.

What has come out now is that there is a concern that Huawei – AKA the Chinese government or Chinese military – may be able to use – or ABUSE that backdoor.

Of course they claim that they would NEVER do that. You believe them, don’t you?

While the U.S. isn’t publicly saying this, likely because some CIA source told them or something like that and as a result, it is considered highly classified. If the Chinese know what we know, they can probably figure out how we got it and from there, figure out who told us. At that point, the next step is a bullet in the head.

So it appears that this backdoor that the FBI so desperately wants is the reason while Huawei is such a threat. Bottom line, if we insert a backdoor into crypto, even for the best reasons, the bad guys will learn about it and figure out how to exploit it. Then we have the Huawei situation all over again.

Since the U.S. is pushing really, really hard to stop carriers from using Huawei hardware, probably with good reason – and we now know why – what is the impact on 5G rollout in the US?

For the large carriers in the core of major metropolitan cities – not much.

For smaller carriers and for the big carriers outside the high profile “gee, we better have 5G coverage here” locations, it means that the rollout of 5G in the U.S. will probably be much slower than would have been otherwise.

Given that almost no one has a 5G capable phone right now, that probably doesn’t matter much – right now.

But there is another use that seems to be garnering some attention and that is Internet of Things. If some IoT devices are dependent on 5G (like your self-driving car) and if the buyer or maker of the device ASSUMES that 5G coverage will be available, well, that is a problem (like the self-driving feature doesn’t work). Hopefully, manufacturers who assume people will have 5G will design their systems to fail safely (like shutting their device off if it can’t get 5G), but even that won’t make people happy.

Looking at 5G coverage today, here is a map from Verizon’s website for Denver. Notice it says AVAILABLE OUTDOORS. Likely, this is because the signal won’t penetrate walls, which means, that we all need to move into tents outside. The tan highlight says that 5G is available in PARTS of these neighborhoods. Granted they will build out more and likely in the next few years, more of downtown Denver will have coverage, but that doesn’t include anything outside downtown and it doesn’t cover indoors. For that you will need to buy a 5G cell simulator and have enough extra Internet bandwidth on your Internet connection to give you 5G speeds. You want gigabit 5G – you better have an extra gigabit of Internet bandwidth on your service that you are not using. And, you better hope that you carrier doesn’t have bandwidth caps.

Source: Ars Technica

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Security News for the Week Ending February 14, 2020

Feds Say 4 Chinese Hackers Took Down Equifax

The Department of Justice indicted 4 members of the Chinese People Liberation Army, saying that they were responsible for detecting the fact that Equifax did not patch their some of their servers and thus were easily hackable.  This, of course, means that the hack did not require much skill and may have even been a coincidence.

While it is highly unlikely that the 4 will ever see the inside of an American courtroom, it is part of this administration’s blame and shame game – a game that does not seem to be having much of an effect on cybercrime.  Source: Dark Reading


Malwarebytes Says Mac Cyberattacks Doubled in 2019

For a long time, the story was that Macs were safer than PCs from computer malware and that is likely still true, but according to Malwarebytes anti-virus software, almost twice as many attacks were recorded against Mac endpoints compared to PCs.

They say that Macs are still quite safe and most of the attacks require the attacker to trick a user into downloading or opening a malicious file. One good note is that Mac ransomware seems to be way down on the list of malware. Source: SC Magazine

Feds Buy Cell Phone Location Data for Immigration Enforcement

The WSJ is reporting that Homeland security is buying commercial cell phone location data in order to detect migrants entering the country illegally and to detect undocumented workers. In 2019, ICE bought $1 million worth of location data services licenses. There is likely nothing illegal about the feds doing this, but it is a cat and mouse game. As people figure out how the feds are using this data, they will likely change their phone usage habits.

Note that this data is not from cell towers, but likely from apps that can collect your location (if you give them permission) as much as 1400 times EACH DAY (once a minute) – a pretty granular location capability. Source: The Hill

FBI Says Individual and Business Cybercrime Losses Over $3 Billion in 2019

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or IC3 says that people reported 467,000 cyber incidents to them last year with losses of $3.5 billion.

They say that they receive, on average over the last five years, 1,200 complaints per day.

During 2018, the FBI established a Recovery Asset Team and in 2019, the first full year of operation, the team recovered $300 million. They say they have 79% success rate, but they don’t explain that bit of new math. I suspect that means that over the small number of cases they cherry pick, they are very successful.

Still, overall, that seems to be less than 10% of the REPORTED losses.

Also, it is important to understand that this data only draws from cybercrime reported to the IC3. No one knows if that is 10% of all cybercrime or 90%. Just based on anecdotal evidence, I think it is closer to the 10% number, and, if true, that means the $3.5 billion in losses is really closer to $35 billion. Source: Bleeping Computer

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