Posts Tagged: Ars Technica


31
Jan 20

Iowa Prosecutors Drop Charges Against Men Hired to Test Their Security

On Sept. 11, 2019, two security experts at a company that had been hired by the state of Iowa to test the physical and network security of its judicial system were arrested while probing the security of an Iowa county courthouse, jailed in orange jumpsuits, charged with burglary, and held on $100,000 bail. On Thursday Jan. 30, prosecutors in Iowa announced they had dropped the criminal charges. The news came while KrebsOnSecurity was conducting a video interview with the two accused (featured below).

The courthouse in Dallas County, Iowa. Image: Wikipedia.

Gary DeMercurio, 43 of Seattle, and Justin Wynn, 29 of Naples, Fla., are both professional penetration testers employed by Coalfire Labs, a security firm based in Westminster, Colo. Iowa’s State Court Administration had hired the company to test the security of its judicial buildings.

Under the terms of their contract (PDF), DeMercurio and Wynn were permitted to impersonate staff and contractors, provide false pretenses to gain physical access to facilities, “tailgate” employees into buildings, and access restricted areas of those facilities. The contract said the men could not attempt to subvert alarm systems, force-open doors, or access areas that require protective equipment.

When the duo’s early-morning Sept. 11 test of the security at the courthouse in Dallas County, Iowa set off an audible security alarm, they followed procedure and waited on-site for the police. DeMercurio and Wynn said when the county’s sheriff deputies arrived on the scene just a few minutes later, they told the officers who they were and why they were there, and that they’d obtained entry to the premises via an unlocked door.

“They said they found a courthouse door unlocked, so they closed it from the outside and let it lock,” Dan Goodin of Ars Technica wrote of the ordeal in November. “Then they slipped a plastic cutting board through a crack in the door and manipulated its locking mechanism. (Pentesters frequently use makeshift or self-created tools in their craft to flip latches, trigger motion-detected mechanisms, and test other security systems.) The deputies seemed impressed.”

To assuage concerns they might be burglars, DeMercurio and Wynn produced an authorization letter detailing the job they’d been hired to do and listing the names and mobile phone numbers of Iowa state employees who could verify their story.

After contacting some of the court officials listed in the letter, the deputies seemed satisfied that the men weren’t thieves. That is, until Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard showed up.

“The pentesters had already said they used a tool to open the front door,” Goodin recounted. “Leonard took that to mean the men had violated the restriction against forcing doors open. Leonard also said the men attempted to turn off the alarm—something Coalfire officials vehemently deny. In Leonard’s mind that was a second violation. Another reason for doubt: one of the people listed as a contact on the get-out-of-jail-free letter didn’t answer the deputies’ calls, while another said he didn’t believe the men had permission to conduct physical intrusions.”

DeMercurio and Wynn were arrested, jailed, and held for nearly 24 hours before being released on a $100,000 bail. Initially they were charged with felony third-degree burglary and possessing burglary tools, although those charges were later downgraded to misdemeanor trespass.

What initially seemed to Coalfire as a momentary lapse of judgment by Iowa authorities quickly morphed into the surreal when state lawmakers held hearings questioning why and how someone in the state’s employ could have so recklessly endangered the safety and security of its citizens.

DeMercurio and Wynn, minus the orange jumpsuits.

Judicial Branch officials in Dallas County said in response to this grilling that they didn’t expect Coalfire’s physical penetration testing to be conducted outside of business hours. State Sen. Amy Sinclair was quoted as telling her colleagues that “the hiring of an outside company to break into the courthouses in September created ‘significant danger, not only to the contractors, but to local law enforcement, and members of the public.'”

“Essentially a branch of government has contracted with a company to commit crimes, and that’s very troubling,” lamented Iowa state Sen. Zach Whiting. “I want to find out who needs to be held accountable for this and how we can do that.”

Those strong words clashed with a joint statement released Thursday by Coalfire and Dallas County Attorney Charles Sinnard:

“Ultimately, the long-term interests of justice and protection of the public are not best served by continued prosecution of the trespass charges,” the statement reads. “Those interests are best served by all the parties working together to ensure that there is clear communication on the actions to be taken to secure the sensitive information maintained by the judicial branch, without endangering the life or property of the citizens of Iowa, law enforcement or the persons carrying out the testing.

Matthew Linholm, an attorney representing DeMercurio and Wynn in the case, said the justice system ceases to serve its crucial function and loses credibility when criminal accusations are used to advance personal or political agendas.

“Such a practice endangers the effective administration of justice and our confidence in the criminal justice system,” Linholm told The Des Moines Register, which broke the news of the dropped charges. Continue reading →


12
Oct 17

Equifax Credit Assistance Site Served Spyware

Big-three consumer credit bureau Equifax says it has removed third-party code from its credit report assistance Web site that prompted visitors to download spyware disguised as an update for Adobe’s Flash Player software.

Image: Randy-abrams.blogspot.com

Image: Randy-abrams.blogspot.com

On Wednesday, security expert and blogger Randy Abrams documented how browsing a page at Equifax’s consumer information services portal caused his browser to be served with a message urging him to download Adobe Flash Player.

“As I tried to find my credit report on the Equifax website I clicked on an Equifax link and was redirected to a malicious URL,” Abrahms wrote. “The URL brought up one of the ubiquitous fake Flash Player Update screens. ”

Ars Technica’s Dan Goodin was the first to cover the discovery, and said the phony Flash Player installer was detected by several antivirus tools as “Adware.Eorezo,” an intrusive program that displays advertisements in Internet Explorer and may install browser toolbars and other unwanted programs.

Several hours after Goodin’s piece went live, Equifax disabled the page in question, saying it was doing so out of “an abundance of caution” while it investigated the claims.

In a follow-up statement shared with KrebsOnSecurity this afternoon, however, Equifax said the problem stemmed from a “third-party vendor that Equifax uses to collect website performance data,” and that “the vendor’s code running on an Equifax Web site was serving malicious content.” Equifax did not say who the third party vendor was. Continue reading →


3
Feb 17

How Google Took on Mirai, KrebsOnSecurity

The third week of September 2016 was a dark and stormy one for KrebsOnSecurity. Wave after wave of huge denial-of-service attacks flooded this site, forcing me to pull the plug on it until I could secure protection from further assault. The site resurfaced three days later under the aegis of Google’s Project Shield, an initiative which seeks to protect journalists and news sites from being censored by these crippling digital sieges.

Damian Menscher, a Google security engineer with whom I worked very closely on the migration to Project Shield, spoke this week about the unique challenges involved in protecting a small site like this one from very large, sustained and constantly morphing attacks.

Google Security Reliability Engineer Damian Menscher speaking at the Enigma conference this week. Photo: @mrisher

Google Security Reliability Engineer Damian Menscher speaking at the Enigma conference this week. Photo: @mrisher

Addressing the Enigma 2017 security conference in Oakland, Calif., Menscher said his team only briefly considered whether it was such a good idea to invite a news site that takes frequent swings at the DDoS-for-hire industry.

“What happens if this botnet actually takes down google.com and we lose all of our revenue?” Menscher recalled. “But we considered [that] if the botnet can take us down, we’re probably already at risk anyway. There’s nothing stopping them from attacking us at any time. So we really had nothing to lose here.” Continue reading →


19
Feb 16

Dell to Customers: Report ‘Service Tag’ Scams

Computer maker Dell is asking for help in an ongoing probe into the source of customer information that appears to have somehow landed in the laps of fraudsters posing as Dell computer support technicians. KrebsOnSecurity readers continue to report being called by scammers posing as Dell support personnel who offer “proof” that they’re with Dell by rattling off the unique Dell “service tag” code printed on each Dell customer’s PC or laptop, as well as information from any previous (legitimate) service issues the customer may have had with Dell.

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

In January, Ars Technica’s Dan Goodin wrote about a guy who’d been complaining to Dell for six months about the very same problem, in which the scammers try to convince the customer that their computer is infected and in need of professional services. Dell responded at the time that its customer’s data protection was a top priority, and it reminded customers that Dell doesn’t make unsolicited calls asking to charge to fix an issue they did not report or previously request help with unless they have signed up for premium support services.

I first heard about this in December 2015 from Israeli resident Yosef Kaner, who reported receiving a phone call from someone with a thick Indian accent claiming to be from Dell technical support.

“He said that they had been monitoring my computer usage for the past couple of weeks, and that I had downloaded a dangerous piece of software,” Kaner said. “He offered to help me remove said software. Understanding that this was a scam, I asked him for a callback number. He gave me one. He also, though, knew my name and gave me the Service Tag of my PC. I thanked him and hung up. Then I Googled the number he gave me. It was a known number from a known scam.”

Almost every week this past month, I’ve received similar messages from other readers. Like this one, from Lucy Thomson of Washington, D.C. Thomson is the author of the ABA Data Breach and Encryption Handbook, and a former Justice Department fraud prosecutor.

“So I am not happy that Dell has had this breach and many people are potentially in jeopardy,” Thomson said. “I confirmed with two of the people who called on two different days, one who said he was in San Jose, CA and another who said he was in India, the nature of the PII and service records they have. All of it was correct and they have quite a bit of contact information and service records with specific dates of calls and service.”

Thomson said she called 1-866-383-4713 (the real Dell’s support line) and told the technician about having received calls every day for the previous five days from people claiming to be Dell certified technicians or who worked for Dell.

“I then told him they had all my PII and Dell service records for the computer I purchased from Dell in 2012,” Thomson recalled. “He said they had received calls ‘from people like you,’ and ‘many customers have called.’ In response to my question about why they had not sent data breach notifications, he said ‘The legal team is in charge. The legal team is working with the FBI on this.’ He said that twice. At the end of the call he said ‘we are creating a platform so this will never happen again.'” Continue reading →


24
Nov 15

Security Bug in Dell PCs Shipped Since 8/15

All new Dell laptops and desktops shipped since August 2015 contain a serious security vulnerability that exposes users to online eavesdropping and malware attacks. Dell says it is prepping a fix for the issue, but experts say the threat may ultimately need to be stomped out by the major Web browser makers.

d3llAt issue is a root certificate installed on newer Dell computers that also includes the private cryptographic key for that certificate. Clever attackers can use this key from Dell to sign phony browser security certificates for any HTTPS-protected site.

Translation: A malicious hacker could exploit this flaw on open, public networks (think WiFi hotspots, coffee shops, airports) to impersonate any Web site to a Dell user, and to quietly intercept, read and modify all of a vulnerable Dell system’s Web traffic.

According to Joe Nord, the computer security researcher credited with discovering the problem, the trouble stems from a certificate Dell installed named “eDellRoot.”

Dell says the eDellRoot certificate was installed on all new desktop and laptops shipped from August 2015 to the present day. According to the company, the certificate was intended to make it easier for Dell customer support to assist customers in troubleshooting technical issues with their computers.

“We began loading the current version on our consumer and commercial devices in August to make servicing PC issues faster and easier for customers,” Dell spokesperson David Frink said. “When a PC engages with Dell online support, the certificate provides the system service tag allowing Dell online support to immediately identify the PC model, drivers, OS, hard drive, etc. making it easier and faster to service.”

“Unfortunately, the certificate introduced an unintended security vulnerability,” the company said in a written statement. “To address this, we are providing our customers with instructions to permanently remove the certificate from their systems via direct email, on our support site and Technical Support.”

In the meantime, Dell says it is removing the certificate from all Dell systems going forward. Continue reading →


3
Jun 14

Ne’er-Do-Well News, Volume I

It’s been a while since a new category debuted on this blog, and it occurred to me that I didn’t have a catch-all designation for random ne’er-do-well news. Alas, the inaugural entry for Ne’er-Do-Well News looks at three recent unrelated developments: The availability of remote access iPhone apps written by a programmer perhaps best known for developing crimeware; the return to prison of a young hacker who earned notoriety after simultaneously hacking Paris Hilton’s cell phone and data broker LexisNexis; and the release of Pavel Vrublevsky from a Russian prison more than a year before his sentence was to expire.

ZeusTerm and Zeus Terminal are iPhone/iPad apps designed by the same guy who brought us the Styx-Crypt exploit kit.

ZeusTerm and Zeus Terminal are iPhone/iPad apps designed by the same guy who brought us the Styx-Crypt exploit kit.

A year ago, this blog featured a series of articles that sought to track down the developers of the Styx-Crypt exploit kit, a crimeware package being sold to help bad guys booby-trap compromised Web sites with malware. Earlier this week, I learned that a leading developer of Styx-Crypt — a Ukrainian man named Max Gavryuk — also is selling his own line of remote administration tools curiously called “Zeus Terminal,” available via the Apple iTunes store.

News of the app family came via a Twitter follower who  asked to remain anonymous, but who said two of the apps by this author were recently pulled from Apple’s iTunes store, including Zeus Terminal and Zeus Terminal Lite. It’s unclear why the apps were yanked or by whom, but the developer appears to have two other remote access apps for sale on iTunes, including ZeusTerm and ZeusTerm HD.

Incidentally, the support page listed for these apps — zeus-terminal[dot]com — no longer appears to be active (if, indeed it ever was), but the developer lists as his other home page reality7solutions[dot]com, which as this blog has reported was intricately tied to the Styx-Crypt development team.

This wouldn’t be the first time a crimeware author segued into building apps for the iPhone and iPad: In January 2012, as part of my Pharma Wars series, I wrote about clues that strongly suggested the Srizbi/Reactor spam botnet was developed and sold by a guy who left the spam business to build OOO Gameprom, a company that has developed dozens of games available in the iTunes store.

Continue reading →


23
Feb 14

iOS Update Quashes Dangerous SSL Bug

Apple on Friday released a software update to fix a serious security weakness in its iOS mobile operating system that allows attackers to read and modify encrypted communications on iPhones, iPads and other iOS devices. The company says it is working to produce a patch for the same flaw in desktop and laptop computers powered by its OS X operating system.

iossslThe update — iOS 7.0.6 — addresses a glaring vulnerability in the way Apple devices handle encrypted communications. The flaw allows an attacker to intercept, read or modify encrypted email, Web browsing, Tweets and other transmitted data, provided the attacker has control over the WiFi or cellular network used by the vulnerable device.

There has been a great deal of speculation and hand-waving about whether this flaw was truly a mistake or if it was somehow introduced intentionally as a backdoor. And it’s not yet clear how long this bug has been included in Apple’s software. In any case, if you have an iPhone or iPad or other iOS device, please take a moment to apply this fix.

Generally, I advise users to avoid downloading and installing security updates when they are using public WiFi or other untrusted networks. On the surface at least, it would seem that the irony of this situation for most users is that iOS devices will download updates automatically as long as users are connected to a WiFi network. But as several folks have already pointed out on Twitter, Apple uses code-signing on iOS and app updates to ensure that rogue code can’t be pushed to devices.

I will update this post when Apple ships the patch for OS X systems. For now, it may be wise to avoid using Safari on OS X systems. As Dan Goodin at Ars Technica writes, “because the Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers appear to be unaffected by the flaw, people should also consider using those browsers when possible, although they shouldn’t be considered a panacea.”

For a deeper dive on this vulnerability and its implications, check out this piece by Larry Seltzer at ZDNet, and this analysis by Google’s Adam Langley.

Update: Apple has fixed this and a number of other important issues with OS X, in this release.


18
Feb 14

Time to Harden Your Hardware?

Most Internet users are familiar with the concept of updating software that resides on their computers. But this past week has seen alerts about an unusual number of vulnerabilities and attacks against some important and ubiquitous hardware devices, from consumer-grade Internet routers, data storage and home automation products to enterprise-class security solutions.

ciscomoon Last week, the SANS Internet Storm Center began publishing data about an ongoing attack from self-propagating malware that infects some home and small-office wireless routers from Linksys.  The firewall built into routers can be a useful and hearty first line of protection against online attacks, because its job is to filter out incoming traffic that the user behind the firewall did not initiate. But things get dicier when users enable remote administration capability on these powerful devices, which is where this malware comes in.

The worm — dubbed “The Moon” — bypasses the username and password prompt on affected devices. According to Ars Technica’s Dan Goodin, The Moon has infected close to 1,000 Linksys E1000, E1200 and E2400 routers, although the actual number of hijacked devices worldwide could be higher and is likely to climb. In response, Linksys said the worm affects only those devices that have the Remote Management Access feature enabled, and that Linksys ships these products with that feature turned off by default. The Ars Technica story includes more information about how to tell whether your router may be impacted. Linksys says it’s working on an official fix for the problem, and in the meantime users can block this attack by disabling the router’s remote management feature.

Similarly, it appears that some ASUS routers — and any storage devices attached to them — may be exposed to anyone online without the need of login credentials if users have taken advantage of remote access features built into the routers, according to this Ars piece from Feb. 17. The danger in this case is with Asus router models including RT-AC66R, RT-AC66U, RT-N66R, RT-N66U, RT-AC56U, RT-N56R, RT-N56U, RT-N14U, RT-N16, and RT-N16R. Enabling any of the (by-default disabled) “AiCloud” options on the devices — such as “Cloud Disk” and “Smart Access” — opens up a potentially messy can of worms. More details on this vulnerability are available at this SecurityFocus writeup.

ASUS reportedly released firmware updates last week to address these bugs. Affected users can find the latest firmware updates and instructions for updating their devices by entering the model name/number of the device here. Alternatively, consider dumping the stock router firmware in favor of something more flexible, less buggy amd most likely more secure (see this section at the end of this post for more details).

YOUR LIGHTSWITCH DOES WHAT?

Belkin WeMo Switch

Belkin WeMo Switch

Outfitting a home or office with home automation tools that let you control and remotely monitor electronics can quickly turn into a fun and addictive (if expensive) hobby. But things get somewhat more interesting when the whole setup is completely exposed to anyone on the Internet. That’s basically what experts at IOActive found is the case with Belkin‘s WeMo family of home automation devices.

According to research released today, multiple vulnerabilities in these WeMo Home Automation tools give malicious hackers the ability to remotely control the devices over the Internet, perform malicious firmware updates, and access an internal home network. From IOActive’s advisory (PDF):

Continue reading →


16
Apr 13

Java Update Plugs 42 Security Holes

Oracle Corp. today released an update for its Java SE software that fixes at least 42 security flaws in the widely-installed program and associated browser plugin. The Java update also introduces new features designed to alert users about the security risks of running certain Java content.

42bbJava 7 Update 21 contains 42 new security fixes for Oracle Java SE. A majority of these flaws are browse-to–a-hacked-site-and-get-infected vulnerabilities. According to Oracle, “39 of these vulnerabilities may be remotely exploitable without authentication, i.e., may be exploited over a network without the need for a username and password” [emphasis mine].

There does not appear to be any update for Java 6. Oracle was to stop shipping security fixes for Java 6 in February, but it broke from that schedule last month when it shipped an emergency update for Java 6 to fix a flaw that was being used in active attacks. When I updated a machine running the latest Java 6 version (Update 43) it prompted me to install Java 7 Update 21. Update, 5:42 p.m. ET: Twitter follower @DonaldOJDK notes that Java 6 Update 45 is indeed available here.

javawarningsJava 7 Update 21 also introduces some new security warnings and message prompts for users who keep the program plugged into a Web browser (on installation and updating, Java adds itself as an active browser plugin). Oracle said the messages that will be presented depend upon different risk factors, such as using old versions of Java or running applet code that is not signed from a trusted Certificate Authority.

Apps that present a lower risk display a simple informational message. This includes an option to prevent showing similar messages for apps from the same publisher in the future. Java applications considered to be higher risk — such as those that use an untrusted or expired certificate — will be accompanied by a prompt with a yellow exclamation point in a yellow warning triangle.

Continue reading →


21
Mar 13

Privacy 101: Skype Leaks Your Location

The events of the past week reminded me of a privacy topic I’ve been meaning to revisit: That voice-over-IP telephony service Skype constantly exposes your Internet address to the entire world, and that there are now numerous free and commercial tools that can be used to link Skype user account names to numeric Internet addresses.

A Skype resolver service in action.

A Skype resolver service in action.

The fact that Skype betrays its users’ online location information is hardly news. For example, The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets warned last year about research showing that it was possible to coax Skype into revealing the IP addresses of individual Skype users. But I believe most Skype users still have no clue about this basic privacy weakness.

What’s changed is that over the past year, a number of services have emerged to help snoops and ne’er-do-wells exploit this vulnerability to track and harass others online. For example, an online search for “skype resolver” returns dozens of results that point to services (of variable reliability) that allow users to look up the Internet address of any Skype user, just by supplying the target’s Skype account name.

In the above screen shot, we can see one such service being used to display the IP address most recently used by the Skype account “mailen_support” (this particular account belongs to the tech support contact for Mailien, a Russian pharmacy spam affiliate program by the same name).

A Skype IP resolver service in action.

A Skype IP resolver service in action.

Typically, these Skype resolvers are offered in tandem with “booter” or “stresser” services, online attack tools-for-hire than can be rented to launch denial-of-service attacks (one of these services was used in an attack on this Web site, and on that of Ars Technica last week). The idea being that if you want to knock someone offline but you don’t know their Internet address, you can simply search on Skype to see if they have an account, and then use the resolvers to locate their IP. The resolvers work regardless of any privacy settings the target user may have selected within the Skype program’s configuration panel.

Many of these resolver services offer “blacklisting,” which for a fee will allow users to prevent other users from looking up the IP address attached to a specific Skype account, said Brandon Levene, an independent security researcher.

“It’s basically a protection scheme,” Levene said.

Continue reading →