28
Aug 15

Six Nabbed for Using LizardSquad Attack Tool

Authorities in the United Kingdom this week arrested a half-dozen young males accused of using the Lizard Squad’s Lizard Stresser tool, an online service that allowed paying customers to launch attacks capable of taking Web sites offline for up to eight hours at a time.

The Lizard Stresser came to prominence not long after Christmas Day 2014, when a group of young n’er-do-wells calling itself the Lizard Squad used the tool to knock offline the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox gaming networks. As first reported by KrebsOnSecurity on Jan. 9, the Lizard Stresser drew on Internet bandwidth from hacked home Internet routers around the globe that are protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords. The LizardStresser service was hacked just days after that Jan. 9 story, and disappeared shortly after that.

The Lizard Stresser's add-on plans. In case it wasn't clear, this service is *not* sponsored by Brian Krebs.

The Lizard Stresser’s add-on plans. In case it wasn’t clear, this service was *not* sponsored by Brian Krebs as suggested in the screenshot.

“Those arrested are suspected of maliciously deploying Lizard Stresser, having bought the tool using alternative payment services such as Bitcoin in a bid to remain anonymous,” reads a statement from the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA). “Organisations believed to have been targeted by the suspects include a leading national newspaper, a school, gaming companies and a number of online retailers.” Continue reading →


27
Aug 15

FBI: $1.2B Lost to Business Email Scams

The FBI today warned about a significant spike in victims and dollar losses stemming from an increasingly common scam in which crooks spoof communications from executives at the victim firm in a bid to initiate unauthorized international wire transfers. According to the FBI, thieves stole nearly $750 million in such scams from more than 7,000 victim companies in the U.S. between October 2013 and August 2015.

athook

In January 2015, the FBI released stats showing that between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 1, 2014, some 1,198 companies lost a total of $179 million in so-called business e-mail compromise (BEC) scams, also known as “CEO fraud.” The latest figures show a marked 270 percent increase in identified victims and exposed losses. Taking into account international victims, the losses from BEC scams total more than $1.2 billion, the FBI said.

“The scam has been reported in all 50 states and in 79 countries,” the FBI’s alert notes. “Fraudulent transfers have been reported going to 72 countries; however, the majority of the transfers are going to Asian banks located within China and Hong Kong.”

CEO fraud usually begins with the thieves either phishing an executive and gaining access to that individual’s inbox, or emailing employees from a look-alike domain name that is one or two letters off from the target company’s true domain name. For example, if the target company’s domain was “example.com” the thieves might register “examp1e.com” (substituting the letter “L” for the numeral 1) or “example.co,” and send messages from that domain.

Unlike traditional phishing scams, spoofed emails used in CEO fraud schemes are unlikely to set off spam traps, because these are targeted phishing scams that are not mass e-mailed. Also, the crooks behind them take the time to understand the target organization’s relationships, activities, interests and travel and/or purchasing plans.

They do this by scraping employee email addresses and other information from the target’s Web site to help make the missives more convincing. In the case where executives or employees have their inboxes compromised by the thieves, the crooks will scour the victim’s email correspondence for certain words that might reveal whether the company routinely deals with wire transfers — searching for messages with key words like “invoice,” “deposit” and “president.”

On the surface, business email compromise scams may seem unsophisticated relative to moneymaking schemes that involve complex malicious software, such as Dyre and ZeuS. But in many ways, the BEC attack is more versatile and adept at sidestepping basic security strategies used by banks and their customers to minimize risks associated with account takeovers. In traditional phishing scams, the attackers interact with the victim’s bank directly, but in the BEC scam the crooks trick the victim into doing that for them. Continue reading →


26
Aug 15

Who Hacked Ashley Madison?

AshleyMadison.com, a site that helps married people cheat and whose slogan is “Life is Short, have an Affair,” recently put up a half million (Canadian) dollar bounty for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the Impact Team — the name chosen by the hacker(s) who recently leaked data on more than 30 million Ashley Madison users. Here is the first of likely several posts examining individuals who appear to be closely connected to this attack.

zu-launchpad-july-20It was just past midnight on July 20, a few hours after I’d published an exclusive story about hackers breaking into AshleyMadison.com. I was getting ready to turn in for the evening when I spotted a re-tweet from a Twitter user named Thadeus Zu (@deuszu) who’d just posted a link to the same cache of data that had been confidentially shared with me by the Impact Team via the contact form on my site just hours earlier: It was a link to the proprietary source code for Ashley Madison’s service.

Initially, that tweet startled me because I couldn’t find any other sites online that were actually linking to that source code cache. I began looking through his past tweets and noticed some interesting messages, but soon enough other news events took precedence and I forgot about the tweet.

I revisited Zu’s tweet stream again this week after watching a press conference held by the Toronto Police (where Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison, is based). The Toronto cops mostly recapped the timeline of known events in the hack, but they did add one new wrinkle: They said Avid Life employees first learned about the breach on July 12 (seven days before my initial story) when they came into work, turned on their computers and saw a threatening message from the Impact Team accompanied by the anthem “Thunderstruck” by Australian rock band AC/DC playing in the background.

After writing up a piece on the bounty offer, I went back and downloaded all five years’ worth of tweets from Thadeus Zu, a massively prolific Twitter user who typically tweets hundreds if not thousands of messages per month. Zu’s early years on Twitter are a catalog of simple hacks — commandeering unsecured routers, wireless cameras and printers — as well as many, many Web site defacements.

On the defacement front, Zu focused heavily on government Web sites in Asia, Europe and the United States, and in several cases even taunted his targets. On Aug. 4, 2012, he tweeted to KPN-CERT, a computer security incident response team in the Netherlands, to alert the group that he’d hacked their site. “Next time, it will be Thunderstruck. #ACDC” Zu wrote.

The day before, he’d compromised the Web site for the Australian Parliament, taunting lawmakers there with the tweet: “Parliament of Australia bit.ly/NPQdsP Oi! Oi! Oi!….T.N.T. Dynamite! Listen to ACDC here.”

I began to get very curious about whether there were any signs on or before July 19, 2015 that Zu was tweeting about ACDC in relation to the Ashley Madison hack. Sure enough: At 9:40 a.m., July 19, 2015 — nearly 12 hours before I would first be contacted by the Impact Team — we can see Zu is feverishly tweeting to several people about setting up “replication servers” to “get the show started.” Can you spot what’s interesting in the tabs on his browser in the screenshot he tweeted that morning?

Twitter user ThadeusZu tweets about setting up replication servers. Note which Youtube video is playing on his screen.

Twitter user ThadeusZu tweets about setting up replication servers. Did you spot the Youtube video he’s playing when he took this screenshot?

Ten points if you noticed the Youtube.com tab showing that he’s listening to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

A week ago, the news media pounced on the Ashley Madison story once again, roughly 24 hours after the hackers made good on their threat to release the Ashley Madison user database. I went back and examined Zu’s tweet stream around that time and found he beat Wired.com, ArsTechnica.com and every other news media outlet by more than 24 hours with the Aug. 17 tweet, “Times up,” which linked to the Impact Team’s now infamous post listing the sites where anyone could download the stolen Ashley Madison user database.

ThadeusZu tweeted about the downloadable AshleyMadison data more than 24 hours before news outlets picked up on the cache.

ThadeusZu tweeted about the downloadable Ashley Madison data more than 24 hours before news outlets picked up on the cache.

Continue reading →


24
Aug 15

Leaked AshleyMadison Emails Suggest Execs Hacked Competitors

Hacked online cheating service AshleyMadison.com is portraying itself as a victim of malicious cybercriminals, but leaked emails from the company’s CEO suggests that AshleyMadison’s top leadership hacked into a competing dating service in 2012.

AshleyMadison CEO Noel Biderman. Source: Twitter.

AshleyMadison CEO Noel Biderman. Source: Twitter.

Late last week, the Impact Team — the hacking group that has claimed responsibility for leaking personal data on more than 30 million AshleyMadison users — released a 30-gigabyte archive that it said were emails lifted from AshleyMadison CEO Noel Biderman.

A review of those missives shows that on at least one occasion, a former company executive hacked another dating website, exfiltrating their entire user database. On Nov. 30, 2012, Raja Bhatia, the founding chief technology officer of AshleyMadison.com, sent a message to Biderman notifying his boss of a security hole discovered in nerve.com, an American online magazine dedicated to sexual topics, relationships and culture.

At the time, nerve.com was experimenting with its own adult dating section, and Bhatia said he’d uncovered a way to download and manipulate the nerve.com user database.

“They did a very lousy job building their platform. I got their entire user base,” Bhatia told Biderman via email, including in the message a link to a Github archive with a sample of the database. “Also, I can turn any non paying user into a paying user, vice versa, compose messages between users, check unread stats, etc.”

Neither Bhatia nor Biderman could be immediately reached for comment. KrebsOnSecurity.com spoke with Bhatia last week after the Impact Team made good on its threat to release the Ashley Madison user database. At the time, Bhatia was downplaying the leak, saying that his team of investigators had found no signs that the dump of data was legitimate, and that it looked like a number of fake data dumps the company had seen in the weeks prior. Hours later, the leak had been roundly confirmed as legitimate by countless users on Twitter who were able to find their personal data in the cache of account information posted online.

The leaked Biderman emails show that a few months before Bhatia infiltrated Nerve.com, AshleyMadison’s parent firm — Avid Life Media — was approached with an offer to partner with and/or invest in the property. Email messages show that Bhatia initially was interested enough to offer at least $20 million for the company along with a second property called flirts.com, but that AshleyMadison ultimately declined to pursue a deal.

More than six months after Bhatia came to Biderman with revelations of the nerve.com security vulnerabilities, Biderman was set to meet with several representatives of the company. “Should I tell them of their security hole?” Biderman wrote to Bhatia, who doesn’t appear to have responded to that question via email. Continue reading →


24
Aug 15

AshleyMadison: $500K Bounty for Hackers

AshleyMadison.com, an online cheating service whose motto is “Life is Short, Have an Affair,” is offering a $500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the individual or group of people responsible for leaking highly personal information on the company’s more than 30 million users.

A snippet of the message left behind by the Impact Team.

A snippet of the message left behind by the Impact Team.

The bounty offer came at a press conference today by the police in Toronto — where AshleyMadison is based. At the televised and Webcast news conference, Toronto Police Staff Superintendant Bryce Evans recounted the key events in “Project Unicorn,” the code name law enforcement officials have assigned to the investigation into the attack. In relaying news of the reward offer, Evans appealed to the public and “white hat” hackers for help in bringing the attackers to justice.

“The ripple effect of the impact team’s actions has and will continue to have a long term social and economic impacts, and they have already sparked spin-offs of crimes and further victimization,” Evans said. “As of this morning, we have two unconfirmed reports of suicides that are associated [with] the leak of AshleyMadison customer profiles.”

Evans did not elaborate on the suicides, saying only that his office is investigating those reports. The San Antonio Express-News reported Friday that a city worker whose information was found in the leaked AshleyMadison database took his life last Thursday, although the publication acknowledges that it’s unclear whether the worker’s death had anything to do with the leak.

Evans warned the public and concerned AshleyMadison users to be on guard against a raft of extortion scams that are already popping up and targeting the site’s customers. On Friday, KrebsOnSecurity featured an exclusive story about one such extortion scheme that threatened to alert the victim’s spouse unless the recipient paid the attacker a Bitcoin (worth slightly more than USD $250). The Toronto Police posted this image of a similar extortion attempt that they have seen making the rounds.

“Criminals have already engaged in online scams by claiming to provide access to the leaked web site,” he said. “The public needs to be aware that by clicking on these links, you are exposing your computer to adware and spyware and viruses. Also there are those offering to erase customer profiles from the list. Nobody is going to be able to erase that information.” Continue reading →


21
Aug 15

Extortionists Target Ashley Madison Users

People who cheat on their partners are always open to extortion by the parties involved. But when the personal details of millions of cheaters get posted online for anyone to download — as is the case with the recent hack of infidelity hookup site AshleyMadison.com — random blackmailers are bound to pounce on the opportunity.

An extortion email sent to an AshleyMadison user.

An extortion email sent to an AshleyMadison user.

According to security firms and to a review of several emails shared with this author, extortionists already see easy pickings in the leaked AshleyMadison user database.

Earlier today I heard from Rick Romero, the information technology manager at VF IT Services, an email provider based in Milwaukee. Romero said he’s been building spam filters to block outgoing extortion attempts against others from rogue users of his email service. Here’s one that he blocked this morning (I added a link to the bitcoin address in the message, which shows nobody has paid into this particular wallet yet):

Hello,

Unfortunately, your data was leaked in the recent hacking of Ashley Madison and I now have your information.

If you would like to prevent me from finding and sharing this information with your significant other send exactly 1.0000001 Bitcoins (approx. value $225 USD) to the following address:

1B8eH7HR87vbVbMzX4gk9nYyus3KnXs4Ez [link added]

Sending the wrong amount means I won’t know it’s you who paid.

You have 7 days from receipt of this email to send the BTC [bitcoins]. If you need help locating a place to purchase BTC, you can start here…..

The individual who received that extortion attempt — an AshleyMadison user who agreed to speak about the attack on condition that only his first name be used — said he’s “loosely concerned” about future extortion attacks, but not especially this one in particular.

“If I put myself in [the extortionist’s] shoes, the likelihood of them disclosing stuff doesn’t increase their chance of getting money,” said Mac. “I just not going to respond.” Continue reading →


20
Aug 15

Street Gangs, Tax Fraud and ‘Drop Hoes’

Authorities across the United States this week arrested dozens of gang members who stand accused of making millions of dollars stealing consumer identities in order to file fraudulent tax refund requests with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The arrests highlight the dramatic shift in gang activity in recent years from high-risk drug dealing to identity fraud — a far less risky yet equally lucrative crime.

cashgrafAccording to a story last week at CBS in Los Angeles, some 32 members of the so-called Insane Crip gang and their associates were charged with 283 counts of criminal conspiracy, 299 counts of identity theft, 226 counts of grand theft and 58 counts of attempted theft. Together, they are accused of operating a $14.3 million identity theft and tax fraud scheme.

In Elizabeth, N.J., 14 members of a street gang were arrested in a 49-count indictment charging the defendants with a range of “white-collar crimes,” including filing false tax returns and manufacturing fake gift cards to collect thousands of dollars. According to NJ.com, the money from the scams was used to support members of the 111 Neighborhood Crips and to aid other gang members who were in jail or prison.

“All 14 defendants face charges under New Jersey’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute,” NJ’s Tom Haydon writes. “Defendants allegedly bought stolen identities of real people for use in the preparation of fraudulent W-2 forms. Those forms were used for fraudulent income tax returns filed early in the tax season.”

Tax return fraud costs consumers and the U.S. Treasury more than $6 billion annually, according the U.S. Government Accountability Office. And that number is by all accounts conservative. It should not be a surprise that street gangs are fast becoming the foot soldiers of cybercrime, which very often requires small armies of highly mobile individuals who can fan out across cities to cash out stolen credit cards and cash in on hijacked identities.

Tax fraud has become such an ingrained part of the modern gang culture that there is a growing set list of anthems to the crime — a type of rap music that evokes the Narcocorrido ballads of the Mexican drug cartels in that it glorifies making money from identity theft, credit card fraud and tax return fraud.

DROP HOES

A key component of cashing out tax return fraud involves recruiting unwitting or willing accomplices to receive the fraudulent refunds. Earlier this year, I wrote about Isha Sesay, a Pennsylvania woman who was arrested for receiving phony IRS refunds on behalf of at least two tax fraud victims — including Mike Kasper, the guy who helped expose the IRS’s pervasive authentication weaknesses and later testified to Congress about his ordeal.

Turns out, the sorts of gang members arrested in the above-mentioned crime sweeps have a different nickname for people like Ms. Sesay: Instead of money mules, they’re derisively known as “drop hoes.” In cybercriminal parlance, a “drop” is a person who can be recruited to help forward stolen funds or merchandise on to the criminals, providing a pivotal buffer against the cops for the thieves.

In this Youtube video (not safe for work), a self-styled rapper calling himself “J-Creek” opines about not being able to find enough drop hoes to help him cash out $40,000 in phony tax refund deposits to prepaid debit cards. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to pop music (let alone rap) but I think this work speaks for itself (if rather lewdly).

The artists allegedly responsible for the tax fraud paean, "Drop Hoes."

The artists allegedly responsible for the tax fraud paean, “Drop Hoes.”

Here are a few choice quotes from the song (I cut out much of it, and someone please correct me if I somehow butchered the lyrics here). I think my all-time favorite line is the one about the role of Intuit’s TurboTax: “She got them stacks then went tax on the turbo.” Continue reading →


18
Aug 15

Was the Ashley Madison Database Leaked?

Many news sites and blogs are reporting that the data stolen last month from 37 million users of AshleyMadison.com — a site that facilitates cheating and extramarital affairs — has finally been posted online for the world to see. In the past 48 hours, several huge dumps of data claiming to be the actual AshleyMadison database have turned up online. But there are precious few details in them that would allow one to verify these claims, and the company itself says it so far sees no indication that the files are legitimate.

Update, 11:52 p.m. ET: I’ve now spoken with three vouched sources who all have reported finding their information and last four digits of their credit card numbers in the leaked database. Also, it occurs to me that it’s been almost exactly 30 days since the original hack. Finally, all of the accounts created at Bugmenot.com for Ashleymadison.com prior to the original breach appear to be in the leaked data set as well. I’m sure there are millions of AshleyMadison users who wish it weren’t so, but there is every indication this dump is the real deal.

Original story:

A huge trove of data nearly 10 gigabytes in size was dumped onto the Deep Web and onto various Torrent file-sharing services over the past 48 hours.  According to a story at Wired.com, included in the files are names, addresses and phone numbers apparently attached to AshleyMadison member profiles, along with credit card data and transaction information. Links to the files were preceded by a text file message titled “Time’s Up” (see screenshot below).

The message left by the hackers claiming to leak the AshleyMadison.com database.

The message left by the latest group claiming to have leaked the hacked AshleyMadison.com database.

 

From taking in much of the media coverage of this leak so far — for example, from the aforementioned Wired piece or from the story at security blogger Graham Cluley’s site — readers would most likely conclude that this latest collection of leaked data is legitimate. But after an interview this evening with Raja Bhatia — AshleyMadison’s original founding chief technology officer — I came away with a different perspective.

Bhatia said he is working with an international team of roughly a dozen investigators who are toiling seven days a week, 24-hours a day just to keep up with all of the fake data dumps claiming to be the stolen AshleyMadison database that was referenced by the original hackers on July 19. Bhatia said his team sees no signs that this latest dump is legitimate.

“On a daily basis, we’re seeing 30 to 80 different claimed dumps come online, and most of these dumps are entirely fake and being used by other organizations to capture the attention that’s been built up through this release,” Bhatia said. “In total we’ve looked at over 100GB of data that’s been put out there. For example, I just now got a text message from our analysis team in Israel saying that the last dump they saw was 15 gigabytes. We’re still going through that, but for the most part it looks illegitimate and many of the files aren’t even readable.”

The former AshleyMadison CTO, who’s been consulting for the company ever since news of the hack broke last month, said many of the fake data dumps the company has examined to date include some or all of the files from the original July 19 release. But the rest of the information, he said, is always a mix of data taken from other hacked sources — not AshleyMadison.com.

“The overwhelming amount of data released in the last three weeks is fake data,” he said. “But we’re taking every release seriously and looking at each piece of data and trying to analyze the source and the veracity of the data.”

Bhatia said the format of the fake leaks has been changing constantly over the last few weeks.

“Originally, it was being posted through Imgur.com and Pastebin.com, and now we’re seeing files going out over torrents, the Dark Web, and TOR-based URLs,” he said.

To help locate new troves of data claiming to be the files stolen from AshleyMadison, the company’s forensics team has been using a tool that Netflix released last year called Scumblr, which scours high-profile sites for specific terms and data.

“For the most part, we can quickly verify that it’s not our data or it’s fake data, but we are taking each release seriously,” Bhatia said. “Scumbler helps accelerate the time it takes for us to detect new pieces of data that are being released.  For the most part, we’re finding the majority of it is fake. There are some things that have data from the original release, but other than that, what we’re seeing is other generic files that have been introduced, fake SQL files.” Continue reading →


18
Aug 15

Microsoft Pushes Emergency Patch for IE

Microsoft today released an emergency software update to plug a critical security flaw in all supported versions of its Internet Explorer browser, from IE7 to IE 11 (this flaw does not appear to be present in Microsoft Edge, the new browser from Redmond and intended to replace IE).

IEwarning

According to the advisory that accompanies the patch, this a browse-and-get-owned vulnerability, meaning IE users can infect their systems merely by browsing to a hacked or malicious Web site. Windows users should install the patch whether or not they use IE as their main browser, as IE components can be invoked from a variety of applications, such as Microsoft Office. The emergency patch is available via Windows Update or from Microsoft’s Web site.

Microsoft’s advisory does not say whether this flaw is actively being exploited by attackers, but security experts at vulnerability management firm Qualys say it’s already happening.

“The vulnerability (CVE-2015-2502) is actively being exploited in the wild,” wrote Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer at Qualys, in a blog post about the update. “The attack code is hosted on a malicious webpage that you or your users would have to visit in order to get infected.” Continue reading →


18
Aug 15

How Not to Start an Encryption Company

Probably the quickest way for a security company to prompt an overwhelmingly hostile response from the security research community is to claim that its products and services are “unbreakable” by hackers. The second-fastest way to achieve that outcome is to have that statement come from an encryption company CEO who served several years in federal prison for his role in running a $210 million Ponzi scheme. Here’s the story of a company that managed to accomplish both at the same time and is now trying to learn from (and survive) the experience.

unbreakabletothecoreThanks to some aggressive marketing, Irvine, Calif. based security firm Secure Channels Inc. (SCI) and its CEO Richard Blech have been in the news quite a bit lately — mainly Blech being quoted in major publications such as NBC NewsPolitico and USA Today  — talking about how his firm’s “unbreakable” encryption technology might have prevented some of the larger consumer data breaches that have come to light in recent months.

Blech’s company, founded in 2014 and with his money, has been challenging the security community to test its unbreakable claim in a cleverly unwinnable series of contests: At the Black Hat Security conference in Las Vegas last year, the company offered a new BMW to anyone who could unlock a digital file that was encrypted with its “patented” technology.

At the RSA Security Conference this year in San Francisco, SCI offered a $50,000 bounty to anyone who could prove the feat. When no one showed up to claim the prizes, SCI issued press releases crowing about a victory for its products.

Turns out, Blech knows a thing or two about complex, unwinnable games: He pleaded guilty in 2003 of civil and criminal fraud charges and sentenced to six years in U.S. federal prison for running an international Ponzi scheme.

Once upon a time, Blech was the CEO of Credit Bancorp. Ltd., an investment firm that induced its customers to deposit securities, cash, and other assets in trust by promising the impossible: a “custodial dividend” based on the profits of “risk-less” arbitrage. Little did the company’s investors know at the time, but CBL was running a classic Ponzi scheme: Taking cash and other assets from new investors to make payments to earlier ones, creating the impression of sizable returns, prosecutors said. Blech was sentenced to 72 months in prison and was released in 2007.

THE UNBREAKABLE COMPETITION

humblethehacker

In April 2015, Lance James, a security researcher who has responded to challenges like the BMW and $50,000 prizes touted by SCI, began receiving taunting Tweets from Blech and Ross Harris, a particularly aggressive member of SCI’s sales team. That twitter thread (PDF) had started with WhiteHat Security CTO Jeremiah Grossman posting a picture of a $10,000 check that James was awarded from Telesign, a company that had put up the money after claiming that its StrongWebmail product was unhackable. Turns out, it wasn’t so strong; James and two other researchers found a flaw in the service and hacked the CEO’s email account. StrongWebmail never recovered from that marketing stunt.

James replied to Grossman that, coincidentally, he’d just received an email from SCI offering a BMW to anyone who could break the company’s crypto.

“When the crypto defeats you, we’ll give you a t-shirt, ‘Can’t touch this,’ you’ll wear it for a Tweet,” Blech teased James via Twitter on April 7, 2015. “Challenge accepted,” said James, owner of the security consultancy Unit 221b.  “Proprietary patented crypto is embarrassing in 2015. You should know better.”

As it happens, encrypting a file with your closed, proprietary encryption technology and then daring the experts to break it is not exactly the way you prove its strength or gain the confidence of the security community in general. Experts in encryption tend to subscribe to an idea known as Kerckhoff’s principle when deciding the relative strength and merits of any single cryptosystem: Put simply, a core tenet of Kerckhoff’s principle holds that “one ought to design systems under the assumption that the enemy will gain full familiarity with them.”

Translation: If you want people to take you seriously, put your encryption technology on full view of the security community (minus your private encryption keys), and let them see if they can break the system.

James said he let it go when SCI refused to talk seriously about sharing its cryptography solution, only to hear again this past weekend from SCI’s director of marketing Deirdre “Dee” Murphy on Twitter that his dismissal of their challenge proved he was “obsolete.” Murphy later deleted the tweets, but some of them are saved here.

Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the nonprofit digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said companies that make claims of unbreakable technologies very often are effectively selling snake oil unless they put their products up for peer review.

“They don’t disclose their settings or what modes their ciphers are running in,” Cardozo said. “They have a patent which is laughably vague about what it’s actually doing, and yet their chief marketing officer insults security researchers on Twitter saying, ‘If our stuff is so insecure, just break it.'”

Cardozo was quick to add that although there is no indication whatsoever that Secure Channels Inc. is engaging in any kind of fraud, they are engaged in “wildly irresponsible marketing.”

“And that’s not good for anyone,” he said. “In the cryptography community, the way you prove your system is secure is you put it up to peer review, you get third party audits, you publish specifications, etc. Apple’s not open-source and they do all of that. You can download the security white paper and see everything that iMessage is doing. The same is true for WhatsApp and PGP. When we see companies like Secure Channel treating crypto like a black box, that raises red flags. Any company making such claims deserves scrutiny, but because we can’t scrutinize the actual cryptography they’re using, we have to scrutinize the company itself.”

THE INTERVIEW

I couldn’t believe that any security company — let alone a firm that was trying to break into the encryption industry (a business that requires precision perhaps beyond any other, no less) — could make so many basic errors and miscalculations, so I started digging deeper into SCI and its origins. At the same time I requested and was granted an interview with Blech and his team. Continue reading →