Category Archives: News Bites

Short news items

Security News for the Week Ending December 6, 2019

Caller Poses as CISA Rep in Extortion Scam

Homeland Security’s CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) says that they are aware of a scam where a caller pretends to be a CISA rep and claims to have knowledge of the potential victim’s questionable behavior.  The caller then attempts to extort the potential victim.

CISA says not to fall for the scam, do not pay the extortion and contact the FBI.  Source: Homeland Security.

Senate Committee Approves $250 Mil for Utility Security

The PROTECT  program would provide grants for utilities to improve their security.  Given that a carefully distributed government report says that the Russians (and not the Chinese) have compromised a number of US utilities already, improving security is probably a smart idea. The nice part is that it is a grant.  The important part is that the money would be spread out over 5 years, so in reality, we are talking about spending $50 million a year.  It also seems to be focused on electric and doesn’t seem to consider water or other utilities.  There are around 3,300 electric utilities alone in the US.  If we ignore everything but electric and spread the money equally (which of course, they won’t), every utility would get $15,000.  That will definitely get the job done.  NOT!  Source: Nextgov

Smith & Wesson’s online Store Hacked by Magecart

Lawrence Abrams of Bleeping Computer fame tried to warn Smith & Wesson that their online store had been compromised by the famous Magecart malware.  The join the likes of British Airways (183 million Euro fine) and thousands of others.  Abrams did not hear back from them by publication time.  Source: Bleeping Computer

Another MSP Hit by Ransomware Attack

CyrusOne, one of the larger MSPs was hit by a ransomware attack which affected some of their customers.  As I said in my blog post earlier this week, attacks against MSPs are up because they are juicier targets.

In CyrusOne’s case, they said the victims were primarily in a data center in New York (which hopefully means that they have segmented their network), it did not affect their colo customers, only their managed customers (because in a colo, the provider does not have credentials to their customer’s servers) and they are investigating.

This just is one more reminder that you can outsource responsibility to a service provider, but the buck still stops with you when the provider is hacked.  Source: MSSP Alert

Reuters Says Census Test Run in 2018 Was Attacked By Russia

Commerce outsourced the first digital census to Pegasystems and at last check the cost has doubled to $167 million.  More importantly, in a 2018 test, Russian hackers (not China) were able to penetrate a firewall and get into places where they should not have been.  In addition, the test was hit with DNS attacks.

Sources say this raises concerns whether T-Rex Solutions, the Commerce Department’s main security contractor, can keep the Russians out when the site actually goes live.  Or the Chinese. Or other countries that would like to embarrass us.

Census said (a) no comment, (b) no data was stolen (this was likely a reconnaissance test by the Russians, so no surprise) and (c) the system worked as designed (i.e. the Russians got in and we panicked).

Clearly if the Russians are able to compromise the Census, that would be a HUGE black eye for this President and the Executive Branch.

They can hide things during a test, but cannot hide them when it goes live, so lets hope they are able to fix it.  Source: Reuters

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Security News for the Week Ending November 8, 2019

Comcast Testing Encrypted DNS While Lobbing Against It

Encrypted DNS (either DoH or DoT) has become a political hotbutton.  Recently Vice reported that Comcast is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against it.  Mozilla is writing to Congress saying that what Comcast is saying is not true and most interestingly, Comcast is testing its own DoT and DoH services.  Apparently, what is important is that they can continue to sell your data and not much else.  Source: Vice

Smart Speakers Can Be Hacked By Laser

Researchers have DEMONSTRATED the ability to talk to your Alexa or Siri by silently pointing a laser at the microphone and modulating the laser so that the microphone thinks you are talking to it.  This will work through a window.  In one test they were able to control an iPad from 33 feet,  In another test, they were able to control a device from over 300 feet away.

The amount of mischief this could potentially cause is large.

The temporary solution is to hide your smart speaker so that no one can point a laser at it from outside your home, for example, and tell it to buy stuff or unlock the door or whatver.  Source: Wired

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Security News for the Week Ending October 25, 2019

Database Leaked 179 GB of Personal Data of military personnel, officials and hotel customers.

I wish this was a new story.  Autoclerk, a Best Western service that manages reservations, revenue, loyalty programs, payment processing and other functions for the hotel chain. left an elastic search database exposed.

Hundreds of thousands of guest reservations were exposed including names, home addresses, dates of birth, travel dates and other information.

The reason why government and military personnel are affected is that a government contractor that deals in travel reservations was sucked into the breach.  Source: SDNet.

 

San Bernadino Schools Hit By Ransomware

A message on the school district’s web site says not to worry, all of your data is secure.   (it’s just that it has all been encrypted by a hacker).    Phones are working but email is not working.   Schools in Flagstaff closed last month for several days while officials got things under control after a ransomware attack there.  Source: ABC

 

Russia Using “False Flags” to Confuse Security Experts

Researchers are still dissecting the attack on the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.  Russia inserted false signals and other misdirections in order to may people think that the attack came from China or North Korea.  This does point out that if you are willing to spend millions of dollars, you likely can figure out quite about a cyber attacker.  The story is so complex that one of the researchers wrote a book, Sandworm, which will be available on Amazon on November 5, 2019.  Source: WaPo

 

Amazon’s Web Services DDoSed for 10 Hours This Week

For about 10 hours earlier this week parts of Amazon were effectively offline.  Amazon’s DNS servers were being hammered by a DDoS attack.  This meant that Amazon backend services such as S3 may have failed for websites and apps that attempted to talk to those services.  The outage started around 0900 east coast time so it impacted users throughout the work day on Tuesday October 22, 2019.   For developers and businesses this is just one more reminder that nothing is bullet proof if the bullet is large enough.  Even though Amazon has an amazing about of bandwidth and infrastructure, it can get taken down.

Other services that were affected included RDS (database), Simple Queue Service, Cloudfront, Elastic Compute Cloud, and Elastic Load Balancing.  Amazon did offer some ways to mitigate the damage if it happens again – see the link below.  As a business you need to decide how much cost and effort you are willing to expend to mitigate rare occurrences like this.  Source: The Register.

 

Comcast is Lobbying Against Browsers Encrypting DNS Requests

Here is a big surprise.  As the browser vendors (Chrome and Firefox) add the ability to support encrypting your DNS requests to stop people from spying on you, one of the biggest spies, Comcast, is lobbying against this.  They say that since Google would be able to see the data, that puts too much power in Google’s hands.  Ignore for the moment that Firefox is not using Google as a DNS provider and also ignoring that Google is offering  users at least 4 different encrypted DNS providers.  Lets also consider that encrypted DNS is not even turned on by default.  The much bigger issue is that Comcast will not be able to see your DNS requests and therefore will not be able to sell your web site visit data.  But of course, we would not expect them to be honest about why.  Source: Motherboard.

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Security news for the Week Ending September 20, 2019

A New Trend?  Insurers Offering Consumers Ransomware Coverage

In what may be a new trend, Mercury Insurance is now offering individuals $50,000 of ransomware insurance in case your cat videos get encrypted.  The good news is that the insurance may help you get your data back in case of an attack.  The bad news is that  it will likely encourage hackers to go back to hacking consumers.  Source: The Register.

Security or Convenience Even Applies to Espionage

A story is coming out now that as far back as 2010  the Russians were trying to compromise US law enforcement (AKA the FBI) by spying on the spies.

The FBI was tracking what Russian agents were doing but because the FBI opted for small, light but not very secure communications gear, the Russians were able crack the encryption and listed in to us listening in to them.  We did finally expel some Russian spy/diplomats during Obama’s presidency, but not before they did damage.  Source: Yahoo

And Continuing the Spy Game – China Vs. Australia

Continuing the story of the spy game,  Australia is now blaming China for hacking their Parliament and their three largest political parties just before the elections earlier this year (sound familiar?  Replace China with Russia and Australia with United States).

Australia wants to keep the results of the investigation secret because it is more important to them not to offend a trade partner than to have honest elections (sound familiar?).  Source: ITNews .

The US Government is Suing Edward Snowden

If you think it is because he released all those secret documents, you’d be wrong.

It is because he published a book and part of the agreement that you sign if you go to work for the NSA or CIA is an agreement that you can’t publish a book without first letting them redact whatever they might want to hide.  He didn’t do that.

Note that they are not suing to stop the publication of the book – first because that has interesting First Amendment issues that the government might lose and they certainly do not want to set that precedent and secondly, because he could self publish on the net in a country – like say Russia – that would likely flip off the US if we told Putin to shut him down.  No, they just want any money he would get. Source: The Hacker News.

 

HP Printers Phone Home – Oh My!

An IT guy who was setting up an HP printer for a family member actually read all those agreements that everyone clicks on and here is what they said.

by agreeing to HP’s “automatic data collection” settings, you allow the company to acquire:

… product usage data such as pages printed, print mode, media used, ink or toner brand, file type printed (.pdf, .jpg, etc.), application used for printing (Word, Excel, Adobe Photoshop, etc.), file size, time stamp, and usage and status of other printer supplies…

… information about your computer, printer and/or device such as operating system, firmware, amount of memory, region, language, time zone, model number, first start date, age of device, device manufacture date, browser version, device manufacturer, connection port, warranty status, unique device identifiers, advertising identifiers and additional technical information that varies by product…

That seems like a lot of information that I don’t particularly want to share with a third party that is going to do who knows what with it.  Source: The Register.

Private Database of 9 Billion License Plate Events Available at a Click

Repo men – err, people – are always looking for cars that they need to repo.  So the created a tool.  Once they had that, they figured they might as well make some money off it.

As they tool around town, they record all the license plates that they can and upload the plate, photo, date, time and location to a database that currently has 9 billion records.

Then they sell that data to anyone who’s check will clear.  Want to know where your spouse is?  That will cost $20.  Want to get an alert any time they see the plate?  That costs $70.  Source: Vice.

Election Commission Says That It Won’t Decertify Voting Machines Running Windows 7

Come January 2020, for voting machines running Windows 7 (which is a whole lot of them) will no longer get security patches unless the city or county pays extra ($50 per computer in the first year and then $100 per computer in the second year) for each old computer.  Likely this means a whole lot of voting machines won’t get any more patches next year.

The nice folks in Washington would not certify a voting machine running an operating system that is not supported, but they won’t decertify one.  That, they say, would be inconvenient for manufacturers and cities.   I guess it is not so inconvenient for foreign nations to corrupt our elections.  Source: Cyberscoop

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Security News for the Week Ending September 13, 2019

Facebook/Cambridge Analytica Suit Moves Forward

Facebook tried to convince a judge that when users share information privately on Facebook they have no expectation of privacy.  The judge didn’t buy it and the suit against Facebook moves forward.  Source: Law.com  (registration required)

Equifax Quietly Added More Hoops for you to get your $0.21

Yes, if everyone who was compromised in the Equifax breach asks for the $125, the total pot, which is only $31 million, will be divided up and everyone will get 21 cents.  Not sure how the courts will handle that when the cost of issuing 150 million checks for 21 cents is tens of millions.  Often times the courts say donate the money to charity in which case, you get nothing.

The alternative is to take their credit monitoring service, which is really worthless if you were hit by one the many other breaches and already have credit monitoring services.

So what are they doing?  Playing a shell game – since the FTC is really a bunch of Bozos.  Equifax is adding new requirements after the fact and likely requirements that you will miss.

End result, it is likely that this so called $575 million fine is purely a lie.  Publicity is not Equifax’s friend, but  it will require Congress to change the law if we want a better outcome. Source: The Register.

End of Life for Some iPhones Comes Next Week

On September 19th  Apple will release the next version of it’s phone operating system, iOS 13.  At that moment three popular iPhones will instantly become antiques.

On that date, the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s Plus will no longer be supported.  Users will not be able to run the then current version of iOS and will no  longer get security patches.

This doesn’t mean that hackers will stop looking for bugs;  on the contrary, they will look harder because they know that any bugs they find will work for a very long time.

As an iPhone user, you have to decide whether it is time to get a new phone or run the risk of getting hacked and having your identity stolen.

What Upcoming End of Life for One Operating Systems Means to Election Security

While we are on the subject of operating system end of life, lets talk about another one that is going to happen in about four months and that is Windows 7.

After the January 2020 patch release there will be no more security bug fixes for Windows 7.

The good news is that, according to statcounter, the percentage of machines running Windows 7 is down to about 30%.

That means that after January, one third of the computers running Windows will no longer get security fixes.

Where are those computers?  Well, they are all over the world but the two most common places?

  1. Countries that pirate software like China, Russia and North Korea
  2. Most election computers, both those inside the voting machines and those managing those machines.

That means that Russia will have almost a year of no patches to voting systems to try and find bugs which will compromise them.

Microsoft WILL provide extended support to businesses and governments for a “nomimal” fee – actually a not so nominal fee.  ($50 per machine for the first year and $100 per machine for the next year with carrots for certain users – see here), but will cash strapped cities cough up the money?  If it is my city, I would ask what their plan is.  Source: Government Computer News

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Security News for the Week Ending August 9, 2019

Researchers Hack WPA 3 Again

The WiFi Alliance has always keep their documents secret.  The only way that you even get a copy of the specs is to become a member and that will cost you $5k-$20k a year, depending on your role.

The same team that reported the bugs called Dragonblood found these new bugs.  The WiFi Alliance fixed the first set of bugs – in secret – and those fixes actually opened up more security holes.

SECURITY BY OBSCURITY DOES NOT WORK.  PERIOD.  Source: The Hacker News.

 

IBM  Says Reports of Malware Attacks Up 200% in first 6 months of 2019

IBM’s security division X-Force says that reports of destructive malware in the first 6 months of 2019 are up 200% over the last 6 months of 2018.  Ransomware is also up – 116% they say.

This means that businesses need to up their game if they do not want to be the next company on the nightly news.  Source: Ars Technica.

 

 StockX Hides Data Breach, Calls Password Change a System Update

If you have been breached, it is best to come clean.  It is critical that you have a plan before hand (called an incident response plan).  Part of that plan should not say “lie to cover up the truth”.  It just doesn’t work.  StockX tried to convince people that their requirement that everyone change their password was a “system update”.  It wasn’t.  It was a breach and the truth got out.  Source: Tech Crunch.

 

US Southcom Tests High Altitude Surveillance Balloons

US Southern Command is testing high altitude balloons from vendors like Denver based Sierra Nevada Corp that can stay aloft for days if not weeks – way cheaper and more pervasive than spy planes.

The balloons, who’s details are likely classified, probably use techniques like we used in Iraq, only better.  In Iraq, Gorgon Stare could capture gigabytes of high resolution video in minutes, with a single drone covering an entire city.

The theory here is record everything that everyone does and if there is a crime, look at the data later to figure out who was in the target area to create a suspect list.  1984 has arrived.  Source: The Guardian.

 

Amazon Learns From Apple’s Pain

After Apple’s pain from the leak that humans listen to a sampling of the millions of Siri requests a day, Amazon now allows you to disable that feature if you want and if you can find the option.

Buried in the Alexa privacy page is an option that you can disable called “help improve Amazon services and develop new features”.  Of course you don’t want to be the one who disables it and doesn’t help Amazon make things better.  Source: The Guardian.

 

North Korea Has Interesting Funding Strategy

North Korea has a very active weapons of mass destruction program.  That program is very expensive.  Given that the economy of North Korea is not exactly thriving, one might wonder how they pay for this program.

They pay for it the old fashioned way – they steal it.

In their case, that doesn’t mean robbing banks.  It means cyberattacks.  Ransomware.  Cryptocurrency robberies.  Stuff like that.  The UN thinks that they have stolen around $2 billion to fund their economy.   And still going strong.  Source: Reuters.

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