Latest Warnings

Aug 16

Visa Alert and Update on the Oracle Breach

Credit card industry giant Visa on Friday issued a security alert warning companies using point-of-sale devices made by Oracle‘s MICROS retail unit to double-check the machines for malicious software or unusual network activity, and to change passwords on the devices. Visa also published a list of Internet addresses that may have been involved in the Oracle breach and are thought to be closely tied to an Eastern European organized cybercrime gang.


The Visa alert is the first substantive document that tries to help explain what malware and which malefactors might have hit Oracle — and by extension many of Oracle’s customers — since KrebsOnSecurity broke news of the breach on Aug. 8. That story cited sources close to the investigation saying hackers had broken into hundreds of servers at Oracle’s retail division, and had completely compromised Oracle’s main online support portal for MICROS customers.

MICROS is among the top three point-of-sale vendors globally. Oracle’s MICROS division sells point-of-sale systems used at more than 330,000 cash registers worldwide. When Oracle bought MICROS in 2014, the company said MICROS’s systems were deployed at some 200,000+ food and beverage outlets, 100,000+ retail sites, and more than 30,000 hotels.

In short, tens of millions of credit cards are swiped at MICROS terminals monthly, and a breach involving the theft of credentials that might have granted remote access to even just a small percentage of those systems is potentially a big and costly problem for all involved.

So far, however, most MICROS customers are left scratching their heads for answers. A frequently asked questions bulletin (PDF) Oracle also released last Monday held little useful information. Oracle issued the same cryptic response to everyone who asked for particulars about how far the breach extended. “Oracle has detected and addressed malicious code in certain legacy MICROS systems.”

Oracle also urged MICROS customers to change their passwords, and said “we also recommend that you change the password for any account that was used by a MICROS representative to access your on-premises systems.”

One of two documents Oracle sent to MICROS customers and the sum total of information the company has released so far about the breach.

One of two documents Oracle sent to MICROS customers and the sum total of information the company has released so far about the breach.

Some technology and fraud experts, including Gartner Analyst Avivah Litan, read that statement highlighted in yellow above as an acknowledgement by Oracle that hackers may have abused credentials gained in the MICROS portal breach to plant malicious code on the point-of-sale devices run by an unknown number of MICROS customers.

“This [incident] could explain a lot about the source of some of these retail and merchant point-of-sale hacks that nobody has been able to definitively tie to any one point-of-sale services provider,” Litan told me last week. “I’d say there’s a big chance that the hackers in this case found a way to get remote access” to MICROS customers’ on-premises point-of-sale devices.”

Clearly, Visa is concerned about this possibility as well.


In my original story about the breach, I wasn’t able to reveal all the data I’d gathered about the apparent source of the attacks and attackers. A key source in that story asked that I temporarily delay publishing certain details of the investigation, specifically those known as indicators of compromise (IOCs). Basically, IOCs are list of suspect Internet addresses, domain names, filenames and other curious digital clues that are thought to connect the victim with its attacker.

I’ve been inundated all week with calls and emails from security experts asking for that very data, but sharing it wasn’t my call. That is, until yesterday (8/12/16), when Visa published a “merchant communication alert” to some customers. In that alert (PDF), Visa published IOCs that may be connected with the intrusion. These IOCs could be extremely useful to MICROS customers because the presence of Internet traffic to and from these online destinations would strongly suggest the organization’s point-of-sale systems may be similarly compromised.

Some of the addresses on this list from Visa are known to be associated with the Carbanak Gang, a group of Eastern European hackers that Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab estimates has stolen more than $1 billion from banks and retailers. Here’s the IOCs list from the alert Visa pushed out Friday:

VISA warned merchants to check their systems for any communications to and from these Internet addresses and domain names associated with a Russian organized cybercrime gang called "Carbanak."

Visa warned merchants to check their systems for any communications to and from these Internet addresses and domain names associated with a Russian organized cybercrime gang called “Carbanak.”

Thankfully, since at least one of the addresses listed above ( matched what’s on my source’s list, the source agreed to let me publish the entire thing. Here it is. I checked my source’s list and found at least five Internet addresses that were seen in both the Oracle attack and in a Sept. 2015 writeup about Carbanak by ESET Security, a Slovakian antivirus and security company. [NB: If you are unskilled at safely visiting malicious Web sites and/or handling malware, it’s probably best not to visit the addresses in the above-linked list.]

Visa also mentioned a specific POS-malware threat in its alert called “MalumPOS.” According to researchers at Trend Micro, MalumPOS is malware designed to target point-of-sale systems in hotels and related industries. In fact, Trend found that MalumPOS is set up to collect data specifically from point-of-sale systems running on Oracle’s MICROS platform.

It should come as no surprise then that many of Oracle’s biggest customers in the hospitality industry are starting to make noise, accusing Oracle of holding back key information that could help MICROS-based companies stop and clean up breaches involving malware and stolen customer credit card data.

“Oracle’s silence has been deafening,” said Michael Blake, chief executive officer at HTNG, a trade association for hotels and technology. “They are still grappling and trying to answer questions on the extent of the breach. Oracle has been invited to the last three [industry] calls this week and they are still going about trying to reach each customer individually and in the process of doing so they have done nothing but given the lame advice of changing passwords.”

The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit by point-of-sale compromises over the past two years. Last month, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news of a breach at Kimpton Hotels (Kimpton appears to run MICROS products, but the company declined to answer questions for this story).

Kimpton joins a long list of hotel brands that have acknowledged card breaches over the last year, including Trump Hotels (twice), Hilton, Mandarin Oriental, and White Lodging (twice), Starwood Hotels and Hyatt. In many of those incidents, thieves had planted malicious software on the point-of-sale devices at restaurants and bars inside of the hotel chains. And, no doubt, many of those cash registers were run on MICROS systems.

If Oracle doesn’t exactly know which — if any — of its MICROS customers had malware on their point-of-sale systems as a result of the breach, it may be because the network intruders didn’t have any reason to interact with Oracle’s customers via the MICROS portal after stealing usernames and passwords that would allow them to remotely access customer on-premises systems. In theory, at that point the fraudsters could have bypassed Oracle altogether from then on. Continue reading →

Aug 16

Road Warriors: Beware of ‘Video Jacking’

A little-known feature of many modern smartphones is their ability to duplicate video on the device’s screen so that it also shows up on a much larger display — like a TV. However, new research shows that this feature may quietly expose users to a simple and cheap new form of digital eavesdropping.

Dubbed “video jacking” by its masterminds, the attack uses custom electronics hidden inside what appears to be a USB charging station. As soon as you connect a vulnerable phone to the appropriate USB charging cord, the spy machine splits the phone’s video display and records a video of everything you tap, type or view on it as long as it’s plugged in — including PINs, passwords, account numbers, emails, texts, pictures and videos.

The part of the "video jacking" demonstration at the DEF CON security conference last week in Las Vegas.

Some of the equipment used in the “video jacking” demonstration at the DEF CON security conference last week in Las Vegas. Source: Brian Markus.

[Click here if you’re the TL;DR type and just want to know if your phone is at risk from this attack.]

Demonstrations of this simple but effective mobile spying technique were on full display at the DEF CON security conference in Las Vegas last week. I was busy chasing a story at DEF CON unrelated to the conference this year, so I missed many people and talks that I wanted to see. But I’m glad I caught up with the team behind DEF CON’s annual and infamous “Wall of Sheep,” a public shaming exercise aimed at educating people about the dangers of sending email and other plain text online communications over open wireless networks.

Brian Markus, co-founder and chief executive officer for Aries Security, said he and fellow researchers Joseph Mlodzianowski and Robert Rowley came up with the idea for video jacking when they were brainstorming about ways to expand on their “juice jacking” experiments at DEF CON in 2011.

“Juice jacking” refers to the ability to hijack stored data when the user unwittingly plugs his phone into a custom USB charging station filled with computers that are ready to suck down and record said data (both Android and iOS phones now ask users whether they trust the computer before allowing data transfers).

In contrast, video jacking lets the attacker record every key and finger stroke the user makes on the phone, so that the owner of the evil charging station can later replay the videos and see any numbers or keys pressed on the smart phone.

That’s because those numbers or keys will be raised briefly on the victim’s screen with each key press. Here’s an example: While the user may have enabled a special PIN that needs to be entered before the phone unlocks to the home screen, this method captures even that PIN as long as the device is vulnerable and plugged in before the phone is unlocked.


Most of the phones vulnerable to video jacking are Android or other HDMI-ready smartphones from Asus, Blackberry, HTC, LG, Samsung, and ZTE. This page of HDMI enabled smartphones at should not be considered all-inclusive. Here’s another list. When in doubt, search online for your phone’s make and model to find out if it is HDMI or MHL ready.

Video jacking is a problem for users of HDMI-ready phones mainly because it’s very difficult to tell a USB cord that merely charges the phone versus one that also taps the phone’s video-out capability. Also, there’s generally no warning on the phone to alert the user that the device’s video is being piped to another source, Markus said.

“All of those phones have an HDMI access feature that is turned on by default,” he said. “A few HDMI-ready phones will briefly flash something like ‘HDMI Connected’ whenever they’re plugged into a power connection that is also drawing on the HDMI feature, but most will display no warning at all. This worked on all the phones we tested with no prompting.”

Both Markus and Rowley said they did not test the attack against Apple iPhones prior to DEF CON, but today Markus said he tested it at an Apple store and the video of the iPhone 6’s home screen popped up on the display in the store without any prompt. Getting it to work on the display required a special lightning digital AV adapter from Apple, which could easily be hidden inside an evil charging station and fed an extension adapter and then a regular lightning cable in front of that.

Continue reading →

Aug 16

Social Security Administration Now Requires Two-Factor Authentication

The U.S. Social Security Administration announced last week that it will now require a cell phone number from all Americans who wish to manage their retirement benefits at Unfortunately, the new security measure does little to prevent identity thieves from fraudulently creating online accounts to siphon benefits from Americans who haven’t yet created accounts for themselves.

ssasiteThe SSA said all new and existing ‘my Social Security’ account holders will need to provide a cell phone number. The agency said it will use the mobile numbers to send users an 8-digit code via text message that needs to be entered along with a username and password to log in to the site.

The SSA noted it was making the change to comply with an executive order for federal agencies to provide more secure authentication for their online services.

“People will not be able to access their personal my Social Security account if they do not have a cell phone or do not wish to provide the cell phone number,” the agency said. “The purpose of providing your cell phone number is that, each time you log in to your account with your username and password, we will send you a one-time security code you must also enter to log in successfully to your account. We expect to provide additional options in the future, dependent upon requirements of national guidelines currently being revised.”

Although the SSA’s policy change provides additional proof that the person signing in is the same individual who established multi-factor authentication in the the first place, it does not appear to provide any additional proof that the person creating an account at is who they say they are.

The SSA does offer other “extra security” options, such as the sending users a special code via the U.S. Mail that has to be entered on the agency’s site to complete the signup process. If you choose to enable extra security, the SSA will then ask you for:

  • The last eight digits of your Visa, MasterCard, or Discover credit card;
  • Information from your W2 tax form;
  • Information from a 1040 Schedule SE (self-employment) tax form; or
  • Your direct deposit amount, if you receive Social Security benefits.

Sadly, it is still relatively easy for thieves to create an account in the name of Americans who have not already created one for themselves. All one would need is the target’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, residential address, and phone number. This personal data can be bought for roughly $3-$4 from a variety of cybercrime shops online.

After that, the SSA relays four multiple-guess, so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions from credit bureau Equifax. In practice, many of these KBA questions — such as previous address, loan amounts and dates — can be successfully enumerated with random guessing.  What’s more, very often the answers to these questions can be found by consulting free online services, such as Zillow and Facebook.

In September 2013, I warned that SSA and financial institutions were tracking a rise in cases wherein identity thieves register an account at the SSA’s portal using a retiree’s personal information and have the victim’s benefits diverted to prepaid debit cards that the crooks control. Unfortunately, because the SSA’s new security features are optional, they do little to block crooks from hijacking SSA benefit payments from retirees. Continue reading →

Jun 16

Citing Attack, GoToMyPC Resets All Passwords

GoToMyPC, a service that helps people access and control their computers remotely over the Internet, is forcing all users to change their passwords, citing a spike in attacks that target people who re-use passwords across multiple sites.

gtpcOwned by Santa Clara, Calif. based networking giant Citrix, GoToMyPC is a popular software-as-a-service product that lets users access and control their PC or Mac from anywhere in the world. On June 19, the company posted a status update and began notifying users that a system-wide password update was underway.

“Unfortunately, the GoToMYPC service has been targeted by a very sophisticated password attack,” reads the notice posted to “To protect you, the security team recommended that we reset all customer passwords immediately. Effective immediately, you will be required to reset your GoToMYPC password before you can login again. To reset your password please use your regular GoToMYPC login link.”

John Bennett, product line director at Citrix, said once the company learned about the attack it took immediate action. But contrary to previous published reports, there is no indication Citrix or its platforms have been compromised, he said.

“Citrix can confirm the recent incident was a password re-use attack, where attackers used usernames and passwords leaked from other websites to access the accounts of GoToMyPC users,” Bennett wrote in an emailed statement. “At this time, the response includes a mandatory password reset for all GoToMyPC users. Citrix encourages customers to visit the  GoToMyPC status page to learn about enabling two-step verification, and to use strong passwords in order to keep accounts as safe as possible. ”

Citrix’s GoTo division also operates GoToAssist, which is geared toward technical support specialists, and GoToMeeting, a product marketed at businesses. The company said it has no indication that user accounts at other GoTo services were compromised, but assuming that’s true it’s likely because the attackers haven’t gotten around to trying yet.

It’s a fair bet that whoever perpetrated this attack had help from huge email and password lists recently leaked online from older breaches at LinkedIn, MySpace and Tumblr to name a few. Re-using passwords at multiple sites is a bad idea to begin with, but re-using your GoToMyPC remote administrator password at other sites seems like an exceptionally lousy idea.

May 16

Got $90,000? A Windows 0-Day Could Be Yours

How much would a cybercriminal, nation state or organized crime group pay for blueprints on how to exploit a serious, currently undocumented, unpatched vulnerability in all versions of Microsoft Windows? That price probably depends on the power of the exploit and what the market will bear at the time, but here’s a look at one convincing recent exploit sales thread from the cybercrime underworld where the current asking price for a Windows-wide bug that allegedly defeats all of Microsoft’s current security defenses is USD $90,000.

So-called “zero-day” vulnerabilities are flaws in software and hardware that even the makers of the product in question do not know about. Zero-days can be used by attackers to remotely and completely compromise a target — such as with a zero-day vulnerability in a browser plugin component like Adobe Flash or Oracle’s Java. These flaws are coveted, prized, and in some cases stockpiled by cybercriminals and nation states alike because they enable very stealthy and targeted attacks.

The $90,000 Windows bug that went on sale at the semi-exclusive Russian language cybercrime forum exploit[dot]in earlier this month is in a slightly less serious class of software vulnerability called a “local privilege escalation” (LPE) bug. This type of flaw is always going to be used in tandem with another vulnerability to successfully deliver and run the attacker’s malicious code.

LPE bugs can help amplify the impact of other exploits. One core tenet of security is limiting the rights or privileges of certain programs so that they run with the rights of a normal user — and not under the all-powerful administrator or “system” user accounts that can delete, modify or read any file on the computer. That way, if a security hole is found in one of these programs, that hole can’t be exploited to worm into files and folders that belong only to the administrator of the system.

This is where a privilege escalation bug can come in handy. An attacker may already have a reliable exploit that works remotely — but the trouble is his exploit only succeeds if the current user is running Windows as an administrator. No problem: Chain that remote exploit with a local privilege escalation bug that can bump up the target’s account privileges to that of an admin, and your remote exploit can work its magic without hindrance.

The seller of this supposed zero-day — someone using the nickname “BuggiCorp” — claims his exploit works on every version of Windows from Windows 2000 on up to Microsoft’s flagship Windows 10 operating system. To support his claims, the seller includes two videos of the exploit in action on what appears to be a system that was patched all the way up through this month’s (May 2016) batch of patches from Microsoft (it’s probably no accident that the video was created on May 10, the same day as Patch Tuesday this month).

A second video (above) appears to show the exploit working even though the test machine in the video is running Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET), a free software framework designed to help block or blunt exploits against known and unknown Windows vulnerabilities and flaws in third-party applications that run on top of Windows.

The sales thread on exploit[dot]in.

The sales thread on exploit[dot]in.

Jeff Jones, a cybersecurity strategist with Microsoft, said the company was aware of the exploit sales thread, but stressed that the claims were still unverified. Asked whether Microsoft would ever consider paying for information about the zero-day vulnerability, Jones pointed to the company’s bug bounty program that rewards security researchers for reporting vulnerabilities. According to Microsoft, the program to date has paid out more than $500,000 in bounties.

Microsoft heavily restricts the types of vulnerabilities that qualify for bounty rewards, but a bug like the one on sale for $90,000 would in fact qualify for a substantial bounty reward. Last summer, Microsoft raised its reward for information about a vulnerability that can fully bypass EMET from $50,000 to $100,000. Incidentally, Microsoft said any researcher with a vulnerability or who has questions can reach out to the Microsoft Security Response Center to learn more about the program and process.


It’s interesting that this exploit’s seller could potentially make more money by peddling his find to Microsoft than to the cybercriminal community. Of course, the videos and the whole thing could be a sham, but that’s probably unlikely in this case. For one thing, a scammer seeking to scam other thieves would not insist on using the cybercrime forum’s escrow service to consummate the transaction, as this vendor has. Continue reading →

May 16

How the Pwnedlist Got Pwned

Last week, I learned about a vulnerability that exposed all 866 million account credentials harvested by, a service designed to help companies track public password breaches that may create security problems for their users. The vulnerability has since been fixed, but this simple security flaw may have inadvertently exacerbated countless breaches by preserving the data lost in them and then providing free access to one of the Internet’s largest collections of compromised credentials.

PwndlistPwnedlist is run by Scottsdale, Ariz. based InfoArmor, and is marketed as a repository of usernames and passwords that have been publicly leaked online for any period of time at Pastebin, online chat channels and other free data dump sites.

The service until quite recently was free to all comers, but it makes money by allowing companies to get a live feed of usernames and passwords exposed in third-party breaches which might create security problems going forward for the subscriber organization and its employees.

This 2014 article from the Phoenix Business Journal describes one way InfoArmor markets the Pwnedlist to companies: “InfoArmor’s new Vendor Security Monitoring tool allows businesses to do due diligence and monitor its third-party vendors through real-time safety reports.”

The trouble is, the way Pwnedlist should work is very different from how it does. This became evident after I was contacted by Bob Hodges, a longtime reader and security researcher in Detroit who discovered something peculiar while he was using Pwnedlist: Hodges wanted to add to his watchlist the .edu and .com domains for which he is the administrator, but that feature wasn’t available.

In the first sign that something wasn’t quite right authentication-wise at Pwnedlist, the system didn’t even allow him to validate that he had control of an email address or domain by sending him a verification to said email or domain.

On the other hand, he found he could monitor any email address he wanted. Hodges said this gave him an idea about how to add his domains: Turns out that when any Pwnedlist user requests that a new Web site name be added to his “Watchlist,” the process for approving that request was fundamentally flawed.

That’s because the process of adding a new thing for Pwnedlist to look for — be it a domain, email address, or password hash — was a two-step procedure involving a submit button and confirmation page, and the confirmation page didn’t bother to check whether the thing being added in the first step was the same as the thing approved in the confirmation page. [For the Geek Factor 5 crowd here, this vulnerability type is known as “parameter tampering,” and it involves  the ability to modify hidden parameters in POST requests].

“Their system is supposed to compare the data that gets submitted in the second step with what you initially submitted in the first window, but there’s nothing to prevent you from changing that,” Hodges said. “They’re not even checking normal email addresses. For example, when you add an email to your watchlist, that email [account] doesn’t get a message saying they’ve been added. After you add an email you don’t own or control, it gives you the verified check box, but in reality it does no verification. You just typed it in. It’s almost like at some point they just disabled any verification systems they may have had at Pwnedlist.” Continue reading →

Apr 16

Dental Assn Mails Malware to Members

The American Dental Association (ADA) says it may have inadvertently mailed malware-laced USB thumb drives to thousands of dental offices nationwide.

The problem first came to light in a post on the DSL Reports Security Forum. DSLR member “Mike” from Pittsburgh got curious about the integrity of a USB drive that the ADA mailed to members to share updated “dental procedure codes” — codes that dental offices use to track procedures for billing and insurance purposes.

“Oh wow the usually inept ADA just sent me new codes,” Mike wrote. “I bet some marketing genius had this wonderful idea instead of making it downloadable. I can’t wait to plug an unknown USB into my computer that has PHI/HIPAA on it…” [link added].

The ADA says some flash drives mailed to members contained malware.

The ADA says some flash drives mailed to members contained malware. Image: Mike

Sure enough, Mike looked at the code inside one of the files on the flash drive and found it tries to open a Web page that has long been tied to malware distribution. The domain is used by crooks to infect visitors with malware that lets the attackers gain full control of the infected Windows computer. Continue reading →

Apr 16

US-CERT to Windows Users: Dump Apple Quicktime

Microsoft Windows users who still have Apple Quicktime installed should ditch the program now that Apple has stopped shipping security updates for it, warns the Department of Homeland Security‘s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT). The advice came just as researchers are reporting two new critical security holes in Quicktime that likely won’t be patched.

quicktimeUS-CERT cited an April 14 blog post by Christopher Budd at Trend Micro, which runs a program called Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) that buys security vulnerabilities and helps researchers coordinate fixing the bugs with software vendors. Budd urged Windows users to junk Quicktime, citing two new, unpatched vulnerabilities that ZDI detailed which could be used to remotely compromise Windows computers.

“According to Trend Micro, Apple will no longer be providing security updates for QuickTime for Windows, leaving this software vulnerable to exploitation,” US-CERT wrote. The advisory continued:

“Computers running QuickTime for Windows will continue to work after support ends. However, using unsupported software may increase the risks from viruses and other security threats. Potential negative consequences include loss of confidentiality, integrity, or availability of data, as well as damage to system resources or business assets. The only mitigation available is to uninstall QuickTime for Windows. Users can find instructions for uninstalling QuickTime for Windows on the Apple Uninstall QuickTime page.”

While the recommendations from US-CERT and others apparently came as a surprise to many, Apple has been distancing itself from QuickTime on Windows for some time now. In 2013, the Cupertino, Calif. tech giant deprecated all developer APIs for Quicktime on Windows.

Apple shipped an update to Quicktime in January 2016 that removed the Quicktime browser plugin on Windows systems, meaning the threat from browser-based attacks on Quicktime flaws was largely mitigated over the past few months for Windows users who have been keeping up to date with the latest version. Nevertheless, if you have Quicktime on a Windows box — do yourself a favor and get rid of it.

Update, Apr. 21, 10:00 a.m. ET: Apple has finally posted a support document online that explains QuickTime 7 for Windows is no longer supported by Apple. See the full advisory here.

Apr 16

New Threat Can Auto-Brick Apple Devices

If you use an Apple iPhone, iPad or other iDevice, now would be an excellent time to ensure that the machine is running the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system — version 9.3.1. Failing to do so could expose your devices to automated threats capable of rendering them unresponsive and perhaps forever useless.

Zach Straley demonstrating the fatal Jan. 1, 1970 bug. Don't try this at home!

Zach Straley demonstrating the fatal Jan. 1, 1970 bug. Don’t try this at home!

On Feb. 11, 2016, researcher Zach Straley posted a Youtube video exposing his startling and bizarrely simple discovery: Manually setting the date of your iPhone or iPad all the back to January. 1, 1970 will permanently brick the device (don’t try this at home, or against frenemies!).

Now that Apple has patched the flaw that Straley exploited with his fingers, researchers say they’ve proven how easy it would be to automate the attack over a network, so that potential victims would need only to wander within range of a hostile wireless network to have their pricey Apple devices turned into useless bricks.

Not long after Straley’s video began pulling in millions of views, security researchers Patrick Kelley and Matt Harrigan wondered: Could they automate the exploitation of this oddly severe and destructive date bug? The researchers discovered that indeed they could, armed with only $120 of electronics (not counting the cost of the bricked iDevices), a basic understanding of networking, and a familiarity with the way Apple devices connect to wireless networks.

Apple products like the iPad (and virtually all mass-market wireless devices) are designed to automatically connect to wireless networks they have seen before. They do this with a relatively weak level of authentication: If you connect to a network named “Hotspot” once, going forward your device may automatically connect to any open network that also happens to be called “Hotspot.”

For example, to use Starbuck’s free Wi-Fi service, you’ll have to connect to a network called “attwifi”. But once you’ve done that, you won’t ever have to manually connect to a network called “attwifi” ever again. The next time you visit a Starbucks, just pull out your iPad and the device automagically connects.

From an attacker’s perspective, this is a golden opportunity. Why? He only needs to advertise a fake open network called “attwifi” at a spot where large numbers of computer users are known to congregate. Using specialized hardware to amplify his Wi-Fi signal, he can force many users to connect to his (evil) “attwifi” hotspot. From there, he can attempt to inspect, modify or redirect any network traffic for any iPads or other devices that unwittingly connect to his evil network.


And this is exactly what Kelley and Harrigan say they have done in real-life tests. They realized that iPads and other iDevices constantly check various “network time protocol” (NTP) servers around the globe to sync their internal date and time clocks.

The researchers said they discovered they could build a hostile Wi-Fi network that would force Apple devices to download time and date updates from their own (evil) NTP time server: And to set their internal clocks to one infernal date and time in particular: January 1, 1970.

Harrigan and Kelley named their destructive Wi-Fi network "Phonebreaker."

Harrigan and Kelley named their destructive Wi-Fi test network “Phonebreaker.”

The result? The iPads that were brought within range of the test (evil) network rebooted, and began to slowly self-destruct. It’s not clear why they do this, but here’s one possible explanation: Most applications on an iPad are configured to use security certificates that encrypt data transmitted to and from the user’s device. Those encryption certificates stop working correctly if the system time and date on the user’s mobile is set to a year that predates the certificate’s issuance.

Harrigan and Kelley said this apparently creates havoc with most of the applications built into the iPad and iPhone, and that the ensuing bedlam as applications on the device compete for resources quickly overwhelms the iPad’s computer processing power. So much so that within minutes, they found their test iPad had reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 Celsius), as the date and clock settings on the affected devices inexplicably and eerily began counting backwards.


Continue reading →

Apr 16

Adobe Patches Flash Player Zero-Day Threat

Adobe Systems this week rushed out an emergency patch to plug a security hole in its widely-installed Flash Player software, warning that the vulnerability is already being exploited in active attacks.

brokenflash-aAdobe said a “critical” bug exists in all versions of Flash including Flash versions and lower (older) across a broad range of systems, including Windows, Mac, Linux and Chrome OS. Find out if you have Flash and if so what version by visiting this link.

In a security advisory, the software maker said it is aware of reports that the vulnerability is being actively exploited on systems running Windows 7 and Windows XP with Flash Player version and earlier.  Continue reading →