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/

Turning an Amazon Echo into an Eavesdropping Device

For once, the real story isn’t as bad as it seems. A researcher has figured out how to install malware onto an Echo that causes it to stream audio back to a remote controller, but: The technique requires gaining physical access to the target Echo, and it works only on devices sold before 2017. But there’s no software fix for…

For once, the real story isn't as bad as it seems. A researcher has figured out how to install malware onto an Echo that causes it to stream audio back to a remote controller, but:

The technique requires gaining physical access to the target Echo, and it works only on devices sold before 2017. But there's no software fix for older units, Barnes warns, and the attack can be performed without leaving any sign of hardware intrusion.

The way to implement this attack is by intercepting the Echo before it arrives at the target location. But if you can do that, there are a lot of other things you can do. So while this is a vulnerability that needs to be fixed -- and seems to have inadvertently been fixed -- it's not a cause for alarm.

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

GoldenEye Malware

I don’t have anything to say — mostly because I’m otherwise busy — about the malware known as GoldenEye, NotPetya, or ExPetr. But I wanted a post to park links. Please add any good relevant links in the comments….

I don't have anything to say -- mostly because I'm otherwise busy -- about the malware known as GoldenEye, NotPetya, or ExPetr. But I wanted a post to park links.

Please add any good relevant links in the comments.

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

The Future of Ransomware

Ransomware isn’t new, but it’s increasingly popular and profitable. The concept is simple: Your computer gets infected with a virus that encrypts your files until you pay a ransom. It’s extortion taken to its networked extreme. The criminals provide step-by-step instructions on how to pay, sometimes even offering a help line for victims unsure how to buy bitcoin. The price…

Ransomware isn't new, but it's increasingly popular and profitable.

The concept is simple: Your computer gets infected with a virus that encrypts your files until you pay a ransom. It's extortion taken to its networked extreme. The criminals provide step-by-step instructions on how to pay, sometimes even offering a help line for victims unsure how to buy bitcoin. The price is designed to be cheap enough for people to pay instead of giving up: a few hundred dollars in many cases. Those who design these systems know their market, and it's a profitable one.

The ransomware that has affected systems in more than 150 countries recently, WannaCry, made press headlines last week, but it doesn't seem to be more virulent or more expensive than other ransomware. This one has a particularly interesting pedigree: It's based on a vulnerability developed by the National Security Agency that can be used against many versions of the Windows operating system. The NSA's code was, in turn, stolen by an unknown hacker group called Shadow Brokers ­ widely believed by the security community to be the Russians ­ in 2014 and released to the public in April.

Microsoft patched the vulnerability a month earlier, presumably after being alerted by the NSA that the leak was imminent. But the vulnerability affected older versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports, and there are still many people and organizations that don't regularly patch their systems. This allowed whoever wrote WannaCry ­-- it could be anyone from a lone individual to an organized crime syndicate -- to use it to infect computers and extort users.

The lessons for users are obvious: Keep your system patches up to date and regularly backup your data. This isn't just good advice to defend against ransomware, but good advice in general. But it's becoming obsolete.

Everything is becoming a computer. Your microwave is a computer that makes things hot. Your refrigerator is a computer that keeps things cold. Your car and television, the traffic lights and signals in your city and our national power grid are all computers. This is the much-hyped Internet of Things (IoT). It's coming, and it's coming faster than you might think. And as these devices connect to the Internet, they become vulnerable to ransomware and other computer threats.

It's only a matter of time before people get messages on their car screens saying that the engine has been disabled and it will cost $200 in bitcoin to turn it back on. Or a similar message on their phones about their Internet-enabled door lock: Pay $100 if you want to get into your house tonight. Or pay far more if they want their embedded heart defibrillator to keep working.

This isn't just theoretical. Researchers have already demonstrated a ransomware attack against smart thermostats, which may sound like a nuisance at first but can cause serious property damage if it's cold enough outside. If the device under attack has no screen, you'll get the message on the smartphone app you control it from.

Hackers don't even have to come up with these ideas on their own; the government agencies whose code was stolen were already doing it. One of the leaked CIA attack tools targets Internet-enabled Samsung smart televisions.

Even worse, the usual solutions won't work with these embedded systems. You have no way to back up your refrigerator's software, and it's unclear whether that solution would even work if an attack targets the functionality of the device rather than its stored data.

These devices will be around for a long time. Unlike our phones and computers, which we replace every few years, cars are expected to last at least a decade. We want our appliances to run for 20 years or more, our thermostats even longer.

What happens when the company that made our smart washing machine -- or just the computer part -- goes out of business, or otherwise decides that they can no longer support older models? WannaCry affected Windows versions as far back as XP, a version that Microsoft no longer supports. The company broke with policy and released a patch for those older systems, but it has both the engineering talent and the money to do so.

That won't happen with low-cost IoT devices.

Those devices are built on the cheap, and the companies that make them don't have the dedicated teams of security engineers ready to craft and distribute security patches. The economics of the IoT doesn't allow for it. Even worse, many of these devices aren't patchable. Remember last fall when the Mirai botnet infected hundreds of thousands of Internet-enabled digital video recorders, webcams and other devices and launched a massive denial-of-service attack that resulted in a host of popular websites dropping off the Internet? Most of those devices couldn't be fixed with new software once they were attacked. The way you update your DVR is to throw it away and buy a new one.

Solutions aren't easy and they're not pretty. The market is not going to fix this unaided. Security is a hard-to-evaluate feature against a possible future threat, and consumers have long rewarded companies that provide easy-to-compare features and a quick time-to-market at its expense. We need to assign liabilities to companies that write insecure software that harms people, and possibly even issue and enforce regulations that require companies to maintain software systems throughout their life cycle. We may need minimum security standards for critical IoT devices. And it would help if the NSA got more involved in securing our information infrastructure and less in keeping it vulnerable so the government can eavesdrop.

I know this all sounds politically impossible right now, but we simply cannot live in a future where everything -- from the things we own to our nation's infrastructure ­-- can be held for ransom by criminals again and again.

This essay previously appeared in the Washington Post.

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

Did North Korea Write WannaCry?

The New York Times is reporting that evidence is pointing to North Korea as the author of the WannaCry ransomware. Note that there is no proof at this time, although it would not surprise me if the NSA knows the origins of this malware attack….

The New York Times is reporting that evidence is pointing to North Korea as the author of the WannaCry ransomware. Note that there is no proof at this time, although it would not surprise me if the NSA knows the origins of this malware attack.

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

Jumping Airgaps with a Laser and a Scanner

Researchers have configured two computers to talk to each other using a laser and a scanner. Scanners work by detecting reflected light on their glass pane. The light creates a charge that the scanner translates into binary, which gets converted into an image. But scanners are sensitive to any changes of light in a room­ — even when paper is…

Researchers have configured two computers to talk to each other using a laser and a scanner.

Scanners work by detecting reflected light on their glass pane. The light creates a charge that the scanner translates into binary, which gets converted into an image. But scanners are sensitive to any changes of light in a room­ -- even when paper is on the glass pane or when the light source is infrared -- which changes the charges that get converted to binary. This means signals can be sent through the scanner by flashing light at its glass pane using either a visible light source or an infrared laser that is invisible to human eyes.

There are a couple of caveats to the attack -- the malware to decode the signals has to already be installed on a system on the network, and the lid on the scanner has to be at least partially open to receive the light. It's not unusual for workers to leave scanner lids open after using them, however, and an attacker could also pay a cleaning crew or other worker to leave the lid open at night.

The setup is that there's malware on the computer connected to the scanner, and that computer isn't on the Internet. This technique allows an attacker to communicate with that computer. For extra coolness, the laser can be mounted on a drone.

Here's the paper. And two videos.

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

Research on Tech-Support Scams

Interesting paper: "Dial One for Scam: A Large-Scale Analysis of Technical Support Scams": Abstract: In technical support scams, cybercriminals attempt to convince users that their machines are infected with malware and are in need of their technical support. In this process, the victims are asked to provide scammers with remote access to their machines, who will then "diagnose the problem",…

Interesting paper: "Dial One for Scam: A Large-Scale Analysis of Technical Support Scams":

Abstract: In technical support scams, cybercriminals attempt to convince users that their machines are infected with malware and are in need of their technical support. In this process, the victims are asked to provide scammers with remote access to their machines, who will then "diagnose the problem", before offering their support services which typically cost hundreds of dollars. Despite their conceptual simplicity, technical support scams are responsible for yearly losses of tens of millions of dollars from everyday users of the web.

In this paper, we report on the first systematic study of technical support scams and the call centers hidden behind them. We identify malvertising as a major culprit for exposing users to technical support scams and use it to build an automated system capable of discovering, on a weekly basis, hundreds of phone numbers and domains operated by scammers. By allowing our system to run for more than 8 months we collect a large corpus of technical support scams and use it to provide insights on their prevalence, the abused infrastructure, the illicit profits, and the current evasion attempts of scammers. Finally, by setting up a controlled, IRB-approved, experiment where we interact with 60 different scammers, we experience first-hand their social engineering tactics, while collecting detailed statistics of the entire process. We explain how our findings can be used by law-enforcing agencies and propose technical and educational countermeasures for helping users avoid being victimized by
technical support scams.

BoingBoing post.

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

New Destructive Malware Bricks IoT Devices

There’s a new malware called BrickerBot that permanently disables vulnerable IoT devices by corrupting their storage capability and reconfiguring kernel parameters. Right now, it targets devices with open Telnet ports, but we should assume that future versions will have other infection mechanisms. Slashdot thread….

There's a new malware called BrickerBot that permanently disables vulnerable IoT devices by corrupting their storage capability and reconfiguring kernel parameters. Right now, it targets devices with open Telnet ports, but we should assume that future versions will have other infection mechanisms.

Slashdot thread.

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

APT10 and Cloud Hopper

There’s a new report of a nation-state attack, presumed to be from China, on a series of managed ISPs. From the executive summary: Since late 2016, PwC UK and BAE Systems have been assisting victims of a new cyber espionage campaign conducted by a China-based threat actor. We assess this threat actor to almost certainly be the same as the…

There's a new report of a nation-state attack, presumed to be from China, on a series of managed ISPs. From the executive summary:

Since late 2016, PwC UK and BAE Systems have been assisting victims of a new cyber espionage campaign conducted by a China-based threat actor. We assess this threat actor to almost certainly be the same as the threat actor widely known within the security community as 'APT10'. The campaign, which we refer to as Operation Cloud Hopper, has targeted managed IT service providers (MSPs), allowing APT10 unprecedented potential access to the intellectual property and sensitive data of those MSPs and their clients globally. A number of Japanese organisations have also been directly targeted in a separate, simultaneous campaign by the same actor.

We have identified a number of key findings that are detailed below.

APT10 has recently unleashed a sustained campaign against MSPs. The compromise of MSP networks has provided broad and unprecedented access to MSP customer networks.

  • Multiple MSPs were almost certainly being targeted from 2016 onwards, and it is likely that APT10 had already begun to do so from as early as 2014.

  • MSP infrastructure has been used as part of a complex web of exfiltration routes spanning multiple victim networks.

[...]

APT10 focuses on espionage activity, targeting intellectual property and other sensitive data.

  • APT10 is known to have exfiltrated a high volume of data from multiple victims, exploiting compromised MSP networks, and those of their customers, to stealthily move this data around the world.

  • The targeted nature of the exfiltration we have observed, along with the volume of the data, is reminiscent of the previous era of APT campaigns pre-2013.

PwC UK and BAE Systems assess APT10 as highly likely to be a China-based threat actor.

  • It is a widely held view within the cyber security community that APT10 is a China-based threat actor.

  • Our analysis of the compile times of malware binaries, the registration times of domains attributed to APT10, and the majority of its intrusion activity indicates a pattern of work in line with China Standard Time (UTC+8).

  • The threat actor's targeting of diplomatic and political organisations in response to geopolitical tensions, as well as the targeting of specific commercial enterprises, is closely aligned with strategic Chinese interests.

I know nothing more than what's in this report, but it looks like a big one.

Press release.

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