Posts Tagged: robert hansen


21
Nov 18

USPS Site Exposed Data on 60 Million Users

U.S. Postal Service just fixed a security weakness that allowed anyone who has an account at usps.com to view account details for some 60 million other users, and in some cases to modify account details on their behalf.

Image: USPS.com

KrebsOnSecurity was contacted last week by a researcher who discovered the problem, but who asked to remain anonymous. The researcher said he informed the USPS about his finding more than a year ago yet never received a response. After confirming his findings, this author contacted the USPS, which promptly addressed the issue.

The problem stemmed from an authentication weakness in a USPS Web component known as an “application program interface,” or API — basically, a set of tools defining how various parts of an online application such as databases and Web pages should interact with one another.

The API in question was tied to a Postal Service initiative called “Informed Visibility,” which according to the USPS is designed to let businesses, advertisers and other bulk mail senders “make better business decisions by providing them with access to near real-time tracking data” about mail campaigns and packages.

In addition to exposing near real-time data about packages and mail being sent by USPS commercial customers, the flaw let any logged-in usps.com user query the system for account details belonging to any other users, such as email address, username, user ID, account number, street address, phone number, authorized users, mailing campaign data and other information.

Many of the API’s features accepted “wildcard” search parameters, meaning they could be made to return all records for a given data set without the need to search for specific terms. No special hacking tools were needed to pull this data, other than knowledge of how to view and modify data elements processed by a regular Web browser like Chrome or Firefox.

A USPS brochure advertising the features and benefits of Informed Visibility.

In cases where multiple accounts shared a common data element — such as a street address — using the API to search for one specific data element often brought up multiple records. For example, a search on the email addresses for readers who volunteered to help with this research turned up multiple accounts when those users had more than one user signed up at the same physical address.

“This is not good,” said one anonymous reader who volunteered to help with this research, after viewing a cut-and-paste of his USPS account details looked up via his email address. “Especially since we moved due to being threatened by a neighbor.”

Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and lecturer at UC Berkeley, said the API should have validated that the account making the request had permission to read the data requested.

“This is not even Information Security 101, this is Information Security 1, which is to implement access control,” Weaver said. “It seems like the only access control they had in place was that you were logged in at all. And if you can access other peoples’ data because they aren’t enforcing access controls on reading that data, it’s catastrophically bad and I’m willing to bet they’re not enforcing controls on writing to that data as well.”

A cursory review by KrebsOnSecurity indicates the promiscuous API let any user request account changes for any other user, such as email address, phone number or other key details.

Fortunately, the USPS appears to have included a validation step to prevent unauthorized changes — at least with some data fields. Attempts to modify the email address associated with my USPS account via the API prompted a confirmation message sent to the email address tied to that account (which required clicking a link in the email to complete the change).

It does not appear USPS account passwords were exposed via this API, although KrebsOnSecurity conducted only a very brief and limited review of the API’s rather broad functionality before reporting the issue to the USPS. The API at issue resides here; a copy of the API prior to its modification on Nov. 20 by the USPS is available here as a text file. Continue reading →


18
Aug 15

How Not to Start an Encryption Company

Probably the quickest way for a security company to prompt an overwhelmingly hostile response from the security research community is to claim that its products and services are “unbreakable” by hackers. The second-fastest way to achieve that outcome is to have that statement come from an encryption company CEO who served several years in federal prison for his role in running a $210 million Ponzi scheme. Here’s the story of a company that managed to accomplish both at the same time and is now trying to learn from (and survive) the experience.

unbreakabletothecoreThanks to some aggressive marketing, Irvine, Calif. based security firm Secure Channels Inc. (SCI) and its CEO Richard Blech have been in the news quite a bit lately — mainly Blech being quoted in major publications such as NBC NewsPolitico and USA Today  — talking about how his firm’s “unbreakable” encryption technology might have prevented some of the larger consumer data breaches that have come to light in recent months.

Blech’s company, founded in 2014 and with his money, has been challenging the security community to test its unbreakable claim in a cleverly unwinnable series of contests: At the Black Hat Security conference in Las Vegas last year, the company offered a new BMW to anyone who could unlock a digital file that was encrypted with its “patented” technology.

At the RSA Security Conference this year in San Francisco, SCI offered a $50,000 bounty to anyone who could prove the feat. When no one showed up to claim the prizes, SCI issued press releases crowing about a victory for its products.

Turns out, Blech knows a thing or two about complex, unwinnable games: He pleaded guilty in 2003 of civil and criminal fraud charges and sentenced to six years in U.S. federal prison for running an international Ponzi scheme.

Once upon a time, Blech was the CEO of Credit Bancorp. Ltd., an investment firm that induced its customers to deposit securities, cash, and other assets in trust by promising the impossible: a “custodial dividend” based on the profits of “risk-less” arbitrage. Little did the company’s investors know at the time, but CBL was running a classic Ponzi scheme: Taking cash and other assets from new investors to make payments to earlier ones, creating the impression of sizable returns, prosecutors said. Blech was sentenced to 72 months in prison and was released in 2007.

THE UNBREAKABLE COMPETITION

humblethehacker

In April 2015, Lance James, a security researcher who has responded to challenges like the BMW and $50,000 prizes touted by SCI, began receiving taunting Tweets from Blech and Ross Harris, a particularly aggressive member of SCI’s sales team. That twitter thread (PDF) had started with WhiteHat Security CTO Jeremiah Grossman posting a picture of a $10,000 check that James was awarded from Telesign, a company that had put up the money after claiming that its StrongWebmail product was unhackable. Turns out, it wasn’t so strong; James and two other researchers found a flaw in the service and hacked the CEO’s email account. StrongWebmail never recovered from that marketing stunt.

James replied to Grossman that, coincidentally, he’d just received an email from SCI offering a BMW to anyone who could break the company’s crypto.

“When the crypto defeats you, we’ll give you a t-shirt, ‘Can’t touch this,’ you’ll wear it for a Tweet,” Blech teased James via Twitter on April 7, 2015. “Challenge accepted,” said James, owner of the security consultancy Unit 221b.  “Proprietary patented crypto is embarrassing in 2015. You should know better.”

As it happens, encrypting a file with your closed, proprietary encryption technology and then daring the experts to break it is not exactly the way you prove its strength or gain the confidence of the security community in general. Experts in encryption tend to subscribe to an idea known as Kerckhoff’s principle when deciding the relative strength and merits of any single cryptosystem: Put simply, a core tenet of Kerckhoff’s principle holds that “one ought to design systems under the assumption that the enemy will gain full familiarity with them.”

Translation: If you want people to take you seriously, put your encryption technology on full view of the security community (minus your private encryption keys), and let them see if they can break the system.

James said he let it go when SCI refused to talk seriously about sharing its cryptography solution, only to hear again this past weekend from SCI’s director of marketing Deirdre “Dee” Murphy on Twitter that his dismissal of their challenge proved he was “obsolete.” Murphy later deleted the tweets, but some of them are saved here.

Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the nonprofit digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said companies that make claims of unbreakable technologies very often are effectively selling snake oil unless they put their products up for peer review.

“They don’t disclose their settings or what modes their ciphers are running in,” Cardozo said. “They have a patent which is laughably vague about what it’s actually doing, and yet their chief marketing officer insults security researchers on Twitter saying, ‘If our stuff is so insecure, just break it.'”

Cardozo was quick to add that although there is no indication whatsoever that Secure Channels Inc. is engaging in any kind of fraud, they are engaged in “wildly irresponsible marketing.”

“And that’s not good for anyone,” he said. “In the cryptography community, the way you prove your system is secure is you put it up to peer review, you get third party audits, you publish specifications, etc. Apple’s not open-source and they do all of that. You can download the security white paper and see everything that iMessage is doing. The same is true for WhatsApp and PGP. When we see companies like Secure Channel treating crypto like a black box, that raises red flags. Any company making such claims deserves scrutiny, but because we can’t scrutinize the actual cryptography they’re using, we have to scrutinize the company itself.”

THE INTERVIEW

I couldn’t believe that any security company — let alone a firm that was trying to break into the encryption industry (a business that requires precision perhaps beyond any other, no less) — could make so many basic errors and miscalculations, so I started digging deeper into SCI and its origins. At the same time I requested and was granted an interview with Blech and his team. Continue reading →