Smart, Smarter… Dumbest… 0 518

Technological evolution: who hasn’t heard of this yet? It brings happiness into our lives, more convenience and less cumbersome usage, more and more possibilities for the user… Why make life (more) difficult when it can be made so (much more) convenient?

Just look at a communication device that you cannot ignore anymore, even if you wanted to: the smart phone. For the younger generation, it’s as if a cybernetic system is prosthetically attached to their arms; resisting it is futile! And they want their phones to become smarter and smarter, taking over more and more functions of their daily lives.

Now this is, of course, heaven for manufacturers: they can all battle to find new unique money-making features to add… or to make one that already exists much better. Likewise for the developers of dedicated apps (think, for example mobile banking). Innovation to make our daily lives “easier and easier”, basically a one-click life.

With the technology evolving at an ever faster pace, and an increasing focus on being the first to have the latest selling point, thoughts of security tend to be secondary, at best. This creates more possibilities for hackers, those that want to steal information, eavesdrop, etc. As these new features are introduced more and more often, and with more and more haste, in the smarter phones, so the probability of zero-day exploits becomes higher.

It seems that with the speed of technological evolution, the “urge” of people to use new features as soon as possible – even though they may not even exist right now and while these tasks can already be done in ‘the old way’ – is unstoppable. And at the same time we complain about data leakage, data loss, lack of privacy and insecure operating systems.

Maybe it is time to press pause and make it all secure, or more secure, dial back on the technological potential technological possibilities – making devices more controllable. There is definitely a demand for that, too. Just last week the Dutch Government announced that officials must switch to dumb(er) phones, deliberately equipped with low-tech specifications, making it harder for hackers to intercept them. The new phones only can be used for calls or SMS; they lack the ability to install apps or connect to the internet (I still remember those (brick) phones from the late 90’s!). While the prime-minister and some ministers already use such a device, others will have to “abandon” their current mobile phones when travelling to specific countries or regions and will be issued with such a low-tech phone and urged to leave their regular phone at home. This should make communication secure, or at least less insecure’, since the replacement mobile phone has been prepared, checked and certified by the Dutch Secret Service. A great step back, getting rid of security by obscurity, and prioritizing safety over features.

The example of the Dutch Government is not an isolated incident, it seems to become a trend. Earlier this year, the White House banned personal cell phones from the West Wing, citing security concerns. Staff will be able to continue to carry out their business on government-issued devices.

But of course it is not only the device that needs to be more secure. You, the user of the device, have to be aware of security issues too, such as not taking a personal phone with you on business trips, but also making and receiving calls with your secure phone in a secure environment, making sure that there are no cameras or listening devices, and no windows conveniently nearby so that lip-readers can do their job. And then making sure you whisper as the walls in the hotel may be thin, and… Oh wait… Remote laser vibration sensors can decode the audio! Best to go into the hotel room bathroom, close the door (they tend to have some soundproofing), turn on the shower and stand quite close to it while calling… Am I getting paranoid?

By all means, let’s not get too James Bond-ishly paranoid. For politicians, top managers of large multinationals dealing with sensitive information that could affect stock markets, those who deal with (trade) secrets and intellectual property: this may be an issue and they should take the necessary precautions. But revert completely to using only a dumb phone, even for normal calls asking, for example, how grandmother is doing?

Just remember that in the past, listening in on calls made on the analog telephone system with no encryption was really easy. Technology brought us a long way ahead, but perhaps a bit too fast. A small step back, made by securing the current “standard”, is more feasible than complete eradication of what has been created and accepted as a normal part of our daily lives. Such a complete reversion would not even be considered acceptable anymore if we were to disallow commonly-used devices.

Are you going to tell your teenage and pre-teenage children that a hot-off-the-press-release model smartphone with the newest features is now prohibited, and an old phone that can only call/text is all that’s available? They will be angry, feel ashamed of their old-fashioned parents, and will not go out anymore as they refuse to have their friends see them with such a simplistic, dumb phone. As they will not be able to interact with their friends anymore, because social media apps do not exist for their dumb phone (and since they won’t leave the house anymore), they will have to talk to you again.

Wait a minute??? Kids that start to talk to their parents again… But that’s a good thing! Where can I get one of these phones?!

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Approximately US $150,000 worth of Ethereum-based cryptocurrency stolen 0 368

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.

Beware: ad slingers thinly disguised as security apps 0 392

Fake Security App

According to AV-Comparatives, an independent testing organization, there are significant differences in the level of protection provided by mobile security solutions. However, even the least secure of them are still far better than questionable apps that impersonate security applications in order to display ads to users. Thirty-five such applications have recently been discovered in the Google Play official Android app store.

These apps have Google Play statistics showing a minimum of over six million installs, cumulatively. However, not all those were necessarily real installations, it is possilbe that many were bot downloads posting fake reviews to improve the ratings for the app.

All 35 apps have been flagged by ESET and eventually removed from the store.

In addition to annoying their victims with ads, disguising these apps as security software has some serious negative side effects, too. In mimicking basic security functions – in fact, they all act as very primitive security checkers relying on a few trivial hardcoded rules – they often detect legitimate apps as malicious. And last but not least, they create a false sense of security in the victims, which might expose them to real risks from malicious apps that are not detected as such.

ESET’s analysis has shown that among these 35 apps, only a handful stand out for their specific features: one app is not completely free as it offers a paid upgrade; one app has implemented a primitive, easily bypassed, app-locker manager; another app flags other apps from this group as dangerous by default; and finally, one misuses ESET’s branding.

 

Security-mimicking functionality
In order to stay under the radar, all the shady ad-displaying apps mimic actual mobile security solutions. However, their ‘detection mechanisms’ are incomplete and very primitive, which makes them easy to bypass and prone to false positives.

Our research into these questionable apps has shown that their ‘detection mechanisms’ can be divided into four categories. These mechanisms are identical or almost identical across the whole set of apps.

1) Package name whitelist & blacklist
These whitelists features popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Skype and others. The ‘blacklists’ contains far too few items to be considered security functionality at all.

2) Permissions blacklist
All apps (including legitimate ones) are flagged if they require some of the listed permissions that are considered dangerous, such as send and receive SMS, access location data, access the camera, etc.

3) Source whitelist
All apps but those from the official Android store, Google Play, are flagged – even if they are completely benign.

4) Activities blacklist
All apps that contain any of the blacklisted activities: that is, parts of applications. This mainly concerns some ad-displaying activities.

Flagged are all apps that contain any of the blacklisted activities, i.e., packages of application that are used in an application. These packages can handle additional functionalities (mainly some ad-displaying activities).

While there is nothing wrong with the idea of activity blacklisting, the implementation in these questionable apps is rather sloppy. For example, Google Ads is included in the blacklist despite the fact that it is a legitimate service. On top of being legitimate, this service is implemented in all of the shady apps we analyzed.

Additional security “functionality”
Some of the questionable security apps are capable of protecting a user’s apps with a password or a pattern locker. The idea behind this seemingly useful feature is to provide the user with another layer of security in selected apps.

However, due to insecure implementation, this feature also fails to provide true security to the user.

The problem is that relevant information is not stored safely on the device – instead of using encryption, which is common baseline practice in cybersecurity, these apps store the names of locked apps and the passwords to unlock them as plaintext.

This means that the data can be accessed after the device is rooted.

Besides compromising the unencrypted data by rooting the phone, there is another way to bypass the app lock. An attacker with physical access to the device can change the app-locking password without knowing the old one!

Conclusion
Having a security solution installed in an Android phone is definitely a good thing. However, not all apps featuring “security” or “antivirus” in their name do what the name promises. Before installing a security solution, think twice: is it really a tool you can safely rely on?

The 35 pseudo-security apps described in this article are not, say, ransomware or other hardcore malware. The only harm they do is displaying annoying ads, making false-positive detections and giving the victim a false sense of security. However, those millions of unwary users who downloaded them could easily have ended up downloading true malware in some similar disguise.

Instead of shady apps with flashy names and icons and outlandish, unsubstantiated promises, seek a reputable security solution. And which one to choose? An independent test by a well-respected testing organization might help.