TAG | security
It is often debated if, and how often, hackers are going after critical infrastructure like water plants, generators, and such.
MIT Technology Review reports on a security researcher Kyle Wilhoit’s exploration of this question. He set up two fake control systems and one real one (just not connected to an actual plant), which he then connected to the Internet.
Over the course of the one month experiment he detected 39 sophisticated attacks against his “honeypot” systems. The attackers did not just penetrate the systems, but also manipulated their settings, which would have had real world impacts had these been real systems.
One must assume that the same is happening to any real Internet accessible industrial control systems.
Arstechnica reports on the discovery of signed malware designed for surveillance on the Mac laptop of an Angolan activist.
The malware was a trojan that the activist obtained through a spear phishing email attack. The news here is that the malware was signed with a valid Apple Developer ID.
The idea is that having all code signed should substantially reduce the amount of malware on the platform. This works because creating a valid Apple Developer ID requires significant effort, and may expose the identity of the hacker unless they take steps to hide their identity. This is not trivial as the Developer ID requires contact information and payment of fees.
The second advantage of signed code is that the Developer’s certificate can be quickly revoked, so the software will be detected as invalid and automatically blocked on every Mac world wide. This limits the amount of damage a given Malware can do, and forces the attacker to create a new Apple Developer ID every time they are detected.
This has been seen to work fairly well in practice, but it is not perfect. If a target is valuable enough, a Developer ID can be set up just to go after that one person or small group. The malware is targeted to just them, so the likelihood of detection is low. In this case, it would continue to be recognized as a legitimates signed valid application for a very long time.
In the case of the Angolan activist, it was discovered at a human rights conference where the attendees were learning how to secure their devices against government monitoring.
Welcome to episode 7 of The Privacy Blog Podcast.
In April’s episode, we’ll be looking at the blacklisting of SSL certificate authorities by Mozilla Firefox – Specifically, what this complex issue means and why Mozilla chose to start doing this.
In more breaking online privacy news, I will be discussing the security implications of relying on social media following the hacking of the Associated Press Twitter account earlier this week.
Next, I’ll chat about the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet, which hinges on the struggle between online privacy and free speech rights. In a closely related topic and following Google’s release of the new “Inactive Account Manager,” I will discuss what happens to our social media presence and cloud data when we die. It’s a topic none of us likes to dwell on, but it’s worth taking the time to think about our digital afterlife.
Last week the Twitter account of the Associated Press was hacked, and a message posted saying that bombs had gone off in the white house, and the president was injured.
Obviously this was false. The Syrian Electronic army a pro regime hacker group has claimed responsibility, which does not prove that they did it.
There is talk about Twitter moving to two factor authentication to reduce similar hacking in the future. While this is all well and good, it will not eliminate the problem.
The bigger issue is that these poorly secured social media sites are used by people around the world as reliable sources of news.
Apparently much of the crash came from automated trading systems parsing the tweet, and generating immediate trades without any human intervention at all.
The DOW dropped 140 points in 5 minutes.
The creators of these trading algorithms feel that news from twitter is reliable enough to be the basis of equity trades without any confirmation, or time for reflection.
Certainly very large amounts of money were made and lost in that short period.
Why make the effort to hack into what we hope is a well defended nuclear power plant or other critical infrastructure, when you can get similar amounts of financial damage from subverting a nearly undefended twitter account.
Because individual twitter accounts are not considered critical infrastructure, they are hardly protected at all, and are not designed to be easy to protect.
Nevertheless we give it, and other social media, substantial power to influence us and our decisions, financial and otherwise.
Take for example the crowd sourced search for the Boston bombers on reddit. Despite the best of intentions, many false accusations were made that had major impact on the accused, and one can imagine scenarios which could have turned out much worse. What if the accused at committed suicide, been injured in a confrontation with authorities, or been the vicim of vigilante action? Now, what if there had been malicious players in that crowd intentionally subverting the process. Planting false information, introducing chaos and causing more damage.
This is an interesting problem. There are no technical or legislative solutions. It is a social problem with only social solutions. Those are often the hardest to address.
The Register has an article on Firefox black listing an SSL Certificate authority.
Certificates and certificate authorities are the underpinnings of our secure web infrastructure.
When you see the lock on your browser, it means that the session is encrypted and the site has presented a valid site certificate (so it is who it claims to be).
That site certificate is signed by one of many certificate authorities.
I see 86 certificate issuing authorities in my Firefox now.
Many of those certificate authorities have multiple signing certificates.
Additionally the certificate authorities can delegate to subordinate certificate authorities to sign site certificates.
Any certificate signed by any of these authorities or subordinate authorities is recognized as valid.
These entities are located all over the world, many under the control of oppressive governments (however you define that).
Certificate authorities can create certificates to enable man in the middle attacks, by signing keys purporting to be for a given website, but actually created and held by some other entity.
There are plugins like certificate patrol for Firefox that will tell you when a site you have visited before changes certificates or certificate authorities. Unfortunately this happens fairly frequently for legitimate reasons, such as when renewing certificates every year or few years.
Some certificate authorities are known or suspected to be working with various law enforcement entities to create false certificate for surveillance.
Here is how it works:
The government has certificate authority create a new certificate for a website.
The government then intercepts all sessions to that site with a server (at national level routers for example).
The server uses real site certificate to communicate with the real website securely.
The server uses the new fake certificate to communicate with user securely.
The server then has access to everything in the clear as it shuttles data between the two secure connections..
It can read and/or modify anything in the data stream.
Firefox is removing TeliaSonera’s certificate authority from the list in Firefox for this reason. Going forward no certificate issued by them will be recognized as valid. This will impact a large number of legitimate websites that have contracted with TeliaSonera, as well as preventing the fake certificates.
There is a lot of controversy about this. What is appropriate cooperation with law enforcement vs. supporting and enabling dictators.
In any case, this is a failure of the protocol. If the browser shows a certificate as valid when it has not come from the real website, then there has been a security failure.
The SSL key infrastructure is showing its age. It was “good enough” when there were only one or two certificate authorities and the certificates were not actually protecting anything of great importance. Now everyone relies heavily on the security of the web. Unfortunately, while it is broken, it is very hard to replace.
In the short term, installing a certificate checker like certificate patrol is probably a good idea, despite the number of false positives you will see.
In the longer term, there is a really hard problem to solve.