Tag Archives: hacking

Online Retail Hack

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/11/online-retail-hack.html

Selling miniature replicas to unsuspecting shoppers:

Online marketplaces sell tiny pink cowboy hats. They also sell miniature pencil sharpeners, palm-size kitchen utensils, scaled-down books and camping chairs so small they evoke the Stonehenge scene in “This Is Spinal Tap.” Many of the minuscule objects aren’t clearly advertised.


But there is no doubt some online sellers deliberately trick customers into buying smaller and often cheaper-to-produce items, Witcher said. Common tactics include displaying products against a white background rather than in room sets or on models, or photographing items with a perspective that makes them appear bigger than they really are. Dimensions can be hidden deep in the product description, or not included at all.

In those instances, the duped consumer “may say, well, it’s only $1, $2, maybe $3­—what’s the harm?” Witcher said. When the item arrives the shopper may be confused, amused or frustrated, but unlikely to complain or demand a refund.

“When you aggregate that to these companies who are selling hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of these items over time, that adds up to a nice chunk of change,” Witcher said. “It’s finding a loophole in how society works and making money off of it.”

Defrauding a lot of people out of a small amount each can be a very successful way of making money.

Crashing iPhones with a Flipper Zero

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/11/crashing-iphones-with-a-flipper-zero.html

The Flipper Zero is an incredibly versatile hacking device. Now it can be used to crash iPhones in its vicinity by sending them a never-ending stream of pop-ups.

These types of hacks have been possible for decades, but they require special equipment and a fair amount of expertise. The capabilities generally required expensive SDRs­—short for software-defined radios­—that, unlike traditional hardware-defined radios, use firmware and processors to digitally re-create radio signal transmissions and receptions. The $200 Flipper Zero isn’t an SDR in its own right, but as a software-controlled radio, it can do many of the same things at an affordable price and with a form factor that’s much more convenient than the previous generations of SDRs.

Hacking Scandinavian Alcohol Tax

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/10/hacking-scandinavian-alcohol-tax.html

The islands of Åland are an important tax hack:

Although Åland is part of the Republic of Finland, it has its own autonomous parliament. In areas where Åland has its own legislation, the group of islands essentially operates as an independent nation.

This allows Scandinavians to avoid the notoriously high alcohol taxes:

Åland is a member of the EU and its currency is the euro, but Åland’s relationship with the EU is regulated by way of a special protocol. In order to maintain the important sale of duty-free goods on ferries operating between Finland and Sweden, Åland is not part of the EU’s VAT area.

Basically, ferries between the two countries stop at the island, and people stock up—I mean really stock up, hand trucks piled with boxes—on tax-free alcohol. Åland gets the revenue, and presumably docking fees.

The purpose of the special status of the Åland Islands was to maintain the right to tax free sales in the ship traffic. The ship traffic is of vital importance for the province’s communication, and the intention was to support the economy of the province this way.

Hacking the High School Grading System

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/10/hacking-the-high-school-grading-system.html

Interesting New York Times article about high-school students hacking the grading system.

What’s not helping? The policies many school districts are adopting that make it nearly impossible for low-performing students to fail—they have a grading floor under them, they know it, and that allows them to game the system.

Several teachers whom I spoke with or who responded to my questionnaire mentioned policies stating that students cannot get lower than a 50 percent on any assignment, even if the work was never done, in some cases. A teacher from Chapel Hill, N.C., who filled in the questionnaire’s “name” field with “No, no, no,” said the 50 percent floor and “NO attendance enforcement” leads to a scenario where “we get students who skip over 100 days, have a 50 percent, complete a couple of assignments to tip over into 59.5 percent and then pass.”

It’s a basic math hack. If a student needs two-thirds of the points—over 65%—to pass, then they have to do two-thirds of the work. But if doing zero work results in a 50% grade, then they only have to do a little bit of work to get over the pass line.

I know this is a minor thing in the universe of problems with secondary education and grading, but I found the hack interesting. (And this is exactly the sort of thing I explore in my latest book: A Hacker’s Mind.

Hacking Gas Pumps via Bluetooth

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/10/hacking-gas-pumps-via-bluetooth.html

Turns out pumps at gas stations are controlled via Bluetooth, and that the connections are insecure. No details in the article, but it seems that it’s easy to take control of the pump and have it dispense gas without requiring payment.

It’s a complicated crime to monetize, though. You need to sell access to the gas pump to others.

EDITED TO ADD (10/13): Reader Jeff Hall says that story is not accurate, and that the gas pumps do not have a Bluetooth connection.

Spyware Vendor Hacked

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/09/spyware-vendor-hacked.html

A Brazilian spyware app vendor was hacked by activists:

In an undated note seen by TechCrunch, the unnamed hackers described how they found and exploited several security vulnerabilities that allowed them to compromise WebDetetive’s servers and access its user databases. By exploiting other flaws in the spyware maker’s web dashboard—used by abusers to access the stolen phone data of their victims—the hackers said they enumerated and downloaded every dashboard record, including every customer’s email address.

The hackers said that dashboard access also allowed them to delete victim devices from the spyware network altogether, effectively severing the connection at the server level to prevent the device from uploading new data. “Which we definitely did. Because we could. Because #fuckstalkerware,” the hackers wrote in the note.

The note was included in a cache containing more than 1.5 gigabytes of data scraped from the spyware’s web dashboard. That data included information about each customer, such as the IP address they logged in from and their purchase history. The data also listed every device that each customer had compromised, which version of the spyware the phone was running, and the types of data that the spyware was collecting from the victim’s phone.

Hacking Food Labeling Laws

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/08/hacking-food-labeling-laws.html

This article talks about new Mexican laws about food labeling, and the lengths to which food manufacturers are going to ensure that they are not effective. There are the typical high-pressure lobbying tactics and lawsuits. But there’s also examples of companies hacking the laws:

Companies like Coca-Cola and Kraft Heinz have begun designing their products so that their packages don’t have a true front or back, but rather two nearly identical labels—except for the fact that only one side has the required warning. As a result, supermarket clerks often place the products with the warning facing inward, effectively hiding it.


Other companies have gotten creative in finding ways to keep their mascots, even without reformulating their foods, as is required by law. Bimbo, the international bread company that owns brands in the United States such as Entenmann’s and Takis, for example, technically removed its mascot from its packaging. It instead printed the mascot on the actual food product—a ready to eat pancake—and made the packaging clear, so the mascot is still visible to consumers.

UK Electoral Commission Hacked

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/08/uk-electoral-commission-hacked.html

The UK Electoral Commission discovered last year that it was hacked the year before. That’s fourteen months between the hack and the discovery. It doesn’t know who was behind the hack.

We worked with external security experts and the National Cyber Security Centre to investigate and secure our systems.

If the hack was by a major government, the odds are really low that it has resecured its systems—unless it burned the network to the ground and rebuilt it from scratch (which seems unlikely).

China Hacked Japan’s Military Networks

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/08/china-hacked-japans-military-networks.html

The NSA discovered the intrusion in 2020—we don’t know how—and alerted the Japanese. The Washington Post has the story:

The hackers had deep, persistent access and appeared to be after anything they could get their hands on—plans, capabilities, assessments of military shortcomings, according to three former senior U.S. officials, who were among a dozen current and former U.S. and Japanese officials interviewed, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.


The 2020 penetration was so disturbing that Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, and Matthew Pottinger, who was White House deputy national security adviser at the time, raced to Tokyo. They briefed the defense minister, who was so concerned that he arranged for them to alert the prime minister himself.

Beijing, they told the Japanese officials, had breached Tokyo’s defense networks, making it one of the most damaging hacks in that country’s modern history.

More analysis.

Microsoft Signing Key Stolen by Chinese

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/08/microsoft-signing-key-stolen-by-chinese.html

A bunch of networks, including US Government networks, have been hacked by the Chinese. The hackers used forged authentication tokens to access user email, using a stolen Microsoft Azure account consumer signing key. Congress wants answers. The phrase “negligent security practices” is being tossed about—and with good reason. Master signing keys are not supposed to be left around, waiting to be stolen.

Actually, two things went badly wrong here. The first is that Azure accepted an expired signing key, implying a vulnerability in whatever is supposed to check key validity. The second is that this key was supposed to remain in the the system’s Hardware Security Module—and not be in software. This implies a really serious breach of good security practice. The fact that Microsoft has not been forthcoming about the details of what happened tell me that the details are really bad.

I believe this all traces back to SolarWinds. In addition to Russia inserting malware into a SolarWinds update, China used a different SolarWinds vulnerability to break into networks. We know that Russia accessed Microsoft source code in that attack. I have heard from informed government officials that China used their SolarWinds vulnerability to break into Microsoft and access source code, including Azure’s.

I think we are grossly underestimating the long-term results of the SolarWinds attacks. That backdoored update was downloaded by over 14,000 networks worldwide. Organizations patched their networks, but not before Russia—and others—used the vulnerability to enter those networks. And once someone is in a network, it’s really hard to be sure that you’ve kicked them out.

Sophisticated threat actors are realizing that stealing source code of infrastructure providers, and then combing that code for vulnerabilities, is an excellent way to break into organizations who use those infrastructure providers. Attackers like Russia and China—and presumably the US as well—are prioritizing going after those providers.

News articles.

EDITED TO ADD: Commentary:

This is from Microsoft’s explanation. The China attackers “acquired an inactive MSA consumer signing key and used it to forge authentication tokens for Azure AD enterprise and MSA consumer to access OWA and Outlook.com. All MSA keys active prior to the incident—including the actor-acquired MSA signing key—have been invalidated. Azure AD keys were not impacted. Though the key was intended only for MSA accounts, a validation issue allowed this key to be trusted for signing Azure AD tokens. The actor was able to obtain new access tokens by presenting one previously issued from this API due to a design flaw. This flaw in the GetAccessTokenForResourceAPI has since been fixed to only accept tokens issued from Azure AD or MSA respectively. The actor used these tokens to retrieve mail messages from the OWA API.”

Hacking AI Resume Screening with Text in a White Font

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/08/hacking-ai-resume-screening-with-text-in-a-white-font.html

The Washington Post is reporting on a hack to fool automatic resume sorting programs: putting text in a white font. The idea is that the programs rely primarily on simple pattern matching, and the trick is to copy a list of relevant keywords—or the published job description—into the resume in a white font. The computer will process the text, but humans won’t see it.

Clever. I’m not sure it’s actually useful in getting a job, though. Eventually the humans will figure out that the applicant doesn’t actually have the required skills. But…maybe.

Disabling Self-Driving Cars with a Traffic Cone

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/07/disabling-self-driving-cars-with-a-traffic-cone.html

You can disable a self-driving car by putting a traffic cone on its hood:

The group got the idea for the conings by chance. The person claims a few of them walking together one night saw a cone on the hood of an AV, which appeared disabled. They weren’t sure at the time which came first; perhaps someone had placed the cone on the AV’s hood to signify it was disabled rather than the other way around. But, it gave them an idea, and when they tested it, they found that a cone on a hood renders the vehicles little more than a multi-ton hunk of useless metal. The group suspects the cone partially blocks the LIDAR detectors on the roof of the car, in much the same way that a human driver wouldn’t be able to safely drive with a cone on the hood. But there is no human inside to get out and simply remove the cone, so the car is stuck.

Delightfully low-tech.

Buying Campaign Contributions as a Hack

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/07/buying-campaign-contributions-as-a-hack.html

The first Republican primary debate has a popularity threshold to determine who gets to appear: 40,000 individual contributors. Now there are a lot of conventional ways a candidate can get that many contributors. Doug Burgum came up with a novel idea: buy them:

A long-shot contender at the bottom of recent polls, Mr. Burgum is offering $20 gift cards to the first 50,000 people who donate at least $1 to his campaign. And one lucky donor, as his campaign advertised on Facebook, will have the chance to win a Yeti Tundra 45 cooler that typically costs more than $300—just for donating at least $1.

It’s actually a pretty good idea. He could have spent the money on direct mail, or personalized social media ads, or television ads. Instead, he buys gift cards at maybe two-thirds of face value (sellers calculate the advertising value, the additional revenue that comes from using them to buy something more expensive, and breakage when they’re not redeemed at all), and resells them. Plus, many contributors probably give him more than $1, and he got a lot of publicity over this.

Probably the cheapest way to get the contributors he needs. A clever hack.

EDITED TO ADD (7/16): These might be “straw donors” and illegal:

The campaign’s donations-for-cash strategy could raise potential legal concerns, said Paul Ryan, a campaign finance lawyer. Voters who make donations in exchange for gift cards, he said, might be considered straw donors because part or all of their donations are being reimbursed by the campaign.

“Federal law says ‘no person shall make a contribution in the name of another person,’” Mr. Ryan said. “Here, the candidate is making a contribution to himself in the name of all these individual donors.”

Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who specializes in election law, said that typically, campaigns ask the Federal Election Commission when engaging in new forms of donations.

The Burgum campaign’s maneuver, he said, “certainly seems novel” and “raises concerns about whether it violates the prohibition on straw donations.”

Something for the courts to figure out, if this matter ever gets that far.

Wisconsin Governor Hacks the Veto Process

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/07/wisconsin-governor-hacks-the-veto-process.html

In my latest book, A Hacker’s Mind, I wrote about hacks as loophole exploiting. This is a great example: The Wisconsin governor used his line-item veto powers—supposedly unique in their specificity—to change a one-year funding increase into a 400-year funding increase.

He took this wording:

Section 402. 121.905 (3) (c) 9. of the statues is created to read: 121.903 (3) (c) 9. For the limit for the 2023-24 school year and the 2024-25 school year, add $325 to the result under par. (b).

And he deleted these words, numbers, and punctuation marks:

Section 402. 121.905 (3) (c) 9. of the statues is created to read: 121.903 (3) (c) 9. For the limit for the 2023-24 school year and the 202425 school year, add $325 to the result under par. (b).

Seems to be legal:

Rick Champagne, director and general counsel of the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, said Evers’ 400-year veto is lawful in terms of its form because the governor vetoed words and digits.

“Both are allowable under the constitution and court decisions on partial veto. The hyphen seems to be new, but the courts have allowed partial veto of punctuation,” Champagne said.

Definitely a hack. This is not what anyone thinks about when they imagine using a line-item veto.

And it’s not the first time. I don’t know the details, but this was certainly the same sort of character-by-character editing:

Mr Evers’ Republican predecessor once deploying it to extend a state programme’s deadline by one thousand years.

A couple of other things:

One, this isn’t really a 400-year change. Yes, that’s what the law says. But it can be repealed. And who knows that a dollar will be worth—or if they will even be used—that many decades from now.

And two, from now all Wisconsin lawmakers will have to be on the alert for this sort of thing. All contentious bills will be examined for the possibility of this sort of delete-only rewriting. This sentence could have been reworded, for example:

For the 2023-2025 school years, add $325 to the result under par. (b).

The problem is, of course, that legalese developed over the centuries to be extra wordy in order to limit disputes. If lawmakers need to state things in the minimal viable language, that will increase court battles later. And that’s not even enough. Bills can be thousands of words long. If any arbitrary characters can be glued together by deleting enough other characters, bills can say anything the governor wants.

The real solution is to return the line-item veto to what we all think it is: the ability to remove individual whole provisions from a law before signing it.

Belgian Tax Hack

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/07/belgian-tax-hack.html

Here’s a fascinating tax hack from Belgium (listen to the details here, episode #484 of “No Such Thing as a Fish,” at 28:00).

Basically, it’s about a music festival on the border between Belgium and Holland. The stage was in Holland, but the crowd was in Belgium. When the copyright collector came around, they argued that they didn’t have to pay any tax because the audience was in a different country. Supposedly it worked.

Stalkerware Vendor Hacked

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/06/stalkerware-vendor-hacked.html

The stalkerware company LetMeSpy has been hacked:

TechCrunch reviewed the leaked data, which included years of victims’ call logs and text messages dating back to 2013.

The database we reviewed contained current records on at least 13,000 compromised devices, though some of the devices shared little to no data with LetMeSpy. (LetMeSpy claims to delete data after two months of account inactivity.)


The database also contained over 13,400 location data points for several thousand victims. Most of the location data points are centered over population hotspots, suggesting the majority of victims are located in the United States, India and Western Africa.

The data also contained the spyware’s master database, including information about 26,000 customers who used the spyware for free and the email addresses of customers who bought paying subscriptions.

The leaked data contains no identifying information, which means people whose data was leaked can’t be notified. (This is actually much more complicated than it might seem, because alerting the victims often means alerting the stalker—which can put the victims into unsafe situations.)

The Software-Defined Car

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/06/the-software-defined-car.html

Developers are starting to talk about the software-defined car.

For decades, features have accumulated like cruft in new vehicles: a box here to control the antilock brakes, a module there to run the cruise control radar, and so on. Now engineers and designers are rationalizing the way they go about building new models, taking advantage of much more powerful hardware to consolidate all those discrete functions into a small number of domain controllers.

The behavior of new cars is increasingly defined by software, too. This is merely the progression of a trend that began at the end of the 1970s with the introduction of the first electronic engine control units; today, code controls a car’s engine and transmission (or its electric motors and battery pack), the steering, brakes, suspension, interior and exterior lighting, and more, depending on how new (and how expensive) it is. And those systems are being leveraged for convenience or safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, remote parking, and so on.

And security?

Another advantage of the move away from legacy designs is that digital security can be baked in from the start rather than patched onto components (like a car’s central area network) that were never designed with the Internet in mind. “If you design it from scratch, it’s security by design, everything is in by design; you have it there. But keep in mind that, of course, the more software there is in the car, the more risk is there for vulnerabilities, no question about this,” Anhalt said.

“At the same time, they’re a great software system. They’re highly secure. They’re much more secure than a hardware system with a little bit of software. It depends how the whole thing has been designed. And there are so many regulations and EU standards that have been released in the last year, year and a half, that force OEMs to comply with these standards and get security inside,” she said.

I suppose it could end up that way. It could also be a much bigger attack surface, with a lot more hacking possibilities.

Chinese Hacking of US Critical Infrastructure

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/05/chinese-hacking-of-us-critical-infrastructure.html

Everyone is writing about an interagency and international report on Chinese hacking of US critical infrastructure.

Lots of interesting details about how the group, called Volt Typhoon, accesses target networks and evades detection.

On the Poisoning of LLMs

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2023/05/on-the-poisoning-of-llms.html

Interesting essay on the poisoning of LLMs—ChatGPT in particular:

Given that we’ve known about model poisoning for years, and given the strong incentives the black-hat SEO crowd has to manipulate results, it’s entirely possible that bad actors have been poisoning ChatGPT for months. We don’t know because OpenAI doesn’t talk about their processes, how they validate the prompts they use for training, how they vet their training data set, or how they fine-tune ChatGPT. Their secrecy means we don’t know if ChatGPT has been safely managed.

They’ll also have to update their training data set at some point. They can’t leave their models stuck in 2021 forever.

Once they do update it, we only have their word—pinky-swear promises—that they’ve done a good enough job of filtering out keyword manipulations and other training data attacks, something that the AI researcher El Mahdi El Mhamdi posited is mathematically impossible in a paper he worked on while he was at Google.