Category Archives: patching

WhatsApp, Microsoft and Intel Chip Vulnerabilities

Quickly applying software updates (patching) to mitigate security vulnerabilities is a cornerstone of both a home and business security strategy. So it was interesting to see how the mainstream news media reported the disclosure of three separate ‘major’ security vulnerabilities this week, within WhatsApp, Microsoft Windows and Intel Processors.

WhatsApp

The WhatsApp security flaw by far received the most the attention of the media and was very much the leading frontpage news story for a day. The WhatsApp vulnerability (CVE-2019-3568) impacts both iPhone and Android versions of the mobile messaging app, allowing an attacker to install surveillance software, namely, spyware called Pegasus, which access can the smartphone's call logs, text messages, and can covertly enable and record the camera and microphone.

From a technical perspective, the vulnerability (CVE-2019-3568) can be exploited with a buffer overflow attack against WhatsApp's VOIP stack, this makes remote code execution possible by sending specially crafted SRTCP packets to the phone, a sophisticated exploit.

Should you be concerned?

WhatsApp said it believed only a "select number of users were targeted through this vulnerability by an advanced cyber actor." According to the FT, that threat actor was an Israeli company called ‘NSO Group’. NSO developed the exploit to sell on, NSO advertises it sells products to government agencies "for fighting terrorism and aiding law enforcement investigations". NSO products (aka "spyware") is known to be used by government agencies in UAE, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

So, if you are one of the 1.5 billion WhatsApp users, not a middle-east political activist or a Mexican criminal, you probably shouldn’t too worry about your smartphone being exploited in the past. If you were exploited, there would be signs, with unusual cliches and activity on your phone.  Despite the low risk at present, all WhatsApp users should quickly update their WhatsApp app before criminals attempt to ‘copycat’ NSO Group exploitation.

How to Prevent 

Update the WhatsApp app.
iOS

  • Open the Apple AppStore App
  • Search for WhatsApp Messenger
  • Tap 'Update' and the latest version of WhatsApp will be installed
  • App Version 2.19.51 and above fixes the vulnerability
Android
  • Open Google Play Store
  • Tap the menu in the top left corner
  • Go to “My Apps & Games”
  • Tap ‘Update’ next to WhatsApp Messenger and the latest version of WhatsApp will be installed
  • App Version 2.19.134 and above fixes the vulnerability
Microsoft Worm Vulnerability CVE-2019-0708
Making fewer media headlines was the announcement of a new “wormable” vulnerability discovered within the various versions of the Microsoft’s Windows operating system.  The vulnerability CVE-2019-0708 is within Window's “remote desktop services” component.

This vulnerability is by far the most dangerous vulnerability reported this week, probably this year, it is a similar flaw to what the WannaCry malware exploited on mass in May 2017. WannaCry was a ransomware worm which severely impacted the operation of several large organisations, including the NHS. It exploited a similar Microsoft Windows vulnerability which enabled the malware to quickly self-propagate (worm) across networks and infecting vulnerable systems on mass with ransomware, rendering such systems unusable.


Such is the concern of a second WannaCry style attack due to this flaw, Microsoft has taken the rare step of releasing security patches for their unsupported versions of the Windows operating system, such as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. 

How to Prevent
Apply the latest Microsoft Windows Update. Microsoft has said anti-virus products will not provide any protection against the exploitation of this vulnerability, therefore applying the Microsoft May 2019 Security Update, as released on Tuesday 14th May 2019, is the only way to be certain of protecting against the exploitation of this critical vulnerability 

Ensure automatic updates is always kept switched on. Windows by default should attempt to download and install the latest security updates, typically you will be prompted to apply the update and accept a reboot, do this without delay. 

To double check, select the Start menu, followed by the gear cog icon on the left. Then, select Update & Security and Windows Update.

Businesses must also seek to apply Microsoft security updates as soon as they are released. Typically large organisations control the release of Microsoft security patches centrally, they should monitor and risk assess the importance of newly released security updates, and then apply across their IT estate at a rate based on risk.

Intel CPU ZombieLoad Vulnerability
There was little mainstream coverage about a third major security vulnerability reported this week. Coined 'ZombieLoad side-channel processor', this vulnerability is present in almost every Intel processor made since 2011. This hardware vulnerability is a concern to businesses which use or provide cloud services. This flaw can also be mitigated by patching, with Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google all releasing security patches. For further information about the Intel CPU vulnerability, read the following posts.

WhatsApp Vulnerability Fixed

WhatsApp fixed a devastating vulnerability that allowed someone to remotely hack a phone by initiating a WhatsApp voice call. The recipient didn't even have to answer the call.

The Israeli cyber-arms manufacturer NSO Group is believed to be behind the exploit, but of course there is no definitive proof.

If you use WhatsApp, update your app immediately.

ZombieLoad: Researchers discover New Hardware Vulnerability in Modern Intel Processors

A brand new processor hardware vulnerability affecting modern Intel CPUs has been uncovered by Bitdefender researchers  Coined "ZombieLoad side-channel processor", the vulnerability defeats the architectural safeguards of the processor and allows unprivileged user-mode applications to steal kernel-mode memory information processed on the affected computer.


A Concerning Impact on Cloud Services
The new vulnerability can be exploited by attackers to leak privileged information data from an area of the processor's memory meant to be strictly off-limits. This flaw could be used in highly targeted attacks that would normally require system-wide privileges or deep subversion of the operating system. The flaw has an extremely large impact on cloud service providers and within multi-tenant environments, as potentially a 'bad neighbour' could leverage this flaw to read data belonging to other tenants.

The proof of concept code has been shared privately with the vendor, was said to have been successfully tested on Intel Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Skylake and Kaby Lake microarchitectures by the researchers.


Remediation
Since this vulnerability revolves around a hardware design flaw, microcode patches have been available to remediate the flaw. Currently, Bitdefender and industry partners are working on fixes implemented at the hypervisor level.

Industry Security Patches
Similarities with Meltdown and Spectre
Side channel attacks based on speculative execution was in the news with the identification of Meltdown and Spectre CPU vulnerabilities back in early 2018. Since then, variants of side-channel attacks have been occasionally discovered and partially mitigated via microcode and operating system patches. However, as this is a flaw that stems from a hardware design issue, a general fix to plug the hardware vulnerability is impossible.


Cyber Security Roundup for April 2019

The UK government controversially gave a green light to Huawei get involved with the building of the UK's 5G networks, although the Chinese tech giant role will be limited to non-sensitive areas of the network, such as providing antennas. This decision made by Theresa May came days after US intelligence announced Huawei was Chinese state funded, and amidst reports historical backdoors in Huawei products, stoking up the Huawei political and security row even further this month, and has resulted in the UK Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, being sacked. 
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) launched a free online tool called "Exercise in a Box", designed by the UK cyber intelligence boffins to help organisations prepare in managing major cyber attacks.  The premise, is the tool will help UK organisations avoid scenarios such as the 2017’s Wannacry attacks, which devastated NHS IT systems and placed patient lives at risk.
 
German drug manufacturing giant, Beyer, found a malware infection, said to originate from a Chinese group called "Wicked Panda".  The malware in question was WINNIT, which is known in the security industry and allows remote access into networks, allowing hackers to deliver further malware and to conduct exploits. In my view, the presence of WINNIT is a sure sign a covert and sustained campaign by a sophisticated threat actor, likely focused on espionage given the company's sector.  Beyer stressed there was no evidence of data theft, but were are still investigating. 
 
Another manufacturing giant severely hit by a cyber attack this month was Aebi Schmidt. A ransomware outbreak impacted its business' operations globally, with most of the damage occurring at their European base. The ransomware wasn't named, but it left multiple Windows systems, on their presumably flat network infrastructure, paralyzed.
 
Facebook may have announced the dawn of their "privacy evolution" at the end of April, but their privacy woes still continue, after Upguard researchers found and reported 540 Million Facebook member records on an unsecured AWS S3 bucket. The "Cultura Colectiva" dataset contained 146GB of data with 540 million records showing comments, likes, reactions, account names, Facebook IDs and more. Looks like Facebook really have their work cut in restoring their consumer's faith in protecting their privacy.
 
UK businesses saw a significant increase in cyber attacks in 2019 according to a report by insurer Hiscox, with 55% of respondents reporting they had faced a cyber attack in 2019, up from 40% from last year.
 
A survey by the NCSC concluded most UK users are still using weak passwords. Released just before CyberUK 2019 conference in Glasgow, which I was unable attend due work commitments, said the most common password on breached accounts was"123456", used by 23.2 million accounts worldwide. Next on the list was "123456789" and "qwerty", "password" and "1111111".  Liverpool was the most common Premier League Football team used as a password, with Blink 182 the most common music act. The NCSC also published a separate analysis of the 100,000 most commonly re-occurring passwords that have been accessed by third parties in global cyber breaches. So password still remains the biggest Achilles' heel with our security.

The UK hacktivist threat came back to the fore this month, after the Anonymous Group took revenge on the UK government for arresting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, by attacking Yorkshire Councils. I am not sure what Yorkshire link with Assange actually is, but the website for Barnsley Council was taken down by a DDoS attack, a tweet from the group CyberGhost404 linked to the crashed Barnsley Council website and said "Free Assange or chaos is coming for you!". A tweet from an account called 'Anonymous Espana' with an image, suggested they had access to Bedale Council's confidential files, and were threatening to leak them. 
 
Microsoft Outlook.com, Hotmail and MSN users are reported as having their accounts compromised. TechCrunch revealed the breach was caused due to the hackers getting hold of a customer support tech's login credentials. Over two million WiFi passwords were found exposed on an open database by the developer of WiFi Finder. The WiFi Finder App helps to find and log into hotspots.  Two in every three hotel websites leak guest booking details and personal data according to a report. Over 1,500 hotels in 54 countries failed to protect user information.
 
Finally, but not lest, a great report by Recorded Future on the raise of the dark web business of credential stuffing, titled "The Economy of Credential Stuffing Attacks". The report explains how low-level criminals use automated 'checkers' tools to validate compromised credentials, before selling them on.

I am aware of school children getting sucked into this illicit world, typically starts with them seeking to take over better online game accounts after their own account is compromised, they quickly end up with more money than they can spend. Aside from keeping an eye on what your children are up to online as a parent, it goes to underline the importance of using unique complex passwords with every web account (use a password manager or vault to help you - see password security section on the Security Expert website). And always use Multi-Factor Authentication where available, and if you suspect or have are informed your account 'may' have compromised, change your password straight away.

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Cyber Security Roundup for March 2019

The potential threat posed by Huawei to the UK national infrastructure continues to be played out. GCHQ called for a ban on Huawei technology within UK critical networks, such as 5G networks, while Three said a Huawei ban would delay the UK 5G rollout, and the EU ignored the US calls to ban Huawei in 5G rollouts, while promoting the EU Cybersecurity certification scheme to counter the Chinese IT threat, which is all rather confusing.  Meanwhile, Microsoft Researchers found an NSA-style Backdoor in Huawei Laptops, which was reported to Huawei by Microsoft, leading to the flaw being patched in January 2019.
A serious security flaw placed Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) customers at risk. The vulnerability was discovered by PenTest Partners in the bank provided 'Heimdal Thor', security software, which was meant to protect NatWest customers from cyber-attacks but actually permitted remote injection commands at the customer's endpoint. PenTest Partners said "We were able to gain access to a victim's computer very easily. Attackers could have had complete control of that person's emails, internet history and bank details. To do this we had to intercept the user's internet traffic but that is quite simple to do when you consider the unsecured public wi-fi out there, and it's often all too easy to compromise home wi-fi setups.
 
Facebook made negative security headlines yet against after they disclosed that 20,000 of their employees had access to hundreds of millions of their user account passwords for years.

One of the world’s biggest aluminium producers, 
Norsk Hydrosuffered production outages after a ransomware outbreak impacted its European and US operations.  Damages from ransomware attack on Norsk Hydro reach as high as $40M.

Citrix disclosed a security breach of its internal network may have compromised 6Tb of sensitive data. The FBI had told Citrix that international cyber criminals had likely gained access to its internal network. Citrix said in a statement it had taken action to contain the breach, “We commenced a forensic investigation; engaged a leading cyber security firm to assist; took actions to secure our internal network; and continue to cooperate with the FBI”.  According to security firm Resecurity, the attacks were perpetrated by Iranian-linked group known as IRIDIUM.

Credit monitoring Equifax admitted in a report it didn't follow its own patching schedule, neglecting to patch Apache Struts which led to a major 2017 breach which impacted 145 million people.  The report also said Equifax delayed alerting their customers for 6 weeks after detecting the breach.

ASUS computers had backdoors added through its software update system, in an attack coined “ShadowHammer”. Kaspersky researchers estimated malware was distributed to nearly a million people, although the cybercriminals appeared to have only targeted 600 specific devices. Asus patched the vulnerability but questions still remain.


The top 10 biggest breaches of 2018 according to 4iQ were:
  1. Anti-Public Combo Collections – (Hacked) Sanixer Collection #1-6, 1.8 billion unique email addresses.
  2. Aadhaar, India – (Open third party device) 1.1 billion people affected
  3. Marriott Starwood Hotels – (Hacked) 500 million guests PII
  4. Exactis – (Open device) 340 million people and businesses.
  5. HuaZhu Group – (Accidental Exposure) 240 million records
  6. Apollo – (Open device) 150 million app users.
  7. Quora – (Hacked) 100 million users.
  8. Google+ – (API Glitch) 52.2 million users.
  9. Chegg – (Hacked) 40 million accounts 
  10. Cathay Pacific Airways (Targeted attack) 9.4 million passengers.
Barracuda Networks reported the top 12 phishing email subject lines, after they analysed 360,000 phishing emails over a three-month period.
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Cyber Security Roundup for February 2019

The perceived threat posed by Huawei to the UK national infrastructure continued to make the headlines throughout February, as politicians, UK government agencies and the Chinese telecoms giant continued to play out their rather public spat in the media. See my post Is Huawei a Threat to UK National Security? for further details. And also, why DDoS might be the greater threat to 5G than Huawei supplied network devices.

February was a rather quiet month for hacks and data breaches in the UK, Mumsnet reported a minor data breach following a botched upgrade, and that was about it. The month was a busy one for security updates, with Microsoft, Adobe and Cisco all releasing high numbers of patches to fix various security vulnerabilities, including several released outside of their scheduled monthly patch release cycles.

A survey by PCI Pal concluded the consequences of a data breach had a greater impact in the UK than the United States, in that UK customers were more likely to abandon a company when let down by a data breach. The business reputational impact should always be taken into consideration when risk assessing security.


Another survey of interest was conducted by Nominet, who polled 408 Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) at midsize and large organisations in the UK and the United States. A whopping 91% of the respondents admitted to experiencing high to moderate levels of stress, with 26% saying the stress had led to mental and physical health issues, and 17% said they had turned to alcohol. The contributing factors for this stress were job security, inadequate budget and resources, and a lack of support from the board and senior management. A CISO role can certainly can be a poisoned-chalice, so its really no surprise most CISOs don't stay put for long.

A Netscout Threat Landscape Report declared in the second half of 2018, cyber attacks against IoT devices and DDoS attacks had both rose dramatically. Fuelled by the compromise of high numbers of IoT devices, the number of DDoS attacks in the 100GBps to 200GBps range increased 169%, while those in the 200GBps to 300GBps range exploded 2,500%. The report concluded cybercriminals had built and used cheaper, easier-to-deploy and more persistent malware, and cyber gangs had implemented this higher level of efficiency by adopting the same principles used by legitimate businesses. These improvements has helped malicious actors greatly increase the number of medium-size DDoS attacks while infiltrating IoT devices even quicker.

In a rare speech, Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ warned the internet could deteriorate into "an even less governed space" if the international community doesn't come together to establish a common set of principles. He said "China, Iran, Russia and North Korea" had broken international law through cyber attacks, and made the case for when "offensive cyber activities" were good, saying "their use must always meet the three tests of legality, necessity and proportionality. Their use, in particular to cause disruption or damage - must be in extremis".  Clearly international law wasn't developed with cyber space in mind, so it looks like GCGQ are attempting to raise awareness to remedy that.

I will be speaking at the e-crime Cyber Security Congress in London on 6th March 2019, on cloud security, new business metrics, future risks and priorities for 2019 and beyond.

Finally, completely out of the blue, I was informed by 4D that this blog had been picked by a team of their technical engineers and Directors as one of the best Cyber Security Blogs in the UK. The 6 Best Cyber Security Blogs - A Data Centre's Perspective Truly humbled and in great company to be on that list.

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    Microsoft Windows 7 & Windows 2008 End of Life

    Microsoft Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 End of Life is fast approaching. 'End of Life' is the point where the operating system will be no longer supported with security patches, unless you (as a business) take out a rather expensive extended warranty agreement with Microsoft.



    As a home user, you should upgrade from Windows 7 without delay, as there are significant performance improvements to be gained with Windows 10. I always recommend installing Windows 10 from scratch onto a blank hard disk drive, rather than using the upgrade option. Ideally install onto a new Solid State Drive (SSD), which improves an operating system's performance massively. SSDs have come down in price in recent months, making a decent memory size SSD an affordable option. Always ensure all your important documents and data are backed up at all times, double check before attempting an operating system installation or upgrade.

    Where as a businesses you have Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 present, it is imperative not to leave your upgrade plan until the last minute, as mass operating systems upgrades within business can be fraught with delays due to technical issues to overcome, and unforeseen business circumstances. Also, Microsoft Windows Server 2016 has a significant virtualisation perform kick over 2008 & 2012 versions. And given the high security risk or cost in purchasing a Microsoft Extended Warranty, there really can be no solid business reason for delaying an upgrade project.

    Microsoft Product     End of Life Date
    Windows 7                      14/01/2020
    Windows Server 2008    14/01/2020
    Office 2010                     13/10/2020
    Windows Server 2012    10/01/2023
    Windows 8/8.1                10/01/2023
    Office 2013                     11/04/2023
    Windows 10                    14/10/2025
    Office 2016                     14/10/2025

    For further Microsoft EOF details see https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/13853/windows-lifecycle-fact-sheet