Category Archives: Encryption

The State of Ransomware: Attacks Up, Payments Down as Firms Fight Back

Ransomware isn’t going away. As noted by Infosecurity Magazine, European small and midsize businesses (SMBs) paid out almost $100 million last year to recover encrypted files. Meanwhile, Malwarebytes tracked a 90 percent increase in the number of detected ransomware attacks.

But it’s not all bad news. According to a new report from Datto, the state of ransomware is shifting. More companies are reporting attacks and fewer are paying ransoms. It’s a standoff: Ransomware-makers are doubling down on new attacks even as enterprises push back on payment.

The Current State of Ransomware

The Datto report pointed out that 4.5 percent of European SMBs fell victim to malware between 2016 and 2017. More telling, 78 percent said they experienced “business-threatening downtime” because of these attacks. Meanwhile, 97 percent of respondents said that ransomware attacks were on the rise, with 22 percent reporting multiple attacks in a single day.

What’s more, attackers are both persistent and pernicious. Eleven percent of SMBs said persistent ransomware was used to attack systems more than once, while 31 percent reported that ransomware also infected backups, making the road to remediation much more difficult. Given these startling numbers, it’s easy to see why the current state of ransomware has companies concerned.

Breaking the Feedback Loop of Fear

The ramp up of ransomware threats has created a kind of feedback-loop culture. Companies know that they shouldn’t pay the ransom and should report the attack, but standard operating procedure has become the opposite: Pay quickly to decrypt files and keep the breach under wraps.

As noted by the Datto report, however, attitudes are changing. More businesses are now reporting attacks to authorities and supplying them with relevant data, while just 21 percent of SMBs opted to pay the ransom in 2017. That’s a solid choice, since 18 percent of firms that came up with the cash didn’t get their data back.

So what’s the best way to push back and put enterprises ahead of malware-makers? It starts with recognizing origin points. According to Tech Republic, the root causes of most successful ransomware infections are user error and phishing attacks. Basic security hygiene, solid antivirus solutions and robust security training go a long way toward taking the bite out of ransomware threats.

Meanwhile, security firms are actively researching ransomware decryption tools, ZDNet reported. The Belgian National Police and Kaspersky Lab recently released a free solution for the prolific Cryakl ransomware strain.

The biggest shift, however, comes at a corporate level. Given the ability of ransomware threats to infect any operating system and any platform at any time, organizations often take on the mantle of helpless victim inevitably compromised by bad actors.

As a result, the threat of ransomware becomes just as terrifying as the infection itself, forcing employees and IT professionals into an infinite loop of fear and frustration. With the rise of reporting, proven effectiveness of basic security training and ongoing work by security experts, however, the state of ransomware becomes a driving force for security adaptation rather than harbinger of IT apocalypse.

The post The State of Ransomware: Attacks Up, Payments Down as Firms Fight Back appeared first on Security Intelligence.

Two Years After FBI vs Apple, Encryption Debate Remains

It's been two years since the FBI and Apple got into a giant fight over encryption following the San Bernardino shooting, when the government had the shooter's iPhone, but not the password needed to unlock it, so it asked Apple to create a way inside. What's most surprising is how little has changed since then. From a report: The encryption debate remains unsettled, with tech companies largely opposed and some law enforcement agencies still making the case to have a backdoor. The case for strong encryption: Those partial to the tech companies' arguments will note that cyberattacks and hacking incidents have become even more common, with encryption serving as a valuable way to protect individuals' personal information. The case for backdoors: Criminals are doing bad stuff and when devices are strongly encrypted they can do it in what amounts to the perfect dark alley, completely hidden from public view.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Security Affairs: OpenSSL alpha adds TLS 1.3 support in the alpha version of OpenSSL 1.1.1

OpenSSL adds TLS 1.3 (Transport Layer Security) supports in the alpha version of OpenSSL 1.1.1 that was announced this week.

OpenSSL adds TLS 1.3 supports in the alpha version of OpenSSL 1.1.1 that was announced this week. TLS protocol was designed to allow client/server applications to communicate over the Internet in a secure way preventing message forgery, eavesdropping, and tampering.

“OpenSSL 1.1.1 is currently in alpha. OpenSSL 1.1.1 pre release 1 has now been made available.” states the OpenSSL’s announcement

“This OpenSSL pre-release has been provided for testing ONLY. It should NOT be used for security critical purposes. The alpha release is available for download via HTTP and FTP from the following master locations (you can find the various FTP mirrors under”

The first Internet-Draft dates back to April 2014, in January it was presented the 23 and will expire on July 9, 2018.

One of the most debated problems when dealing with TLS is the role of so-called middleboxes, many companies need to inspect the traffic for security purposes and TLS 1.3 makes it very hard.

“The reductive answer to why TLS 1.3 hasn’t been deployed yet is middleboxes: network appliances designed to monitor and sometimes intercept HTTPS traffic inside corporate environments and mobile networks. Some of these middleboxes implemented TLS 1.2 incorrectly and now that’s blocking browsers from releasing TLS 1.3. However, simply blaming network appliance vendors would be disingenuous.” reads a blog post published by Cloudflare in December that explained the difficulties of mass deploying for the TLS 1.3.

According to the tests conducted by the IETF working group in December 2017, there was around a 3.25 percent failure rate of TLS 1.3 client connections.

OpenSSL TLS 1.3

TLS 1.3 will deprecate old cryptographic algorithms entirely, this is the best way to prevent the exploiting of vulnerabilities that affect the protocol and that can be mitigated only when users implement a correct configuration.

In the last few years, researchers discovered several critical issues in the protocol that have been exploited in attacks.

OpenSSL maintainers have completely redesigned the OpenSSL random number generator in the new version.

The new OpenSSL release also includes the implementation for SHA3 and multi-prime RSA, and the support for the SipHash set of pseudorandom functions.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – OpenSSL,  TLS 1.3)

The post OpenSSL alpha adds TLS 1.3 support in the alpha version of OpenSSL 1.1.1 appeared first on Security Affairs.

Security Affairs

OpenSSL alpha adds TLS 1.3 support in the alpha version of OpenSSL 1.1.1

OpenSSL adds TLS 1.3 (Transport Layer Security) supports in the alpha version of OpenSSL 1.1.1 that was announced this week.

OpenSSL adds TLS 1.3 supports in the alpha version of OpenSSL 1.1.1 that was announced this week. TLS protocol was designed to allow client/server applications to communicate over the Internet in a secure way preventing message forgery, eavesdropping, and tampering.

“OpenSSL 1.1.1 is currently in alpha. OpenSSL 1.1.1 pre release 1 has now been made available.” states the OpenSSL’s announcement

“This OpenSSL pre-release has been provided for testing ONLY. It should NOT be used for security critical purposes. The alpha release is available for download via HTTP and FTP from the following master locations (you can find the various FTP mirrors under”

The first Internet-Draft dates back to April 2014, in January it was presented the 23 and will expire on July 9, 2018.

One of the most debated problems when dealing with TLS is the role of so-called middleboxes, many companies need to inspect the traffic for security purposes and TLS 1.3 makes it very hard.

“The reductive answer to why TLS 1.3 hasn’t been deployed yet is middleboxes: network appliances designed to monitor and sometimes intercept HTTPS traffic inside corporate environments and mobile networks. Some of these middleboxes implemented TLS 1.2 incorrectly and now that’s blocking browsers from releasing TLS 1.3. However, simply blaming network appliance vendors would be disingenuous.” reads a blog post published by Cloudflare in December that explained the difficulties of mass deploying for the TLS 1.3.

According to the tests conducted by the IETF working group in December 2017, there was around a 3.25 percent failure rate of TLS 1.3 client connections.

OpenSSL TLS 1.3

TLS 1.3 will deprecate old cryptographic algorithms entirely, this is the best way to prevent the exploiting of vulnerabilities that affect the protocol and that can be mitigated only when users implement a correct configuration.

In the last few years, researchers discovered several critical issues in the protocol that have been exploited in attacks.

OpenSSL maintainers have completely redesigned the OpenSSL random number generator in the new version.

The new OpenSSL release also includes the implementation for SHA3 and multi-prime RSA, and the support for the SipHash set of pseudorandom functions.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – OpenSSL,  TLS 1.3)

The post OpenSSL alpha adds TLS 1.3 support in the alpha version of OpenSSL 1.1.1 appeared first on Security Affairs.

What online attacks will dominate the threat landscape this year?

This article will focus on three different and pressing issues that the IT security industry needs to be prepared for during 2018 – the increase of cyber threats via social

The post What online attacks will dominate the threat landscape this year? appeared first on The Cyber Security Place.

If You Care About Data Security, Don’t Leave It in Your Employees’ Hands

By Geraldine Osman, Vice President of  Marketing at StaffConnect, Employees are only human. They like to communicate with each other in convenient ways that fulfill their needs for connection and information—not

The post If You Care About Data Security, Don’t Leave It in Your Employees’ Hands appeared first on The Cyber Security Place.

Chrome will mark HTTP pages as “not secure”

Starting with Chrome 68, which is scheduled to be released in July 2018, Google will explicitly mark all HTTP sites as “not secure”: According to Google’s numbers, 68% of Chrome traffic on both Android and Windows is now encrypted, as is 78% of Chrome traffic on both Chrome OS and Mac. In July, those numbers are going to be even higher. “Developers have been transitioning their sites to HTTPS and making the web safer for … More

Cybercriminals Turn the Tables on Encryption to Develop New Cybersecurity Threats

Secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption has become synonymous with network traffic security. Bolstered by the backing of search giant Google and other tech companies, SSL-based traffic leveraging HTTPS connections rose sharply through 2017.

As noted by the recent Google Transparency Report, almost 80 percent of all pages loaded in Chrome over the past two months used HTTPS. The problem is that fraudsters are now turning the tables and creating cybersecurity threats that rely on SSL to bypass corporate protections and infiltrate networks undetected.

Flipping the Script

According to data from Zscaler, the security firm’s threat detection tools blocked 30 percent more SSL-based attacks over the last six months, and SSL-delivered phishing attacks rose 300 percent through 2017.

What’s causing the sudden upswing? It’s largely due to cybercriminals’ realization that companies often assume SSL traffic is secure. It’s also easier than ever to obtain legitimate SSL certificates.

So it was only a matter of time before attackers flipped the script and started using SSL to carry malicious code. The rapid uptick in HTTPS connections over the past year offered the perfect fit.

Cybersecurity Threats From the Bottom of the Barrel

Many enterprises treat SSL traffic as the bottom of threat barrel since most SSL traffic comes from legitimate sources. This creates a blind spot for IT security: If fraudsters can hide malicious code in SSL, it gets only a cursory look from network security tools.

Alone, this wouldn’t be enough to compromise corporate systems, since advanced firewalls defend against fake digital certificates. But thanks to the rise of free and low-cost SSL certificates designed to encourage the widespread adoption of data encryption, cybercriminals can also get their hands on legitimate digital credentials to slip past even more vigilant IT defenses.

As noted by SecurityWeek, attackers are now using SSL-encrypted channels to deliver malvertising and phishing efforts, distribute malware payloads and connect infected hosts with command-and-control (C&C) servers. In other words, they’ve simply picked up standard operations and moved them behind SSL curtains.

Certified Concern

Incoming SSL traffic isn’t the only issue companies face as encryption becomes standard practice. Threat researcher Jason Reaves of Fidelis Security uncovered a flaw in the way SSL/transport layer security (TLS) certificates are exchanged that could allow malicious actors to develop new cybersecurity threats.

Certificates are exchanged during the TLS handshake and before the secure connection is made. Reaves discovered a system that could send and receive data from clients and servers during this phase, and potentially bypass detection methods that don’t inspect certificate values.

So far, the vulnerability affects public key certificate standard X.509. While there’s no evidence of exploits in the wild, the discovery speaks to the need for stricter SSL security protocols. Encryption alone doesn’t guarantee safe traffic.

The good news is that users and organizations are leveraging SSL to improve overall security. The not-so-good news? Lack of scrutiny for SSL traffic has opened up a new avenue for cybersecurity threats, so it’s time to stop giving SSL special treatment.

The post Cybercriminals Turn the Tables on Encryption to Develop New Cybersecurity Threats appeared first on Security Intelligence.

What can businesses learn from the cyber threat landscape of 2017?

Over the course of 2017, global cyber threats continued to evolve at pace, resulting in a dramatic reshaping of the cyber security landscape. Traditional threats such as generic Trojans, ransomware

The post What can businesses learn from the cyber threat landscape of 2017? appeared first on The Cyber Security Place.

For YouTube Stars, Influencers: More Risk of Hacks after Octoly Breach

Octoly, the Paris-based agency for online “influencers” apologized following the leak of sensitive and personally identifying information on 12,000 clients. But clients were furious they were not informed by the company first and researchers warn that those exposed could face increased risks of both online and offline harm.  The firm...

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Minimizing the Encryption Blast Radius

We have made great strides in the area of encryption since its introduction over 3,000 years ago, particularly with the introduction of asymmetric and hash algorithms. From a policy perspective, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has helped us evolve our encryption capabilities by pushing for public submission and review of algorithms, as they did with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and Secure Hash Algorithm 3 (SHA-3). In 2009, IBM research scientist Craig Gentry presented the first homomorphic encryption scheme, and IBM unveiled pervasive encryption as part of its z14 platform last year.

Given all these developments, why do many enterprises still resist using encryption? For years, experts within the security community have debated about worst-case scenarios — that an encryption key might be lost or stolen, that a brute-force attack might unlock data, or that an intentional backdoor or unforeseen bug in the encryption algorithm might cause a failure, or encryption blast, that compromises all the data under its protection. These discussions foster fear and uncertainty in our community and can cause us to overreact or, worse, do nothing.

Why Are Organizations Reluctant to Adopt Encryption?

In the 19th century, Dutch cryptographer Auguste Kerckhoffs created a principle that states that a cryptosystem should be secure even if everything about the system — except the key — is public knowledge. In simpler terms, that means that even if you know everything about a lock, you should not be able to open it without the proper key.

Encryption critics have long stated that encryption has overhead. It does — it must — since no algorithm is free of processor consumption. However, the current standard for encryption, AES, is extremely efficient, and its security and performance were vetted publicly against numerous implementations, including a variety of languages, across a number of hardware architectures. In fact, even its implementation within silicon was evaluated before it was considered for ratification. Furthermore, AES has now withstood quite a lifetime of use without compromise since its formal ratification in 2001. Unlike algorithms before it, AES epitomizes Kerckhoffs’ principle: The lock is well-known but the key is virtually impossible to find, especially within a 256-bit keyhole

Managing Encryption Keys

Now let’s talk about managing keys. We, as security professionals, do not place all of our reports, presentations or spreadsheets into a single file because it would be too difficult to manage. Instead, we manage thousands of files on our laptops with ease by separating them by topic, time, type or filename. We even have emails that are organized in a similar fashion, along with numerous hyperlinks. Why are we able to manage such a large set of files, but managing a similar number of encryption keys seems so challenging? In truth, managing encryption keys should be easier than managing files.

If we placed all of our data within one file or database, the loss of that database would have very large blast radius — all of the data would be gone. However, since we break our data into manageable chunks, files, databases or spreadsheets, the loss of one file does not mean a loss of everything. Therefore, our blast radius is smaller.

This approach enables us to minimize the encryption blast radius. Encryption not only gives you the ability to protect data, but it also allows you to encrypt it on a file-by-file basis, regardless of where it is stored, with each file being scrambled under a unique encryption key. With granular file encryption and a unique key per file, the loss of one key or file significantly reduces the blast radius.

Better yet, granular encryption and key management also allow you to erase the data forever by merely deleting the associated encryption key. Can you image a file delete feature that merely discarded the encryption key, thus rendering the data cryptographically erased and unrecoverable? Would rewriting with ones and zeros even be necessary? Sure, to feel better, you could rotate the bits of the key, but it would take a lot less time to scrub the bits of a 256-bit key than it would for a 1 GB file.

Are We Future-Proof?

We are never future-proof. Encryption is a practice, not a destination. Unfortunately, we have a lot of data that still needs our protection, but some of our locks and keys may need to be updated as well.

We do not know precisely when, but quantum computing is coming. Furthermore, we do not know exactly when it will be cost-effective, but the NIST reported that by 2030, the cost of building a quantum computer that can break a 2000-bit RSA key in a matter of hours will be about $1 billion. That is certainly not couch change, but the price will likely go down from there.

Will this advancement impact today’s encryption algorithms? Yes, but the impact of symmetric algorithms such as AES will be mild compared to the disastrous impact it will have on asymmetric algorithms such as RSA and elliptic curve cryptography (ECC).

In response, we should not scream, declare the sky is falling or wait before we do anything. Instead, we should encrypt all of our data at a very granular level using AES-256, delete all data that we do not want to be made public in 10 years, and find new algorithms to replace RSA and ECC.

It’s that simple — we must keep moving forward. It is the only way to minimize the encryption blast radius.

To learn more, watch the “Unified Data Encryption: Reduce the Risk of Costly Breaches and Compliance Pain” video at the top of this page.

The post Minimizing the Encryption Blast Radius appeared first on Security Intelligence.

China Releases National Standard on Personal Information Security

On January 25, 2018, the Standardization Administration of China published the full text of the Information Security Technology – Personal Information Security Specification (the “Specification”). The Specification will come into effect on May 1, 2018. The Specification is voluntary, but could become influential within China because it establishes benchmarks for the processing of personal information by a wide variety of entities and organizations. In effect, the Specification constitutes a best practices guide for the collection, retention, use, sharing and transfer of personal information, and for the handling of related information security incidents.

The Specification divides personal information into two categories: personal information and sensitive personal information. “Sensitive personal information” includes personal information such as financial information, identifying information (such as an ID card, social insurance card, passport or driver’s license) and biological identifying information. The Specification provides specific requirements for the collection and use of sensitive personal information, as well as a sample functional interface with a data subject which could be incorporated by an enterprise in its products or services for the collection of sensitive personal information. The sample functional interface is a template for an interactive web page or software that is designed in accordance with the Specification, shows information such as the purpose, scope and transfer of personal information, and contains a checkbox to obtain consent.

The Specification reiterates the applicability of the principles of legitimacy and minimization, and the obligation to obtain the consent of a data subject, when collecting personal information, as well as the requirement to formulate and publish a privacy policy. These appear in earlier privacy-related laws and regulations, such as the Cybersecurity Law. In addition, the Specification provides several exceptions to the consent requirement, including when the collection and use of personal information is (1) directly related to national security, public security, a matter of material public interest, the investigation or trial of a crime or the enforcement of a judgement, or (2) requested by a data subject and is necessary for the execution and performance of a contract. The Specification also includes a template privacy policy. When collecting personal information indirectly from a third party (rather than directly from the data subject), an entity must require the party providing the information to explain the source by which the personal information was originally obtained, and to check whether that party obtained the consent of the data subject for the sharing, transfer or disclosure of the personal information.

According to the Specification, personal information must be retained for only the minimum extent necessary, and must be deleted or anonymized after the expiration of the retention period. Encryption measures must be adopted whenever sensitive personal information is retained. When a personal information controller ceases to provide a product or service, it must inform the relevant data subjects and must delete or anonymize all personal information retained in relation to the data subjects.

When an enterprise uses personal information, it must adopt controls on access and restrictions on the display of the information. The use of personal information must not go beyond the purpose stated when collecting it. Personal data subjects have the right to request correction, deletion and copies of personal information that pertains to them, as well as the right to withdraw their consent to the collection and use of the personal information. An enterprise must respond to the request of a data subject for correction, deletion or copying once it has verified his or her identity.

When an enterprise engages a third party to process personal information, it must conduct a security assessment to ensure that the processor possesses sufficient security capabilities. The enterprise must also require the third party to safeguard the personal information, and must also supervise the third party’s processing of the personal information. If an enterprise needs to share or transfer personal information, it must conduct a security assessment and adopt security measures, inform the data subjects of the purpose of the sharing or transfer and of the categories of recipients, and obtain the consent of the data subjects.

An enterprise must formulate a contingency plan for security incidents that involve personal information and conduct emergency drills at least once a year. In the event of an actual data breach incident, the enterprise must inform the affected data subjects by email, letter, telephone or other reasonable and efficient method. The notice must include information such as the substance of the incident and its impact, remedial measures that have been taken or will be taken, suggestions for the data subjects on how to reduce risks, remedial measures made available to data subjects, and the responsible person and his or her contact information.

The Specification requires entities to clarify which of their departments and staff would be responsible for the protection of personal information, and to establish a system to evaluate impacts on the security of personal information. Enterprises must also implement staff training and audit the security measures which they have adopted to protect personal information.

Senator Asks FBI Director To Justify His ‘Ill-Informed’ Policy Proposal For Encryption

In a speech earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the inability of law enforcement authorities to access data from electronic devices due to powerful encryption is an "urgent public safety issue." He proposed that Silicon Valley companies should add a backdoor to their encryption so that they could both "provide data security and permit lawful access with a court order." One person is not amused by Wray's proposal. Senator Ron Wyden criticized Wray on Thursday for not consulting him before going public with the proposal for encryption. Wyden said today, via Gizmodo: Your stated position parrots the same debunked arguments espoused by your predecessors, all of whom ignored the widespread and vocal consensus of cryptographers. For years, these experts have repeatedly stated that what you are asking for is not, in fact, possible. Building secure software is extremely difficult, and vulnerabilities are often introduced inadvertently in the design process. Eliminating these vulnerabilities is a mammoth task, and experts are unified in their opinion that introducing deliberate vulnerabilities would likely create catastrophic unintended consequences that could debilitate software functionality and security entirely. [...] I would like to learn more about how you arrived at and justify this ill-informed policy proposal. Please provide me with a list of the cryptographers with whom you've personally discussed this topic since our July 2017 meeting and specifically identify those experts who advised you that companies can feasibly design government access features into their products without weakening cybersecurity. Please provide this information by February 23, 2018.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

WhatsApp Vulnerability

A new vulnerability in WhatsApp has been discovered:

...the researchers unearthed far more significant gaps in WhatsApp's security: They say that anyone who controls WhatsApp's servers could effortlessly insert new people into an otherwise private group, even without the permission of the administrator who ostensibly controls access to that conversation.

Matthew Green has a good description:

If all you want is the TL;DR, here's the headline finding: due to flaws in both Signal and WhatsApp (which I single out because I use them), it's theoretically possible for strangers to add themselves to an encrypted group chat. However, the caveat is that these attacks are extremely difficult to pull off in practice, so nobody needs to panic. But both issues are very avoidable, and tend to undermine the logic of having an end-to-end encryption protocol in the first place.

Here's the research paper.

Smashing Security #062: Tinder spying, Amazon shoplifting, and petrol pump malware

Smashing Security #062: Tinder spying, Amazon shoplifting, and petrol pump malware

Your Tinder swipes can be spied upon, Amazon is opening high street stores that don't require any staff, and Russian fuel pumps are being infected with malware in an elaborate scheme to make large amounts of money.

With Carole on a top secret special assignment, it's left to security veteran Graham Cluley to discuss all this and much much more on the "Smashing Security" podcast with special guests David McClelland and Vanja Švajcer.

DuckDuckGo offers new privacy extension and app

DuckDuckGo, the company behind the eponymous privacy-minded Internet search engine, has announced a new browser extension and mobile app: DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials. DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials does four things: It makes DuckDuckGo the default search engine (this features is optional – it can be switched off). Forces websites to serve users with an encrypted version (i.e., HTTPS version) of the site – if it’s available. Blocks all hidden, third-party trackers it can find and provides users … More

Engineering Firm Pays $1.3K after Ransomware Affects Servers, Backups

An engineering firm in Canada has paid attackers $1,300 after ransomware encrypted its servers along with its data backup system. The infection occurred when bad actors targeted DGH Engineering Ltd. with a malicious email. An employee at the firm, which maintains offices near Winnipeg, Manitoba and Red Deer, Alberta, clicked on a clink contained therein. […]… Read More

The post Engineering Firm Pays $1.3K after Ransomware Affects Servers, Backups appeared first on The State of Security.

Another Indiana Hospital Hit by Ransomware Attack

Another hospital in Indiana has suffered a ransomware attack that affected some of its servers and prevented files from loading correctly. On 11 January, an employee of Adams Memorial Hospital of Decatur, Indiana notified administrators that some files didn’t look correct. Susan Sefton, a spokesperson for the hospital, said the network went blank before files […]… Read More

The post Another Indiana Hospital Hit by Ransomware Attack appeared first on The State of Security.

Lasers Eyed as Way Forward for Quantum Encryption of Data, Cryptocurrencies

Researchers at the University of Southern California have developed a technology called a frequency comb that could pave the way for quantum-encryption technologies to be used to protect mobile data and digital currencies. Given yesterday’s news that cryptocurrencies remain in the crosshairs of hackers, people would surely welcome new methods to...

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Applying the Principles of Quantum Entanglement to Secure Communication

Have you seen the Jackie Chan movie “Twin Dragons” or its remake, “Judwa,” with Bollywood star Salman Khan? The story is about twin brothers who are entangled with one another despite having been separated at birth. The entanglement causes each brother to feel and experience the actions and sensations of the other, and the quality of the connection diminishes with increasing distance.

This connection is quite similar to Albert Einstein’s theory of quantum entanglement. In simple terms, here’s how it works: Two quantum particles (atoms, photons or ions) become correlated with each other, meaning that if one particle changes its state, the entangled particle will undergo the same change. Therefore, by measuring one particle, you can also determine the state of the other.

Unlike in the movies, this quantum entanglement phenomenon can occur at any distance — even from opposite sides of the universe. The change of state happens instantly. Without quantum particles, this communication would need to travel many times faster than the speed of light, which, according to the theory of relativity, is impossible. For this reason, Einstein himself rejected the phenomenon as “spooky action at a distance.”

Applying Quantum Mechanics to the Three Pillars of Secure Communication

Researchers are currently studying quantum entanglement for possible applications to secure communication. This type of communication is built on three key principles: nonrepudiation, confidentiality and integrity. Let’s take a closer look at these components.

1. Nonrepudiation

While quantum mechanics can facilitate trusted communications, untrusted transactions still need to ensure nonrepudiation. This means that several different entities must verify the digital signature of the sender. Therefore, a quantum intermediary is still required for untrusted communications in which nonrepudiation is possible and can be exploited. Quantum digital signatures require the message recipient to have a copy of sender’s public key. The exact identity of the recipient is only known to the sender.

2. Confidentiality

Communication through the public key encryption system can only ensure confidentiality or nonrepudiation at a given time. The public key is used to encrypt the message, which can only be decrypted by the receiver’s private key. Although the confidentiality is maintained, the nonrepudiation of the sender cannot be established.

Similarly, when the sender encrypts a message using his or her private key, nonrepudiation is maintained but confidentiality cannot be established. The number of public keys for the distribution of quantum digital signatures must be limited to be secure. If the public key is allowed only one time, then the communication becomes confidential and secure. However, this is a costly solution.

3. Integrity

If an eavesdropper tries to measure the state of a photon, the laws of quantum mechanics cause the entangled particles to lose their magic connection. This property makes the communication secure, since any attempt to eavesdrop would change the state of the particle and thus be exposed.

How does a quantum particle change its state in response to a change in the other entangled particle? What if an organization discovers the mechanism of communication and uses this knowledge for malicious purposes, such as spying on communications? The problem is that the mechanism of communication is not completely known. Particles don’t just magically change states without a medium.

It will take time, but the medium for type of communication will eventually be discovered. The situation is similar to Einstein’s 1916 speculation about gravitational waves, a phenomenon that was first detected nearly 100 years later.

A Bright Future and a Long Road Ahead

The quantum technology used for data security comes with plenty of implementation challenges. The concept is still being researched and use of the technology requires costly infrastructure. In addition, long-distance surface communications are impeded by the Earth’s curvature and the limitations of fiber communication. This means that quantum transactions might require satellite technology to be effective.

On Sept. 29, 2017, the Austrian and Chinese academies of science used a key generated through quantum entanglement to conduct secure communication between two stations 700 miles apart. The successful test augurs well for the future of communication, but there is still much ground to cover when it comes to employing the principles of quantum mechanics to data security.

The post Applying the Principles of Quantum Entanglement to Secure Communication appeared first on Security Intelligence.

Lacking Cloud Security Policies Leave 60 Percent of Data at Risk

Ninety-five percent of businesses have adopted some form of the cloud. But, according to recent research, securing cloud-based data remains a major concern.

A new study by Gemalto found that 77 percent of companies recognize the importance of security controls such as encryption. Although this number would seem to suggest a steady march toward more defensible cloud data, just 47 percent of companies queried in the report actually use encryption to secure their sensitive data. This creates a disconnect whereby good knowledge is not backed up by solid global policies, putting cloud data at risk.

The Evolving Cloud Security Challenge

Although 88 percent of survey respondents said they are confident that new global regulations will impact cloud governance and 91 percent believe that the need to encrypt data will become more important over the next two years, security practices don’t match the preaching.

On average, according to the study, just 40 percent of all data stored in the cloud is secured with encryption and key management solutions. Meanwhile, just 25 percent of IT professionals surveyed were “very confident” they knew the exact type and number of cloud services used by their business.

The hard truth here is that these aren’t great numbers — but they’re not exactly surprising, either. Consider the trajectory of the cloud. At first it was a disrupter, but now cloud services have become essential for day-to-day operations, application development and big data analysis.

Giving up the cloud is unthinkable, but the prospect of both securing distributed data and actively keeping track of every cloud-based application is overwhelming for many IT departments. As a result, global cloud policies rarely make it past the drawing board even as more cloud services are added to the corporate roster.

A Growing Cloud Infrastructure

There’s no shortage of cloud infrastructure investment. Google recently announced that it spent $30 billion over the last three years building up cloud infrastructure and now has plans for undersea cables connecting Chile and Los Angeles; the U.S., Ireland and Denmark; and Australia and Southern Asia.

In other words, companies already using the cloud will find it even more convenient to spin up new servers, deploy new applications and store more data. However, organizations with existing security issues will face even greater challenges — especially because 75 percent of survey respondents said it’s more complex to manage privacy and data protection regulations in the cloud than on-premises.

Navigating the Wild West of Cloud Policy

So how do companies grow with the cloud and ensure they’re acting responsibly when it comes to cloud security? It all starts with policy.

Right now, global clouds remain a kind of Wild West, where data unseen is data ignored, and applications roam freely across personal and corporate networks. Clamping down on security issues means drafting a global, cloud-specific policy that addresses emerging problems.

For example, many organizations are now writing policies that embrace the utility of shadow IT while placing it under the purview of IT departments. In effect, this allows employees to retain some control over their cloud environment while granting IT the final word.

Encryption policies, meanwhile, are best designed for new data. Enterprises should mandate that all data moving to cloud storage be properly encrypted, then provide the personnel and technological support to make this a viable outcome. After all, the enemies of great policy are poor budgeting and sky-high expectations. Post-storage encryption is a long-term project that is doomed to sink new policies if attached as a core component.

The bottom line is that companies understand the need for cloud security but lack the global processes to follow through. Better outcomes demand specific policies backed by budgets that accommodate both trained security professionals and cutting-edge cloud solutions.

The post Lacking Cloud Security Policies Leave 60 Percent of Data at Risk appeared first on Security Intelligence.

Public-Sector Cybersecurity Battles are Bleeding Over into Corporate Business

If both companies and sovereign countries deploy cyber-attacks on their enemies, perhaps the goal is to disable the tech that rival entities rely on. Other times the mission may involve

The post Public-Sector Cybersecurity Battles are Bleeding Over into Corporate Business appeared first on The Cyber Security Place.

Skype Finally Adds End-to-End Encryption for Private Conversations

Good news for Skype users who are concerned about their privacy. Microsoft is collaborating with popular encrypted communication company Signal to bring end-to-end encryption support to Skype messenger. End-to-end encryption assured its users that no one, not even the company or server that transmits the data, can decrypt their messages. Signal Protocol is an open source cryptographic protocol

UK ICO Issues Unprecedented Fine Against Mobile Phone Retailer for Lax Security

On January 8, 2017, the UK Information Commissioner (“ICO”) issued an unprecedented monetary penalty of £400,000 against British mobile phone retailer, The Car Phone Warehouse Limited. Following an attack on their system in 2015, the ICO found that the company had failed to take adequate steps to protect the personal data it held on its system.

Between July and August 2015, the system hosting the company’s internal and external websites, which included personal data (including payment card data) of over 3,348,000 customers and 1,000 employees, was subject to an external cyber attack. In its decision, the ICO meticulously detailed the chronology of events and technical failures that led to the breach. The ICO found that the attacker entered and took hold of the system quickly and easily due to the company’s security deficiencies, which included:

  • the system’s software was years out of date;
  • software patching was seriously inadequate and no measures were in place to check whether the software updates or patches were implemented in accordance with the company’s policy;
  • the company did not have measures in place to control access credentials;
  • adequate vulnerability scanning and penetration testing measures were not in place at the time;
  • the company had no Web Application Firewall for monitoring traffic to and from its web applications, contrary to accepted security standards;
  • the system’s servers did not have antivirus technology, which was contrary to the company’s policy and accepted security standards;
  • the operating system on the servers all had the same password shared by more than 30 employees;
  • personal data was retained without good reason and inadequate measures were in place to identify and purge historic data; and
  • the encryption keys for historical transactions were not stored safely.

The ICO concluded that these facts constituted a multi-faceted violation of the Data Protection Principle 7 included in the Data Protection Act of 1998, which provides that appropriate technical and organizational measures should be taken against unauthorized or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.

This decision sets the tone for companies at the dawn of the entry into force of the GDPR. The ICO, in its public announcement of the decision, emphasized the importance of the Privacy by Design principle included in the GDPR, which requires companies to ensure that strong IT governance and information security measures are in place, tested and refreshed to comply with the provisions of the law.

Skype users are finally getting end-to-end encryption

The move was announced on Thursday by Open Whisper Systems, the software organization behind the open source Signal Protocol, which has been implemented by Microsoft to offer the feature. Private Conversations The option, named Private Conversations, is currently being tested by Skype Insiders and has some temporary limitations. Firstly, it can be used to protect audio calls, text messages, and files (images, audio, videos), but not video calls. Secondly, Private Conversations are limited to one-on-one … More

Yet Another FBI Proposal for Insecure Communications

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has given talks where he proposes that tech companies decrease their communications and device security for the benefit of the FBI. In a recent talk, his idea is that tech companies just save a copy of the plaintext:

Law enforcement can also partner with private industry to address a problem we call "Going Dark." Technology increasingly frustrates traditional law enforcement efforts to collect evidence needed to protect public safety and solve crime. For example, many instant-messaging services now encrypt messages by default. The prevent the police from reading those messages, even if an impartial judge approves their interception.

The problem is especially critical because electronic evidence is necessary for both the investigation of a cyber incident and the prosecution of the perpetrator. If we cannot access data even with lawful process, we are unable to do our job. Our ability to secure systems and prosecute criminals depends on our ability to gather evidence.

I encourage you to carefully consider your company's interests and how you can work cooperatively with us. Although encryption can help secure your data, it may also prevent law enforcement agencies from protecting your data.

Encryption serves a valuable purpose. It is a foundational element of data security and essential to safeguarding data against cyber-attacks. It is critical to the growth and flourishing of the digital economy, and we support it. I support strong and responsible encryption.

I simply maintain that companies should retain the capability to provide the government unencrypted copies of communications and data stored on devices, when a court orders them to do so.

Responsible encryption is effective secure encryption, coupled with access capabilities. We know encryption can include safeguards. For example, there are systems that include central management of security keys and operating system updates; scanning of content, like your e-mails, for advertising purposes; simulcast of messages to multiple destinations at once; and key recovery when a user forgets the password to decrypt a laptop. No one calls any of those functions a "backdoor." In fact, those very capabilities are marketed and sought out.

I do not believe that the government should mandate a specific means of ensuring access. The government does not need to micromanage the engineering.

The question is whether to require a particular goal: When a court issues a search warrant or wiretap order to collect evidence of crime, the company should be able to help. The government does not need to hold the key.

Rosenstein is right that many services like Gmail naturally keep plaintext in the cloud. This is something we pointed out in our 2016 paper: "Don't Panic." But forcing companies to build an alternate means to access the plaintext that the user can't control is an enormous vulnerability.

Researchers: SCADA Mobile Apps Continue to Have ‘Shocking’ Number of Vulnerabilities

Despite their availability on mobile networks and thus increased exposure to outside security threats, SCADA apps remain highly insecure and vulnerable to attack, putting critical industrial control systems at immediate and increased risk, researchers at IOActive and Embedi have found. While it might be good news for industrial control system...

Read the whole entry... »

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WhatsApp Flaw Could Allow ‘Potential Attackers’ to Spy On Encrypted Group Chats

A more dramatic revelation of 2018—an outsider can secretly eavesdrop on your private end-to-end encrypted group chats on WhatsApp and Signal messaging apps. Considering protection against three types of attackers—malicious user, network attacker, and malicious server—an end-to-end encryption protocol plays a vital role in securing instant messaging services. The primary purpose of having

Five Essential Reads to Understand the Meltdown and Spectre Processor Flaws

There has been plenty of (digital) ink spilled in recent days about widespread processor flaws known as “Meltdown” and “Spectre.” We round up five articles that will help you understand these security vulnerabilities, how they were discovered and their likely impact.  The flaws, which affect processors by Intel, AMD, ARM...

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New Rules Announced for Border Inspection of Electronic Devices

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced new restrictions on when agents can copy data from digital devices at border crossing points.

Smashing Security podcast #059: An intro to Bitcoin and Blockchain

Smashing Security podcast: An intro to Bitcoin and Blockchain

In this special "splinter" episode of the "Smashing Security" podcast we take a look at Bitcoin and Blockchain. What's all the fuss about cryptocurrencies? How can you protect your Bitcoin wallet? And how does the Blockchain work?

Listen to the latest edition of the "Smashing Security" podcast by computer security veterans Graham Cluley and Carole Theriault, joined this week by special guest Peter Ullrich of the "Explain Blockchain" podcast.

Malicious Website Cryptominers from GitHub. Part 2.

Malicious Website Cryptominers from GitHub. Part 2.

Recently we wrote about how GitHub/ was used in attacks that injected cryptocurrency miners into compromised websites. Around the same time, we noticed another attack that also used GitHub for serving malicious code.

Encrypted CoinHive Miner in Header.php

The following encrypted malware was found in the header.php file of the active WordPress theme:

There are four lines of code in total. Each, when decoded, plays a different role.

CoinHive Injections

When decoded, the last two lines inject typical CoinHive cryptocurrency miners:

The miner is only shown conditionally, so bots are excluded and only human visitors will receive it.

Continue reading Malicious Website Cryptominers from GitHub. Part 2. at Sucuri Blog.

Forever 21 Confirms Security Breach Exposed Customer Credit Card Details

First notified in November of a data breach incident, popular clothing retailer Forever 21 has now confirmed that hackers stole credit card information from its stores throughout the country for several months during 2017. Although the company did not yet specify the total number of its customers affected by the breach, it did confirm that malware was installed on some point of sale (POS)

BGP hijackers: “This traffic is going to Russia!”

Traffic sent to and from major internet sites was briefly rerouted to an ISP in Russia by an unknown party. The likely precursor of an attack, researchers describe the Dec. 13 event as suspicious and intentional.

According to BGPMON, which detected the event, starting at 04:43 (UTC) 80 prefixes normally announced by several organizations were detected in the global BGP routing tables with an Origin AS of 39523 (DV-LINK-AS), out of Russia.

The FBI can’t unlock the Texas church shooter’s phone

At a press conference today, an FBI official investigating the man who killed 26 people in a Texas church on Sunday said the agency can't open the shooter's encrypted phone. The agent painted the issue as a growing concern among law enforcement at all levels who can't access data on devices without their owner's credentials. It's essentially the same argument the FBI made two years ago when it demanded Apple help break into the phone of the San Bernardino shooter, a conflict that escalated into the courtroom.

Via: The Verge

Source: NBC News (Twitter)

Stopping ransomware where it counts: Protecting your data with Controlled folder access

Windows Defender Exploit Guard is a new set of host intrusion prevention capabilities included with Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. One of its features, Controlled folder access, stops ransomware in its tracks by preventing unauthorized access to your important files.

Encryption should protect your data and files. Ransomware twists the power of encryption against you and uses it to take files hostage. This means losing control of your data: documents, precious photos and videos, and other important files.

For enterprises and small businesses, losing access to files can mean disrupted operations. Worse, for critical infrastructure, ransomware infection can halt the delivery of services. Just this year, successive ransomware campaigns and no less than two global outbreaks immobilized hospitals, transport systems, and other high-tech facilities.

Ransomware continues to evolve and impact many types of devices in different environments. At Microsoft, we continue to harden Windows 10 against ransomware and other threats. Our end-to-end security suite integrates multiple next-generation defense technologies that help our customers prevent, detect, and respond to ransomware attacks.

Controlled folder access adds another layer of real-time protection against ransomware.

Crackdown on unauthorized encryption

Ransomware campaigns continue to grow and thrive as they are a lucrative business for cybercriminals. Ransomware gets into a victim’s device, encrypting files and data. Because these files are held hostage, cybercriminals can extort money from their victims.

Controlled folder access brings you right back in control of determining what programs can access your data. This feature protects your files from tampering, in real-time, by locking folders so that ransomware and other unauthorized apps can’t access them. It’s like putting your crown jewels in a safe whose key only you hold.

Cybercriminals can’t extort money if they can’t encrypt your files. Controlled folder access is a powerful tool that can render ransomware attacks worthless.

How Controlled folder access works

Controlled folder access locks down folders, allowing only authorized apps to access files. Unauthorized apps, including malicious executable files, DLLs, and scripts are denied access to folders.

This feature can be enabled in Windows Defender Security Center app in Windows 10.

By default, Controlled folder access protects common folders where documents and other important data are stored. But it’s also flexible. You can add additional folders to protect, including those on other drives. You can also allow apps that you trust to access protected folders, so if you’re using unique or custom programs, your productivity is not affected.

When enabled, Controlled folder access prevents access by unauthorized apps and notifies you of an attempt to access or modify files in protected folders. It delivers this protection in real-time.

Enabling and managing Controlled folder access in enterprise networks

In enterprise environments, Controlled folder access can also be enabled and managed using Group Policy, PowerShell, or configuration service providers for mobile device management.

The Controlled folder access feature seamlessly integrates with Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection. Every time Controlled folder access blocks an attempt to make changes to protected folders, an alert is generated on Windows Defender ATP. This notifies security operations personnel to take quick response actions, including quarantining affected machines or blocking the unauthorized app from running on other machines.

As with the other Windows Defender Exploit Guard features, administrators can customize notifications that appear on endpoints in the event of an intrusion attempt. Customized notifications then allow employees to call, email, or IM their company’s help desk.

Controlled folder access and other Windows Defender Exploit Guard features include an audit mode that administrators can use to evaluate these security features in enterprise networks. In audit mode, the Controlled folder feature does not block attempts to modify files on protected folders, but logs all events, so administrators can assess Windows Defender Exploit Guard capabilities without impacting operations.

A comprehensive suite of advanced ransomware protection in Windows 10

Ransomware attacks grow more and more sophisticated every day. To keep you safe, we are continually improving Windows to protect against ransomware and other threats. Windows 10 is the safest version of Windows yet. Controlled folder access is designed to help reduce the risk of ransomware attacks, keeping your user and businesses data safe.


Tanmay Ganacharya (@tanmayg)

Principal Group Manager, Windows Defender Research


Note these additional Windows security features

Windows 10 S is a configuration of Windows 10 that’s streamlined for security and performance. Windows 10 S provides Microsoft-vetted security by working exclusively with apps from the Windows Store and by using Microsoft Edge as the default browser.

Windows 10 customers are also protected from ransomware with Windows Defender Antivirus. With advanced machine learning models, as well as generic and heuristic techniques Windows Defender Antivirus detects new as well as never-before-seen ransomware in real-time.

Microsoft Edge blocks ransomware infection from the web by opening pages within low privilege app containers and by using reputation-based blocking of malicious downloads. Microsoft Edge has been providing industry-leading online protection for Windows 10 customers since its release. This year, Microsoft Edge is now available on iOS and Android, so users of these platforms can start benefiting from browser security beyond sandboxing.

In enterprise environments there are additional layers of protection. Device Guard provides virtualization-based lockdown security. It blocks all types of unauthorized content, stopping ransomware and other threats from reaching the machine.

In addition to Microsoft Edge, enterprises can also ensure online safety by blocking ransomware attacks that begin with email. Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP) uses built-in anti-spam filtering capabilities that help protect Office 365 customers. Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection helps secure mailboxes against email attacks by blocking emails with unsafe attachments, malicious links, and linked-to files leveraging time-of-click protection.

Windows Defender ATP powers security operations personnel to detect and respond to malware outbreaks in their organization. Windows Defender ATP’s enhanced behavioral and machine learning detection libraries flag malicious behavior across the ransomware infection process. The new process tree visualization and improvements in machine isolation help security operations to investigate and respond to ransomware and other malicious attacks.

Controlled folder access is a new piece to this growing stack of next-gen solutions that help you prevent, detect, and respond to ransomware and other modern attacks.

Controlled folder access, Exploit Protection, Attack surface reduction, and Network protection make up the host intrusion prevention capabilities in Windows Defender Exploit Guard. These features and all the other next-gen security technologies that ship with the Fall Creators Update continue to make Windows 10 the safest, most secure Windows ever.

Learn more about Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Microsoft 365 Security and Management Features Available in Fall Creators Update

Windows Defender Exploit Guard: Reduce the attack surface against next-generation malware

Stopping ransomware where it counts: Protecting your data with Controlled folder access

Making Microsoft Edge the most secure browser with Windows Defender Application Guard

Introducing Windows Defender Application Control

Hardening the system and maintaining integrity with Windows Defender System Guard

Move away from passwords, deploy Windows Hello. Today!

What’s new in Windows Defender ATP Fall Creators Update

Antivirus evolved

Get the latest information on ransomware

Our ransomware FAQ page summarizes the latest developments in the ransomware landscape. It has information about the most prevalent ransomware families like Cerber, WannaCrypt, Spora, Teerac (also known as Crypt0L0cker or CryptoLocker), and Locky, as well as the latest notable ransomware families like Tibbar (also known as Bad Rabbit), Ronggolawe, Petya (also referred to as NotPetya), Erebus, and others.


Talk to us

Questions, concerns, or insights on this story? Join discussions at the Microsoft community.

Follow us on Twitter @MMPC and Facebook Microsoft Malware Protection Center


"Responsible encryption" fallacies

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave a speech recently calling for "Responsible Encryption" (aka. "Crypto Backdoors"). It's full of dangerous ideas that need to be debunked.

The importance of law enforcement

The first third of the speech talks about the importance of law enforcement, as if it's the only thing standing between us and chaos. It cites the 2016 Mirai attacks as an example of the chaos that will only get worse without stricter law enforcement.

But the Mira case demonstrated the opposite, how law enforcement is not needed. They made no arrests in the case. A year later, they still haven't a clue who did it.

Conversely, we technologists have fixed the major infrastructure issues. Specifically, those affected by the DNS outage have moved to multiple DNS providers, including a high-capacity DNS provider like Google and Amazon who can handle such large attacks easily.

In other words, we the people fixed the major Mirai problem, and law-enforcement didn't.

Moreover, instead being a solution to cyber threats, law enforcement has become a threat itself. The DNC didn't have the FBI investigate the attacks from Russia likely because they didn't want the FBI reading all their files, finding wrongdoing by the DNC. It's not that they did anything actually wrong, but it's more like that famous quote from Richelieu "Give me six words written by the most honest of men and I'll find something to hang him by". Give all your internal emails over to the FBI and I'm certain they'll find something to hang you by, if they want.

Or consider the case of Andrew Auernheimer. He found AT&T's website made public user accounts of the first iPad, so he copied some down and posted them to a news site. AT&T had denied the problem, so making the problem public was the only way to force them to fix it. Such access to the website was legal, because AT&T had made the data public. However, prosecutors disagreed. In order to protect the powerful, they twisted and perverted the law to put Auernheimer in jail.

It's not that law enforcement is bad, it's that it's not the unalloyed good Rosenstein imagines. When law enforcement becomes the thing Rosenstein describes, it means we live in a police state.

Where law enforcement can't go

Rosenstein repeats the frequent claim in the encryption debate:
Our society has never had a system where evidence of criminal wrongdoing was totally impervious to detection
Of course our society has places "impervious to detection", protected by both legal and natural barriers.

An example of a legal barrier is how spouses can't be forced to testify against each other. This barrier is impervious.

A better example, though, is how so much of government, intelligence, the military, and law enforcement itself is impervious. If prosecutors could gather evidence everywhere, then why isn't Rosenstein prosecuting those guilty of CIA torture?

Oh, you say, government is a special exception. If that were the case, then why did Rosenstein dedicate a precious third of his speech discussing the "rule of law" and how it applies to everyone, "protecting people from abuse by the government". It obviously doesn't, there's one rule of government and a different rule for the people, and the rule for government means there's lots of places law enforcement can't go to gather evidence.

Likewise, the crypto backdoor Rosenstein is demanding for citizens doesn't apply to the President, Congress, the NSA, the Army, or Rosenstein himself.

Then there are the natural barriers. The police can't read your mind. They can only get the evidence that is there, like partial fingerprints, which are far less reliable than full fingerprints. They can't go backwards in time.

I mention this because encryption is a natural barrier. It's their job to overcome this barrier if they can, to crack crypto and so forth. It's not our job to do it for them.

It's like the camera that increasingly comes with TVs for video conferencing, or the microphone on Alexa-style devices that are always recording. This suddenly creates evidence that the police want our help in gathering, such as having the camera turned on all the time, recording to disk, in case the police later gets a warrant, to peer backward in time what happened in our living rooms. The "nothing is impervious" argument applies here as well. And it's equally bogus here. By not helping police by not recording our activities, we aren't somehow breaking some long standing tradit

And this is the scary part. It's not that we are breaking some ancient tradition that there's no place the police can't go (with a warrant). Instead, crypto backdoors breaking the tradition that never before have I been forced to help them eavesdrop on me, even before I'm a suspect, even before any crime has been committed. Sure, laws like CALEA force the phone companies to help the police against wrongdoers -- but here Rosenstein is insisting I help the police against myself.

Balance between privacy and public safety

Rosenstein repeats the frequent claim that encryption upsets the balance between privacy/safety:
Warrant-proof encryption defeats the constitutional balance by elevating privacy above public safety.
This is laughable, because technology has swung the balance alarmingly in favor of law enforcement. Far from "Going Dark" as his side claims, the problem we are confronted with is "Going Light", where the police state monitors our every action.

You are surrounded by recording devices. If you walk down the street in town, outdoor surveillance cameras feed police facial recognition systems. If you drive, automated license plate readers can track your route. If you make a phone call or use a credit card, the police get a record of the transaction. If you stay in a hotel, they demand your ID, for law enforcement purposes.

And that's their stuff, which is nothing compared to your stuff. You are never far from a recording device you own, such as your mobile phone, TV, Alexa/Siri/OkGoogle device, laptop. Modern cars from the last few years increasingly have always-on cell connections and data recorders that record your every action (and location).

Even if you hike out into the country, when you get back, the FBI can subpoena your GPS device to track down your hidden weapon's cache, or grab the photos from your camera.

And this is all offline. So much of what we do is now online. Of the photographs you own, fewer than 1% are printed out, the rest are on your computer or backed up to the cloud.

Your phone is also a GPS recorder of your exact position all the time, which if the government wins the Carpenter case, they police can grab without a warrant. Tagging all citizens with a recording device of their position is not "balance" but the premise for a novel more dystopic than 1984.

If suspected of a crime, which would you rather the police searched? Your person, houses, papers, and physical effects? Or your mobile phone, computer, email, and online/cloud accounts?

The balance of privacy and safety has swung so far in favor of law enforcement that rather than debating whether they should have crypto backdoors, we should be debating how to add more privacy protections.

"But it's not conclusive"

Rosenstein defends the "going light" ("Golden Age of Surveillance") by pointing out it's not always enough for conviction. Nothing gives a conviction better than a person's own words admitting to the crime that were captured by surveillance. This other data, while copious, often fails to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is nonsense. Police got along well enough before the digital age, before such widespread messaging. They solved terrorist and child abduction cases just fine in the 1980s. Sure, somebody's GPS location isn't by itself enough -- until you go there and find all the buried bodies, which leads to a conviction. "Going dark" imagines that somehow, the evidence they've been gathering for centuries is going away. It isn't. It's still here, and matches up with even more digital evidence.

Conversely, a person's own words are not as conclusive as you think. There's always missing context. We quickly get back to the Richelieu "six words" problem, where captured communications are twisted to convict people, with defense lawyers trying to untwist them.

Rosenstein's claim may be true, that a lot of criminals will go free because the other electronic data isn't convincing enough. But I'd need to see that claim backed up with hard studies, not thrown out for emotional impact.

Terrorists and child molesters

You can always tell the lack of seriousness of law enforcement when they bring up terrorists and child molesters.

To be fair, sometimes we do need to talk about terrorists. There are things unique to terrorism where me may need to give government explicit powers to address those unique concerns. For example, the NSA buys mobile phone 0day exploits in order to hack terrorist leaders in tribal areas. This is a good thing.

But when terrorists use encryption the same way everyone else does, then it's not a unique reason to sacrifice our freedoms to give the police extra powers. Either it's a good idea for all crimes or no crimes -- there's nothing particular about terrorism that makes it an exceptional crime. Dead people are dead. Any rational view of the problem relegates terrorism to be a minor problem. More citizens have died since September 8, 2001 from their own furniture than from terrorism. According to studies, the hot water from the tap is more of a threat to you than terrorists.

Yes, government should do what they can to protect us from terrorists, but no, it's not so bad of a threat that requires the imposition of a military/police state. When people use terrorism to justify their actions, it's because they trying to form a military/police state.

A similar argument works with child porn. Here's the thing: the pervs aren't exchanging child porn using the services Rosenstein wants to backdoor, like Apple's Facetime or Facebook's WhatsApp. Instead, they are exchanging child porn using custom services they build themselves.

Again, I'm (mostly) on the side of the FBI. I support their idea of buying 0day exploits in order to hack the web browsers of visitors to the secret "PlayPen" site. This is something that's narrow to this problem and doesn't endanger the innocent. On the other hand, their calls for crypto backdoors endangers the innocent while doing effectively nothing to address child porn.

Terrorists and child molesters are a clichéd, non-serious excuse to appeal to our emotions to give up our rights. We should not give in to such emotions.

Definition of "backdoor"

Rosenstein claims that we shouldn't call backdoors "backdoors":
No one calls any of those functions [like key recovery] a “back door.”  In fact, those capabilities are marketed and sought out by many users.
He's partly right in that we rarely refer to PGP's key escrow feature as a "backdoor".

But that's because the term "backdoor" refers less to how it's done and more to who is doing it. If I set up a recovery password with Apple, I'm the one doing it to myself, so we don't call it a backdoor. If it's the police, spies, hackers, or criminals, then we call it a "backdoor" -- even it's identical technology.

Wikipedia uses the key escrow feature of the 1990s Clipper Chip as a prime example of what everyone means by "backdoor". By "no one", Rosenstein is including Wikipedia, which is obviously incorrect.

Though in truth, it's not going to be the same technology. The needs of law enforcement are different than my personal key escrow/backup needs. In particular, there are unsolvable problems, such as a backdoor that works for the "legitimate" law enforcement in the United States but not for the "illegitimate" police states like Russia and China.

I feel for Rosenstein, because the term "backdoor" does have a pejorative connotation, which can be considered unfair. But that's like saying the word "murder" is a pejorative term for killing people, or "torture" is a pejorative term for torture. The bad connotation exists because we don't like government surveillance. I mean, honestly calling this feature "government surveillance feature" is likewise pejorative, and likewise exactly what it is that we are talking about.


Rosenstein focuses his arguments on "providers", like Snapchat or Apple. But this isn't the question.

The question is whether a "provider" like Telegram, a Russian company beyond US law, provides this feature. Or, by extension, whether individuals should be free to install whatever software they want, regardless of provider.

Telegram is a Russian company that provides end-to-end encryption. Anybody can download their software in order to communicate so that American law enforcement can't eavesdrop. They aren't going to put in a backdoor for the U.S. If we succeed in putting backdoors in Apple and WhatsApp, all this means is that criminals are going to install Telegram.

If the, for some reason, the US is able to convince all such providers (including Telegram) to install a backdoor, then it still doesn't solve the problem, as uses can just build their own end-to-end encryption app that has no provider. It's like email: some use the major providers like GMail, others setup their own email server.

Ultimately, this means that any law mandating "crypto backdoors" is going to target users not providers. Rosenstein tries to make a comparison with what plain-old telephone companies have to do under old laws like CALEA, but that's not what's happening here. Instead, for such rules to have any effect, they have to punish users for what they install, not providers.

This continues the argument I made above. Government backdoors is not something that forces Internet services to eavesdrop on us -- it forces us to help the government spy on ourselves.

Rosenstein tries to address this by pointing out that it's still a win if major providers like Apple and Facetime are forced to add backdoors, because they are the most popular, and some terrorists/criminals won't move to alternate platforms. This is false. People with good intentions, who are unfairly targeted by a police state, the ones where police abuse is rampant, are the ones who use the backdoored products. Those with bad intentions, who know they are guilty, will move to the safe products. Indeed, Telegram is already popular among terrorists because they believe American services are already all backdoored. 

Rosenstein is essentially demanding the innocent get backdoored while the guilty don't. This seems backwards. This is backwards.

Apple is morally weak

The reason I'm writing this post is because Rosenstein makes a few claims that cannot be ignored. One of them is how he describes Apple's response to government insistence on weakening encryption doing the opposite, strengthening encryption. He reasons this happens because:
Of course they [Apple] do. They are in the business of selling products and making money. 
We [the DoJ] use a different measure of success. We are in the business of preventing crime and saving lives. 
He swells in importance. His condescending tone ennobles himself while debasing others. But this isn't how things work. He's not some white knight above the peasantry, protecting us. He's a beat cop, a civil servant, who serves us.

A better phrasing would have been:
They are in the business of giving customers what they want.
We are in the business of giving voters what they want.
Both sides are doing the same, giving people what they want. Yes, voters want safety, but they also want privacy. Rosenstein imagines that he's free to ignore our demands for privacy as long has he's fulfilling his duty to protect us. He has explicitly rejected what people want, "we use a different measure of success". He imagines it's his job to tell us where the balance between privacy and safety lies. That's not his job, that's our job. We, the people (and our representatives), make that decision, and it's his job is to do what he's told. His measure of success is how well he fulfills our wishes, not how well he satisfies his imagined criteria.

That's why those of us on this side of the debate doubt the good intentions of those like Rosenstein. He criticizes Apple for wanting to protect our rights/freedoms, and declare they measure success differently.

They are willing to be vile

Rosenstein makes this argument:
Companies are willing to make accommodations when required by the government. Recent media reports suggest that a major American technology company developed a tool to suppress online posts in certain geographic areas in order to embrace a foreign government’s censorship policies. 
Let me translate this for you:
Companies are willing to acquiesce to vile requests made by police-states. Therefore, they should acquiesce to our vile police-state requests.
It's Rosenstein who is admitting here is that his requests are those of a police-state.

Constitutional Rights

Rosenstein says:
There is no constitutional right to sell warrant-proof encryption.
Maybe. It's something the courts will have to decide. There are many 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Amendment issues here.

The reason we have the Bill of Rights is because of the abuses of the British Government. For example, they quartered troops in our homes, as a way of punishing us, and as a way of forcing us to help in our own oppression. The troops weren't there to defend us against the French, but to defend us against ourselves, to shoot us if we got out of line.

And that's what crypto backdoors do. We are forced to be agents of our own oppression. The principles enumerated by Rosenstein apply to a wide range of even additional surveillance. With little change to his speech, it can equally argue why the constant TV video surveillance from 1984 should be made law.

Let's go back and look at Apple. It is not some base company exploiting consumers for profit. Apple doesn't have guns, they cannot make people buy their product. If Apple doesn't provide customers what they want, then customers vote with their feet, and go buy an Android phone. Apple isn't providing encryption/security in order to make a profit -- it's giving customers what they want in order to stay in business.

Conversely, if we citizens don't like what the government does, tough luck, they've got the guns to enforce their edicts. We can't easily vote with our feet and walk to another country. A "democracy" is far less democratic than capitalism. Apple is a minority, selling phones to 45% of the population, and that's fine, the minority get the phones they want. In a Democracy, where citizens vote on the issue, those 45% are screwed, as the 55% impose their will unwanted onto the remainder.

That's why we have the Bill of Rights, to protect the 49% against abuse by the 51%. Regardless whether the Supreme Court agrees the current Constitution, it is the sort right that might exist regardless of what the Constitution says. 

Obliged to speak the truth

Here is the another part of his speech that I feel cannot be ignored. We have to discuss this:
Those of us who swear to protect the rule of law have a different motivation.  We are obliged to speak the truth.
The truth is that “going dark” threatens to disable law enforcement and enable criminals and terrorists to operate with impunity.
This is not true. Sure, he's obliged to say the absolute truth, in court. He's also obliged to be truthful in general about facts in his personal life, such as not lying on his tax return (the sort of thing that can get lawyers disbarred).

But he's not obliged to tell his spouse his honest opinion whether that new outfit makes them look fat. Likewise, Rosenstein knows his opinion on public policy doesn't fall into this category. He can say with impunity that either global warming doesn't exist, or that it'll cause a biblical deluge within 5 years. Both are factually untrue, but it's not going to get him fired.

And this particular claim is also exaggerated bunk. While everyone agrees encryption makes law enforcement's job harder than with backdoors, nobody honestly believes it can "disable" law enforcement. While everyone agrees that encryption helps terrorists, nobody believes it can enable them to act with "impunity".

I feel bad here. It's a terrible thing to question your opponent's character this way. But Rosenstein made this unavoidable when he clearly, with no ambiguity, put his integrity as Deputy Attorney General on the line behind the statement that "going dark threatens to disable law enforcement and enable criminals and terrorists to operate with impunity". I feel it's a bald face lie, but you don't need to take my word for it. Read his own words yourself and judge his integrity.


Rosenstein's speech includes repeated references to ideas like "oath", "honor", and "duty". It reminds me of Col. Jessup's speech in the movie "A Few Good Men".

If you'll recall, it was rousing speech, "you want me on that wall" and "you use words like honor as a punchline". Of course, since he was violating his oath and sending two privates to death row in order to avoid being held accountable, it was Jessup himself who was crapping on the concepts of "honor", "oath", and "duty".

And so is Rosenstein. He imagines himself on that wall, doing albeit terrible things, justified by his duty to protect citizens. He imagines that it's he who is honorable, while the rest of us not, even has he utters bald faced lies to further his own power and authority.

We activists oppose crypto backdoors not because we lack honor, or because we are criminals, or because we support terrorists and child molesters. It's because we value privacy and government officials who get corrupted by power. It's not that we fear Trump becoming a dictator, it's that we fear bureaucrats at Rosenstein's level becoming drunk on authority -- which Rosenstein demonstrably has. His speech is a long train of corrupt ideas pursuing the same object of despotism -- a despotism we oppose.

In other words, we oppose crypto backdoors because it's not a tool of law enforcement, but a tool of despotism.

Cyber Security Roundup for September 2017

A massive data breach at Equifax dominated the UK media finance headlines this month, after 143 million customer records were compromised by a cyber-attack, 400,000 of which were UK customer accounts. Hackers took advantage of Equifax’s negligence in not applying security updates to servers. The data breach has already cost the CEO, CIO and CISO their jobs. In the UK Equifax faces investigations and the prospect of significant fines by both the Financial Conduct Authority and the Information Commissioner's Office over the loss of UK customer financial and personal data respectively.

Hackers stole a quarter of a million Deloitte client emails, follow the breach Deloitte was criticised by security professional for not adopting two-factor authentication to protect the email data which they hosted in Microsoft’s Azure cloud service.

September was an extremely busy month for security updates, with major patches releases by Microsoft, Adobe, Apache, Cisco and Apple to fix an array of serious security vulnerabilities including BlueBorne, a Bluetooth bug which exposes billions of devices to man-in-the-middle attacks.

UK government suppliers using Kaspersky to secure their servers and endpoints may well be feeling a bit nervous about the security software after Kaspersky was banned by US Government agencies. The US Senate accused the 20-year-old Russian based security company as being a pawn of the Kremlin and posing a national risk to security. Given the US and UK intelligence agency close ties, there are real fears it could lead to a similar ban in the UK as well. A UK ban could, in theory, be quickly extended to UK government suppliers through the Cyber Essentials scheme, given the Cyber Essentials accreditation is required at all UK government suppliers.

While on the subject of the Russia, the English FA has increased its cybersecurity posture ahead of next year's World Cup, likely due to concerns about the Russian Bears hacking group. The hacking group has already targeted a number of sports agencies in recent months, including hacking and releasing football player's world cup doping reports last month. 

In the last couple of weeks, I was Interviewed for Science of Security, and I updated my IBM Developer Works article on Combating IoT Cyber Threats.


Encryption would NOT have saved Equifax

I read a few articles this week suggesting that the big question for Equifax is whether or not their data was encrypted. The State of Massachusetts, speaking about the lawsuit it filed, said that Equifax "didn't put in safeguards like encryption that would have protected the data." Unfortunately, encryption, as it's most often used in these scenarios, would not have actually prevented the exposure of this data. This breach will have an enormous impact, so we should be careful to get the facts right and provide as much education as possible to law makers and really to anyone else affected.

We know that the attack took advantage of a flaw in Apache Struts (that should have been patched). Struts is a framework for building applications. It lives at the application tier. The data, obviously, resides at the data tier. Once the application was compromised, it really doesn't matter if the data was encrypted because the application is allowed to access (and therefore to decrypt) the data.

I won't get into all the various encryption techniques that are possible but there are two common types of data encryption for these types of applications. There's encryption of data in motion so that nobody can eavesdrop on the conversation as data moves between tiers or travels to the end users. And there's encryption of data at rest that protects data as it's stored on disk so that nobody can pick up the physical disk (or the data file, depending on how the encryption is applied) and access the data. Once the application is authenticated against the database and runs a query against the data, it is able to access, view, and act upon the data even if the data was encrypted while at rest.

Note that there is a commonly-applied technique that applies at-rest encryption at the application tier. I don't want to confuse the conversation with too much detail, but it usually involves inserting some code into the application to encrypt/decrypt. I suspect that if the application is compromised then app-tier encryption would have been equally unhelpful.

The bottom line here is that information security requires a broad, layered defense strategy. There are numerous types of attacks. A strong security program addresses as many potential attack vectors as possible within reason. (My use of "within reason" is a whole other conversation. Security strategies should evaluate risk in terms of likelihood of an attack and the damage that could be caused.) I already wrote about a layered approach to data protection within the database tier. But that same approach of layering security applies to application security (and information security in general). You have to govern the access controls, ensure strong enough authentication, understand user context, identify anomalous behavior, encrypt data, and, of course, patch your software and maintain your infrastructure. This isn't a scientific analysis. I'm just saying that encryption isn't a panacea and probably wouldn't have helped at all in this case.

Equifax says that their "security organization was aware of this vulnerability at that time, and took efforts to identify and to patch any vulnerable systems in the company's IT infrastructure." Clearly, humans need to rely on technology to help identify what systems exist in the environment, what software is installed, which versions, etc. I have no idea what tools Equifax might have used to scan their environment. Maybe the tool failed to find this install. But their use of "at that time" bothers me too. We can't rely on point-in-time assessments. We need continuous evaluations on a never ending cycle. We need better intelligence around our IT infrastructures. And as more workloads move to cloud, we need a unified approach to IT configuration compliance that works across company data centers and multi-cloud environments.

100% protection may be impossible. The best we can do is weigh the risks and apply as much security as possible to mitigate those risks. We should also all be moving to a continuous compliance model where we are actively assessing and reassessing security in real time. And again... layer, layer, layer.

Satellite beams ‘unbreakable’ cipher from space

Satellite beams 'unbreakable' cipher from space

If you are closely following the Quantum advancements, you would have come across the news of Chinese satellite "Mozi" launch in August, 2016. With this successful launch, Chinese proved they are way ahead (atleast per the public information) and are taking quantum-communication seriously. Mozi is dedicated to understand and test the phenomenon of Quantum entanglement. Mozi, a 500Kg satellite derived it's name from the 5th century BC chinese scientist and is motivated to perform Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS). It constitutes,

  1. Quantum Key communicator
  2. Quantum Entanglement emitter
  3. Entanglement source
  4. Processing Unit
  5. Laser Communicator

Today, August 10th 2017, Chinese scientists successfully became the first to perform the quantum key distribution from satellite to the ground as Xinhua reports. This achievement is a milestone in the quantum progression and is applauded by scientific community & NATURE journal reviewers! In the past, researchers reported in the Science,

... by beaming photons between the satellite and two distant ground stations, they have shown that particles can remain in a linked quantum state at a record-breaking distance of more than 1,200 kilometres.

In reference to the cutting edge security, Quantum communication is "secure" because any interference is detectable. Once intercepted or measured, the quantum state of the message will change, and the information being intercepted will self-destruct! Pan Jianwei, a lead scientist of QUESS and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said,

An eavesdropper on the quantum channel attempting to gain information on the key will inevitably introduce disturbance to the system, and can be detected by the communicating users.
The communication distance between the satellite and the ground station varies from 645 kilometers to 1,200 kilometers, and the quantum key transmission rate from satellite to ground is up to 20 orders of magnitude more efficient than that expected using an optical fiber of the same length.

Thus, in the future using quantum entanglement, two (2) parties can exchange secret messages by sharing an encryption key encoded in the properties of entangled particles. This mission can be the catalyst, for early adoption of global quantum communication network.

While this is a war of nations, US and China investing heaviliy in Quantum research and implementations; it surely is a win for science!

References and attributions,

  1. Hacker News:
  2. Xinhua News:
  3. NASA Spaceflight:

Ransomware Network Communication [Part 3]

[Ransomware Series Part 3]

Authored by: Alexander Sevtsov

This is the third installment of a multipart series on ransomware. While this segment stands on its own, the earlier posts offer additional details and information about ransomware and how it operates.

Part 1: Ransomware Delivery Mechanisms

Part 2: Ransomware: Too Overt to Hide

Ransomware continues to be a major concern for organizations worldwide. The recent WannaCry and NotPetya attacks are examples of the destructive nature of this type of malware and why we need to take immediate action to understand and defeat it.

In our first two installments, we covered how ransomware uses different delivery mechanisms to convey its payload to target victims. We also addressed the fundamental ways in which ransomware operates—including those characteristics that are common to all families and how security controls might use them to detect this threat. In this installment, we take a look at how ransomware communicates over the network with its C&C servers.  

Network Communication

Since any network communication between malware and its C&C (command and control) servers reduces a malware’s stealth, ransomware authors try to keep network communications to a minimum. However, unless encryption keys are symmetrical and hard coded within the ransomware itself (now quite rare because malware defenders can reverse engineer the key with relative ease), most ransomware will at some point exchange keys with their C&C servers. When that occurs, malware detection systems can observe the traffic, and sometimes, intervene.  

All ransomware implementations are different, but early variants that stored symmetrical keys within the ransomware itself have, for the most part, been weeded out and replaced by stronger versions. These improved renditions tend to use asymmetric cryptography that involve both a private and a public key. Since the ransomware uses only the public key to encrypt the victim’s files (or more precisely, encrypt the symmetrical keys used to encrypt the files), the private key required for decryption is not needed and never resides on the victim’s system unless the ransom is paid. More details about these types of encryption routines can be found in Part 2 of our blog series.

Hybrid encryption used in modern Ransomware families

Hybrid encryption used in modern Ransomware families

Although these advanced ransomware families do not need the private key to begin encrypting the victim’s files, they do require the public key. In most cases, the C&C server will transmit the public key to the ransomware on the victim’s device. This allows the C&C server to generate a unique key pair on the fly for each victim, but also generates network traffic that security products can detect. If a firewall, sandbox, or other malware protection system has blacklisted the C&C server’s IP address or domain name, or if it finds the traffic suspicious using some other heuristic, it can generate an alert that ransomware may exist, and block the network communication. This can prevent the ransomware from receiving the encryption key and stop the attack.

Network Activity Is Not Always Required to Retrieve Encryption Key

To guard against discovery by security tools and maximize stealth, modern ransomware families are shipped with built-in, public encryption keys, such as RSA. Moreover, the server’s private key can be protected by utilizing an additional layer of unique symmetric and asymmetric keys locally generated for each victim. This approach enables the encryption of the victim’s files without performing any network activity at all. Moreover, it does not allow different victims to use the same decryption tool if the key is leaked. Families, such as Spora, Sage, and Cerber, contain an offline encryption mode by default. Below is an analysis overview that demonstrates Lastline’s capabilities to detect this threat.

Analysis overview of Cerber

Analysis overview, Cerber

Recent versions of Cerber do perform minimal network activity, but transmit only statistics about the victim and ongoing encryption process, such as the OS version, processor architecture, if the encryption finished successfully or not, and the number of encrypted files. This data is sent over UDP (which doesn’t require any server response) to a wide range of IP addresses and thus minimizes the ability for security products to pinpoint the real location of C&C servers. Since the public key is hardcoded in the malware sample’s configuration, network connections are no longer required to start the encryption.

Cerber post-infection UDP traffic

Cerber post-infection UDP traffic

Multipronged Approach to Obtain Encryption Key

We have also observed an interesting technique for retrieving the public key in a recent variant of the Locky ransomware family. This sophisticated malware uses multiple fallback mechanisms to communicate with its C&C infrastructure.

Mechanism for retrieving RSA public key

Mechanism for retrieving RSA public key, Locky

Initially, Locky attempts to connect with hardcoded C&C servers. If that effort fails for any reason (either the server is down or the network traffic is blocked), the ransomware will try to reach several different C&C servers found at other domains. These domains are calculated in real-time using a Domain Generation Algorithm (DGA). The DGA generates the domains by using data returned from the GetSystemTime API, and hardcoded seed values.

DGA used in a Locky variant

DGA used in a Locky variant

If Locky is still unable to establish a connection with any of the domains generated via DGA, the ransomware switches into an offline mode, where an embedded RSA public key is used to complete the encryption process.

RSA key 2

C&C configuration and hardcoded public RSA key

Analysis Overview CerberAnalysis overview, Locky

Communications via Anonymity Networks and Blockchain

Following the encryption of a victim’s files, ransomware will often instruct the victim to transfer a particular amount of cryptocurrency (usually Bitcoins) to the attacker’s wallet in exchange for the private key required for decryption. The key is sent to the victim via anonymity networks (such as TOR) instead of the regular Internet to hide from law enforcement.  Publicly available blockchain websites are used to keep track of each bitcoin transaction. 

While security products can observe this network traffic, it takes place after the files have been encrypted, so it provides no value in terms of preventing the attack.  It is, however, useful as security products can analyze the traffic to better understand the entire behavior chain of the ransomware.

Network Communication Summary

Ransomware has evolved significantly in the way it performs network communications. While the threat used to require network communication to deliver the key to trigger the encryption process, modern ransomware families are shipped with hardcoded public keys which allows the threat to fly under the radar of network-based security solutions by switching into offline mode.


Much to our displeasure, ransomware is generating a healthy return for cybercriminals, and we can expect to see it continue to grow in numbers and in sophistication.  Recent advancements in stealth technologies are evident when we examine how its network communications have evolved.

It’s critical that the security industry takes aggressive steps to understand these and other advancements in ransomware. Only then can we begin to hold it at bay.

Watch for our next posting in this series, where we will dig deeper into evasion tricks used in modern ransomware families and how Lastline defeats them.

The post Ransomware Network Communication [Part 3] appeared first on Lastline.

Why this Data Privacy Day matters more than ever

We told you before that’s there is no real debate over encryption. Cyber security experts know that you can’t break it without creating huge security risks and eliminating most forms of secrecy, which is essential for free speech.

That’s what our Erka Koivunen told them members of the United Kingdom’s Parliament debating the draft Investigatory Powers bill also known as the “Snoopers’ Charter” in December.

But do governments even want to hear what the experts — or anyone outside of the intelligence community — has to say about encryption?

In the U.S., influential members of the Senate want to bypass a proposed commission to study encryption and move straight to passing a bill that could break it.

“I don’t think a commission is necessarily the right thing when you know what the problem is. And we know what the problem is,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said.

Why? Government’s want the access to encrypted communications and are willing to risk the vulnerabilities this will create for its citizens.

We’re trying to draw attention to this rush to break encryption that’s happening fast, relying on the very understandable fear of terrorism, without the public’s awareness of the potential consequences.

This January 28 is Data Privacy Day. It’s backed by the Cyber Security Alliance, which works with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security along with other private sector partners. We’re hoping to “hack” into attention around the day to make sure governments know that we do care about preserving privacy.

To mark it Erka will be doing an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit at 10 AM EST/ 5 PM EET answering any questions you have about encryption, cyber security and the pressures governments feel around the globe. You can also ask about how to secure yourself to maximize your security and privacy.

Erka has worked with top officials from the European Union and the US and understands the need for security balanced with a respect for privacy. And we’d love to know what questions you have about this issue so we can get answers to as many people as possible before it’s too late.

We hope you’ll join us and help spread the word.

Backdoors in messaging apps – what’s really going on?

We are in one of those phases again. The Paris attacks caused, once again, a cascade of demands for more surveillance and weakening of encryption. These demands appear every time, regardless of if the terrorists used encryption or not.

The perhaps most controversial demand is to make backdoors mandatory in communication software. Encryption technology can be practically unbreakable if implemented right. And the use of encryption has skyrocketed after the Snowden revelations. But encryption is not only used by terrorists. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the fundaments we are building our information society on. Protection against cybercrime, authentication of users, securing commerce, maintaining business secrets, protecting the lives of political dissidents, etc. etc. These are all critical functions that rely on encryption. So encryption is good, not bad. But as any good thing, it can be both used and misused.

And beside that. As people from the Americas prefer to express it: encryption is speech, referring to the First Amendment that grant people free speech. Both encryption technology and encrypted messages can be seen as information that people are free to exchange. Encryption technology is already out there and widely known. How on earth can anyone think that we could get this genie back in the bottle? Banning strongly encrypted messages would just harm ordinary citizens but not stopping terrorists from using secure communications, as they are known to disregard laws anyway. Banning encryption as an anti-terror measure would work just as well as simply banning terrorism. (* So can the pro-backdoor politicians really be that stupid and ignorant?

Well, that might not be the whole truth. But let’s first take a look at the big picture. What kind of tools do the surveillance agencies have to fight terrorism, or spy on their enemies or allies, or anybody else that happen to be of interest? The methods in their toolboxes can roughly be divided in three sections:

  • Tapping the wire. Reading the content of communications this way is becoming futile thanks to extensive use of encryption, but traffic analysis can still reveal who’s communicating with whom. People with unusual traffic patterns may also get attention at this level, despite the encryption.
  • Getting data from service provider’s systems. This usually reveals your network of contacts, and also the contents unless the service uses proper end-to-end encryption. This is where they want the backdoors.
  • Putting spying tools on the suspects’ devices. This can reveal pretty much everything the suspect is doing. But it’s not a scalable method and they must know whom to target before this method can be used.

And their main objectives:

  • Listen in to learn if a suspect really is planning an attack. This require access to message contents. This is where backdoors are supposed to help, according to the official story.
  • Mapping contact networks starting from a suspect. This requires metadata from the service providers or traffic analysis on the cable.
  • Finding suspects among all network users. This requires traffic analysis on the cable or data mining at the service providers’ end.

So forcing vendors to weaken end-to-end encryption would apparently make it easier to get message contents from the service providers. But as almost everyone understands, a program like this can never be water-tight. Even if the authorities could force companies like Apple, Google and WhatsApp to weaken security, others operating in another jurisdiction will always be able to provide secure solutions. And more skillful gangs could even use their own home-brewed encryption solutions. So what’s the point if we just weaken ordinary citizens’ security and let the criminals keep using strong cryptography? Actually, this is the real goal, even if it isn’t obvious at first.

Separating the interesting targets from the mass is the real goal in this effort. Strong crypto is in itself not the intelligence agencies’ main threat. It’s the trend that makes strong crypto a default in widely used communication apps. This makes it harder to identify the suspects in the first place as they can use the same tools and look no different from ordinary citizens.

Backdoors in the commonly used communication apps would however drive the primary targets towards more secure, or even customized, solutions. These solutions would of course not disappear. But the use of them would not be mainstream, and function as a signal that someone has a need for stronger security. This signal is the main benefit of a mandatory backdoor program.

But it is still not worth it, the price is far too high. Real-world metaphors are often a good way to describe IT issues. Imagine a society where the norm is to leave your home door unlocked. The police is walking around and checking all doors. They may peek inside to check what you are up to. And those with a locked door must have something to hide and are automatically suspects. Does this feel right? Would you like to live in a society like that? This is the IT-society some agencies and politicians want.


Safe surfing,


(* Yes, demanding backdoors and banning cryptography is not the same thing. But a backdoor is always a deliberate fault that makes an encryption system weaker. So it’s fair to say that demanding backdoors is equal to banning correctly implemented encryption.

Why Cameron hates WhatsApp so much

It’s a well-known fact that UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron doesn’t care much about peoples’ privacy. Recently he has been driving the so called Snooper’s Charter that would give authorities expanded surveillance powers, which got additional fuel from the Paris attacks.

It is said that terrorists want to tear down the Western society and lifestyle. And Cameron definitively puts himself in the same camp with statements like this:

“In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read? No, we must not.”
David Cameron

Note that he didn’t say terrorists, he said people. Kudos for the honesty. It’s a fact that terrorist blend in with the rest of the population and any attempt to weaken their security affects all of us. And it should be a no-brainer that a nation where the government can listen in on everybody is bad, at least if you have read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

But why does WhatsApp occur over and over as an example of something that gives the snoops grey hair? It’s a mainstream instant messenger app that wasn’t built for security. There are also similar apps that focus on security and privacy, like Telegram, Signal and Wickr. Why isn’t Cameron raging about them?

The answer is both simple and very significant. But it may not be obvious at fist. Internet was by default insecure and you had to use tools to fix that. The pre-Snowden era was the golden age for agencies tapping into the Internet backbone. Everything was open and unencrypted, except the really interesting stuff. Encryption itself became a signal that someone was of interest, and the authorities could use other means to find out what that person was up to.

More and more encryption is being built in by default now when we, thanks to Snowden, know the real state of things. A secured connection between client and server is becoming the norm for communication services. And many services are deploying end-to-end encryption. That means that messages are secured and opened by the communicating devices, not by the servers. Stuff stored on the servers are thus also safe from snoops. So yes, people with Cameron’s mindset have a real problem here. Correctly implemented end-to-end encryption can be next to impossible to break.

But there’s still one important thing that tapping the wire can reveal. That’s what communication tool you are using, and this is the important point. WhatsApp is a mainstream messenger with security. Telegram, Signal and Wickr are security messengers used by only a small group people with special needs. Traffic from both WhatsApp and Signal, for example, are encrypted. But the fact that you are using Signal is the important point. You stick out, just like encryption-users before.

WhatsApp is the prime target of Cameron’s wrath mainly because it is showing us how security will be implemented in the future. We are quickly moving towards a net where security is built in. Everyone will get decent security by default and minding your security will not make you a suspect anymore. And that’s great! We all need protection in a world with escalating cyber criminality.

WhatsApp is by no means a perfect security solution. The implementation of end-to-end encryption started in late 2014 and is still far from complete. The handling of metadata about users and communication is not very secure. And there are tricks the wire-snoops can use to map peoples’ network of contacts. So check it out thoroughly before you start using it for really hot stuff. But they seem to be on the path to become something unique. Among the first communication solutions that are easy to use, popular and secure by default.

Apple’s iMessage is another example. So easy that many are using it without knowing it, when they think they are sending SMS-messages. But iMessage’s security is unfortunately not flawless either.


Safe surfing,


PS. Yes, weakening security IS a bad idea. An excellent example is the TSA luggage locks, that have a master key that *used to be* secret.


Image by Sam Azgor

Potao Express samples


2011- July 2015
  • Aka  Sapotao and node69
  • Group - Sandworm / Quedagh APT
  • Vectors - USB, exe as doc, xls
  • Victims - RU, BY, AM, GE 
  • Victims - MMM group, UA gov
  • has been serving modified versions of the encryption software (Win32/FakeTC) that included a backdoor to selected targets. 
  • Win32/FakeTC - data theft from encrypted drives
  • The Potao main DLL only takes care of its core functionality; the actual spying functions are implemented in the form of downloadable modules. The plugins are downloaded each time the malware starts, since they aren’t stored on the hard drive.
  • 1st Full Plugin and its export function is called Plug. Full plugins run continuously until the infected system is restarted
  • 2nd Light Plugin with an export function Scan. Light plugins terminate immediately after returning a buffer with the information they harvested off the victim’s machine.
  • Some of the plugins were signed with a certificate issued to “Grandtorg”:
  • Traffic 
  • Strong encryption. The data sent is encapsulated using the XML-RPC protocol.
  • MethodName value 10a7d030-1a61-11e3-beea-001c42e2a08b is always present in Potao traffic.
  • After receiving the request the C&C server generates an RSA-2048 public key and signs this generated key with another, static RSA-2048 private key .
  • In 2nd stage the malware generates a symmetric AES-256 key. This AES session key is encrypted with the newly received RSA-2048 public key and sent to the C&C server.
  • The actual data exchange after the key exchange is then encrypted using symmetric cryptography, which is faster, with the AES-256 key
  • The Potao malware sends an encrypted request to the server with computer ID, campaign ID, OS version, version of malware, computer name, current privileges, OS architecture (64 or 32bits) and also the name of the current process.
  • Potao USB - uses social engineering, exe in the root disguised as drive icon
  • Potao Anti RE -  uses the MurmurHash2 algorithm for computing the hashes of the API function names.
  • Potao Anti RE - encryption of strings
  • Russian TrueCrypt Win32/FakeTC - The malicious program code within the otherwise functional TrueCrypt software runs in its own thread. This thread, created at the end of the Mount function, enumerates files on the mounted encrypted drive, and if certain conditions are met, it connects to the C&C server, ready to execute commands from the attackers.
  • IOC


For real data privacy, transparency and encryption are our best hopes

With Net Neutrality close to becoming a reality in the United States, Europe’s telecom companies appear ready to fight for consumers’ trust.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, Telefonica CEO Cesar Alierta called for strict rules that will foster “digital confidence”. Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao’s keynote highlighted the need for both privacy and security. Deutsche Telekom’s Tim Höttges was in agreement, noting that “data privacy is super-critical”.

“80% [of consumers] are concerned about data security and privacy, but they are always clicking ‘I accept [the terms and conditions], I accept, I accept’ without reading them,” said Höttges, echoing a reality we found when conducting an experiment that — in the fine print — asked people to give up their first born child in exchange for free Wi-Fi.

The fight for consumers’ digital freedom is close to our hearts at F-Secure and we agree that strong rules about data breach disclosure are essential to regaining consumers trust. However, we worry that anything that limits freedom in name of privacy must be avoided.

Telenor CEO and GSMA chairman, Fredrik Baksaas noted the very real problem that consumers face managing multiple online identities with multiple passwords. He suggested tying digital identity to SIM cards. This dream of a single identity may seem liberating on a practical level. But beyond recently exposed problems with SIM security, a chained identity could disrupt some of the key benefits of online life — the right to define your identity, the liberty to separate work life from home life, the ability to participate in communities with an alternate persona.

GMSA is behind a single authentication system adopted by more than a dozen operators that is tied to phones, which could simplify life for many users. But it will likely not quench desires to have multiple email accounts or identities on a site nor completely solve the conundrum of digital identity.

The biggest problem is that so many of us aren’t aware of what we’ve already given up.

The old saying goes, “If it’s free, you’re the product”.  This was a comfortable model for generations who grew up trading free content in exchange for watching or listening to advertisements. But now the ads are watching us back.

F-Secure Labs has found that more than half of the most popular URLs in the world aren’t accessed directly by users. They’s accessed automatically when you visit the sites we intend to visit and used to track our activity.

Conventional terms and conditions are legal formalities that offer no benefits to users. As our Mikko Hypponen often says, the biggest lie on the Internet is “I have read and agreed with terms and conditions.” This will have to change for any hope of a world where privacy is respected.

In the advanced world, store-bought food is mandated to have its nutritional information printed on the packaging. We don’t typically read — nor understand — all the ingredients. But we get a snapshot of what effect it will have on us physically.

How about something like this for privacy that informs us how data is treated by a particular site or application.

What data is captured?

Is is just on this site or does it follow you around the web?

How long is stored?

Whom is it shared with?

Key questions, simply answered — all with the purpose of making it clear that your privacy has value.

Along with this increased transparency, operators and everyone who cares about digital rights must pay close attention to the effort to ban or limit encryption in the name of public safety. The right of law-abiding citizens to cloak their online activity is central to democracy. And all the privacy innovations in the world won’t matter if we cannot expect that right to exist.

We are entering an era where consumers will have more reasons, need and opportunities to connect than ever before. The services that offer us the chance to be more than a product will be the ones that thrive.

UPDATE: Micke reminds me to point out that F-Secure has already taken steps towards simple, clean disclosure with documents like this Data Transfer Declaration.

What’s with the TrueCrypt warning?

TrueCrypt, the free open source full disk encryption program favoured by many security-savvy people, including apparently Edward Snowden, is no more. Its website now redirects to its SourceForge page which starts with this message: WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues This page exists only to help migrate existing data […]