Posts Tagged: Black Hat


18
Aug 14

Lorem Ipsum: Of Good & Evil, Google & China

Imagine discovering a secret language spoken only online by a knowledgeable and learned few. Over a period of weeks, as you begin to tease out the meaning of this curious tongue and ponder its purpose, the language appears to shift in subtle but fantastic ways, remaking itself daily before your eyes. And just when you are poised to share your findings with the rest of the world, the entire thing vanishes.

loremipsumThis fairly describes my roller coaster experience of curiosity, wonder and disappointment over the past few weeks, as I’ve worked alongside security researchers in an effort to understand how “lorem ipsum” — common placeholder text on countless Web sites — could be transformed into so many apparently geopolitical and startlingly modern phrases when translated from Latin to English using Google Translate. (If you have no idea what “lorem ipsum” is, skip ahead to a brief primer here).

Admittedly, this blog post would make more sense if readers could fully replicate the results described below using Google Translate. However, as I’ll explain later, something important changed in Google’s translation system late last week that currently makes the examples I’ll describe impossible to reproduce.

CHINA, NATO, SEXY, SEXY

It all started a few months back when I received a note from Lance James, head of cyber intelligence at Deloitte. James pinged me to share something discovered by FireEye researcher Michael Shoukry and another researcher who wished to be identified only as “Kraeh3n.” They noticed a bizarre pattern in Google Translate: When one typed “lorem ipsum” into Google Translate, the default results (with the system auto-detecting Latin as the language) returned a single word: “China.”

Capitalizing the first letter of each word changed the output to “NATO” — the acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Reversing the words in both lower- and uppercase produced “The Internet” and “The Company” (the “Company” with a capital “C” has long been a code word for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency). Repeating and rearranging the word pair with a mix of capitalization generated even stranger results. For example, “lorem ipsum ipsum ipsum Lorem” generated the phrase “China is very very sexy.”

Until very recently, the words on the left were transformed to the words on the right using Google Translate.

Until very recently, the words on the left were transformed to the words on the right using Google Translate.

Kraeh3n said she discovered the strange behavior while proofreading a document for a colleague, a document that had the standard lorem ipsum placeholder text. When she began typing “l-o-r..e..” and saw “China” as the result, she knew something was strange.

“I saw words like Internet, China, government, police, and freedom and was curious as to how this was happening,” Kraeh3n said. “I immediately contacted Michael Shoukry and we began looking into it further.”

And so the duo started testing the limits of these two words using a mix of capitalization and repetition. Below is just one of many pages of screenshots taken from their results:

ipsumlorem

The researchers wondered: What was going on here? Has someone outside of Google figured out how to map certain words to different meanings in Google Translate? Was it a secret or covert communications channel? Perhaps a form of communication meant to bypass the censorship erected by the Chinese government with the Great Firewall of China? Or was this all just some coincidental glitch in the Matrix?

For his part, Shoukry checked in with contacts in the U.S. intelligence industry, quietly inquiring if divulging his findings might in any way jeopardize important secrets. Weeks went by and his sources heard no objection. One thing was for sure, the results were subtly changing from day to day, and it wasn’t clear how long these two common but obscure words would continue to produce the same results.

“While Google translate may be incorrect in the translations of these words, it’s puzzling why these words would be translated to things such as ‘China,’ ‘NATO,’ and ‘The Free Internet,'” Shoukry said. “Could this be a glitch? Is this intentional? Is this a way for people to communicate? What is it?”

When I met Shoukry at the Black Hat security convention in Las Vegas earlier this month, he’d already alerted Google to his findings. Clearly, it was time for some intense testing, and the clock was already ticking: I was convinced (and unfortunately, correct) that much of it would disappear at any moment. Continue reading →


18
Jan 14

The Adventures of a Cybercrime Gumshoe

I was fortunate to spend several hours this past week with two reporters whose work I admire. Both wanted to learn more about my job as an independent investigative reporter. Their stories about my story are below.

bbwMark Stencel, a former colleague at Washingtonpost.com who similarly worked his way up from an entry-level job at the publication, wanted to hear about the challenges and rewards of going solo. Stencel’s piece, Reporter Brian Krebs Hacks it on His Own, One Scoop at a time, was written for poynter.org, an online publication for and about journalists.

Stencel writes:

“All of this reporting pays off with loyal readers, even at companies who fear finding themselves covered on his site. “As someone who does payment card security for a brick and mortar retailer, ‘Brian Krebs’ is a name I never ever want to see flash across my Caller ID,” one admirer wrote in a recent reader comment.”

Separately, I spent half a day with with Business Week reporter Karen Weise, whose profile, The Cybersecurity Blogger Hackers Love to Hate, appears in this coming week’s print edition. Weise observes:

“Krebs’s talent for exposing the weaknesses in online security has earned him respect in the IT business and loathing among cybercriminals. His track record of scoops, including the Dec. 18 revelation that hackers stole tens of millions of customers’ financial data from Target (TGT), has helped him become the rare blogger who supports himself on the strength of his reputation for hard-nosed reporting.”

My favorite part of both these stories are the observations from readers. For instance, Weise quoted Lance James, head of intelligence at Deloitte, with whom I co-presented last year at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas.

“No intelligence agency could get as much as Brian Krebs does,” BW quotes James as saying. “Everybody wants to share with him.”

Fortunately, that’s very true: Key information that informs some of my best scoops is just as likely to come from people actively engaged in cybercrime as it is industry experts working to fight fraud. So, once again, a sincere thank you to all of my readers — lovers and haters alike.


24
Jul 13

Toward A Greater Mobile Mal-Awareness

Several recent developments in mobile malware are conspiring to raise the threat level for Android users, making it easier for attackers to convert legitimate applications into malicious apps and to undermine the technology that security experts use to tell the difference.

Source: Symantec

Source: Symantec

Last week, Symantec warned about a new malware toolkit or “binder” designed to Trojanize legitimate Android apps with a backdoor that lets miscreants access infected mobile devices remotely. Binders have been around in a variety of flavors for many years, but they typically are used to backdoor Microsoft Windows applications.

Symantec notes that the point-and-click Androrat APK Binder is being used in conjunction with an open-source remote access Trojan for Android devices called called AndroRAT. “Like other RATs, it allows a remote attacker to control the infected device using a user friendly control panel,” Symantec’s Andrea Lelli wrote. “For example, when running on a device, AndroRAT can monitor and make phone calls and SMS messages, get the device’s GPS coordinates, activate and use the camera and microphone and access files stored on the device.”

The company said while it has detected only a few hundred AndroRAT infections worldwide, but that it expects that number increase as more tools for AndroRAT like the APK binder emerge.

Perhaps more worryingly, Symantec said this week that it had discovered two malicious Android apps in the wild that take advantage of a newly discovered and potentially quite serious security hole in Android applications. As first outlined roughly two weeks ago by researchers at BlueBox Security, the so-called “Master Key” vulnerability could let attackers convert almost any Android application into a Trojan, all without altering its cryptographic digital signature. Android uses these signatures to determine if an app is legitimate and to verify that an app hasn’t been tampered with or modified.

Continue reading →


23
Jul 13

One-Stop Bot Chop-Shops

New fraudster-friendly content management systems are making it more likely than ever that crooks who manage botnets and other large groupings of hacked PCs will extract and sell all credentials of value that can be harvested from the compromised machines.

Templates like this are helping to spread one-stop-fraud shops.

Templates like this are helping to spread one-stop-fraud shops.

I’ve often observed that botmasters routinely fail to fully eat what they kill. That is, they tend to chronically undervalue the computers at their disposal, and instead focus on extracting specific resources from hacked PCs, such as using them as spam relays or harvesting online banking credentials. Meanwhile, other assets on the hacked PC that have street value go unused and “wasted” from the fraudster’s perspective.

More often, when miscreants do seek to extract and monetize all of the account credentials from their hacked PCs, they do so by selling access to their raw botnet “logs” — huge text files that document the notable daily activities of the botted systems. To borrow from another food metaphor, this is the digital equivalent of small farms selling their fruits and vegetables as “pick-your-own;” such commerce produces some added revenue without requiring much more work on the seller’s part.

Recently, I’ve been spotting more online fraud shops set up using what appear to be pre-set templates that can be used to sell all manner of credentials from hacked PCs. These shops all sell credit and debit card information, of course, but also lists of emails culled from victim computers, hacked VPN and RDP credentials, Cpanel installations, PHP mailers, FTP access, SSH logins, and online gambling accounts. Some of the panels are even reselling hacked credentials at popular porn sites. Goods can be purchased via virtual currencies such as Perfect Money and bitcoin.

The shop shown below — blackhatstore[dot]ru — borrows the trademarked image of the Black Hat security conference franchise. It’s sometimes said that there’s no such thing as bad press, but I’m pretty sure the folks at Black Hat don’t want their brand advertised or associated in this way (by the way, I’ll be speaking at this year’s Black Hat in Las Vegas next week). I alerted the Black Hat organizers to this fraudulent site, so I wouldn’t expect it to remain live much longer.

This bot chop shop trades on the good name and trademarks of the Black Hat security conference franchise owned by UBM Tech.

This bot chop shop trades on the good name and trademarks of the Black Hat security conference franchise owned by UBM Tech.

Continue reading →


10
Jul 13

DEF CON To Feds: We Need Some Time Apart

One of the more time-honored traditions at DEF CON — the massive hacker convention held each year in Las Vegas — is “Spot-the-Fed,” a playful and mostly harmless contest to out undercover government agents who attend the show.

defconBut that game might be a bit tougher when the conference rolls around again next month: In an apparent reaction to recent revelations about far-reaching U.S. government surveillance programs, DEF CON organizers are asking feds to just stay away.

In a brief blog post published this evening at the DEF CON Web site titled, “Feds, We Need Some Time Apart,” DEF CON owner and hacker-in-chief Jeff Moss (a.k.a. “The Dark Tangent”) suggested it was probably in the best interests of the feds to make themselves scarce at this year’s con.

“For over two decades DEF CON has been an open nexus of hacker culture, a place where seasoned pros, hackers, academics, and feds can meet, share ideas and party on neutral territory. Our community operates in the spirit of openness, verified trust, and mutual respect.

When it comes to sharing and socializing with feds, recent revelations have made many in the community uncomfortable about this relationship. Therefore, I think it would be best for everyone involved if the feds call a ‘time-out’ and not attend DEF CON this year.

This will give everybody time to think about how we got here, and what comes next.”

It’s been a while since DEF CON was a place where feds really had to watch their backs. I didn’t have the privilege to attend the first DEF CON 21 years ago, but it’s safe to say that relations between the hacker community and the feds were for many years colored by a sense of mutual antagonism and mistrust.

Much of that attitude seemed to have changed in the wake of 9/11, and for the past decade the relationship between the two camps has thawed and even warmed quite a bit. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have come to find the conference a reliably fertile and lucrative grounds for recruiting talent. Heck, things had improved so much by this time last year that the conference’s keynote was given by none other than Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency.

Now with the NSA in the hot seat over allegations of broad and intrusive electronic eavesdropping programs directed at U.S. citizens and our allies abroad, it remains to be seen whether officials from the NSA, CIA or other three-letter agencies will make any strong or sustained showing at this year’s gathering. But in any case, this announcement from DEF CON should serve as a fair warning to feds who do decide to stick around past Black Hat, a more corporate and fed-heavy conference that directly precedes DefCon: Spot-the-Fed could well turn into a hack-the-fed competition.


13
Dec 11

Bugs Money

Talk about geek chic. Facebook has started paying researchers who find and report security bugs by issuing them custom branded “White Hat” debit cards that can be reloaded with funds each time the researchers discover new flaws.

Facebook's Bug Bounty debit card for security researchers who report security flaws in its site and applications.

I first read about this card on the Polish IT security portal Niebezpiecznik.pl, which recently published an image of a bug bounty card given to Szymon Gruszecki, a Polish security researcher and penetration tester. A sucker for most things credit/debit card related, I wanted to hear more from researchers who’d received the cards.

Like many participants in Facebook’s program, Gruszecki also is hunting bugs for other companies that offer researchers money in exchange for privately reporting vulnerabilities, including Google, Mozilla, CCBill and Piwik. That’s not to say he only finds bugs for money.

“I regularly report Web app vulnerabilities to various companies [that don’t offer bounties], including Microsoft, Apple, etc.,” Gruszecki wrote in an email exchange.

The bug bounty programs are a clever way for Internet-based companies to simultaneously generate goodwill within the security community and to convince researchers to report bugs privately. Researchers are rewarded if their bugs can be confirmed, and if they give the affected companies time to fix the flaws before going public with the information.

As an added bonus, some researchers — like Gruszecki — choose not to disclose the bugs at all.

Continue reading →


19
Aug 10

Adobe Issues Acrobat, Reader Security Patches

Adobe Systems Inc. today issued software updates to fix at least two security vulnerabilities in its widely-used Acrobat and PDF Reader products. Updates are available for Windows, Mac and UNIX versions of these programs.

Acrobat and Reader users can update to the latest version, v. 9.3.4, using the built-in updater, by clicking “Help” and then “Check for Updates.”

Today’s update is an out-of-cycle release for Adobe, which recently moved to a quarterly patch release schedule. The company said the update addresses a vulnerability that was demonstrated at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas last month. The release notes also reference a flaw detailed by researcher Didier Stevens back in March. Adobe said it is not aware of any active attacks that are exploiting either of these bugs.

More information on these patches, such as updating older versions of Acrobat and Reader, is available in the Adobe security advisory.