Your TV is being creepy

Of all the points of electronic insecurity one deals with every day, your TV is probably the last you’d expect. Not so, because Vizio has been caught spying on its customers – through approximately 11 million smart TVs in the US and since 2014.

These TVs have automatically tracked consumers’ viewing habits and sent that data back to its servers. Vizio was collecting a selection of pixels on screen that could match a database with movies, series and advertising content. It could also match data from set-top boxes, ISPs, streaming devices, dvd players and  OTT broadcasts resulting in as many as 100 bllion data points per day.

It gets worse – Vizio then sold that data to advertisers and others! Because IP addresses were part of this bundle of data, the data aggregators could match the data with individual consumers or households, and track their viewing and online habits. Privacy much?

Equality and security

Trending on Twitter right now: There are no US ambassadors because Donald Trump just fired them all

True or False?

I recently wrote a piece on “fake news and false information” in the context of online security. The feedback was interesting because most commenters did not ( immediately ) equate fake news/false information with their own security in the online space. To put it bluntly, false information significantly increases the risk of decisions leading to compromise. Plain and simple. The terms phishing, vishing and whaling all come to mind as the results of false information.

As an extension of this, online social behaviour also impacts on our ability to interact online safely. The expressions of netizens who deal in, and react to, false information in a fashion that is above what we would call “the norm”, seems to now be “the norm”. This in particular effects all forms of equality. In the context of gender equality specifically, Ashley Judd recently gave stunning TED talk relating her own experiences ( and those of many others ) online.

( note: the following features graphic language )

This abuse online is now the norm.

But past gender equality alone, there are numerous issues that plague online socialisation. Is the hate, vitriol and abuse continuously hurled in online platforms simply a manifestation of online personas or is this the reality that simmers just below our daily lives? Is this who we are now? We’re not face to face with someone so it’s easy to say …

The spectre of Trump is a paradox being forced onto a world which has in recent decades ( mostly ) been fighting for all manner of equality and diversity: gender, politics, race, work, sex, location, creed, religion, caste, etc. Does the election of Trump ( and similarly the election result of Brexit ), and all its retrograde rhetoric, mean that a large portion of the US ( and other parts of the world ) really believe that equality is no longer important?

This may seem like a tangent but the fact is that we’ve seen a reduction in expectations of online privacy and an escalation of online abuse in recent years.  Governments all of the world are reducing electronic privacy in the name of increasing citizen security, a fallacy perpetuated ad nauseam with little effective proof.  And as online and real-life socialisation blur, so does our security, or threat thereon.

It’s not just direct electronic threats ( malware, phishing, botnets, etc. ) that we have to concern ourselves with, it’s our lives online.

Fake news and false information

We live in the information age. Information is arguably the most important form of currency now and we’re bombarded with it 24×365. A never ending stream of information, news and data fed through channels like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. And it’s this overload of information that can lead to bad decisions and behaviour. Wikipedia has an excellent quote in their article on information overload:

“Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.”

This “reduction in decision quality” and ease of information dissemination through social media outlets is leading many to simply forward and repeat information without thought for bias or quality. While on the face of it, the results of this may seem fairly harmless, looking closer shows obvious instances where incorrect information can lead to serious consequences including loss of life.

Fake news websites deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation to drive web traffic inflamed by social media. These sites are distinguished from news satire as fake news articles are usually fabricated to deliberately mislead readers, and profit through clickbait. So the aim here is profit beyond the safety of ordinary people.

There have been numerous instances recently where fake news has had serious ramifications:

  • website purporting to be a news source but with a disclaimer (which it curiously spells “desclaimer”) had Facebook buzzing recently with numerous shares in South Africa and worldwide. It claimed that the United Nations had declared South Africa the most corrupt country in the world, one ahead of North Korea. A quick ( 30 seconds ) trip to Transparency International shows that South Africa is not even in the top 2/3rd’s of corrupt countries.
  • Pizzagate is a debunked conspiracy theory that emerged during the 2016 United States presidential election cycle alleging that John Podesta‘s emails, which were leaked by WikiLeaks, contain coded messages referring to human trafficking and connecting a number of restaurants in the United States and members of the Democratic Party with a child-sex ring. It has been discredited by a wide array of sources across the political spectrum. The result of this fake news was a gunman firing 3 shots in a New York restaurant based on this false information. This case described in detail in this Wikipedia article makes for a fascinating case study on Internet social psychology.
  • The Gamergate controversy concerns issues of sexism and progressivism in video game culture, stemming from a harassment campaign conducted primarily through the use of the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate. Gamergate targeted several women in the video game industry, including game developers Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu, as well as feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian. After a former boyfriend of Quinn wrote a lengthy disparaging blog post about her, other people falsely accused her of entering a relationship with a journalist in exchange for positive coverage and threatened her with assault and murder.
  • Marco Chacon created the fake news site RealTrueNews to show his alt-right friends their alleged gullibility. Chacon wrote a fake transcript for Clinton’s leaked speeches in which Clinton explains bronies to Goldman Sachs bankers. Chacon was shocked when his fiction was reported as factual by Fox News and he heard his writings on Megyn Kelly’s The Kelly File. Trace Gallagher repeated Chacon’s fiction and falsely reported Clinton had called Bernie Sanders supporters a “bucket of losers” — a phrase made-up by Chacon. After denials from Clinton staff, Megyn Kelly apologized with a public retraction. Chacon later told Brent Bambury of CBC Radio One program Day 6 that he was so shocked at readers’ ignorance he felt it was like an episode from The Twilight Zone. 
  • Forbes reported that the Russian state-operated newswire Sputnik International reported fake news and fabricated statements by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. Sputnik falsely reported on 7 December 2016 that Earnest stated sanctions for Russia were on the table related to Syria, falsely quoting Earnest as saying: “There are a number of things that are to be considered, including some of the financial sanctions that the United States can administer in coordination with our allies. I would definitely not rule that out.”

The list goes on ….

Rumours and false information are not specific to the Internet phenomenon and have been around since the dawn of man. But the Internet has made it very easy to disseminate information, be it true or false. The Spiral of Silence theory comes to mind:

The spiral of silence theory is a political science and mass communication theory proposed by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, which stipulates that individuals have a fear of isolation, which results from the idea that a social group or the society in general might isolate, neglect, or exclude members due to the members’ opinions. This fear of isolation consequently leads to remaining silent instead of voicing opinions. Media is an important factor that relates to both the dominant idea and people’s perception of the dominant idea. The assessment of one’s social environment may not always correlate with reality.

And that last statement says it all – social environment vs reality. The Social Internet has turbo-charged our ability to both disseminate false information and repeat it, as opposed to reality. And based on a sample of shared stories on Facebook, we’re pretty good at it.

So what’s with all this philosophy in a tech blog? Because false information can have a direct bearing on our online and real security. It’s in our interests to assume information is false before acting on it. We need to be scrutinising news and information published through social media in the same way we need to be suspicious of a phishing email. There are numerous online resources for determining the quality and validity of information so there is no excuse for forwarding on false information. In fact, Social Media can be used as an exercise in learning about false information as a prelude to identifying other online security issues such as phishing, malware, spyware and spam.

If you’re keen to share something on Social Media, make sure you validate that information first. And don’t take offense when someone points out that something you’ve posted may be incorrect – rather accept the correction with grace and move on from there. We all make mistakes from time to time – we’re “only human”.

Windows 10 updates and privacy settings

Windows 10 has put a heavy burden on network administrators due to its overhauled update system and numerous privacy settings. The results are a significant increase in network traffic, a slow down in machine operation and information leakage. Here follows a number of suggested settings to help minimise the impact of these changes and safeguard your privacy.

Privacy

Start -> Settings -> Privacy

  • Switch everything off in the General section except for SmartScreen filter
  • Switch off Location services in Location section
  • Switch off syncing in Other Devices section
  • Switch off feedback in Feedback and Diagnostics section
  • There are additional settings in the left menu where you can adjust further privacy settings

Spybot anti-beacon is an app specifically designed to block all of this stuff.

Updates

Start -> Settings -> Update & Security -> Windows Update -> Advanced Options

  • Give me updates for other microsoft products – disable
  • Choose how updates are delivered – enabled
  • Choose updates from local sources only

Start -> Settings -> Update & Security -> Windows Defender

  • real-time protection – enabled
  • cloud-based protection – disabled
  • sample submission –  disabled

Wifi Sense

Settings -> Network & Internet -> Wi-Fi -> Manage Wi-fi Settings

  • connect to suggested open hotspot – disable
  • connect to networks  shared by my contacts – disable

Metered connections

If you are using a Wi-fi dongle or 3g connection

Settings -> Network & Internet -> Wi-Fi

  • click on the Wi-Fi connection you are currently connected to
  • set as metered connection – enable

These settings should improve your privacy as well as reduce your data consumption.

DNS Meltdown

There have been enough clues over the last few years that the global DNS system as used in its current form, is particularly frail and subject to simple attacks. Yet the main commercial protagonists piggy-backing onto this system, have remained almost spectacularly silent on the issue and there seems to be little impetus to change things. Similar to the massive holes found in OpenSSL 2 years ago, the DNS system performs a critical job with very little support. As was the case with OpenSSL after these issues, it’s probably time for a few of the larger companies who are making a living from the internet, to come together and add their financial muscle to the DNS system.

Dyn’s meltdown last Friday is a small hint of what’s to come.  But besides Dyn’s specific problems, there are some issues here that need addressing:

First, why do global brands like CNN, Twitter and Spotify use a 3rd party for their authoritative DNS? This alone beggars belief … it takes a skilled IT admin a few hours to put up a geo-safe, high-availability authoritative DNS solution. Were they trying to save money? Was it simply the easy route? Or maybe they were sold on the Cloud gravy train … where TITSUP* seems to be a common theme.

Second, is it too much to ask that manufacturers of IoT devices, do at least the simplest of security audits on their products? Perhaps there should be a global program where a seal of approval is  given to IoT devices once they’ve passed a security test.

And finally, the DNS system itself, an aging 35-year old solution that’s well past its sell-by date. Amplification attacks on the DNS infrastructure are simple to enact. The DNS system needs to be rebuilt with security in mind even if this means running a dual-system for a period or breaking the internet.

Because if we don’t do something soon, a trivial attack on the DNS system will mean total carnage for the internet as we know it.

*total inability to support user performance

Office365 Ransomware attack

There is a massive ransomware attack targeting Office365 users at the moment. Originating on the 22nd of this month, the attack used phishing emails to distribute the Cerber ransomware, which encrypts users’ files and demands a ransom to decrypt the files.

Cerber was widely distributed after its originator was apparently able to easily confirm that the virus was able to bypass the Office 365 built-in security tools through a private Office 365 mail account.

Microsoft started blocking the ransomware just over 24 hours after the attack was first launched, but in the meantime, researchers estimate that approximately 57 percent of all organizations using Office 365 received at least one email delivering the malware.

Security Awareness Training remains one of the most effective tools organisations have against these types of attacks and is a highly recommended method of improving security.

ISP data breach

For anyone using local ISP CrystalWeb for internet access, you may want to immediately change your details and password on their system as that system has just been fully breached – someone called -hades has posted CrystalWeb’s full client list online including usernames, passwords, emails and other.

More importantly, if you reuse this password anywhere else, it’s time to change those login credentials as well. Now.

Security News – WK4 May 2016

The great Linkedin hack

A hacker called “Peace” recently tried to sell a password database of ~ 117 million Linkedin login details that come as a the result of a 2012 breach on the professional relationship social media site.

In a blog post published on May 18, LinkedIn CISO Cory Scott wrote, “Yesterday, we became aware of an additional set of data that had just been released that claims to be email and hashed password combinations of more than 100 million LinkedIn members from that same theft in 2012.”

All affected passwords are being reset, Scott wrote, and all those impacted will be notified. “We have no indication that this is as a result of a new security breach,” he added.

There is a high possibility that users who have not changed their password since that time will have been compromised. Even worse, the common practice of password reuse on other sites could result in hackers having access to those sites as well.

MySpace, Tumblr and Fling are other sites that were caught up in the same hack and are vulnerable too. If anyone has a MySpace ( new ) or LinkedIn account, now is the time to both change your password and enable 2-factor authentication.

As unwieldy as it sounds, using distinct and unique passwords for each site is the way to go. This is a huge burden to users with accounts on many sites, but a password manager ( like KeePass ) can assist greatly in improving security and automating the  chore of logging into sites.

Teamviewer becomes a remote pawn

The last month has seen a marked increase in Teamviewer attacks, either due to a breach in TV’s own systems or due to the above password reuse issue. The exact cause is not known yet but the problem is accelerating with more victims coming to the fore each day. Malware actors are logging into Teamviewer-accessible systems, dumping browser credential databases ( another reason to use a password manager instead of the browser’s password system ) and using these credentials ( yes people are saving their banking login details using their browser password manager ) to access financial systems, transfer money and cause all sorts of chaos.

One option is to not leave TV running on systems but rather to activate it as required. Not efficient or easy to use, but certainly much safer.

Squatting

Can you spell? Well that may be the difference between getting to the correct site or not. And being safe.

A class of threat called typosquatting, is making use of sites with addresses that are similar ( but not the same ) to well-known sites, to host malware. Eg. let’ s say you wanted to go to www.ibm.com but actually typed in www.bmi.com. You don’t notice the mistake and get sent on to a site that looks like www.ibm.com but is not. In addition, this mistaken site now hosts malware that infects your machine.

This issue is more common than one would like to think and malware authors are starting to put up a lot of sites with domain names that are similar to mainstream and popular sites. It’s not just important to monitor the SSL certificates of websites but also the address itself – this is especially true for transaction sites like online banking, eCommerce and the like. Be wary …

WordPress plugins, again …

WordPress is the most-used blogging platform in the world and has become very popular with website designers as well. WordPress has been a favourite target for hackers, but the developers are fairly proactive and for the most part, WP itself is kept secure. The same can not be said for WP’s impressive 3rd party plugin library where anyone can store and offer plugins.

These are regular recipients of hacks, including popular and well-maintained plugins. Recently, the WP Mobile Detector plugin has been compromised by a vulnerability that is being actively exploited to distribute porn-related spamming scripts. The plugin has been removed from the official WP plugin directory  but there are probably many site owners out there that are still vulnerable. There is no update for this issue yet so the only option is to disable the plugin.

Healthcare and your ( digital ) health

The breaching of healthcare systems is becoming an almost daily occurrence. This makes it even more concerning when healthcare companies ( eg. Discovery ) want to automatically provide your health status to 3rd parties via systems like Discovery HealthID. Like financial information, health details are some of the most private data that a private individual possesses. One cannot discount the benefits of 3rd parties having accessing to life-saving critical data about you especially in emergencies, but how is this data handled and secured outside of those emergencies?

I’m only using Discovery as an example here – they state in their T&C’s:

I understand that once Discovery Health has shared my information with authorised medical practitioners, Discovery Health has no further control over this information and they will not be accountable for its safeguarding. I also understand that the authorised medical practitioners have confirmed to Discovery Health that they will treat my information as confidential and in line with applicable laws.

and

I agree that by making this information available, Discovery Health will not be responsible for any loss or damage (whether direct or indirect) that may arise from the use of this information, other than where it is due to or attributable to grossly negligent or fraudulent conduct by Discovery Health.

What chance would one have to prove negligent conduct by one of these large companies? Food for thought.

Surprise!

And following on from Locky comes Surprise, this week’s flavour of ransom-ware! Yeah! This latest ransom-ware family that’s being distributed with Teamviewer 10, specifically version 10.0.47484, launches a file remotely called surprise.exe and then silently goes about its business injecting malware and encrypting files. Teamviewer themselves have indicated that they’ve had no breach of credentials ( which appears to be what is assisting the spread of this malware ) and that it’s likely this is a case of compromised end-user credentials. As per most modern r-w malware, RSA2048 and AES256 is employed to do the dirty work and this is little to no chance of decrypting without the keys. The C&C is down at the moment so it looks like there is a lull in activity but that doesn’t stop the malware from spreading. Extreme caution is required and make 100% sure that you dependable and reliable backups, because backups are the only verifiable method of recovery. Security Awareness training can also go along to way to avoiding infection completely.

Security News – Wk2/3 Mar 2016

MITRE has been running the CVE vulnerability identification and logging system for what seems like forever. Mostly this has worked well but recently it seems that applications to MITRE for CVE no’s have been taking longer than expected. In fact, the issue appears to be so bad that Kurt Seifried from Red Hat has decided to create a complimentary system to CVE for assigning vulnerability identifiers, calling it DWF – Distributed Weakness Filing system. DWF uses the same format as CVE and if you have a CVE no. already, this will be mapped directly to DWF. It seems that this action has woken MITRE up and they have started engaging with stakeholders to improve things. Identifiers are very important because they allow everyone to see if a vuln has been logged by someone else, it keeps a common identifier that all can work with and it lends a sense of  legitimacy to vuln logging. Let’s hope the 2 groups can reach common ground.

Locky is a new strain of ransom-ware that is starting to make waves; or encrypted files as it were. Locky is unique in that it uses Javascript attachments to spread its wares. Locky is being distributed by the same botnet responsible for the Dridex trojan – they’ve simply changed the delivery mechanism ( js ) and the payload ( ransomware ). Apparently, this has been enough to fool some AV programs. Locky will go after any accessible files including those on network shares. In addition, it will delete VSS shadow copies so making sure you have alternate backups is critical. Time to block .js files at the border of your networks.

The first Mac OS X ransom-ware recently came to light – dubbed KeRanger. This r-w is in fact just a copy of Linux Encoder which arrived in November 2015. KeRanger is basically a rewrite of v4 of Linux Encoder and while previous releases had a decryption tool available ( from BitDefender ), this release does not. KeRanger was originally distributed with the Transmission BitTorrent client, the result of the Transmission site being compromised. Linux Encoder is also not an original piece of software and comes as a result of Hidden Tear which is PoS ransom-ware …

Stagefright was an interesting Android exploit from last year that was mostly mitigated by the ASLR memory feature in Android. But a new variation on Stagefright, called Metaphor, has been released that apparently bypasses the ASLR protections. Let’s see what Google has to say about this over the next few days.

The UK’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom, was recently the subject of an insider data leak, with a former employee offering swathes of Ofcom data to their new employer. Kind of a silly thing to do because the new employer promptly alerted Ofcom. This incident goes to show that internal threats remain a serious barrier to maintaining network security. With more than 1/3 of data breaches resulting from employee actions, this is an area of security that’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage and balance against employee rights.

One of the biggest attacks of last week comes through advertising – or malvertising as it’s commonly called. A number of high profile sites including BBC, MSN and Newsweek ended up hosting ads that were redirecting visitors to sites serving malware and ransom-ware. The internet advertising community has already been under siege the last few years due to their high-handed tactics and invasive techniques – this latest attack is unlikely to help their cause.  If this news gets out more, people would start to view ad-blockers as another layer of security. Goodbye ads, most of them anyway. Google had better make a convincing statement soon, or the ads industry for the web faces a recession.

For my own security, I’ve been using Privacy Badger for a number of years now; this stops the automated execution of scripts in ads that might otherwise do damage. Am I aiding in the death of the ads industry? I’m not sure of that but I’d choose my security over the ad industry’s protection any day. Especially since the ads industry has not cleaned house. Maybe this latest attack will give them a wake-up call.

DROWN

Another day, another SSL attack. A new, low-cost attack has been found, that decrypts sensitive communications in a matter of hours and in some cases almost immediately. I hereby name you DROWN! And CVE-2016-0800.

The attack works against TLS-protected communications that rely on the RSA cryptosystem when the key is exposed even indirectly through SSLv2, a TLS precursor that was retired almost two decades ago because of crippling weaknesses. The vulnerability allows an attacker to decrypt an intercepted TLS connection by repeatedly using SSLv2 to make connections to a server.

The fact is though, that many of the listed SSL-based attacks over the last 2 years ( and yes there have been quite a few ), are not inherently serious, or do not have a large attack surface. Many require a particular ( and unusual ) set of circumstances and dependencies that make their effectiveness, well less effective.

And DROWN is not dissimilar. I requires SSLv2 to be enabled on the web server. For those in the know, and any sysadmin worth their salt, anything below TLSv1 ( at the very least ) should have been switched off on your web servers, years ago already. Known issues with these lesser versions of encryption have absolutely mandated their non-use. But unfortunately, the ease with which a web server can be put online is not directly comparable to the technical skill of those putting these servers online. So you can bet there are probably some misconfigured servers out there.

But the attack surface for DROWN should be relatively small and those who are effected, will probably ( and hopefully ) not be providing anything of value on their sites.

There’s a lesson to be learnt here though: just because something may seem simple to do on the surface, does not mean it is in reality. There’s no replacement for skill and experience.

Security News – Wk2 Feb 2016

We start off this week with news of Adobe’s Creative Cloud deleting data on Apple MACs – not a security issue in itself but still a serious issue. I’m sure there’s a lot of pissed-off people out there – losing data due to someone else’s problem is not nice.

Onto security-specific news, the UK GCHQ intelligence agency’s hacking of computers, mobile devices, smart devices, and computer networks has been ruled to be legal, no matter where it happens in the world, and that it is compatible with the European convention on human rights. So says the Investigatory Power Tribunal, a UK court that hear and decides on complaints regarding surveillance by public bodies. Hmmm, yes, um, hack away GCHQ!

The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, an “acute-care facility” located in Los Angeles, has had its computer systems compromised by hackers. The attackers are asking for 9,000 Bitcoin (approximately $3.6 million) in exchange for giving the hospital access to the systems again. This hack follows similar ones where data on web servers or computers are encrypted and the hackers ask for a ransom.

Hackers have recently used a previously compromised passwords to breach both TaxSlayer and Alibaba. “As a result of ongoing security reviews, TaxSlayer identified on January 13, 2016 that an unauthorized third party, whom we believe obtained your username and password from another online service, may have accessed your TaxSlayer account between 10/10/2015 and 12/21/2015,” TaxSlayer director of customer support Lisa Daniel wrote in a notification letter [PDF] to those affected.

Separately, hackers in China used a database of 99 million usernames and passwords stolen from other websites to target accounts at Alibaba’s Taobao shopping site, and found that 20.59 million of the username and password combinations also worked for Taobao, Reuters reports. That’s a 1-in-5 hit ratio which shows just how much password reuse is going on. This is exactly why password managers ares such a boon – they allow you to maintain different credentials for each site you use as well as provide auto login functionality.

HSBC’s Internet banking services were unavailable for several hours on January 29, 2016 as the bank’s system came under a DDoS attack, BBC News reports. “HSBC has successfully defended against the attack, and your transactions were not affected.” Yes exactly, this is why services were unavailable …

Locally, Anonymous have been busy hacking everything in sight. I first noticed this 2 weeks ago when the wpmc.co.za site served up 2 words – Aziz Siyaad … and nothing else. I hate it when I can’t get my racing program for the day at Killarney. The site’s up again but it’s not alone in serving up white-space. The SA government’s GCIS database has been leaked online as part of an attack that is said to encompass more than 200 sites.

A survey by Balabit, shows that social engineering and compromised accounts comprise 2 of the most common methods for hacking. This means that security remains in the hands of end-users.  Be warned.

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