Privacy, Security Archive

Cars are the worst product category we have ever reviewed for privacy

Car makers have been bragging about their cars being “computers on wheels” for years to promote their advanced features. However, the conversation about what driving a computer means for its occupants’ privacy hasn’t really caught up. While we worried that our doorbells and watches that connect to the internet might be spying on us, car brands quietly entered the data business by turning their vehicles into powerful data-gobbling machines. Machines that, because of their all those brag-worthy bells and whistles, have an unmatched power to watch, listen, and collect information about what you do and where you go in your car. All 25 car brands we researched earned our *Privacy Not Included warning label — making cars the official worst category of products for privacy that we have ever reviewed. Much to the surprise of nobody.

Why is .US being used to phish so many of us?

Domain names ending in “.US” — the top-level domain for the United States — are among the most prevalent in phishing scams, new research shows. This is noteworthy because .US is overseen by the U.S. government, which is frequently the target of phishing domains ending in .US. Also, .US domains are only supposed to be available to U.S. citizens and to those who can demonstrate that they have a physical presence in the United States. The answer is GoDaddy.

Not everything is secret in encrypted apps like iMessage and WhatsApp

The mess I’m describing — end-to-end encryption but with certain exceptions — may be a healthy balance of your privacy and our safety. The problem is it’s confusing to know what is encrypted and secret in communications apps, what is not and why it might matter to you. To illuminate the nuances, I broke down five questions about end-to-end encryption for five communications apps. This is straightforward and good overview of what, exactly, is end-to-end encrypted in the various chat and IM applications we use today. There’s a lot of ifs and buts here.

Bypassing Bitlocker using a cheap logic analyzer on a Lenovo laptop

The BitLocker partition is encrypted using the Full Volume Encryption Key (FVEK). The FVEK itself is encrypted using the Volume Master Key (VMK) and stored on the disk, next to the encrypted data. This permits key rotations without re-encrypting the whole disk. The VMK is stored in the TPM. Thus the disk can only be decrypted when booted from this computer (there is a recovery mechanism in Active Directory though). In order to decrypt the disk, the CPU will ask that the TPM sends the VMK over the SPI bus. The vulnerability should be obvious: at some point in the boot process, the VMK transits unencrypted between the TPM and the CPU. This means that it can be captured and used to decrypt the disk. This seems like such an obvious design flaw, and yet, that’s exactly how it works – and yes, as this article notes, you can indeed capture the VMK in-transit and decrypt the disk.

Cyber-attack on UK’s electoral registers revealed

The UK’s elections watchdog has revealed it has been the victim of a “complex cyber-attack” potentially affecting millions of voters. The Electoral Commission said unspecified “hostile actors” had managed to gain access to copies of the electoral registers, from August 2021. Hackers also broke into its emails and “control systems” but the attack was not discovered until October last year. The watchdog has warned people to watch out for unauthorised use of their data. That seems like a state-level attack, and such data could easily be used for online influence campaigns during elections, something that is happening all over the western world right now. I wonder just how bad the hack actually was? “Millions of voters” sounds bad, but… The commission says it is difficult to predict exactly how many people could be affected, but it estimates the register for each year contains the details of around 40 million people. Holy cow.

Compromising Garmin’s sport watches: a deep dive into GarminOS and its MonkeyC virtual machine

I reversed the firmware of my Garmin Forerunner 245 Music back in 2022 and found a dozen or so vulnerabilities in their support for Connect IQ applications. They can be exploited to bypass permissions and compromise the watch. I have published various scripts and proof-of-concept apps to a GitHub repository. Coordinating disclosure with Garmin, some of the vulnerabilities have been around since 2015 and affect over a hundred models, including fitness watches, outdoor handhelds, and GPS for bikes. Raise your hands if you’re surprised. Any time someone takes even a cursory glance at internet of things devices or connected anythings that isn’t a well-studied platform from the likes of Apple, Google, or Microsoft, they find boatloads of security issues, dangerous bugs, stupid design decisions, and so much more.

Meta wants EU users to apply for permission to opt out of data collection

Ars Technica reports: Meta announced that starting next Wednesday, some Facebook and Instagram users in the European Union will for the first time be able to opt out of sharing first-party data used to serve highly personalized ads, The Wall Street Journal reported. The move marks a big change from Meta’s current business model, where every video and piece of content clicked on its platforms provides a data point for its online advertisers. People “familiar with the matter” told the Journal that Facebook and Instagram users will soon be able to access a form that can be submitted to Meta to object to sweeping data collection. If those requests are approved, those users will only allow Meta to target ads based on broader categories of data collection, like age range or general location. This immediately feels like something that shouldn’t be legal. Why on earth do I have to convince Facebook to respect my privacy? I should not have to provide any justification to them whatsoever – if I want them to respect my privacy, they should just damn do so, no questions asked. It seems I’m not alone: Other privacy activists have criticized Meta’s plan to provide an objection form to end sweeping data collection. Fight for the Future Director Evan Greer told Ars that Meta’s plan provides “privacy in name only” because users who might opt out if given a “yes/no” option may be less likely to fill out the objection form that requires them to justify their decision. “No one should have to provide a justification for why they don’t want to be surveilled and manipulated,” Greer told Ars. Exactly.

Secure Boot: this is not the protection we are looking for

So there you have it: recommending idly Secure Boot for all systems requiring intermediate security level accomplishes nothing, except maybe giving more work to system administrators that are recompiling their kernel, while offering exactly no measurable security against many threats if UEFI Administrative password and MOK Manager passwords are not set. This is especially true for laptop systems where physical access cannot be prevented for obvious reasons. For servers in colocation, the risk of physical access is not null. And finally for many servers, the risk of a rogue employee somewhere in the supply chain, or the maintenance chain cannot be easily ruled out. The author makes a compelling case, but my knowledge on this topic is too limited to confidently present this article as a good one. I’ll leave it to those among us with more experience on this subject to shoot holes in the article, or to affirm it.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft will soon implement passwordless sign-in on all major platforms

In a joint effort, tech giants Apple, Google, and Microsoft announced Thursday morning that they have committed to building support for passwordless sign-in across all of the mobile, desktop, and browser platforms that they control in the coming year. Effectively, this means that passwordless authentication will come to all major device platforms in the not too distant future: Android and iOS mobile operating systems; Chrome, Edge, and Safari browsers; and the Windows and macOS desktop environments. A passwordless login process will let users choose their phones as the main authentication device for apps, websites, and other digital services, as Google detailed in a blog post published Thursday. Unlocking the phone with whatever is set as the default action — entering a PIN, drawing a pattern, or using fingerprint unlock — will then be enough to sign in to web services without the need to ever enter a password, made possible through the use of a unique cryptographic token called a passkey that is shared between the phone and the website. Passwords are a terrible security practice, and while password managers make the whole ordeal slightly less frustrating, using my phone’s fingerprint reader to log into stuff seems like a very welcome improvement.

How a decades-old database became a hugely profitable dossier on the health of 270 million Americans

To most Americans, the name MarketScan means nothing. But most Americans mean everything to MarketScan. As a repository of sensitive patient information, the company’s databases churn silently behind the scenes of their medical care, scooping up their most guarded secrets: the diseases they have, the drugs they’re taking, the places their bodies are broken that they haven’t told anyone but their doctor. The family of databases that make up MarketScan now include the records of a stunning 270 million Americans, or 82% of the population. The vast reach of MarketScan, and its immense value, is unmistakable. Last month, a private equity firm announced that it would pay $1 billion to buy the databases from IBM. It was by far the most valuable asset left for IBM as the technology behemoth cast off its foundering Watson Health business. Imagine how easy it would be for companies to hire only people in tip-top health, and disregard anyone with even the smallest of preexisting conditions. This data is hugely valuable to just about anyone.

IRS will soon require selfies for online access

If you created an online account to manage your tax records with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), those login credentials will cease to work later this year. The agency says that by the summer of 2022, the only way to log in to will be through, an online identity verification service that requires applicants to submit copies of bills and identity documents, as well as a live video feed of their faces via a mobile device. That will go down well.

A data black hole: Europol ordered to delete vast store of personal data

The EU’s police agency, Europol, will be forced to delete much of a vast store of personal data that it has been found to have amassed unlawfully by the bloc’s data protection watchdog. The unprecedented finding from the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) targets what privacy experts are calling a “big data ark” containing billions of points of information. Sensitive data in the ark has been drawn from crime reports, hacked from encrypted phone services and sampled from asylum seekers never involved in any crime. Sometimes we need to be reminded that authorities illegally amassing huge troves of data on unsuspecting and innocent people is not something that only happens in the US. But it is also worth noticing how in EU we at least have institutions that are trying curb these blind mass surveillance tendencies. If that fight will have measurable effects in the long run is something that we can’t foresee.

Pluton is not (currently) a threat to software freedom

At CES this week, Lenovo announced that their new Z-series laptops would ship with AMD processors that incorporate Microsoft’s Pluton security chip. There’s a fair degree of cynicism around whether Microsoft have the interests of the industry as a whole at heart or not, so unsurprisingly people have voiced concerns about Pluton allowing for platform lock-in and future devices no longer booting non-Windows operating systems. Based on what we currently know, I think those concerns are understandable but misplaced. As usual, Matthew Garrett does an excellent job explaining complex topics like this.

A deep dive into an NSO zero-click iMessage exploit: remote code execution

Google’s Project Zero describes a (now fixed) zero-click exploit in iMessage, and, well, it’s kind of insane. JBIG2 doesn’t have scripting capabilities, but when combined with a vulnerability, it does have the ability to emulate circuits of arbitrary logic gates operating on arbitrary memory. So why not just use that to build your own computer architecture and script that!? That’s exactly what this exploit does. Using over 70,000 segment commands defining logical bit operations, they define a small computer architecture with features such as registers and a full 64-bit adder and comparator which they use to search memory and perform arithmetic operations. It’s not as fast as Javascript, but it’s fundamentally computationally equivalent. Mother of god.

Dude this should NOT be in a Dell Switch… Or HPE Supercomputer

Today we are going to share the result of a bit of investigation that started a few months ago on STH. The short version, it appears as though the Dell EMC S5200-ON series switches, the company’s high-end 25GbE-200GbE switches, have license/ royalty stickers that have a different company name on them than they should have. Instead of saying “American Megatrends”, they instead said “American Megatrands”. To give some perspective, this looks strange because it would be like buying a Dell notebook and getting a “Macrosoft Wandows” license sticker on it. Through a fairly rough October, we validated that indeed these stickers are in the wild. Ultimately, after we brought their existence to American Megatrends (AMI) and Dell’s attention (HPE did not care enough to investigate), we now have an artifact that says that American Megatrends is honoring the license stickers and will not pursue legal action against Dell’s customers or those using them. This may seem like something insignificant and innocuous, but supply chain security is a big, big deal, and the fact these clearly misspelled license/royalty stickers made their way from printing down to the end-user of not just corporate hardware but supercomputers for the US military is… Concerning, to say the least. It shows that tampering with hardware anywhere between production of the individual chips and components down to delivery by the delivery person might be a lot easier to do than we think.

Revealed: leak uncovers global abuse of cyber-surveillance weapon

Human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world have been targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, according to an investigation into a massive data leak. The investigation by the Guardian and 16 other media organisations suggests widespread and continuing abuse of NSO’s hacking spyware, Pegasus, which the company insists is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists. Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones. Is anyone really surprised? Smartphones are the ideal tools for authoritarian regimes – cameras, microphones, GPS, and other sensors in one neat little package, always on the person, ready to be exploited. Of course criminal regimes are going to abuse them, and of course no smartphone is safe.

Public key cryptography: OpenSSH private keys

When you create standard RSA keys with ssh-keygen you end up with a private key in PEM format, and a public key in OpenSSH format. Both have been described in detail in my post Public key cryptography: RSA keys. In 2014, OpenSSH introduced a custom format for private keys that is apparently similar to PEM but is internally completely different. This format is used by default when you create ed25519 keys and it is expected to be the default format for all keys in the future, so it is worth having a look. An in-depth analysis of what’s inside the OpenSSH private key format and how it is different from the standard PEM format.

The long hack: how China exploited a US tech supplier

Remember that story from two years ago, about how China had supposedly infiltrated the supply chain of Supermicro? The story was denied by American intelligence agencies and the CEOs of Apple and Amazon, but today, Bloomberg posted a follow-up piece with more sources, both anonymous and named, that the story was, in fact, real, and probably a lot bigger, too. The article lists several attacks that have taken place, all using hardware from Supermicro. Each of these distinct attacks had two things in common: China and Super Micro Computer Inc., a computer hardware maker in San Jose, California. They shared one other trait; U.S. spymasters discovered the manipulations but kept them largely secret as tthey tried to counter each one and learn more about China’s capabilities. Bloomberg is clearly sticking by and expanding its story, so this means it’s their and their sources’ word against that of giant corporations and American intelligence agencies, and we all know giant corporations and American intelligence agencies never lie. Right?

SerenityOS: writing a full chain exploit

I recently came across SerenityOS when it was featured in hxp CTF and then on LiveOverflow’s YouTube channel. SerenityOS is an open source operating system written from scratch by Andreas Kling and now has a strong and active community behind it. If you’d like to learn a bit more about it then the recent CppCast episode is a good place to start, as well as all of the fantastic videos by Andreas Kling. Two of the recent videos were about writing exploits for a typed array bug in javascript, and a kernel bug in munmap. The videos were great to watch and got me thinking that it would be fun to try and find a couple of bugs that could be chained together to create a full chain exploit such as exploiting a browser bug to exploit a kernel bug to get root access. You don’t get articles like this very often – exploiting a small hobby operating system? Sure, why not.

A look at GSM

There are well documented security flaws in GSM, and publicly available tools to exploit them. At the same time, it has become considerably cheaper and easier to analyze GSM traffic over the past few years. Open source tools such as gr-gsm have matured, and the community has developed methods for capturing the GSM spectrum without the need for expensive SDR radios. With less than $100 and a weekend it’s possible to capture and analyze GSM traffic. With some extra effort it’s possible to decrypt your own traffic, and depending on how your mobile provider has set up their network it may even be possible for somebody else to illegally decrypt traffic they don’t own. GSM is terrifying.