A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Security’ tag

There’s Hope for the Internet of Things

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Granted, it’s not a lot of hope but it seems like some consumers are actually holding off on buying Internet of Things (IoT) products due to security concerns:

Consumers are uneasy about being watched, listened to, or tracked by devices they place in their homes, consulting firm Deloitte found in a new survey it released Wednesday. Thanks to such discomfort, consumer interest in connected home home technology lags behind their interest in other types of IoT devices, Deloitte found.

“Consumers are more open to, and interested in, the connected world,” the firm said in its report. Noting the concerns about smart home devices, it added: “But not all IoT is created equal.”

Nearly 40% of those who participated in the survey said they were concerned about connected-home devices tracking their usage. More than 40% said they were worried that such gadgets would expose too much about their daily lives.

IoT companies have been extremely lazy when it comes to implementing security, which is a huge problem when their devices provide surveillance capabilities. If enough consumers avoid purchasing insecure IoT devices, IoT companies will be forced to either improve the security of their devices or go into bankruptcy.

Apple has done a good job at easing consumer’s security concerns with its biometric authentication technology. When Touch ID was first introduced, a lot of people were concerned about their fingerprints being uploaded to the Internet. However, Apple was able to east these concerns by explaining how its Secure Enclave chip works and how users’ fingerprints never leave that secure chip. The same technology was used for Face ID. IoT companies can do the same thing by properly securing their products. If, for example, an Internet accessible home surveillance device encrypted all of the data it recorded with a key that only the users possessed, it could provide Internet accessible home surveillance capabilities without putting user data at risk of being accessed by unwanted personnel.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 16th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Open Whisper Systems Released Standalone Desktop Client

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Signal is my favorite messaging application. It offers very good confidentiality and is easy to use. I also appreciate the fact that a desktop client was released, which meant I didn’t have to pull out my phone every time I wanted to reply to somebody. What I didn’t like though was the fact that the Signal desktop client was a Chrome app. If you use a browser besides Chrome you had to install Chrome just to use Signal’s desktop client. Fortunately, Google announced that it was deprecating Chrome apps and that forced Open Whisper Systems to release a standalone desktop client.

Now you can run the Signal desktop client without having to install Chrome.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 1st, 2017 at 10:00 am

The FBI’s Performance Issues

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When the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) isn’t pursuing terrorists that it created, the agency tends to have a pretty abysmal record. The agency recently announced, most likely as propaganda against effective encryption, that it has failed to obtain the contents of 7,000 encrypted devices:

Agents at the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have been unable to extract data from nearly 7,000 mobile devices they have tried to access, the agency’s director has said.

Christopher Wray said encryption on devices was “a huge, huge problem” for FBI investigations.

The agency had failed to access more than half of the devices it targeted in an 11-month period, he said.

The lesson to be learned here is that effective cryptography works. Thanks to effective cryptography the people are able to guarantee their supposed constitutional right to privacy. The restoration of rights should be celebrated but politicians never do because our rights are directly opposed to their goals. I guarantee that this announcement will lead to more political debates in Congress that will result in more bills being introduced to ban the plebs (but not the government, of course) from having effective cryptography. If one of the bills is passed into law, the plebs will have to personally patch their devices to fix the broken cryptography mandated by law (which, contrary to what politicians might believe, is what many of us plebs will do).

If you don’t want government goons violating your privacy, enable the cryptographic features on your devices such as full disk encryption.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 24th, 2017 at 10:00 am

A Grim Start to the Week

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This week started on a low note as far as computer security is concerned. The first bit of new, which was also the least surprising, was that yet another vulnerability was discovered in Adobe’s Flash Player and was being actively exploited:

TORONTO (Reuters) – Adobe Systems Inc (ADBE.O) warned on Monday that hackers are exploiting vulnerabilities in its Flash multimedia software platform in web browsers, and the company urged users to quickly patch their systems to prevent such attacks.

[…]

Adobe said it had released a Flash security update to fix the problem, which affected Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Edge and Internet Explorer browsers as well as desktop versions.

If you’re in a position where you can’t possibly live without Flash, install the update. If you, like most people, can live without Flash, uninstall it if you haven’t already.

The next bit of bad security news was made possible by Infineon:

A crippling flaw in a widely used code library has fatally undermined the security of millions of encryption keys used in some of the highest-stakes settings, including national identity cards, software- and application-signing, and trusted platform modules protecting government and corporate computers.

The weakness allows attackers to calculate the private portion of any vulnerable key using nothing more than the corresponding public portion. Hackers can then use the private key to impersonate key owners, decrypt sensitive data, sneak malicious code into digitally signed software, and bypass protections that prevent accessing or tampering with stolen PCs. The five-year-old flaw is also troubling because it’s located in code that complies with two internationally recognized security certification standards that are binding on many governments, contractors, and companies around the world. The code library was developed by German chipmaker Infineon and has been generating weak keys since 2012 at the latest.

This flaw impacts a lot of security devices including Estonia’s electronic identification cards, numerous Trusted Platform Modules (TPM), and YubiKeys shipped before June 6, 2017. In the case of YubiKeys, the flaw only impacts Rivest–Shamir–Adleman (RSA) keys generated on the devices themselves. Keys generated elsewhere and uploaded to the device should be fine (assuming they weren’t generated with a device that uses the flawed Infineon library). Moreover, other YubiKey functionality, such as Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) authentication, remains unaffected. If your computer has a TPM, check to see if there is a firmware update available for it. If you have an impacted YubiKey, Yubico has a replacement program.

The biggest security news though was the announcement of a new attack against Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), the security protocol used to secure wireless networks. The new attack, labeled key reinstallation attacks (KRACKs, get it? I wonder how long it took the researchers to come up with that one.), exploits a flaw in the WPA protocol itself:

The weaknesses are in the Wi-Fi standard itself, and not in individual products or implementations. Therefore, any correct implementation of WPA2 is likely affected. To prevent the attack, users must update affected products as soon as security updates become available. Note that if your device supports Wi-Fi, it is most likely affected. During our initial research, we discovered ourselves that Android, Linux, Apple, Windows, OpenBSD, MediaTek, Linksys, and others, are all affected by some variant of the attacks. For more information about specific products, consult the database of CERT/CC, or contact your vendor.

Fortunately, KRACKs can be mitigated by backwards compatible client and router software updates. Microsoft already released a patch for Windows 10 on October 10th. macOS and iOS have features that make them more difficult to exploit but a complete fix is apparently in the pipeline. Google has stated that it will release a patch for Android starting with its Pixel devices. Whether or not your specific Android device will receive a patch and when will depend on the manufacturer. I suspect some manufacturers will be quick to release a patch while some won’t release a patch at all. Pay attention to which manufacturers release a patch in a timely manner. If a manufacturer doesn’t release a patch for this or doesn’t release it in a timely manner, avoid buying their devices in the future.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 17th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Sorry State of Electronic Voting Machine Security

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A lot of people from different backgrounds have expressed concerns about the integrity of electronic voting machines. It turns out that those concerns were entirely valid:

It’s no secret that it’s possible to hack voting systems. But how easy is it, really? Entirely too easy, if you ask researchers at this year’s DefCon. They’ve posted a report detailing how voting machines from numerous vendors held up at the security conference, and… it’s not good. Every device in DefCon’s “Voting Machine Hacking Village” was compromised in some way, whether it was by exploiting network vulnerabilities or simple physical access.

Multiple systems ran on ancient software (the Sequoia AVC Edge uses an operating system from 1989) with few if any checks to make sure they were running legitimate code. Meanwhile, unprotected USB ports and other physical vulnerabilities were a common sight — a conference hacker reckoned that it would take just 15 seconds of hands-on time to wreak havoc with a keyboard and a USB stick. And whether or not researchers had direct access, they didn’t need any familiarity with the voting systems to discover hacks within hours, if not “tens of minutes.”

Just put those voting machines in the cloud! Everything is magically fixed when it’s put in the cloud!

Anonymous ballots are notoriously difficult to secure but it’s obvious that the current crop of electronic voting machines were developed by companies that have no interest whatsoever in even attempting to address that problem. Many of the issues mentioned in the report are what I would call amateur hour mistakes. There is no reason why these machines should have any unprotected ports on them. Moreover, there is no reason why the software running on these machines isn’t up to date. And the machines should certainly be able to verify the code they’re running. If the electronic voting machine developers don’t understand how code signing works, they should contact Apple since the signature of every piece of code that runs on iOS is verified.

And therein lies the insult to injury. The types of security exploits used to compromise the sample voting machines weren’t new or novel. They were exploits that have been known about and addressed for years. A cynical person might believe that the companies making these voting machines are just trying to make a quick buck off of a government contract and not interested in delivering a quality product. A cynical man might even feel the need to point out that this type of behavior is common because the government seldom holds itself or contractors accountable.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 12th, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Put It in the Cloud, They Said. It’ll Be Fun, They Said.

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Not only do you not own devices that are dependent on online services but those devices are also more vulnerable to unauthorized remote access. If your Internet connected devices aren’t secure, they can be accessed by unauthorized third parties, which can make for an awkward time when said device is capable of playing audio:

That suave chat is a translation of what webcam owner and shocked F-bomb flinger Rilana Hamer, of the Netherlands, related in a 1 October Facebook post.

Hamer says that a month or two ago, she picked up a Wi-Fi enabled camera to keep an eye on the house. Most particularly, to keep an eye on her puppy, who has a penchant for turning everything upside down. She bought the device at Action—a local discount-chain store that mostly sells low-budget convenience utilities.

Hamer’s experience isn’t unusual. In fact, there’s a website dedicated to providing remote feeds to insecure video cameras. Internet of Things (IoT) manufacturers have a pretty dismal record when it comes to security and few have shown any notable effort to improve that record. While the ramifications of this lack of security awareness aren’t immediately obvious for many IoT devices, they are obvious when it comes to devices that allow unauthorized third-parties to interact with you.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 10th, 2017 at 11:00 am

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NIST Publishes New Password Best Practices

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g’70A32KsZQ8H2n0JkJ__rfy[JsFzJ(wN(y1,F’Ou1kH(TQcSyNYs”3CSXYPbXQm

That looks like a secure password, right? It is. However, there’s no way I could possibly type that in accurately or remember it. Passwords that cannot be typed or remembered aren’t a big deal for online services if you use a password manager. They are a big deal for passwords you have to type in, like the one to log into your computer. Unfortunately, conventional password wisdom has it that users should be required to have complex passwords instead of memorable passwords. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently published changes to its password best practices. Its changes reflect conventional wisdom when it comes to password security:

Among other things, they make three important suggestions when it comes to passwords:

  1. Stop it with the annoying password complexity rules. They make passwords harder to remember. They increase errors because artificially complex passwords are harder to type in. And they don’t help that much. It’s better to allow people to use pass phrases.
  2. Stop it with password expiration. That was an old idea for an old way we used computers. Today, don’t make people change their passwords unless there’s indication of compromise.
  3. Let people use password managers. This is how we deal with all the passwords we need.

The good news here isn’t so much that NIST published these recommendations but that system administrators are willing to follow NIST’s guidelines. None of the changes published by NIST are new, these practices have been advocated by security professionals for some time now. Unfortunately, many, if not most, system administrators have kept the old guidelines in place, which has lead to users having to come up with passwords that are complex enough to satisfy password policy requirements but simple enough to remember for the several months that password is valid for. Hopefully NIST publishing these changes will convince those administrators of the errors of their ways.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 10th, 2017 at 10:00 am

If You Had a Yahoo Account in 2013, It Was Compromised

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Yahoo suffered one hell of a database breach in 2013. However, it was only recently that the scale of the breach has become known. As it turns out, every account that existed during the time of the breach was compromised:

Yahoo said a major security breach in 2013 compromised all three billion accounts the company maintained, a three-fold increase over the estimate it disclosed previously.

The revelation, contained in an updated page about the 2013 hack, is the result of new information and the forensic analysis of an unnamed security consultant. Previously, Yahoo officials said about one billion accounts were compromised. With Yahoo maintaining roughly three billion accounts at the time, the 2013 hack would be among the biggest ever reported.

“We recently obtained additional information and, after analyzing it with the assistance of outside forensic experts, we have identified additional user accounts that were affected,” Yahoo officials wrote in the update. “Based on an analysis of the information with the assistance of outside forensic experts, Yahoo has determined that all accounts that existed at the time of the August 2013 theft were likely affected.”

This should have been everybody’s assumption from the beginning. If an unauthorized individual had access to 1 billion accounts, it’s safe to say they had access to every account.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 5th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Posted in News You Need to Know

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Presenting What You Want People to See

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Once again we have a shooter whose family and friends say they are shocked by his actions, which has lead them to believe he just “snapped.” This is very common after a shooting and it’s not unusual for people on the sidelines to sneer and claim that the friends and family are either idiots who missed something obvious or lying. However, I believe his family and friends need to be cut a significant amount of slack. After all, an individual who is intelligent enough to plan an attack of this magnitude is also intelligent enough to act in an expected manner around friends and family.

There is a book that I believe is relevant here. It’s titled Without Conscience and is an overview on psychopathy. I’m not trying to imply that the Las Vegas shooter was a psychopath as it is defined medically but psychopaths are an example of individuals who are capable of acting in an expected manner to achieve desired ends.

It’s quite feasible that the Las Vegas shooter consciously acted in a way he knew would be least alarming to people because acting in that manner served his ends of perpetrating his attack. There very well may have been no warning signs for friends and family to notice, which is why they’re shocked by his actions.

As humans we tend to want things to fit into simple boxes. If somebody appeared to be “normal” to us, then the tidiest explanation for them acting violently is that they “snapped.” We also tend to want simple solutions. Access to mental healthcare is often brought up as a solution to shootings like this. However, providing access to mental healthcare only works if the subject wants to pursue it. If they want to perpetuated an attack instead, they aren’t going to utilize mental healthcare. Banning firearms is another proposal brought forth after these shootings. However, somebody who is willing to kill is seldom dissuaded by laws preventing them from acquiring a weapon legally. If that were the case, felons and gang members wouldn’t have access to firearms.

Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t care about our desire for simplicity. It throws complicated shit at us. If we refuse to acknowledge that fact, we’re doomed to continue trying to shove things into our simple boxes and are therefore doomed to propose simple solutions that will inevitably fail.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 3rd, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in News You Need to Know

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NSA Told to Sod Off

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After the National Security Agency (NSA) was caught cryptographic algorithms to enhance its surveillance abilities, trust for the agency fell to an all time low. This distrust lead the International Standards Organization (ISO) to reject two encryption algorithms recently submitted by the NSA:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – An international group of cryptography experts has forced the U.S. National Security Agency to back down over two data encryption techniques it wanted set as global industry standards, reflecting deep mistrust among close U.S. allies.

In interviews and emails seen by Reuters, academic and industry experts from countries including Germany, Japan and Israel worried that the U.S. electronic spy agency was pushing the new techniques not because they were good encryption tools, but because it knew how to break them.

The NSA has now agreed to drop all but the most powerful versions of the techniques – those least likely to be vulnerable to hacks – to address the concerns.

The dispute, which has played out in a series of closed-door meetings around the world over the past three years and has not been previously reported, turns on whether the International Organization of Standards should approve two NSA data encryption techniques, known as Simon and Speck.

This is an appropriate response. The NSA has a track record of manipulating standards organizations in order to make its surveillance apparatus more effective. In security trust is everything. Since the NSA has proven itself to be untrustworthy, it only makes sense to reject any proposals from the agency.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 22nd, 2017 at 10:00 am