Posts Tagged: Bruce Schneier


16
Nov 16

Chinese IoT Firm Siphoned Text Messages, Call Records

A Chinese technology firm has been siphoning text messages and call records from cheap Android-based mobile smart phones and secretly sending the data to servers in China, researchers revealed this week. The revelations came the same day the White House and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued sweeping guidelines aimed at building security into Internet-connected devices, and just hours before a key congressional panel sought recommendations from industry in regulating basic security standards for so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices.

At the center of the spyware controversy is software made by Shanghai ADUPS Technology, a Chinese firm whose product touts the ability to wirelessly update software installed on mobile and and IoT devices. The ADUPS technology is typically bundled with smart phones made by dozens of global wireless firms including ZTE, BLU and Huawei, and sold at popular consumer destinations like Amazon and BestBuy. Often retailing for between $50 and $100, the sleek and powerful devices sell so cheaply because they also require the user to accept on-screen advertisements.

An About Us page at ADUPS's Web site explains the company's foothold in the IoT market.

An About Us page at ADUPS’s Web site explains the company’s foothold in the IoT market.

According to research released this week, the low up-front cost of these smart phones may be subsidized not just by ads but by also by the theft of private information stolen from users. Researchers at Fairfax, Va.-based security firm Kryptowire say the ADUPS software gives the company near-total control over the devices that it runs on, and that they have proof ADUPS has abused that control to siphon personal data from countless consumers.

Kryptowire researchers say they stumbled upon ADUPS’s spyware capabilities by accident after purchasing a $59 BLU R1 HD smart phone from Amazon.com for use during international travel. Prying apart the phone and the ADUPS software, they discovered that all call records and text messages to and from the device were being digitally copied, encrypted and secretly forwarded to a server in Shanghai, China every 72 hours.

They also learned that ADUPS’s product was able to mine user text messages for specific strings of text, as well as install and remove any software from host devices.

“This behavior cannot be detected by mobile anti-virus tools because they assume that software that ships with the device is not malware and that it is white-listed,” Kryptowire wrote in an advisory published Tuesday. “We were able to capture, decrypt, and trace the data on the network as they were sent to multiple server locations that are located in Shanghai, China.”

In a statement posted to its Web site, ADUPS said it collects “model information, device status, application information, bin/xbin information and summary information from phones and messages,” and that it has done so “in response to user demand to screen out junk texts and calls from advertisers.”

ADUPS further claims that the functionality was added in June 2016 to some Blu Product Inc. devices, and that it has since shipped an update through its firmware updating software to disable the spying functionality on Blu phones.

But Azzedine Benameur, director of research at Kryptowire, said ADUPS’s software — deeply embedded alongside the operating system on these mobile devices — gives it full ability to re-enable the spyware capabilities at any time. He says ADUPS’s public response to their research raises more questions than it answers.

“They do not provide how many devices were affected and how the data were used,” Benameur said. “Also, they don’t mention who had access to that data, including third parties and the Chinese government. Also, there might be other [manufacturers] and device models affected that ADUPS does not mention.”

ADUPS claims on its Web site to have worldwide presence with more than 700 million active users, and that its firmware is integrated into “more than 400 leading mobile operators, semiconductor vendors and device manufacturers spanning from wearable and mobile devices to cars and televisions.”

“This is just one random device of theirs that we looked at,” Benameur said. “For a company that claims to provide over-the-air updates for 700 million devices, including cars and millions of IoT devices…this is really scary and unacceptable behavior.”

ADUPS's offer to business partners, January 2015.

ADUPS’s offer to business partners, circa January 2015.

ADUPS’s current site promises the company’s partners “big data analytics” and higher profit for partners. Earlier versions of the same page from 2015 and cached at the Internet Archive promise partners a slightly less euphemistic menu of services, from an “app push service,” and “device data mining” to “unique package checking” and “mobile advertising.” Interestingly, this story from January 2015 documents how ADUPS’s software has been used to install unwanted apps on customer mobile devices.

As for the Blu R1 HD phone? Benameur said it would be nice if it came with a disclosure that owners can expect zero privacy or control while using it. Aside from that? “At $59, it’s a steal,” Benameur said. “Minus the spyware, it’s a great phone.” Continue reading →


8
Oct 16

Europe to Push New Security Rules Amid IoT Mess

The European Commission is drafting new cybersecurity requirements to beef up security around so-called Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as Web-connected security cameras, routers and digital video recorders (DVRs). News of the expected proposal comes as security firms are warning that a great many IoT devices are equipped with little or no security protections.

iotb2According to a report at Euractiv.com, the Commission is planning the new IoT rules as part of a new plan to overhaul the European Union’s telecommunications laws. “The Commission would encourage companies to come up with a labeling system for internet-connected devices that are approved and secure,” wrote Catherine Stupp. “The EU labelling system that rates appliances based on how much energy they consume could be a template for the cybersecurity ratings.”

In last week’s piece, “Who Makes the IoT Things Under Attack?,” I looked at which companies are responsible for IoT products being sought out by Mirai — malware that scans the Internet for devices running default usernames and passwords and then forces vulnerable devices to participate in extremely powerful attacks designed to knock Web sites offline.

One of those default passwords — username: root and password: xc3511 — is in a broad array of white-labeled DVR and IP camera electronics boards made by a Chinese company called XiongMai Technologies. These components are sold downstream to vendors who then use it in their own products.

That information comes in an analysis published this week by Flashpoint Intel, whose security analysts discovered that the Web-based administration page for devices made by this Chinese company (http://ipaddress/Login.htm) can be trivially bypassed without even supplying a username or password, just by navigating to a page called “DVR.htm” prior to login.

Worse still, even if owners of these IoT devices change the default credentials via the device’s Web interface, those machines can still be reached over the Internet via communications services called “Telnet” and “SSH.” These are command-line, text-based interfaces that are typically accessed via a command prompt (e.g., in Microsoft Windows, a user could click Start, and in the search box type “cmd.exe” to launch a command prompt, and then type “telnet” to reach a username and password prompt at the target host).

“The issue with these particular devices is that a user cannot feasibly change this password,” said Flashpoint’s Zach Wikholm. “The password is hardcoded into the firmware, and the tools necessary to disable it are not present. Even worse, the web interface is not aware that these credentials even exist.”

Flashpoint’s researchers said they scanned the Internet on Oct. 6 for systems that showed signs of running the vulnerable hardware, and found more than 515,000 of them were vulnerable to the flaws they discovered.

Flashpoint says the majority of media coverage surrounding the Mirai attacks on KrebsOnSecurity and other targets has outed products made by Chinese hi-tech vendor Dahua as a primary source of compromised devices. Indeed, Dahua’s products were heavily represented in the analysis I published last week.

For its part, Dahua appears to be downplaying the problem. On Thursday, Dahua published a carefully-worded statement that took issue with a Wall Street Journal story about the role of Dahua’s products in the Mirai botnet attacks.

“To clarify, Dahua Technology has maintained a B2B business model and sells its products through the channel,” the company said. “Currently in the North America market, we don’t sell our products directly to consumers and businesses through [our] website or retailers like Amazon. Amazon is not an approved Dahua distributor and we proactively conduct research to identify and take action against the unauthorized sale of our products. A list of authorized distributors is available here.” Continue reading →


22
Feb 16

The Lowdown on the Apple-FBI Showdown

Many readers have asked for a primer summarizing the privacy and security issues at stake in the the dispute between Apple and the U.S. Justice Department, which last week convinced a judge in California to order Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of assailants in the recent San Bernardino massacres. I don’t have much original reporting to contribute on this important debate, but I’m visiting it here because it’s a complex topic that deserves the broadest possible public scrutiny.

Image: Elin Korneliussen

Image: Elin Korneliussen (@elincello)

A federal magistrate in California approved an order (PDF) granting the FBI permission to access to the data on the iPhone 5c belonging to the late terror suspect Syed Rizwan Farook, one of two individuals responsible for a mass shooting in San Bernadino on Dec. 2, 2015 in which 14 people were killed and many others were injured.

Apple CEO Tim Cook released a letter to customers last week saying the company will appeal the order, citing customer privacy and security concerns.

Most experts seem to agree that Apple is technically capable of complying with the court order. Indeed, as National Public Radio notes in a segment this morning, Apple has agreed to unlock phones in approximately 70 other cases involving requests from the government. However, something unexpected emerged in one of those cases — an iPhone tied to a Brooklyn, NY drug dealer who pleaded guilty to selling methamphetamine last year. Continue reading →


4
Mar 13

KrebsOnSecurity Wins Awards

I recently returned from San Francisco, which last week hosted the annual RSA Security conference. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on Raising the Costs of Compromise with some very smart guys, and also shared a stage with several security authors who were recognized for their contributions to infosec media.

Bruce Schneier, Jack Daniel & Krebs. Image: Alan Shimel.

Bruce Schneier, Jack Daniel & Krebs. Image: Alan Shimel.

Krebsonsecurity.com was honored with the “Blog That Best Represents the Industry,” award at the RSA Security Blogger Meetup. This was the third year in a row that judges bestowed that honor on this blog. Krebsonsecurity.com also won the award for “Most Educational Security Blog.”

Paul Dotcom won for “Best Security Podcast”; J4VV4D’s Blog earned the “Most Entertaining Security Blog” award; Sophos’s Naked Security Blog took home the “Best Corporate Security Blog” prize; and the “Single Best Blog Post or Podcast of the Year” went to Forbes’ Andy Greenberg, for Meet the Hackers Who Sell Spies the Tools to Crack Your PC (And Get Paid Six-Figure Fees). Finally, security blogger Jack Daniel was the latest greybeard inducted into the Security Bloggers Hall of Fame (Bruce Schneier and I shared that honor last year, which is why we’re both pictured on stage flanking Jack in this shot from last week).

Yours truly also was named one of 10 winners of the SANS Institute‘s “Top Cyber Security Journalist” award. I am truly honored for the recognition, and want to thank all the loyal readers of this blog for their constant encouragement and support.


2
Jul 12

How to Break Into Security, Schneier Edition

Last month, I published the first in a series of advice columns for people who are interested in learning more about security as a craft or profession. In this second installment, I asked noted cryptographer, author and security rock star Bruce Schneier for his thoughts.

Schneier: I regularly receive e-mail from people who want advice on how to learn more about computer security, either as a course of study in college or as an IT person considering it as a career choice.

First, know that there are many subspecialties in computer security. You can be an expert in keeping systems from being hacked, or in creating unhackable software. You can be an expert in finding security problems in software, or in networks. You can be an expert in viruses, or policies, or cryptography. There are many, many opportunities for many different skill sets. You don’t have to be a coder to be a security expert.

In general, though, I have three pieces of advice to anyone who wants to learn computer security:

  • Study: Studying can take many forms. It can be classwork, either at universities or at training conferences like SANS and Offensive Security. (These are good self-starter resources.) It can be reading; there are a lot of excellent books out there — and blogs — that teach different aspects of computer security. Don’t limit yourself to computer science, either. You can learn a lot by studying other areas of security, and soft sciences like economics, psychology, and sociology.
  • Do: Computer security is fundamentally a practitioner’s art, and that requires practice. This means using what you’ve learned to configure security systems, design new security systems, and — yes — break existing security systems. This is why many courses have strong hands-on components; you won’t learn much without it.
  • Show: It doesn’t matter what you know or what you can do if you can’t demonstrate it to someone who might want to hire you. This doesn’t just mean sounding good in an interview. It means sounding good on mailing lists and in blog comments. You can show your expertise by making podcasts and writing your own blog. You can teach seminars at your local user group meetings. You can write papers for conferences, or books.

Continue reading →


24
Aug 10

MalCon: A Call for ‘Ethical Malcoding’

I was pretty bummed this year when I found out that a previous engagement would prevent me from traveling to Las Vegas for the annual back-to-back Black Hat and Defcon security conventions. But I must say I am downright cranky that I will be missing MalCon, a conference being held in Mumbai later this year that is centered around people in the “malcoder community.”

According to the conference Web site, MalCon is “the worlds [sic] first platform bringing together Malware and Information Security Researchers from across the globe to share key research insights into building the next generation malwares. Spread across the world, malcoders now have a common platform to demonstrate expertise, get a new insight and be a part of the global MALCODER community. This conference features keynotes, technical presentations, workshops as well as the EMERGING CHALLENGES of creating undetectable stealthy malware.”

The call for papers shows that this security conference is encouraging malware writers of all shapes, ages and sizes to bring and share their creations. “We are looking for new techniques, tool releases,unique research and about anything that’s breath-taking, related to Malwares. If your presentation, when given with all its valid techno-Jargon can give our moderators a head-ache, you are right up there. The papers and research work could be under any of the broad categories mentioned below. You can submit working malwares as well.”

Among the “malwares” encouraged are novel phishing kits, botnets and mobile phone-based malware, malware creation tools, cross-platform malware infection techniques, and new malware self-defense mechanisms, such as anti-virus exploitation techniques.

At first, I didn’t know what to make of this conference, which was initially brought to my attention by a clueful source in the botnet underground. My hoaxmeter went positively bonkers after I pinged both of the e-mail addresses listed on the site and each e-mail bounced.

Continue reading →