malware

Submarine patent torpedoed …

For some years I have been peripherally involved (hired to research prior art, etc.) in some of the submarine patent/patent troll cases in the AV world.

I’ve got plenty of prior art.  Programs demonstrating and using technologies that were granted patents years after those programs were available.  Email discussions showing that concepts were obvious and well-known years before patent applications were filed.

Of course, as the “expert” I’m not privy to the legal strategy.  Bt I can figure it out.  US patent office issues patent that never should have been granted.  Troll sues Big Firm for $100M.  BF’s lawyers go to IP law firm.  IP lawyers find me.  IP lawyers ask me for the weirdest (and generally weakest) evidence.  IP lawyers go back to BF’s lawyers.  BF’s lawyers go back to BF.  (At this point I’m not privy to the discussions, so I’m guessing.  But I suspect that …)  IP and BF lawyers advise that evidence available, but patent fight expensive.  BF offers troll $100K to go away.  Troll happy with $100K, which is all he wanted anyway.  BF lawyers happy with large (and now more secure) salaries.  IP lawyers happy with $1M fees.  BF happy to have “saved” $99M.  The only person not happy is me.

Well, Kaspersky got sued.  Kaspersky fought.  Kaspersky won.

So, today I’m happy.  (I just wish I’d been part of *this* fight …)

(By the way, patent trolls cost money …)

Flaming certs

Today is Tuesday for me, but it’s not “second Tuesday,” so it shouldn’t be patch Tuesday.  But today my little netbook, which is set just to inform me when updates are available, informed me that it had updated, but I needed to reboot to complete the task, and, if I didn’t do anything in the next little while it was going to reboot anyway.

Yesterday, of course, wasn’t patch Tuesday, but all my machines set to “go ahead and update” all wanted to update on shutdown last night.

This is, of course, because of Flame (aka Flamer, aka sKyWIper) has an “infection” module that messes with Windows/Microsoft Update.  As I understand it, there is some weakness in the update process itself, but the major problem is that Flame “contains” and uses a fake Microsoft digital certificate.

You can get some, but not very much, information about this from Microsoft’s Security Response Center blog.  (Early mentionLater.)

You can get more detailed information from F-Secure.

It’s easy to see that Microsoft is extremely concerned about this situation.  Not necessarily because of Flame: Flame uses pretty old technology, only targets a select subset of systems, and doesn’t even run on Win7 64-bit.  But the fake cert could be a major issue.  Once that cert is out in the open it can be used not only for Windows Update, but for “validating” all kinds of malware.  And, even though Flame only targets certain systems, and seems to be limited in geographic extent, I have pretty much no confidence at all that the blackhat community hasn’t already got copies of it.  (The cert doesn’t necessarily have to be contained in the Flame codebase, but the structure of the attack seems to imply that it is.)  So, the only safe bet is that the cert is “in the wild,” and can be used at any time.

(Just before I go on with this, I might say that the authors of Flame, whoever they may be, did no particularly bad thing in packaging up a bunch of old trojans into one massive kit.  But putting that fake cert out there was simply asking for trouble, and it’s kind of amazing that it hasn’t been used in an attack beofre now.)

The first thing Microsoft is doing is patching MS software so that it doesn’t trust that particular cert.  They aren’t giving away a lot of detail, but I imagine that much midnight oil is being burned in Redmond redoing the validation process so that a fake cert is harder to use.  Stay tuned to your Windows Update channel for further developments.

However, in all of this, one has to wonder where the fake cert came from.  It is, of course, always possible to simply brute force a digital signature, particularly if you have a ton of validated MS software, and a supercomputer (or a huge botnet), and mount a birthday (collision) attack.  (And everyone is assuming that the authors of Flame have access to the resources of a nation-state.  Or two …)  Now the easier way is simply to walk into the cert authority and ask for a couple of Microsoft certs.  (Which someone did one time.  And got away with it.)

But then, I was thinking.  In the not too distant past, we had a whole bunch of APT attacks (APT being an acronym standing for “we were lazy about our security, but it really isn’t our fault because these attackers didn’t play fair!”) on cert authorities.  And the attacks got away with a bunch of valid certs.

OK, we think Flame is possibly as much a five years in the wild, and almost certainly two years.  But it is also likely that there were updates during the period in the wild, so it’s hard to say, right off the top, which parts of it were out there for how long.

And I just kind of wonder …

Flame on!

I have been reading about the new Flame (aka Flamer, aka sKyWIper) “supervirus.”

[AAaaaarrrrrrggggghhhh!!!!!!!!  Sorry.  I will try and keep the screaming, in my “outside voice,” to a minimum.]

From the Telegraph:

This “virus” [1] is “20 times more powerful” than any other!  [Why?  Because it has 20 times more code?  Because it is running on 20 times more computers?  (It isn’t.  If you aren’t a sysadmin in the Middle East you basically don’t have to worry.)  Because the computers it is running on are 20 times more powerful?  This claim is pointless and ridiculous.]

[I had it right the first time.  The file that is being examined is 20 megabytes.  Sorry, I’m from the old days.  Anybody who needs 20 megs to build a piece of malware isn’t a genius.  Tight code is *much* more impressive.  This is just sloppy.]

It “could only have been created by a state.”  [What have you got against those of us who live in provinces?]

“Flame can gather data files, remotely change settings on computers, turn on computer microphones to record conversations, take screen shots and copy instant messaging chats.”  [So?  We had RATs that could do that at least a decade ago.]

“… a Russian security firm that specialises in targeting malicious computer code … made the 20 megabyte virus available to other researchers yesterday claiming it did not fully understand its scope and said its code was 100 times the size of the most malicious software.”  [I rather doubt they made the claim that they didn’t understand it.  It would take time to plow through 20 megs of code, so it makes sense to send it around the AV community.  But I still say these “size of code” and “most malicious” statements are useless, to say the least.]

It was “released five years ago and had infected machines in Iran, Israel, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.”  [Five years?  Good grief!  This thing is a pretty wimpy virus!  (Or self-limiting in some way.)  Even in the days of BSIs and sneakernet you could spread something around the world in half a year at most.]

“If Flame went on undiscovered for five years, the only logical conclusion is that there are other operations ongoing that we don’t know about.”  [Yeah.  Like “not reproducing.”]

“The file, which infects Microsoft Windows computers, has five encryption algorithms,”  [Gosh!  The best we could do before was a couple of dozen!]  “exotic data storage formats”  [Like “not plain text.”]  “and the ability to steal documents, spy on computer users and more.”  [Yawn.]

“Components enable those behind it, who use a network of rapidly-shifting “command and control” servers to direct the virus …”  [Gee!  You mean like a botnet or something?]

 

Sorry.  Yes, I do know that this is supposed to be (and probably is) state-sponsored, and purposefully written to attack specific targets and evade detection.  I get it.  It will be (marginally) interesting to see what they pull out of the code over the next few years.  It’s even kind of impressive that someone built a RAT that went undetected for that long, even though it was specifically built to hide and move slowly.

But all this “supervirus” nonsense is giving me pains.

 

[1] First off, everybody is calling it a “virus.”  But many reports say they don’t know how it got where it was found.  Duh!  If it’s a virus, that’s kind of the first issue, isn’t it?

Ad-Aware

I’ve used Ad-Aware in the past, and had it installed on my machine.  Today it popped up and told me it was out of date.  So, at their suggestion, I updated to the free version, which is now, apparently, called Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+.  It provides for real-time scanning, Web browsing protection, download protection, email protection, and other functions.  Including “superfast” antivirus scanning.  I installed it.

And almost immediately removed it from the machine.

First off, my machine bogged down to an unusable state.  The keyboard and mouse froze frequently, and many programs (including Ad-Aware) were unresponsive for much of the time.  Web browsing became ludicrous.

There are some settings in the application.  For my purposes (as a malware researcher) they were inadequate.  There is an “ignore” list, but I was completely unable to get the program to “ignore” my malware zoo, even after repeated efforts.  (The interface for that function is also bizarrely complex.)  However, I’m kind of a non-typical user.  However, the other options would be of little use to anyone.  For the most part they were of the “on or off” level, and provide almost no granularity.  That makes them simple to use, but useless.

I’ve never used Ad-Aware much, but it’s disappointing to see yet another relatively decent tool “improved” into non-utility.

REVIEW: “Dark Market: CyberThieves, CyberCops, and You”, Misha Glenny

BKDRKMKT.RVW 20120201

“Dark Market: CyberThieves, CyberCops, and You”, Misha Glenny, 2011,
978-0-88784-239-9, C$29.95
%A   Misha Glenny
%C   Suite 801, 110 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON Canada  M5V 2K4
%D   2011
%G   978-0-88784-239-9 0-88784-239-9
%I   House of Anansi Press Ltd.
%O   C$29.95 416-363-4343 fax 416-363-1017 www.anansi.ca
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887842399/robsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887842399/robsladesinte-21
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887842399/robsladesin03-20
%O   Audience n Tech 1 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   296 p.
%T   “Dark Market: CyberThieves, CyberCops, and You”

There is no particular purpose stated for this book, other than the vague promise of the subtitle that this has something to do with bad guys and good guys in cyberspace.  In the prologue, Glenny admits that his “attempts to assess when an interviewee was lying, embellishing or fantasising and when an interviewee was earnestly telling the truth were only partially successful.”  Bear in mind that all good little blackhats know that, if you really want to get in, the easiest thing to attack is the person.  Social engineering (which is simply a fancy way of saying “lying”) is always the most effective tactic.

It’s hard to have confidence in the author’s assessment of security on the Internet when he knows so little of the technology.  A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is said to be a system whereby a group of computers share a single address.  That’s not a VPN (which is a system of network management, and possibly encryption): it’s a description of NAT (Network Address Translation).  True, a VPN can, and fairly often does, use NAT in its operations, but the carelessness is concerning.

This may seem to be pedantic, but it leads to other errors.  For example, Glenny asserts that running a VPN is very difficult, but that encryption is easy, since encryption software is available on the Internet.  While it is true that the software is available, that availability is only part of the battle.  As I keep pointing out to my students, for effective protection with encryption you need to agree on what key to use, and doing that negotiation is a non-trivial task.  Yes, there is asymmetric encryption, but that requires a public key infrastructure (PKI) which is an enormously difficult proposition to get right.  Of the two, I’d rather run a VPN any day.

It is, therefore, not particularly surprising that the author finds that the best way to describe the capabilities of one group of carders was to compare them to the fictional “hacking” crew from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  The activities in the novel are not impossible, but the ability to perform them on demand is highly
unlikely.

This lack of background colours his ability to ascertain what is possible or not (in the technical areas), and what is likely (out of what he has been told).  Sticking strictly with media reports and indictment documents, Glenny does a good job, and those parts of the book are interesting and enjoyable.  The author does let his taste for mystery get the better of him: even the straight reportage parts of the book are often confusing in terms of who did what, and who actually is what.

Like Dan Verton (cf BKHCKDRY.RVW) and Suelette Dreyfus (cf. BKNDRGND.RVW) before him, Glenny is trying to give us the “inside story” of the blackhat community.  He should have read Taylor’s “Hackers” (cf BKHAKERS.RVW) first, to get a better idea of the territory.  He does a somewhat better job than Dreyfus and Verton did, since he is wise enough to seek out law enforcement accounts (possibly after reading Stiennon’s “Surviving Cyberwar,” cf. BKSRCYWR.RVW).

Overall, this work is a fairly reasonable updating of Levy’s “Hackers” (cf. BKHACKRS.RVW) of almost three decades ago.  The rise of the financial motivation and the specialization of modern fraudulent blackhat activity are well presented.  There is something of a holdover in still portraying these crooks as evil genii, but, in the main, it is a decent picture of reality, although it provides nothing new.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2012    BKDRKMKT.RVW 20120201

LTE Cloud Security

LTE.  Even the name is complex: Long-Term Evolution of Evolved Universal Terrestrial Radio Access Network

All LTE phones (UE, User Equipment) are running servers.  Multiple servers.  (And almost all are unsecured at the moment.)

Because of the proliferation of protocols (GSM, GPRS, CDMA, additional 3 and 4G, and now LTE), the overall complexity of the mobile/cell cloud is growing.

LTE itself is fairly complex.  The Protocol Reference Model contains at least the GERAN User Plane, UTRAN User Plane, and E-UTRAN User Plane (all with multiple components) as well as the control plane.  A simplified model of a connection request involves at least nine messages involving six entities, with two more sitting on the sides.  The transport layer, SCTP, has a four-way, rather than two-way, handshake.  (Hence the need for all those servers.)  Basically, though, LTE is IP, but a fairly complex set of additional protocols, as opposed to the old PSTN.  The old public telephone network was a walled garden which few understood.  Just about all the active blackhats today understand IP, and it’s open.  It’s protected by Diameter, but even the Diameter implementation was loopholes.  It has a tunnelling protocol, GTP (GPRS Tunnelling Protocol), but, like very many tunnelling protocols, GTP does not provide confidentiality or integrity protection.

Everybody wants to the extra speed, functions, interconnection abilities, and apps.  But all the functionality means a much larger attack surface.  The total infrastructure involved in LTE is more complex.  Maybe nobody can know it all.  But they can know enough to start messing with it.  From a simple DoS to DDoS, false billing, disclosure of data, malware, botnets of the UEs, spam, SMS trojans, even run down batteries, you name it.

As with VoIP before it, we are rolling our known data vulnerabilities, and known voice/telco/PBX vulnerabilities, into one big insecurity.

Michelangelo date

OK, having now had this conversation twice, I’ve gone back to the true source of all wisdom on all things viral, “Viruses Revealed.”  I got it off my shelf, of course, but some helpful vxer (who probably thought he was going to harm our sales) posted it on the net, and saved David and I the bother.  (Remember, this guy is a vxer, so that page may not be entirely safe.)

Michelangelo is covered between pages 357 and 361, which is slightly over halfway through the book.  However, since I guess he’s missed out the index and stuff, it turns out to be at about the 3/4 mark on the page he’s created.

Anyway, Michelangelo checks the date via Interrupt 1Ah.  many people did not understand the difference between the MS-DOS clock and the system clock read by Interrupt 1Ah. The MS-DOS DATE command did not always alter the system clock. Network-connected machines often have “time server” functions so that the date is reset to conform to the network. The year 1992 was a leap year, and many clocks did not deal with it properly. Thus, for many computers, 6th March came on Thursday, not Friday.

Michelangelo

Graham Cluley, of Sophos and Naked Security, posted some reminiscences of the Michelangelo virus.  It brought back some memories and he’s told the story well.

I hate to argue with Graham, but, first off, I have to note that the twentieth anniversary of Micelangelo is not tomorrow (March 6, 2012), but today, March 5.  That’s because 1992 was, as this year is, a leap year.  Yes, Michelangelo was timed to go off on March 6th every year, but, due to a shortcut in the code (and bugs in normal comptuer software), it neglected to factor in leap years.  Therefore, in 1992 many copies went off a day early, on March 5th.

March 5th, 1992, was a rather busy day for me.  I was attending a seminar, but kept getting called out to answer media enquiries.

And then there was the fact that, after all that work and information submitted to the media in advance, and creating copies of Michelangelo on a 3 1/2″ disk (it would normally only infect 5 1/4″s) so I could test it on a safe machine (and then having to recreate the disk when I accidentally triggered the virus), it wasn’t me who got my picture in the paper.  No, it was my baby brother, who a) didn’t believe in the virus, but b) finally, at literally the eleventh hour (11 pm on March 4th) decided to scan his own computer (with a scanner I had given to him), and, when he found he was infected, raised the alarm with his church, and scanned their computers as well.  (Must have been pretty close to midnight, and zero hour, by that time.)  That’s a nice human interest story so he got his picture in the paper.  (Not that I’m bitter, mind you.)

I don’t quite agree with Graham as to the infection rates.  I do know that, since this was the first time we (as the nascent antivirus community) managed to get the attention of the media in advance, there were a great many significant infections that were cleaned off in time, before the trigger date.  I recall notices of thousands of machines cleaned off in various institutions.  But, in a sense, we were victims of our own success.  Having got the word out in advance, by the trigger date most of the infections had been cleaned up.  So, yes, the media saw it as hype on our part.  And then there was the fact that a lot of people had no idea when they got hit.  I was told, by several people, “no, we didn’t get Michelangelo.  But, you know, it’s strange: our computer had a disk failure on that date …”  That was how Michelangelo appeared, when it triggered.

I note that one of the comments wished that we could find out who created the virus.  There is strong evidence that it was created in Taiwan.  And, in response to a posting that I did at the time, I received a message from someone, from Taiwan, who complained that it shouldn’t be called “Michelangelo,” since the real name was “Stoned 3.”  I’ve always felt that only the person who wrote that variant would have been that upset about the naming …