Posts Tagged: The New York Times


11
Jul 19

FEC: Campaigns Can Use Discounted Cybersecurity Services

The U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) said today political campaigns can accept discounted cybersecurity services from companies without running afoul of existing campaign finance laws, provided those companies already do the same for other non-political entities. The decision comes amid much jostling on Capitol Hill over election security at the state level, and fresh warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies about impending cyber attacks targeting candidates in the lead up to the 2020 election.

Current campaign finance law prohibits corporate contributions to campaigns, and election experts have worried this could give some candidates pause about whether they can legally accept low- to no-cost services from cybersecurity companies.

But at an FEC meeting today, the commission issued an advisory opinion (PDF) that such assistance does not constitute an in-kind contribution, as long as the cybersecurity firm already offers discounted solutions to similarly situated non-political organizations, such as small nonprofits.

The FEC’s ruling comes in response to a petition by California-based Area 1 Security, whose core offering focuses on helping clients detect and block phishing attacks. The company said it asked the FEC’s opinion on the matter after several campaigns that had reached out about teaming up expressed hesitation given the commission’s existing rules.

In June, Area 1 petitioned the FEC for clarification on the matter, saying it currently offers free and low-cost services to certain clients which are capped at $1,337. The FEC responded with a draft opinion indicating such offering likely would amount to an in-kind contribution that might curry favor among politicians, and urged the company to resubmit its request focusing on the capped-price offering.

Area 1 did so, and at today’s hearing the FEC said “because Area 1 is proposing to charge qualified federal candidates and political committees the same as it charges its qualified non-political clients, the Commission concludes that its proposal is consistent with Area 1’s ordinary business practices and therefore would not result in Area 1 making prohibited in-kind contributions to such federal candidates and political committees.”

POLICY BY PIECEMEAL

The decision is the latest in a string of somewhat narrowly tailored advisories from the FEC related to cybersecurity offerings aimed at federal candidates and political committees. Most recently, the commission ruled that the nonprofit organization Defending Digital Campaigns could provide free cybersecurity services to candidates, but according to The New York Times that decision only applied to nonpartisan, nonprofit groups that offer the same services to all campaigns.

Last year, the FEC granted a similar exemption to Microsoft Corp., ruling that the software giant could offer “enhanced online account security services to its election-sensitive customers at no additional cost” because Microsoft would be shoring up defenses for its existing customers and not seeking to win favor among political candidates.

Dan Petalas is a former general counsel at the FEC who represents Area 1 as an attorney at the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer. Petalas praised today’s ruling, but said action by Congress is probably necessary to clarify the matter once and for all.

“Congress could take the uncertainty away by amending the law to say security services provided to campaigns to do not constitute an in-kind contribution,” Petalas said. “These candidates are super vulnerable and not well prepared to address cybersecurity threats, and I think that would be a smart thing for Congress to do given the situation we’re in now.” Continue reading →


3
Jun 19

Report: No ‘Eternal Blue’ Exploit Found in Baltimore City Ransomware

For almost the past month, key computer systems serving the government of Baltimore, Md. have been held hostage by a ransomware strain known as “Robbinhood.” Media publications have cited sources saying the Robbinhood version that hit Baltimore city computers was powered by “Eternal Blue,” a hacking tool developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and leaked online in 2017. But new analysis suggests that while Eternal Blue could have been used to spread the infection, the Robbinhood malware itself contains no traces of it.

On May 25, The New York Times cited unnamed security experts briefed on the attack who blamed the ransomware’s spread on the Eternal Blue exploit, which was linked to the global WannaCry ransomware outbreak in May 2017.

That story prompted a denial from the NSA that Eternal Blue was somehow used in the Baltimore attack. It also moved Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott to write the Maryland governor asking for federal disaster assistance and reimbursement as a result.

But according to Joe Stewart, a seasoned malware analyst now consulting with security firm Armor, the malicious software used in the Baltimore attack does not contain any Eternal Blue exploit code. Stewart said he obtained a sample of the malware that he was able to confirm was connected to the Baltimore incident.

“We took a look at it and found a pretty vanilla ransomware binary,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t even have any means of spreading across networks on its own.”

Stewart said while it’s still possible that the Eternal Blue exploit was somehow used to propagate the Robbinhood ransomware, it’s not terribly likely. Stewart said in a typical breach that leads to a ransomware outbreak, the intruders will attempt to leverage a single infection and use it as a jumping-off point to compromise critical systems on the breached network that would allow the malware to be installed on a large number of systems simultaneously.

“It certainly wouldn’t be the go-to exploit if your objective was to identify critical systems and then only when you’re ready launch the attack so you can do it all at once,” Stewart said. “At this point, Eternal Blue is probably going to be detected by internal [security] systems, or the target might already be patched for it.”

It is not known who is behind the Baltimore ransomware attack, but Armor said it was confident that the bad actor(s) in this case were the same individual(s) using the now-suspended twitter account @Robihkjn (Robbinhood). Until it was suspended at around 3:00 p.m. ET today (June 3), the @Robihkjn account had been taunting the mayor of Baltimore and city council members, who have refused to pay the ransom demand of 13 bitcoin — approximately $100,000.

In several of those tweets, the Twitter account could be seen posting links to documents allegedly stolen from Baltimore city government systems, ostensibly to both prove that those behind the Twitter account were responsible for the attack, and possibly to suggest what may happen to more of those documents if the city refuses to pay up by the payment deadline set by the extortionists — currently June 7, 2019 (the attackers postponed that deadline once already).

Some of @robihkjn’s tweets taunting Baltimore city leaders over non-payment of the $100,000 ransomware demand. The tweets included links to images of documents allegedly stolen by the intruders.

Over the past few days, however, the tweets from @Robinhkjn have grown more frequent and profanity-laced, directed at Baltimore’s leaders. The account also began tagging dozens of reporters and news organizations on Twitter.

Stewart said the @Robinhkjn Twitter account may be part of an ongoing campaign by the attackers to promote their own Robbinhood ransomware-as-a-service offering. According to Armor’s analysis, Robbinhood comes with multiple HTML templates that can be used to substitute different variables of the ransom demand, such as the ransom amount and the .onion address that victims can use to negotiate with the extortionists or pay a ransom demand. Continue reading →


22
Jun 18

Supreme Court: Police Need Warrant for Mobile Location Data

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that the government needs to obtain a court-ordered warrant to gather location data on mobile device users. The decision is a major development for privacy rights, but experts say it may have limited bearing on the selling of real-time customer location data by the wireless carriers to third-party companies.

Image: Wikipedia.

At issue is Carpenter v. United States, which challenged a legal theory the Supreme Court outlined more than 40 years ago known as the “third-party doctrine.” The doctrine holds that people who voluntarily give information to third parties — such as banks, phone companies, email providers or Internet service providers (ISPs) — have “no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

That framework in recent years has been interpreted to allow police and federal investigators to obtain information — such as mobile location data — from third parties without a warrant. But in a 5-4 ruling issued today that flies in the face of the third-party doctrine, the Supreme Court cited “seismic shifts in digital technology” allowing wireless carriers to collect “deeply revealing” information about mobile users that should be protected by the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is intended to shield Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

Amy Howe, a reporter for SCOTUSblog.com, writes that the decision means police will generally need to get a warrant to obtain cell-site location information, a record of the cell towers (or other sites) with which a cellphone connected.

The ruling is no doubt a big win for privacy advocates, but many readers have been asking whether this case has any bearing on the sharing or selling of real-time customer location data by the mobile providers to third party companies. Last month, The New York times revealed that a company called Securus Technologies had been selling this highly sensitive real-time location information to local police forces across the United States, thanks to agreements the company had in place with the major mobile providers.

It soon emerged that Securus was getting its location data second-hand through a company called 3Cinteractive, which in turn was reselling data from California-based “location aggregator” LocationSmart. Roughly two weeks after The Times’ scoop, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that anyone could look up the real time location data for virtually any phone number assigned by the major carriers, using a buggy try-before-you-buy demo page that LocationSmart had made available online for years to showcase its technology.

Since those scandals broke, LocationSmart disabled its promiscuous demo page. More importantly, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all have said they are now in the process of terminating agreements with third-parties to share this real-time location data.

Still, there is no law preventing the mobile providers from hashing out new deals to sell this data going forward, and many readers here have expressed concerns that the carriers can and eventually will do exactly that.

So the question is: Does today’s Supreme Court ruling have any bearing whatsoever on mobile providers sharing location data with private companies?

According to SCOTUSblog’s Howe, the answer is probably “no.”

“[Justice] Roberts emphasized that today’s ruling ‘is a narrow one’ that applies only to cell-site location records,” Howe writes. “He took pains to point out that the ruling did not ‘express a view on matters not before us’ – such as obtaining cell-site location records in real time, or getting information about all of the phones that connected to a particular tower at a particular time. He acknowledged that law-enforcement officials might still be able to obtain cell-site location records without a warrant in emergencies, to deal with ‘bomb threats, active shootings, and child abductions.'” Continue reading →


26
May 18

Why Is Your Location Data No Longer Private?

The past month has seen one blockbuster revelation after another about how our mobile phone and broadband providers have been leaking highly sensitive customer information, including real-time location data and customer account details. In the wake of these consumer privacy debacles, many are left wondering who’s responsible for policing these industries? How exactly did we get to this point? What prospects are there for changes to address this national privacy crisis at the legislative and regulatory levels? These are some of the questions we’ll explore in this article.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama Administration reclassified broadband Internet companies as telecommunications providers, which gave the agency authority to regulate broadband providers the same way as telephone companies.

The FCC also came up with so-called “net neutrality” rules designed to prohibit Internet providers from blocking or slowing down traffic, or from offering “fast lane” access to companies willing to pay extra for certain content or for higher quality service.

In mid-2016, the FCC adopted new privacy rules for all Internet providers that would have required providers to seek opt-in permission from customers before collecting, storing, sharing and selling anything that might be considered sensitive — including Web browsing, application usage and location information, as well as financial and health data.

But the Obama administration’s new FCC privacy rules didn’t become final until December 2016, a month after then President-elect Trump was welcomed into office by a Republican controlled House and Senate.

Congress still had 90 legislative days (when lawmakers are physically in session) to pass a resolution killing the privacy regulations, and on March 23, 2017 the Senate voted 50-48 to repeal them. Approval of the repeal in the House passed quickly thereafter, and President Trump officially signed it on April 3, 2017.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, Ajit Pai — a former Verizon lawyer and President Trump’s pick to lead the FCC — said “despite hyperventilating headlines, Internet service providers have never planned to sell your individual browsing history to third parties.”

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.

“That’s simply not how online advertising works,” Pai wrote. “And doing so would violate ISPs’ privacy promises. Second, Congress’s decision last week didn’t remove existing privacy protections; it simply cleared the way for us to work together to reinstate a rational and effective system for protecting consumer privacy.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) came to a different conclusion, predicting that the repeal of the FCC privacy rules would allow broadband providers to collect and sell a “gold mine of data” about customers.

“Your mobile broadband provider knows how you move about your day through information about your geolocation and internet activity through your mobile device,” Nelson said. The Senate resolution “will take consumers out of this driver’s seat and place the collection and use of their information behind a veil of secrecy.”

Meanwhile, pressure was building on the now Republican-controlled FCC to repeal the previous administration’s net neutrality rules. The major ISPs and mobile providers claimed the new regulations put them at a disadvantage relative to competitors that were not regulated by the FCC, such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

On Dec. 14, 2017, FCC Chairman Pai joined two other Republic FCC commissioners in a 3-2 vote to dismantle the net neutrality regulations.

As The New York Times observed after the net neutrality repeal, “the commission’s chairman, Ajit Pai, vigorously defended the repeal before the vote. He said the rollback of the rules would eventually benefit consumers because broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast could offer them a wider variety of service options.”

“We are helping consumers and promoting competition,” Mr. Pai said. “Broadband providers will have more incentive to build networks, especially to underserved areas.”

MORE OR LESS CHOICE?

Some might argue we’ve seen reduced competition and more industry consolidation since the FCC repealed the rules. Major broadband and mobile provider AT&T and cable/entertainment giant Time Warner are now fighting the Justice Department in a bid to merge. Two of the four-largest mobile telecom and broadband providers — T-Mobile and Sprint — have announced plans for a $26 billion merger.

The FCC privacy rules from 2016 that were overturned by Congress sought to give consumers more choice about how their data was to be used, stored and shared. But consumers now have less “choice” than ever about how their mobile provider shares their data and with whom. Worse, the mobile and broadband providers themselves are failing to secure their own customers’ data.

This month, it emerged that the major mobile providers have been giving commercial third-parties the ability to instantly look up the precise location of any mobile subscriber in real time. KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that one of these third parties — LocationSmartleaked this ability for years to anyone via a buggy component on its Web site.

LocationSmart’s demo page featured a buggy component which allowed anyone to look up anyone else’s mobile device location, in real time, and without consent.

We also learned that another California company — Securus Technologies — was selling real-time location lookups to a number of state and local law enforcement agencies, and that accounts for dozens of those law enforcement officers were obtained by hackers.  Securus, it turned out, was ultimately getting its data from LocationSmart.

This week, researchers discovered that a bug in T-Mobile’s Web site let anyone access the personal account details of any customer with just their cell phone number, including full name, address, account number and some cases tax ID numbers.

Not to be outdone, Comcast was revealed to have exposed sensitive information on customers through a buggy component of its Web site that could be tricked into displaying the home address where the company’s wireless router is located, as well as the router’s Wi-Fi name and password.

It’s not clear how FCC Chairman Pai intends to “reinstate a rational and effective system for protecting consumer privacy,” as he pledged after voting last year to overturn the 2015 privacy rules. The FCC reportedly has taken at least tentative steps to open an inquiry into the LocationSmart debacle, although Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has called on Chairman Pai to recuse himself on the inquiry because Pai once represented Securus as an attorney. (Wyden also had some choice words for the wireless companies).

The major wireless carriers all say they do not share customer location data without customer consent or in response to a court order or subpoena. Consent. All of these carriers pointed me to their privacy policies. It could be the carriers believe these policies clearly explain that simply by using their wireless device customers have opted-in to having their real-time location data sold or given to third-party companies.

Michelle De Mooy, director of the privacy and data project at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), said if the mobile giants are burying that disclosure in privacy policy legalese, that’s just not good enough.

“Even if they say, ‘Our privacy policy says we can do this,’ it violates peoples’ reasonable expectations of when and why their location data is being collected and how that’s going to be used. It’s not okay to simply point to your privacy policies and expect that to be enough.”

Continue reading →


11
Apr 17

Fake News at Work in Spam Kingpin’s Arrest?

Over the past several days, many Western news media outlets have predictably devoured thinly-sourced reporting from a Russian publication that the arrest last week of a Russian spam kingpin in Spain was related to hacking attacks linked to last year’s U.S. election. While there is scant evidence that the spammer’s arrest had anything to do with the election, the success of that narrative is a sterling example of how the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is adept at manufacturing fake news, undermining public trust in the media, and distracting attention away from the real story.

Russian President Vladimir Putin tours RT facilities. Image: DNI

Russian President Vladimir Putin tours RT facilities. Image: DNI

On Saturday, news broke from RT.com (formerly Russia Today) that authorities in Spain had arrested 36-year-old Peter “Severa” Levashov, one of the most-wanted spammers on the planet and the alleged creator of some of the nastiest cybercrime engines in history — including the Storm worm, and the Waledac and Kelihos spam botnets.

But the RT story didn’t lead with Levashov’s alleged misdeeds or his primacy among junk emailers and virus writers. Rather, the publication said it interviewed Levashov’s wife Maria, who claimed that Spanish authorities said her husband was detained because he was suspected of being involved in hacking attacks aimed at influencing the 2016 U.S. election.

The RT piece is fairly typical of one that covers the arrest of Russian hackers in that the story quickly becomes not about the criminal charges but about how the accused is being unfairly treated or maligned by overzealous or misguided Western law enforcement agencies.

The RT story about Levashov, for example, seems engineered to leave readers with the impression that some bumbling cops rudely disturbed the springtime vacation of a nice Russian family, stole their belongings, and left a dazed and confused young mother alone to fend for herself and her child.

This should not be shocking to any journalist or reader who has paid attention to U.S. intelligence agency reports on Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of last year’s election. A 25-page dossier released in January by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence describes RT as a U.S.-based but Kremlin-financed media outlet that is little more than an engine of anti-Western propaganda controlled by Russian intelligence agencies.

Somehow, this small detail was lost on countless Western media outlets, who seemed all too willing to parrot the narrative constructed by RT regarding Levashov’s arrest. With a brief nod to RT’s “scoop,” these publications back-benched the real story (the long-sought capture of one of the world’s most wanted spammers) and led with an angle supported by the flimsiest of sourcing. Continue reading →


8
Mar 17

WikiLeaks Dumps Docs on CIA’s Hacking Tools

WikiLeaks on Tuesday dropped one of its most explosive word bombs ever: A secret trove of documents apparently stolen from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) detailing methods of hacking everything from smart phones and TVs to compromising Internet routers and computers. KrebsOnSecurity is still digesting much of this fascinating data cache, but here are some first impressions based on what I’ve seen so far.

First, to quickly recap what happened: In a post on its site, WikiLeaks said the release — dubbed “Vault 7” — was the largest-ever publication of confidential documents on the agency. WikiLeaks is promising a series of these document caches; this first one includes more than 8,700 files allegedly taken from a high-security network inside CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Va.

The home page for the CIA's "Weeping Angel" project, which sought to exploit flaws that could turn certain 2013-model Samsung "smart" TVs into remote listening posts.

The home page for the CIA’s “Weeping Angel” project, which sought to exploit flaws that could turn certain 2013-model Samsung “smart” TVs into remote listening posts.

“Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized ‘zero day’ exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation,” WikiLeaks wrote. “This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.”

Wikileaks said it was calling attention to the CIA’s global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal and dozens of weaponized exploits against “a wide range of U.S. and European company products, includ[ing] Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.”

The documents for the most part don’t appear to include the computer code needed to exploit previously unknown flaws in these products, although WikiLeaks says those exploits may show up in a future dump. This collection is probably best thought of as an internal corporate wiki used by multiple CIA researchers who methodically found and documented weaknesses in a variety of popular commercial and consumer electronics.

For example, the data dump lists a number of exploit “modules” available to compromise various models of consumer routers made by companies like Linksys, Microtik and Zyxel, to name a few. CIA researchers also collated several pages worth of probing and testing weaknesses in business-class devices from Ciscowhose powerful routers carry a decent portion of the Internet’s traffic on any given day. Craig Dods, a researcher with Cisco’s rival Juniper, delves into greater detail on the Cisco bugs for anyone interested (Dods says he found no exploits for Juniper products in the cache, yet). Meanwhile, Cisco has published its own blog post on the matter.

WHILE MY SMART TV GENTLY WEEPS

Some of the exploits discussed in these leaked CIA documents appear to reference full-on, remote access vulnerabilities. However, a great many of the documents I’ve looked at seem to refer to attack concepts or half-finished exploits that may be limited by very specific requirements — such as physical access to the targeted device.

The “Weeping Angelproject’s page from 2014 is a prime example: It discusses ways to turn certain 2013-model Samsung “smart TVs” into remote listening devices; methods for disabling the LED lights that indicate the TV is on; and suggestions for fixing a problem with the exploit in which the WiFi interface on the TV is disabled when the exploit is run.

ToDo / Future Work:
Build a console cable

Turn on or leave WiFi turned on in Fake-Off mode

Parse unencrypted audio collection
Clean-up the file format of saved audio. Add encryption??

According to the documentation, Weeping Angel worked as long as the target hadn’t upgraded the firmware on the Samsung TVs. It also said the firmware upgrade eliminated the “current installation method,” which apparently required the insertion of a booby-trapped USB device into the TV.

Don’t get me wrong: This is a serious leak of fairly sensitive information. And I sincerely hope Wikileaks decides to work with researchers and vendors to coordinate the patching of flaws leveraged by the as-yet unreleased exploit code archive that apparently accompanies this documentation from the CIA.

But in reading the media coverage of this leak, one might be led to believe that even if you are among the small minority of Americans who have chosen to migrate more of their communications to privacy-enhancing technologies like Signal or WhatsApp, it’s all futility because the CIA can break it anyway.

Perhaps a future cache of documents from this CIA division will change things on this front, but an admittedly cursory examination of these documents indicates that the CIA’s methods for weakening the privacy of these tools all seem to require attackers to first succeed in deeply subverting the security of the mobile device — either through a remote-access vulnerability in the underlying operating system or via physical access to the target’s phone.

As Bloomberg’s tech op-ed writer Leonid Bershidsky notes, the documentation released here shows that these attacks are “not about mass surveillance — something that should bother the vast majority of internet users — but about monitoring specific targets.”

By way of example, Bershidsky points to a tweet yesterday from Open Whisper Systems (the makers of the Signal private messaging app) which observes that, “The CIA/Wikileaks story today is about getting malware onto phones, none of the exploits are in Signal or break Signal Protocol encryption.”

The company went on to say that because more online services are now using end-to-end encryption to prevent prying eyes from reading communications that are intercepted in-transit, intelligence agencies are being pushed “from undetectable mass surveillance to expensive, high-risk, targeted attacks.”

A tweet from Open Whisper Systems, the makers of the popular mobile privacy app Signal.

A tweet from Open Whisper Systems, the makers of the popular mobile privacy app Signal.

Continue reading →


3
Jan 17

The Download on the DNC Hack

Over the past few days, several longtime readers have asked why I haven’t written about two stories that have consumed the news media of late: The alleged Russian hacking attacks against the U.S. Democratic National Committee (DNC) and, more recently, the discovery of malware on a laptop at a Vermont power utility that has been attributed to Russian hacker groups.

I’ve avoided covering these stories mainly because I don’t have any original reporting to add to them, and because I generally avoid chasing the story of the day — preferring instead to focus on producing original journalism on cybercrime and computer security.

dncBut there is another reason for my reticence: Both of these stories are so politically fraught that to write about them means signing up for gobs of vitriolic hate mail from readers who assume I have some political axe to grind no matter what I publish on the matter.

An article in Rolling Stone over the weekend aptly captures my unease with reporting on both of these stories in the absence of new, useful information (the following quote refers specifically to the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia related to the DNC incident).

“The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect,” Rolling Stone political reporter Matt Taibbi wrote. “Absent independent verification, reporters will have to rely upon the secret assessments of intelligence agencies to cover the story at all. Many reporters I know are quietly freaking out about having to go through that again.”

Alas, one can only nurse a New Year’s holiday vacation for so long. Here are some of the things I’ve been ruminating about over the past few days regarding each of these topics. Please be kind.

Gaining sufficient public support for a conclusion that other countries are responsible for hacking important U.S. assets can be difficult – even when the alleged aggressor is already despised and denounced by the entire civilized world.

The remarkable hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment in late 2014 and the Obama administration’s quick fingering of hackers in North Korea as the culprits is a prime example: When the Obama administration released its findings that North Korean hackers were responsible for breaking into SPE, few security experts I spoke to about the incident were convinced by the intelligence data coming from the White House.

That seemed to change somewhat following the leak of a National Security Agency document which suggested the United States had planted malware capable of tracking the inner workings of the computers and networks used by the North’s hackers. Nevertheless, I’d wager that if we took a scientific poll among computer security experts today, a fair percentage of them probably still strongly doubt the administration’s conclusions.

If you were to ask those doubting experts to explain why they persist in their unbelief, my guess is you would find these folks break down largely into two camps: Those who believe the administration will never release any really detailed (and likely classified) information needed to draw a more definitive conclusion, and those who because of their political leanings tend to disbelieve virtually everything that comes out of the current administration.

Now, the American public is being asked to accept the White House’s technical assessment of another international hacking incident, only this time the apparent intention of said hacking is nothing less than to influence the outcome of a historically divisive presidential election in which the sitting party lost.

It probably doesn’t matter how many indicators of compromise and digital fingerprints the Obama administration releases on this incident: Chances are decent that if you asked a panel of security experts a year from now whether the march of time and additional data points released or leaked in the interim have influenced their opinion, you’ll find them just as evenly divided as they are today.

The mixed messages coming from the camp of President-elect Trump haven’t added any clarity to the matter, either. Trump has publicly mocked American intelligence assessments that Russia meddled with the U.S. election on his behalf, and said recently that he doubts the U.S. government can be certain it was hackers backed by the Russian government who hacked and leaked emails from the DNC.

However, one of Trump’s top advisers — former CIA Director James Woolseynow says he believes the Russians (and possibly others) were in fact involved in the DNC hack.

It’s worth noting that the U.S. government has offered some additional perspective on why it is so confident in its conclusion that Russian military intelligence services were involved in the DNC hack. A White House fact sheet published alongside the FBI/DHS Joint Analysis Report (PDF) says the report “includes information on computers around the world that Russian intelligence services have co-opted without the knowledge of their owners in order conduct their malicious activity in a way that makes it difficult to trace back to Russia. In some cases, the cybersecurity community was aware of this infrastructure, in other cases, this information is newly declassified by the U.S. government.” Continue reading →


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 →


4
Apr 16

Sources: Trump Hotels Breached Again

Banking industry sources tell KrebsOnSecurity that the Trump Hotel Collection — a string of luxury properties tied to business magnate and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — appears to be dealing with another breach of its credit card systems. If confirmed, this would be the second such breach at the Trump properties in less than a year.

Trump International Hotel in New York.

Trump International Hotel in New York.

A representative from Trump Hotels said the organization was investigating the claims.

“We are in the midst of a thorough investigation on this matter,” the company said in a written statement. “We are committed to safeguarding all guests’ personal information and will continue to do so vigilantly.”

KrebsOnSecurity reached out to the Trump organization after hearing from three sources in the financial sector who said they’ve noticed a pattern of fraud on customer credit cards which suggests that hackers have breached credit card systems at some — if not all — of the Trump Hotel Collection properties.

On July 1, 2015, this publication was the first to report that banks suspected a breach at Trump properties. After that story ran, Trump Hotel Collection acknowledged being alerted about suspicious activity tied to accounts that were recently used at its hotels. But it didn’t officially confirm that its payment systems had been infected with card-stealing malware until October 2015.

The Trump Hotel Collection includes more than a dozen properties globally. Sources said they noticed a pattern of fraud on cards that were all used at multiple Trump hotel locations in the past two to three months, including at Trump International Hotel New York, Trump Hotel Waikiki in Honolulu, and the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto. Continue reading →


21
Mar 14

Sony Pictures Plans Movie About Yours Truly

Sony Pictures is reportedly planning to make a big screen movie based at least in part on my (mis)adventures over the past few years as an independent investigative reporter writing about cybercrime. Some gumshoe I am: This took me by complete surprise.

Credit: BrianKrebsFacts.com

Source: BrianKrebsFacts.com

The first inkling I had of this project came a few weeks ago when New York Times reporter Nicole Perlroth forwarded me a note she’d received from a Hollywood producer who was (and still is) apparently interested in acquiring my “life rights” for an upcoming film project. The producer reached out to The Times reporter after reading her mid-February 2014 profile of me, which chronicled the past year’s worth of reader responses from the likes of the very ne’er-do-wells I write about daily. Perlroth’s story began:

“In the last year, Eastern European cybercriminals have stolen Brian Krebs’s identity a half dozen times, brought down his website, included his name and some unpleasant epithets in their malware code, sent fecal matter and heroin to his doorstep, and called a SWAT team to his home just as his mother was arriving for dinner.”

I didn’t quite know what to make of the Hollywood inquiry at the time, and was so overwhelmed and distracted with travel and other matters that I neglected to follow up on it. Then, just yesterday, I awoke to a flurry of messages both congratulatory and incredulous on Twitter and Facebook regarding a story in The Hollywood Reporter:

“Sony has picked up the rights to the New York Times article ‘Reporting From the Web’s Underbelly,’ which focused on cyber security blogger Brian Krebs. Krebs, with his site KrebsonSecurity.com, was the first person to expose the credit card breach at Target that shook the retail world in December.”

Continue reading →