Privacy, Security Archive

Hacker finds hidden ‘god mode’ on old x86 CPUs

Some x86 CPUs have hidden backdoors that let you seize root by sending a command to an undocumented RISC core that manages the main CPU, security researcher Christopher Domas told the Black Hat conference here Thursday (Aug. 9).

The command - ".byte 0x0f, 0x3f" in Linux - "isn't supposed to exist, doesn't have a name, and gives you root right away," Domas said, adding that he calls it "God Mode."

The backdoor completely breaks the protection-ring model of operating-system security, in which the OS kernel runs in ring 0, device drivers run in rings 1 and 2, and user applications and interfaces ("userland") run in ring 3, furthest from the kernel and with the least privileges. To put it simply, Domas' God Mode takes you from the outermost to the innermost ring in four bytes.

That's one hell of a bug.

How they did it: GRU hackers vs. US elections

In a press briefing just two weeks ago, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that the grand jury assembled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller had returned an indictment against 12 officers of Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff (better known as Glavnoye razvedyvatel'noye upravleniye, or GRU). The indictment was for conducting "active cyber operations with the intent of interfering in the 2016 presidential election."

The allegations are backed up by data collected from service provider logs, Bitcoin transaction tracing, and additional forensics. The DOJ also relied on information collected by US (and likely foreign) intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Reading between the lines, the indictment reveals that the Mueller team and other US investigators likely gained access to things like Twitter direct messages and hosting company business records and logs, and they obtained or directly monitored email messages associated with the GRU (and possibly WikiLeaks). It also appears that the investigation ultimately had some level of access to internal activities of two GRU offices.

Yet, after a summit meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin just days following the indictment, Trump publicly expressed doubt that Russia was involved. The president has said that Putin strongly denied any interference in the election - even as the United States' own director of national Iintelligence, Dan Coats, reiterated the conclusion that Russia was responsible for the attacks. With such rhetoric, Trump has continued to send mixed messages about the findings of his own intelligence and law enforcement teams, while seeming to put more stock in Putin's insistence that the Russian government had nothing to do with any of this.

After digging into this latest indictment, the evidence suggests Trump may not have made a very good call on this matter. But his blaming of the victims of the attacks for failing to have good enough security, while misguided, does strike on a certain truth: the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and DCC were poorly prepared for this sort of attack, failed to learn lessons from history, and ignored advice from some very knowledgeable third parties they enlisted for help.

A detailed look at how Russia attacked the United States election process. Sadly, this being the internet, we probably won't be able to keep the discussion focused on the technical process, but can we all promise to at least try? Regardless of political affiliation, all of us should be worried about the election process of the most powerful country on earth being this easily manipulated by external forces.

New Spectre attack enables secrets to be leaked over network

When the Spectre and Meltdown attacks were disclosed earlier this year, the initial exploits required an attacker to be able to run code of their choosing on a victim system. This made browsers vulnerable, as suitably crafted JavaScript could be used to perform Spectre attacks. Cloud hosts were susceptible, too. But outside these situations, the impact seemed relatively limited.

That impact is now a little larger. Researchers from Graz University of Technology including one of the original Meltdown discoverers, Daniel Gruss, have described NetSpectre: a fully remote attack based on Spectre. With NetSpectre, an attacker can remotely read the memory of a victim system without running any code on that system.

How smart TVs track more than what’s on tonight

The growing concern over online data and user privacy has been focused on tech giants like Facebook and devices like smartphones. But people's data is also increasingly being vacuumed right out of their living rooms via their televisions, sometimes without their knowledge.

In recent years, data companies have harnessed new technology to immediately identify what people are watching on internet-connected TVs, then using that information to send targeted advertisements to other devices in their homes. Marketers, forever hungry to get their products in front of the people most likely to buy them, have eagerly embraced such practices. But the companies watching what people watch have also faced scrutiny from regulators and privacy advocates over how transparent they are being with users.

This is so deeply creepy.

“Gmail app developers have been reading your emails”

Third-party app developers can read the emails of millions of Gmail users, a report from The Wall Street Journal highlighted today. Gmail’s access settings allows data companies and app developers to see people’s emails and view private details, including recipient addresses, time stamps, and entire messages. And while those apps do need to receive user consent, the consent form isn’t exactly clear that it would allow humans - and not just computers - to read your emails.

Wait, you mean to tell me that when I granted one of those newfangled we-will-organise-your-email-for-you email clients access to my email I granted them access to my email? I am shocked, shocked I say!

Privacy and security stories tend to get easily inflated, and while it indeed sucks that actual people at said companies can read your email, you did explicitly grant them access to your email account. It's all spelled out right there in the Google account permission dialog. These companies aren't here to make your email lives easier - they're here to mine your data and sell it to third parties.

You wouldn't let a random small company install cameras in your house. Why do you treat your email any differently?

Wi-Fi Alliance introduces WPA3 security

Wi-Fi Alliance introduces Wi-Fi WPA3, the next generation of Wi-Fi security, bringing new capabilities to enhance Wi-Fi protections in personal and enterprise networks. Building on the widespread adoption of WPA2 over more than a decade, WPA3 adds new features to simplify Wi-Fi security, enable more robust authentication, and deliver increased cryptographic strength for highly sensitive data markets. As the Wi-Fi industry transitions to WPA3 security, WPA2 devices will continue to interoperate and provide recognized security.

Good news, but it will most likely require you buy a new router, since I doubt many router makers will update their devices to add WPA3 support. I have the last Apple AirPort Extreme, and with Apple exiting the router market, I doubt we'll see them adding WPA3 support.

Verizon and AT&T will stop selling your phone’s location

Verizon and AT&T have promised to stop selling their mobile customers' location information to third-party data brokers following a security problem that leaked the real-time location of US cell phone users.

Good news for Verizon and AT&T customers, but one has to wonder who's going to pay for this. They're going to have to recover the lost income somewhere, and that's probably going to be, well, you.

Apple just took a shot at Facebook’s web-tracking empire

For years, Facebook's sneakiest data-collector has been the "Like" button. Any site that wants Facebook traffic needs one, which means they're just about everywhere. And in order to work right, the button needs to log you in - which is to say, it needs to know who you are. How else would Facebook know who liked the post? Even if you don't click, Facebook registers that you loaded the button, which means they get a map of every Like-enabled site you've been to, just the kind of data that advertisers will pay to target against.

Today at WWDC, Apple took a direct shot at that system and Facebook itself. Onstage, Apple's VP of software Craig Federighi described Safari's new anti-tracking features in unusually confrontational terms.

"We've all seen these like buttons and share buttons," Federighi told the crowd. "Well it turns out, these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not. So this year, we're shutting that down."

This is one of the very rare cases where competing corporate interests actually work out in the favour of consumers. One way or another, this will be added to all browsers.

US carriers selling access to your real-time location data

Four of the largest cell giants in the US are selling your real-time location data to a company that you've probably never heard about before.

In case you missed it, a senator last week sent a letter demanding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigate why Securus, a prison technology company, can track any phone "within seconds" by using data obtained from the country's largest cell giants, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, through an intermediary, LocationSmart.

Well, at least your messaging app is end-to-end encrypted, right?

A lot of apps sell your data

Your devices are tracking you all the time. You just don’t know it yet.

When you consent to sharing your data with many popular apps, you’re also allowing app developers to collect your data and sell it to third parties through trackers that supply advertisers with detailed information about where you live, work, and shop.

In November 2017, Yale Privacy Lab detected trackers in over 75% of the 300 Android apps it analyzed. A March 2018 study of 160,000 free Android apps found that more than 55% of trackers tried to extract user location, while 30% accessed the device’s contact list. And a 2015 analysis of 110 popular free mobile apps revealed that 47% of iOS apps shared geo-coordinates and other location data with third parties, and personally identifiable information, like names of users (provided by 18% of iOS apps), was also provided.

These are particularly nasty trackers, since it's generally more difficult to block them.

Tech giants hit by NSA spying slam encryption backdoors

A coalition of Silicon Valley tech giants has doubled down on its criticism of encryption backdoors following a proposal that would give law enforcement access to locked and encrypted devices.

The group, which focuses on efforts to reform government surveillance, said in a statement that it continues to advocate for strong encryption, and decried attempts to undermine the technology.

The coalition consists of, among others, Google, Microsoft, and Apple.

Zuckerberg: Cambridge Analytica leak a “breach of trust”

After days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded to the controversy over the 2014 leak of private Facebook user data to a firm that went on to do political consulting work for the Donald Trump campaign in 2016.

Cambridge Analytica got the data by paying a psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan, to create a Facebook personality quiz that harvested data not only about its own users but also about users' friends. Kogan amassed data from around 50 million users and turned it over to Cambridge.

Zuckerberg says that when Facebook learned about this transfer in 2015, it got Kogan and Cambridge to certify that they had deleted the data. But media reports this weekend suggested that Cambridge had lied and retained the data throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.

This whole thing should make everyone think twice about how - and if - they should keep using Facebook. I've personally always been incredibly careful about what data I put on Facebook and I've rarely - if ever - used any Facebook 'apps', but in the end, you don't even need to feed Facebook any data for them to figure out who you are and what you're interested in. It's actually remarkably easy to extrapolate a whole lot about you from simple things like the times you're online, or which sites with Facebook social trackers you visit, and so on.

I trust Google with such forms of data, but not Facebook. If it wasn't for my friends, I'd delete my Facebook account in a heartbeat. My hope is that this story - which has certainly permeated beyond tech media into the mainstream media - will push more and more of the people around me to consider leaving Facebook.

Xerox Alto zero-day

We've been archiving a bunch of old Xerox Alto disk packs from the 1970s. A few of them turned out to be password-protected, so I needed to figure out how to get around the password protection. I've developed a way to disable password protection, as well as a program to find the password instantly.

Xerox has failed to respond to this severe security hole in their computer, and every day they refuse to patch this vulnerability is a day their customers run a massive risk. Irresponsible.

CCleaner downloads infected with malware

Talos recently observed a case where the download servers used by software vendor to distribute a legitimate software package were leveraged to deliver malware to unsuspecting victims. For a period of time, the legitimate signed version of CCleaner 5.33 being distributed by Avast also contained a multi-stage malware payload that rode on top of the installation of CCleaner. CCleaner boasted over 2 billion total downloads by November of 2016 with a growth rate of 5 million additional users per week. Given the potential damage that could be caused by a network of infected computers even a tiny fraction of this size we decided to move quickly. On September 13, 2017 Cisco Talos immediately notified Avast of our findings so that they could initiate appropriate response activities. The following sections will discuss the specific details regarding this attack.

Don't use registry cleaners. They serve no purpose.

Why you shouldn’t unlock your phone with your face

If you value the security of your data - your email, social media accounts, family photos, the history of every place you've ever been with your phone - then I recommend against using biometric identification.

Instead, use a passcode to unlock your phone.

Can't argue with that - especially in place where law enforcement often takes a... Liberal approach to detainees.

European MEPs seek ban on backdooring encryption

The European parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) has put forward a proposal that would amend the EU's charter of fundamental rights to extend privacy rights to the digital realm and prevent governments of EU Member States from backdooring end-to-end encrypted services.

"This Regulation aims at ensuring an effective and equal protection of end-users when using functionally equivalent services, so as to ensure the protection of confidentiality, irrespective of the technological medium chosen," they write in the draft eprivacy proposal. "The protection of confidentiality of communications is also an essential condition for the respect of other related fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the protection of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of expression and information."

On encryption the committee amends an earlier text, proposed by the EU's executive body, the European Commission, to state: "hen encryption of electronic communications data is used, decryption, reverse engineering or monitoring of such communications shall be prohibited. Member States shall not impose any obligations on electronic communications service providers that would result in the weakening of the security and encryption of their networks and services."

It's only a committee proposal for now that will need approval from the European Parliament, but at least it's something. It also happens to fly in the face of European leaders, who are talking of weakening encryption or banning it outright.

This proposal would obviously be the right thing to do, but with so many leaders around the world exploiting the wholly irrational fear of terrorism (you're much more likely to die sitting on the couch than at the hands of terrorists here in Europe) among the media-primed public and people falling for that nonsense hook, line, and sinker (see Brexit, Trump, and extreme right parties in The Netherlands and France), this proposal will most likely not make it.

Malware uses Intel CPU feature to steal data

Microsoft's security team has come across a malware family that uses Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT) Serial-over-LAN (SOL) interface as a file transfer tool.

Because of the way the Intel AMT SOL technology works, SOL traffic bypasses the local computer's networking stack, so local firewalls or security products won't be able to detect or block the malware while it's exfiltrating data from infected hosts.

A quick look at the Ikea IoT lighting platform

Ikea recently launched their Trådfri smart lighting platform in the US. The idea of Ikea plus internet security together at last seems like a pretty terrible one, but having taken a look it's surprisingly competent. Hardware-wise, the device is pretty minimal - it seems to be based on the Cypress WICED IoT platform, with 100MBit ethernet and a Silicon Labs Zigbee chipset. It's running the Express Logic ThreadX RTOS, has no running services on any TCP ports and appears to listen on two single UDP ports. As IoT devices go, it's pleasingly minimal.

It's always nice to be pleasantly surprised when it comes to non-IT companies and IT security.

Cryptographers show collision in SHA-1 algorithm

From the EFF:

On February 23rd, a joint team from the CWI Amsterdam and Google announced that they had generated the first ever collision in the SHA-1 cryptographic hashing algorithm. SHA-1 has long been considered theoretically insecure by cryptanalysts due to weaknesses in the algorithm design, but this marks the first time researchers were actually able to demonstrate a real-world example of the insecurity. In addition to being a powerful Proof of Concept (POC), the computing power that went into generating the proof was notable.

So what's the big deal?

Unfortunately, the migration away from SHA-1 has not been universal. Some programs, such as the version control system Git, have SHA-1 hard-baked into its code. This makes it difficult for projects which rely on Git to ditch the algorithm altogether. The encrypted e-mail system PGP also relies on it in certain places.