Tag Archives: china

Critical Vulnerabilities in GPS Trackers

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2022/07/critical-vulnerabilities-in-gps-trackers.html

This is a dangerous vulnerability:

An assessment from security firm BitSight found six vulnerabilities in the Micodus MV720, a GPS tracker that sells for about $20 and is widely available. The researchers who performed the assessment believe the same critical vulnerabilities are present in other Micodus tracker models. The China-based manufacturer says 1.5 million of its tracking devices are deployed across 420,000 customers. BitSight found the device in use in 169 countries, with customers including governments, militaries, law enforcement agencies, and aerospace, shipping, and manufacturing companies.

BitSight discovered what it said were six “severe” vulnerabilities in the device that allow for a host of possible attacks. One flaw is the use of unencrypted HTTP communications that makes it possible for remote hackers to conduct adversary-in-the-middle attacks that intercept or change requests sent between the mobile application and supporting servers. Other vulnerabilities include a flawed authentication mechanism in the mobile app that can allow attackers to access the hardcoded key for locking down the trackers and the ability to use a custom IP address that makes it possible for hackers to monitor and control all communications to and from the device.

The security firm said it first contacted Micodus in September to notify company officials of the vulnerabilities. BitSight and CISA finally went public with the findings on Tuesday after trying for months to privately engage with the manufacturer. As of the time of writing, all of the vulnerabilities remain unpatched and unmitigated.

These are computers and computer vulnerabilities, but because the computers are attached to cars, the vulnerabilities become potentially life-threatening. CISA writes:

These vulnerabilities could impact access to a vehicle fuel supply, vehicle control, or allow locational surveillance of vehicles in which the device is installed.

I wouldn’t have buried “vehicle control” in the middle of that sentence.

Possible Government Surveillance of the Otter.ai Transcription App

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2022/02/possible-government-surveillance-of-the-otter-ai-transcription-app.html

A reporter interviews a Uyghur human-rights advocate, and uses the Otter.ai transcription app.

The next day, I received an odd note from Otter.ai, the automated transcription app that I had used to record the interview. It read: “Hey Phelim, to help us improve your Otter’s experience, what was the purpose of this particular recording with titled ‘Mustafa Aksu’ created at ‘2021-11-08 11:02:41’?”

Customer service or Chinese surveillance? Turns out it’s hard to tell.

China’s Olympics App Is Horribly Insecure

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2022/01/chinas-olympics-app-is-horribly-insecure.html

China is mandating that athletes download and use a health and travel app when they attend the Winter Olympics next month. Citizen Lab examined the app and found it riddled with security holes.

Key Findings:

  • MY2022, an app mandated for use by all attendees of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, has a simple but devastating flaw where encryption protecting users’ voice audio and file transfers can be trivially sidestepped. Health customs forms which transmit passport details, demographic information, and medical and travel history are also vulnerable. Server responses can also be spoofed, allowing an attacker to display fake instructions to users.
  • MY2022 is fairly straightforward about the types of data it collects from users in its public-facing documents. However, as the app collects a range of highly sensitive medical information, it is unclear with whom or which organization(s) it shares this information.
  • MY2022 includes features that allow users to report “politically sensitive” content. The app also includes a censorship keyword list, which, while presently inactive, targets a variety of political topics including domestic issues such as Xinjiang and Tibet as well as references to Chinese government agencies.
  • While the vendor did not respond to our security disclosure, we find that the app’s security deficits may not only violate Google’s Unwanted Software Policy and Apple’s App Store guidelines but also China’s own laws and national standards pertaining to privacy protection, providing potential avenues for future redress.

News article:

It’s not clear whether the security flaws were intentional or not, but the report speculated that proper encryption might interfere with some of China’s ubiquitous online surveillance tools, especially systems that allow local authorities to snoop on phones using public wireless networks or internet cafes. Still, the researchers added that the flaws were probably unintentional, because the government will already be receiving data from the app, so there wouldn’t be a need to intercept the data as it was being transferred.

[…]

The app also included a list of 2,422 political keywords, described within the code as “illegalwords.txt,” that worked as a keyword censorship list, according to Citizen Lab. The researchers said the list appeared to be a latent function that the app’s chat and file transfer function was not actively using.

The US government has already advised athletes to leave their personal phones and laptops home and bring burners.

MacOS Zero-Day Used against Hong Kong Activists

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/11/macos-zero-day-used-against-hong-kong-activists.html

Google researchers discovered a MacOS zero-day exploit being used against Hong Kong activists. It was a “watering hole” attack, which means the malware was hidden in a legitimate website. Users visiting that website would get infected.

From an article:

Google’s researchers were able to trigger the exploits and study them by visiting the websites compromised by the hackers. The sites served both iOS and MacOS exploit chains, but the researchers were only able to retrieve the MacOS one. The zero-day exploit was similar to another in-the-wild vulnerability analyzed by another Google researcher in the past, according to the report.

In addition, the zero-day exploit used in this hacking campaign is “identical” to an exploit previously found by cybersecurity research group Pangu Lab, Huntley said. Pangu Lab’s researchers presented the exploit at a security conference in China in April of this year, a few months before hackers used it against Hong Kong users.

The exploit was discovered in August. Apple patched the vulnerability in September. China is, of course, the obvious suspect, given the victims.

EDITED TO ADD (11/15): Another story.

Nation-State Attacker of Telecommunications Networks

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/10/nation-state-attacker-of-telecommunications-networks.html

Someone has been hacking telecommunications networks around the world:

  • LightBasin (aka UNC1945) is an activity cluster that has been consistently targeting the telecommunications sector at a global scale since at least 2016, leveraging custom tools and an in-depth knowledge of telecommunications network architectures.
  • Recent findings highlight this cluster’s extensive knowledge of telecommunications protocols, including the emulation of these protocols to facilitate command and control (C2) and utilizing scanning/packet-capture tools to retrieve highly specific information from mobile communication infrastructure, such as subscriber information and call metadata.
  • The nature of the data targeted by the actor aligns with information likely to be of significant interest to signals intelligence organizations.
  • CrowdStrike Intelligence assesses that LightBasin is a targeted intrusion actor that will continue to target the telecommunications sector. This assessment is made with high confidence and is based on tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), target scope, and objectives exhibited by this activity cluster. There is currently not enough available evidence to link the cluster’s activity to a specific country-nexus.

Some relation to China is reported, but this is not a definitive attribution.

The Proliferation of Zero-days

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/09/the-proliferation-of-zero-days.html

The MIT Technology Review is reporting that 2021 is a blockbuster year for zero-day exploits:

One contributing factor in the higher rate of reported zero-days is the rapid global proliferation of hacking tools.

Powerful groups are all pouring heaps of cash into zero-days to use for themselves — and they’re reaping the rewards.

At the top of the food chain are the government-sponsored hackers. China alone is suspected to be responsible for nine zero-days this year, says Jared Semrau, a director of vulnerability and exploitation at the American cybersecurity firm FireEye Mandiant. The US and its allies clearly possess some of the most sophisticated hacking capabilities, and there is rising talk of using those tools more aggressively.

[…]

Few who want zero-days have the capabilities of Beijing and Washington. Most countries seeking powerful exploits don’t have the talent or infrastructure to develop them domestically, and so they purchase them instead.

[…]

It’s easier than ever to buy zero-days from the growing exploit industry. What was once prohibitively expensive and high-end is now more widely accessible.

[…]

And cybercriminals, too, have used zero-day attacks to make money in recent years, finding flaws in software that allow them to run valuable ransomware schemes.

“Financially motivated actors are more sophisticated than ever,” Semrau says. “One-third of the zero-days we’ve tracked recently can be traced directly back to financially motivated actors. So they’re playing a significant role in this increase which I don’t think many people are giving credit for.”

[…]

No one we spoke to believes that the total number of zero-day attacks more than doubled in such a short period of time — just the number that have been caught. That suggests defenders are becoming better at catching hackers in the act.

You can look at the data, such as Google’s zero-day spreadsheet, which tracks nearly a decade of significant hacks that were caught in the wild.

One change the trend may reflect is that there’s more money available for defense, not least from larger bug bounties and rewards put forward by tech companies for the discovery of new zero-day vulnerabilities. But there are also better tools.

Upgrading the Cloudflare China Network: better performance and security through product innovation and partnership

Post Syndicated from Patrick R. Donahue original https://blog.cloudflare.com/upgrading-the-cloudflare-china-network/

Upgrading the Cloudflare China Network: better performance and security through product innovation and partnership

Upgrading the Cloudflare China Network: better performance and security through product innovation and partnership

Core to Cloudflare’s mission of helping build a better Internet is making it easy for our customers to improve the performance, security, and reliability of their digital properties, no matter where in the world they might be. This includes Mainland China. Cloudflare has had customers using our service in China since 2015 and recently, we expanded our China presence through a partnership with JD Cloud, the cloud division of Chinese Internet giant, JD.com. We’ve also had a local office in Beijing for several years, which has given us a deep understanding of the Chinese Internet landscape as well as local customers.

The new Cloudflare China Network built in partnership with JD Cloud has been live for several months, with significant performance and security improvements compared to the previous in-country network. Today, we’re excited to describe the improvements we made to our DNS and DDoS systems, and provide data demonstrating the performance gains customers are seeing. All customers licensed to operate in China can now benefit from these innovations, with the click of a button in the Cloudflare dashboard or via the API.

Serving DNS inside China

With over 14% of all domains on the Internet using Cloudflare’s nameservers we are the largest DNS provider. Furthermore, we pride ourselves on consistently being among the fastest authoritative nameservers, answering about 12 million DNS queries per second on average (in Q2 2021). We achieve this scale and performance by running our DNS platform on our global network in more than 200 cities, in over 100 countries.

Not too long ago, a user in mainland China accessing a website using Cloudflare DNS did not fully benefit from these advantages. Their DNS queries had to leave the country and, in most cases, cross the Pacific Ocean to reach our nameservers outside of China. This network distance introduced latency and sometimes even packet drops, resulting in a poor user experience.

With the new China Network offering built on JD Cloud’s infrastructure, customers are now able to serve their DNS in mainland China. This means DNS queries are answered directly from one of the JD Cloud Points of Presence (PoPs), leading to faster response times and improved reliability.

Once a user signs up a domain and opts in to serve their DNS in China we will assign two nameservers, from two of the following three domains:

cf-ns.com
cf-ns.net
cf-ns.tech

We selected these Top Level Domains (TLDs) because they offer the best possible performance from within mainland China. They are chosen to always be different from the TLD of the domain using them. For example, example.com will be assigned nameservers using the .tech and .net TLD. This gives us “glueless delegations” for customers’ nameservers, allowing us to dynamically return nameserver IP addresses instead of static glue records.

A “glue record” (or just “glue”) is a mapping between nameservers and IPs that’s added by registrars to break circular lookup dependencies when a domain uses a nameserver with the same TLD. For example, imagine a resolver asks the .com TLD nameserver: “Where do I find the nameservers for example.com?” and this domain is using ns1.example.com and ns2.example.com as nameservers. If .com just replied: “Go and ask ns1.example.com or ns2.example.com.” the resolver would come back to .com with the same question and this would never stop. One solution is to add glue at .com, so the answer can be: “The nameservers for example.com are ns1.example.com and ns2.example.com, and they can be reached at 192.0.2.78 and 203.0.113.55.”.

By using different TLDs, as described above, we don’t need to rely on glue records for customers’ nameservers. This way, we can ensure that queries will always be answered from the nearest point of presence (PoP) leading to a faster DNS response. Another advantage of serving dynamic nameserver IPs is the ability to distribute queries across different PoPs, which helps to spread load more efficiently and mitigate attacks.

Mitigating DDoS attacks within China

Everywhere in the world except for China and India, we use a technique known as anycast routing to distribute DDoS attacks and absorb them in data centers as close to the traffic source as possible. But as we first wrote in 2015, the Internet in China works a bit differently than the rest of the world so anycast-based mitigation was not an option:

Unlike much of the rest of the world where network routing is open, in China core Internet access is largely controlled by two ISPs: China Telecom and China Unicom. [Today this list also includes China Mobile.] These ISPs control IP address allocation and routing inside the country. Even the Chinese Internet giants rarely own their own IP address allocations, or use BGP to control routing across the Chinese Internet. This makes BGP Anycast and many of the other routing techniques we use across Cloudflare’s network impossible inside of China.

The lack of anycast in China requires a different approach to mitigating attacks, and our expansion with JD Cloud pushed us to further improve the edge-based mitigation system we wrote about earlier this year. Most importantly, we pushed the detection and mitigation of application (L7) attacks to the edge, reducing our time to mitigate and improving the resiliency of the system by removing a dependency on other core data centers for instructions. In the first quarter of 2021, we mitigated 81% of all L7 attacks at the edge.

For the larger network-based (L3/L4) attacks, we worked closely with JD Cloud to augment our in-data center protections with remote signaling to China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile. These integrations allow us to remotely — and automatically — signal from our edge-based mitigation systems when we want upstream filtering assistance from the ISP. Mitigating attacks at the edge is faster than relying on centralized data centers, and in the first quarter of 2021 98.6% of all L3/4 DDoS attacks were mitigated without centralized communication. Attacks exceeding certain thresholds can also be re-routed to large scrubbing centers, a technique that doesn’t make sense in an anycast world but is useful when unicast is the only option.

Beyond the improved mitigation controls, we also developed new traffic engineering processes to move traffic from overloaded data centers to locations with more spare resources. These controls are already used outside of China, but doing so within the country required integration with our DNS systems.

Lastly, because all of our data centers run the same software stack, the work we did to improve the underlying components of DDoS detection and mitigation systems within China has already made its way back to our data centers outside of China.

Improving performance

Cloudflare on JD Cloud is significantly faster than our previous in-country network, allowing us to accelerate the delivery of our customers’ web properties in China.

To compare the Cloudflare PoPs on JD Cloud vs. our previous in-country network, we deployed a test zone to simulate a customer website on both China networks. We tested each website with the same two origin networks. Both origins are commonly used public cloud providers. One site was hosted in the northwest region of the United States, and the other in Western Europe.

For both zones, we assigned DNS nameservers in China to reduce out-of-country latency incurred during DNS lookups (more details are on DNS below). To test our caching, we used a monitoring and benchmarking service with a wide variety of clients in various Chinese cities and provinces to download 100 kilobyte, 1 megabyte, and 10 megabyte files every 15 minutes over the course of 36 hours.

Latency, as measured by Round Trip Time (RTT) from the client to our JD Cloud PoPs, was reduced at least 30% across tests for all file sizes. This subsequently reduced our Time to First Byte (TTFB) metrics. Reducing latency — and making it more consistent, i.e., improving jitter — has the most impact on other performance metrics, as latency and the slow-start process is the bottleneck for the vast majority of TCP connections.

Our latency reduction comes from the quality of the JD Cloud network, their placement of the PoPs within China, and our ability to direct clients to the closest PoP. As we continue to add more capacity and PoPs in partnership with JD Cloud in the future, we only expect our latency metrics to get even better.

Dynamic Content

Upgrading the Cloudflare China Network: better performance and security through product innovation and partnership

Static Content

Upgrading the Cloudflare China Network: better performance and security through product innovation and partnership

DNS Response Time

Upgrading the Cloudflare China Network: better performance and security through product innovation and partnership

Looking forward and welcoming new customers in China

Cloudflare’s sustained product investments in China, in partnership with JD Cloud, have resulted in significant performance and security improvements over our previous in-country network first launched in 2015.

Specifically, innovations in DNS and DDoS mitigation technology, alongside an improved network design and distribution of PoPs, have resulted in better security for our customers and at least a 30% performance boost.

This new network is open for business, and interested customers should reach out to learn more.

China Taking Control of Zero-Day Exploits

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/07/china-taking-control-of-zero-day-exploits.html

China is making sure that all newly discovered zero-day exploits are disclosed to the government.

Under the new rules, anyone in China who finds a vulnerability must tell the government, which will decide what repairs to make. No information can be given to “overseas organizations or individuals” other than the product’s manufacturer.

No one may “collect, sell or publish information on network product security vulnerabilities,” say the rules issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China and the police and industry ministries.

This just blocks the cyber-arms trade. It doesn’t prevent researchers from telling the products’ companies, even if they are outside of China.

AI-Piloted Fighter Jets

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/06/ai-piloted-fighter-jets.html

News from Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology:

China Claims Its AI Can Beat Human Pilots in Battle: Chinese state media reported that an AI system had successfully defeated human pilots during simulated dogfights. According to the Global Times report, the system had shot down several PLA pilots during a handful of virtual exercises in recent years. Observers outside China noted that while reports coming out of state-controlled media outlets should be taken with a grain of salt, the capabilities described in the report are not outside the realm of possibility. Last year, for example, an AI agent defeated a U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot five times out of five as part of DARPA’s AlphaDogfight Trial (which we covered at the time). While the Global Times report indicated plans to incorporate AI into future fighter planes, it is not clear how far away the system is from real-world testing. At the moment, the system appears to be used only for training human pilots. DARPA, for its part, is aiming to test dogfights with AI-piloted subscale jets later this year and with full-scale jets in 2023 and 2024.

Chinese Hackers Stole an NSA Windows Exploit in 2014

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/03/chinese-hackers-stole-an-nsa-windows-exploit-in-2014.html

Check Point has evidence that (probably government affiliated) Chinese hackers stole and cloned an NSA Windows hacking tool years before (probably government affiliated) Russian hackers stole and then published the same tool. Here’s the timeline:

The timeline basically seems to be, according to Check Point:

  • 2013: NSA’s Equation Group developed a set of exploits including one called EpMe that elevates one’s privileges on a vulnerable Windows system to system-administrator level, granting full control. This allows someone with a foothold on a machine to commandeer the whole box.
  • 2014-2015: China’s hacking team code-named APT31, aka Zirconium, developed Jian by, one way or another, cloning EpMe.
  • Early 2017: The Equation Group’s tools were teased and then leaked online by a team calling itself the Shadow Brokers. Around that time, Microsoft cancelled its February Patch Tuesday, identified the vulnerability exploited by EpMe (CVE-2017-0005), and fixed it in a bumper March update. Interestingly enough, Lockheed Martin was credited as alerting Microsoft to the flaw, suggesting it was perhaps used against an American target.
  • Mid 2017: Microsoft quietly fixed the vulnerability exploited by the leaked EpMo exploit.

Lots of news articles about this.

National Security Risks of Late-Stage Capitalism

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/03/national-security-risks-of-late-stage-capitalism.html

Early in 2020, cyberspace attackers apparently working for the Russian government compromised a piece of widely used network management software made by a company called SolarWinds. The hack gave the attackers access to the computer networks of some 18,000 of SolarWinds’s customers, including US government agencies such as the Homeland Security Department and State Department, American nuclear research labs, government contractors, IT companies and nongovernmental agencies around the world.

It was a huge attack, with major implications for US national security. The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the breach on Tuesday. Who is at fault?

The US government deserves considerable blame, of course, for its inadequate cyberdefense. But to see the problem only as a technical shortcoming is to miss the bigger picture. The modern market economy, which aggressively rewards corporations for short-term profits and aggressive cost-cutting, is also part of the problem: Its incentive structure all but ensures that successful tech companies will end up selling insecure products and services.

Like all for-profit corporations, SolarWinds aims to increase shareholder value by minimizing costs and maximizing profit. The company is owned in large part by Silver Lake and Thoma Bravo, private-equity firms known for extreme cost-cutting.

SolarWinds certainly seems to have underspent on security. The company outsourced much of its software engineering to cheaper programmers overseas, even though that typically increases the risk of security vulnerabilities. For a while, in 2019, the update server’s password for SolarWinds’s network management software was reported to be “solarwinds123.” Russian hackers were able to breach SolarWinds’s own email system and lurk there for months. Chinese hackers appear to have exploited a separate vulnerability in the company’s products to break into US government computers. A cybersecurity adviser for the company said that he quit after his recommendations to strengthen security were ignored.

There is no good reason to underspend on security other than to save money — especially when your clients include government agencies around the world and when the technology experts that you pay to advise you are telling you to do more.

As the economics writer Matt Stoller has suggested, cybersecurity is a natural area for a technology company to cut costs because its customers won’t notice unless they are hacked ­– and if they are, they will have already paid for the product. In other words, the risk of a cyberattack can be transferred to the customers. Doesn’t this strategy jeopardize the possibility of long-term, repeat customers? Sure, there’s a danger there –­ but investors are so focused on short-term gains that they’re too often willing to take that risk.

The market loves to reward corporations for risk-taking when those risks are largely borne by other parties, like taxpayers. This is known as “privatizing profits and socializing losses.” Standard examples include companies that are deemed “too big to fail,” which means that society as a whole pays for their bad luck or poor business decisions. When national security is compromised by high-flying technology companies that fob off cybersecurity risks onto their customers, something similar is at work.

Similar misaligned incentives affect your everyday cybersecurity, too. Your smartphone is vulnerable to something called SIM-swap fraud because phone companies want to make it easy for you to frequently get a new phone — and they know that the cost of fraud is largely borne by customers. Data brokers and credit bureaus that collect, use, and sell your personal data don’t spend a lot of money securing it because it’s your problem if someone hacks them and steals it. Social media companies too easily let hate speech and misinformation flourish on their platforms because it’s expensive and complicated to remove it, and they don’t suffer the immediate costs ­– indeed, they tend to profit from user engagement regardless of its nature.

There are two problems to solve. The first is information asymmetry: buyers can’t adequately judge the security of software products or company practices. The second is a perverse incentive structure: the market encourages companies to make decisions in their private interest, even if that imperils the broader interests of society. Together these two problems result in companies that save money by taking on greater risk and then pass off that risk to the rest of us, as individuals and as a nation.

The only way to force companies to provide safety and security features for customers and users is with government intervention. Companies need to pay the true costs of their insecurities, through a combination of laws, regulations, and legal liability. Governments routinely legislate safety — pollution standards, automobile seat belts, lead-free gasoline, food service regulations. We need to do the same with cybersecurity: the federal government should set minimum security standards for software and software development.

In today’s underregulated markets, it’s just too easy for software companies like SolarWinds to save money by skimping on security and to hope for the best. That’s a rational decision in today’s free-market world, and the only way to change that is to change the economic incentives.

This essay previously appeared in the New York Times.

On Chinese-Owned Technology Platforms

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/02/on-chinese-owned-technology-platforms.html

I am a co-author on a report published by the Hoover Institution: “Chinese Technology Platforms Operating in the United States.” From a blog post:

The report suggests a comprehensive framework for understanding and assessing the risks posed by Chinese technology platforms in the United States and developing tailored responses. It starts from the common view of the signatories — one reflected in numerous publicly available threat assessments — that China’s power is growing, that a large part of that power is in the digital sphere, and that China can and will wield that power in ways that adversely affect our national security. However, the specific threats and risks posed by different Chinese technologies vary, and effective policies must start with a targeted understanding of the nature of risks and an assessment of the impact US measures will have on national security and competitiveness. The goal of the paper is not to specifically quantify the risk of any particular technology, but rather to analyze the various threats, put them into context, and offer a framework for assessing proposed responses in ways that the signatories hope can aid those doing the risk analysis in individual cases.

Chinese Supply-Chain Attack on Computer Systems

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/02/chinese-supply-chain-attack-on-computer-systems.html

Bloomberg News has a major story about the Chinese hacking computer motherboards made by Supermicro, Levono, and others. It’s been going on since at least 2008. The US government has known about it for almost as long, and has tried to keep the attack secret:

China’s exploitation of products made by Supermicro, as the U.S. company is known, has been under federal scrutiny for much of the past decade, according to 14 former law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with the matter. That included an FBI counterintelligence investigation that began around 2012, when agents started monitoring the communications of a small group of Supermicro workers, using warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, according to five of the officials.

There’s lots of detail in the article, and I recommend that you read it through.

This is a follow on, with a lot more detail, to a story Bloomberg reported on in fall 2018. I didn’t believe the story back then, writing:

I don’t think it’s real. Yes, it’s plausible. But first of all, if someone actually surreptitiously put malicious chips onto motherboards en masse, we would have seen a photo of the alleged chip already. And second, there are easier, more effective, and less obvious ways of adding backdoors to networking equipment.

I seem to have been wrong. From the current Bloomberg story:

Mike Quinn, a cybersecurity executive who served in senior roles at Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp., said he was briefed about added chips on Supermicro motherboards by officials from the U.S. Air Force. Quinn was working for a company that was a potential bidder for Air Force contracts, and the officials wanted to ensure that any work would not include Supermicro equipment, he said. Bloomberg agreed not to specify when Quinn received the briefing or identify the company he was working for at the time.

“This wasn’t a case of a guy stealing a board and soldering a chip on in his hotel room; it was architected onto the final device,” Quinn said, recalling details provided by Air Force officials. The chip “was blended into the trace on a multilayered board,” he said.

“The attackers knew how that board was designed so it would pass” quality assurance tests, Quinn said.

Supply-chain attacks are the flavor of the moment, it seems. But they’re serious, and very hard to defend against in our deeply international IT industry. (I have repeatedly called this an “insurmountable problem.”) Here’s me in 2018:

Supply-chain security is an incredibly complex problem. US-only design and manufacturing isn’t an option; the tech world is far too internationally interdependent for that. We can’t trust anyone, yet we have no choice but to trust everyone. Our phones, computers, software and cloud systems are touched by citizens of dozens of different countries, any one of whom could subvert them at the demand of their government.

We need some fundamental security research here. I wrote this in 2019:

The other solution is to build a secure system, even though any of its parts can be subverted. This is what the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon meant in April when she said about 5G, “You have to presume a dirty network.” Or more precisely, can we solve this by building trustworthy systems out of untrustworthy parts?

It sounds ridiculous on its face, but the Internet itself was a solution to a similar problem: a reliable network built out of unreliable parts. This was the result of decades of research. That research continues today, and it’s how we can have highly resilient distributed systems like Google’s network even though none of the individual components are particularly good. It’s also the philosophy behind much of the cybersecurity industry today: systems watching one another, looking for vulnerabilities and signs of attack.

It seems that supply-chain attacks are constantly in the news right now. That’s good. They’ve been a serious problem for a long time, and we need to take the threat seriously. For further reading, I strongly recommend this Atlantic Council report from last summer: “Breaking trust: Shades of crisis across an insecure software supply chain.

Another SolarWinds Orion Hack

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/02/another-solarwinds-orion-hack.html

At the same time the Russians were using a backdoored SolarWinds update to attack networks worldwide, another threat actor — believed to be Chinese in origin — was using an already existing vulnerability in Orion to penetrate networks:

Two people briefed on the case said FBI investigators recently found that the National Finance Center, a federal payroll agency inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was among the affected organizations, raising fears that data on thousands of government employees may have been compromised.

[…]

Reuters was not able to establish how many organizations were compromised by the suspected Chinese operation. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations, said the attackers used computer infrastructure and hacking tools previously deployed by state-backed Chinese cyberspies.

[…]

While the alleged Russian hackers penetrated deep into SolarWinds network and hid a “back door” in Orion software updates which were then sent to customers, the suspected Chinese group exploited a separate bug in Orion’s code to help spread across networks they had already compromised, the sources said.

Two takeaways: One, we are learning about a lot of supply-chain attacks right now. Two, SolarWinds’ terrible security is the result of a conscious business decision to reduce costs in the name of short-term profits. Economist Matt Stoller writes about this:

These private equity-owned software firms torture professionals with bad user experiences and shitty customer support in everything from yoga studio software to car dealer IT to the nightmarish ‘core’ software that runs small banks and credit unions, as close as one gets to automating Office Space. But they also degrade product quality by firing or disrespecting good workers, under-investing in good security practices, or sending work abroad and paying badly, meaning their products are more prone to espionage. In other words, the same sloppy and corrupt practices that allowed this massive cybersecurity hack made Bravo a billionaire. In a sense, this hack, and many more like it, will continue to happen, as long as men like Bravo get rich creating security vulnerabilities for bad actors to exploit.

SolarWinds increased its profits by increasing its cybersecurity risk, and then transferred that risk to its customers without their knowledge or consent.

How China Uses Stolen US Personnel Data

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2020/12/how-china-uses-stolen-us-personnel-data.html

Interesting analysis of China’s efforts to identify US spies:

By about 2010, two former CIA officials recalled, the Chinese security services had instituted a sophisticated travel intelligence program, developing databases that tracked flights and passenger lists for espionage purposes. “We looked at it very carefully,” said the former senior CIA official. China’s spies “were actively using that for counterintelligence and offensive intelligence. The capability was there and was being utilized.” China had also stepped up its hacking efforts targeting biometric and passenger data from transit hubs…

To be sure, China had stolen plenty of data before discovering how deeply infiltrated it was by U.S. intelligence agencies. However, the shake-up between 2010 and 2012 gave Beijing an impetus not only to go after bigger, riskier targets, but also to put together the infrastructure needed to process the purloined information. It was around this time, said a former senior NSA official, that Chinese intelligence agencies transitioned from merely being able to steal large datasets en masse to actually rapidly sifting through information from within them for use….

For U.S. intelligence personnel, these new capabilities made China’s successful hack of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that much more chilling. During the OPM breach, Chinese hackers stole detailed, often highly sensitive personnel data from 21.5 million current and former U.S. officials, their spouses, and job applicants, including health, residency, employment, fingerprint, and financial data. In some cases, details from background investigations tied to the granting of security clearances — investigations that can delve deeply into individuals’ mental health records, their sexual histories and proclivities, and whether a person’s relatives abroad may be subject to government blackmail — were stolen as well….

When paired with travel details and other purloined data, information from the OPM breach likely provided Chinese intelligence potent clues about unusual behavior patterns, biographical information, or career milestones that marked individuals as likely U.S. spies, officials say. Now, these officials feared, China could search for when suspected U.S. spies were in certain locations — and potentially also meeting secretly with their Chinese sources. China “collects bulk personal data to help it track dissidents or other perceived enemies of China around the world,” Evanina, the top U.S. counterintelligence official, said.

[..]

But after the OPM breach, anomalies began to multiply. In 2012, senior U.S. spy hunters began to puzzle over some “head-scratchers”: In a few cases, spouses of U.S. officials whose sensitive work should have been difficult to discern were being approached by Chinese and Russian intelligence operatives abroad, according to the former counterintelligence executive. In one case, Chinese operatives tried to harass and entrap a U.S. official’s wife while she accompanied her children on a school field trip to China. “The MO is that, usually at the end of the trip, the lightbulb goes on [and the foreign intelligence service identifies potential persons of interest]. But these were from day one, from the airport onward,” the former official said.

Worries about what the Chinese now knew precipitated an intelligence community-wide damage assessment surrounding the OPM and other hacks, recalled Douglas Wise, a former senior CIA official who served deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2014 to 2016. Some worried that China might have purposefully secretly altered data in individuals’ OPM files to later use as leverage in recruitment attempts. Officials also believed that the Chinese might sift through the OPM data to try and craft the most ideal profiles for Chinese intelligence assets seeking to infiltrate the U.S. government­ — since they now had granular knowledge of what the U.S. government looked for, and what it didn’t, while considering applicants for sensitive positions. U.S. intelligence agencies altered their screening procedures to anticipate new, more finely tuned Chinese attempts at human spying, Wise said.

Symantec Reports on Cicada APT Attacks against Japan

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2020/11/symantec-reports-on-cicada-apt-attacks-against-japan.html

Symantec is reporting on an APT group linked to China, named Cicada. They have been attacking organizations in Japan and elsewhere.

Cicada has historically been known to target Japan-linked organizations, and has also targeted MSPs in the past. The group is using living-off-the-land tools as well as custom malware in this attack campaign, including a custom malware — Backdoor.Hartip — that Symantec has not seen being used by the group before. Among the machines compromised during this attack campaign were domain controllers and file servers, and there was evidence of files being exfiltrated from some of the compromised machines.

The attackers extensively use DLL side-loading in this campaign, and were also seen leveraging the ZeroLogon vulnerability that was patched in August 2020.

Interesting details about the group’s tactics.

News article.

NSA Advisory on Chinese Government Hacking

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2020/10/nsa-advisory-on-chinese-government-hacking.html

The NSA released an advisory listing the top twenty-five known vulnerabilities currently being exploited by Chinese nation-state attackers.

This advisory provides Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) known to be recently leveraged, or scanned-for, by Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors to enable successful hacking operations against a multitude of victim networks. Most of the vulnerabilities listed below can be exploited to gain initial access to victim networks using products that are directly accessible from the Internet and act as gateways to internal networks. The majority of the products are either for remote access (T1133) or for external web services (T1190), and should be prioritized for immediate patching.