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[l] at 9/14/19 6:15am
Transmission lines.

Enlarge (credit: Joshua Lott/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

For nearly three years, the December 2016 cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid has presented a menacing puzzle. Two days before Christmas that year, Russian hackers planted a unique specimen of malware in the network of Ukraine's national grid operator, Ukrenergo. Just before midnight, they used it to open every circuit breaker in a transmission station north of Kyiv. The result was one of the most dramatic attacks in Russia's years-long cyberwar against its western neighbor, an unprecedented, automated blackout across a broad swath of Ukraine's capital.

But an hour later, Ukrenergo's operators were able to simply switch the power back on again. Which raised the question: Why would Russia's hackers build a sophisticated cyberweapon and plant it in the heart of a nation's power grid only to trigger a one-hour blackout?

A new theory offers a potential answer. Researchers at the industrial-control system cybersecurity firm Dragos have reconstructed a timeline of the 2016 blackout attack [PDF] based on a reexamination of the malware’s code and network logs pulled from Ukrenergo’s systems. They say that hackers intended not merely to cause a short-lived disruption of the Ukrainian grid but to inflict lasting damage that could have led to power outages for weeks or even months. That distinction would make the blackout malware one of only three pieces of code ever spotted in the wild aimed at not just disrupting physical equipment but destroying it, as Stuxnet did in Iran in 2009 and 2010 and as the malware Triton was designed to do in a Saudi Arabian oil refinery in 2017.

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[Category: Biz & IT, hacking, russia, security]

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[l] at 9/5/19 7:00am
Dog plush toy with tracker attached.

Enlarge (credit: Shenzhen i365 Tech)

An estimated 600,000 GPS trackers for monitoring the location of kids, seniors, and pets contain vulnerabilities that open users up to a host of creepy attacks, researchers from security firm Avast have found.

The $25 to $50 devices are small enough to wear on a necklace or stash in a pocket or car dash compartment. Many also include cameras and microphones. They’re marketed on Amazon and other online stores as inexpensive ways to help keep kids, seniors, and pets safe. Ignoring the ethics of attaching a spying device to the people we love, there’s another reason for skepticism. Vulnerabilities in the T8 Mini GPS Tracker Locator and almost 30 similar model brands from the same manufacturer, Shenzhen i365 Tech, make users vulnerable to eavesdropping, spying, and spoofing attacks that falsify users’ true location.

Researchers at Avast Threat Labs found that ID numbers assigned to each device were based on its International Mobile Equipment Identity, or IMEI. Even worse, during manufacturing, devices were assigned precisely the same default password of 123456. The design allowed the researchers to find more than 600,000 devices actively being used in the wild with that password. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the devices transmitted all data in plaintext using commands that were easy to reverse engineer.

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[Category: Biz & IT, GPS, privacy, security, trackers, vulnerabilities]

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[l] at 8/27/19 1:15pm
Google Play app with 100 million downloads executed secret payloads

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto | Getty Images)

The perils of Google Play are once again on display with the discovery of an app with 100 million downloads that contained a malicious component that downloaded secret payloads onto infected Android devices.

Throughout most of its life, CamScanner was a legitimate app that provided useful functions for scanning and managing documents, researchers from antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab said on Tuesday. To make money, the developers displayed ads and offered in-app purchases.

Then, at some point things changed. The app was updated to add an advertising library that contained a malicious module. This component was what’s known as a “Trojan dropper,” meaning it regularly downloaded encrypted code from a developer-designated server at https://abc.abcdserver[.]com and then decrypted and executed it on infected devices. The module, which Kaspersky Lab researchers named Trojan-Dropper.AndroidOS.Necro.n, could download and execute whatever the developers wanted at any time. The researchers said that they have previously found Trojan-Dropper.AndroidOS.Necro.n lurking inside apps that are preinstalled on some phones sold in China.

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[Category: Biz & IT, Uncategorized, android, apps, google play, malware, security]

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[l] at 8/7/19 12:16pm
Self-driving car service open sources new tool for securing firmware

Enlarge (credit: Collin Mulliner)

Developing and maintaining secure firmware for tablets, cars, and IoT devices is hard. Often, the firmware is initially developed by a third party rather than in-house. And it can be tough as projects move from inception and prototyping to full-force engineering and finally to deployment and production.

Now, an engineer at self-driving car service Cruise is easing the pain with the release of FwAnalyzer, a tool he and his Cruise colleagues developed themselves. Collin Mulliner spent more than a decade scouring firmware found in phones and other devices before becoming Cruise’s principal security engineer. He helped write FWAnalyzer to provide continuous automated firmware analysis that could aid engineers at any phase of the code’s lifecycle.

“It's peace of mind that there's constant analysis,” Mulliner said of the tool, which he’ll be discussing at a panel on Wednesday at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. “At any step in development… it runs checks.”

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[Category: Biz & IT, firmware, security]

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[l] at 7/23/19 1:28pm
An AT&T store in New Jersey.

Enlarge / An AT&T store in New Jersey. (credit: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

When Michael Terpin's smartphone suddenly stopped working in June 2017, he knew it wasn't a good sign. He called his cellular provider, AT&T, and learned that a hacker had gained control of his phone number.

The stakes were high because Terpin is a wealthy and prominent cryptocurrency investor. Terpin says the hackers gained control of his Skype account and tricked a client into sending a cryptocurrency payment to the hackers instead of to Terpin.

After the attack, Terpin asked AT&T to escalate the security protections on his phone number. According to Terpin, AT&T agreed to set up a six-digit passcode that must be entered before anyone could transfer Terpin's phone number.

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[Category: Policy, AT&T, blockchain, cryptocurrency, security]

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[l] at 7/23/19 12:55pm
Graffiti urging people to use Signal, a highly-encrypted messaging app, is spray-painted on a wall during a protest on February 1, 2017 in Berkeley, California.

Enlarge / Graffiti urging people to use Signal, a highly-encrypted messaging app, is spray-painted on a wall during a protest on February 1, 2017 in Berkeley, California. (credit: Elijah Nouvelage | Getty Images)

US Attorney General William Barr today launched a new front in the feds' ongoing fight against consumer encryption, railing against the common security practice and lamenting the "victims" in its wake.

"The deployment of warrant-proof encryption is already imposing huge costs on society," Barr claimed in remarks at a cybersecurity conference held at Fordham University Tuesday morning. Barr added that encryption "seriously degrades" law enforcement's ability to "detect and prevent a crime before it occurs," as well as making eventual investigation and prosecution of crime more difficult.

The existence of encryption means "converting the Internet and communications into a law-free zone" that criminals will happily take advantage of to do more crimes, Barr added, likening it to a neighborhood that local cops have abandoned.

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[Category: Policy, attorney general, backdoors, encryption, security]

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[l] at 7/10/19 5:50pm
Pedestrians use crosswalk in large metropolis.

Enlarge (credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

Apple said it has pushed a silent macOS update that removes the undocumented webserver that was installed by the Zoom conferencing app for Mac.

The webserver accepts connections from any device connected to the same local network, a security researcher disclosed on Monday. The server continues to run even when a Mac user uninstalls Zoom. The researcher showed how the webserver can be abused by people on the same network to force Macs to reinstall the conferencing app. Zoom issued an emergency patch on Tuesday in response to blistering criticism from security researchers and end users.

Apple on Wednesday issued an update of its own, a company representative speaking on background told Ars. The update ensures the webserver is removed—even if users have uninstalled Zoom or haven’t installed Tuesday’s update. Apple delivered the silent update automatically, meaning there was no notification or action required of end users.

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[Category: Biz & IT, apple, MacOS, Macs, privacy, security, zoom]

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[l] at 6/25/19 4:37pm
The Microsoft logo displayed at Microsoft's booth at a trade show.

Enlarge / Microsoft at a trade show. (credit: Getty Images | Justin Sullivan)

Microsoft is launching a new layer of security for users of its OneDrive cloud storage service. OneDrive Personal Vault is a new section of your storage that's accessed through two-step verification, or a "strong authentication method," although Microsoft didn't define the latter term.

Microsoft notes that fingerprinting, face scans, PINs, and one-time codes by email, SMS, or an authenticator app are among the acceptable two-step verification methods. And you’ll automatically get de-authenticated after a period of inactivity—that's the key to Microsoft's special security argument here. Two-factor authentication using text or email is less secure than other options. Using the more heavy-duty face or fingerprint verification will require the appropriate hardware, such as a device with Windows Hello.

It also has options for transferring physical documents to the OneDrive mobile app. You can scan documents or take photos directly into the Personal Vault section without needing to store the file in a less secure part of your device first.

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[Category: Tech, cloud storage, microsoft, onedrive, security]

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[l] at 6/6/19 1:16pm
The 2018 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

Enlarge / The 2018 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. (credit: Samuel Axon)

When Apple executive Craig Federighi described a new location-tracking feature for Apple devices at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote on Monday, it sounded—to the sufficiently paranoid, at least—like both a physical security innovation and a potential privacy disaster. But while security experts immediately wondered whether Find My would also offer a new opportunity to track unwitting users, Apple says it built the feature on a unique encryption system carefully designed to prevent exactly that sort of tracking—even by Apple itself.

In upcoming versions of iOS and macOS, the new Find My feature will broadcast Bluetooth signals from Apple devices even when they're offline, allowing nearby Apple devices to relay their location to the cloud. That should help you locate your stolen laptop even when it's sleeping in a thief's bag. And it turns out that Apple's elaborate encryption scheme is also designed not only to prevent interlopers from identifying or tracking an iDevice from its Bluetooth signal, but also to keep Apple itself from learning device locations, even as it allows you to pinpoint yours.

"Now what’s amazing is that this whole interaction is end-to-end encrypted and anonymous," Federighi said at the WWDC keynote. "It uses just tiny bits of data that piggyback on existing network traffic so there’s no need to worry about your battery life, your data usage, or your privacy."

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[Category: Biz & IT, Tech, apple, find my, MacOS, security]

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[l] at 5/21/19 2:50pm
Stylized image of glass skyscrapers under construction.

Enlarge (credit: David Holt / Flickr)

To avoid a replay of the problems faced by the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, version 1809, Microsoft has taken a very measured approach to the release of the May 2019 Update, version 1903, with both a long spell as release candidate and a much less aggressive rollout to Windows Update.

That rollout starts today: while previously one needed to be in the Insider Program (or have a source such as an MSDN subscription) to download and install version 1903, it's now open to everyone through Windows Update.

However, Windows users are unlikely to see the update automatically installed for many months. Initially, only those who explicitly visit Windows Update and click "Check for Updates" will be offered version 1903, and even then, they'll have to explicitly choose to download and install the update. This is part of Microsoft's attempt to make Windows Update less surprising: feature updates are offered separately from regular updates, because feature updates take a long time to install and regular updates don't (or at least, shouldn't). This installation experience requires the use of version 1803 or 1809, and it also requires the most recent monthly patch, which is also released today.

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[Category: Tech, microsoft, security, updates, Windows, windows 10, Windows Update]

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[l] at 5/18/19 5:45am
>20,000 Linksys routers leak historic record of every device ever connected

(credit: US Navy)

This post has been updated to add comments Linksys made online, which says company researchers couldn't reproduce the information disclosure exploit on routers that installed a patch released in 2014. Representatives of Belkin, the company that acquired Linksys in 2013, didn't respond to the request for comment that Ars sent on Monday. Ars saw the statement only after this article went live.

More than 20,000 Linksys wireless routers are regularly leaking full historic records of every device that has ever connected to them, including devices' unique identifiers, names, and the operating systems they use. The data can be used by snoops or hackers in either targeted or opportunistic attacks.

(credit: Troy Mursch)

Independent researcher Troy Mursch said the leak is the result of a flaw in almost three dozen models of Linksys routers. It took about 25 minutes for the Binary Edge search engine of Internet-connected devices to find 21,401 vulnerable devices on Friday. A scan earlier in the week found 25,617. They were leaking a total of 756,565 unique MAC addresses. Exploiting the flaw requires only a few lines of code that harvest every MAC address, device name, and operating system that has ever connected to each of them.

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[Category: Biz & IT, exploits, Linksys, privacy, routers, security, vulnerabilities]

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[l] at 5/15/19 4:00am
A plane in the researchers' demonstration attack as spoofed ILS signals induce a pilot to land to the right of the runway.

Enlarge / A plane in the researchers' demonstration attack as spoofed ILS signals induce a pilot to land to the right of the runway. (credit: Sathaye et al.)

Just about every aircraft that has flown over the past 50 years—whether a single-engine Cessna or a 600-seat jumbo jet—is aided by radios to safely land at airports. These instrument landing systems (ILS) are considered precision approach systems, because unlike GPS and other navigation systems, they provide crucial real-time guidance about both the plane’s horizontal alignment with a runway and its vertical angle of descent. In many settings—particularly during foggy or rainy night-time landings—this radio-based navigation is the primary means for ensuring planes touch down at the start of a runway and on its centerline.

Like many technologies built in earlier decades, the ILS was never designed to be secure from hacking. Radio signals, for instance, aren’t encrypted or authenticated. Instead, pilots simply assume that the tones their radio-based navigation systems receive on a runway’s publicly assigned frequency are legitimate signals broadcast by the airport operator. This lack of security hasn’t been much of a concern over the years, largely because the cost and difficulty of spoofing malicious radio signals made attacks infeasible.

Now, researchers have devised a low-cost hack that raises questions about the security of ILS, which is used at virtually every civilian airport throughout the industrialized world. Using a $600 software defined radio, the researchers can spoof airport signals in a way that causes a pilot’s navigation instruments to falsely indicate a plane is off course. Normal training will call for the pilot to adjust the plane’s descent rate or alignment accordingly and create a potential accident as a result.

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[Category: Biz & IT, Features, aviation, exploits, ils, instrument landing systems, security, vulnerabilities]

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[l] at 5/14/19 12:10pm

First disclosed in January 2018, the Meltdown and Spectre attacks have opened the floodgates, leading to extensive research into the speculative execution hardware found in modern processors, and a number of additional attacks have been published in the months since.

Today sees the publication of a range of closely related flaws named variously RIDL, Fallout, ZombieLoad, or Microarchitectural Data Sampling. The many names are a consequence of the several groups that discovered the different flaws. From the computer science department of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Helmholtz Center for Information Security, we have "Rogue In-Flight Data Load." From a team spanning Graz University of Technology, the University of Michigan, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and KU Leuven, we have "Fallout." From Graz University of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and KU Leuven, we have "ZombieLoad," and from Graz University of Technology, we have "Store-to-Leak Forwarding."

Intel is using the name "Microarchitectural Data Sampling" (MDS), and that's the name that arguably gives the most insight into the problem. The issues were independently discovered by both Intel and the various other groups, with the first notification to the chip company occurring in June last year.

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[Category: Tech, Intel, meltdown, security, spectre, speculative execution]

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[l] at 4/30/19 12:37pm
5G Logo in the shape of a butterfly.

Enlarge / PORTUGAL - 2019/03/04: 5G logo is seen on an android mobile phone with Huawei logo on the background. (credit: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Vodafone, the largest mobile network operator in Europe, found backdoors in Huawei equipment between 2009 and 2011, reports Bloomberg. With these backdoors, Huawei could have gained unauthorized access to Vodafone's "fixed-line network in Italy." But Vodafone disagrees, saying that while it did discover some security vulnerabilities in Huawei equipment, these were fixed by Huawei and in any case were not remotely accessible, and hence they could not be used by Huawei.

Bloomberg's claims are based on Vodafone's internal security documentation and "people involved in the situation." Several different "backdoors" are described: unsecured telnet access to home routers, along with "backdoors" in optical service nodes (which connect last-mile distribution networks to optical backbone networks) and "broadband network gateways" (BNG) (which sit between broadband users and the backbone network, providing access control, authentication, and similar services).

In response to Bloomberg, Vodafone said that the router vulnerabilities were found and fixed in 2011 and the BNG flaws were found and fixed in 2012. While it has documentation about some optical service node vulnerabilities, Vodafone continued, it has no information about when they were fixed. Further, the network operator said that it has no evidence of issues outside Italy.

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[Category: Biz & IT, Tech, 5G, backdoors, china, cyberwar, Huawei, security, vulnerabilities]

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[l] at 4/25/19 11:46am
Password1, Password2, Password3 no more: Microsoft drops password expiration rec

For many years, Microsoft has published a security baseline configuration: a set of system policies that are a reasonable default for a typical organization. This configuration may be sufficient for some companies, and it represents a good starting point for those corporations that need something stricter. While most of the settings have been unproblematic, one particular decision has long drawn the ire of end-users and helpdesks alike: a 60-day password expiration policy that forces a password change every two months. That reality is no longer: the latest draft for the baseline configuration for Windows 10 version 1903 and Windows Server version 1903 drops this tedious requirement.

The rationale for the previous policy is that it limits the impact a stolen password can have—a stolen password will automatically become invalid after, at most, 60 days. In reality, however, password expiration tends to make systems less safe, not more, because computer users don't like picking or remembering new passwords. Instead, they'll do something like pick a simple password and then increment a number on the end of the password, making it easy to "generate" a new password whenever they're forced to.

In the early days of computing, this might have been a sensible trade-off, because cracking passwords was relatively slow. But these days, with rainbow tables, GPU acceleration, and the massive computational power of the cloud, that's no longer the case—short passwords are a liability, so any policy that makes people favor short passwords is a bad policy. It's better instead to choose a long password and, ideally, multifactor authentication, supplementing the password with a time-based code or something similar.

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[Category: Tech, administration, microsoft, passwords, security, Windows]

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[l] at 4/19/19 10:26am
A colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of an Ebola virus virion. (Cynthia Goldsmith)

Enlarge / A colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of an Ebola virus virion. (Cynthia Goldsmith) (credit: CDC)

The most recent Windows patch, released April 9, seems to have done something (still to be determined) that's causing problems with anti-malware software. Over the last few days, Microsoft has been adding more and more antivirus scanners to its list of known issues. As of publication time, client-side antivirus software from Sophos, Avira, ArcaBit, Avast, and most recently McAfee are all showing problems with the patch.

Affected machines seem to be fine until an attempt is made to log in, at which point the system grinds to a halt. It's not immediately clear if systems are freezing altogether or just going extraordinarily slowly. Some users have reported that they can log in, but the process takes ten or more hours. Logging in to Windows 7, 8.1, Server 2008 R2, Server 2012, and Server 2012 R2 are all affected.

Booting into safe mode is unaffected, and the current advice is to use this method to disable the antivirus applications and allow the machines to boot normally. Sophos additionally reports that adding the antivirus software's own directory to the list of excluded locations also serves as a fix, which is a little strange.

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[Category: Tech, anti-malware, anti-virus, microsoft, patch, security, Windows]

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[l] at 4/15/19 9:14am
Hackers could read non-corporate Outlook.com, Hotmail for six months

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

Late on Friday, some users of Outlook.com/Hotmail/MSN Mail received an email from Microsoft stating that an unauthorized third party had gained limited access to their accounts and was able to read, among other things, the subject lines of emails (but not their bodies or attachments, nor their account passwords), between January 1 and March 28 of this year. Microsoft confirmed this to TechCrunch on Saturday.

The hackers, however, dispute this characterization. They told Motherboard that they can indeed access email contents and have shown that publication screenshots to prove their point. They also claim that the hack lasted at least six months, doubling the period of vulnerability that Microsoft has claimed. After this pushback, Microsoft responded that around 6 percent of customers affected by the hack had suffered unauthorized access to their emails and that these customers received different breach notifications to make this clear. However, the company is still sticking to its claim that the hack only lasted three months.

Not in dispute is the broad character of the attack. Both hackers and Microsoft's breach notifications say that access to customer accounts came through compromise of a support agent's credentials. With these credentials, the hackers could use Microsoft's internal customer support portal, which offers support agents some level of access to Outlook.com accounts. The hackers speculated to Motherboard that the compromised account belonged to a highly privileged user and that this may have been what granted them the ability to read mail bodies. The compromised account has subsequently been locked to prevent any further abuse.

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[Category: Tech, cloud, hack, hotmail, microsoft, Outlook.com, security]

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[l] at 4/3/19 9:41am
Not where you want a hidden camera.

Enlarge / Not where you want a hidden camera. (credit: Getty | Brendan Hoffman)

A California hospital faces a lawsuit from 81 women who allege they were secretly filmed by hidden cameras in labor and delivery operating rooms while undergoing extremely intimate procedures, including Caesarean births, sterilizations, and operations to resolve miscarriages.

The women claim that their privacy was egregiously violated by the hospital, Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, California, which is run by Sharp HealthCare. The women say they did not consent to be filmed during the procedures—and would not have done so if given the choice.

Moreover, they allege that their sensitive videos were insecurely stored on various desktop computers, some of which were not even password protected, and that numerous non-medical staff members—including security guards and attorneys—were able to watch the videos. The lawsuit further alleges that the hospital made no effort to log or monitor who viewed the footage and did not ensure proper deletion of the data. In all, the lawsuit estimates that the hospital had secret recordings of around 1,800 procedures that took place in the women’s center.

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[Category: Policy, Science, c section, hospital, labor and delivery, lawsuit, miscarriage, privacy, security]

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[l] at 4/2/19 6:30pm
Large helicopter emblazoned with presidential logos lands at a seaside resort.

Enlarge (credit: The White House / Flickr)

A woman carrying four cellphones, two Chinese passports, and a thumb drive containing malware was arrested over the weekend after gaining access to President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort under false pretenses, a court document alleged.

The woman, identified as 32-year-old Yujing Zhang, on Saturday afternoon told a US Secret Service agent she was there to use the pool and produced the passports, a criminal complaint filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Florida alleged. She was admitted past a security checkpoint after a resort security manager verified that her last name matched the surname of a club member. A “potential language-barrier issue” raised the possibility she was the daughter of the member. She didn’t give a definitive answer when asked if she was there to meet anyone and was escorted to a front desk in a golf cart.

When questioned by a receptionist inside the club, Zhang said she was there to attend a United Nations Chinese American Association event later that evening, according to the complaint. The receptionist confirmed that no such event was scheduled and was unable to find Zhang’s name on any list of people approved to be past the security checkpoint.

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[Category: Biz & IT, Policy, malware, security]

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[l] at 3/26/19 1:03pm
How Microsoft found a Huawei driver that opened systems to attack

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Huawei MateBook systems that are running the company's PCManager software included a driver that would let unprivileged users create processes with superuser privileges. The insecure driver was discovered by Microsoft using some of the new monitoring features added to Windows version 1809 that are monitored by the company's Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) service.

First things first: Huawei fixed the driver and published the safe version in early January, so if you're using a Huawei system and have either updated everything or removed the built-in applications entirely, you should be good to go.

The interesting part of the story is how Microsoft found the bad driver in the first place.

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[Category: Tech, defender atp, Huawei, matebook, microsoft, security, Windows]

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[l] at 3/21/19 9:57am

Microsoft is bringing its Windows Defender anti-malware application to macOS—and more platforms in the future—as it expands the reach of its Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) platform. To reflect the new cross-platform nature, the suite is also being renamed to Microsoft Defender ATP, with the individual clients being labelled "for Mac" or "for Windows."

Microsoft Defender ATP for Mac will initially focus on traditional signature-based malware scanning.

Microsoft Defender ATP for Mac will initially focus on traditional signature-based malware scanning.

macOS malware is still something of a rarity, but it's not completely unheard of. Ransomware for the platform was found in 2016, and in-the-wild outbreaks of other malicious software continue to be found. Apple has integrated some malware protection into macOS, but we've heard from developers on the platform that Mac users aren't always very good at keeping their systems on the latest point release. This situation is particularly acute in corporate environments; while Windows has a range of tools to ensure that systems are kept up-to-date and alert administrators if they fall behind, a similar ecosystem hasn't been developed for macOS.

One would hope that Defender for Mac will also trap Windows malware to prevent Mac users from spreading malware to their Windows colleagues.

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[Category: Tech, apple, cloud, Defender, MacOS, malware, microsoft, security]

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