DarkHotel Malware

Wired reported on an interesting (yes, I know I am strange, to think that malware attacks are interesting, but they are!) malware attack.

The malware, known as DarkHotel, pops up a message alerting the user to a software update as soon as they connect to the hotel’s WiFi.

Of course, the update is not a legitimate update, but rather a piece of malware that the attackers are getting you to install for them.  Thank you for helping out.

Reports by Kaspersky Labs, the Russian anti virus vendor say that they have seen the attacks at five star hotels and they seem to be targeted at business travelers and sometimes specific travelers.

Kaspersky said that the attackers have been active for at least seven years.

According to Wired, the attackers use zero day exploits and a kernel mode keystroke logger  – not simple to do.  In addition, the code is signed.  It appears that the attackers reverse engineered the certificates of several certificate authorities.  The combination of all of this tends to indicate that these attacks are either state sponsored or state sanctioned.

According to Kaspersky, the attackers show up at the hotel a couple of days before the target arrives, loads the malware on the hotel servers (after hacking them) and then removes the malware from the hotel servers when the target leaves.

Kaspersky counter attacked a few (26) of the attackers servers in October gaining access to the logs of the attackers, at which point the attackers did an emergency shut down of close to 200 of their command and control servers.

For more details, read the Wired article linked above.

More importantly, this attack vector could be recreated pretty simply in a less sophisticated implementation.

I recommend that you should never load a patch or update while connected to a public WiFi network – especially if it is a place you frequent or that people would know, in advance, that you are going to be there on a particular day or time.

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Another Nation State Sponsored Trojan?

ars technica reported yesterday on a very sophisticated trojan that has been around, they say, since 2008, went dark in 2011 and came back in 2013.

The trojan is comprised of 5 stages, all but the first of which is encrypted and is serially decrypted to avoid detection.

The interesting part about it is that it apparently is a framework with plugins to attack everything from your keyboard to your mouse to a radio base station.  The link above has more details and a graphic showing the architecture of this thing.  It seems to be very sophisticated.

Supposedly, there have only been around 100 known infections – but do we really know? – mostly inside ISPs.  Symantec suggests that this was done not to spy on the ISP, but rather on their customers.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I am sure we will hear more in the coming days.  This could be another Stuxnet.


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Why You Should Use Your Debit Card As A Credit Card

Many of us try hard not to use our credit cards.  As a result, we tend to use our debit cards frequently.

Many debit cards carry either a Visa or Mastercard logo, which allows you to use the card as either a debit card or a credit card.  No matter which option you choose, the money is withdrawn from your bank account immediately, so from a financial standpoint, it really does not matter which option you choose.

Merchants such as Walmart, often try very hard to get you to choose the debit option.  The reason for this is that the merchant pays a smaller fee to their bank or payment processor for each transaction if you choose the debit option over the credit option.  For large transactions, this difference can be significant to the store, because if you choose the credit option, the store pays a percentage of the transaction amount.  If you chose debit, the store pays a flat fee, no matter the size of the transaction.

HOWEVER, from your perspective as a consumer, if the store that you shop at and use your card as a debit card is hacked – and that seems to be all too common these days – the bad guys can duplicate your debit card and with your pin, can empty your bank account.

Most banks allow you to limit the amount of withdrawals that are permitted on a daily basis to reduce your exposure.  Many banks also will send you a text message, in real time, every time your debit card is used – including atm withdrawals – so you will know instantly if your card is being used.   If you get a text message and you didn’t use your card, call your bank immediately to shut down the card.

So, even though some stores cajole you to use your card as a debit card, I recommend that, for your own financial safety, you shouldn’t do it.

There was an item on the news tonight here in Denver that some RTD (the local transit agency) ticket kiosks were compromised with skimming devices and some users had ATM withdrawals made from their bank accounts afterwards.  Had they used the card as a credit card, the skimmer operator would not have had their ATM PIN and would not have been able to withdraw cash from their bank account.

Mitch Tanenbaum

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Malware specifically targets password managers

Boy, just when you thought you were doing it right!

Ars Technica, Dark Reading, Security Week and others are reporting a new variant of the Citadel malware that has been around for several years.

According to the articles, the new variant monitors processes and when it sees Keepass, Password Safe or neXus start up, it fires up a keystroke logger to grab the master password for the file.  At that point, the fact that file is encrypted is of little value since the malware has the key to the lock.

Apparently, according to IBM researchers who found this, this variant was created by just modifying the config file of the malware.  This means that if you change the name of the process, all that would need to be done to catch that would be to edit the config file and if they wanted to do the same thing with a different password manager, again, all they would need to do is edit the config file, so the fact that you are using a different password manager only protects you today, not tomorrow.

They said they did not know if this was a mass change or a targeted attack, but if it was targeted, I suspect it won’t be for long.

I *think* that if your password manager supports two factor authentication, then that might protect you against this attack.  It depends whether the second factor is static or dynamic.

This is why the security business is a cat and mouse game.  You make a change, the bad guys make a change.  You make a change to your change.  You get the idea.  If you were hoping that you could do something once and be done, I am sorry, but that is not gonna happen.

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NSA chief admits China could cripple U.S. power grid, financial networks

According to articles on ZDNet and ABC, NSA chief Admiral Mike Rogers said in testimony before the US House Intelligence Committee that China and probably one or two other countries could shut down critical computer networks that could force U.S. power and water grids, aviation systems and financial systems offline.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The reason this is possible is that over the last 10 years, all of these industries have moved their communications from private networks or unnetworked to the Internet without much thought about security – only about cost and convenience.  And, as I have often said, when security comes up against cost, security almost always loses.

On top of that bomb, Rogers said that it is a matter of when, not if.

Although the details of all of this are classified, what has come out is that most of the critical infrastructure has been infected with malware and if or when that malware is activated, the poop is going to hit the rotating air movement device.

AND, at this point, there is no reasonable way to undo the damage.  It will take decades of work to fix the decades of poor security practices.

Let’s hope we stay relatively friendly with those nations.

Of course, the thing that Admiral Rogers did not say is that we can likely do the same thing to them, so we have the cold war all over again – mutually assured destruction.

EXCEPT, that other countries – like China – are probably way less sophisticated in how they network their critical infrastructure (CI), so taking that CI down requires much more sophistication.  Let’s hope we can do that and declare a stalemate.

I do have to give Admiral Rogers credit for admitting what we in the security community have known about privately for years.  It does take cojones.

Mitch Tanenbaum

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Software Testing – The Art of Proving The Presence Of Bugs, Not the Absence

Microsoft just published a critical patch for a 19 year old bug that dates back to Windows 95 and Internet Explorer 3.0.

First the obvious – since it was still there after 19 years, all the testing that Microsoft and users have done on every version of windows back to and including Windows 95 did not detect this bug – hence the title of the post.

But you might ask WHY was this bug not detected and Network World published an item that discussed that, but here are a couple of reasons –

  • The person that wrote that hunk of code is no longer with the project or company and no one else understands it, so lets leave it alone.  It ain’t broke
  • Supposedly, it is a subtle bug and hard to exploit, so you might have to look real hard to find it (not any more, of course)
  • Didn’t all that old code base go away with Vista/Win7/Win8?  It was 16 bit code and we moved to a 32 bit code base?  Nope, it wasn’t broke, so we just recompiled it.

The article gives some other reasons too, but this doesn’t mean that you should not test.  In fact, if anything, you need to expend more resources, automate the testing, pay bug bounties, etc.  It just means that testing is hard.

What this also means is that since this bug is now in the wild and Microsoft did not issue a patch for Windows XP, if you are still running XP, here is another reason to migrate – the bad guyss now have bug, they know what Microsoft did to fix it in newer OSes and all they need to do is figure out a way to exploit it in XP.

Mitch Tanenbaum

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