Posts Tagged: nsa

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 →

Jun 13

Microsoft to Offer Standing Bug Bounty

Microsoft said today it will pay up to $100,000 to security researchers who find and report novel methods for bypassing the security built into the latest version of the company’s flagship operating system. Researchers who go the extra mile and can also demonstrate a way to block the new attack method they’ve reported can earn an extra $50,000.

win8-1pThe bug bounty program is a remarkable shift for a company that has for the most part eschewed paying researchers for finding security vulnerabilities in its products. But unlike tech giants like Facebook, Google, Mozilla and Twitter — which have for some time now offered bounties ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars to researchers who report bugs in their products or Web properties — Microsoft is reserving its reward money for research on products that are still in beta.

The reward program — which officially launches June 26, 2013 — will pay up to $100,000 USD for “truly novel exploitation techniques” against protections built into the latest version of Windows  — Windows 8.1 Preview. Additionally, Microsoft will pay up to $50,000 USD for defensive ideas that accompany a qualifying mitigation bypass submission,” the company said in a blog post today.

These two offers are open-ended, but for just 30 days beginning June 26, Microsoft is offering a separate bounty of up to $11,000 for critical flaws in Internet Explorer 11 Preview on the latest version of Windows (Windows 8.1 Preview).

Continue reading →

Aug 12

How to Break Into Security, Miller Edition

For this fifth edition in a series of advice columns for folks interested in learning more about security as a craft or profession, I interviewed Charlie Miller, a software bug-finder extraordinaire and principal research consultant with Accuvant LABS.

Probably best known for his skills at hacking Apple‘s products, Miller spent five years at the National Security Agency as a “global network exploitation analyst.” After leaving the NSA, Miller carved out a niche for himself as an independent security consultant before joining Accuvant in May 2011.

BK: How did your work for the NSA prepare you for a job in the private sector? Did it offer any special skill sets or perspectives that you might otherwise not have gotten in the private sector?

Miller: Basically, it provided on the job training.  I got paid a decent salary to learn information security and practice it at a reasonable pace.  It’s hard to imagine other jobs that would do that, but if you have a lot of free time, you could simulate such an experience.

BK: The U.S. Government, among others, is starting to dedicate some serious coin to cybersecurity. Should would-be cyber warriors be looking to the government as a way to get their foot in the door of this industry? Or does that option tend to make mainly sense for young people?

Miller: For me, it made sense at the beginning, but there are some drawbacks.  The most obvious drawback is government pay isn’t as competitive as the private industry.  This isn’t such a big deal when you’re starting out, but I don’t think I could work for the government anymore for this reason.  Because of this, many people use government jobs as a launching point to higher paying jobs (like government contracting).  For me, I found it very difficult to leave government and enter a (non govt contracting) industry.  I had 5 years of experience that showed up as a couple of bullet points on my resume.  I couldn’t talk about what I knew, how I knew it, experience I had, etc. I had a lot of trouble getting a good job after leaving NSA.

BK: You’ve been a fairly vocal advocate of the idea that companies should not expect security researchers to report bugs for free. But it seems like there are now a number of companies paying (admittedly sometimes nominal sums) for bugs, and there are several organizations that pay quite well for decent vulnerabilities. And certainly you’ve made a nice chunk of change winning various hacking competitions. Is this a viable way for would-be researchers to make a living? If so, is it a realistic rung to strive for, or is bug-hunting for money a sort of Olympic sport in which only the elite can excel?

Miller: In some parts of the world, it is possible to live off bug hunting with ZDI-level payments.  However, given the cost of living in the US, I don’t think it makes sense.  Even if you mix in occasional government sales, it would be a tough life living off of bug sales.  If I thought it was lucrative, I’d being doing it!  For me, it is hard to imagine making more than I do now as a consultant by selling bugs, and the level of risk I’d have to assume would be much higher.

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Apr 10

NSA on Computer Network Attack & Defense

I spent the past few days in Mexico City participating in the annual meeting of the Honeynet Project, an international group dedicated to developing and deploying technologies that collect intelligence on the methods malicious hackers use in their attacks. The event brought in experts from around the globe, and our hosts — the National Autonomous University of Mexico (in Spanish, UNAM) were gracious and helpful.

As it happens, honeynets and other “deception technologies” are among the approaches discussed in the following document, written by the National Security Agency‘s Information Assurance Directorate.  A source of mine passed it along a while back, but I only rediscovered it recently. I could not find a public version of this document that was published online previously, so it has been uploaded here.

The 605-page PDF document reads like a listing of the pros and cons for a huge array of defensive and counterintelligence approaches and technologies that an entity might adopt in defending its networks. Of particular interest to me was the section on deception technologies, which discusses the use of honeynet technology to learn more about attackers’ methods, as well as the potential legal and privacy aspects of using honeynets. Another section delves into the challenges of attributing the true origin(s) of a computer network attack.

The document is a final draft from back in 2004, although I’m told the final version of the document varies little from this copy. In any event, it may be surprising to some to see how many of the techniques, technologies and challenges detailed in this document remain relevant and timely six years later. It is embedded in this blog as a Scribd file, viewable after the jump (the document is > 5mb, so please be patient). I removed the Scribd embedded PDF, because it was causing problems for too many readers. The full PDF is available at this link here.

Feb 10

Zeus Attack Spoofs NSA, Targets .gov and .mil

Criminals are spamming the Zeus banking Trojan in a convincing e-mail that spoofs the National Security Agency. Initial reports indicate that a large number of government systems may have been compromised by the attack.

According one state government security expert who received multiple copies of the message, the e-mail campaign — apparently designed to steal passwords from infected systems — was sent exclusively to government (.gov) and military (.mil) e-mail addresses.
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