September, 2016


7
Sep 16

The Limits of SMS for 2-Factor Authentication

A recent ping from a reader reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog about the security limitations of using cell phone text messages for two-factor authentication online. The reader’s daughter had received a text message claiming to be from Google, warning that her Gmail account had been locked because someone in India had tried to access her account. The young woman was advised to expect a 6-digit verification code to be sent to her and to reply to the scammer’s message with that code.

2faMark Cobb, a computer technician in Reno, Nev., said had his daughter fallen for the ruse, her Gmail account would indeed have been completely compromised, and she really would have been locked out of her account because the crooks would have changed her password straight away.

Cobb’s daughter received the scam text message because she’d enabled 2-factor authentication on her Gmail account, selecting the option to have Google request that she enter a 6-digit code texted to her cell phone each time it detects a login from an unknown computer or location (in practice, the code is to be entered on the Gmail site, not sent in any kind of texted or emailed reply).

In this case, the thieves already had her password — most likely because she re-used it on some other site that got hacked. Cobb says he and his daughter believe her mobile number and password may have been exposed as part of the 2012 breach at LinkedIn.

In any case, the crooks were priming her to expect a code and to repeat it back to them because that code was the only thing standing in the way of their seizing control over her account. And they could control when Google would send the code to her phone because Google would do this as soon as they tried to log in using her username and password. Indeed, the timing aspect of this attack helps make it more believable to the target.

This is a fairly clever — if not novel — attack, and it’s one I’d wager would likely fool a decent percentage of users who have enabled text messages as a form of two-factor authentication. Certainly, text messaging is far from the strongest form of 2-factor authentication, but it is better than allowing a login with nothing more than a username and password, as this scam illustrates.

Nevertheless, text messaging codes to users isn’t the safest way to do two-factor authentication, even if some entities — like the U.S. Social Security Administration and Sony’s Playstation network — are just getting around to offering two-factor via SMS.

But don’t take my word for it. That’s according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which recently issued new proposed digital authentication guidelines urging organizations to favor other forms of two-factor — such as time-base one-time passwords generated by mobile apps — over text messaging. By the way, NIST is seeking feedback on these recommendations.

If anyone’s interested, Sophos’s Naked Security blog has a very readable breakdown of what’s new in the NIST guidelines. Among my favorite highlights is this broad directive: Favor the user.

“To begin with, make your password policies user friendly and put the burden on the verifier when possible,” Sophos’s Chester Wisniewski writes. “In other words, we need to stop asking users to do things that aren’t actually improving security.” Like expiring passwords and making users change them frequently, for example.

Okay, so the geeks-in-chief are saying it’s time to move away from texting as a form of 2-factor authentication. And, of course, they’re right, because text messages are a lot like email, in that it’s difficult to tell who really sent the message, and the message itself is sent in plain text — i.e. is readable by anyone who happens to be lurking in the middle.

But security experts and many technology enthusiasts have a tendency to think that everyone should see the world through the lens of security, whereas most mere mortal users just want to get on with their lives and are perfectly content to use the same password across multiple sites — regardless of how many times they’re told not to do so. Continue reading →


7
Sep 16

Congressional Report Slams OPM on Data Breach

The massive data breach at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that exposed background investigations and fingerprint data on millions of Americans was the result of a cascading series of cybersecurity blunders from the agency’s senior leadership on down to the outdated technology used to secure the sensitive data, according to a lengthy report released today by a key government oversight panel.

OPM offices in Washington, DC. Image: Flickr.

OPM offices in Washington, DC. Image: Flickr.

The 241-page analysis, commissioned by the U.S. House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, blames OPM for jeopardizing U.S. national security for more than a generation.

The report offers perhaps the most exhaustive accounting and timeline of the breach since it was first publicly disclosed in mid-2015. According to the document, the lax state of OPM’s information security left the agency’s information systems exposed for any experienced hacker to infiltrate and compromise.

“The agency’s senior leadership failed to fully comprehend the extent of the compromise, allowing the hackers to remove manuals and other sensitive materials that essentially provided a roadmap to the OPM IT environment and key users for potential compromise,” the report charges.

Probably the most incisive portion of the assessment is the timeline of major events in the breach, which details a series of miscalculations on the part of the OPM leadership. The analysis paints the picture of a chronic — almost willful — underestimation by senior leadership at OPM about the seriousness of the threat facing the agency, until it was too late.

According to the report, the OPM first learned something was amiss on March 20, 2014, when the US-CERT notified the agency of data being exfiltrated from its network. In the ensuing weeks, OPM worked with US-CERT to implement a strategy to monitor the attackers’ movements to gather counterintelligence.

The only problem with this plan, according to the panel, was that the agency erroneously believed it had cornered the intruder. However, the hacker that OPM and US-CERT had eyes on wasn’t alone. While OPM monitored the first hacker [referred to in the report only as Hacker X1] on May 7, 2014 another hacker posed as an employee of an OPM contractor (Keypoint) performing background investigations. That intruder, referred to as Hacker X2, used the contractor’s OPM credentials to log into the OPM system, install malware and create a backdoor to the network.

As the agency monitored Hacker X1’s movements through the network, the committee found, it noticed hacker X1 was getting dangerously close to the security clearance background information. OPM, in conjunction with DHS, quickly developed a plan to kick Hacker X1 out of its system. It termed this remediation “the Big Bang.” At the time, the agency was confident the planned remediation effort on May 27, 2014 eliminated Hacker X1’s foothold on their systems.

The decision to execute the Big Bang plan was made after OPM observed the attacker load keystroke logging malware onto the workstations of several database administrators, the panel found.

“But Hacker X2, who had successfully established a foothold on OPM’s systems and had not been detected due to gaps in OPM’s security posture, remained in OPM’s systems post-Big Bang,” the report notes.

On June 5, malware was successfully installed on a KeyPoint Web server. After that, X2 moved around OPM’s system until July 29, 2014, when the intruders registered opmlearning.org — a domain the attackers used as a command-and-control center to manage their malware operations.

Beginning in July through August 2014, the Hacker X2 exfiltrated the security clearance background investigation files. Then in December 2014, 4.2 million personnel records were exfiltrated.

On March 3, 2015, wdc-news-post[dot]com was registered by the attackers, who used it as a command-and-control network. On March 26, 2015, the intruders begin stealing fingerprint data. Continue reading →


5
Sep 16

Location Privacy: The Purview of the Rich and Indigent

I’d just finished parking my car in the covered garage at Reagan National Airport just across the river from Washington, D.C. when I noticed a dark green minivan slowly creeping through the row behind me. The vehicle caught my attention because its driver didn’t appear to be looking for an open spot. What’s more, the van had what looked like two cameras perched atop its roof — one of each side, both pointed down and slightly off to the side.

I had a few hours before my flight boarded, so I delayed my walk to the terminal and cut through several rows of cars to snag a video of the guy moving haltingly through another line of cars. I approached the driver and asked what he was doing. He smiled and tilted the lid on his bolted-down laptop so that I could see the pictures he was taking with the mounted cameras: He was photographing every license plate in the garage (for the record, his plate was a Virginia tag number 36-646L).

A van at Reagan National Airport equipped with automated license plate readers fixed to the roof.

A van at Reagan National Airport equipped with automated license plate readers fixed to the roof.

The man said he was hired by the airport to keep track of the precise location of every car in the lot, explaining that the data is most often used by the airport when passengers returning from a trip forget where they parked their vehicles. I checked with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which manages the garage, and they confirmed the license plate imaging service was handled by a third-party firm called HUB Parking.

I’m accustomed to having my license plate photographed when entering a parking area (Dulles International Airport in Virginia does this), but until that encounter at Reagan National I never considered that this was done manually.

“Reagan National uses this service to assist customers in finding their lost vehicles,” said MWAA spokesperson Kimberly Gibbs. “If the customer remembers their license plate it can be entered into the system to determine what garages and on what aisle their vehicle is parked.”

What does HUB Parking do with the information its clients collect? Ilaria Riva, marketing manager for HUB Parking, says the company does not sell or share the data it collects, and that it is up to the client to decide how that information is stored or shared.

“It is true the solution that HUB provides to our clients may collect data, but HUB does not own the data nor do we have any control over what the customer does with it,” Riva said.

Gibbs said MWAA does not share parking information with outside organizations. But make no mistake: the technology used at Reagan National Airport, known as automated license plate reader or ALPR systems, is already widely deployed by municipalities, police forces and private companies — particularly those in the business of repossessing vehicles from deadbeat owners who don’t pay their bills.

It’s true that people have zero expectation of privacy in public places — and roads and parking garages certainly are public places for the most part. But according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the data collected by ALPR systems can be very revealing, and in many cities ALPR technology is rapidly outpacing the law.

“By matching your car to a particular time, date and location, and then building a database of that information over time, law enforcement can learn where you work and live, what doctor you go to, which religious services you attend, and who your friends are,” the EFF warns. Continue reading →


3
Sep 16

‘Flash Hijacks’ Add New Twist to Muggings

A frequent crime in Brazil is a scheme in which thieves kidnap people as they’re leaving a bank, and free them only after visiting a number of ATMs to withdraw cash. Now the crooks have introduced a new time-saving wrinkle into this scam: In these so-called “flash hijacks” the thieves pull out a wireless card reader, swipe a few debit transactions with the victim’s card, and then release the individual.

A story in the Brazilian newspaper Liberal documents one such recent flash hijacking, involving two musicians in their 20s who were accosted by a pair of robbers — one of whom was carrying a gun. The thieves forced the victims to divulge their debit card personal identification numbers (PINs), and then proceeded to swipe the victim’s cards on a handheld, wireless card machine.

First spotted in 2015, flash hijackings are becoming more common in Brazil, said Paulo Brito, a cybersecurity expert living in the Campinas area of Brazil. Brito said even his friend’s son was similarly victimized recently.

“Of course transactions can be traced as far as they are done with Brazilian banks, but these bad guys can evolve and transact with foreign banks,” Brito said.
Continue reading →


1
Sep 16

Kimpton Hotels Acknowledges Data Breach

Kimpton Hotels on Wednesday formally acknowledged that malware found on payment terminals in many of its hotels and restaurants may have compromised credit/debit cards of guests who patronized the properties in the first half of this year. The disclosure comes more than a month after KrebsOnSecurity first contacted to the company about a possible credit card breach across most of its locations.

kimptonAccording to a notice added to the Kimpton Web site, the incident involved cards used at certain restaurants and hotel front desks from February 16, 2016 to July 7, 2016. Kimpton has posted a list of more than 60 restaurants and hotels where the company found and removed card-stealing malicious software from payment terminals.

Kimpton joins a long list of hotel brands that have acknowledged card breaches over the last year after prompting by KrebsOnSecurity, including Trump Hotels (twice), Hilton, Mandarin Oriental, and White Lodging (twice). Breaches also have hit hospitality chains Starwood Hotels and Hyatt. Continue reading →