Security Tools


14
May 18

Detecting Cloned Cards at the ATM, Register

Much of the fraud involving counterfeit credit, ATM debit and retail gift cards relies on the ability of thieves to use cheap, widely available hardware to encode stolen data onto any card’s magnetic stripe. But new research suggests retailers and ATM operators could reliably detect counterfeit cards using a simple technology that flags cards which appear to have been altered by such tools.

A gift card purchased at retail with an unmasked PIN hidden behind a paper sleeve. Such PINs can be easily copied by an adversary, who waits until the card is purchased to steal the card’s funds. Image: University of Florida.

Researchers at the University of Florida found that account data encoded on legitimate cards is invariably written using quality-controlled, automated facilities that tend to imprint the information in uniform, consistent patterns.

Cloned cards, however, usually are created by hand with inexpensive encoding machines, and as a result feature far more variance or “jitter” in the placement of digital bits on the card’s stripe.

Gift cards can be extremely profitable and brand-building for retailers, but gift card fraud creates a very negative shopping experience for consumers and a costly conundrum for retailers. The FBI estimates that while gift card fraud makes up a small percentage of overall gift card sales and use, approximately $130 billion worth of gift cards are sold each year.

One of the most common forms of gift card fraud involves thieves tampering with cards inside the retailer’s store — before the cards are purchased by legitimate customers. Using a handheld card reader, crooks will swipe the stripe to record the card’s serial number and other data needed to duplicate the card.

If there is a PIN on the gift card packaging, the thieves record that as well. In many cases, the PIN is obscured by a scratch-off decal, but gift card thieves can easily scratch those off and then replace the material with identical or similar decals that are sold very cheaply by the roll online.

“They can buy big rolls of that online for almost nothing,” said Patrick Traynor, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Florida. “Retailers we’ve worked with have told us they’ve gone to their gift card racks and found tons of this scratch-off stuff on the ground near the racks.”

At this point the cards are still worthless because they haven’t yet been activated. But armed with the card’s serial number and PIN, thieves can simply monitor the gift card account at the retailer’s online portal and wait until the cards are paid for and activated at the checkout register by an unwitting shopper.

Once a card is activated, thieves can encode that card’s data onto any card with a magnetic stripe and use that counterfeit to purchase merchandise at the retailer. The stolen goods typically are then sold online or on the street. Meanwhile, the person who bought the card (or the person who received it as a gift) finds the card is drained of funds when they eventually get around to using it at a retail store.

The top two gift cards show signs that someone previously peeled back the protective sticker covering the redemption code. Image: Flint Gatrell.

Traynor and a team of five other University of Florida researchers partnered with retail giant WalMart to test their technology, which Traynor said can be easily and quite cheaply incorporated into point-of-sale systems at retail store cash registers. They said the WalMart trial demonstrated that researchers’ technology distinguished legitimate gift cards from clones with up to 99.3 percent accuracy.

While impressive, that rate still means the technology could still generate a “false positive” — erroneously flagging a legitimate customer as using a fraudulently obtained gift card in a non-trivial number of cases. But Traynor said the retailers they spoke with in testing their equipment all indicated they would welcome any additional tools to curb the incidence of gift card fraud.

“We’ve talked with quite a few retail loss prevention folks,” he said. “Most said even if they can simply flag the transaction and make a note of the person [presenting the cloned card] that this would be a win for them. Often, putting someone on notice that loss prevention is watching is enough to make them stop — at least at that store. From our discussions with a few big-box retailers, this kind of fraud is probably their newest big concern, although they don’t talk much about it publicly. If the attacker does any better than simply cloning the card to a blank white card, they’re pretty much powerless to stop the attack, and that’s a pretty consistent story behind closed doors.” Continue reading →


8
May 18

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, May 2018 Edition

Microsoft today released a bundle of security updates to fix at least 67 holes in its various Windows operating systems and related software, including one dangerous flaw that Microsoft warns is actively being exploited. Meanwhile, as it usually does on Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday — the second Tuesday of each month — Adobe has a new Flash Player update that addresses a single but critical security weakness.

First, the Flash Tuesday update, which brings Flash Player to v. 29.0.0.171. Some (present company included) would argue that Flash Player is itself “a single but critical security weakness.” Nevertheless, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer/Edge ship with their own versions of Flash, which get updated automatically when new versions of these browsers are made available.

You can check if your browser has Flash installed/enabled and what version it’s at by pointing your browser at this link. Adobe is phasing out Flash entirely by 2020, but most of the major browsers already take steps to hobble Flash. And with good reason: It’s a major security liability. Continue reading →


11
Mar 18

Checked Your Credit Since the Equifax Hack?

A recent consumer survey suggests that half of all Americans still haven’t checked their credit report since the Equifax breach last year exposed the Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and other personal information on nearly 150 million people. If you’re in that fifty percent, please make an effort to remedy that soon.

Credit reports from the three major bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — can be obtained online for free at annualcreditreport.com — the only Web site mandated by Congress to serve each American a free credit report every year.

Annualcreditreport.com is run by a Florida-based company, but its data is supplied by the major credit bureaus, which struggled mightily to meet consumer demand for free credit reports in the immediate aftermath of the Equifax breach. Personally, I was unable to order a credit report for either me or my wife even two weeks after the Equifax breach went public: The site just kept returning errors and telling us to request the reports in writing via the U.S. Mail.

Based on thousands of comments left here in the days following the Equifax breach disclosure, I suspect many readers experienced the same but forgot to come back and try again. If this describes you, please take a moment this week to order your report(s) (and perhaps your spouse’s) and see if anything looks amiss. If you spot an error or something suspicious, contact the bureau that produced the report to correct the record immediately.

Of course, keeping on top of your credit report requires discipline, and if you’re not taking advantage of all three free reports each year you need to get a plan. My strategy is to put a reminder on our calendar to order a new report every four months or so, each time from a different credit bureau. Continue reading →


26
Feb 18

USPS Finally Starts Notifying You by Mail If Someone is Scanning Your Snail Mail Online

In October 2017, KrebsOnSecurity warned that ne’er-do-wells could take advantage of a relatively new service offered by the U.S. Postal Service that provides scanned images of all incoming mail before it is slated to arrive at its destination address. We advised that stalkers or scammers could abuse this service by signing up as anyone in the household, because the USPS wasn’t at that point set up to use its own unique communication system — the U.S. mail — to alert residents when someone had signed up to receive these scanned images.

Image: USPS

The USPS recently told this publication that beginning Feb. 16 it started alerting all households by mail whenever anyone signs up to receive these scanned notifications of mail delivered to that address. The notification program, dubbed “Informed Delivery,” includes a scan of the front of each envelope destined for a specific address each day.

The Postal Service says consumer feedback on its Informed Delivery service has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly among residents who travel regularly and wish to keep close tabs on any bills or other mail being delivered while they’re on the road. It has been available to select addresses in several states since 2014 under a targeted USPS pilot program, but it has since expanded to include many ZIP codes nationwide. U.S. residents can find out if their address is eligible by visiting informeddelivery.usps.com.

According to the USPS, some 8.1 million accounts have been created via the service so far (Oct. 7, 2017, the last time I wrote about Informed Delivery, there were 6.3 million subscribers, so the program has grown more than 28 percent in five months).

Roy Betts, a spokesperson for the USPS’s communications team, says post offices handled 50,000 Informed Delivery notifications the week of Feb. 16, and are delivering an additional 100,000 letters to existing Informed Delivery addresses this coming week.

Currently, the USPS allows address changes via the USPS Web site or in-person at any one of more than 35,000 USPS retail locations nationwide. When a request is processed, the USPS sends a confirmation letter to both the old address and the new address.

If someone already signed up for Informed Delivery later posts a change of address request, the USPS does not automatically transfer the Informed Delivery service to the new address: Rather, it sends a mailer with a special code tied to the new address and to the username that requested the change. To resume Informed Delivery at the new address, that code needs to be entered online using the account that requested the address change.

A review of the methods used by the USPS to validate new account signups last fall suggested the service was wide open to abuse by a range of parties, mainly because of weak authentication and because it is not easy to opt out of the service.

Signing up requires an eligible resident to create a free user account at USPS.com, which asks for the resident’s name, address and an email address. The final step in validating residents involves answering four so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions.

The USPS told me it uses two ID proofing vendors: Lexis Nexisand, naturally, recently breached big three credit bureau Equifax — to ask the magic KBA questions, rotating between them randomly.

KrebsOnSecurity has assailed KBA as an unreliable authentication method because so many answers to the multiple-guess questions are available on sites like Spokeo and Zillow, or via social networking profiles.

It’s also nice when Equifax gives away a metric truckload of information about where you’ve worked, how much you made at each job, and what addresses you frequented when. See: How to Opt Out of Equifax Revealing Your Salary History for how much leaks from this lucrative division of Equifax. Continue reading →


24
Jan 18

Chronicle: A Meteor Aimed At Planet Threat Intel?

Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, said today it is in the process of rolling out a new service designed to help companies more quickly make sense of and act on the mountains of threat data produced each day by cybersecurity tools.

Countless organizations rely on a hodgepodge of security software, hardware and services to find and detect cybersecurity intrusions before an incursion by malicious software or hackers has the chance to metastasize into a full-blown data breach.

The problem is that the sheer volume of data produced by these tools is staggering and increasing each day, meaning already-stretched IT staff often miss key signs of an intrusion until it’s too late.

Enter “Chronicle,” a nascent platform that graduated from the tech giant’s “X” division, which is a separate entity tasked with tackling hard-to-solve problems with an eye toward leveraging the company’s core strengths: Massive data analytics and storage capabilities, machine learning and custom search capabilities.

“We want to 10x the speed and impact of security teams’ work by making it much easier, faster and more cost-effective for them to capture and analyze security signals that have previously been too difficult and expensive to find,” wrote Stephen Gillett, CEO of the new venture.

Few details have been released yet about how exactly Chronicle will work, although the company did say it would draw in part on data from VirusTotal, a free service acquired by Google in 2012 that allows users to scan suspicious files against dozens of commercial antivirus tools simultaneously.

Gillett said his division is already trialing the service with several Fortune 500 firms to test the preview release of Chronicle, but the company declined to name any of those participating.

ANALYSIS

It’s not terribly clear from Gillett’s post or another blog post from Alphabet’s X division by Astro Teller how exactly Chronicle will differentiate itself in such a crowded market for cybersecurity offerings. But it’s worth considering the impact that VirusTotal has had over the years.

Currently, VirusTotal handles approximately one million submissions each day. The results of each submission get shared back with the entire community of antivirus vendors who lend their tools to the service — which allows each vendor to benefit by adding malware signatures for new variants that their tools missed but that a preponderance of other tools flagged as malicious.

Naturally, cybercriminals have responded by creating their own criminal versions of VirusTotal: So-called “no distribute” scanners. These services cater to malware authors, and use the same stable of antivirus tools, except they prevent these tools from phoning home to the antivirus companies about new, unknown variants. Continue reading →


17
Jan 18

Some Basic Rules for Securing Your IoT Stuff

Most readers here have likely heard or read various prognostications about the impending doom from the proliferation of poorly-secured “Internet of Things” or IoT devices. Loosely defined as any gadget or gizmo that connects to the Internet but which most consumers probably wouldn’t begin to know how to secure, IoT encompasses everything from security cameras, routers and digital video recorders to printers, wearable devices and “smart” lightbulbs.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, attacks from massive botnets made up entirely of hacked IoT devices had many experts warning of a dire outlook for Internet security. But the future of IoT doesn’t have to be so bleak. Here’s a primer on minimizing the chances that your IoT things become a security liability for you or for the Internet at large.

-Rule #1: Avoid connecting your devices directly to the Internet — either without a firewall or in front it, by poking holes in your firewall so you can access them remotely. Putting your devices in front of your firewall is generally a bad idea because many IoT products were simply not designed with security in mind and making these things accessible over the public Internet could invite attackers into your network. If you have a router, chances are it also comes with a built-in firewall. Keep your IoT devices behind the firewall as best you can.

-Rule #2: If you can, change the thing’s default credentials to a complex password that only you will know and can remember. And if you do happen to forget the password, it’s not the end of the world: Most devices have a recessed reset switch that can be used to restore to the thing to its factory-default settings (and credentials). Here’s some advice on picking better ones.

I say “if you can,” at the beginning of Rule #2 because very often IoT devices — particularly security cameras and DVRs — are so poorly designed from a security perspective that even changing the default password to the thing’s built-in Web interface does nothing to prevent the things from being reachable and vulnerable once connected to the Internet.

Also, many of these devices are found to have hidden, undocumented “backdoor” accounts that attackers can use to remotely control the devices. That’s why Rule #1 is so important. Continue reading →


25
Jul 16

Trump, DNC, RNC Flunk Email Security Test

Donald J. Trump has repeatedly bashed Sen. Hillary Clinton for handling classified documents on her private email server, suggesting that anyone who is so lax with email security isn’t fit to become president. But a closer look at the Web sites for each candidate shows that in contrast to hillaryclinton.com, donaldjtrump.com has failed to take full advantage of a free and open email security technology designed to stymie email spoofing and phishing attacks.

atballAt issue is a fairly technical proposed standard called DMARC. Short for “domain-based messaging authentication reporting and conformance,” DMARC tries to solve a problem that has plagued email since its inception: It’s surprisingly difficult for email providers and end users alike to tell whether a given email is real – i.e. that it really was sent by the person or organization identified in the “from:” portion of the missive.

DMARC may not yet be widely deployed beyond the major email providers, but that’s about to change. Google announced late last year that it will soon move gmail.com to a policy of rejecting any messages that don’t pass the authentication checks spelled out in the DMARC specification. And others are already moving in the same direction.

Probably the easiest way to understand DMARC is to walk through a single site’s records. According to the DMARC compliance lookup tool at dmarcian.com — a DMARC awareness, training and support site — hillaryclinton.com has fully implemented DMARC. This means that the campaign has posted a public policy that enables email providers like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to quickly determine whether a message claiming to have been sent from hillaryclinton.com was actually sent from that domain.

Specifically, (and this is where things can quickly descend into a Geek Factor 5 realm of nerdiness) DMARC sits on top of two existing technologies that try to make email easy to identify: Sender Policy Framework (SPF), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM).

SPF is basically a list of Internet addresses and domains which are authorized to send email on behalf of hillaryclinton.com (in case anyone’s interested, here’s a copy of the SPF record for hillaryclinton.com). DKIM allows email receivers to verify that a piece of email originated from an Internet domain through the use of public key cryptography. Deploying both technologies gives email receivers two ways to figure out if a piece of email is legitimate.

The DMARC record for Clinton’s site includes the text string “p=quarantine.” The “p” bit stands for policy, and “quarantine” means the Web site’s administrators have instructed email providers to quarantine all messages sent from addresses or domains not on that list and not signed with DKIM – effectively consigning them to the intended recipient’s “spam” or “junk” folder. Another blocking option available is “p=reject,” which tells email providers to outright drop or reject any mail sent from domains or addresses not specified in the organization’s SPF records and lacking any appropriate DKIM signatures.

Turning Dmarcian.com’s tool against donaldjtrump.com, we can see that although the site is thinking about turning on DMARC, it hasn’t actually done so yet. The site’s DMARC records are set to the third option — “p=none” — which means the site administrators haven’t yet asked email providers to block or quarantine any messages that fail to match the site’s SPF records. Rather, the site merely asks email providers to report to “postmaster@donaldjtrump.com” about the source of any email messages claiming to have been sent by that domain. Continue reading →


9
Mar 16

eero: A Mesh WiFi Router Built for Security

User-friendly and secure. Hardly anyone would pick either word to describe the vast majority of wireless routers in use today. So naturally I was intrigued a year ago when I had the chance to pre-order a eero, a new WiFi system billed as easy-to-use, designed with security in mind, and able to dramatically extend the range of a wireless network without compromising speed. Here’s a brief review of the eero system I received and installed a week ago.

Three eero devices designed to create a "mesh" wireless network with extended range without compromising speed.

Three eero devices designed to create an extended range “mesh” wireless network without compromising speed.

The standard eero WiFi system comes with three eero devices, each about the width of a square coaster and roughly an inch thick. Every individual eero unit has two built-in WiFi radios that are designed to hand off traffic with the other two units.

This two-radio aspect is important, as most consumer devices that are made and marketed as WiFi range extenders or “repeaters” contain only one radio, and thus end up halving the speed of the repeated WiFi signal.

The makers of eero recommend one device for every 1,000 square feet, and advise placing one device no further than 40 feet from another. Each eero has two ethernet ports in the back, but only one of the eeros needs to be connected directly into your modem with an ethernet cable. That means that a 3-piece eero set has a total of five available ethernet ports, or at least one open ethernet port at each eero location.

Most wireless routers require owners to configure the device by using a hard-wired computer or laptop, opening a browser and navigating to a numeric Internet address to enter some default credentials. From there, you’re on your own. In contrast, the eero system relies on a simple mobile app for setup. The app asks for your name, email address and mobile number, and then sends a text with a one-time passcode.

After you verify the code on your mobile device, the app prompts you to pick a network name (SSID) and password. The device defaults to WPA-2 PSK (AES) for encryption — the strongest security currently available.

Once you’ve assigned each eero a unique location — and as long as the three devices can talk to each other — the network should be set up. The entire process — from placing and plugging in the eeros to setting up the network —  took me about five minutes, but most of that was just me walking from one room or floor to the next to adjust the location of the devices. Continue reading →


2
Feb 16

Good Riddance to Oracle’s Java Plugin

Good news: Oracle says the next major version of its Java software will no longer plug directly into the user’s Web browser. This long overdue step should cut down dramatically on the number of computers infected with malicious software via opportunistic, so-called “drive-by” download attacks that exploit outdated Java plugins across countless browsers and multiple operating systems.

javamessAccording to Oracle, some 97 percent of enterprise computers and a whopping 89 percent of desktop systems in the U.S. run some form of Java. This has made Java JRE (the form of Java that runs most commonly on end-user systems) a prime target of malware authors.

“Exploit kits,” crimeware made to be stitched into the fabric of hacked and malicious sites, lie in wait for visitors who browse the booby-trapped sites. The kits can silently install malicious software on computers of anyone visiting or forcibly redirected to booby-trapped sites without the latest version of the Java plugin installed. In addition, crooks are constantly trying to inject scripts that invoke exploit kits via tainted advertisements submitted to the major ad networks.

These exploit kits — using names like “Angler,” “Blackhole,” “Nuclear” and “Rig” — are equipped to try a kitchen sink full of exploits for various browser plugins, but historically most of those exploits have been attacks on outdated Java and Adobe Flash plugins. As a result, KrebsOnSecurity has long warned users to remove Java altogether, or at least unplug it from the browser unless and until it is needed.

On Jan. 27, 2016, Oracle took a major step toward reducing the effectiveness of exploit kits and other crimeware when the company announced it was pulling the browser plugin from the next desktop version of Java – Java JRE 9. Continue reading →


28
Jan 16

FTC: Tax Fraud Behind 47% Spike in ID Theft

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today said it tracked a nearly 50 percent increase in identity theft complaints in 2015, and that by far the biggest contributor to that spike was tax refund fraud. The announcement coincided with the debut of a beefed up FTC Web site aimed at making it easier for consumers to report and recover from all forms of ID theft.

In kicking off “Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week,” FTC released new stats showing that the agency received more than 490,000 identity theft complaints last year, a 47 percent increase over 2014. In a conference call with the news media, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez called tax refund fraud “the largest and fastest growing ID theft category” that the commission tracks.

Tax refund fraud contributed mightily to a big spike in ID theft complaints to the FTC in 2015. Image: FTC

Tax refund fraud contributed mightily to a big spike in ID theft complaints to the FTC in 2015. Image: FTC

Those numbers roughly coincide with data released by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which also shows a major increase in tax-related identity theft in 2015.

Incidence of tax-related ID theft as of Sept. 2015. Source: IRS.

Incidence of tax-related ID theft as of Sept. 2015. Source: IRS.

Ramirez was speaking to reporters to get the word out about the agency’s new and improved online resource, identitytheft.gov, which aims to streamline the process of reporting various forms of identity theft to the FTC, the IRS, the credit bureaus and to state and local officials.

“The upgraded site, which is mobile and tablet accessible, offers an array of easy-to-use tools, that enables identity theft victims to create the documents they need to alert police, the main credit bureaus and the IRS among others,” Ramirez said. “Identity theft victims can now go online and get a free, personalized identity theft recovery plan.”

Ramirez added that the agency’s site does not collect sensitive data — such as drivers license or Social Security numbers. The areas where that information is required are left blank in the forms that get produced when consumers finish stepping through the process of filing an ID theft complaint (consumers are instructed to “fill these items in by hand, after you print it out”).

The FTC chief also said the agency is working with the credit bureaus to further streamline the process of reporting fraud. She declined to be specific about what that might entail, but the new and improved identitytheft.gov site is still far from automated. For example, the “recovery plan” produced when consumers file a report merely lists the phone numbers and includes Web site links for the major credit bureaus that consumers can use to place fraud alerts or file a security freeze.

The "My Recovery Plan" produced when I filed a test report claiming the worst possible scenario of ID theft that I could think up. The FTC requests that consumers not file false reports (I had their PR person remove this entry after filing it).

The “My Recovery Plan” produced when I filed a test report claiming the worst possible scenario of ID theft that I could think up. The FTC kindly requests that consumers not file false reports (I had their PR person remove this entry after filing it).

Nevertheless, I was encouraged to see the FTC urging consumers to request a security freeze on their credit file, even if this was the last option listed on the recovery plan that I was issued and the agency’s site appears to do little to help consumers actually file security freezes.

I’m also glad to see the Commission’s site employ multi-factor authentication for consumers who wish to receive a recovery plan in addition to filing an ID theft report with the FTC. Those who request a plan are asked to provide an email address, pick a complex password, and input a one-time code that is sent via text message or automated phone call. Continue reading →