The Coming Storm


11
Jun 12

How Companies Can Beef Up Password Security

Separate password breaches last week at LinkedIn, eHarmony and Last.fm exposed millions of credentials, and once again raised the question of whether any company can get password security right. To understand more about why companies keep making the same mistakes and what they might do differently to prevent future password debacles, I interviewed Thomas H. Ptacek, a security researcher with Matasano Security.

Ptacek is just one of several extremely smart researchers I’ve been speaking with about this topic. Below are some snippets from a conversation we had last week.

BK: I was just reading an article by Eric Chabrow, which pointed out that LinkedIn — a multi-billion dollar company that holds personal information on some of world’s most important executives — has neither a chief information officer nor a chief information security officer. Is it too much to ask for a company like this to take security seriously enough to do a better job protecting and securing their users’ passwords?

Ptacek: There is no correlation between how much money a company or service has or takes in — or whether it’s free or not free — and how good their password storage practices are. Nobody gets this right. I think it’s a problem of generalist developers writing password storage systems. They may be good developers, but they’re almost never security domain specialists. There are very few good developers who are also security domain specialists. So if you’re a smart and talented developer but not a security domain specialist, and you’ve got to put together a password storage system, even if it’s just MD5, to you that’s a space alien technology. That’s a cryptographic algorithm. You can tell your boss that’s a cryptographic hash. You feel good about the fact that you’re storing passwords in a cryptographic hash. But you have to be a domain expert to know that the term cryptographic hash doesn’t really mean much.

BK: Why doesn’t cryptographic hash mean much? Maybe LinkedIn shouldn’t have been using a plain old SHA-1 cryptographic hash function, but shouldn’t developers be seeking to secure their passwords with a solid cryptographic algorithm?

Ptacek: The basic mechanism by which SHA-1 passwords are cracked, or MD5 or SHA-512 — it doesn’t matter what algorithm you use — hasn’t changed since the  early 1990s. As soon as code to implement SHA-1 came out, it was also available to John the Ripper and other password cracking tools. It’s a really common misconception — including among security people — that the problem here is using SHA-1. It would not have mattered at all if they had used SHA-512, they would be no better off at all.

BK: I’ve heard people say, you know this probably would not have happened if LinkedIn and others had salted the passwords — or added some randomness to each of the passwords, thus forcing attackers to expend more resources to crack the password hashes. Do you agree with that?

Ptacek: That’s actually another misconception, the idea that the problem is that the passwords were unsalted. UNIX passwords, and they’ve been salted forever, since the 70s, and they have been cracked forever. The idea of a salt in your password is a 70s solution. Back in the 90s, when people broke into UNIX servers, they would steal the shadow password file and would crack that. Invariably when you lost the server, you lost the passwords on that server.

BK: Okay. So if the weakness isn’t with the strength of the cryptographic algorithm, and not with the lack of salt added to the hashed passwords, what’s the answer?

Ptacek: In LinkedIn’s case, and with many other sites, the problem is they’re using the wrong kind of algorithm. They use a cryptographic hash, when they need to use a password hash.

BK: I’ll bite: What’s the difference?

Ptacek:  The difference between a cryptographic hash and a password storage hash is that a cryptographic hash is designed to be very, very fast. And it has to be because it’s designed to be used in things like IP-sec.  On a packet-by-packet basis, every time a packet hits an Ethernet card, these are things that have to run fast enough to add no discernible latencies to traffic going through Internet routers and things like that. And so the core design goal for cryptographic hashes is to make them lightning fast.

Well, that’s the opposite of what you want with a password hash. You want a password hash to be very slow. The reason for that is a normal user logs in once or twice a day if that — maybe they mistype their password, and have to log in twice or whatever. But in most cases, there are very few interactions the normal user has with a web site with a password hash. Very little of the overhead in running a Web application comes from your password hashing. But if you think about what an attacker has to do, they have a file full of hashes, and they have to try zillions of password combinations against every one of those hashes. For them, if you make a password hash take longer, that’s murder on them.

So, if you use a modern password hash — even if you are hardware accelerated, even if you designed your own circuits to do password hashing, there are modern, secure password hashes that would take hundreds or thousands of years to test passwords on. Continue reading →


6
Jun 12

Alleged Romanian Subway Hackers Were Lured to U.S.

The alleged ringleader of a Romanian hacker gang accused of breaking into and stealing payment card data from hundreds of Subway restaurants made news late last month when he was extradited to face charges in the United States. But perhaps the more interesting story is how his two alleged accomplices were lured here by undercover U.S. Secret Service agents, who promised to shower the men with love and riches.

Adrian-Tiberiu Oprea, 27, appeared in a New Hampshire federal court a week ago Tuesday, after being extradited from Constanta, Romania to face charges of hacking into the point-of-sale terminals at more than 150 Subway restaurants and at least 50 other retailers. Oprea was among four men indicted last year on charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, wire fraud and access device fraud.

Two of Oprea’s alleged accomplices arrived in Boston one day apart in August 2011, and were arrested immediately after stepping off of their respective flights. Previous news stories have noted their arrests and detentions in the United States, but all of the accounts I read neglected to mention one very interesting fact: Both men entered the country of their own volition.

I spoke last week with Michael Shklar, the public defender appointed to 27-year-old Iulian Dolan — the man authorities say helped Oprea sell credit and debit card accounts harvested in the break-ins. According to Shklar, U.S. Secret Service agents tricked his client into voluntarily visiting the United States by posing as representatives from a local resort and casino that was offering him a complimentary weekend getaway.

“My client was actually smart enough to say, ‘Oh, I don’t believe this. Why would you invite me to a weekend for free?’ And they basically told him, ‘Well, we know you gamble online, and we would like to comp you a weekend because it gives us a cosmopolitan feel.”

Shklar said his client apparently was taken in by the ruse, and thought he’d struck a rapport with the female casino employee who’d invited him. Dolan didn’t know it, but the Secret Service and the casino had set up a dedicated telephone line for the female “employee,” and gave her an email with the casino’s domain name. When a suspicious Dolan sought to verify her story, it checked out. The airline ticket itself was even purchased by the casino, in case Dolan checked on that detail as well.

Apparently convinced he was headed for a weekend of fun, Dolan packed a suitcase with three days’ worth of clothes — plus jewelry for his erstwhile casino friend — and hopped on a complimentary flight from Bucharest to Logan International Airport…where he was presented with complimentary silver bracelets.

“He arrived in the U.S. with some clothes, a cheap necklace, a little bit of money, and three very large boxes of grape-flavored Romanian condoms,” Shklar said. Continue reading →


29
May 12

White House Aims to Stoke Botnet Fight

The Obama administration will hold a public meeting at the White House on Wednesday to discuss industry and government efforts to combat botnet activity. Among those is a pilot program to share information about botnet victims between banks and Internet service providers, according to sources familiar with the event.

The gathering will draw officials from The White House, US Department of Commerce and Department of Homeland Security, as well as private-sector executives from an entity formed in February called the Industry Botnet Group. The IBG counts among its members trade associations, companies and privacy organizations that are working to create a voluntary model that ISPs can use to notify customers with infected computers.

Although a number of ISPs already notify customers of bot infections, there is no uniform method for reporting these events. Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting are expected to announce — among other things — an information sharing pilot between ISPs and financial institutions that are part of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an industry consortium dedicated to disseminating data on cyber threats facing banks.

The pilot to be announced this week will draw on a nascent extension of IODEF, an Internet standard developed by the Anti-Phishing Working Group to share data about phishing attacks in a common format that can be processed automatically and across multiple languages. Continue reading →


24
May 12

WHMCS Breach May Be Only Tip of the Trouble

A recent breach at billing and support software provider WHMCS that exposed a half million customer usernames, passwords — and in some cases credit cards — may turn out to be the least of the company’s worries. According to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity.com, for the past four months hackers have been selling an exclusive zero-day flaw that they claim lets intruders break into Web hosting firms that rely on the software.

WHMCS is a suite of billing and support software used mainly by Web hosting providers. Following an extended period of downtime on Monday, the privately-owned British software firm disclosed that hackers had broken in and stolen 1.7 gigabytes worth of customer data, and deleted a backlog of orders, tickets and other files from the firm’s server.

The company’s founder, Matt Pugh, posted a statement saying the firm had fallen victim to a social engineering attack in which a miscreant was able to impersonate Pugh to WHMCS’s own Web hosting provider, and trick the provider into giving up the WHMCS’s administrative credentials.

“Following an initial investigation I can report that what occurred today was the result of a social engineering attack,” Pugh wrote. “The person was able to impersonate myself with our web hosting company, and provide correct answers to their verification questions. And thereby gain access to our client account with the host, and ultimately change the email and then request a mailing of the access details.”

Meanwhile, WHMCS’s user forums have been and remain under a constant denial-of-service attack, and the company is urging customers to change their passwords.

As bad as things are right now for WHMCS, this rather public incident may be only part of the company’s security woes. For several years, I have been an unwelcome guest on an exclusive underground forum that I consider one of the few remaining and clueful hacking forums on the Underweb today. I’ve been kicked out of it several times, which is why I’m not posting any forum screenshots here.

Update, May 29, 12:35 p.m. ET: WHMCS just issued a patch to fix an SQL injection vulnerability that may be related to this 0day. See this thread from Pugh for more information.

Original post:

In February, a trusted and verified member of that forum posted a thread titled,” WHMCS 0-day,” saying he was selling a previously undocumented and unfixed critical security vulnerability in all version of WHMCS that provides direct access to the administrator’s password. From that hacker’s sales thread [link added]:

Continue reading →


22
May 12

Google to Warn 500,000+ of DNS Changer Infections

Google plans today to begin warning Internet users if their computers show telltale signs of being infected with the DNSChanger Trojan. The company estimates that more than 500,000 systems remain infected with the malware, despite a looming deadline that threatens to quarantine the sick computers from the rest of the Internet.

Security experts won court approval last year to seize control of the infrastucture that powered the search-hijacking Trojan in a bid to help users clean up infections. But a court-imposed deadline to power down that infrastructure will sever Internet access for PCs that are not rid of the malware before July 9, 2012.

Google plans to serve this warning to more than 500,000 users to warn them of infections from the DNSChanger Trojan

The company said the warning (pictured above) will appear only when a user with an infected system visits a Google search results property (google.com, google.co.uk, etc.), and will include the message, “Your computer appears to be infected.” Google security engineer Damian Menscher said the company expects to notify approximately a half-million users in the first week of the notices.

“In general we want to notify users [of malware infections] anytime we are capable of doing so, but the fact that we don’t do this more often is really just because it’s hard to come across cases where we can do it this accurately,” Menscher said.  “In many cases we only have maybe a 90 percent confidence that someone is infected, and the false positive rate of 10 percent is simply too high to be feasible. But in this case we can be essentially certain that someone is infected.”

Continue reading →


17
May 12

Global Payments Breach Now Dates Back to Jan. 2011

The data breach at Atlanta-based credit and debit card processor Global Payments just keeps getting bigger. Earlier this month, I reported that Visa and MasterCard were alerting banks that the breach extended back to June 2011. Now it appears the breach jeopardized cards processed by Global as far back as January 2011.

The latest disclosure, detailed in a story at BankInfoSecurity.com, now aligns with the timeline outlined by anonymous hackers who reached out to me after I broke the story on this breach back at the end of March. Global has disclosed relatively little about the breach, and has sought to downplay the severity of it. Initial reports suggested that more than 10 million card accounts were compromised in the breach, yet Global insists fewer than 1.5 million were taken. Recent reports by The Wall Street Journal put that figure closer to 7 million stolen card accounts.

Shortly after the breach, Global executives were complaining about “rumor and innuendo” in press reports about the incident. I borrowed that quote for the title of a follow-up blog post, which included claims from a hacker who told me he was reaching out because he felt Global was hiding the true extent of the breach. He told me that he was part of a group that had been inside of Global since just after the new year in 2011. From that story:

The hacker said the company’s network was under full criminal control from that time until March 26, 2012. “The data and quantities that was gathered [was] much more than they writed [sic]. They finished End2End encryption, but E2E not a full solution; it only defend [sic] from outside threats.” He went on to claim that hackers had been capturing data from the company’s network for the past 13 months — collecting the data monthly — gathering data on a total of 24 million unique transactions before they were shut out.

Global has refused to comment further on the incident, referring people to a Web site with a series of Q&As for various parties potentially impacted by the breach. I guess only time will tell whether the hackers were right about the number of compromised transactions as well.


17
May 12

Facebook Takes Aim at Cross-Browser ‘LilyJade’ Worm

Facebook is attempting to nip in the bud a new social networking worm that spreads via an application built to run seamlessly as a plugin across multiple browsers and operating systems. In an odd twist, the author of the program is doing little to hide his identity, and claims that his “users” actually gain a security benefit from installing the software.

At issue is a program that the author calls “LilyJade,” a browser plugin that uses Crossrider, an emerging programming framework designed to simplify the process of writing plugins that will run on Google ChromeInternet Explorer, and Mozilla Firefox.  The plugin spreads by posting a link to a video on a user’s Facebook wall, and friends who follow the link are told they need to accept the installation of the plugin in order to view the video. Users who install LilyJade will have their accounts modified to periodically post links that help pimp the program.

The goal of LilyJade is to substitute code that specifies who should get paid when users click on ads that run on top Internet properties, such as Facebook.com, Yahoo.com, Youtube.com, Bing.com, Google.com and MSN.com. In short, the plugin allows customers to swap in their own ads on virtually any site that users visit.

I first read about LilyJade in an analysis published earlier this month by Russian security firm Kaspersky Labs, and quickly recognized the background from the screenshot included in that writeup as belonging to user from hackforums.net. This is a relatively open online hacking community that is often derided by more elite and established underground forums because it has more than its share of adolescent, novice hackers (a.k.a. “script kiddies”) who are eager to break onto the scene, impress peers, and make money.

It turns out that the Hackforums user who is selling this plugin is doing so openly using his real name. Phoenix, Ariz. based hacker Dru Mundorff sells the LilyJade plugin for $1,000 to fellow Hackforums members. Mundorff, 29, says he isn’t worried about the legalities of his offering; he’s even had his attorney sign off on the terms of service that each user is required to agree to before installing it.

“We’re not forcing any users to be bypassed, exploited or anything like that,” Mundorff said in a phone interview.  “At that point, if they do agree, it will allow us to make posts on their wall through our system.”

Mundorff claims his software is actually a benefit to Facebook and the Internet community at large because it is designed to also remove infections from some of the more popular bot and Trojan programs currently for sale on Hackforums, including Darkcomet, Cybergate, Blackshades and Andromeda (the latter being a competitor to the password-stealing ZeuS Trojan that hides behind Facebook comments). Mundorff maintains that his plugin will result in a positive experience for the average Facebook user, although he acknowledges that customers who purchase LilyJade can modify at will the link that “users” are forced to spread, and may at any time swap in links to malware or exploit sites. Continue reading →


15
May 12

Multiple Human Rights, Foreign Policy Sites Hacked

A rash of recent and ongoing targeted attacks involving compromises at high-profile Web sites should serve as a sobering reminder of the need to be vigilant about applying browser updates. Hackers have hit a number of prominent foreign policy and human rights group Web sites, configuring them to serve spyware by exploiting newly patched flaws in widely used software from Adobe and Oracle.

The latest reports of this apparent cyberspy activity come from security experts at Shadowserver.org, a nonprofit that tracks malware attacks typically associated with so-called “advanced persistent threat” (APT) actors. APT is a controversial term that means many things to different folks, but even detractors of the acronym’s overuse acknowledge that it has become a useful shorthand for “We’re pretty sure it came from China.”

A diagram depicting the (since-cleaned) attack on the Website of the Center for Defense Information.

One look at the list of the sites found to be currently serving an exploit to attack a newly-patched Adobe Flash Player vulnerability (CVE-2012-0779) shows how that shorthand is earned. Shadowserver uncovered Flash exploits waiting for visitors of the Web sites for Amnesty International Hong Kong and the Center for Defense Information, a Washington, D.C. think-tank. The home page for the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism was found to be serving up malware via a recent Oracle Java vulnerability (CVE-2012-0507), while the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs site was pointing to both Flash and Java exploits.

“In recent months we have continued to observe 0-day vulnerabilities emerging following discovery of their use in the wild to conduct cyber espionage attacks,” wrote Shadowserver volunteers Steven Adair and Ned Moran, in a blog post about the attacks, which they dubbed “strategic Web compromises.”

“Frequently by the time a patch is released for the vulnerabilities, the exploit has already been the wild for multiple weeks or months — giving the attackers a very large leg up,” they wrote. “The goal is not large-scale malware distribution through mass compromises. Instead the attackers place their exploit code on websites that cater towards a particular set of visitors that they might be interested in.”

The discoveries come just days after security vendor Websense found that the site for Amnesty International United Kingdom (AIUK)  was hosting the same Java exploit. According to Shadowserver, other sites that were compromised by remarkably similar attacks but since cleaned include those belonging to the American Research Center in Egypt, the Institute for National Security Studies, and the Center for European Policy Studies.

Continue reading →


8
May 12

At the Crossroads of eThieves and Cyberspies

Lost in the annals of campy commercials from the 1980s is a series of ads that featured improbable scenes between two young people (usually of the opposite sex) who always somehow caused the inadvertent collision of peanut butter and chocolate. After the mishap, one would complain, “Hey you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!,” and the other would shout, “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” The youngsters would then sample the product of their happy accident and be amazed to find someone had already combined the two flavors into a sweet and salty treat that is commercially available.

It may be that the Internet security industry is long overdue for its own “Reese’s moment.” Many security experts who got their start analyzing malware and tracking traditional cybercrime recently have transitioned to investigating malware and attacks associated with so-called advanced persistent threat (APT) incidents. The former centers on the theft of financial data that can be used to quickly extract cash from victims; the latter refers to often prolonged attacks involving a hunt for more strategic information, such as intellectual property, trade secrets and data related to national security and defense.

Experts steeped in both areas seem to agree that there is little overlap between the two realms, neither in the tools the two sets of attackers use, their methods, nor in their motivations or rewards. Nevertheless, I’ve heard some of these same experts remark that traditional cyber thieves could dramatically increase their fortunes if they only took the time to better understand the full value of the PCs that get ensnared in their botnets.

In such a future, Chinese nationalistic hackers, for example, could avoid spending weeks or months trying to break into Fortune 500 companies using carefully targeted emails or zero-day software vulnerabilities; instead, they could just purchase access to PCs at these companies that are already under control of traditional hacker groups.

Every now and then, evidence surfaces to suggest that bridges between these two disparate worlds are under construction. Last month, I had the opportunity to peer into a botnet of more than 3,400 PCs — most of them in the United States. The systems were infected with a new variant of the Citadel Trojan, an offshoot of the ZeuS Trojan whose chief distinguishing feature is a community of users who interact with one another in a kind of online social network. This botnet was used to conduct cyberheists against several victims, but it was a curious set of scripts designed to run on each infected PC that caught my eye.

Continue reading →


4
May 12

Microsoft to Botmasters: Abandon Your Inboxes

If the miscreants behind the ZeuS botnets that Microsoft sought to destroy with a civil lawsuit last month didn’t already know that the software giant also wished to unmask them, they almost certainly do now. Google, and perhaps other email providers, recently began notifying the alleged botmasters that Microsoft was requesting their personal details.

Page 1 of a subpoena Microsoft sent to Google.

Microsoft’s unconventional approach to pursuing dozens of ZeuS botmasters offers a rare glimpse into how email providers treat subpoenas for account information. But the case also is once again drawing fire from a number of people within the security community who question the wisdom and long-term consequences of Microsoft’s strategy for combating cybercrime without involving law enforcement officials.

Last month, Microsoft made news when it announced a civil lawsuit that it said disrupted a major cybercrime operation that used malware to steal $100 million from consumers and businesses over the past five years. That legal maneuver may have upset some cyber criminal operations, but it also angered many in the security research community who said they felt betrayed by the action. Critics accused Microsoft of exposing sensitive information that a handful of researchers had shared in confidence, and of delaying or derailing international law enforcement investigations into ZeuS Trojan activity.

Part of the controversy stems from the bargain that Microsoft struck with a federal judge in the case. The court granted Microsoft the authority to quietly seize dozens of domain names and Internet servers that miscreants used to control the botnets. In exchange, Microsoft agreed to make every effort to identify the “John Does” that had used those resources, and to give them an opportunity to contest the seizure. The security community was initially upset by Microsoft’s first stab at that effort, in which it published the nicknames, email addresses and other identifying information on the individuals thought to be responsible for renting those servers and domains.

And then the other shoe dropped: Over the past few days, Google began alerting the registrants of more than three dozen Gmail accounts that were the subject of Microsoft’s subpoenas for email records. The email addresses were already named in Microsoft’s initial complaint posted at zeuslegalnotice.com, which listed nicknames and other information tied to 39 separate “John Does” that Microsoft is seeking to identify. But when Microsoft subpoenaed the email account information on those John Does, Google followed its privacy policy, which is to alert each of the account holders that it was prepared to turn over their personal information unless they formally objected to the action by a certain date.

According to sources who received the notices but asked not to be named, the Google alerts read:

“Hello,

Google has received a subpoena for information related to your Google
account in a case entitled Microsoft Corp., FS-ISAC, Inc. and NACHA v.
John Does 1-39 et al., US District Court, Northern District of California,
1:12-cv-01335 (SJ-RLM) (Internal Ref. No. 224623).

To comply with the law, unless you provide us with a copy of a motion
to quash the subpoena (or other formal objection filed in court) via
email at google-legal-support@google.com by 5pm Pacific Time on May
22, 2012, Google may provide responsive documents on this date.

For more information about the subpoena, you may wish to contact the
party seeking this information at:

Jacob M. Heath
Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe, LLP
Jacob M. Heath, 1000 Marsh Road
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Google is not in a position to provide you with legal advice.

If you have other questions regarding the subpoena, we encourage you
to contact your attorney.

Thank you.”

Unlike most of its competitors in the Webmail industry, Google is exceptionally vocal about its policy for responding to subpoenas. This has earned it top marks from privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which recently ranked ISPs and social media firms on the transparency of their policies about responding to requests for information filed by the government or from law enforcement.

Continue reading →