SMS Exploit Messages

There’s an iOS vulnerability affecting iPhone, iPad, and even Apple Watch that allows for a denial of service.

Crashing a phone with an SMS? That’s so 2008.

S60 SMS Exploit Messages

Unlike 2008, this time kids are reportedly using the vulnerability to harass others.

Apple is working on a security update. But unfortunately… that update very likely won’t be available for older iPhones.

Updated to add:

Here’s the “Effective Power” exploit crashing an iPhone 6:

Effective Power Unicode iOS hack on iPhone 6

And this… is Effective Power crashing the iOS Twitter app:

Effective Power Unicode iOS hack vs Twitter

On 28/05/15 At 01:56 PM

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Irrelevant Thesis

This week The Diplomat published an article by Dr Greg Austin titled What the US Gets Wrong About Chinese Cyberespionage. The subtitle teases the thesis: “Is it government policy in China to pass on commercial secrets obtained via cyberespionage to civil sector firms?” As you might expect (because it prompted me to write this post), the author’s answer is “no.”

The following contains the argument:

“Chinese actors may be particularly adept in certain stages of economic espionage, but it is almost certainly not Chinese government policy to allow the transfer of trade secrets collected by highly classified intelligence sources to its civil sector firms for non-military technologies on a wide-spread basis.

A U.S. influencing strategy toward China premised on the claim that this is China’s policy would appear to be ill-advised based on the evidence introduced so far by the United States in the public domain.” (emphasis added)

I find it interesting that the author concedes theft by Chinese government actors, which the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge. However, the author seeks to excuse this activity out of concern for the effect it has on US-China ties.

One aspect of the relationship between China and the US worries the author most:

“There are many ways to characterize the negative impact on potential bilateral cooperation on cyberspace issues of the “lawfare” being practised by the United States to discipline China for its massive cyber intrusions into the commercial secrets of U.S. firms. One downside is in my view more important than others. This is the belief being fostered by U.S. officials among elites in the United States and in other countries that China as a nation is a “cheater” country…”

Then, in a manner similar to the way Chinese spokespeople respond to any Western accusations of wrongdoing, the author turns the often-heard “Chinese espionage as the largest transfer of wealth in history” argument against the US:

“In the absence of any Administration taxonomy of the economic impacts of cyber espionage, alleged by some to represent the largest illicit transfer of wealth in human history, one way of evaluating it is to understand that for more than three decades it has been U.S. policy, like that of its principal allies, to undertake the largest lawful transfer of wealth in human history through trade with, investment in and technology transfer to China.”

(I’m not sure I understand the cited benefits the US has accrued due to this “largest lawful transfer of wealth in human history,” given the hollowing out of the American manufacturing sector and the trade imbalance with China, which totaled over $82 billion in 1Q15 alone. It’s possible I am not appreciating what the author means though.)

Let’s accept, for argument’s sake, that it is not “official” Chinese government policy for its intelligence and military forces to steal commercial data from private and non-governmental Western organizations. How does accepting that proposition improve the situation? Would China excuse the US government if a “rogue” element of the American intelligence community or military pursued a multi-decade campaign against Chinese targets?

Even if the US government accepted this “Chinese data theft by rogue government actor” theory, it would not change the American position: stop this activity, by whatever means necessary. Given the power amassed by President Xi during his anti-corruption crackdown, I would expect he would be able to achieve at least some success in limiting his so-called “rogue actors” during the 2+ years since Mandiant released the APT1 report. As Nicole Perlroth reported this month, Chinese hacking continues unabated. In fact, China has introduced new capabilities, such as the so-called Great Cannon, used to degrade GitHub and others.

Similar to the argument I made in my post What Does “Responsibility” Mean for Attribution?, “responsibility” is the key issue. Based on my experience and research, I submit that Chinese computer network exploitation of private and non-governmental Western organizations is “state-integrated” and “state-executed.” Greg Austin believes the activity is, at worst, “state-rogue-conducted.” Stepping down one rung on the state spectrum of responsibility ladder is far from enough to change US government policy towards China.

Note: In addition to the article in The Diplomat, the author wrote a longer paper titled  China’s Cyberespionage: The National Security Distinction and U.S. Diplomacy (pdf).

I also plan to read Dr Austin’s new book, Cyber Policy in China, which looks great! Who knows, we might even be able to collaborate, given his work with the War Studies department at KCL.

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Logjam (and Another) Vulnerability against Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange

Logjam is a new attack against the Diffie-Hellman key-exchange protocol used in TLS. Basically:

The Logjam attack allows a man-in-the-middle attacker to downgrade vulnerable TLS connections to 512-bit export-grade cryptography. This allows the attacker to read and modify any data passed over the connection. The attack is reminiscent of the FREAK attack, but is due to a flaw in the TLS protocol rather than an implementation vulnerability, and attacks a Diffie-Hellman key exchange rather than an RSA key exchange. The attack affects any server that supports DHE_EXPORT ciphers, and affects all modern web browsers. 8.4% of the Top 1 Million domains were initially vulnerable.

Here’s the academic paper.

One of the problems with patching the vulnerability is that it breaks things:

On the plus side, the vulnerability has largely been patched thanks to consultation with tech companies like Google, and updates are available now or coming soon for Chrome, Firefox and other browsers. The bad news is that the fix rendered many sites unreachable, including the main website at the University of Michigan, which is home to many of the researchers that found the security hole.

This is a common problem with version downgrade attacks; patching them makes you incompatible with anyone who hasn’t patched. And it’s the vulnerability the media isfocusingon.

Much more interesting is the other vulnerability that the researchers found:

Millions of HTTPS, SSH, and VPN servers all use the same prime numbers for Diffie-Hellman key exchange. Practitioners believed this was safe as long as new key exchange messages were generated for every connection. However, the first step in the number field sieve — the most efficient algorithm for breaking a Diffie-Hellman connection — is dependent only on this prime. After this first step, an attacker can quickly break individual connections.

The researchers believe the NSA has been using this attack:

We carried out this computation against the most common 512-bit prime used for TLS and demonstrate that the Logjam attack can be used to downgrade connections to 80% of TLS servers supporting DHE_EXPORT. We further estimate that an academic team can break a 768-bit prime and that a nation-state can break a 1024-bit prime. Breaking the single, most common 1024-bit prime used by web servers would allow passive eavesdropping on connections to 18% of the Top 1 Million HTTPS domains. A second prime would allow passive decryption of connections to 66% of VPN servers and 26% of SSH servers. A close reading of published NSA leaks shows that the agency’s attacks on VPNs are consistent with having achieved such a break.

Remember James Bamford’s 2012 comment about the NSA’s cryptanalytic capabilities:

According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”


The breakthrough was enormous, says the former official, and soon afterward the agency pulled the shade down tight on the project, even within the intelligence community and Congress. “Only the chairman and vice chairman and the two staff directors of each intelligence committee were told about it,” he says. The reason? “They were thinking that this computing breakthrough was going to give them the ability to crack current public encryption.”

And remember Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s introduction to the 2013 “Black Budget“:

Also, we are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit internet traffic.

It’s a reasonable guess that this is what both Bamford’s source and Clapper are talking about. It’s an attack that requires a lot of precomputation — just the sort of thing a national intelligence agency would go for.

But that requirement also speaks to its limitations. The NSA isn’t going to put this capability at collection points like Room 641A at AT&T’s San Francisco office: the precomputation table is too big, and the sensitivity of the capability is too high. More likely, an analyst identifies a target through some other means, and then looks for data by that target in databases like XKEYSCORE. Then he sends whatever ciphertext he finds to the Cryptanalysis and Exploitation Services (CES) group, which decrypts it if it can using this and other techniques.

Ross Anderson wrote about this earlier this month, almost certainly quoting Snowden:

As for crypto capabilities, a lot of stuff is decrypted automatically on ingest (e.g. using a “stolen cert”, presumably a private key obtained through hacking). Else the analyst sends the ciphertext to CES and they either decrypt it or say they can’t.

The analysts are instructed not to think about how this all works. This quote also applied to NSA employees:

Strict guidelines were laid down at the GCHQ complex in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on how to discuss projects relating to decryption. Analysts were instructed: “Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods underpinning Bullrun.”

I remember the same instructions in documents I saw about the NSA’s CES.

Again, the NSA has put surveillance ahead of security. It never bothered to tell us that many of the “secure” encryption systems we were using were not secure. And we don’t know what other national intelligence agencies independently discovered and used this attack.

The good news is now that we know reusing prime numbers is a bad idea, we can stop doing it.

EDITED TO ADD: The DH precomputation easily lends itself to custom ASIC design, and is something that pipelines easily. Using BitCoin mining hardware as a rough comparison, this means a couple orders of magnitude speedup.

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More on Chris Roberts and Avionics Security

Last month, I blogged about security researcher Chris Roberts being detained by the FBI after tweeting about avionics security while on a United flight:

But to me, the fascinating part of this story is that a computer was monitoring the Twitter feed and understood the obscure references, alerted a person who figured out who wrote them, researched what flight he was on, and sent an FBI team to the Syracuse airport within a couple of hours. There’s some serious surveillance going on.

We know a lot more of the back story from the FBI’s warrant application. He had been interviewed by the FBI multiple times previously, and was able to take control of at least some of the planes’ controls during flight.

During two interviews with F.B.I. agents in February and March of this year, Roberts said he hacked the inflight entertainment systems of Boeing and Airbus aircraft, during flights, about 15 to 20 times between 2011 and 2014. In one instance, Roberts told the federal agents he hacked into an airplane’s thrust management computer and momentarily took control of an engine, according to an affidavit attached to the application for a search warrant.

“He stated that he successfully commanded the system he had accessed to issue the ‘CLB’ or climb command. He stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights,” said the affidavit, signed by F.B.I. agent Mike Hurley.

Roberts also told the agents he hacked into airplane networks and was able “to monitor traffic from the cockpit system.”

According to the search warrant application, Roberts said he hacked into the systems by accessing the in-flight entertainment system using his laptop and an Ethernet cable.

Wired has more.

This makes the FBI’s behavior much more reasonable. They weren’t scanning the Twitter feed for random keywords; they were watching his account.

We don’t know if the FBI’s statements are true, though. But if Roberts was hacking an airplane while sitting in the passenger seat…wow, is that a stupid thing to do.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

But Roberts’ statements and the FBI’s actions raise as many questions as they answer. For Roberts, the question is why the FBI is suddenly focused on years-old research that has long been part of the public record.

“This has been a known issue for four or five years, where a bunch of us have been stood up and pounding our chest and saying, ‘This has to be fixed,’” Roberts noted. “Is there a credible threat? Is something happening? If so, they’re not going to tell us,” he said.

Roberts isn’t the only one confused by the series of events surrounding his detention in April and the revelations about his interviews with federal agents.

“I would like to see a transcript (of the interviews),” said one former federal computer crimes prosecutor, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If he did what he said he did, why is he not in jail? And if he didn’t do it, why is the FBI saying he did?”

The real issue is that the avionics and the entertainment system are on the same network. That’s an even stupider thing to do. Also last month, I wrote about the risks of hacking airplanes, and said that I wasn’t all that worried about it. Now I’m more worried.

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mac Hack Demonstration

Securing your SSH password is very important. Otherwise, you might be pwned by a little girl with her Raspberry Pi.

Kids hack their Dad's computer on her Raspberry Pi

Don’t worry, it’s an authorized hack, she asked her mom for permission.

On 15/05/15 At 12:46 PM

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Admiral Rogers Speaking at the Joint Service Academy Cyber Security Summit

Admiral Mike Rogers gave the keynote address at the Joint Service Academy Cyber Security Summit today at West Point. He started by explaining the four tenets of security that he thinks about.

First: partnerships. This includes government, civilian, everyone. Capabilities, knowledge, and insight of various groups, and aligning them to generate better outcomes to everyone. Ability to generate and share insight and knowledge, and to do that in a timely manner.

Second, innovation. It’s about much more than just technology. It’s about ways to organize, values, training, and so on. We need to think about innovation very broadly.

Third, technology. This is a technologically based problem, and we need to apply technology to defense as well.

Fourth, human capital. If we don’t get people working right, all of this is doomed to fail. We need to build security workforces inside and outside of military. We need to keep them current in a world of changing technology.

So, what is the Department of Defense doing? They’re investing in cyber, both because it’s a critical part of future fighting of wars and because of the mission to defend the nation.

Rogers then explained the five strategic goals listed in the recent DoD cyberstrategy:

  1. Build and maintain ready forces and capabilities to conduct cyberspace operations;
  2. Defend the DoD information network, secure DoD data, and mitigate risks to DoD missions;

  3. Be prepared to defend the U.S. homeland and U.S. vital interests from disruptive or destructive cyberattacks of significant consequence;

  4. Build and maintain viable cyber options and plan to use those options to control conflict escalation and to shape the conflict environment at all stages;

  5. Build and maintain robust international alliances and partnerships to deter shared threats and increase international security and stability.

Expect to see more detailed policy around these coming goals in the coming months.

What is the role of the US CyberCommand and the NSA in all of this? The CyberCommand has three missions related to the five strategic goals. They defend DoD networks. They create the cyber workforce. And, if directed, they defend national critical infrastructure.

At one point, Rogers said that he constantly reminds his people: “If it was designed by man, it can be defeated by man.” I hope he also tells this to the FBI when they talk about needing third-party access to encrypted communications.

All of this has to be underpinned by a cultural ethos that recognizes the importance of professionalism and compliance. Every person with a keyboard is both a potential asset and a threat. There needs to be well-defined processes and procedures within DoD, and a culture of following them.

What’s the threat dynamic, and what’s the nature of the world? The threat is going to increase; it’s going to get worse, not better; cyber is a great equalizer. Cyber doesn’t recognize physical geography. Four “prisms” to look at threat: criminals, nation states, hacktivists, groups wanting to do harm to the nation. This fourth group is increasing. Groups like ISIL are going to use the Internet to cause harm. Also embarrassment: releasing documents, shutting down services, and so on.

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to stop attackers from getting in; we need to think more about how to get them out once they’ve gotten in — and how to continue to operate even though they are in. (That was especially nice to hear, because that’s what I’m doing at my company.) Sony was a “wake-up call”: a nation-state using cyber for coercion. It was theft of intellectual property, denial of service, and destruction. And it was important for the US to acknowledge the attack, attribute it, and retaliate.

Last point: “Total force approach to the problem.” It’s not just about people in uniform. It’s about active duty military, reserve military, corporations, government contractors — everyone. We need to work on this together. “I am not interested in endless discussion…. I am interested in outcomes.”"Cyber is the ultimate team sport.” There’s no single entity, or single technology, or single anything, that will solve all of this. He wants to partner with the corporate world, and to do it in a way that benefits both.

First question was about the domains and missions of the respective services. Rogers talked about the inherent expertise that each service brings to the problem, and how to use cyber to extend that expertise — and the mission. The goal is to create a single integrated cyber force, but not a single service. Cyber occurs in a broader context, and that context is applicable to all the military services. We need to build on their individual expertises and contexts, and to apply it in an integrated way. Similar to how we do special forces.

Second question was about values, intention, and what’s at risk. Rogers replied that any structure for the NSA has to integrate with the nation’s values. He talked about the value of privacy. He also talked about “the security of the nation.” Both are imperatives, and we need to achieve both at the same time. The problem is that the nation is polarized; the threat is getting worse at the same time trust is decreasing. We need to figure out how to improve trust.

Third question we about DoD protecting commercial cyberspace. Rogers replied that the DHS is the lead organization in this regard, and DoD provides capability through that civilian authority. Any DoD partnership with the private sector will go through DHS.

Fourth question: How will DoD reach out to corporations, both established and start-ups? Many ways. By providing people to the private sectors. Funding companies, through mechanisms like the CIA’s In-Q-Tel.. And some sort of innovation capability. Those are the three main vectors, but more important is that the DoD mindset has to change. DoD has traditionally been very insular; in this case, more partnerships are required.

Final question was about the NSA sharing security information in some sort of semi-classified way. Rogers said that there are lot of internal conversations about doing this. It’s important.

In all, nothing really new or controversial.

These comments were recorded — I can’t find them online now — and are on the record. Much of the rest of the summit was held under Chatham House Rules. I participated in a panel on “Crypto Wars 2015″ with Matt Blaze and a couple of government employees.

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

HackerStrip: Brain

“Hackerstrip is a comics website that publishes comics about hackers and their real life stories.”

Brain: Searching for the first PC virus in Pakistan

HackerStrip, Brain

Read the rest of the story at; watch the video it’s based on here.

On 12/05/15 At 02:42 PM

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More on the NSA’s Capabilities

Ross Anderson summarizes a meeting in Princeton where Edward Snowden was “present.”

Third, the leaks give us a clear view of an intelligence analyst’s workflow. She will mainly look in Xkeyscore which is the Google of 5eyes comint; it’s a federated system hoovering up masses of stuff not just from 5eyes own assets but from other countries where the NSA cooperates or pays for access. Data are “ingested” into a vast rolling buffer; an analyst can run a federated search, using a selector (such as an IP address) or fingerprint (something that can be matched against the traffic). There are other such systems: “Dancing oasis” is the middle eastern version. Some xkeyscore assets are actually compromised third-party systems; there are multiple cases of rooted SMS servers that are queried in place and the results exfiltrated. Others involve vast infrastructure, like Tempora. If data in Xkeyscore are marked as of interest, they’re moved to Pinwale to be memorialised for 5+ years. This is one function of the MDRs (massive data repositories, now more tactfully renamed mission data repositories) like Utah. At present storage is behind ingestion. Xkeyscore buffer times just depend on volumes and what storage they managed to install, plus what they manage to filter out.

As for crypto capabilities, a lot of stuff is decrypted automatically on ingest (e.g. using a “stolen cert,” presumably a private key obtained through hacking). Else the analyst sends the ciphertext to CES and they either decrypt it or say they can’t. There’s no evidence of a “wow” cryptanalysis; it was key theft, or an implant, or a predicted RNG or supply-chain interference. Cryptanalysis has been seen of RC4, but not of elliptic curve crypto, and there’s no sign of exploits against other commonly used algorithms. Of course, the vendors of some products have been coopted, notably skype. Homegrown crypto is routinely problematic, but properly implemented crypto keeps the agency out; gpg ciphertexts with RSA 1024 were returned as fails.


What else might we learn from the disclosures when designing and implementing crypto? Well, read the disclosures and use your brain. Why did GCHQ bother stealing all the SIM card keys for Iceland from Gemalto, unless they have access to the local GSM radio links? Just look at the roof panels on US or UK embassies, that look like concrete but are actually transparent to RF. So when designing a protocol ask yourself whether a local listener is a serious consideration.


On the policy front, one of the eye-openers was the scale of intelligence sharing — it’s not just 5 eyes, but 15 or 35 or even 65 once you count all the countries sharing stuff with the NSA. So how does governance work? Quite simply, the NSA doesn’t care about policy. Their OGC has 100 lawyers whose job is to “enable the mission”; to figure out loopholes or new interpretations of the law that let stuff get done. How do you restrain this? Could you use courts in other countries, that have stronger human-rights law? The precedents are not encouraging. New Zealand’s GCSB was sharing intel with Bangladesh agencies while the NZ government was investigating them for human-rights abuses. Ramstein in Germany is involved in all the drone killings, as fibre is needed to keep latency down low enough for remote vehicle pilots. The problem is that the intelligence agencies figure out ways to shield the authorities from culpability, and this should not happen.


The spooks’ lawyers play games saying for example that they dumped content, but if you know IP address and file size you often have it; and IP address is a good enough pseudonym for most intel / LE use. They deny that they outsource to do legal arbitrage (e.g. NSA spies on Brits and GCHQ returns the favour by spying on Americans). Are they telling the truth? In theory there will be an MOU between NSA and the partner agency stipulating respect for each others’ laws, but there can be caveats, such as a classified version which says “this is not a binding legal document.” The sad fact is that law and legislators are losing the capability to hold people in the intelligence world to account, and also losing the appetite for it.

Worth reading in full.

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Fox-IT has a blog post (and has published Snort rules) on how to detect man-on-the-side Internet attacks like the NSA’s QUANTUMINSERT.

From a Wired article:

But hidden within another document leaked by Snowden was a slide that provided a few hints about detecting Quantum Insert attacks, which prompted the Fox-IT researchers to test a method that ultimately proved to be successful. They set up a controlled environment and launched a number of Quantum Insert attacks against their own machines to analyze the packets and devise a detection method.

According to the Snowden document, the secret lies in analyzing the first content-carrying packets that come back to a browser in response to its GET request. One of the packets will contain content for the rogue page; the other will be content for the legitimate site sent from a legitimate server. Both packets, however, will have the same sequence number. That, it turns out, is a dead giveaway.

Here’s why: When your browser sends a GET request to pull up a web page, it sends out a packet containing a variety of information, including the source and destination IP address of the browser as well as so-called sequence and acknowledge numbers, or ACK numbers. The responding server sends back a response in the form of a series of packets, each with the same ACK number as well as a sequential number so that the series of packets can be reconstructed by the browser as each packet arrives to render the web page.

But when the NSA or another attacker launches a Quantum Insert attack, the victim’s machine receives duplicate TCP packets with the same sequence number but with a different payload. “The first TCP packet will be the ‘inserted’ one while the other is from the real server, but will be ignored by the [browser],” the researchers note in their blog post. “Of course it could also be the other way around; if the QI failed because it lost the race with the real server response.”

Although it’s possible that in some cases a browser will receive two packets with the same sequence number from a legitimate server, they will still contain the same general content; a Quantum Insert packet, however, will have content with significant differences.

It’s important we develop defenses against these attacks, because everyone is using them.

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reply All #21 Hack the Police

Banned from using “the Internet” in 2015? What’s that like when you’re surrounded by an Internet of Things?

Alex Goldman discovered the answer in episode #21 of Reply All:

Hack the Police

“When Higinio Ochoa got out of prison for hacking in September of 2014, one of the terms of his parole was that he is not allowed to use any internet connected device. We went to his home in Austin to find out how he got caught and what it’s like – in 2015 – to go from living online to not having any internet access.”

On 28/04/15 At 12:07 PM

More here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment