Commentary

General ideas about the world of security

Has your email been “hacked?”

I got two suspicious messages today.  They were identical, and supposedly “From” two members of my extended family, and to my most often used account, rather than the one I use as a spam trap.  I’ve had some others recently, and thought it a good opportunity to write up something on the general topic of email account phishing.

The headers are no particular help: the messages supposedly related to a Google Docs document, and do seem to come from or through Google.  (Somewhat ironically, at the time the two people listed in these messages might have been sharing information with the rest of us in the family in this manner.  Be suspicious of anything you receive over the Internet, even if you think it might relate to something you are expecting.)

The URLs/links in the message are from TinyURL (which Google wouldn’t use) and, when resolved, do not actually go to Google.  They seem to end up on a phishing site intended to steal email addresses.  It had a Google logo at the top, and asked the user to “sign in” with email addresses (and passwords) from Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and a few other similar sites.  (The number of possible Webmail sites should be a giveaway in itself: Google would only be interested in your Google account.)

Beware of any messages you receive that look like this:

——- Forwarded message follows ——-
Subject:            Important Documents
Date sent:          Mon, 5 Aug 2013 08:54:26 -0700
From:               [a friend or relative]

*Hello,*
*
How are you doing today? Kindly view the documents i uploaded for you using
Google Docs CLICK HERE <hxxp://tinyurl.com/o2vlrxx>.
——- End of forwarded message ——-

That particular site was only up briefly: 48 hours later it was gone.  This tends to be the case: these sites change very quickly.  Incidentally, when I initially tested it with a few Web reputation systems, it was pronounced clean by all.

This is certainly not the only type of email phishing message: a few years ago there were rafts of messages warning you about virus, spam, or security problems with your email account.  Those are still around: I just got one today:

——- Forwarded message follows ——-
From:               “Microsoft HelpDesk” <microsoft@helpdesk.com>
Subject:            Helpdesk Mail Box Warning!!!
Date sent:          Wed, 7 Aug 2013 15:56:35 -0200

Helpdesk Mail Support require you to re-validate your Microsoft outlook mail immediately by clicking: hxxp://dktxxxkgek.webs.com/

This Message is From Helpdesk. Due to our latest IP Security upgrades we have reason to believe that your Microsoft outlook mail account was accessed by a third party. Protecting the security of your Microsoft outlook mail account is our primary concern, we have limited access to sensitive Microsoft outlook mail account features.

Failure to re-validate, your e-mail will be blocked in 24 hours.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Help Desk
Microsoft outlook Team
——- End of forwarded message ——-

Do you really think that Microsoft wouldn’t capitalize its own Outlook product?

(Another giveaway on that particular one is that it didn’t come to my Outlook account, mostly because I don’t have an Outlook account.)

(That site was down less than three hours after I received the email.

OK, so far I have only been talking about things that should make you suspicious when you receive them.  But what happens if and when you actually follow through, and get hit by these tricks?  Well, to explain that, we have to ask why the bad guys would want to phish for your email account.  After all, we usually think of phishing in terms of bank accounts, and money.

The blackhats phishing for email accounts might be looking for a number of things.  First, they can use your account to send out spam, and possibly malicious spam, at that.  Second, they can harvest email addresses from your account (and, in particular, people who would not be suspicious of a message when it comes “From:” you).  Third, they might be looking for a way to infect or otherwise get into your computer, using your computer in a botnet or for some other purpose, or stealing additional information (like banking information) you might have saved.  A fourth possibility, depending upon the type of Webmail you have, is to use your account to modify or create malicious Web pages, to serve malware, or do various types of phishing.

What you have to do depends on what it was the bad guys were after in getting into your account.

If they were after email addresses, it’s probably too late.  They have already harvested the addresses.  But you should still change your password on that account, so they won’t be able to get back in.  And be less trusting in future.

The most probable thing is that they were after your account in order to use it to send spam.  Change your password so that they won’t be able to send any more.  (In a recent event, with another relative, the phishers had actually changed the password themselves.  This is unusual, but it happens.  In that case, you have to contact the Webmail provider, and get them to reset your password for you.)  The phishers have probably also sent email to all of your friends (and everyone in your contacts or address list), so you’d better send a message around, ‘fess up to the fact that you’ve been had, and tell your friends what they should do.  (You can point them at this posting.)  Possibly in an attempt to prevent you from finding out that your account has been hacked, the attackers often forward your email somewhere else.  As well as changing your password, check to see if there is any forwarding on your account, and also check to see if associated email addresses have been changed.

It’s becoming less likely that the blackhats want to infect your computer, but it’s still possible.  In that case, you need to get cleaned up.  If you are running Windows, Microsoft’s (free!) program Microsoft Security Essentials (or MSE) does a very good job.  If you aren’t, or want something different, then Avast, Avira, Eset, and Sophos have products available for free download, and for Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Android.  (If you already have some kind of antivirus program running on your machine, you might want to get these anyway, because yours isn’t working, now is it?)

(By the way, in the recent incident, both family members told me that they had clicked on the link “and by then it was too late.”  They were obviously thinking of infection, but, in fact, that particular site wasn’t set up to try and infect the computer.  When they saw the page asked for their email addresses and password, it wasn’t too late.  if they had stopped at that point, and not entered their email addresses and passwords, nothing would have happened!  Be aware, and a bit suspicious.  It’ll keep you safer.)

When changing your password, or checking to see if your Web page has been modified, be very careful, and maybe use a computer that is protected a bit better than your is.  (Avast is very good at telling you if a Web page is trying to send you something malicious, and most of the others do as well.  MSE doesn’t work as well in this regard.)  Possibly use a computer that uses a different operating system: if your computer uses Windows, then use a Mac: if your computer is a Mac, use an Android tablet or something like that.  Usually (though not always) those who set up malware pages are only after one type of computer.

Click on everything?

You clicked on that link, didn’t you?  I’m writing a posting about malicious links in postings and email, and you click on a link in my posting.  How silly is that?

(No, it wouldn’t have been dangerous, in this case.  I disabled the URL by “x”ing out the “tt” in http;” (which is pretty standard practice in malware circles), and further “x”ed out a couple of the letters in the URL.)

(Photo) Copyist’s error?

Students of the classics and ancient documents are used to checking for copyist errors, but a photocopier?

And, of course, you can’t trust the machine to check the copy against the original, since it will probably make the same mistake every time.

Actually, with absolutely everything in the world going digital, this type of problem is becoming inevitable, and endemic.  Analogue systems have problems, but digital systems are subject to catastrophic collapse.

Thoughts at the library drop slot

A couple of days ago, I happened to walk over to the library in order to return some items.  When I got there, as all too often is the case, a parent was allowing two of his children to put their returns back into the (single) drop slot.  He noticed me, and offered to take my stuff and return it when they were done.  (Parenthetically [as it were], I should note that, in the five years since the new system was put in place, this is only the second time that a parent, in such a situation, has taken any notice of the fact that they were delaying matters.  The previous one, about a year ago, asked her children to stand aside and let me through.  I digress, but not completely.)

I immediately handed over my pile (which included a recent bestseller, and a recent movie).  (We are all creatures of social convention, and social engineering is a powerful force.)  But, being a professional paranoid, as soon as I walked away I started berating myself for being so trusting.

I was also thinking that his actions were pedagogically unsound.  While he was, at least, assisting me in avoiding delay, he was, just as much as the majority of the parents at that slot, teaching his children that they need have no regard for anyone else.

(And, yes, before I left the library, I checked my account, and determined that he had, in fact, returned my items.  Auditing, you know.)

A virus too big to fail?

Once upon a time, many years ago, a school refused to take my advice (mediated through my brother) as to what to do about a very simple computer virus infection.  The infection in question was Stoned, which was a boot sector infector.   BSIs generally do not affect data, and (and this is the important point) are not eliminated by deleting files on the computer, and often not even by reformatting the hard disk.  (At the time there were at least a dozen simple utilities for removing Stoned, most of them free.)

The school decided to cleanse it’s entire computer network by boxing it up, shipping it back to the store, and having the store reformat everything.  Which the store did.  The school lost it’s entire database of student records, and all databases for the library.  Everything had to be re-entered.  By hand.

I’ve always thought this was the height of computer virus stupidity, and that the days when anyone would be so foolish were long gone.

I was wrong.  On both counts.

“In December 2011 the Economic Development Administration (an agency under the US Department of Commerce) was notified by the Department of Homeland Security that it had a malware infection spreading around its network.

“They isolated their department’s hardware from other government networks, cut off employee email, hired an outside security contractor, and started systematically destroying $170,000 worth of computers, cameras, mice, etc.”

The only reason they *stopped* destroying computer equipment and devices was because they ran out of money.  For the destruction process.

Malware is my field, and so I often sound like a bit of a nut, pointing out issues that most people consider minor.  However, malware, while now recognized as a threat, is a field that extremely few people, even in the information security field, study in any depth.  Most general security texts (and, believe me, I know almost all of them) touch on it only tangentially, and often provide advice that is long out of date.

With that sort of background, I can, unfortunately, see this sort of thing happening again.

 

Lest you think I exaggerate any of this, you can read the actual report.

Fuzzing Samsung Kies

Android fuzzing is always fun – seems that whenever we fuzz an android app it crashes within seconds.

Samsung Kies was no different. With the help of the talented Juan Yacubian (who built the Kies module in no time) we launched beSTORM against Kies… And saw it crash in record 23 seconds (just over 1,100 attack combinations).

Next on the agenda: install gdb for Android and build the proper payload.

Samsung Kies Crash

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

“Charity, dear Miss Prism, charity! None of us are perfect. I myself am peculiarly susceptible to draughts.” (Dr. Chasuble, in The Importance of Being Earnest)

Not long ago, I was – inevitably – asked a number of questions about NSA and Prism, one of which was “Can you protect yourself against it somehow?”

To which I responded: “I suspect that effective self-concealment from SIGINT functionality like ECHELON is probably not only out of reach of the average person, but might also actually attract more active investigation.”

And it seems I wasn’t far wrong. Subsequent revelations indicate that – as Lisa Vaas of Sophos (among many others) observed – Using Tor and other means to hide your location piques NSA’s interest in you. That works because people who hide their location will be assumed to be non-Americans, and those of us outside the US are considered fair game even if we’re communicating with Americans. Still, there’s a sufficiency of loopholes that make USians talking to Usians almost equally justifiable as targets.

In particular, it turns out that “all communications that are enciphered or reasonably believed to contain secret meaning” are also fair game, even if they’re known to be domestic. But the grounds for hanging onto harvested information apparently include communications containing “significant foreign intelligence information”, “evidence of a crime”, “technical data base information” (such as encrypted communications), or “information pertaining to a threat of serious harm to life or property”. You might wonder how many electronic communications aren’t encrypted these days at some stage during their transmission… But I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether the NSA is exceeding its brief by paying too much attention to too many all-American transactions, since apparently the UK’s GCHQ is tapping every fibre-optic cable it can lay hands on and sharing its data with our Transatlantic cousins.

It might seem strange that the security community isn’t getting more worked up about all this, but that’s probably because none of us really believe that government and law enforcement agencies worldwide aren’t carrying out information gathering and analysis to the fullest extent that their resources permit. The problem with establishing a balance between the right to privacy of the individual and the right to security of the majority is not really about the gathering of information. Not that there’s much likelihood of the forty-niners (I’m thinking Gold Rush, not football) of the world’s intelligence agencies giving up panning the gravel beds of the world’s data streams.

What really matters is (a) what they do with the nuggets and (b) what they do with stuff that isn’t nuggets. It would be nice to think that where legislation limiting the State’s right to surveillance fails because of the sheer volume of data, legislation limiting the use that can be made of information gathered collaterally would at least partly compensate. However, it’s none too clear that this is the case right now in the Five Eyes community, far less among states with less of a tradition of observing democratic and libertarian principles. In the meantime, if you’re at all concerned about the privacy of your data, you might want to consider John Leyden’s suggestion of a combination of carrier pigeon and one-time pad. Bearing in mind that if an out-of-band communication does come to the attention of the authorities, it’s likely to attract attention rather than deflect it. Which is where I came in.

“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” (Miss Prism, in The Importance of Being Earnest)

REVIEW: “Consent of the Networked”, Rebecca MacKinnon

BKCNSNTW.RVW   20121205

“Consent of the Networked”, Rebecca MacKinnon, 2012, 978-0-465-02442-1, U$26.99/C$30.00
%A   Rebecca MacKinnon
%C   387 Park Ave. South, New York, NY   10016-8810
%D   2012
%G   978-0-465-02442-1 0-465-02442-1
%I   Basic Books
%O   U$26.99/C$30.00 special.markets@perseusbooks.com
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465024421/robsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465024421/robsladesinte-21
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465024421/robsladesin03-20
%O   Audience n Tech 1 Writing 1 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   294 p.
%T   “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom”

In neither the preface nor the introduction is there a clear statement of the intent of this work.  The closest comes buried towards the end of the introduction, in a sentence which states “This book is about the new realities of power, freedom, and control in the Internet Age.”  Alongside other assertions in the opening segments, one can surmise that MacKinnon is trying to point out the complexities of the use, by countries or corporations, of technologies which enhance either democracy or control, and the desirability of a vague concept which she refers to as “Internet Freedom.”

Readers may think I am opposed to the author’s ideas.  That is not the case.  However, it is very difficult to critique a text, and suggest whether it is good or bad, when there is no clear statement of intent, thesis, or terminology.

Part one is entitled “Disruptions.”  Chapter one outlines a number of stories dealing with nations or companies promising freedom, but actually censoring or taking data without informing citizens or users.  The “digital commons,” conceptually akin to open source but somewhat more nebulous (the author does, in fact, confuse open source and open systems), is promoted in chapter two.

Part two turns more directly to issues of control.  Chapter three concentrates on factors the Republic of China uses to strengthen state censorship.  Variations on this theme are mentioned in chapter four.

Part three examines challenges to democracy.  Chapter five lists recent US laws and decisions related to surveillance and repression of speech.  The tricky issue of making a distinction between repression of offensive speech on the one hand, and censorship on the other, is discussed in chapter six.  The argument made about strengthening censorship by taking actions against intellectual property infringement, in chapter seven, is weak, and particularly in light of more recent events.

Part four emphasizes the role that corporations play in aiding national censorship and surveillance activities.  Chapter eight starts with some instances of corporations aiding censorship, but devolves into a review of companies opposed to “network neutrality.”  Similarly, chapter nine notes corporations aiding surveillance.  Facebook and Google are big, states chapter ten, but the evil done in stories given does not inherently relate to size.

Part five asks what is to be done.  Trust but verify, says (ironically) chapter eleven: hold companies accountable.  MacKinnon mentions that this may be difficult.   Chapter twelve asks for an Internet Freedom Policy, but, since the author admits the term can have multiple meanings, the discussion is fuzzy.  Global Information Governance is a topic that makes chapter thirteen apposite in terms of the current ITU (International Telecommunications Union) summit, but the focus in the book is on the ICANN (Internet Committee on Assigned Names and Numbers) top level domain sale scandals.  The concluding chapter fourteen, on building a netizen-centric Internet is not just fuzzy, but full of warm fuzzies.

There are a great many interesting news reports, stories, and anecdotes in the book.  There is a great deal of passion, but not much structure.  This can make it difficult to follow topical threads.  This book really adds very little to the debates on these topics.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2013   BKCNSNTW.RVW   20121205