Hacking a Gene Sequencer by Encoding Malware in a DNA Strand

One of the common ways to hack a computer is to mess with its input data. That is, if you can feed the computer data that it interprets — or misinterprets — in a particular way, you can trick the computer into doing things that it wasn’t intended to do. This is basically what a buffer overflow attack is: the…

One of the common ways to hack a computer is to mess with its input data. That is, if you can feed the computer data that it interprets -- or misinterprets -- in a particular way, you can trick the computer into doing things that it wasn't intended to do. This is basically what a buffer overflow attack is: the data input overflows a buffer and ends up being executed by the computer process.

Well, some researchers did this with a computer that processes DNA, and they encoded their malware in the DNA strands themselves:

To make the malware, the team translated a simple computer command into a short stretch of 176 DNA letters, denoted as A, G, C, and T. After ordering copies of the DNA from a vendor for $89, they fed the strands to a sequencing machine, which read off the gene letters, storing them as binary digits, 0s and 1s.

Erlich says the attack took advantage of a spill-over effect, when data that exceeds a storage buffer can be interpreted as a computer command. In this case, the command contacted a server controlled by Kohno's team, from which they took control of a computer in their lab they were using to analyze the DNA file.

News articles. Research paper.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Friday Squid Blogging: Squid Eyeballs

Details on how a squid’s eye corrects for underwater distortion: Spherical lenses, like the squids’, usually can’t focus the incoming light to one point as it passes through the curved surface, which causes an unclear image. The only way to correct this is by bending each ray of light differently as it falls on each location of the lens’s surface….

Details on how a squid's eye corrects for underwater distortion:

Spherical lenses, like the squids', usually can't focus the incoming light to one point as it passes through the curved surface, which causes an unclear image. The only way to correct this is by bending each ray of light differently as it falls on each location of the lens's surface. S-crystallin, the main protein in squid lenses, evolved the ability to do this by behaving as patchy colloids­ -- small molecules that have spots of molecular glue that they use to stick together in clusters.

Research paper.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Confusing Self-Driving Cars by Altering Road Signs

Researchers found that they could confuse the road sign detection algorithms of self-driving cars by adding stickers to the signs on the road. They could, for example, cause a car to think that a stop sign is a 45 mph speed limit sign. The changes are subtle, though — look at the photo from the article. Research paper: "Robust Physical-World…

Researchers found that they could confuse the road sign detection algorithms of self-driving cars by adding stickers to the signs on the road. They could, for example, cause a car to think that a stop sign is a 45 mph speed limit sign. The changes are subtle, though -- look at the photo from the article.

Research paper:

"Robust Physical-World Attacks on Machine Learning Models," by Ivan Evtimov, Kevin Eykholt, Earlence Fernandes, Tadayoshi Kohno, Bo Li, Atul Prakash, Amir Rahmati, and Dawn Song:

Abstract: Deep neural network-based classifiers are known to be vulnerable to adversarial examples that can fool them into misclassifying their input through the addition of small-magnitude perturbations. However, recent studies have demonstrated that such adversarial examples are not very effective in the physical world--they either completely fail to cause misclassification or only work in restricted cases where a relatively complex image is perturbed and printed on paper. In this paper we propose a new attack algorithm--Robust Physical Perturbations (RP2)-- that generates perturbations by taking images under different conditions into account. Our algorithm can create spatially-constrained perturbations that mimic vandalism or art to reduce the likelihood of detection by a casual observer. We show that adversarial examples generated by RP2 achieve high success rates under various conditions for real road sign recognition by using an evaluation methodology that captures physical world conditions. We physically realized and evaluated two attacks, one that causes a Stop sign to be misclassified as a Speed Limit sign in 100% of the testing conditions, and one that causes a Right Turn sign to be misclassified as either a Stop or Added Lane sign in 100% of the testing conditions.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Detecting Stingrays

Researchers are developing technologies that can detect IMSI-catchers: those fake cell phone towers that can be used to surveil people in the area. This is good work, but it’s unclear to me whether these devices can detect all the newer IMSI-catchers that are being sold to governments worldwide. News article….

Researchers are developing technologies that can detect IMSI-catchers: those fake cell phone towers that can be used to surveil people in the area.

This is good work, but it's unclear to me whether these devices can detect all the newer IMSI-catchers that are being sold to governments worldwide.

News article.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Measuring Vulnerability Rediscovery

New paper: "Taking Stock: Estimating Vulnerability Rediscovery," by Trey Herr, Bruce Schneier, and Christopher Morris: Abstract: How often do multiple, independent, parties discover the same vulnerability? There are ample models of vulnerability discovery, but little academic work on this issue of rediscovery. The immature state of this research and subsequent debate is a problem for the policy community, where the…

New paper: "Taking Stock: Estimating Vulnerability Rediscovery," by Trey Herr, Bruce Schneier, and Christopher Morris:

Abstract: How often do multiple, independent, parties discover the same vulnerability? There are ample models of vulnerability discovery, but little academic work on this issue of rediscovery. The immature state of this research and subsequent debate is a problem for the policy community, where the government's decision to disclose a given vulnerability hinges in part on that vulnerability's likelihood of being discovered and used maliciously by another party. Research into the behavior of malicious software markets and the efficacy of bug bounty programs would similarly benefit from an accurate baseline estimate for how often vulnerabilities are discovered by multiple independent parties.

This paper presents a new dataset of more than 4,300 vulnerabilities, and estimates vulnerability rediscovery across different vendors and software types. It concludes that rediscovery happens more than twice as often as the 1-9% range previously reported. For our dataset, 15% to 20% of vulnerabilities are discovered independently at least twice within a year. For just Android, 13.9% of vulnerabilities are rediscovered within 60 days, rising to 20% within 90 days, and above 21% within 120 days. For the Chrome browser we found 12.57% rediscovery within 60 days; and the aggregate rate for our entire dataset generally rises over the eight-year span, topping out at 19.6% in 2016. We believe that the actual rate is even higher for certain types of software.

When combined with an estimate of the total count of vulnerabilities in use by the NSA, these rates suggest that rediscovery of vulnerabilities kept secret by the U.S. government may be the source of up to one-third of all zero-day vulnerabilities detected in use each year. These results indicate that the information security community needs to map the impact of rediscovery on the efficacy of bug bounty programs and policymakers should more rigorously evaluate the costs of non-disclosure of software vulnerabilities.

We wrote a blog post on the paper, and another when we issued a revised version.

Comments on the original paper by Dave Aitel. News articles.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Friday Squid Blogging: Giant Squids Have Small Brains

New research: In this study, the optic lobe of a giant squid (Architeuthis dux, male, mantle length 89 cm), which was caught by local fishermen off the northeastern coast of Taiwan, was scanned using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging in order to examine its internal structure. It was evident that the volume ratio of the optic lobe to the eye in…

New research:

In this study, the optic lobe of a giant squid (Architeuthis dux, male, mantle length 89 cm), which was caught by local fishermen off the northeastern coast of Taiwan, was scanned using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging in order to examine its internal structure. It was evident that the volume ratio of the optic lobe to the eye in the giant squid is much smaller than that in the oval squid (Sepioteuthis lessoniana) and the cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis). Furthermore, the cell density in the cortex of the optic lobe is significantly higher in the giant squid than in oval squids and cuttlefish, with the relative thickness of the cortex being much larger in Architeuthis optic lobe than in cuttlefish. This indicates that the relative size of the medulla of the optic lobe in the giant squid is disproportionally smaller compared with these two cephalopod species.

From the New York Times:

A recent, lucky opportunity to study part of a giant squid brain up close in Taiwan suggests that, compared with cephalopods that live in shallow waters, giant squids have a small optic lobe relative to their eye size.

Furthermore, the region in their optic lobes that integrates visual information with motor tasks is reduced, implying that giant squids don't rely on visually guided behavior like camouflage and body patterning to communicate with one another, as other cephalopods do.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

More on the NSA’s Use of Traffic Shaping

"Traffic shaping" — the practice of tricking data to flow through a particular route on the Internet so it can be more easily surveiled — is an NSA technique that has gotten much less attention than it deserves. It’s a powerful technique that allows an eavesdropper to get access to communications channels it would otherwise not be able to monitor….

"Traffic shaping" -- the practice of tricking data to flow through a particular route on the Internet so it can be more easily surveiled -- is an NSA technique that has gotten much less attention than it deserves. It's a powerful technique that allows an eavesdropper to get access to communications channels it would otherwise not be able to monitor.

There's a new paper on this technique:

This report describes a novel and more disturbing set of risks. As a technical matter, the NSA does not have to wait for domestic communications to naturally turn up abroad. In fact, the agency has technical methods that can be used to deliberately reroute Internet communications. The NSA uses the term "traffic shaping" to describe any technical means the deliberately reroutes Internet traffic to a location that is better suited, operationally, to surveillance. Since it is hard to intercept Yemen's international communications from inside Yemen itself, the agency might try to "shape" the traffic so that it passes through communications cables located on friendlier territory. Think of it as diverting part of a river to a location from which it is easier (or more legal) to catch fish.

The NSA has clandestine means of diverting portions of the river of Internet traffic that travels on global communications cables.

Could the NSA use traffic shaping to redirect domestic Internet traffic -- ­emails and chat messages sent between Americans, say­ -- to foreign soil, where its surveillance can be conducted beyond the purview of Congress and the courts? It is impossible to categorically answer this question, due to the classified nature of many national-security surveillance programs, regulations and even of the legal decisions made by the surveillance courts. Nevertheless, this report explores a legal, technical, and operational landscape that suggests that traffic shaping could be exploited to sidestep legal restrictions imposed by Congress and the surveillance courts.

News article. NSA document detailing the technique with Yemen.

This work builds on previous research that I blogged about here.

The fundamental vulnerability is that routing information isn't authenticated.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

A Man-in-the-Middle Attack against a Password Reset System

This is nice work: "The Password Reset MitM Attack," by Nethanel Gelerntor, Senia Kalma, Bar Magnezi, and Hen Porcilan: Abstract: We present the password reset MitM (PRMitM) attack and show how it can be used to take over user accounts. The PRMitM attack exploits the similarity of the registration and password reset processes to launch a man in the middle…

This is nice work: "The Password Reset MitM Attack," by Nethanel Gelerntor, Senia Kalma, Bar Magnezi, and Hen Porcilan:

Abstract: We present the password reset MitM (PRMitM) attack and show how it can be used to take over user accounts. The PRMitM attack exploits the similarity of the registration and password reset processes to launch a man in the middle (MitM) attack at the application level. The attacker initiates a password reset process with a website and forwards every challenge to the victim who either wishes to register in the attacking site or to access a particular resource on it.

The attack has several variants, including exploitation of a password reset process that relies on the victim's mobile phone, using either SMS or phone call. We evaluated the PRMitM attacks on Google and Facebook users in several experiments, and found that their password reset process is vulnerable to the PRMitM attack. Other websites and some popular mobile applications are vulnerable as well.

Although solutions seem trivial in some cases, our experiments show that the straightforward solutions are not as effective as expected. We designed and evaluated two secure password reset processes and evaluated them on users of Google and Facebook. Our results indicate a significant improvement in the security. Since millions of accounts are currently vulnerable to the PRMitM attack, we also present a list of recommendations for implementing and auditing the password reset process.

Password resets have long been a weak security link.

BoingBoing Post.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Friday Squid Blogging: Sex Is Traumatic for the Female Dumpling Squid

The more they mate, the sooner they die. Academic paper (paywall). News article. As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered. Read my blog posting guidelines here….

The more they mate, the sooner they die. Academic paper (paywall). News article.

As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven't covered.

Read my blog posting guidelines here.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Safety and Security and the Internet of Things

Ross Anderson blogged about his new paper on security and safety concerns about the Internet of Things. (See also this short video.) It’s very much along the lines of what I’ve been writing….

Ross Anderson blogged about his new paper on security and safety concerns about the Internet of Things. (See also this short video.)

It's very much along the lines of what I've been writing.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/