Coming to terms with cyber security nightmare 0 882

Teddy Njoroge

Last year internet security companies made forecasts about possible cyber-threats to really worry about this year. This we followed with measures that companies and individuals needed to take to ensure a cyber-safe 2018. Paramount among these was the need for proactive use of protective software tools as well as sensitisation and training of users about these threats.

True to predictions, 2018 started with a scenario hardly anyone could have foreseen. Two serious design vulnerabilities in Computer Central Processing Units (CPUs) were exposed that could enable cyber-criminals to steal sensitive or private information such as passwords, documents and photos among other data from unsecured devices.

The “Meltdown and Spectre” CPU vulnerabilities point to a much larger underlying issue. Software bugs and hardware bugs are more common than not, but these once identified can be fixed fairly easily with either a software patch or firmware update for hardware issues.

However, as it turns out this is not possible with these two vulnerabilities as they are caused by a design flaw in the hardware architecture, only fixable by replacing the actual hardware. And that is where the problems begin.

CPUs of affected manufacturers such as AMD, ARM, Intel, among others appear in a lot of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and which are scattered all over the globe.

According to ARM, they are already “securing” a trillion (1,000,000,000,000) devices. Granted, not all ARM CPUs are affected, but if even 0.1 per cent of them are, it still means a billion (1,000,000,000) affected devices.

Due to the huge costs involved, it is not feasible to replace all these faulty CPUs. In reality people will keep their existing devices until end of their life cycles, for years even.

Deployed for countless and diverse applications in the households or offices, once operational many owners have most likely forgotten that they have them and which inherently leaves a giant gap for cybercriminals to exploit.

Any Wi-Fi-controlled device such as refrigerator, digital picture frames, Smart TVs, DVRs and PVRs etc., potentially provides opportunity for sensitive data to be lost. For example, a compromised Wi-Fi password for any of these can make it possible for anyone to hack your home or office network thus giving automatic access to any other connected platform such as emails, social media pages and even shared cloud or archive platforms.

Even though to get access to your IoT device, a would be attacker needs to have compromised the internet network already, or even the applications running on the device, we know that cyber-criminals just like a pack of wolves will not relent after smelling blood.

As a warning, when you are buying a new IoT device, ensure to check which CPU it is running on, and if that CPU is affected by these vulnerabilities.

 

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Time to change your Twitter password 0 720

Twitter Password

An internal bug exposed the passwords of an undisclosed number of the more than 330 million Twitter users.

Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal announced that it was a “bug that stored passwords unmasked in an internal log”. He went on to state “we have fixed the bug and our investigation shows no indication of breach or misuse”.

The Social Media platform are insisting that there is no sign of danger and that there is no reason to believe that the passwords were exposed outside of the organisation. However, they are still advising users to change their Twitter passwords and those of any other online service using the same password.

Some additional password tips from Twitter include enabling two-factor authentication and also using a password manager to create a strong and unique password for every individual online service.

Approximately US $150,000 worth of Ethereum-based cryptocurrency stolen 0 822

Online cryptocurrency website MyEtherWallet.com has confirmed that some visitors could have been temporarily redirected to a phishing site designed to steal users’ credentials and – ultimately – empty their cryptocurrency wallets.

According to reports, whoever was behind the attack may have successfully stolen approximately US $152,000 worth of Ethereum-based cryptocurrency.

However,  MyEtherWallet may not have been at fault, as the website explained in its statement:

“This is not due to a lack of security on the [MyEtherWallet] platform. It is due to hackers finding vulnerabilities in public facing DNS servers.”

British security researcher Kevin Beaumont confirms in a blog post that some of MyEtherWallet’s traffic had been redirected to a server based in Russia after traffic intended for Amazon’s DNS resolvers was pointed to a server hosted in Chicago by Equinix.

For the scheme to succeed, someone pulled off a hijack of a crucial component of the internet known as Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), to reroute traffic intended for Amazon’s Route 53 DNS service to the server in Chicago. As a consequence, for some users, entering myetherwallet.com into their browser did not take them to the genuine site but instead to a server at an IP address chosen by the hackers.

The only obvious clue that a typical user might have spotted was that when they visited the fake MyEtherWallet site they would have seen an error message telling them that the site was using an untrustworthy SSL certificate.

It seems that the attackers made a mistake in not obtaining a valid SSL certificate.

Despite the error with their SSL certificate, the hackers haven’t done badly for themselves – both in this attack and in the past. Fascinatingly, the bogus MyEtherWallet website set up by the criminals was moving stolen cryptocurrency into a wallet which already contained some US $27 million worth of assets. Inevitably that raises questions of its own – have the hackers already made a substantial fortune through other attacks, or might their activities be supported by a nation state?

In a statement Equinix confirmed that a customer’s equipment at its Chicago data center was used in the hackers’ hijacking of Amazon’s Route 53 DNS service:

“The server used in this incident was not an Equinix server but rather customer equipment deployed at one of our Chicago IBX data centers… We generally do not have visibility or control over what our customers – or customers of our customers – do with their equipment.”

Amazon however, do not find the blame to lie on themselves, communicating the following statement:

“Neither AWS nor Amazon Route 53 were hacked or compromised. An upstream Internet Service Provider (ISP) was compromised by a malicious actor who then used that provider to announce a subset of Route 53 IP addresses to other networks with whom this ISP was peered. These peered networks, unaware of this issue, accepted these announcements and incorrectly directed a small percentage of traffic for a single customer’s domain to the malicious copy of that domain.”

Some advice from award winning security blogger, researcher and speaker, Graham Cluley – avoid putting your cryptocurrency wallet online, keep them off your smartphone or computer and perhaps instead invest in a hardware wallet.