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Forced Password Reset? Check Your Assumptions

August 21, 2019 Leave a comment

Almost weekly now I hear from an indignant reader who suspects a data breach at a Web site they frequent that has just asked the reader to reset their password. Further investigation almost invariably reveals that the password reset demand was not the result of a breach but rather the site’s efforts to identify customers who are reusing passwords from other sites that have already been hacked.

But ironically, many companies taking these proactive steps soon discover that their explanation as to why they’re doing it can get misinterpreted as more evidence of lax security. This post attempts to unravel what’s going on here.

Over the weekend, a follower on Twitter included me in a tweet sent to California-based job search site Glassdoor, which had just sent him the following notice:

The Twitter follower expressed concern about this message, because it suggested to him that in order for Glassdoor to have done what it described, the company would have had to be storing its users’ passwords in plain text. I replied that this was in fact not an indication of storing passwords in plain text, and that many companies are now testing their users’ credentials against lists of hacked credentials that have been leaked and made available online.

The reality is Facebook, Netflix and a number of many big-name companies are regularly combing through huge data leak troves for credentials that match those of their customers, and then forcing a password reset for those users. Some are even checking for password re-use on all new account signups.

The idea here is to stymie a massively pervasive problem facing all companies that do business online today: Namely, “credential-stuffing attacks,” in which attackers take millions or even billions of email addresses and corresponding cracked passwords from compromised databases and see how many of them work at other online properties.

So how does the defense against this daily deluge of credential stuffing work? A company employing this strategy will first extract from these leaked credential lists any email addresses that correspond to their current user base.

From there, the corresponding cracked (plain text) passwords are fed into the same process that the company relies upon when users log in: That is, the company feeds those plain text passwords through its own password “hashing” or scrambling routine.

Password hashing is designed to be a one-way function which scrambles a plain text password so that it produces a long string of numbers and letters. Not all hashing methods are created equal, and some of the most commonly used methods — MD5 and SHA-1, for example — can be far less secure than others, depending on how they’re implemented (more on that in a moment). Whatever the hashing method used, it’s the hashed output that gets stored, not the password itself.

Back to the process: If a user’s plain text password from a hacked database matches the output of what a company would expect to see after running it through their own internal hashing process, then that user is then prompted to change their password to something truly unique.

Now, password hashing methods can be made more secure by amending the password with what’s known as a “salt” — or random data added to the input of a hash function to guarantee a unique output. And many readers of the Twitter thread on Glassdoor’s approach reasoned that the company couldn’t have been doing what it described without also forgoing this additional layer of security.

My tweeted explanatory reply as to why Glassdoor was doing this was (in hindsight) incomplete and in any case not as clear as it should have been. Fortunately, Glassdoor’s chief information officer Anthony Moisant chimed in to the Twitter thread to explain that the salt is in fact added as part of the password testing procedure.

“In our [user] database, we’ve got three columns — username, salt value and scrypt hash,” Moisant explained in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity. “We apply the salt that’s stored in the database and the hash [function] to the plain text password, and that resulting value is then checked against the hash in the database we store. For whatever reason, some people have gotten it into their heads that there’s no possible way to do these checks if you salt, but that’s not true.”

CHECK YOUR ASSUMPTIONS

You — the user — can’t be expected to know or control what password hashing methods a given site uses, if indeed they use them at all. But you can control the quality of the passwords you pick.

I can’t stress this enough: Do not re-use passwords. And don’t recycle them either. Recycling involves rather lame attempts to make a reused password unique by simply adding a digit or changing the capitalization of certain characters. Crooks who specialize in password attacks are wise to this approach as well.

If you have trouble remembering complex passwords (and this describes most people), consider relying instead on password length, which is a far more important determiner of whether a given password can be cracked by available tools in any timeframe that might be reasonably useful to an attacker.

In that vein, it’s safer and wiser to focus on picking passphrases instead of passwords. Passphrases are collections of multiple (ideally unrelated) words mushed together. Passphrases are not only generally more secure, they also have the added benefit of being easier to remember.

According to a recent blog entry by Microsoft group program manager Alex Weinert, none of the above advice about password complexity amounts to a hill of beans from the attacker’s standpoint.

Weinert’s post makes a compelling argument that as long as we’re stuck with passwords, taking full advantage of the most robust form of multi-factor authentication (MFA) offered by a site you frequent is the best way to deter attackers. Twofactorauth.org has a handy list of your options here, broken down by industry.

“Your password doesn’t matter, but MFA does,” Weinert wrote. “Based on our studies, your account is more than 99.9% less likely to be compromised if you use MFA.”

Glassdoor’s Moisant said the company doesn’t currently offer MFA for its users, but that is planning to roll that out later this year to both consumer and business users.

Password managers also can be useful for those who feel encumbered by having to come up with passphrases or complex passwords. If you’re uncomfortable with entrusting a third-party service or application to handle this process for you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing down your passwords, provided a) you do not store them in a file on your computer or taped to your laptop or screen or whatever, and b) that your password notebook is stored somewhere relatively secure, i.e. not in your purse or car, but something like a locked drawer or safe.

Although many readers will no doubt take me to task on that last bit of advice, as in all things security related it’s important not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Many people (think moms/dads/grandparents) can’t be bothered to use password managers  — even when you go through the trouble of setting them up on their behalf. Instead, without an easier, non-technical method they will simply revert back to reusing or recycling passwords.

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The Rise of “Bulletproof” Residential Networks

August 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Cybercrooks increasingly are anonymizing their malicious traffic by routing it through residential broadband and wireless data connections. Traditionally, those connections have been mainly hacked computers, mobile phones, or home routers. But this story is about so-called “bulletproof residential VPN services” that appear to be built by purchasing or otherwise acquiring discrete chunks of Internet addresses from some of the world’s largest ISPs and mobile data providers.

In late April 2019, KrebsOnSecurity received a tip from an online retailer who’d seen an unusual number of suspicious transactions originating from a series of Internet addresses assigned to a relatively new Internet provider based in Maryland called Residential Networking Solutions LLC.

Now, this in itself isn’t unusual; virtually every provider has the occasional customers who abuse their access for fraudulent purposes. But upon closer inspection, several factors caused me to look more carefully at this company, also known as “Resnet.”

An examination of the IP address ranges assigned to Resnet shows that it maintains an impressive stable of IP blocks — totaling almost 70,000 IPv4 addresses — many of which had until quite recently been assigned to someone else.

Most interestingly, about ten percent of those IPs — more than 7,000 of them — had until late 2018 been under the control of AT&T Mobility. Additionally, the WHOIS registration records for each of these mobile data blocks suggest Resnet has been somehow reselling data services for major mobile and broadband providers, including AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast Cable.

The WHOIS records for one of several networks associated with Residential Networking Solutions LLC.

Drilling down into the tracts of IPs assigned to Resnet’s core network indicates those 7,000+ mobile IP addresses under Resnet’s control were given the label  “Service Provider Corporation” — mostly those beginning with IPs in the range 198.228.x.x.

An Internet search reveals this IP range is administered by the Wireless Data Service Provider Corporation (WDSPC), a non-profit formed in the 1990s to manage IP address ranges that could be handed out to various licensed mobile carriers in the United States.

Back when the WDSPC was first created, there were quite a few mobile wireless data companies. But today the vast majority of the IP space managed by the WDSPC is leased by AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless — which have gradually acquired most of their competing providers over the years.

A call to the WDSPC revealed the nonprofit hadn’t leased any new wireless data IP space in more than 10 years. That is, until the organization received a communication at the beginning of this year that it believed was from AT&T, which recommended Resnet as a customer who could occupy some of the company’s mobile data IP address blocks.

“I’m afraid we got duped,” said the person answering the phone at the WDSPC, while declining to elaborate on the precise nature of the alleged duping or the medium that was used to convey the recommendation.

AT&T declined to discuss its exact relationship with Resnet  — or if indeed it ever had one to begin with. It responded to multiple questions about Resnet with a short statement that said, “We have taken steps to terminate this company’s services and have referred the matter to law enforcement.”

Why exactly AT&T would forward the matter to law enforcement remains unclear. But it’s not unheard of for hosting providers to forge certain documents in their quest for additional IP space, and anyone caught doing so via email, phone or fax could be charged with wire fraud, which is a federal offense that carries punishments of up to $500,000 in fines and as much as 20 years in prison.

WHAT IS RESNET?

The WHOIS registration records for Resnet’s main Web site, resnetworking[.]com, are hidden behind domain privacy protection. However, a cursory Internet search on that domain turned up plenty of references to it on Hackforums[.]net, a sprawling community that hosts a seemingly never-ending supply of up-and-coming hackers seeking affordable and anonymous ways to monetize various online moneymaking schemes.

One user in particular — a Hackforums member who goes by the nickname “Profitvolt” — has spent several years advertising resnetworking[.]com and a number of related sites and services, including “unlimited” AT&T 4G/LTE data services, and the immediate availability of more than 1 million residential IPs that he suggested were “perfect for botting, shoe buying.”

The Hackforums user “Profitvolt” advertising residential proxies.

Profitvolt advertises his mobile and residential data services as ideal for anyone who wishes to run “various bots,” or “advertising campaigns.” Those services are meant to provide anonymity when customers are doing things like automating ad clicks on platforms like Google Adsense and Facebook; generating new PayPal accounts; sneaker bot activity; credential stuffing attacks; and different types of social media spam.

For readers unfamiliar with this term, “shoe botting” or “sneaker bots” refers to the use of automated bot programs and services that aid in the rapid acquisition of limited-release, highly sought-after designer shoes that can then be resold at a profit on secondary markets. All too often, it seems, the people who profit the most in this scheme are using multiple sets of compromised credentials from consumer accounts at online retailers, and/or stolen payment card data.

To say shoe botting has become a thorn in the side of online retailers and regular consumers alike would be a major understatement: A recent State of The Internet Security Report (PDF) from Akamai (an advertiser on this site) noted that such automated bot activity now accounts for almost half of the Internet bandwidth directed at online retailers. The prevalance of shoe botting also might help explain Footlocker‘s recent $100 million investment in goat.com, the largest secondary shoe resale market on the Web.

In other discussion threads, Profitvolt advertises he can rent out an “unlimited number” of so-called “residential proxies,” a term that describes home or mobile Internet connections that can be used to anonymously relay Internet traffic for a variety of dodgy deals.

From a ne’er-do-well’s perspective, the beauty of routing one’s traffic through residential IPs is that few online businesses will bother to block malicious or suspicious activity emanating from them.

That’s because in general the pool of IP addresses assigned to residential or mobile wireless connections cycles intermittently from one user to the next, meaning that blacklisting one residential IP for abuse or malicious activity may only serve to then block legitimate traffic (and e-commerce) from the next user who gets assigned that same IP.

A BULLETPROOF PLAN?

In one early post on Hackforums, Profitvolt laments the untimely demise of various “bulletproof” hosting providers over the years, from the Russian Business Network and Atrivo/Intercage, to McColo, 3FN and Troyak, among others.

All of these Internet providers had one thing in common: They specialized in cultivating customers who used their networks for nefarious purposes — from operating botnets and spamming to hosting malware. They were known as “bulletproof” because they generally ignored abuse complaints, or else blamed any reported abuse on a reseller of their services.

In that Hackforums post, Profitvolt bemoans that “mediums which we use to distribute [are] locking us out and making life unnecessarily hard.”

“It’s still sketchy, so I am not going all out to reveal my plans, but currently I am starting off with a 32 GB RAM server with a 1 GB unmetered up-link in a Caribbean country,” Profitvolt told forum members, while asking in different Hackforums posts whether there are any other users from the dual-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago on the forum.

“To be quite honest, the purpose of this is to test how far we can stretch the leniency before someone starts asking questions, or we start receiving emails,” Profitvolt continued.

Hackforums user Profitvolt says he plans to build his own “bulletproof” hosting network catering to fellow forum users who might want to rent his services for a variety of dodgy activities.

KrebsOnSecurity started asking questions of Resnet after stumbling upon several indications that this company was enabling different types of online abuse in bite-sized monthly packages. The site resnetworking[.]com appears normal enough on the surface, but a review of the customer packages advertised on it suggests the company has courted a very specific type of client.

“No bullshit, just proxies,” reads one (now hidden or removed) area of the site’s shopping cart. Other promotions advertise the use of residential proxies to promote “growth services” on multiple social media platforms including CraigslistFacebook, Google, Instagram, Spotify, Soundcloud and Twitter.

Resnet also peers with or partners with several other interesting organizations, including:

residential-network[.]com, also known as “IAPS Security Services” (formerly intl-alliance[.]com), which advertises the sale of residential VPNs and mobile 4G/IPv6 proxies aimed at helping customers avoid being blocked while automating different types of activity, from mass-creating social media and email accounts to bulk message sending on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.

Laksh Cybersecurity and Defense LLC, which maintains Hexproxy[.]com, another residential proxy service that largely courts customers involved in shoe botting.

-Several chunks of IP space from a Russian provider variously known by the names “SERVERSGET” and “Men Danil Valentinovich,” which has been associated with numerous instances of hijacking vast swaths of IP addresses from other organizations quite recently.

Some of Profitvolt’s discussion threads on Hackforums.

WHO IS RESNET?

Resnetworking[.]com lists on its home page the contact phone number 202-643-8533. That number is tied to the registration records for several domains, including resnetworking[.]com, residentialvpn[.]info, and residentialvpn[.]org. All of those domains also have in their historic WHOIS records the name Joshua Powder and Residential Networking Solutions LLC.

Running a reverse WHOIS lookup via Domaintools.com on “Joshua Powder” turns up almost 60 domain names — most of them tied to the email address joshua.powder@gmail.com. Among those are resnetworking[.]info, resvpn[.]com/net/org/info, tobagospeaks[.]com, tthack[.]com and profitvolt[.]com. Recall that “Profitvolt” is the nickname of the Hackforums user advertising resnetworking[.]com.

The email address josh@tthack.com was used to register an account on the scammer-friendly site blackhatworld[.]com under the nickname “BulletProofWebHost.” Here’s a list of domains registered to this email address.

A search on the Joshua Powder and tthack email addresses at Hyas, a startup that specializes in combining data from a number of sources to provide attribution of cybercrime activity, further associates those to mafiacloud@gmail.com and to the phone number 868-360-9983, which is a mobile number assigned by Digicel Trinidad and Tobago Ltd. A full list of domains tied to that 868- number is here.

Hyas’s service also pointed to this post on the Facebook page of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation in Maryland, which appears to include a 2017 photo of Mr. Powder posing with county officials.

‘A GLORIFIED SOLUTIONS PROVIDER’

Roughly three weeks ago, KrebsOnSecurity called the 202 number listed at the top of resnetworking[.]com. To my surprise, a man speaking in a lovely Caribbean-sounding accent answered the call and identified himself as Josh Powder. When I casually asked from where he’d acquired that accent, Powder said he was a native of New Jersey but allowed that he has family members who now live in Trinidad and Tobago.

Powder said Residential Networking Solutions LLC is “a normal co-location Internet provider” that has been in operation for about three years and employs some 65 people.

“You’re not the first person to call us about residential VPNs,” Powder said. “In the past, we did have clients that did host VPNs, but it’s something that’s been discontinued since 2017. All we are is a glorified solutions provider, and we broker and lease Internet lines from different companies.”

When asked about the various “botting” packages for sale on Resnetworking[.]com, Powder replied that the site hadn’t been updated in a while and that these were inactive offers that resulted from a now-discarded business model.

“When we started back in 2016, we were really inexperienced, and hired some SEO [search engine optimization] firms to do marketing,” he explained. “Eventually we realized that this was creating a shitstorm, because it started to make us look a specific way to certain people. So we had to really go through a process of remodeling. That process isn’t complete, and the entire web site is going to retire in about a week’s time.”

Powder maintains that his company does have a contract with AT&T to resell LTE and 4G data services, and that he has a similar arrangement with Sprint. He also suggested that one of the aforementioned companies which partnered with Resnet — IAPS Security Services — was responsible for much of the dodgy activity that previously brought his company abuse complaints and strange phone calls about VPN services.

“That guy reached out to us and he leased service from us and nearly got us into a lot of trouble,” Powder said. “He was doing a lot of illegal stuff, and I think there is an ongoing matter with him legally. That’s what has caused us to be more vigilant and really look at what we do and change it. It attracted too much nonsense.”

Interestingly, when one visits IAPS Security Services’ old domain — intl-alliance[.]com — it now forwards to resvpn[.]com, which is one of the domains registered to Joshua Powder.

Shortly after our conversation, the monthly packages I asked Powder about that were for sale on resnetworking[.]com disappeared from the site, or were hidden behind a login. Also, Resnet’s IPv6 prefixes (a la IAPS Security Services) were removed from the company’s list of addresses. At the same time, a large number of Profitvolt’s posts prior to 2018 were deleted from Hackforums.

EPILOGUE

It appears that the future of low-level abuse targeting some of the most popular Internet destinations is tied to the increasing willingness of the world’s biggest ISPs to resell discrete chunks of their address space to whomever is able to pay for them.

Earlier this week, I had a Skype conversation with an individual who responded to my requests for more information from residential-network[.]com, and this person told me that plenty of mobile and land-line ISPs are more than happy to sell huge amounts of IP addresses to just about anybody.

“Mobile providers also sell mass services,” the person who responded to my Skype request offered. “Rogers in Canada just opened a new package for unlimited 4G data lines and we’re currently in negotiations with them for that service as well. The UK also has 4G providers that have unlimited data lines as well.”

The person responding to my Skype messages said they bought most of their proxies from a reseller at customproxysolutions[.]com, which advertises “the world’s largest network of 4G LTE modems in the United States.”

He added that “Rogers in Canada has a special offer that if you buy more than 50 lines you get a reduced price lower than the $75 Canadian Dollar price tag that they would charge for fewer than 50 lines. So most mobile ISPs want to sell mass lines instead of single lines.”

It remains unclear how much of the Internet address space claimed by these various residential proxy and VPN networks has been acquired legally or through other means. But it seems that Resnet and its business associates are in fact on the cutting edge of what it means to be a bulletproof Internet provider today.

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Meet Bluetana, the Scourge of Pump Skimmers

August 14, 2019 Leave a comment

Bluetana,” a new mobile app that looks for Bluetooth-based payment card skimmers hidden inside gas pumps, is helping police and state employees more rapidly and accurately locate compromised fuel stations across the nation, a study released this week suggests. Data collected in the course of the investigation also reveals some fascinating details that may help explain why these pump skimmers are so lucrative and ubiquitous.

The new app, now being used by agencies in several states, is the brainchild of computer scientists from the University of California San Diego and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who say they developed the software in tandem with technical input from the U.S. Secret Service (the federal agency most commonly called in to investigate pump skimming rings).

The Bluetooth pump skimmer scanner app ‘Bluetana’ in action.

Gas pumps are a perennial target of skimmer thieves for several reasons. They are usually unattended, and in too many cases a handful of master keys will open a great many pumps at a variety of filling stations.

The skimming devices can then be attached to electronics inside the pumps in a matter of seconds, and because they’re also wired to the pump’s internal power supply the skimmers can operate indefinitely without the need of short-lived batteries.

And increasingly, these pump skimmers are fashioned to relay stolen card data and PINs via Bluetooth wireless technology, meaning the thieves who install them can periodically download stolen card data just by pulling up to a compromised pump and remotely connecting to it from a Bluetooth-enabled mobile device or laptop.

According to the study, some 44 volunteers  — mostly law enforcement officials and state employees — were equipped with Bluetana over a year-long experiment to test the effectiveness of the scanning app.

The researchers said their volunteers collected Bluetooth scans at 1,185 gas stations across six states, and that Bluetana detected a total of 64 skimmers across four of those states. All of the skimmers were later collected by law enforcement, including two that were reportedly missed in manual safety inspections of the pumps six months earlier.

While several other Android-based apps designed to find pump skimmers are already available, the researchers said Bluetana was developed with an eye toward eliminating false-positives that some of these other apps can fail to distinguish.

“Bluetooth technology used in these skimmers are also used for legitimate products commonly seen at and near gas stations such as speed-limit signs, weather sensors and fleet tracking systems,” said Nishant Bhaskar, UC San Diego Ph.D. student and principal author of the study. “These products can be mistaken for skimmers by existing detection apps.”

BLACK MARKET VALUE

The fuel skimmer study also helps explain how quickly these hidden devices can generate huge profits for the organized gangs that typically deploy them. The researchers found the skimmers their app found collected data from roughly 20 -25 payment cards each day — evenly distributed between debit and credit cards (although they note estimates from payment fraud prevention companies and the Secret Service that put the average figure closer to 50-100 cards daily per compromised machine).

The academics also studied court documents which revealed that skimmer scammers often are only able to “cashout” stolen cards — either through selling them on the black market or using them for fraudulent purchases — a little less than half of the time. This can result from the skimmers sometimes incorrectly reading card data, daily withdrawal limits, or fraud alerts at the issuing bank.

“Based on the prior figures, we estimate the range of per-day revenue from a skimmer is $4,253 (25 cards per day, cashout of $362 per card, and 47% cashout success rate), and our high end estimate is $63,638 (100 cards per day per day, $1,354 cashout per card, and cashout success rate of 47%),” the study notes.

Not a bad haul either way, considering these skimmers typically cost about $25 to produce.

Those earnings estimates assume an even distribution of credit and debit card use among customers of a compromised pump: The more customers pay with a debit card, the more profitable the whole criminal scheme may become. Armed with your PIN and debit card data, skimmer thieves or those who purchase stolen cards can clone your card and pull money out of your account at an ATM.

“Availability of a PIN code with a stolen debit card in particular, can increase its value five-fold on the black market,” the researchers wrote.

This highlights a warning that KrebsOnSecurity has relayed to readers in many previous stories on pump skimming attacks: Using a debit card at the pump can be way riskier than paying with cash or a credit card.

The black market value, impact to consumers and banks, and liability associated with different types of card fraud.

And as the above graphic from the report illustrates, there are different legal protections for fraudulent transactions on debit vs. credit cards. With a credit card, your maximum loss on any transactions you report as fraud is $50; with a debit card, that protection only extends for within two days of the unauthorized transaction. After that, the maximum consumer liability can increase to $500 within 60 days, and to an unlimited amount after 60 days.

In practice, your bank or debit card issuer may still waive additional liabilities, and many do. But even then, having your checking account emptied of cash while your bank sorts out the situation can still be a huge hassle and create secondary problems (bounced checks, for instance).

Interestingly, this advice against using debit cards at the pump often runs counter to the messaging pushed by fuel station owners themselves, many of whom offer lower prices for cash or debit card transactions. That’s because credit card transactions typically are more expensive to process.

For all its skimmer-skewering prowess, Bluetana will not be released to the public. The researchers said they the primary reason for this is highlighted in the core findings of the study.

“There are many legitimate devices near gas stations that look exactly like skimmers do in Bluetooth scans,” said UCSD Assistant Professor Aaron Schulman, in an email to KrebsOnSecurity. “Flagging suspicious devices in Bluetana is a only a way of notifying inspectors that they need to gather more data around the gas station to determine if the Bluetooth transmissions appear to be emanating from a device inside of of the pumps. If it does, they can then open the pump door and confirm that the signal strength rises, and begin their visual inspection for the skimmer.”

One of the best tips for avoiding fuel card skimmers is to favor filling stations that have updated security features, such as custom keys for each pump, better compartmentalization of individual components within the machine, and tamper protections that physically shut down a pump if the machine is improperly accessed.

How can you spot a gas station with these updated features, you ask? As noted in last summer’s story, How to Avoid Card Skimmers at the Pumps, these newer-model machines typically feature a horizontal card acceptance slot along with a raised metallic keypad. In contrast, older, less secure pumps usually have a vertical card reader a flat, membrane-based keypad.

Newer, more tamper-resistant fuel pumps include pump-specific key locks, raised metallic keypads, and horizontal card readers.

The researchers will present their work on Bluetana later today at the USENIX Security 2019 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. A copy of their paper is available here (PDF).

If you enjoyed this story, check out my series on all things skimmer-related: All About Skimmers. Looking for more information on fuel pump skimming? Have a look at some of these stories.

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Patch Tuesday, August 2019 Edition

August 13, 2019 Leave a comment

Most Microsoft Windows (ab)users probably welcome the monthly ritual of applying security updates about as much as they look forward to going to the dentist: It always seems like you were there just yesterday, and you never quite know how it’s all going to turn out. Fortunately, this month’s patch batch from Redmond is mercifully light, at least compared to last month.

Okay, maybe a trip to the dentist’s office is still preferable. In any case, today is the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s once again Patch Tuesday (or — depending on your setup and when you’re reading this post — Reboot Wednesday). Microsoft today released patches to fix some 93 vulnerabilities in Windows and related software, 35 of which affect various Server versions of Windows, and another 70 that apply to the Windows 10 operating system.

Although there don’t appear to be any zero-day vulnerabilities fixed this month — i.e. those that get exploited by cybercriminals before an official patch is available — there are several issues that merit attention.

Chief among those are patches to address four moderately terrifying flaws in Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Service, a feature which allows users to remotely access and administer a Windows computer as if they were actually seated in front of the remote computer. Security vendor Qualys says two of these weaknesses can be exploited remotely without any authentication or user interaction.

“According to Microsoft, at least two of these vulnerabilities (CVE-2019-1181 and CVE-2019-1182) can be considered ‘wormable’ and [can be equated] to BlueKeep,” referring to a dangerous bug patched earlier this year that Microsoft warned could be used to spread another WannaCry-like ransomware outbreak. “It is highly likely that at least one of these vulnerabilities will be quickly weaponized, and patching should be prioritized for all Windows systems.”

Fortunately, Remote Desktop is disabled by default in Windows 10, and as such these flaws are more likely to be a threat for enterprises that have enabled the application for various purposes. For those keeping score, this is the fourth time in 2019 Microsoft has had to fix critical security issues with its Remote Desktop service.

For all you Microsoft Edge and Internet Exploiter Explorer users, Microsoft has issued the usual panoply of updates for flaws that could be exploited to install malware after a user merely visits a hacked or booby-trapped Web site. Other equally serious flaws patched in Windows this month could be used to compromise the operating system just by convincing the user to open a malicious file (regardless of which browser the user is running).

As crazy as it may seem, this is the second month in a row that Adobe hasn’t issued a security update for its Flash Player browser plugin, which is bundled in IE/Edge and Chrome (although now hobbled by default in Chrome). However, Adobe did release important updates for its Acrobat and free PDF reader products.

If the tone of this post sounds a wee bit cantankerous, it might be because at least one of the updates I installed last month totally hosed my Windows 10 machine. I consider myself an equal OS abuser, and maintain multiple computers powered by a variety of operating systems, including Windows, Linux and MacOS.

Nevertheless, it is frustrating when being diligent about applying patches introduces so many unfixable problems that you’re forced to completely reinstall the OS and all of the programs that ride on top of it. On the bright side, my newly-refreshed Windows computer is a bit more responsive than it was before crash hell.

So, three words of advice. First off, don’t let Microsoft decide when to apply patches and reboot your computer. On the one hand, it’s nice Microsoft gives us a predictable schedule when it’s going to release patches. On the other, Windows 10 will by default download and install patches whenever it pleases, and then reboot the computer.

Unless you change that setting. Here’s a tutorial on how to do that. For all other Windows OS users, if you’d rather be alerted to new updates when they’re available so you can choose when to install them, there’s a setting for that in Windows Update.

Secondly, it doesn’t hurt to wait a few days to apply updates.  Very often fixes released on Patch Tuesday have glitches that cause problems for an indeterminate number of Windows systems. When this happens, Microsoft then patches their patches to minimize the same problems for users who haven’t yet applied the updates, but it sometimes takes a few days for Redmond to iron out the kinks.

Finally, please have some kind of system for backing up your files before applying any updates. You can use third-party software for this, or just the options built into Windows 10. At some level, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you’re backing up your files, preferably following the 3-2-1 backup rule. Thankfully, I’m vigilant about backing up my files.

And, as ever, if you experience any problems installing any of these patches this month, please feel free to leave a comment about it below; there’s a good chance other readers have experienced the same and may even chime in here with some helpful tips.

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SEC Investigating Data Leak at First American Financial Corp.

August 12, 2019 Leave a comment

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating a security failure on the Web site of real estate title insurance giant First American Financial Corp. that exposed more than 885 million personal and financial records tied to mortgage deals going back to 2003, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

First American Financial Corp.

In May, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that the Web site for Santa Ana, Calif.-based First American [NYSE:FAFexposed some 885 million documents related to real estate closings over the past 16 years, including bank account numbers and statements, mortgage and tax records, Social Security numbers, wire transaction receipts and drivers license images. No authentication was required to view the documents.

The initial tip on that story came from Ben Shoval, a real estate developer based in Seattle. Shoval said he recently received a letter from the SEC’s enforcement division which stated the agency was investigating the data exposure to determine if First American had violated federal securities laws.

In its letter, the SEC asked Shoval to preserve and share any documents or evidence he had related to the data exposure.

“This investigation is a non-public, fact-finding inquiry,” the letter explained. “The investigation does not mean that we have concluded that anyone has violated the law.”

The SEC did not respond to requests for comment.

Word of the SEC investigation comes weeks after regulators in New York said they were investigating the company in what could turn out to be the first test of the state’s strict new cybersecurity regulation, which requires financial companies to periodically audit and report on how they protect sensitive data, and provides for fines in cases where violations were reckless or willful. First American also is now the target of a class action lawsuit that alleges it “failed to implement even rudimentary security measures.”

First American has issued a series of statements over the past few months that seem to downplay the severity of the data exposure, which the company said was the result of a “design defect” in its Web site.

On June 18, First American said a review of system logs by an outside forensic firm, “based on guidance from the company, identified 484 files that likely were accessed by individuals without authorization. The company has reviewed 211 of these files to date and determined that only 14 (or 6.6%) of those files contain non-public personal information. The company is in the process of notifying the affected consumers and will offer them complimentary credit monitoring services.”

In a statement on July 16, First American said its now-completed investigation identified just 32 consumers whose non-public personal information likely was accessed without authorization.

“These 32 consumers have been notified and offered complimentary credit monitoring services,” the company said.

First American has not responded to questions about how long this “design defect” persisted on its site, how far back it maintained access logs, or how far back in those access logs the company’s review extended.

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iNSYNQ Ransom Attack Began With Phishing Email

August 9, 2019 Leave a comment

A ransomware outbreak that hit QuickBooks cloud hosting firm iNSYNQ in mid-July appears to have started with an email phishing attack that snared an employee working in sales for the company, KrebsOnSecurity has learned. It also looks like the intruders spent roughly ten days rooting around iNSYNQ’s internal network to properly stage things before unleashing the ransomware. iNSYNQ ultimately declined to pay the ransom demand, and it is still working to completely restore customer access to files.

Some of this detail came in a virtual “town hall” meeting held August 8, in which iNSYNQ chief executive Elliot Luchansky briefed customers on how it all went down, and what the company is doing to prevent such outages in the future.

A great many iNSYNQ’s customers are accountants, and when the company took its network offline on July 16 in response to the ransomware outbreak, some of those customers took to social media to complain that iNSYNQ was stonewalling them.

“We could definitely have been better prepared, and it’s totally unacceptable,” Luchansky told customers. “I take full responsibility for this. People waiting ridiculous amounts of time for a response is unacceptable.”

By way of explaining iNSYNQ’s initial reluctance to share information about the particulars of the attack early on, Luchansky told customers the company had to assume the intruders were watching and listening to everything iNSYNQ was doing to recover operations and data in the wake of the ransomware outbreak.

“That was done strategically for a good reason,” he said. “There were human beings involved with [carrying out] this attack in real time, and we had to assume they were monitoring everything we could say. And that posed risks based on what we did say publicly while the ransom negotiations were going on. It could have been used in a way that would have exposed customers even more. That put us in a really tough bind, because transparency is something we take very seriously. But we decided it was in our customers’ best interests to not do that.”

A paid ad that comes up prominently when one searches for “insynq” in Google.

Luchansky did not say how much the intruders were demanding, but he mentioned two key factors that informed the company’s decision not to pay up.

“It was a very substantial amount, but we had the money wired and were ready to pay it in cryptocurrency in the case that it made sense to do so,” he told customers. “But we also understood [that paying] would put a target on our heads in the future, and even if we actually received the decryption key, that wasn’t really the main issue here. Because of the quick reaction we had, we were able to contain the encryption part” to roughly 50 percent of customer systems, he said.

Luchansky said the intruders seeded its internal network with MegaCortex, a potent new ransomware strain first spotted just a couple of months ago that is being used in targeted attacks on enterprises. He said the attack appears to have been carefully planned out in advance and executed “with human intervention all the way through.”

“They decided they were coming after us,” he said. “It’s one thing to prepare for these sorts of events but it’s an entirely different experience to deal with first hand.”

According to an analysis of MegaCortex published this week by Accenture iDefense, the crooks behind this ransomware strain are targeting businesses — not home users — and demanding ransom payments in the range of two to 600 bitcoins, which is roughly $20,000 to $5.8 million.

“We are working for profit,” reads the ransom note left behind by the latest version of MegaCortex. “The core of this criminal business is to give back your valuable data in the original form (for ransom of course).”

A portion of the ransom note left behind by the latest version of MegaCortex. Image: Accenture iDefense.

Luchansky did not mention in the town hall meeting exactly when the initial phishing attack was thought to have occurred, noting that iNSYNQ is still working with California-based CrowdStrike to gain a more complete picture of the attack.

But Alex Holden, founder of Milwaukee-based cyber intelligence firm Hold Security, showed KrebsOnSecurity information obtained from monitoring dark web communications which suggested the problem started on July 6, after an employee in iNSYNQ’s sales division fell for a targeted phishing email.

“This shows that even after the initial infection, if companies act promptly they can still detect and stop the ransomware,” Holden said. “For these infections hackers take sometimes days, weeks, or even months to encrypt your data.”

iNSYNQ did not respond to requests for comment on Hold Security’s findings.

Asked whether the company had backups of customer data and — if so — why iNSYNQ decided not to restore from those, Luchansky said there were backups but that some of those were also infected.

“The backup system is backing up the primary system, and that by definition entails some level of integration,” Luchansky explained. “The way our system was architected, the malware had spread into the backups as well, at least a little bit. So [by] just turning the backups back on, there was a good chance the the virus would then start to spread through the backup system more. So we had to treat the backups similarly to how we were treating the primary systems.”

Luchansky said their backup system has since been overhauled, and that if a similar attack happened in the future it would take days instead of weeks to recover. However, he declined to get into specifics about exactly what had changed, which is too bad because in every ransomware attack story I’ve written this seems to be the detail most readers are interested in and arguing about.

The CEO added that iNSYNQ also will be partnering with a company that helps firms detect and block targeted phishing attacks, and that it envisioned being able to offer this to its customers at a discounted rate. It wasn’t clear from Luchansky’s responses to questions whether the cloud hosting firm was also considering any kind of employee anti-phishing education and/or testing service.

Luchansky said iNSYNQ was about to restore access to more than 90 percent of customer files by Aug. 2 — roughly two weeks after the ransomware outbreak — and that the company would be offering customers a two month credit as a result of the outage.

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Who Owns Your Wireless Service? Crooks Do.

August 7, 2019 Leave a comment

Incessantly annoying and fraudulent robocalls. Corrupt wireless company employees taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to unlock and hijack mobile phone service. Wireless providers selling real-time customer location data, despite repeated promises to the contrary. A noticeable uptick in SIM-swapping attacks that lead to multi-million dollar cyberheists.

If you are somehow under the impression that you — the customer — are in control over the security, privacy and integrity of your mobile phone service, think again. And you’d be forgiven if you assumed the major wireless carriers or federal regulators had their hands firmly on the wheel.

No, a series of recent court cases and unfortunate developments highlight the sad reality that the wireless industry today has all but ceded control over this vital national resource to cybercriminals, scammers, corrupt employees and plain old corporate greed.

On Tuesday, Google announced that an unceasing deluge of automated robocalls had doomed a feature of its Google Voice service that sends transcripts of voicemails via text message.

Google said “certain carriers” are blocking the delivery of these messages because all too often the transcripts resulted from unsolicited robocalls, and that as a result the feature would be discontinued by Aug. 9. This is especially rich given that one big reason people use Google Voice in the first place is to screen unwanted communications from robocalls, mainly because the major wireless carriers have shown themselves incapable or else unwilling to do much to stem the tide of robocalls targeting their customers.

AT&T in particular has had a rough month. In July, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of AT&T customers in California to stop the telecom giant and two data location aggregators from allowing numerous entities — including bounty hunters, car dealerships, landlords and stalkers — to access wireless customers’ real-time locations without authorization.

And on Monday, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that a Pakistani man was arrested and extradited to the United States to face charges of bribing numerous AT&T call-center employees to install malicious software and unauthorized hardware as part of a scheme to fraudulently unlock cell phones.

Ars Technica reports the scam resulted in millions of phones being removed from AT&T service and/or payment plans, and that the accused allegedly paid insiders hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist in the process.

We should all probably be thankful that the defendant in this case wasn’t using his considerable access to aid criminals who specialize in conducting unauthorized SIM swaps, an extraordinarily invasive form of fraud in which scammers bribe or trick employees at mobile phone stores into seizing control of the target’s phone number and diverting all texts and phone calls to the attacker’s mobile device.

Late last month, a federal judge in New York rejected a request by AT&T to dismiss a $224 million lawsuit over a SIM-swapping incident that led to $24 million in stolen cryptocurrency.

The defendant in that case, 21-year-old Manhattan resident Nicholas Truglia, is alleged to have stolen more than $80 million from victims of SIM swapping, but he is only one of many individuals involved in this incredibly easy, increasingly common and lucrative scheme. The plaintiff in that case alleges that he was SIM-swapped on two different occasions, both allegedly involving crooked or else clueless employees at AT&T wireless stores.

And let’s not forget about all the times various hackers figured out ways to remotely use a carrier’s own internal systems for looking up personal and account information on wireless subscribers.

So what the fresh hell is going on here? And is there any hope that lawmakers or regulators will do anything about these persistent problems? Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Technology Law and Policy, said the answer — at least in this administration — is probably a big “no.”

“The takeaway here is the complete and total abdication of any oversight of the mobile wireless industry,” Sohn told KrebsOnSecurity. “Our enforcement agencies aren’t doing anything on these topics right now, and we have a complete and total breakdown of oversight of these incredibly powerful and important companies.”

Aaron Mackey, a staff attorney at the EFF, said that on the location data-sharing issue, federal law already bars the wireless carriers from sharing this with third parties without the expressed consent of consumers.

“What we’ve seen is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is well aware of this ongoing behavior about location data sales,” Mackey said. “The FCC has said it’s under investigation, but there has been no public action taken yet and this has been going on for more than a year. The major wireless carriers are not only violating federal law, but they’re also putting people in harm’s way. There are countless stories of folks being able to pretend to be law enforcement and gaining access to information they can use to assault and harass people based on the carriers making location data available to a host of third parties.”

On the issue of illegal SIM swaps, Wired recently ran a column pointing to a solution that many carriers in Africa have implemented which makes it much more difficult for SIM swap thieves to ply their craft.

“The carrier would set up a system to let the bank query phone records for any recent SIM swaps associated with a bank account before they carried out a money transfer,” wrote Wired’s Andy Greenberg in April. “If a SIM swap had occurred in, say, the last two or three days, the transfer would be blocked. Because SIM swap victims can typically see within minutes that their phone has been disabled, that window of time let them report the crime before fraudsters could take advantage.”

So far, there is zero indication that the U.S.-based mobile carriers are paying any attention.

In terms of combating the deluge of robocalls, Sohn says we already have a workable approach to arresting these nuisance calls: It’s an authentication procedure known as “SHAKEN/STIR,” and it is premised on the idea that every phone has a certificate of authenticity attached to it that can be used to validate if the call is indeed originating from the number it appears to be calling from.

Under a SHAKEN/STIR regime, anyone who is spoofing their number (and most of these robocalls are spoofed to appear as though they come from a number that is in the same prefix as yours) gets automatically blocked.

Unfortunately, Sohn said, the FCC has allowed the wireless carriers to adopt this approach voluntarily. And — shocker — most of them haven’t, or else they are charging a premium for it.

“The FCC could make the carriers provide robocall apps for free to customers, but they’re not,” Sohn said. “The carriers instead are turning around and charging customers extra for this service. There was a fairly strong anti-robocalls bill that passed the House, but it’s now stuck in the legislative graveyard that is the Senate.”

What about the prospects of any kind of major overhaul to the privacy laws in this country that might give consumers more say over who can access their private data and what recourse they may have when companies entrusted with that information screw up?

Sohn said there are few signs that anyone in Congress is seriously championing consumer privacy as a major legislative issue. Most of the nascent efforts to bring privacy laws in the United States into the 21st Century she said are interminably bogged down on two sticky issues: Federal preemption of stronger state laws, and the ability of consumers to bring a private right of civil action in the courts against companies that violate those provisions.

“It’s way past time we had a federal privacy bill,” Sohn said. “Companies like Facebook and others are practically begging for some type of regulatory framework on consumer privacy, yet this congress can’t manage to put something together. To me it’s incredible we don’t even have a discussion draft yet. There’s not even a bill that’s being discussed and debated. That is really pitiful, and the closer we get to elections, the less likely it becomes because nobody wants to do anything that upsets their corporate contributions. And, frankly, that’s shameful.”

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