Tag Archives: botnet

The Effects of the Spectre and Meltdown Vulnerabilities

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/01/the_effects_of_3.html

On January 3, the world learned about a series of major security vulnerabilities in modern microprocessors. Called Spectre and Meltdown, these vulnerabilities were discovered by several different researchers last summer, disclosed to the microprocessors’ manufacturers, and patched­ — at least to the extent possible.

This news isn’t really any different from the usual endless stream of security vulnerabilities and patches, but it’s also a harbinger of the sorts of security problems we’re going to be seeing in the coming years. These are vulnerabilities in computer hardware, not software. They affect virtually all high-end microprocessors produced in the last 20 years. Patching them requires large-scale coordination across the industry, and in some cases drastically affects the performance of the computers. And sometimes patching isn’t possible; the vulnerability will remain until the computer is discarded.

Spectre and Meltdown aren’t anomalies. They represent a new area to look for vulnerabilities and a new avenue of attack. They’re the future of security­ — and it doesn’t look good for the defenders.

Modern computers do lots of things at the same time. Your computer and your phone simultaneously run several applications — ­or apps. Your browser has several windows open. A cloud computer runs applications for many different computers. All of those applications need to be isolated from each other. For security, one application isn’t supposed to be able to peek at what another one is doing, except in very controlled circumstances. Otherwise, a malicious advertisement on a website you’re visiting could eavesdrop on your banking details, or the cloud service purchased by some foreign intelligence organization could eavesdrop on every other cloud customer, and so on. The companies that write browsers, operating systems, and cloud infrastructure spend a lot of time making sure this isolation works.

Both Spectre and Meltdown break that isolation, deep down at the microprocessor level, by exploiting performance optimizations that have been implemented for the past decade or so. Basically, microprocessors have become so fast that they spend a lot of time waiting for data to move in and out of memory. To increase performance, these processors guess what data they’re going to receive and execute instructions based on that. If the guess turns out to be correct, it’s a performance win. If it’s wrong, the microprocessors throw away what they’ve done without losing any time. This feature is called speculative execution.

Spectre and Meltdown attack speculative execution in different ways. Meltdown is more of a conventional vulnerability; the designers of the speculative-execution process made a mistake, so they just needed to fix it. Spectre is worse; it’s a flaw in the very concept of speculative execution. There’s no way to patch that vulnerability; the chips need to be redesigned in such a way as to eliminate it.

Since the announcement, manufacturers have been rolling out patches to these vulnerabilities to the extent possible. Operating systems have been patched so that attackers can’t make use of the vulnerabilities. Web browsers have been patched. Chips have been patched. From the user’s perspective, these are routine fixes. But several aspects of these vulnerabilities illustrate the sorts of security problems we’re only going to be seeing more of.

First, attacks against hardware, as opposed to software, will become more common. Last fall, vulnerabilities were discovered in Intel’s Management Engine, a remote-administration feature on its microprocessors. Like Spectre and Meltdown, they affected how the chips operate. Looking for vulnerabilities on computer chips is new. Now that researchers know this is a fruitful area to explore, security researchers, foreign intelligence agencies, and criminals will be on the hunt.

Second, because microprocessors are fundamental parts of computers, patching requires coordination between many companies. Even when manufacturers like Intel and AMD can write a patch for a vulnerability, computer makers and application vendors still have to customize and push the patch out to the users. This makes it much harder to keep vulnerabilities secret while patches are being written. Spectre and Meltdown were announced prematurely because details were leaking and rumors were swirling. Situations like this give malicious actors more opportunity to attack systems before they’re guarded.

Third, these vulnerabilities will affect computers’ functionality. In some cases, the patches for Spectre and Meltdown result in significant reductions in speed. The press initially reported 30%, but that only seems true for certain servers running in the cloud. For your personal computer or phone, the performance hit from the patch is minimal. But as more vulnerabilities are discovered in hardware, patches will affect performance in noticeable ways.

And then there are the unpatchable vulnerabilities. For decades, the computer industry has kept things secure by finding vulnerabilities in fielded products and quickly patching them. Now there are cases where that doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s because computers are in cheap products that don’t have a patch mechanism, like many of the DVRs and webcams that are vulnerable to the Mirai (and other) botnets — ­groups of Internet-connected devices sabotaged for coordinated digital attacks. Sometimes it’s because a computer chip’s functionality is so core to a computer’s design that patching it effectively means turning the computer off. This, too, is becoming more common.

Increasingly, everything is a computer: not just your laptop and phone, but your car, your appliances, your medical devices, and global infrastructure. These computers are and always will be vulnerable, but Spectre and Meltdown represent a new class of vulnerability. Unpatchable vulnerabilities in the deepest recesses of the world’s computer hardware is the new normal. It’s going to leave us all much more vulnerable in the future.

This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

Spectre and Meltdown Attacks Against Microprocessors

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/01/spectre_and_mel_1.html

The security of pretty much every computer on the planet has just gotten a lot worse, and the only real solution — which of course is not a solution — is to throw them all away and buy new ones.

On Wednesday, researchers just announced a series of major security vulnerabilities in the microprocessors at the heart of the world’s computers for the past 15-20 years. They’ve been named Spectre and Meltdown, and they have to do with manipulating different ways processors optimize performance by rearranging the order of instructions or performing different instructions in parallel. An attacker who controls one process on a system can use the vulnerabilities to steal secrets elsewhere on the computer. (The research papers are here and here.)

This means that a malicious app on your phone could steal data from your other apps. Or a malicious program on your computer — maybe one running in a browser window from that sketchy site you’re visiting, or as a result of a phishing attack — can steal data elsewhere on your machine. Cloud services, which often share machines amongst several customers, are especially vulnerable. This affects corporate applications running on cloud infrastructure, and end-user cloud applications like Google Drive. Someone can run a process in the cloud and steal data from every other users on the same hardware.

Information about these flaws has been secretly circulating amongst the major IT companies for months as they researched the ramifications and coordinated updates. The details were supposed to be released next week, but the story broke early and everyone is scrambling. By now all the major cloud vendors have patched their systems against the vulnerabilities that can be patched against.

“Throw it away and buy a new one” is ridiculous security advice, but it’s what US-CERT recommends. It is also unworkable. The problem is that there isn’t anything to buy that isn’t vulnerable. Pretty much every major processor made in the past 20 years is vulnerable to some flavor of these vulnerabilities. Patching against Meltdown can degrade performance by almost a third. And there’s no patch for Spectre; the microprocessors have to be redesigned to prevent the attack, and that will take years. (Here’s a running list of who’s patched what.)

This is bad, but expect it more and more. Several trends are converging in a way that makes our current system of patching security vulnerabilities harder to implement.

The first is that these vulnerabilities affect embedded computers in consumer devices. Unlike our computer and phones, these systems are designed and produced at a lower profit margin with less engineering expertise. There aren’t security teams on call to write patches, and there often aren’t mechanisms to push patches onto the devices. We’re already seeing this with home routers, digital video recorders, and webcams. The vulnerability that allowed them to be taken over by the Mirai botnet last August simply can’t be fixed.

The second is that some of the patches require updating the computer’s firmware. This is much harder to walk consumers through, and is more likely to permanently brick the device if something goes wrong. It also requires more coordination. In November, Intel released a firmware update to fix a vulnerability in its Management Engine (ME): another flaw in its microprocessors. But it couldn’t get that update directly to users; it had to work with the individual hardware companies, and some of them just weren’t capable of getting the update to their customers.

We’re already seeing this. Some patches require users to disable the computer’s password, which means organizations can’t automate the patch. Some antivirus software blocks the patch, or — worse — crashes the computer. This results in a three-step process: patch your antivirus software, patch your operating system, and then patch the computer’s firmware.

The final reason is the nature of these vulnerabilities themselves. These aren’t normal software vulnerabilities, where a patch fixes the problem and everyone can move on. These vulnerabilities are in the fundamentals of how the microprocessor operates.

It shouldn’t be surprising that microprocessor designers have been building insecure hardware for 20 years. What’s surprising is that it took 20 years to discover it. In their rush to make computers faster, they weren’t thinking about security. They didn’t have the expertise to find these vulnerabilities. And those who did were too busy finding normal software vulnerabilities to examine microprocessors. Security researchers are starting to look more closely at these systems, so expect to hear about more vulnerabilities along these lines.

Spectre and Meltdown are pretty catastrophic vulnerabilities, but they only affect the confidentiality of data. Now that they — and the research into the Intel ME vulnerability — have shown researchers where to look, more is coming — and what they’ll find will be worse than either Spectre or Meltdown. There will be vulnerabilities that will allow attackers to manipulate or delete data across processes, potentially fatal in the computers controlling our cars or implanted medical devices. These will be similarly impossible to fix, and the only strategy will be to throw our devices away and buy new ones.

This isn’t to say you should immediately turn your computers and phones off and not use them for a few years. For the average user, this is just another attack method amongst many. All the major vendors are working on patches and workarounds for the attacks they can mitigate. All the normal security advice still applies: watch for phishing attacks, don’t click on strange e-mail attachments, don’t visit sketchy websites that might run malware on your browser, patch your systems regularly, and generally be careful on the Internet.

You probably won’t notice that performance hit once Meltdown is patched, except maybe in backup programs and networking applications. Embedded systems that do only one task, like your programmable thermostat or the computer in your refrigerator, are unaffected. Small microprocessors that don’t do all of the vulnerable fancy performance tricks are unaffected. Browsers will figure out how to mitigate this in software. Overall, the security of the average Internet-of-Things device is so bad that this attack is in the noise compared to the previously known risks.

It’s a much bigger problem for cloud vendors; the performance hit will be expensive, but I expect that they’ll figure out some clever way of detecting and blocking the attacks. All in all, as bad as Spectre and Meltdown are, I think we got lucky.

But more are coming, and they’ll be worse. 2018 will be the year of microprocessor vulnerabilities, and it’s going to be a wild ride.

Note: A shorter version of this essay previously appeared on CNN.com. My previous blog post on this topic contains additional links.

Reaper Botnet

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/10/reaper_botnet.html

It’s based on the Mirai code, but much more virulent:

While Mirai caused widespread outages, it impacted IP cameras and internet routers by simply exploiting their weak or default passwords. The latest botnet threat, known as alternately as IoT Troop or Reaper, has evolved that strategy, using actual software-hacking techniques to break into devices instead. It’s the difference between checking for open doors and actively picking locks­ — and it’s already enveloped devices on a million networks and counting.

It’s already infected a million IoT devices.

Self-Driving Cars Should Be Open Source

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/self-driving-cars-open-source/

Self-driving cars are (will be) the pinnacle of consumer products automation — robot vacuum cleaners, smart fridges and TVs are just toys compared to self-driving cars. Both in terms of technology and in terms of impact. We aren’t yet on level 5 self driving cars , but they are behind the corner.

But as software engineers we know how fragile software is. And self-driving cars are basically software, so we can see all the risks involved with putting our lives in the hands anonymous (from our point of view) developers and unknown (to us) processes and quality standards. One may argue that this has been the case for every consumer product ever, but with software is different — software is way more complex than anything else.

So I have an outrageous proposal — self-driving cars should be open source. We have to be able to verify and trust the code that’s navigating our helpless bodies around the highways. Not only that, but we have to be able to verify if it is indeed that code that is currently running in our car, and not something else.

In fact, let me extend that — all cars should be open source. Before you say “but that will ruin the competitive advantage of manufacturers and will be deadly for business”, I don’t actually care how they trained their neural networks, or what their datasets are. That’s actually the secret sauce of the self-driving car and in my view it can remain proprietary and closed. What I’d like to see open-sourced is everything else. (Under what license — I’d be fine to even have it copyrighted and so not “real” open source, but that’s a separate discussion).

Why? This story about remote carjacking using the entertainment system of a Jeep is a scary example. Attackers that reverse engineer the car software can remotely control everything in the car. Why did that happen? Well, I guess it’s complicated and we have to watch the DEFCON talk.

And also read the paper, but a paragraph in wikipedia about the CAN bus used in most cars gives us a hint:

CAN is a low-level protocol and does not support any security features intrinsically. There is also no encryption in standard CAN implementations, which leaves these networks open to man-in-the-middle packet interception. In most implementations, applications are expected to deploy their own security mechanisms; e.g., to authenticate incoming commands or the presence of certain devices on the network. Failure to implement adequate security measures may result in various sorts of attacks if the opponent manages to insert messages on the bus. While passwords exist for some safety-critical functions, such as modifying firmware, programming keys, or controlling antilock brake actuators, these systems are not implemented universally and have a limited number of seed/key pair

I don’t know in what world it makes sense to even have a link between the entertainment system and the low-level network that operates the physical controls. As apparent from the talk, the two systems are supposed to be air-gapped, but in reality they aren’t.

Rookie mistakes were abound — unauthenticated “execute” method, running as root, firmware is not signed, hard-coded passwords, etc. How do we know that there aren’t tons of those in all cars out there right now, and in the self-driving cars of the future (which will likely use the same legacy technologies of the current cars)? Recently I heard a negative comment about the source code of one of the self-driving cars “players”, and I’m pretty sure there are many of those rookie mistakes.

Why this is this even more risky for self-driving cars? I’m not an expert in car programming, but it seems like the attack surface is bigger. I might be completely off target here, but on a typical car you’d have to “just” properly isolate the CAN bus. With self-driving cars the autonomous system that watches the surrounding and makes decisions on what to do next has to be connected to the CAN bus. With Tesla being able to send updates over the wire, the attack surface is even bigger (although that’s actually a good feature — to be able to patch all cars immediately once a vulnerability is discovered).

Of course, one approach would be to introduce legislation that regulates car software. It might work, but it would rely on governments to to proper testing, which won’t always be the case.

The alternative is to open-source it and let all the white-hats find your issues, so that you can close them before the car hits the road. Not only that, but consumers like me will feel safer, and geeks would be able to verify whether the car is really running the software it claims to run by verifying the fingerprints.

Richard Stallman might be seen as a fanatic when he advocates against closed source software, but in cases like … cars, his concerns seem less extreme.

“But the Jeep vulnerability was fixed”, you may say. And that might be seen as being the way things are — vulnerabilities appear, they get fixed, life goes on. No person was injured because of the bug, right? Well, not yet. And “gaining control” is the extreme scenario — there are still pretty bad scenarios, like being able to track a car through its GPS, or cause panic by controlling the entertainment system. It might be over wifi, or over GPRS, or even by physically messing with the car by inserting a flash drive. Is open source immune to those issues? No, but it has proven to be more resilient.

One industry where the problem of proprietary software on a product that the customer bought is … tractors. It turns out farmers are hacking their tractors, because of multiple issues and the inability of the vendor to resolve them in a timely manner. This is likely to happen to cars soon, when only authorized repair shops are allowed to touch anything on the car. And with unauthorized repair shops the attack surface becomes even bigger.

In fact, I’d prefer open source not just for cars, but for all consumer products. The source code of a smart fridge or a security camera is trivial, it would rarely mean sacrificing competitive advantage. But refrigerators get hacked, security cameras are active part of botnets, the “internet of shit” is getting ubiquitous. A huge amount of these issues are dumb, beginner mistakes. We have the right to know what shit we are running — in our frdges, DVRs and ultimatey — cars.

Your fridge may soon by spying on you, your vacuum cleaner may threaten your pet in demand of “ransom”. The terrorists of the future may crash planes without being armed, can crash vans into crowds without being in the van, and can “explode” home equipment without being in the particular home. And that’s not just a hypothetical.

Will open source magically solve the issue? No. But it will definitely make things better and safer, as it has done with operating systems and web servers.

The post Self-Driving Cars Should Be Open Source appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Top 10 Most Obvious Hacks of All Time (v0.9)

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/07/top-10-most-obvious-hacks-of-all-time.html

For teaching hacking/cybersecurity, I thought I’d create of the most obvious hacks of all time. Not the best hacks, the most sophisticated hacks, or the hacks with the biggest impact, but the most obvious hacks — ones that even the least knowledgeable among us should be able to understand. Below I propose some hacks that fit this bill, though in no particular order.

The reason I’m writing this is that my niece wants me to teach her some hacking. I thought I’d start with the obvious stuff first.

Shared Passwords

If you use the same password for every website, and one of those websites gets hacked, then the hacker has your password for all your websites. The reason your Facebook account got hacked wasn’t because of anything Facebook did, but because you used the same email-address and password when creating an account on “beagleforums.com”, which got hacked last year.

I’ve heard people say “I’m sure, because I choose a complex password and use it everywhere”. No, this is the very worst thing you can do. Sure, you can the use the same password on all sites you don’t care much about, but for Facebook, your email account, and your bank, you should have a unique password, so that when other sites get hacked, your important sites are secure.

And yes, it’s okay to write down your passwords on paper.

Tools: HaveIBeenPwned.com

PIN encrypted PDFs

My accountant emails PDF statements encrypted with the last 4 digits of my Social Security Number. This is not encryption — a 4 digit number has only 10,000 combinations, and a hacker can guess all of them in seconds.
PIN numbers for ATM cards work because ATM machines are online, and the machine can reject your card after four guesses. PIN numbers don’t work for documents, because they are offline — the hacker has a copy of the document on their own machine, disconnected from the Internet, and can continue making bad guesses with no restrictions.
Passwords protecting documents must be long enough that even trillion upon trillion guesses are insufficient to guess.

Tools: Hashcat, John the Ripper

SQL and other injection

The lazy way of combining websites with databases is to combine user input with an SQL statement. This combines code with data, so the obvious consequence is that hackers can craft data to mess with the code.
No, this isn’t obvious to the general public, but it should be obvious to programmers. The moment you write code that adds unfiltered user-input to an SQL statement, the consequence should be obvious. Yet, “SQL injection” has remained one of the most effective hacks for the last 15 years because somehow programmers don’t understand the consequence.
CGI shell injection is a similar issue. Back in early days, when “CGI scripts” were a thing, it was really important, but these days, not so much, so I just included it with SQL. The consequence of executing shell code should’ve been obvious, but weirdly, it wasn’t. The IT guy at the company I worked for back in the late 1990s came to me and asked “this guy says we have a vulnerability, is he full of shit?”, and I had to answer “no, he’s right — obviously so”.

XSS (“Cross Site Scripting”) [*] is another injection issue, but this time at somebody’s web browser rather than a server. It works because websites will echo back what is sent to them. For example, if you search for Cross Site Scripting with the URL https://www.google.com/search?q=cross+site+scripting, then you’ll get a page back from the server that contains that string. If the string is JavaScript code rather than text, then some servers (thought not Google) send back the code in the page in a way that it’ll be executed. This is most often used to hack somebody’s account: you send them an email or tweet a link, and when they click on it, the JavaScript gives control of the account to the hacker.

Cross site injection issues like this should probably be their own category, but I’m including it here for now.

More: Wikipedia on SQL injection, Wikipedia on cross site scripting.
Tools: Burpsuite, SQLmap

Buffer overflows

In the C programming language, programmers first create a buffer, then read input into it. If input is long than the buffer, then it overflows. The extra bytes overwrite other parts of the program, letting the hacker run code.
Again, it’s not a thing the general public is expected to know about, but is instead something C programmers should be expected to understand. They should know that it’s up to them to check the length and stop reading input before it overflows the buffer, that there’s no language feature that takes care of this for them.
We are three decades after the first major buffer overflow exploits, so there is no excuse for C programmers not to understand this issue.

What makes particular obvious is the way they are wrapped in exploits, like in Metasploit. While the bug itself is obvious that it’s a bug, actually exploiting it can take some very non-obvious skill. However, once that exploit is written, any trained monkey can press a button and run the exploit. That’s where we get the insult “script kiddie” from — referring to wannabe-hackers who never learn enough to write their own exploits, but who spend a lot of time running the exploit scripts written by better hackers than they.

More: Wikipedia on buffer overflow, Wikipedia on script kiddie,  “Smashing The Stack For Fun And Profit” — Phrack (1996)
Tools: bash, Metasploit

SendMail DEBUG command (historical)

The first popular email server in the 1980s was called “SendMail”. It had a feature whereby if you send a “DEBUG” command to it, it would execute any code following the command. The consequence of this was obvious — hackers could (and did) upload code to take control of the server. This was used in the Morris Worm of 1988. Most Internet machines of the day ran SendMail, so the worm spread fast infecting most machines.
This bug was mostly ignored at the time. It was thought of as a theoretical problem, that might only rarely be used to hack a system. Part of the motivation of the Morris Worm was to demonstrate that such problems was to demonstrate the consequences — consequences that should’ve been obvious but somehow were rejected by everyone.

More: Wikipedia on Morris Worm

Email Attachments/Links

I’m conflicted whether I should add this or not, because here’s the deal: you are supposed to click on attachments and links within emails. That’s what they are there for. The difference between good and bad attachments/links is not obvious. Indeed, easy-to-use email systems makes detecting the difference harder.
On the other hand, the consequences of bad attachments/links is obvious. That worms like ILOVEYOU spread so easily is because people trusted attachments coming from their friends, and ran them.
We have no solution to the problem of bad email attachments and links. Viruses and phishing are pervasive problems. Yet, we know why they exist.

Default and backdoor passwords

The Mirai botnet was caused by surveillance-cameras having default and backdoor passwords, and being exposed to the Internet without a firewall. The consequence should be obvious: people will discover the passwords and use them to take control of the bots.
Surveillance-cameras have the problem that they are usually exposed to the public, and can’t be reached without a ladder — often a really tall ladder. Therefore, you don’t want a button consumers can press to reset to factory defaults. You want a remote way to reset them. Therefore, they put backdoor passwords to do the reset. Such passwords are easy for hackers to reverse-engineer, and hence, take control of millions of cameras across the Internet.
The same reasoning applies to “default” passwords. Many users will not change the defaults, leaving a ton of devices hackers can hack.

Masscan and background radiation of the Internet

I’ve written a tool that can easily scan the entire Internet in a short period of time. It surprises people that this possible, but it obvious from the numbers. Internet addresses are only 32-bits long, or roughly 4 billion combinations. A fast Internet link can easily handle 1 million packets-per-second, so the entire Internet can be scanned in 4000 seconds, little more than an hour. It’s basic math.
Because it’s so easy, many people do it. If you monitor your Internet link, you’ll see a steady trickle of packets coming in from all over the Internet, especially Russia and China, from hackers scanning the Internet for things they can hack.
People’s reaction to this scanning is weirdly emotional, taking is personally, such as:
  1. Why are they hacking me? What did I do to them?
  2. Great! They are hacking me! That must mean I’m important!
  3. Grrr! How dare they?! How can I hack them back for some retribution!?

I find this odd, because obviously such scanning isn’t personal, the hackers have no idea who you are.

Tools: masscan, firewalls

Packet-sniffing, sidejacking

If you connect to the Starbucks WiFi, a hacker nearby can easily eavesdrop on your network traffic, because it’s not encrypted. Windows even warns you about this, in case you weren’t sure.

At DefCon, they have a “Wall of Sheep”, where they show passwords from people who logged onto stuff using the insecure “DefCon-Open” network. Calling them “sheep” for not grasping this basic fact that unencrypted traffic is unencrypted.

To be fair, it’s actually non-obvious to many people. Even if the WiFi itself is not encrypted, SSL traffic is. They expect their services to be encrypted, without them having to worry about it. And in fact, most are, especially Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and other major services that won’t allow you to log in anymore without encryption.

But many services (especially old ones) may not be encrypted. Unless users check and verify them carefully, they’ll happily expose passwords.

What’s interesting about this was 10 years ago, when most services which only used SSL to encrypt the passwords, but then used unencrypted connections after that, using “cookies”. This allowed the cookies to be sniffed and stolen, allowing other people to share the login session. I used this on stage at BlackHat to connect to somebody’s GMail session. Google, and other major websites, fixed this soon after. But it should never have been a problem — because the sidejacking of cookies should have been obvious.

Tools: Wireshark, dsniff

Stuxnet LNK vulnerability

Again, this issue isn’t obvious to the public, but it should’ve been obvious to anybody who knew how Windows works.
When Windows loads a .dll, it first calls the function DllMain(). A Windows link file (.lnk) can load icons/graphics from the resources in a .dll file. It does this by loading the .dll file, thus calling DllMain. Thus, a hacker could put on a USB drive a .lnk file pointing to a .dll file, and thus, cause arbitrary code execution as soon as a user inserted a drive.
I say this is obvious because I did this, created .lnks that pointed to .dlls, but without hostile DllMain code. The consequence should’ve been obvious to me, but I totally missed the connection. We all missed the connection, for decades.

Social Engineering and Tech Support [* * *]

After posting this, many people have pointed out “social engineering”, especially of “tech support”. This probably should be up near #1 in terms of obviousness.

The classic example of social engineering is when you call tech support and tell them you’ve lost your password, and they reset it for you with minimum of questions proving who you are. For example, you set the volume on your computer really loud and play the sound of a crying baby in the background and appear to be a bit frazzled and incoherent, which explains why you aren’t answering the questions they are asking. They, understanding your predicament as a new parent, will go the extra mile in helping you, resetting “your” password.

One of the interesting consequences is how it affects domain names (DNS). It’s quite easy in many cases to call up the registrar and convince them to transfer a domain name. This has been used in lots of hacks. It’s really hard to defend against. If a registrar charges only $9/year for a domain name, then it really can’t afford to provide very good tech support — or very secure tech support — to prevent this sort of hack.

Social engineering is such a huge problem, and obvious problem, that it’s outside the scope of this document. Just google it to find example after example.

A related issue that perhaps deserves it’s own section is OSINT [*], or “open-source intelligence”, where you gather public information about a target. For example, on the day the bank manager is out on vacation (which you got from their Facebook post) you show up and claim to be a bank auditor, and are shown into their office where you grab their backup tapes. (We’ve actually done this).

More: Wikipedia on Social Engineering, Wikipedia on OSINT, “How I Won the Defcon Social Engineering CTF” — blogpost (2011), “Questioning 42: Where’s the Engineering in Social Engineering of Namespace Compromises” — BSidesLV talk (2016)

Blue-boxes (historical) [*]

Telephones historically used what we call “in-band signaling”. That’s why when you dial on an old phone, it makes sounds — those sounds are sent no differently than the way your voice is sent. Thus, it was possible to make tone generators to do things other than simply dial calls. Early hackers (in the 1970s) would make tone-generators called “blue-boxes” and “black-boxes” to make free long distance calls, for example.

These days, “signaling” and “voice” are digitized, then sent as separate channels or “bands”. This is call “out-of-band signaling”. You can’t trick the phone system by generating tones. When your iPhone makes sounds when you dial, it’s entirely for you benefit and has nothing to do with how it signals the cell tower to make a call.

Early hackers, like the founders of Apple, are famous for having started their careers making such “boxes” for tricking the phone system. The problem was obvious back in the day, which is why as the phone system moves from analog to digital, the problem was fixed.

More: Wikipedia on blue box, Wikipedia article on Steve Wozniak.

Thumb drives in parking lots [*]

A simple trick is to put a virus on a USB flash drive, and drop it in a parking lot. Somebody is bound to notice it, stick it in their computer, and open the file.

This can be extended with tricks. For example, you can put a file labeled “third-quarter-salaries.xlsx” on the drive that required macros to be run in order to open. It’s irresistible to other employees who want to know what their peers are being paid, so they’ll bypass any warning prompts in order to see the data.

Another example is to go online and get custom USB sticks made printed with the logo of the target company, making them seem more trustworthy.

We also did a trick of taking an Adobe Flash game “Punch the Monkey” and replaced the monkey with a logo of a competitor of our target. They now only played the game (infecting themselves with our virus), but gave to others inside the company to play, infecting others, including the CEO.

Thumb drives like this have been used in many incidents, such as Russians hacking military headquarters in Afghanistan. It’s really hard to defend against.

More: “Computer Virus Hits U.S. Military Base in Afghanistan” — USNews (2008), “The Return of the Worm That Ate The Pentagon” — Wired (2011), DoD Bans Flash Drives — Stripes (2008)

Googling [*]

Search engines like Google will index your website — your entire website. Frequently companies put things on their website without much protection because they are nearly impossible for users to find. But Google finds them, then indexes them, causing them to pop up with innocent searches.
There are books written on “Google hacking” explaining what search terms to look for, like “not for public release”, in order to find such documents.

More: Wikipedia entry on Google Hacking, “Google Hacking” book.

URL editing [*]

At the top of every browser is what’s called the “URL”. You can change it. Thus, if you see a URL that looks like this:

http://www.example.com/documents?id=138493

Then you can edit it to see the next document on the server:

http://www.example.com/documents?id=138494

The owner of the website may think they are secure, because nothing points to this document, so the Google search won’t find it. But that doesn’t stop a user from manually editing the URL.
An example of this is a big Fortune 500 company that posts the quarterly results to the website an hour before the official announcement. Simply editing the URL from previous financial announcements allows hackers to find the document, then buy/sell the stock as appropriate in order to make a lot of money.
Another example is the classic case of Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer who did this trick in order to download the account email addresses of early owners of the iPad, including movie stars and members of the Obama administration. It’s an interesting legal case because on one hand, techies consider this so obvious as to not be “hacking”. On the other hand, non-techies, especially judges and prosecutors, believe this to be obviously “hacking”.

DDoS, spoofing, and amplification [*]

For decades now, online gamers have figured out an easy way to win: just flood the opponent with Internet traffic, slowing their network connection. This is called a DoS, which stands for “Denial of Service”. DoSing game competitors is often a teenager’s first foray into hacking.
A variant of this is when you hack a bunch of other machines on the Internet, then command them to flood your target. (The hacked machines are often called a “botnet”, a network of robot computers). This is called DDoS, or “Distributed DoS”. At this point, it gets quite serious, as instead of competitive gamers hackers can take down entire businesses. Extortion scams, DDoSing websites then demanding payment to stop, is a common way hackers earn money.
Another form of DDoS is “amplification”. Sometimes when you send a packet to a machine on the Internet it’ll respond with a much larger response, either a very large packet or many packets. The hacker can then send a packet to many of these sites, “spoofing” or forging the IP address of the victim. This causes all those sites to then flood the victim with traffic. Thus, with a small amount of outbound traffic, the hacker can flood the inbound traffic of the victim.
This is one of those things that has worked for 20 years, because it’s so obvious teenagers can do it, yet there is no obvious solution. President Trump’s executive order of cyberspace specifically demanded that his government come up with a report on how to address this, but it’s unlikely that they’ll come up with any useful strategy.

More: Wikipedia on DDoS, Wikipedia on Spoofing

Conclusion

Tweet me (@ErrataRob) your obvious hacks, so I can add them to the list.

Ethereum, Proof-of-Stake… and the consequences

Post Syndicated from Григор original http://www.gatchev.info/blog/?p=2070

For those who aren’t cryptocurrency-savvy: Ethereum is a cryptocurrency project, based around the coin Ether. It has the support of many big banks, big hedge funds and some states (Russia, China etc). Among the cryptocurrencies, it is second only to Bitcoin – and might even overtake it with the time. (Especially if Bitcoin doesn’t finally move and fix some of its problems.)

Ethereum offers some abilities that few other cryptocurrencies do. The most important one is the support for “smart projects” – kind of electronic contracts that can easily be executed and enforced with little to no human participation. This post however is dedicated to another of its traits – the Proof of Stake.

To work and exist, every cryptocurrency depends on some proof. Most of them use Proof-of-Work scheme. In it, one has to put some work – eg. calculating checksums – behind its participation in the network and its decision, and receive newly generated coins for it. This however results in huge amount of work done only to prove that, well, you can do it and deserve to be in and receive some of the newly squeezed juice.

As of August 2017, Ethereum uses this scheme too. However, they plan to switch to a Proof-of-Stake algorithm named Casper. In it, you prove yourself not by doing work, but by proving to own Ether. As this requires practically no work, it is much more technically effective than the Proof-of-Work schemes.

Technically, Caspar is an amazing design. I congratulate the Ethereum team for it. However, economically its usage appears to have an important weakness. It is described below.

—-

A polarized system

With Casper, the Ether generated by the Ethereum network and the decision power in it are distributed to these who already own Ether. As a consequence, most of both go to those who own most Ether. (There might be attempts to limit that, but these are easily defeatable. For example, limiting the amount distributed to an address can be circumvented by a Sybil attack.)

Such a distribution will create with the time a financial ecosystem where most money and vote are held by a small minority of the participants. The big majority will have little to no of both – it will summarily hold less money and vote than the minority of “haves”. Giving the speed with which the cryptocurrency systems evolve, it is realistic to expect this development in ten, maybe even in five or less years after introducing Casper.

The “middle class”

Economists love to repeat how important is to have a strong middle class. Why, and how that translates to the situation in a cryptocurrency-based financial system?

In systemic terms, “middle class” denotes in a financial system the set of entities that control each a noticeable but not very big amount of resources.

Game theory shows that in a financial system, entities with different clout usually have different interests. These interests usually reflect the amount of resources they control. Entities with little to no resources tend to have interests opposing to these with biggest resources – especially in systems where the total amount of resources changes slowly and the economics is close to a zero-sum game. (For example, in most cryptocurrency systems.) The “middle class” entities interests are in most aspects in the middle.

For an economics to work, there must be a balance of interests that creates incentive for all of its members to participate. In financial systems, where “haves” interests are mostly opposing to “have-nots” interests, creating such a balance depends on the presence and influence of a “middle class”. Its interests are usually the closest to a compromise that satisfies all, and its influence is the key to achieving that compromise within the system.

If the system state is not acceptable for all entities, these who do not accept it eventually leave. (Usually their participation is required for the system survival, so this brings the system down.) If these entities cannot leave the system, they ultimately reject its rules and try to change it by force. If that is impossible too, they usually resort to denying the system what makes them useful for it, thus decreasing its competitiveness to other systems.

The most reliable way to have acceptable compromise enforced in a system is to have in it a “middle class” that summarily controls more resources than any other segment of entities, preferably at least 51% of the system resources. (This assumes that the “middle class” is able and willing to protect their interests. If some of these entities are controlled into defending someone else’s interests – eg. botnets in computer networks, manipulated voters during elections, etc – these numbers apply to the non-controlled among them.)

A system that doesn’t have a non-controlled “middle class” that controls a decisive amount of resources, usually does not have an influential set of interests that are an acceptable compromise between the interests poles. For this reason, it can be called a polarized system.

The limitation on development

In a polarized system, the incentive for development is minimized. (Development is potentially disruptive, and the majority of the financial abilities and the decision power there has only to lose from a disruption. When factoring in the expected profits from development, the situation always becomes a zero-sum game.) The system becomes static (thus cementing the zero-sum game situation in it) and is under threat of being overtaken by a competing financial system. When that happens, it is usually destroyed together with all stakes in it.

Also, almost any initiative in such a financial system is bound to turn into a cartel, oligopoly or monopoly, due to the small number of participants with resources to start and support an initiative. That effectively destroys its markets, contributing to the weakness of the system and limiting further its ability to develop.

Another problem that stems from this is that the incentive during an interaction to violate the rules and to push the contragent into a loss is greater than the incentive to compete by giving a better offer. This in turn removes the incentive to increase productivity, which is a key incentive for development.)

Yet another problem of the concentration of most resources into few entities is the increased gain from attacking one of them and appropriating their resources, and thus the incentive to do it. Since good defensive capabilities are usually an excellent offense base, this pulls the “haves” into an “arms race”, redirecting more and more of their resources into defense. This also leaves the development outside the arms race increasingly resource-strapped. (The “arms race” itself generates development, but the race situation prevents that into trickling into “non-military” applications.)

These are only a part of the constraints on development in a polarized system. Listing all of them will make a long read.

Trickle-up and trickle-down

In theory, every economical system involves two processes: trickle-down and trickle-up. So, any concentration of resources on the top should be decreased by an automatically increased trickle-down. However, a better understanding how these processes work shows that this logic is faulty.

Any financial exchange in a system consists of two parts. One of them covers the actual production cost of whatever resource is being exchanged against the finances. The other part is the profit of the entity that obtains the finances. From the viewpoint of that entity, the first part vs. the resource given is zero-sum – its incentive to participate in this exchange is the second part, the profit. That second part is effectively the trickle in the system, as it is the only resource really gained.

The direction and the size of the trickle ultimately depends on the balance of many factors, some of them random, others constant. On the long run, it is the constant factors that determine the size and the direction of the trickle sum.

The most important constant factor is the benefit of scale (BOS). It dictates that the bigger entities are able to pull the balance to their side more strongly than the smaller ones. Some miss that chance, but others use it. It makes the trickle-up stronger than the trickle-down. In a system where the transaction outcome is close to a zero-sum game, this concentrates all resources at the top with a speed depending on the financial interactions volume per an unit of time.

(Actually the formula is a bit more complex. All dynamic entities – eg. living organisms, active companies etc – have an “existence maintenance” expense, which they cannot avoid. However, the amount of resources in a system above the summary existence maintenance follows the simple rule above. And these are the only resources that are available for investing in anything, eg. development.)

In the real-life systems the BOS power is limited. There are many different random factors that compete with and influence one another, some of them outweighing BOS. Also, in every moment some factors lose importance and / or cease to exist, while others appear and / or gain importance. The complexity of this system makes any attempt by an entity or entities pool to take control over it hard and slow. This gives the other entities time and ways to react and try to block the takeover attempt. Also, the real-life systems have many built-in constraints against scale-based takeovers – anti-trust laws, separation of the government powers, enforced financial trickle-down through taxes on the rich and benefits for the poor, etc. All these together manage to prevent most takeover attempts, or to limit them into only a segment of the system.

How a Proof-of-Stake based cryptocurrency fares at these?

A POS-based cryptocurrency financial system has no constraints against scale-based takeovers. It has only one kind of clout – the amount of resources controlled by an entity. This kind of clout is built in it, has all the importance in it and cannot lose that or disappear. It has no other types of resources, and has no slowing due to complexity. It is not segmented – who has these resources has it all. There are no built-in constraints against scale-based takeovers, or mechanisms to strengthen resource trickle-down. In short, it is the ideal ground for creating a polarized financial system.

So, it would be only logical to expect that a Proof-of-Stake based Ether financial system will suffer by the problems a polarized system presents. Despite all of its technical ingenuity, its longer-term financial usability is limited, and the participation in it may be dangerous to any entity smaller than eg. a big bank, a big hedge fund or a big authoritarian state.

All fixes for this problem I could think of by now would be easily beaten by simple attacks. I am not sure if it is possible to have a reliable solution to it at all.

Do smart contracts and secondary tokens change this?

Unhappily, no. Smart contracts are based on having Ether, and need Ether to exist and act. Thus, they are bound to the financial situation of the Ether financial system, and are influenced by it. The bigger is the scope of the smart contract, the bigger is its dependence on the Ether situation.

Due to this, smart contracts of meaningful size will find themselves hampered and maybe even endangered by a polarization in the financial system powered by POS-based Ethereum. It is technically possible to migrate these contracts to a competing underlying system, but it won’t be easy – probably even when the competing system is technically a clone of Ethereum, like Ethereum Classic. The migration cost might exceed the migration benefits at any given stage of the contract project development, even if the total migration benefits are far larger than this cost.

Eventually this problem might become public knowledge and most projects in need of a smart contract might start avoiding Ethereum. This will lead to decreased interest in participation in the Ethereum ecosystem, to a loss of market cap, and eventually maybe even to the demise of this technically great project.

Other dangers

There is a danger that the “haves” minority in a polarized system might start actively investing resources in creating other systems that suffer from the same problem (as they benefit from it), or in modifying existing systems in this direction. This might decrease the potential for development globally. As some of the backers of Ethereum are entities with enormous clout worldwide, that negative influence on the global system might be significant.

Ransomware and the Internet of Things

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/ransomware_and_.html

As devastating as the latest widespread ransomware attacks have been, it’s a problem with a solution. If your copy of Windows is relatively current and you’ve kept it updated, your laptop is immune. It’s only older unpatched systems on your computer that are vulnerable.

Patching is how the computer industry maintains security in the face of rampant Internet insecurity. Microsoft, Apple and Google have teams of engineers who quickly write, test and distribute these patches, updates to the codes that fix vulnerabilities in software. Most people have set up their computers and phones to automatically apply these patches, and the whole thing works seamlessly. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s the best we have.

But it is a system that’s going to fail in the “Internet of things”: everyday devices like smart speakers, household appliances, toys, lighting systems, even cars, that are connected to the web. Many of the embedded networked systems in these devices that will pervade our lives don’t have engineering teams on hand to write patches and may well last far longer than the companies that are supposed to keep the software safe from criminals. Some of them don’t even have the ability to be patched.

Fast forward five to 10 years, and the world is going to be filled with literally tens of billions of devices that hackers can attack. We’re going to see ransomware against our cars. Our digital video recorders and web cameras will be taken over by botnets. The data that these devices collect about us will be stolen and used to commit fraud. And we’re not going to be able to secure these devices.

Like every other instance of product safety, this problem will never be solved without considerable government involvement.

For years, I have been calling for more regulation to improve security in the face of this market failure. In the short term, the government can mandate that these devices have more secure default configurations and the ability to be patched. It can issue best-practice regulations for critical software and make software manufacturers liable for vulnerabilities. It’ll be expensive, but it will go a long way toward improved security.

But it won’t be enough to focus only on the devices, because these things are going to be around and on the Internet much longer than the two to three years we use our phones and computers before we upgrade them. I expect to keep my car for 15 years, and my refrigerator for at least 20 years. Cities will expect the networks they’re putting in place to last at least that long. I don’t want to replace my digital thermostat ever again. Nor, if I ever need one, do I want a surgeon to ever have to go back in to replace my computerized heart defibrillator in order to fix a software bug.

No amount of regulation can force companies to maintain old products, and it certainly can’t prevent companies from going out of business. The future will contain billions of orphaned devices connected to the web that simply have no engineers able to patch them.

Imagine this: The company that made your Internet-enabled door lock is long out of business. You have no way to secure yourself against the ransomware attack on that lock. Your only option, other than paying, and paying again when it’s reinfected, is to throw it away and buy a new one.

Ultimately, we will also need the network to block these attacks before they get to the devices, but there again the market will not fix the problem on its own. We need additional government intervention to mandate these sorts of solutions.

None of this is welcome news to a government that prides itself on minimal intervention and maximal market forces, but national security is often an exception to this rule. Last week’s cyberattacks have laid bare some fundamental vulnerabilities in our computer infrastructure and serve as a harbinger. There’s a lot of good research into robust solutions, but the economic incentives are all misaligned. As politically untenable as it is, we need government to step in to create the market forces that will get us out of this mess.

This essay previously appeared in the New York Times. Yes, I know I’m repeating myself.

The Future of Ransomware

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/the_future_of_r.html

Ransomware isn’t new, but it’s increasingly popular and profitable.

The concept is simple: Your computer gets infected with a virus that encrypts your files until you pay a ransom. It’s extortion taken to its networked extreme. The criminals provide step-by-step instructions on how to pay, sometimes even offering a help line for victims unsure how to buy bitcoin. The price is designed to be cheap enough for people to pay instead of giving up: a few hundred dollars in many cases. Those who design these systems know their market, and it’s a profitable one.

The ransomware that has affected systems in more than 150 countries recently, WannaCry, made press headlines last week, but it doesn’t seem to be more virulent or more expensive than other ransomware. This one has a particularly interesting pedigree: It’s based on a vulnerability developed by the National Security Agency that can be used against many versions of the Windows operating system. The NSA’s code was, in turn, stolen by an unknown hacker group called Shadow Brokers ­ widely believed by the security community to be the Russians ­ in 2014 and released to the public in April.

Microsoft patched the vulnerability a month earlier, presumably after being alerted by the NSA that the leak was imminent. But the vulnerability affected older versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports, and there are still many people and organizations that don’t regularly patch their systems. This allowed whoever wrote WannaCry ­– it could be anyone from a lone individual to an organized crime syndicate — to use it to infect computers and extort users.

The lessons for users are obvious: Keep your system patches up to date and regularly backup your data. This isn’t just good advice to defend against ransomware, but good advice in general. But it’s becoming obsolete.

Everything is becoming a computer. Your microwave is a computer that makes things hot. Your refrigerator is a computer that keeps things cold. Your car and television, the traffic lights and signals in your city and our national power grid are all computers. This is the much-hyped Internet of Things (IoT). It’s coming, and it’s coming faster than you might think. And as these devices connect to the Internet, they become vulnerable to ransomware and other computer threats.

It’s only a matter of time before people get messages on their car screens saying that the engine has been disabled and it will cost $200 in bitcoin to turn it back on. Or a similar message on their phones about their Internet-enabled door lock: Pay $100 if you want to get into your house tonight. Or pay far more if they want their embedded heart defibrillator to keep working.

This isn’t just theoretical. Researchers have already demonstrated a ransomware attack against smart thermostats, which may sound like a nuisance at first but can cause serious property damage if it’s cold enough outside. If the device under attack has no screen, you’ll get the message on the smartphone app you control it from.

Hackers don’t even have to come up with these ideas on their own; the government agencies whose code was stolen were already doing it. One of the leaked CIA attack tools targets Internet-enabled Samsung smart televisions.

Even worse, the usual solutions won’t work with these embedded systems. You have no way to back up your refrigerator’s software, and it’s unclear whether that solution would even work if an attack targets the functionality of the device rather than its stored data.

These devices will be around for a long time. Unlike our phones and computers, which we replace every few years, cars are expected to last at least a decade. We want our appliances to run for 20 years or more, our thermostats even longer.

What happens when the company that made our smart washing machine — or just the computer part — goes out of business, or otherwise decides that they can no longer support older models? WannaCry affected Windows versions as far back as XP, a version that Microsoft no longer supports. The company broke with policy and released a patch for those older systems, but it has both the engineering talent and the money to do so.

That won’t happen with low-cost IoT devices.

Those devices are built on the cheap, and the companies that make them don’t have the dedicated teams of security engineers ready to craft and distribute security patches. The economics of the IoT doesn’t allow for it. Even worse, many of these devices aren’t patchable. Remember last fall when the Mirai botnet infected hundreds of thousands of Internet-enabled digital video recorders, webcams and other devices and launched a massive denial-of-service attack that resulted in a host of popular websites dropping off the Internet? Most of those devices couldn’t be fixed with new software once they were attacked. The way you update your DVR is to throw it away and buy a new one.

Solutions aren’t easy and they’re not pretty. The market is not going to fix this unaided. Security is a hard-to-evaluate feature against a possible future threat, and consumers have long rewarded companies that provide easy-to-compare features and a quick time-to-market at its expense. We need to assign liabilities to companies that write insecure software that harms people, and possibly even issue and enforce regulations that require companies to maintain software systems throughout their life cycle. We may need minimum security standards for critical IoT devices. And it would help if the NSA got more involved in securing our information infrastructure and less in keeping it vulnerable so the government can eavesdrop.

I know this all sounds politically impossible right now, but we simply cannot live in a future where everything — from the things we own to our nation’s infrastructure ­– can be held for ransom by criminals again and again.

This essay previously appeared in the Washington Post.

WannaCry Ransomware

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/05/wannacry_ransom.html

Criminals go where the money is, and cybercriminals are no exception.

And right now, the money is in ransomware.

It’s a simple scam. Encrypt the victim’s hard drive, then extract a fee to decrypt it. The scammers can’t charge too much, because they want the victim to pay rather than give up on the data. But they can charge individuals a few hundred dollars, and they can charge institutions like hospitals a few thousand. Do it at scale, and it’s a profitable business.

And scale is how ransomware works. Computers are infected automatically, with viruses that spread over the internet. Payment is no more difficult than buying something online ­– and payable in untraceable bitcoin -­- with some ransomware makers offering tech support to those unsure of how to buy or transfer bitcoin. Customer service is important; people need to know they’ll get their files back once they pay.

And they want you to pay. If they’re lucky, they’ve encrypted your irreplaceable family photos, or the documents of a project you’ve been working on for weeks. Or maybe your company’s accounts receivable files or your hospital’s patient records. The more you need what they’ve stolen, the better.

The particular ransomware making headlines is called WannaCry, and it’s infected some pretty serious organizations.

What can you do about it? Your first line of defense is to diligently install every security update as soon as it becomes available, and to migrate to systems that vendors still support. Microsoft issued a security patch that protects against WannaCry months before the ransomware started infecting systems; it only works against computers that haven’t been patched. And many of the systems it infects are older computers, no longer normally supported by Microsoft –­ though it did belatedly release a patch for those older systems. I know it’s hard, but until companies are forced to maintain old systems, you’re much safer upgrading.

This is easier advice for individuals than for organizations. You and I can pretty easily migrate to a new operating system, but organizations sometimes have custom software that breaks when they change OS versions or install updates. Many of the organizations hit by WannaCry had outdated systems for exactly these reasons. But as expensive and time-consuming as updating might be, the risks of not doing so are increasing.

Your second line of defense is good antivirus software. Sometimes ransomware tricks you into encrypting your own hard drive by clicking on a file attachment that you thought was benign. Antivirus software can often catch your mistake and prevent the malicious software from running. This isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s an important part of any defense.

Your third line of defense is to diligently back up your files. There are systems that do this automatically for your hard drive. You can invest in one of those. Or you can store your important data in the cloud. If your irreplaceable family photos are in a backup drive in your house, then the ransomware has that much less hold on you. If your e-mail and documents are in the cloud, then you can just reinstall the operating system and bypass the ransomware entirely. I know storing data in the cloud has its own privacy risks, but they may be less than the risks of losing everything to ransomware.

That takes care of your computers and smartphones, but what about everything else? We’re deep into the age of the “Internet of things.”

There are now computers in your household appliances. There are computers in your cars and in the airplanes you travel on. Computers run our traffic lights and our power grids. These are all vulnerable to ransomware. The Mirai botnet exploited a vulnerability in internet-enabled devices like DVRs and webcams to launch a denial-of-service attack against a critical internet name server; next time it could just as easily disable the devices and demand payment to turn them back on.

Re-enabling a webcam will be cheap; re-enabling your car will cost more. And you don’t want to know how vulnerable implanted medical devices are to these sorts of attacks.

Commercial solutions are coming, probably a convenient repackaging of the three lines of defense described above. But it’ll be yet another security surcharge you’ll be expected to pay because the computers and internet-of-things devices you buy are so insecure. Because there are currently no liabilities for lousy software and no regulations mandating secure software, the market rewards software that’s fast and cheap at the expense of good. Until that changes, ransomware will continue to be profitable line of criminal business.

This essay previously appeared in the New York Daily News.

Some notes on Trump’s cybersecurity Executive Order

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/05/some-notes-on-trumps-cybersecurity.html

President Trump has finally signed an executive order on “cybersecurity”. The first draft during his first weeks in power were hilariously ignorant. The current draft, though, is pretty reasonable as such things go. I’m just reading the plain language of the draft as a cybersecurity expert, picking out the bits that interest me. In reality, there’s probably all sorts of politics in the background that I’m missing, so I may be wildly off-base.

Holding managers accountable

This is a great idea in theory. But government heads are rarely accountable for anything, so it’s hard to see if they’ll have the nerve to implement this in practice. When the next breech happens, we’ll see if anybody gets fired.
“antiquated and difficult to defend Information Technology”

The government uses laughably old computers sometimes. Forces in government wants to upgrade them. This won’t work. Instead of replacing old computers, the budget will simply be used to add new computers. The old computers will still stick around.
“Legacy” is a problem that money can’t solve. Programmers know how to build small things, but not big things. Everything starts out small, then becomes big gradually over time through constant small additions. What you have now is big legacy systems. Attempts to replace a big system with a built-from-scratch big system will fail, because engineers don’t know how to build big systems. This will suck down any amount of budget you have with failed multi-million dollar projects.
It’s not the antiquated systems that are usually the problem, but more modern systems. Antiquated systems can usually be protected by simply sticking a firewall or proxy in front of them.

“address immediate unmet budgetary needs necessary to manage risk”

Nobody cares about cybersecurity. Instead, it’s a thing people exploit in order to increase their budget. Instead of doing the best security with the budget they have, they insist they can’t secure the network without more money.

An alternate way to address gaps in cybersecurity is instead to do less. Reduce exposure to the web, provide fewer services, reduce functionality of desktop computers, and so on. Insisting that more money is the only way to address unmet needs is the strategy of the incompetent.

Use the NIST framework
Probably the biggest thing in the EO is that it forces everyone to use the NIST cybersecurity framework.
The NIST Framework simply documents all the things that organizations commonly do to secure themselves, such run intrusion-detection systems or impose rules for good passwords.
There are two problems with the NIST Framework. The first is that no organization does all the things listed. The second is that many organizations don’t do the things well.
Password rules are a good example. Organizations typically had bad rules, such as frequent changes and complexity standards. So the NIST Framework documented them. But cybersecurity experts have long opposed those complex rules, so have been fighting NIST on them.

Another good example is intrusion-detection. These days, I scan the entire Internet, setting off everyone’s intrusion-detection systems. I can see first hand that they are doing intrusion-detection wrong. But the NIST Framework recommends they do it, because many organizations do it, but the NIST Framework doesn’t demand they do it well.
When this EO forces everyone to follow the NIST Framework, then, it’s likely just going to increase the amount of money spent on cybersecurity without increasing effectiveness. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: while probably ineffective or counterproductive in the short run, there might be long-term benefit aligning everyone to thinking about the problem the same way.
Note that “following” the NIST Framework doesn’t mean “doing” everything. Instead, it means documented how you do everything, a reason why you aren’t doing anything, or (most often) your plan to eventually do the thing.
preference for shared IT services for email, cloud, and cybersecurity
Different departments are hostile toward each other, with each doing things their own way. Obviously, the thinking goes, that if more departments shared resources, they could cut costs with economies of scale. Also obviously, it’ll stop the many home-grown wrong solutions that individual departments come up with.
In other words, there should be a single government GMail-type service that does e-mail both securely and reliably.
But it won’t turn out this way. Government does not have “economies of scale” but “incompetence at scale”. It means a single GMail-like service that is expensive, unreliable, and in the end, probably insecure. It means we can look forward to government breaches that instead of affecting one department affecting all departments.

Yes, you can point to individual organizations that do things poorly, but what you are ignoring is the organizations that do it well. When you make them all share a solution, it’s going to be the average of all these things — meaning those who do something well are going to move to a worse solution.

I suppose this was inserted in there so that big government cybersecurity companies can now walk into agencies, point to where they are deficient on the NIST Framework, and say “sign here to do this with our shared cybersecurity service”.
“identify authorities and capabilities that agencies could employ to support the cybersecurity efforts of critical infrastructure entities”
What this means is “how can we help secure the power grid?”.
What it means in practice is that fiasco in the Vermont power grid. The DHS produced a report containing IoCs (“indicators of compromise”) of Russian hackers in the DNC hack. Among the things it identified was that the hackers used Yahoo! email. They pushed these IoCs out as signatures in their “Einstein” intrusion-detection system located at many power grid locations. The next person that logged into their Yahoo! email was then flagged as a Russian hacker, causing all sorts of hilarity to ensue, such as still uncorrected stories by the Washington Post how the Russians hacked our power-grid.
The upshot is that federal government help is also going to include much government hindrance. They really are this stupid sometimes and there is no way to fix this stupid. (Seriously, the DHS still insists it did the right thing pushing out the Yahoo IoCs).
Resilience Against Botnets and Other Automated, Distributed Threats

The government wants to address botnets because it’s just the sort of problem they love, mass outages across the entire Internet caused by a million machines.

But frankly, botnets don’t even make the top 10 list of problems they should be addressing. Number #1 is clearly “phishing” — you know, the attack that’s been getting into the DNC and Podesta e-mails, influencing the election. You know, the attack that Gizmodo recently showed the Trump administration is partially vulnerable to. You know, the attack that most people blame as what probably led to that huge OPM hack. Replace the entire Executive Order with “stop phishing”, and you’d go further fixing federal government security.

But solving phishing is tough. To begin with, it requires a rethink how the government does email, and how how desktop systems should be managed. So the government avoids complex problems it can’t understand to focus on the simple things it can — botnets.

Dealing with “prolonged power outage associated with a significant cyber incident”

The government has had the hots for this since 2001, even though there’s really been no attack on the American grid. After the Russian attacks against the Ukraine power grid, the issue is heating up.

Nation-wide attacks aren’t really a threat, yet, in America. We have 10,000 different companies involved with different systems throughout the country. Trying to hack them all at once is unlikely. What’s funny is that it’s the government’s attempts to standardize everything that’s likely to be our downfall, such as sticking Einstein sensors everywhere.

What they should be doing is instead of trying to make the grid unhackable, they should be trying to lessen the reliance upon the grid. They should be encouraging things like Tesla PowerWalls, solar panels on roofs, backup generators, and so on. Indeed, rather than industrial system blackout, industry backup power generation should be considered as a source of grid backup. Factories and even ships were used to supplant the electric power grid in Japan after the 2011 tsunami, for example. The less we rely on the grid, the less a blackout will hurt us.

“cybersecurity risks facing the defense industrial base, including its supply chain”

So “supply chain” cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a thing. Almost anything electronic comes with millions of lines of code, silicon chips, and other things that affect the security of the system. In this context, they may be worried about intentional subversion of systems, such as that recent article worried about Kaspersky anti-virus in government systems. However, the bigger concern is the zillions of accidental vulnerabilities waiting to be discovered. It’s impractical for a vendor to secure a product, because it’s built from so many components the vendor doesn’t understand.

“strategic options for deterring adversaries and better protecting the American people from cyber threats”

Deterrence is a funny word.

Rumor has it that we forced China to backoff on hacking by impressing them with our own hacking ability, such as reaching into China and blowing stuff up. This works because the Chinese governments remains in power because things are going well in China. If there’s a hiccup in economic growth, there will be mass actions against the government.

But for our other cyber adversaries (Russian, Iran, North Korea), things already suck in their countries. It’s hard to see how we can make things worse by hacking them. They also have a strangle hold on the media, so hacking in and publicizing their leader’s weird sex fetishes and offshore accounts isn’t going to work either.

Also, deterrence relies upon “attribution”, which is hard. While news stories claim last year’s expulsion of Russian diplomats was due to election hacking, that wasn’t the stated reason. Instead, the claimed reason was Russia’s interference with diplomats in Europe, such as breaking into diplomat’s homes and pooping on their dining room table. We know it’s them when they are brazen (as was the case with Chinese hacking), but other hacks are harder to attribute.

Deterrence of nation states ignores the reality that much of the hacking against our government comes from non-state actors. It’s not clear how much of all this Russian hacking is actually directed by the government. Deterrence polices may be better directed at individuals, such as the recent arrest of a Russian hacker while they were traveling in Spain. We can’t get Russian or Chinese hackers in their own countries, so we have to wait until they leave.

Anyway, “deterrence” is one of those real-world concepts that hard to shoe-horn into a cyber (“cyber-deterrence”) equivalent. It encourages lots of bad thinking, such as export controls on “cyber-weapons” to deter foreign countries from using them.

“educate and train the American cybersecurity workforce of the future”

The problem isn’t that we lack CISSPs. Such blanket certifications devalue the technical expertise of the real experts. The solution is to empower the technical experts we already have.

In other words, mandate that whoever is the “cyberczar” is a technical expert, like how the Surgeon General must be a medical expert, or how an economic adviser must be an economic expert. For over 15 years, we’ve had a parade of non-technical people named “cyberczar” who haven’t been experts.

Once you tell people technical expertise is valued, then by nature more students will become technical experts.

BTW, the best technical experts are software engineers and sysadmins. The best cybersecurity for Windows is already built into Windows, whose sysadmins need to be empowered to use those solutions. Instead, they are often overridden by a clueless cybersecurity consultant who insists on making the organization buy a third-party product instead that does a poorer job. We need more technical expertise in our organizations, sure, but not necessarily more cybersecurity professionals.

Conclusion

This is really a government document, and government people will be able to explain it better than I. These are just how I see it as a technical-expert who is a government-outsider.

My guess is the most lasting consequential thing will be making everyone following the NIST Framework, and the rest will just be a lot of aspirational stuff that’ll be ignored.

RFD: the alien abduction prophecy protocol

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2017/05/rfd-alien-abduction-prophecy-protocol.html

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
– variously attributed to Yogi Berra and Niels Bohr

Right. So let’s say you are visited by transdimensional space aliens from outer space. There’s some old-fashioned probing, but eventually, they get to the point. They outline a series of apocalyptic prophecies, beginning with the surprise 2032 election of Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho as the President of the United States, followed by a limited-scale nuclear exchange with the Grand Duchy of Ruritania in 2036, and culminating with the extinction of all life due to a series of cascading Y2K38 failures that start at an Ohio pretzel reprocessing plan. Long story short, if you want to save mankind, you have to warn others of what’s to come.

But there’s a snag: when you wake up in a roadside ditch in Alabama, you realize that nobody is going to believe your story! If you come forward, your professional and social reputation will be instantly destroyed. If you’re lucky, the vindication of your claims will come fifteen years later; if not, it might turn out that you were pranked by some space alien frat boys who just wanted to have some cheap space laughs. The bottom line is, you need to be certain before you make your move. You figure this means staying mum until the Election Day of 2032.

But wait, this plan is also not very good! After all, how could your future self convince others that you knew about President Camacho all along? Well… if you work in information security, you are probably familiar with a neat solution: write down your account of events in a text file, calculate a cryptographic hash of this file, and publish the resulting value somewhere permanent. Fifteen years later, reveal the contents of your file and point people to your old announcement. Explain that you must have been in the possession of this very file back in 2017; otherwise, you would not have known its hash. Voila – a commitment scheme!

Although elegant, this approach can be risky: historically, the usable life of cryptographic hash functions seemed to hover at somewhere around 15 years – so even if you pick a very modern algorithm, there is a real risk that future advances in cryptanalysis could severely undermine the strength of your proof. No biggie, though! For extra safety, you could combine several independent hashing functions, or increase the computational complexity of the hash by running it in a loop. There are also some less-known hash functions, such as SPHINCS, that are designed with different trade-offs in mind and may offer longer-term security guarantees.

Of course, the computation of the hash is not enough; it needs to become an immutable part of the public record and remain easy to look up for years to come. There is no guarantee that any particular online publishing outlet is going to stay afloat that long and continue to operate in its current form. The survivability of more specialized and experimental platforms, such as blockchain-based notaries, seems even less clear. Thankfully, you can resort to another kludge: if you publish the hash through a large number of independent online venues, there is a good chance that at least one of them will be around in 2032.

(Offline notarization – whether of the pen-and-paper or the PKI-based variety – offers an interesting alternative. That said, in the absence of an immutable, public ledger, accusations of forgery or collusion would be very easy to make – especially if the fate of the entire planet is at stake.)

Even with this out of the way, there is yet another profound problem with the plan: a current-day scam artist could conceivably generate hundreds or thousands of political predictions, publish the hashes, and then simply discard or delete the ones that do not come true by 2032 – thus creating an illusion of prescience. To convince skeptics that you are not doing just that, you could incorporate a cryptographic proof of work into your approach, attaching a particular CPU time “price tag” to every hash. The future you could then claim that it would have been prohibitively expensive for the former you to attempt the “prediction spam” attack. But this argument seems iffy: a $1,000 proof may already be too costly for a lower middle class abductee, while a determined tech billionaire could easily spend $100,000 to pull off an elaborate prank on the entire world. Not to mention, massive CPU resources can be commandeered with little or no effort by the operators of large botnets and many other actors of this sort.

In the end, my best idea is to rely on an inherently low-bandwidth publication medium, rather than a high-cost one. For example, although a determined hoaxer could place thousands of hash-bearing classifieds in some of the largest-circulation newspapers, such sleigh-of-hand would be trivial for future sleuths to spot (at least compared to combing through the entire Internet for an abandoned hash). Or, as per an anonymous suggestion relayed by Thomas Ptacek: just tattoo the signature on your body, then post some post some pics; there are only so many places for a tattoo to go.

Still, what was supposed to be a nice, scientific proof devolved into a bunch of hand-wavy arguments and poorly-quantified probabilities. For the sake of future abductees: is there a better way?

Hajime Botnet Reaches 300,000 Hosts With No Malicious Functions

Post Syndicated from Darknet original http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/darknethackers/~3/wnezouCrPAc/

This is not the first IoT heavy botnet, Mirai takes that title, the interesting part is the Hajime botnet appears to be benign. So far no malicious functions have been detected in the codebase, other than the ability to replicate itself and block other malware, Hajime seems to have no DDoS or offensive mechanisms. Hajime […]

The post Hajime…

Read the full post at darknet.org.uk

"Fast and Furious 8: Fate of the Furious"

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/04/fast-and-furious-8-fate-of-furious.html

So “Fast and Furious 8” opened this weekend to world-wide box office totals of $500,000,000. I thought I’d write up some notes on the “hacking” in it. The tl;dr version is this: yes, while the hacking is a bit far fetched, it’s actually more realistic than the car chase scenes, such as winning a race with the engine on fire while in reverse.

[SPOILERS]


Car hacking


The most innovative cyber-thing in the movie is the car hacking. In one scene, the hacker takes control of the cars in a parking structure, and makes them rain on to the street. In another scene, the hacker takes control away from drivers, with some jumping out of their moving cars in fear.

How real is this?

Well, today, few cars have a mechanical link between the computer and the steering wheel. No amount of hacking will fix the fact that this component is missing.

With that said, most new cars have features that make hacking possible. I’m not sure, but I’d guess more than half of new cars have internet connections (via the mobile phone network), cameras (for backing up, but also looking forward for lane departure warnings), braking (for emergencies), and acceleration.

In other words, we are getting really close.

As this Wikipedia article describes, there are levels for autonomous cars. At level 2 or 3, cars get automated steering, either for parking or for staying in the lane. Level 3 autonomy is especially useful, as it means you can sit back and relax while your car is sitting in a traffic jam. Higher levels of autonomy are still decades away, but most new cars, even the cheapest low end cars, will be level 3 within 5 years. That they make traffic jams bearable makes this an incredibly attractive feature.

Thus, while this scene is laughable today, it’ll be taken seriously in 10 years. People will look back on how smart this movie was at predicting the future.

Car hacking, part 2

Quite apart from the abilities of cars, let’s talk about the abilities of hackers.

The recent ShadowBrokers dump of NSA hacking tools show that hackers simply don’t have a lot of range. Hacking one car is easy — hacking all different models, makes, and years of cars is far beyond the ability of any hacking group, even the NSA.

I mean, a single hack may span more than one car model, and even across more than one manufacturer, because they buy such components from third-party manufacturers. Most cars that have cameras buy them from MobileEye, which was recently acquired by Intel.  As I blogged before, both my Parrot drone and Tesla car have the same WiFi stack, and both could be potential hacked with the same vulnerability. So hacking many cars at once isn’t totally out of the question.

It’s just that hacking all the different cars in a garage is completely implausible.

God’s Eye

The plot of the last two movies as been about the “God’s Eye”, a device that hacks into every camera and satellite to view everything going on in the world.

First of all, all hacking is software. The idea of stealing a hardware device in order enable hacking is therefore (almost) always fiction. There’s one corner case where a quantum chip factoring RSA would enable some previously impossible hacking, but it still can’t reach out and hack a camera behind a firewall.

Hacking security cameras around the world is indeed possible, though. The Mirai botnet of last year demonstrated this. It wormed its way form camera to camera, hacking hundreds of thousands of cameras that weren’t protected by firewalls. It used these devices as simply computers, to flood major websites, taking them offline. But it could’ve also used the camera features, to upload pictures and video’s to the hacker controlling these cameras.

However, most security cameras are behind firewalls, and can’t be reached. Building a “Gody’s Eye” view of the world, to catch a target every time they passed in front of a camera, would therefore be unrealistic.

Moreover, they don’t have either the processing power nor the bandwidth to work like that. It takes heavy number crunching in order to detect faces, or even simple things like license plates, within videos. The cameras don’t have that. Instead, cameras could upload the videos/pictures to supercomputers controlled by the hypothetical hacker, but the bandwidth doesn’t exist. The Internet is being rapidly upgraded, but still, Internet links are built for low-bandwidth webpages, not high-bandwidth streaming from millions of sources.

This rapidly changing. Cameras are rapidly being upgraded with “neural network” chips that will have some rudimentary capabilities to recognize things like license plates, or the outline of a face that could then be uploaded for more powerful number crunching elsewhere. Your car’s cameras already have this, for backup warnings and lane departure warnings, soon all security cameras will have something like this. Likewise, the Internet is steadily being upgraded to replace TV broadcast, where everyone can stream from Netflix all the time, so high-bandwidth streams from cameras will become more of the norm.

Even getting behind a firewall to the camera will change in the future, as owners will simply store surveillance video in the cloud instead of locally. Thus, the hypothetical hacker would only need to hack a small number of surveillance camera companies instead of a billion security cameras.

Evil villain lair: ghost airplane

The evil villain in the movie (named “Cipher”, or course) has her secret headquarters on an airplane that flies along satellite “blind spots” so that it can’t be tracked.

This is nonsense. Low resolution satellites, like NOAA satellites tracking the weather, cover the entire planet (well, as far as such airplanes are concerned, unless you are landing in Antartica). While such satellites might not see the plane, they can track the contrail (I mean, chemtrail). Conversely high resolution satellites miss most of the planet. If they haven’t been tasked to aim at something, they won’t see it. And they can’t be aimed at you unless they already know where you are. Sure, there are moving blind spots where even tasked satellites can’t find you, but it’s unlikely they’d be tracking you anyway.

Since the supervillain was a hacker, the airplane was full of computers. This is nonsense. Any compute power I need as a hacker is better left on the Earth’s surface, either by hacking cloud providers (like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Rackspace), or by hiding data centers in Siberia and Tibet. All I need is satellite communication to the Internet from my laptop to be a supervillain. Indeed, I’m unlikely to get the bandwidth I need to process things on the plane. Instead, I’ll need to process everything on the Earth anyway, and send the low-bandwidth results to the plane.

In any case, if I were writing fiction, I’d have nuclear-powered airplanes that stayed aloft for months, operating out of remote bases in the Himalayas or Antartica.

EMP pulses

Small EMP pulse weapons exist, that’s not wholly fictional.

However, an EMP with the features, power, and effects in the movie is, of course, fictional. EMPs, even non-nuclear ones, are abused in films/TV so much that the Wikipedia pages on them spend a lot of time debunking them.

It would be cool if, one day, they used EMP realistically. In this movie, real missile-tipped with non-nuclear explosively-pumped flux compression generators could’ve been used for the same effect. Of course, simple explosives that blow up electronics also work.

Since hacking is the goto deus ex machina these days, they could’ve just had the hackers disable the power instead of using the EMP to do it.

Conclusion

In the movie, the hero uses his extraordinary driving skills to blow up a submarine. Given this level of willing disbelief, the exaggerated hacking is actually the least implausible bits of the movie. Indeed, as technology changes, making some of this more possible, the movie might be seen as predicting the future.

Mirai, Bitcoin, and numeracy

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/04/mirai-bitcoin-and-numeracy.html

Newsweek (the magazine famous for outing the real Satoshi Nakamoto) has a story about how a variant of the Mirai botnet is mining bitcoin. They fail to run the numbers.

The story repeats a claim by Mcafee that 2.5 million devices were infected with Mirai at some point in 2016. If they were all mining bitcoin, how much money would the hackers be earning?
I bought security cameras and infected them with Mirai. A typical example of the CPU running on an IoT device is an ARM926EJ-S processor.
As this website reports, such a processor running at 1.2 GHz can mine at a rate of 0.187-megahashes/second. That’s a bit fast for an IoT device, most are slower, some are faster, we’ll just use this as the average.
According to this website, the current hash-rate of all minters is around 4-million terahashes/second.
Bitcoin blocks are mined every 10 minutes, with the current (April 2017) reward set at 12.5 bitcoins per block, giving roughly 1800 bitcoins/day in reward.
The current price of bitcoin is $1191.
Okay, let’s plug all these numbers in:
  •  total Mirai hash-rate = 2.5 million bots times 0.185 megahash/sec = 0.468 terahashes/second
  •  daily Bitcoin earnings = $1191 times 1800 = $2.1 million/day
  •  daily Mirai earnings = (0.468 divided by 4-million) times $2.1 million = $0.25
In other words, if the entire Mirai botnet of 2.5 million IoT devices was furiously mining bitcoin, it’s total earnings would be $0.25 (25 cents) per day.
Conclusion

If 2.5 million IoT devices mine Bitcoin, they’d earn in total 25 pennies per day. It’s inconceivable that anybody would add bitcoin mining to the Mirai botnet other than as a joke.

Bonus: A single 5 kilogram device you hold in your hand can mind at 12.5 terahashes/second, or 25 times the hypothetical botnet, for $1200.

Botnets

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/03/botnets.html

Botnets have existed for at least a decade. As early as 2000, hackers were breaking into computers over the Internet and controlling them en masse from centralized systems. Among other things, the hackers used the combined computing power of these botnets to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks, which flood websites with traffic to take them down.

But now the problem is getting worse, thanks to a flood of cheap webcams, digital video recorders, and other gadgets in the “Internet of things.” Because these devices typically have little or no security, hackers can take them over with little effort. And that makes it easier than ever to build huge botnets that take down much more than one site at a time.

In October, a botnet made up of 100,000 compromised gadgets knocked an Internet infrastructure provider partially offline. Taking down that provider, Dyn, resulted in a cascade of effects that ultimately caused a long list of high-profile websites, including Twitter and Netflix, to temporarily disappear from the Internet. More attacks are sure to follow: the botnet that attacked Dyn was created with publicly available malware called Mirai that largely automates the process of co-opting computers.

The best defense would be for everything online to run only secure software, so botnets couldn’t be created in the first place. This isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Internet of things devices are not designed with security in mind and often have no way of being patched. The things that have become part of Mirai botnets, for example, will be vulnerable until their owners throw them away. Botnets will get larger and more powerful simply because the number of vulnerable devices will go up by orders of magnitude over the next few years.

What do hackers do with them? Many things.

Botnets are used to commit click fraud. Click fraud is a scheme to fool advertisers into thinking that people are clicking on, or viewing, their ads. There are lots of ways to commit click fraud, but the easiest is probably for the attacker to embed a Google ad in a Web page he owns. Google ads pay a site owner according to the number of people who click on them. The attacker instructs all the computers on his botnet to repeatedly visit the Web page and click on the ad. Dot, dot, dot, PROFIT! If the botnet makers figure out more effective ways to siphon revenue from big companies online, we could see the whole advertising model of the Internet crumble.

Similarly, botnets can be used to evade spam filters, which work partly by knowing which computers are sending millions of e-mails. They can speed up password guessing to break into online accounts, mine bitcoins, and do anything else that requires a large network of computers. This is why botnets are big businesses. Criminal organizations rent time on them.

But the botnet activities that most often make headlines are denial-of-service attacks. Dyn seems to have been the victim of some angry hackers, but more financially motivated groups use these attacks as a form of extortion. Political groups use them to silence websites they don’t like. Such attacks will certainly be a tactic in any future cyberwar.

Once you know a botnet exists, you can attack its command-and-control system. When botnets were rare, this tactic was effective. As they get more common, this piecemeal defense will become less so. You can also secure yourself against the effects of botnets. For example, several companies sell defenses against denial-of-service attacks. Their effectiveness varies, depending on the severity of the attack and the type of service.

But overall, the trends favor the attacker. Expect more attacks like the one against Dyn in the coming year.

This essay previously appeared in the MIT Technology Review.

You don’t need printer security

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/02/you-dont-need-printer-security.html

So there’s this tweet:

What it’s probably refering to is this:

This is an obviously bad idea.

Well, not so “obvious”, so some people have ask me to clarify the situation. After all, without “security”, couldn’t a printer just be added to a botnet of IoT devices?

The answer is this:

Fixing insecurity is almost always better than adding a layer of security.

Adding security is notoriously problematic, for three reasons

  1. Hackers are active attackers. When presented with a barrier in front of an insecurity, they’ll often find ways around that barrier. It’s a common problem with “web application firewalls”, for example.
  2. The security software itself can become a source of vulnerabilities hackers can attack, which has happened frequently in anti-virus and intrusion prevention systems.
  3. Security features are usually snake-oil, sounding great on paper, with with no details, and no independent evaluation, provided to the public.

It’s the last one that’s most important. HP markets features, but there’s no guarantee they work. In particular, similar features in other products have proven not to work in the past.

HP describes its three special features in a brief whitepaper [*]. They aren’t bad, but at the same time, they aren’t particularly good. Windows already offers all these features. Indeed, as far as I know, they are just using Windows as their firmware operating system, and are just slapping an “HP” marketing name onto existing Windows functionality.

HP Sure Start: This refers to the standard feature in almost all devices these days of having a secure boot process. Windows supports this in UEFI boot. Apple’s iPhones work this way, which is why the FBI needed Apple’s help to break into a captured terrorist’s phone. It’s a feature built into most IoT hardware, though most don’t enable it in software.

Whitelisting: Their description sounds like “signed firmware updates”, but if that was they case, they’d call it that. Traditionally, “whitelisting” referred to a different feature, containing a list of hashes for programs that can run on the device. Either way, it’s a pretty common functionality.

Run-time intrusion detection: They have numerous, conflicting descriptions on their website. It may mean scanning memory for signatures of known viruses. It may mean stack cookies. It may mean double-checking kernel modules. Windows does all these things, and it has a tiny benefit on stopping security threats.

As for traditional threats for attacks against printers, none of these really are important. What you need to secure a printer is the ability to disable services you aren’t using (close ports), enable passwords and other access control, and delete files of old print jobs so hackers can’t grab them from the printer. HP has features to address these security problems, but then, so do its competitors.

Lastly, printers should be behind firewalls, not only protected from the Internet, but also segmented from the corporate network, so that only those designed ports, or flows between the printer and print servers, are enabled.

Conclusion

The features HP describes are snake oil. If they worked well, they’d still only address a small part of the spectrum of attacks against printers. And, since there’s no technical details or independent evaluation of the features, they are almost certainly lies.

If HP really cared about security, they’d make their software more secure. They use fuzzing tools like AFL to secure it. They’d enable ASLR and stack cookies. They’d compile C code with run-time buffer overflow checks. Thety’d have a bug bounty program. It’s not something they can easily market, but at least it’d be real.

If you cared about printer security, then do the steps I outline above, especially firewalling printers from the traditional network. Seriously, putting $100 firewall between a VLAN for your printers and the rest of the network is cheap and easy way to do a vast amount of security. If you can’t secure printers this way, buying snake oil features like HP describes won’t help you.

Security and the Internet of Things

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/02/security_and_th.html

Last year, on October 21, your digital video recorder ­- or at least a DVR like yours ­- knocked Twitter off the internet. Someone used your DVR, along with millions of insecure webcams, routers, and other connected devices, to launch an attack that started a chain reaction, resulting in Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, and many sites going off the internet. You probably didn’t realize that your DVR had that kind of power. But it does.

All computers are hackable. This has as much to do with the computer market as it does with the technologies. We prefer our software full of features and inexpensive, at the expense of security and reliability. That your computer can affect the security of Twitter is a market failure. The industry is filled with market failures that, until now, have been largely ignorable. As computers continue to permeate our homes, cars, businesses, these market failures will no longer be tolerable. Our only solution will be regulation, and that regulation will be foisted on us by a government desperate to “do something” in the face of disaster.

In this article I want to outline the problems, both technical and political, and point to some regulatory solutions. Regulation might be a dirty word in today’s political climate, but security is the exception to our small-government bias. And as the threats posed by computers become greater and more catastrophic, regulation will be inevitable. So now’s the time to start thinking about it.

We also need to reverse the trend to connect everything to the internet. And if we risk harm and even death, we need to think twice about what we connect and what we deliberately leave uncomputerized.

If we get this wrong, the computer industry will look like the pharmaceutical industry, or the aircraft industry. But if we get this right, we can maintain the innovative environment of the internet that has given us so much.

**********

We no longer have things with computers embedded in them. We have computers with things attached to them.

Your modern refrigerator is a computer that keeps things cold. Your oven, similarly, is a computer that makes things hot. An ATM is a computer with money inside. Your car is no longer a mechanical device with some computers inside; it’s a computer with four wheels and an engine. Actually, it’s a distributed system of over 100 computers with four wheels and an engine. And, of course, your phones became full-power general-purpose computers in 2007, when the iPhone was introduced.

We wear computers: fitness trackers and computer-enabled medical devices ­- and, of course, we carry our smartphones everywhere. Our homes have smart thermostats, smart appliances, smart door locks, even smart light bulbs. At work, many of those same smart devices are networked together with CCTV cameras, sensors that detect customer movements, and everything else. Cities are starting to embed smart sensors in roads, streetlights, and sidewalk squares, also smart energy grids and smart transportation networks. A nuclear power plant is really just a computer that produces electricity, and ­- like everything else we’ve just listed -­ it’s on the internet.

The internet is no longer a web that we connect to. Instead, it’s a computerized, networked, and interconnected world that we live in. This is the future, and what we’re calling the Internet of Things.

Broadly speaking, the Internet of Things has three parts. There are the sensors that collect data about us and our environment: smart thermostats, street and highway sensors, and those ubiquitous smartphones with their motion sensors and GPS location receivers. Then there are the “smarts” that figure out what the data means and what to do about it. This includes all the computer processors on these devices and ­- increasingly ­- in the cloud, as well as the memory that stores all of this information. And finally, there are the actuators that affect our environment. The point of a smart thermostat isn’t to record the temperature; it’s to control the furnace and the air conditioner. Driverless cars collect data about the road and the environment to steer themselves safely to their destinations.

You can think of the sensors as the eyes and ears of the internet. You can think of the actuators as the hands and feet of the internet. And you can think of the stuff in the middle as the brain. We are building an internet that senses, thinks, and acts.

This is the classic definition of a robot. We’re building a world-size robot, and we don’t even realize it.

To be sure, it’s not a robot in the classical sense. We think of robots as discrete autonomous entities, with sensors, brain, and actuators all together in a metal shell. The world-size robot is distributed. It doesn’t have a singular body, and parts of it are controlled in different ways by different people. It doesn’t have a central brain, and it has nothing even remotely resembling a consciousness. It doesn’t have a single goal or focus. It’s not even something we deliberately designed. It’s something we have inadvertently built out of the everyday objects we live with and take for granted. It is the extension of our computers and networks into the real world.

This world-size robot is actually more than the Internet of Things. It’s a combination of several decades-old computing trends: mobile computing, cloud computing, always-on computing, huge databases of personal information, the Internet of Things ­- or, more precisely, cyber-physical systems ­- autonomy, and artificial intelligence. And while it’s still not very smart, it’ll get smarter. It’ll get more powerful and more capable through all the interconnections we’re building.

It’ll also get much more dangerous.

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Computer security has been around for almost as long as computers have been. And while it’s true that security wasn’t part of the design of the original internet, it’s something we have been trying to achieve since its beginning.

I have been working in computer security for over 30 years: first in cryptography, then more generally in computer and network security, and now in general security technology. I have watched computers become ubiquitous, and have seen firsthand the problems ­- and solutions ­- of securing these complex machines and systems. I’m telling you all this because what used to be a specialized area of expertise now affects everything. Computer security is now everything security. There’s one critical difference, though: The threats have become greater.

Traditionally, computer security is divided into three categories: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. For the most part, our security concerns have largely centered around confidentiality. We’re concerned about our data and who has access to it ­- the world of privacy and surveillance, of data theft and misuse.

But threats come in many forms. Availability threats: computer viruses that delete our data, or ransomware that encrypts our data and demands payment for the unlock key. Integrity threats: hackers who can manipulate data entries can do things ranging from changing grades in a class to changing the amount of money in bank accounts. Some of these threats are pretty bad. Hospitals have paid tens of thousands of dollars to criminals whose ransomware encrypted critical medical files. JPMorgan Chase spends half a billion on cybersecurity a year.

Today, the integrity and availability threats are much worse than the confidentiality threats. Once computers start affecting the world in a direct and physical manner, there are real risks to life and property. There is a fundamental difference between crashing your computer and losing your spreadsheet data, and crashing your pacemaker and losing your life. This isn’t hyperbole; recently researchers found serious security vulnerabilities in St. Jude Medical’s implantable heart devices. Give the internet hands and feet, and it will have the ability to punch and kick.

Take a concrete example: modern cars, those computers on wheels. The steering wheel no longer turns the axles, nor does the accelerator pedal change the speed. Every move you make in a car is processed by a computer, which does the actual controlling. A central computer controls the dashboard. There’s another in the radio. The engine has 20 or so computers. These are all networked, and increasingly autonomous.

Now, let’s start listing the security threats. We don’t want car navigation systems to be used for mass surveillance, or the microphone for mass eavesdropping. We might want it to be used to determine a car’s location in the event of a 911 call, and possibly to collect information about highway congestion. We don’t want people to hack their own cars to bypass emissions-control limitations. We don’t want manufacturers or dealers to be able to do that, either, as Volkswagen did for years. We can imagine wanting to give police the ability to remotely and safely disable a moving car; that would make high-speed chases a thing of the past. But we definitely don’t want hackers to be able to do that. We definitely don’t want them disabling the brakes in every car without warning, at speed. As we make the transition from driver-controlled cars to cars with various driver-assist capabilities to fully driverless cars, we don’t want any of those critical components subverted. We don’t want someone to be able to accidentally crash your car, let alone do it on purpose. And equally, we don’t want them to be able to manipulate the navigation software to change your route, or the door-lock controls to prevent you from opening the door. I could go on.

That’s a lot of different security requirements, and the effects of getting them wrong range from illegal surveillance to extortion by ransomware to mass death.

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Our computers and smartphones are as secure as they are because companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google spend a lot of time testing their code before it’s released, and quickly patch vulnerabilities when they’re discovered. Those companies can support large, dedicated teams because those companies make a huge amount of money, either directly or indirectly, from their software ­ and, in part, compete on its security. Unfortunately, this isn’t true of embedded systems like digital video recorders or home routers. Those systems are sold at a much lower margin, and are often built by offshore third parties. The companies involved simply don’t have the expertise to make them secure.

At a recent hacker conference, a security researcher analyzed 30 home routers and was able to break into half of them, including some of the most popular and common brands. The denial-of-service attacks that forced popular websites like Reddit and Twitter off the internet last October were enabled by vulnerabilities in devices like webcams and digital video recorders. In August, two security researchers demonstrated a ransomware attack on a smart thermostat.

Even worse, most of these devices don’t have any way to be patched. Companies like Microsoft and Apple continuously deliver security patches to your computers. Some home routers are technically patchable, but in a complicated way that only an expert would attempt. And the only way for you to update the firmware in your hackable DVR is to throw it away and buy a new one.

The market can’t fix this because neither the buyer nor the seller cares. The owners of the webcams and DVRs used in the denial-of-service attacks don’t care. Their devices were cheap to buy, they still work, and they don’t know any of the victims of the attacks. The sellers of those devices don’t care: They’re now selling newer and better models, and the original buyers only cared about price and features. There is no market solution, because the insecurity is what economists call an externality: It’s an effect of the purchasing decision that affects other people. Think of it kind of like invisible pollution.

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Security is an arms race between attacker and defender. Technology perturbs that arms race by changing the balance between attacker and defender. Understanding how this arms race has unfolded on the internet is essential to understanding why the world-size robot we’re building is so insecure, and how we might secure it. To that end, I have five truisms, born from what we’ve already learned about computer and internet security. They will soon affect the security arms race everywhere.

Truism No. 1: On the internet, attack is easier than defense.

There are many reasons for this, but the most important is the complexity of these systems. More complexity means more people involved, more parts, more interactions, more mistakes in the design and development process, more of everything where hidden insecurities can be found. Computer-security experts like to speak about the attack surface of a system: all the possible points an attacker might target and that must be secured. A complex system means a large attack surface. The defender has to secure the entire attack surface. The attacker just has to find one vulnerability ­- one unsecured avenue for attack -­ and gets to choose how and when to attack. It’s simply not a fair battle.

There are other, more general, reasons why attack is easier than defense. Attackers have a natural agility that defenders often lack. They don’t have to worry about laws, and often not about morals or ethics. They don’t have a bureaucracy to contend with, and can more quickly make use of technical innovations. Attackers also have a first-mover advantage. As a society, we’re generally terrible at proactive security; we rarely take preventive security measures until an attack actually happens. So more advantages go to the attacker.

Truism No. 2: Most software is poorly written and insecure.

If complexity isn’t enough, we compound the problem by producing lousy software. Well-written software, like the kind found in airplane avionics, is both expensive and time-consuming to produce. We don’t want that. For the most part, poorly written software has been good enough. We’d all rather live with buggy software than pay the prices good software would require. We don’t mind if our games crash regularly, or our business applications act weird once in a while. Because software has been largely benign, it hasn’t mattered. This has permeated the industry at all levels. At universities, we don’t teach how to code well. Companies don’t reward quality code in the same way they reward fast and cheap. And we consumers don’t demand it.

But poorly written software is riddled with bugs, sometimes as many as one per 1,000 lines of code. Some of them are inherent in the complexity of the software, but most are programming mistakes. Not all bugs are vulnerabilities, but some are.

Truism No. 3: Connecting everything to each other via the internet will expose new vulnerabilities.

The more we network things together, the more vulnerabilities on one thing will affect other things. On October 21, vulnerabilities in a wide variety of embedded devices were all harnessed together to create what hackers call a botnet. This botnet was used to launch a distributed denial-of-service attack against a company called Dyn. Dyn provided a critical internet function for many major internet sites. So when Dyn went down, so did all those popular websites.

These chains of vulnerabilities are everywhere. In 2012, journalist Mat Honan suffered a massive personal hack because of one of them. A vulnerability in his Amazon account allowed hackers to get into his Apple account, which allowed them to get into his Gmail account. And in 2013, the Target Corporation was hacked by someone stealing credentials from its HVAC contractor.

Vulnerabilities like these are particularly hard to fix, because no one system might actually be at fault. It might be the insecure interaction of two individually secure systems.

Truism No. 4: Everybody has to stop the best attackers in the world.

One of the most powerful properties of the internet is that it allows things to scale. This is true for our ability to access data or control systems or do any of the cool things we use the internet for, but it’s also true for attacks. In general, fewer attackers can do more damage because of better technology. It’s not just that these modern attackers are more efficient, it’s that the internet allows attacks to scale to a degree impossible without computers and networks.

This is fundamentally different from what we’re used to. When securing my home against burglars, I am only worried about the burglars who live close enough to my home to consider robbing me. The internet is different. When I think about the security of my network, I have to be concerned about the best attacker possible, because he’s the one who’s going to create the attack tool that everyone else will use. The attacker that discovered the vulnerability used to attack Dyn released the code to the world, and within a week there were a dozen attack tools using it.

Truism No. 5: Laws inhibit security research.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a terrible law that fails at its purpose of preventing widespread piracy of movies and music. To make matters worse, it contains a provision that has critical side effects. According to the law, it is a crime to bypass security mechanisms that protect copyrighted work, even if that bypassing would otherwise be legal. Since all software can be copyrighted, it is arguably illegal to do security research on these devices and to publish the result.

Although the exact contours of the law are arguable, many companies are using this provision of the DMCA to threaten researchers who expose vulnerabilities in their embedded systems. This instills fear in researchers, and has a chilling effect on research, which means two things: (1) Vendors of these devices are more likely to leave them insecure, because no one will notice and they won’t be penalized in the market, and (2) security engineers don’t learn how to do security better.
Unfortunately, companies generally like the DMCA. The provisions against reverse-engineering spare them the embarrassment of having their shoddy security exposed. It also allows them to build proprietary systems that lock out competition. (This is an important one. Right now, your toaster cannot force you to only buy a particular brand of bread. But because of this law and an embedded computer, your Keurig coffee maker can force you to buy a particular brand of coffee.)

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In general, there are two basic paradigms of security. We can either try to secure something well the first time, or we can make our security agile. The first paradigm comes from the world of dangerous things: from planes, medical devices, buildings. It’s the paradigm that gives us secure design and secure engineering, security testing and certifications, professional licensing, detailed preplanning and complex government approvals, and long times-to-market. It’s security for a world where getting it right is paramount because getting it wrong means people dying.

The second paradigm comes from the fast-moving and heretofore largely benign world of software. In this paradigm, we have rapid prototyping, on-the-fly updates, and continual improvement. In this paradigm, new vulnerabilities are discovered all the time and security disasters regularly happen. Here, we stress survivability, recoverability, mitigation, adaptability, and muddling through. This is security for a world where getting it wrong is okay, as long as you can respond fast enough.

These two worlds are colliding. They’re colliding in our cars -­ literally -­ in our medical devices, our building control systems, our traffic control systems, and our voting machines. And although these paradigms are wildly different and largely incompatible, we need to figure out how to make them work together.

So far, we haven’t done very well. We still largely rely on the first paradigm for the dangerous computers in cars, airplanes, and medical devices. As a result, there are medical systems that can’t have security patches installed because that would invalidate their government approval. In 2015, Chrysler recalled 1.4 million cars to fix a software vulnerability. In September 2016, Tesla remotely sent a security patch to all of its Model S cars overnight. Tesla sure sounds like it’s doing things right, but what vulnerabilities does this remote patch feature open up?

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Until now we’ve largely left computer security to the market. Because the computer and network products we buy and use are so lousy, an enormous after-market industry in computer security has emerged. Governments, companies, and people buy the security they think they need to secure themselves. We’ve muddled through well enough, but the market failures inherent in trying to secure this world-size robot will soon become too big to ignore.

Markets alone can’t solve our security problems. Markets are motivated by profit and short-term goals at the expense of society. They can’t solve collective-action problems. They won’t be able to deal with economic externalities, like the vulnerabilities in DVRs that resulted in Twitter going offline. And we need a counterbalancing force to corporate power.

This all points to policy. While the details of any computer-security system are technical, getting the technologies broadly deployed is a problem that spans law, economics, psychology, and sociology. And getting the policy right is just as important as getting the technology right because, for internet security to work, law and technology have to work together. This is probably the most important lesson of Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosures. We already knew that technology can subvert law. Snowden demonstrated that law can also subvert technology. Both fail unless each work. It’s not enough to just let technology do its thing.

Any policy changes to secure this world-size robot will mean significant government regulation. I know it’s a sullied concept in today’s world, but I don’t see any other possible solution. It’s going to be especially difficult on the internet, where its permissionless nature is one of the best things about it and the underpinning of its most world-changing innovations. But I don’t see how that can continue when the internet can affect the world in a direct and physical manner.

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I have a proposal: a new government regulatory agency. Before dismissing it out of hand, please hear me out.

We have a practical problem when it comes to internet regulation. There’s no government structure to tackle this at a systemic level. Instead, there’s a fundamental mismatch between the way government works and the way this technology works that makes dealing with this problem impossible at the moment.

Government operates in silos. In the U.S., the FAA regulates aircraft. The NHTSA regulates cars. The FDA regulates medical devices. The FCC regulates communications devices. The FTC protects consumers in the face of “unfair” or “deceptive” trade practices. Even worse, who regulates data can depend on how it is used. If data is used to influence a voter, it’s the Federal Election Commission’s jurisdiction. If that same data is used to influence a consumer, it’s the FTC’s. Use those same technologies in a school, and the Department of Education is now in charge. Robotics will have its own set of problems, and no one is sure how that is going to be regulated. Each agency has a different approach and different rules. They have no expertise in these new issues, and they are not quick to expand their authority for all sorts of reasons.

Compare that with the internet. The internet is a freewheeling system of integrated objects and networks. It grows horizontally, demolishing old technological barriers so that people and systems that never previously communicated now can. Already, apps on a smartphone can log health information, control your energy use, and communicate with your car. That’s a set of functions that crosses jurisdictions of at least four different government agencies, and it’s only going to get worse.

Our world-size robot needs to be viewed as a single entity with millions of components interacting with each other. Any solutions here need to be holistic. They need to work everywhere, for everything. Whether we’re talking about cars, drones, or phones, they’re all computers.

This has lots of precedent. Many new technologies have led to the formation of new government regulatory agencies. Trains did, cars did, airplanes did. Radio led to the formation of the Federal Radio Commission, which became the FCC. Nuclear power led to the formation of the Atomic Energy Commission, which eventually became the Department of Energy. The reasons were the same in every case. New technologies need new expertise because they bring with them new challenges. Governments need a single agency to house that new expertise, because its applications cut across several preexisting agencies. It’s less that the new agency needs to regulate -­ although that’s often a big part of it -­ and more that governments recognize the importance of the new technologies.

The internet has famously eschewed formal regulation, instead adopting a multi-stakeholder model of academics, businesses, governments, and other interested parties. My hope is that we can keep the best of this approach in any regulatory agency, looking more at the new U.S. Digital Service or the 18F office inside the General Services Administration. Both of those organizations are dedicated to providing digital government services, and both have collected significant expertise by bringing people in from outside of government, and both have learned how to work closely with existing agencies. Any internet regulatory agency will similarly need to engage in a high level of collaborate regulation -­ both a challenge and an opportunity.

I don’t think any of us can predict the totality of the regulations we need to ensure the safety of this world, but here’s a few. We need government to ensure companies follow good security practices: testing, patching, secure defaults -­ and we need to be able to hold companies liable when they fail to do these things. We need government to mandate strong personal data protections, and limitations on data collection and use. We need to ensure that responsible security research is legal and well-funded. We need to enforce transparency in design, some sort of code escrow in case a company goes out of business, and interoperability between devices of different manufacturers, to counterbalance the monopolistic effects of interconnected technologies. Individuals need the right to take their data with them. And internet-enabled devices should retain some minimal functionality if disconnected from the internet

I’m not the only one talking about this. I’ve seen proposals for a National Institutes of Health analog for cybersecurity. University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo has proposed a Federal Robotics Commission. I think it needs to be broader: maybe a Department of Technology Policy.

Of course there will be problems. There’s a lack of expertise in these issues inside government. There’s a lack of willingness in government to do the hard regulatory work. Industry is worried about any new bureaucracy: both that it will stifle innovation by regulating too much and that it will be captured by industry and regulate too little. A domestic regulatory agency will have to deal with the fundamentally international nature of the problem.

But government is the entity we use to solve problems like this. Governments have the scope, scale, and balance of interests to address the problems. It’s the institution we’ve built to adjudicate competing social interests and internalize market externalities. Left to their own devices, the market simply can’t. That we’re currently in the middle of an era of low government trust, where many of us can’t imagine government doing anything positive in an area like this, is to our detriment.

Here’s the thing: Governments will get involved, regardless. The risks are too great, and the stakes are too high. Government already regulates dangerous physical systems like cars and medical devices. And nothing motivates the U.S. government like fear. Remember 2001? A nominally small-government Republican president created the Office of Homeland Security 11 days after the terrorist attacks: a rushed and ill-thought-out decision that we’ve been trying to fix for over a decade. A fatal disaster will similarly spur our government into action, and it’s unlikely to be well-considered and thoughtful action. Our choice isn’t between government involvement and no government involvement. Our choice is between smarter government involvement and stupider government involvement. We have to start thinking about this now. Regulations are necessary, important, and complex; and they’re coming. We can’t afford to ignore these issues until it’s too late.

We also need to start disconnecting systems. If we cannot secure complex systems to the level required by their real-world capabilities, then we must not build a world where everything is computerized and interconnected.

There are other models. We can enable local communications only. We can set limits on collected and stored data. We can deliberately design systems that don’t interoperate with each other. We can deliberately fetter devices, reversing the current trend of turning everything into a general-purpose computer. And, most important, we can move toward less centralization and more distributed systems, which is how the internet was first envisioned.

This might be a heresy in today’s race to network everything, but large, centralized systems are not inevitable. The technical elites are pushing us in that direction, but they really don’t have any good supporting arguments other than the profits of their ever-growing multinational corporations.

But this will change. It will change not only because of security concerns, it will also change because of political concerns. We’re starting to chafe under the worldview of everything producing data about us and what we do, and that data being available to both governments and corporations. Surveillance capitalism won’t be the business model of the internet forever. We need to change the fabric of the internet so that evil governments don’t have the tools to create a horrific totalitarian state. And while good laws and regulations in Western democracies are a great second line of defense, they can’t be our only line of defense.

My guess is that we will soon reach a high-water mark of computerization and connectivity, and that afterward we will make conscious decisions about what and how we decide to interconnect. But we’re still in the honeymoon phase of connectivity. Governments and corporations are punch-drunk on our data, and the rush to connect everything is driven by an even greater desire for power and market share. One of the presentations released by Edward Snowden contained the NSA mantra: “Collect it all.” A similar mantra for the internet today might be: “Connect it all.”

The inevitable backlash will not be driven by the market. It will be deliberate policy decisions that put the safety and welfare of society above individual corporations and industries. It will be deliberate policy decisions that prioritize the security of our systems over the demands of the FBI to weaken them in order to make their law-enforcement jobs easier. It’ll be hard policy for many to swallow, but our safety will depend on it.

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The scenarios I’ve outlined, both the technological and economic trends that are causing them and the political changes we need to make to start to fix them, come from my years of working in internet-security technology and policy. All of this is informed by an understanding of both technology and policy. That turns out to be critical, and there aren’t enough people who understand both.

This brings me to my final plea: We need more public-interest technologists.

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen examples of getting internet-security policy badly wrong. I’m thinking of the FBI’s “going dark” debate about its insistence that computer devices be designed to facilitate government access, the “vulnerability equities process” about when the government should disclose and fix a vulnerability versus when it should use it to attack other systems, the debacle over paperless touch-screen voting machines, and the DMCA that I discussed above. If you watched any of these policy debates unfold, you saw policy-makers and technologists talking past each other.

Our world-size robot will exacerbate these problems. The historical divide between Washington and Silicon Valley -­ the mistrust of governments by tech companies and the mistrust of tech companies by governments ­- is dangerous.

We have to fix this. Getting IoT security right depends on the two sides working together and, even more important, having people who are experts in each working on both. We need technologists to get involved in policy, and we need policy-makers to get involved in technology. We need people who are experts in making both technology and technological policy. We need technologists on congressional staffs, inside federal agencies, working for NGOs, and as part of the press. We need to create a viable career path for public-interest technologists, much as there already is one for public-interest attorneys. We need courses, and degree programs in colleges, for people interested in careers in public-interest technology. We need fellowships in organizations that need these people. We need technology companies to offer sabbaticals for technologists wanting to go down this path. We need an entire ecosystem that supports people bridging the gap between technology and law. We need a viable career path that ensures that even though people in this field won’t make as much as they would in a high-tech start-up, they will have viable careers. The security of our computerized and networked future ­ meaning the security of ourselves, families, homes, businesses, and communities ­ depends on it.

This plea is bigger than security, actually. Pretty much all of the major policy debates of this century will have a major technological component. Whether it’s weapons of mass destruction, robots drastically affecting employment, climate change, food safety, or the increasing ubiquity of ever-shrinking drones, understanding the policy means understanding the technology. Our society desperately needs technologists working on the policy. The alternative is bad policy.

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The world-size robot is less designed than created. It’s coming without any forethought or architecting or planning; most of us are completely unaware of what we’re building. In fact, I am not convinced we can actually design any of this. When we try to design complex sociotechnical systems like this, we are regularly surprised by their emergent properties. The best we can do is observe and channel these properties as best we can.

Market thinking sometimes makes us lose sight of the human choices and autonomy at stake. Before we get controlled ­ or killed ­ by the world-size robot, we need to rebuild confidence in our collective governance institutions. Law and policy may not seem as cool as digital tech, but they’re also places of critical innovation. They’re where we collectively bring about the world we want to live in.

While I might sound like a Cassandra, I’m actually optimistic about our future. Our society has tackled bigger problems than this one. It takes work and it’s not easy, but we eventually find our way clear to make the hard choices necessary to solve our real problems.

The world-size robot we’re building can only be managed responsibly if we start making real choices about the interconnected world we live in. Yes, we need security systems as robust as the threat landscape. But we also need laws that effectively regulate these dangerous technologies. And, more generally, we need to make moral, ethical, and political decisions on how those systems should work. Until now, we’ve largely left the internet alone. We gave programmers a special right to code cyberspace as they saw fit. This was okay because cyberspace was separate and relatively unimportant: That is, it didn’t matter. Now that that’s changed, we can no longer give programmers and the companies they work for this power. Those moral, ethical, and political decisions need, somehow, to be made by everybody. We need to link people with the same zeal that we are currently linking machines. “Connect it all” must be countered with “connect us all.”

This essay previously appeared in New York Magazine.

Is ‘aqenbpuu’ a bad password?

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/01/is-aqenbpuu-bad-password.html

Press secretary Sean Spicer has twice tweeted a random string, leading people to suspect he’s accidentally tweeted his Twitter password. One of these was ‘aqenbpuu’, which some have described as a “shitty password“. Is is actually bad?

No. It’s adequate. Not the best, perhaps, but not “shitty”.

It depends upon your threat model. The common threats are password reuse and phishing, where the strength doesn’t matter. When the strength does matter is when Twitter gets hacked and the password hashes stolen.

Twitter uses the bcrypt password hashing technique, which is designed to be slow. A typical desktop with a GPU can only crack bcrypt passwords at a rate of around 321 hashes-per-second. Doing the math (26 to the power of 8, divided by 321, divided by one day) it will take 20 years for this desktop to crack the password.

That’s not a good password. A botnet with thousands of desktops, or a somebody willing to invest thousands of dollars on a supercomputer or cluster like Amazon’s, can crack that password in a few days.

But, it’s not a bad password, either. A hack of a Twitter account like this would be a minor event. It’s not worth somebody spending that much resources hacking. Security is a tradeoff — you protect a ton of gold with Ft. Knox like protections, but you wouldn’t invest the same amount protecting a ton of wood. The same is true with passwords — as long as you don’t reuse your passwords, or fall victim to phishing, eight lower case characters is adequate.

This is especially true if using two-factor authentication, in which case, such a password is more than adequate.

I point this out because the Trump administration is bad, and Sean Spicer is a liar. Our criticism needs to be limited to things we can support, such as the DC metro ridership numbers (which Spicer has still not corrected). Every time we weakly criticize the administration on things we cannot support, like “shitty passwords”, we lessen our credibility. We look more like people who will hate the administration no matter what they do, rather than people who are standing up for principles like “honesty”.


The numbers above aren’t approximations. I actually generated a bcrypt hash and attempted to crack it in order to benchmark how long this would take. I’ll describe the process here.

First of all, I installed the “PHP command-line”. While older versions of PHP used MD5 for hashing, the newer versions use Bcrypt.

# apt-get install php5-cli

I then created a PHP program that will hash the password:

I actually use it three ways. The first way is to hash a small password “ax”, one short enough that the password cracker will actually succeed in hashing. The second is to hash the password with PHP defaults, which is what I assume Twitter is using. The third is to increase the difficulty level, in case Twitter has increased the default difficulty level at all in order to protect weak passwords.

I then ran the PHP script, producing these hashes:
$ php spicer.php
$2y$10$1BfTonhKWDN23cGWKpX3YuBSj5Us3eeLzeUsfylemU0PK4JFr4moa
$2y$10$DKe2N/shCIU.jSfSr5iWi.jH0AxduXdlMjWDRvNxIgDU3Cyjizgzu
$2y$15$HKcSh42d8amewd2QLvRWn.wttbz/B8Sm656Xh6ZWQ4a0u6LZaxyH6

I ran the first one through the password cracking known as “Hashcat”. Within seconds, I get the correct password “ax”. Thus, I know Hashcat is correctly cracking the password. I actually had a little doubt, because the documentation doesn’t make it clear that the Bcrypt algorithm the program supports is the same as the one produced by PHP5.

I run the second one, and get the following speed statistics:

As you can seem, I’m brute-forcing an eight character password that’s all lower case (-a 3 ?l?l?l?l?l?l?l?l). Checking the speed as it runs, it seems pretty consistently slightly above 300 hashes/second. It’s not perfect — it keeps warning that it’s slow. This is because the GPU acceleration works best if trying many password hashes at a time.

I tried the same sort of setup using John-the-Ripper in incremental mode. Whereas Hashcat uses the GPU, John uses the CPU. I have a 6-core Broadwell CPU, so I ran John-the-Ripper with 12 threads.

Curiously, it’s slightly faster, at 347 hashes-per-second on the CPU rather than 321 on the GPU.

Using the stronger work factor (the third hash I produced above), I get about 10 hashes/second on John, and 10 on Hashcat as well. It takes over a second to even generate the hash, meaning it’s probably too aggressive for a web server like Twitter to have to do that much work every time somebody logs in, so I suspect they aren’t that aggressive.

Would a massive IoT botnet help? Well, I tried out John on the Raspbery PI 3. With the same settings cracking the password (at default difficulty), I got the following:

In other words, the RPi is 35 times slower than my desktop computer at this task.

The RPi v3 has four cores and about twice the clock speed of IoT devices. So the typical IoT device would be 250 times slower than a desktop computer. This gives a good approximation of the difference in power.


So there’s this comment:

Yes, you can. So I did, described below.

Okay, so first you need to use the “Node Package Manager” to install bcrypt. The name isn’t “bcrypt”, which refers to a module that I can’t get installed on any platform. Instead, you want “bcrypt-nodejs”.

# npm install bcrypt-nodejs
[email protected] node_modules\bcrypt-nodejs

On all my platforms (Windows, Ubuntu, Raspbian) this is already installed. So now you just create a script spicer.js:

var bcrypt = require(“bcrypt-nodejs”);
console.log(bcrypt.hashSync(“aqenbpuu”);

This produces the following hash, which has the same work factor as the one generated by the PHP script above:

$2a$10$Ulbm//hEqMoco8FLRI6k8uVIrGqipeNbyU53xF2aYx3LuQ.xUEmz6

Hashcat and John then are the same speed cracking this one as the other one. The first characters $2a$ define the hash type (bcrypt). Apparently, there’s a slightly difference between that and $2y$, but that doesn’t change the analysis.


The first comment below questions the speed I get, because running Hashcat in benchmark mode, it gets much higher numbers for bcrypt.

This is actually normal, due to different iteration counts.

A bcrypt hash includes an iteration count (or more precisely, the logarithm of an iteration count). It repeats the hash that number of times. That’s what the $10$ means in the hash:

$2y$10$………

The Hashcat benchmark uses the number 5 (actually, 2^5, or 32 times) as it’s count. But the default iteration count produced by PHP and NodeJS is 10 (2^10, or 1024 times). Thus, you’d expect these hashes to run at a speed 32 times slower.

And indeed, that’s what I get. Running the benchmark on my machine, I get the following output:

Hashtype: bcrypt, Blowfish(OpenBSD)
Speed.Dev.#1…..:    10052 H/s (82.28ms)

Doing the math, dividing 1052 hashes/sec by 321 hashes/sec, I get 31.3. This is close enough to 32, the expected answer, giving the variabilities of thermal throttling, background activity on the machine, and so on.

Googling, this appears to be a common complaint. It’s be nice if it said something like ‘bcrypt[speed=5]’  or something to make this clear.


Spicer tweeted another password, “n9y25ah7”. Instead of all lower-case, this is lower-case plus digits, or 36 to the power of 8 combinations, so it’s about 13 times harder (36/26)^8, which is roughly in the same range.


BTW, there are two notes I want to make.

The first is that a good practical exercise first tries to falsify the theory. In this case, I deliberately tested whether Hashcat and John were actually cracking the right password. They were. They both successfully cracked the two character password “ax”. I also tested GPU vs. CPU. Everyone knows that GPUs are faster for password cracking, but also everyone knows that Bcrypt is designed to be hard to run on GPUs.

The second note is that everything here is already discussed in my study guide on command-lines [*]. I mention that you can run PHP on the command-line, and that you can use Hashcat and John to crack passwords. My guide isn’t complete enough to be an explanation for everything, but it’s a good discussion of where you need to end up.

The third note is that I’m not a master of any of these tools. I know enough about these tools to Google the answers, not to pull them off the top of my head. Mastery is impossible, don’t even try it. For example, bcrypt is one of many hashing algorithms, and has all by itself a lot of complexity, such as the difference between $2a$ and $2y$, or the the logarithmic iteration count. I ignored the issue of salting bcrypt altogether. So what I’m saying is that the level of proficiency you want is to be able to google the steps in solving a problem like this, not actually knowing all this off the top of your head.