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/

Using Intel’s SGX to Attack Itself

Researchers have demonstrated using Intel’s Software Guard Extensions to hide malware and steal cryptographic keys from inside SGX’s protected enclave: Malware Guard Extension: Using SGX to Conceal Cache Attacks Abstract:In modern computer systems, user processes are isolated from each other by the operating system and the hardware. Additionally, in a cloud scenario it is crucial that the hypervisor isolates tenants…

Researchers have demonstrated using Intel's Software Guard Extensions to hide malware and steal cryptographic keys from inside SGX's protected enclave:

Malware Guard Extension: Using SGX to Conceal Cache Attacks

Abstract:In modern computer systems, user processes are isolated from each other by the operating system and the hardware. Additionally, in a cloud scenario it is crucial that the hypervisor isolates tenants from other tenants that are co-located on the same physical machine. However, the hypervisor does not protect tenants against the cloud provider and thus the supplied operating system and hardware. Intel SGX provides a mechanism that addresses this scenario. It aims at protecting user-level software from attacks from other processes, the operating system, and even physical attackers.

In this paper, we demonstrate fine-grained software-based side-channel attacks from a malicious SGX enclave targeting co-located enclaves. Our attack is the first malware running on real SGX hardware, abusing SGX protection features to conceal itself. Furthermore, we demonstrate our attack both in a native environment and across multiple Docker containers. We perform a Prime+Probe cache side-channel attack on a co-located SGX enclave running an up-to-date RSA implementation that uses a constant-time multiplication primitive. The attack works although in SGX enclaves there are no timers, no large pages, no physical addresses, and no shared memory. In a semi-synchronous attack, we extract 96% of an RSA private key from a single trace. We extract the full RSA private key in an automated attack from 11 traces within 5 minutes.

News article.

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

More on the CIA Document Leak

If I had to guess right now, I’d say the documents came from an outsider and not an insider. My reasoning: One, there is absolutely nothing illegal in the contents of any of this stuff. It’s exactly what you’d expect the CIA to be doing in cyberspace. That makes the whistleblower motive less likely. And two, the documents are a…

If I had to guess right now, I'd say the documents came from an outsider and not an insider. My reasoning: One, there is absolutely nothing illegal in the contents of any of this stuff. It's exactly what you'd expect the CIA to be doing in cyberspace. That makes the whistleblower motive less likely. And two, the documents are a few years old, making this more like the Shadow Brokers than Edward Snowden. An internal leaker would leak quickly. A foreign intelligence agency -- like the Russians -- would use the documents while they were fresh and valuable, and only expose them when the embarrassment value was greater.

James Lewis agrees:

But James Lewis, an expert on cybersecurity at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, raised another possibility: that a foreign state, most likely Russia, stole the documents by hacking or other means and delivered them to WikiLeaks, which may not know how they were obtained. Mr. Lewis noted that, according to American intelligence agencies, Russia hacked Democratic targets during the presidential campaign and gave thousands of emails to WikiLeaks for publication.

To be sure, neither of us has any idea. We're all guessing.

To the documents themselves, I really liked these best practice coding guidelines for malware, and these crypto requirements.

I am mentioned in the latter document:

Cryptographic jargon is utilized throughout this document. This jargon has precise and subtle meaning and should not be interpreted without careful understanding of the subject matter. Suggested reading includes Practical Cryptography by Schneier and Ferguson, RFCs 4251 and 4253, RFCs 5246 and 5430, and Handbook of Applied Cryptography by Menezes, van Oorschot, and Vanstone.

EDITED TO ADD: Herbert Lin comments.

The most damning thing I've seen so far is yet more evidence that -- despite assurances to the contrary -- the US intelligence community hoards vulnerabilities in common Internet products and uses them for offensive purposes.

EDITED TO ADD (3/9): The New York Times is reporting that the CIA suspects an insider:

Investigators say that the leak was the work not of a hostile foreign power like Russia but of a disaffected insider, as WikiLeaks suggested when it released the documents Tuesday. The F.B.I. was preparing to interview anyone who had access to the information, a group likely to include at least a few hundred people, and possibly more than a thousand.

An intelligence official said the information, much of which appeared to be technical documents, may have come from a server outside the C.I.A. managed by a contractor. But neither he nor a former senior intelligence official ruled out the possibility that the leaker was a C.I.A. employee.

EDITED TO ADD (3/9): WikiLeaks said that they have published less than 1% of what they have, and that they are giving affected companies an early warning of the vulnerabilities and tools that they're publishing.

Commentary from The Intercept.

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

WikiLeaks Releases CIA Hacking Tools

WikiLeaks just released a cache of 8,761 classified CIA documents from 2012 to 2016, including details of its offensive Internet operations. I have not read through any of them yet. If you see something interesting, tell us in the comments. EDITED TO ADD: There’s a lot in here. Many of the hacking tools are redacted, with the tar files and…

WikiLeaks just released a cache of 8,761 classified CIA documents from 2012 to 2016, including details of its offensive Internet operations.

I have not read through any of them yet. If you see something interesting, tell us in the comments.

EDITED TO ADD: There's a lot in here. Many of the hacking tools are redacted, with the tar files and zip archives replaced with messages like:

::: THIS ARCHIVE FILE IS STILL BEING EXAMINED BY WIKILEAKS. :::
::: IT MAY BE RELEASED IN THE NEAR FUTURE. WHAT FOLLOWS IS :::
::: AN AUTOMATICALLY GENERATED LIST OF ITS CONTENTS: :::

Hopefully we'll get them eventually. The documents say that the CIA -- and other intelligence services -- can bypass Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. It seems to be by hacking the end-user devices and grabbing the traffic before and after encryption, not by breaking the encryption.

New York Times article.

EDITED TO ADD: Some details from The Guardian:

According to the documents:

  • CIA hackers targeted smartphones and computers.
  • The Center for Cyber Intelligence is based at the CIA headquarters in Virginia but it has a second covert base in the US consulate in Frankfurt which covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
  • A programme called Weeping Angel describes how to attack a Samsung F8000 TV set so that it appears to be off but can still be used for monitoring.

I just noticed this from the WikiLeaks page:

Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized "zero day" exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

So it sounds like this cache of documents wasn't taken from the CIA and given to WikiLeaks for publication, but has been passed around the community for a while -- and incidentally some part of the cache was passed to WikiLeaks. So there are more documents out there, and others may release them in unredacted form.

Wired article. Slashdot thread. Two articles from the Washington Post.

EDITED TO ADD: This document talks about Comodo version 5.X and version 6.X. Version 6 was released in Feb 2013. Version 7 was released in Apr 2014. This gives us a time window of that page, and the cache in general. (WikiLeaks says that the documents cover 2013 to 2016.)

If these tools are a few years out of date, it's similar to the NSA tools released by the "Shadow Brokers." Most of us thought the Shadow Brokers were the Russians, specifically releasing older NSA tools that had diminished value as secrets. Could this be the Russians as well?

EDITED TO ADD: Nicholas Weaver comments.

EDITED TO ADD (3/8): These documents are interesting:

The CIA's hand crafted hacking techniques pose a problem for the agency. Each technique it has created forms a "fingerprint" that can be used by forensic investigators to attribute multiple different attacks to the same entity.

This is analogous to finding the same distinctive knife wound on multiple separate murder victims. The unique wounding style creates suspicion that a single murderer is responsible. As soon one murder in the set is solved then the other murders also find likely attribution.

The CIA's Remote Devices Branch's UMBRAGE group collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques 'stolen' from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.

With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the "fingerprints" of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.

UMBRAGE components cover keyloggers, password collection, webcam capture, data destruction, persistence, privilege escalation, stealth, anti-virus (PSP) avoidance and survey techniques.

This is being spun in the press as the CIA is pretending to be Russia. I'm not convinced that the documents support these allegations. Can someone else look at the documents. I don't like my conclusion that WikiLeaks is using this document dump as a way to push their own bias.


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