We’re moving and expanding!

May 29, 2014 Comments off

This blog is moving (and expanding) to a full IT security news and views site (http://ITsecurity.co.uk).

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Latest news on ITsecurity

But that’s all folks. If you want to keep up with the latest news and views, hop over to ITsecurity!

The new site will continue its role in challenging and disrupting the traditional view of security – but over a wider area. In particular it now has a Panel of Experts who will be contributing (when they get time from their day jobs) on a selection of specialist areas. Alphabetically, they include:

  • Dr Brian Bandey – Dr Bandey’s Surgery: IP, Cloud, Big Data and e-Safety Laws Anatomised
  • Alexander Hanff – CEO Think Privacy Inc: Globally respected Privacy expert
  • David Harley – David Harley on malware
  • Bev Robb @teksquisite –Internet security & social media consultant by stealth…
  • Richard Smith – Financial skulduggery; especially of the tech variety
  • Kevin Townsend – Opinions on current information security news and issues (that’s me!)
  • Robin Wood – Penetration testing issues and passwords

All, except perhaps for me, are recognised world- and thought-leaders. So head over and check us out – and spread the word.

Categories: All, Security Issues

What’s with the TrueCrypt warning?

June 1, 2014 1 comment

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 encrypted by TrueCrypt.

The development of TrueCrypt was ended in 5/2014 after Microsoft terminated support of Windows XP. Windows 8/7/Vista and later offer integrated support for encrypted disks and virtual disk images. Such integrated support is also available on other platforms (click here for more information). You should migrate any data encrypted by TrueCrypt to encrypted disks or virtual disk images supported on your platform.

This statement is so full of problems it is difficult to know where to start.

Is it a canary?
Canaries are warnings by a different method (if a canary died in a mine, the likelihood was that poison gas, otherwise yet undetected, was present). So one suggestion is that this message indicates government interference, and like Levison and Lavabit, it has been shut down to protect the users. (Levison said, “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.”) Some have gone so far as to suggest a more explicit warning in TrueCrypt’s first paragraph: “not secure as”.

BitLocker

Microsoft’s BitLocker disk encryption

But for me the strongest suggestion that this might be a canary warning is the recommendation for Microsoft’s BitLocker. The message says “You should migrate any data encrypted by TrueCrypt to encrypted disks or virtual disk images supported on your platform.” It then proceeds to give a step-by-step how-to for migrating to BitLocker.

My problem is two-fold. Firstly, I find it difficult to believe that the developers of open-source cryptography would voluntarily recommend placing faith in a closed-source solution — and one from Microsoft to boot. Secondly, BitLocker gives up the ground won with such difficulty during the First Crypto Wars against Clinton’s Clipper chip and key escrow demands — BitLocker escrows the keys either with the IT department or with Microsoft’s cloud services. From both locations, using the PATRIOT Act, government agencies can retrieve those keys effectively on demand. This recommendation doesn’t make sense from a purely ‘security’ viewpoint.

Against this, however, we should note that ‘David’ (apparently a or the TrueCrypt developer) has told @stevebarnhart that there has been no government contact except one time inquiring about a ‘support contract’; that “BitLocker is ‘good enough’ and Windows was original ‘goal of the project’;” and that “There is no longer interest.” But whether ‘David’ is who he says he is, or whether what he says is true is anyone’s guess.

I find myself conflicted. This time my heart says, don’t think conspiracy; but my head says, this isn’t right.

What next?
For whatever reason, TrueCrypt can no longer be trusted. If we take David at face value, he has simply lost interest in the project and bowed out in a most unsatisfactory manner. That would imply that you can carry on using TrueCrypt; but that like XP, any future issues will not be resolved. So it’s probably best not to wait for them.

But if you were savvy enough to install TrueCrypt you will be savvy enough to migrate to an alternative without being persuaded into using BitLocker. BitLocker works with the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), a motherboard chip that to my mind turns Windows 8 into an NSA trojan. (See Is Windows 8 an NSA trojan?) This latest development merely reinforces my opinion.

It would be tempting to say it is time to migrate away from Windows altogether — perhaps to Linux. The reality, however, is that nothing is secure. What can be made by software can be unmade by software; that which can be built by computer power can be demolished by computer power. The unmakers have a thousand times the resources of the makers.

The solution is political, not technological. We the people have to reassert our role over the politicians. They are our servants. We pay them to do our bidding. And we have to make it absolutely clear that government interference and surveillance is unacceptable and must stop.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

ITsecurity.co.uk went live

May 29, 2014 1 comment

I guess we just went live. Traffic figures for the last four days.

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Check it out. News and views from world security experts. And me.

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More on the Avast breach and the hash used

May 27, 2014 Leave a comment

My understanding is that the hash formula used by Avast to store its forum users’ passwords was

$hash = sha1(strtolower($username) . $password);

This is the formula built into the SMF open source forum software used by Avast. It is both good and bad. It confirms that the hash was salted (with the user’s username); but the use of SHA1 will raise some eyebrows. Robin Wood, a professional pentester, suggests that something like Bcrypt would have been much stronger.

Nevertheless, Wood points out, the use of the salt would make cracking much harder. “I have tables for a lot of the common hashing algorithms with just plain words (password, computer etc), but there is no way I can generate them with the salts (kevinpassword, kevincomputer, robinpassword, robincomputer).”

At a pinch, he admitted, he could generate a few tables for the most common passwords, such as root or admin or 123456. So some of the passwords could be cracked relatively easily by a sophisticated hacker, and even more could be cracked if there were world enough and time. Which is actually pretty much what Avast implied in its blog.

Again, my understanding (and you can interpret that any way you like) is that Avast is embarrassed and wishes to do the right thing. It is holding back from making a more complete formal statement simply because it is still investigating the breach — and doesn’t yet know whether it screwed up or was breached by an unknown 0-day in the SMF software.

One thing that does seem clear, however, is that the attackers were indeed sophisticated and not kiddies since the attack coincided with a multi-GBPS DOS attack. Users should therefore assume that if they used a simple password it is now known to the attackers. Those who used a strong password should assume that with time, it will also become known to the attackers. Since Avast immediately took down the forum the passwords will be of little value UNLESS the user reuses the same password elsewhere. It is for this reason that those passwords should be changed immediately; and users who do so should stop reusing passwords immediately.

So what next? In his original post, CEO Vince Steckler said that Avast will rebuild the forum and move it to a different software platform. It will be interesting to see whether the company publicise how it will store its users’ passwords on the new platform.

Categories: All, Security Issues

Avast forum hack demonstrates we need password storage disclosure

May 27, 2014 1 comment

A blog post early this morning by Avast Software CEO Vince Steckler announced

The AVAST forum is currently offline and will remain so for a brief period. It was hacked over this past weekend and user nicknames, user names, email addresses and hashed (one-way encrypted) passwords were compromised.
AVAST forum offline due to attack

Avast’s reaction to this hack is in stark contrast to that of eBay’s recent reaction. While eBay said very little, Avast has quickly taken down the breached forum and contacted the users with laudable speed. And it has explained the risks.

While eBay gave no details about how its passwords were stored, Avast has indicated that they were hashed but can still be cracked. Like eBay it also lost usernames and email addresses, and that information alone is valuable to phishers. Steckler has advised users to change their passwords everywhere they have been reused — good and essential advice; but users should also be on guard against phishing attempts.

But while the Avast response has been better than eBay’s, it is still not enough — users need and deserve more. Steckler wrote,

Even though the passwords were hashed, it could be possible for a sophisticated thief to derive many of the passwords.

What does this mean; and what is a ‘sophisticated thief’? The thief was sophisticated enough to breach Avast’s defences, so we can assume he or they is sophisticated enough to use a password cracker. If he can ‘derive many of the passwords’, does that imply that a weak hashing algorithm was used, or simply that the hash was not salted? If a modern method of hashing was combined with secure salting, then it would be very difficult to derive the passwords.

Users deserve to know how their passwords are protected. This can only be done before the event, because once a breach has happened, the natural inclination of all companies is to minimize any blame on themselves. While the European Union is discussing mandatory breach disclosure as part of the General Data Protection Regulation, it simply does not go far enough. All companies that store user passwords should be obliged to publicly disclose how those passwords are stored and protected.

This will not help the thief. Once he has obtained the passwords, he will rapidly discover that information for himself. It will, however, help the user. The user can decide whether to trust the company before sign up; and will know how much to worry after a breach.

More to the point, however, is that security experts will publicly deride any company without good security — and that alone will force them to do better.

Categories: All, Security Issues

Hector ‘Sabu’ Monsegur to be sentenced while Hammond sits in prison

May 26, 2014 Leave a comment

A common cry in Anonymous circles is ‘Free Jeremy Hammond; Fuck Sabu’. Jeremy Hammond is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence for his involvement in the Stratfor hack. Sabu (real name Hector Xavier Monsegur) will be sentenced tomorrow for his role in Lulzsec and many other hacks. He is expected, on FBI request, to walk free. The judge, in both cases, was and is judge Loretta Preska. Comparing and contrasting the behaviour of Hammond and Monsegur explains the Anonymous cry.

Sabu

Sabu

Monsegur was the original founder of the original LulzSec hacking group, (in)famous for its ’50 days of lulz’ during the summer of 2011. Sabu was ‘outed’ and subsequently interviewed by the FBI. He rapidly (by the next day) agreed to cooperate; and has been cooperating ever since. There is some suggestion that the FBI pointed out that his two young nieces, for whom he is a foster parent, would have an uncertain future if he was incarcerated.

The extent of that cooperation is only just becoming clear, although it was always known to be extensive. Some of it borders on illegality, but is certainly immoral. The Stratfor hack was organized by Sabu at the behest of the FBI in order to entrap Jeremy Hammond – a member of Anonymous rather than Lulzsec but high, on the list of the FBI’s most wanted. It worked. It also, incidentally, ensnared Barret Brown who was arrested effectively for publishing a link to stolen Stratfor information; although his charges have now largely been dropped.

Sabu’s cooperation also led to the unmasking and arrest of the other members of LulzSec: 2 in the UK, 2 in Ireland and one in the US. It seems clear that he also tried to implicate and entrap many others; including, for example, Jacob Appelbaum.

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appelbaum_sabu tweets

Jacob Appelbaum tweeting on Saturday

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He also cooperated with the government, using Hammond, to enable it to hack foreign websites. Hammond’s attorneys wrote to judge Preska last month:

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hammond attorney's letter

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Hammond’s own behaviour has been in direct contrast. After his arrest he decided to fight the charges. Eventually, however, he gave up and accepted a plea deal with the government. Almost exactly one year ago he announced,

Today I pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This was a very difficult decision. I hope this statement will explain my reasoning. I believe in the power of the truth. In keeping with that, I do not want to hide what I did or to shy away from my actions. This non-cooperating plea agreement frees me to tell the world what I did and why, without exposing any tactics or information to the government and without jeopardizing the lives and well-being of other activists on and offline.
Statement from Jeremy Hammond regarding his plea

Jeremy Hammond (Associated Press)

Jeremy Hammond
(Associated Press)

His reasoning was not that he thought he would lose the case, but that the FBI would simply press similar charges elsewhere. “The process might have repeated indefinitely,” he said.

I have already spent 15 months in prison. For several weeks of that time I have been held in solitary confinement. I have been denied visits and phone calls with my family and friends. This plea agreement spares me, my family, and my community a repeat of this grinding process.

The key sentence in this announcement is, “This non-cooperating plea agreement frees me to tell the world what I did and why, without exposing any tactics or information to the government and without jeopardizing the lives and well-being of other activists on and offline.” So while Sabu cooperated with the FBI and will most likely walk free tomorrow, Hammond refused to cooperate and took a ten-year sentence. That, basically, is why the call is ‘Free Jeremy Hammond; Fuck Sabu.’

Tomorrow, 27th May 2014 at 11 am, Judge Preska will pronounce sentence on Sabu. In theory he faces a sentence of between 259 and 317 months for the crimes he as admitted. But, says the FBI in its pre-sentencing submission to Judge Preska,

Probation recommends a sentence of time served. As set forth in more detail below, Monsegur was an extremely valuable and productive cooperator.
Government’s notice of intent reference sentencing

He has, during the three years of his cooperation with the FBI, served seven months in prison. Judge Preska is expected to follow the FBI request and sentence him to seven months – allowing him to walk free.

We will update this post tomorrow with details of judge Preska’s sentence.

Update

The much delayed sentencing of former LulzSec hacker-turned-FBI informant Hector “Sabu” Monsegur finally took place on Tuesday, when he received time served plus one year of supervised release with computer logging.
Ars Technica

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

The eBay hack, the loss of 140 million records, and the PR fiasco

May 23, 2014 1 comment
Ebay – hacked on Wednesday

Ebay – hacked on Wednesday

There are two functions to PR: the first is to shout the good news from the hilltops, while the second is to bury the bad. When bad news hits, PR says very little.

Bad news has hit eBay. It admitted Wednesday that it had been hacked – but it actually gives very little information. This is a mistake. It means that people will comb their words used looking for clues over what has actually happened. The result is conjecture; but what follows is the conjecture of some very clever security people.

Three things leap out from the eBay statement. The first is the repeated use of the word ‘encrypted’, with no mention of hashing for the passwords. The second is the duration of the breach – it occurred in February/March, but was only discovered a couple of weeks ago. And the third is the mention of the database – not part of, nor a geographical region, but the (whole?) database. So what can we surmise from all this?

Ian Pratt, co-founder of Bromium

Ian Pratt, co-founder of Bromium

Firstly, were the passwords encrypted or hashed? It makes a difference. The implication from the statement is that they were encrypted. Most security experts believe that this would be a mistake – passwords should be hashed and salted. In fact, Ian Pratt, co-founder of Bromium, goes so far as to suggest, “It would be rather unusual to encrypt passwords rather than hash them; it’s probably just lack of precision in the statement.”

But that’s what we said about the Adobe breach – and it turned out that the passwords were indeed encrypted rather than hashed. The opinion among the experts I talked to is fairly evenly balanced – while eBay’s semantics suggest they used encryption, many experts find it hard to believe. “This heavily implies that the passwords were not hashed,” said Chris Oakley, principle security consultant at Nettitude. “eBay’s report suggests that the passwords were encrypted rather than hashed,” added Brendan Rizzo, Technical Director EMEA for Voltage Security. Sati Bains, COO of Sestus, said, “Yes… it appears from the comment that they did [encrypt rather than hash].”

Jon French, security analyst at AppRiver

Jon French, security analyst at AppRiver

“Encryption and hashing are often confused with each other,” explains Jon French, a security analyst at AppRiver. “But from the sounds of the [eBay’s] press release, it seems they were using some sort of encryption.”

Andrey Dulkin, senior director of cyber innovation at CyberArk, is in no doubt. “Indeed, from the eBay statements we understand that the passwords were encrypted, rather than hashed. The fact that the statements repeatedly use the words ‘encrypted’ and ‘decrypted’ supports this interpretation.”

It is, of course, possible that eBay is simply not differentiating between the two processes, since most of its customers will not understand the difference. “The public understand the word ‘encrypted’ more than hashed – so encrypt is frequently used in place of hashed. But it is believed they were hashed,” suggests Guy Bunker, spokesperson for the Jericho Forum and a cyber security expert at Clearswift.

Ilia Kolochenko, founder and CEO of High-Tech Bridge

Ilia Kolochenko, founder and CEO of High-Tech Bridge

Ilia Kolochenko, founder and CEO of High-Tech Bridge (HTB), doesn’t believe we can tell from eBay’s comments. “The difference isn’t easily understood by users. Even the spokesperson might not be aware. It’s quite possible that the company simply didn’t want to introduce the complexity of describing the technicalities of hashing and salting in a brief announcement.”

What’s the difference, and why does it matter?
The primary operational difference is that encryption can be decrypted; that is the original plaintext can be retrieved from the ciphertext through the use of the encryption key. Hashed outputs cannot be mathematically returned to the original plaintext.

In practice, an entire database of passwords would be encrypted via a single encryption key. But if hashing was used, each individual password would ideally have an unknown value added to it (a ‘salt’) and the results would be separately hashed. “This salt,” explains Voltage’s Rizzo, “is a way to make sure that the hash of a particular password cannot be compared to the known hash of that same password by the attacker through the use of rainbow tables.”

This means that if an encrypted database is stolen, only one key needs to be found to unlock every password in the database.If the passwords are hashed, every single password needs to be cracked individually.

“The advantages to hashing,” Nick Piagentini, senior solutions architect at CloudPassage, told me, “are one, there is no need to manage sensitive encryption keys; two, hashing processes have less overhead to run than encryption processes; and three, there is no need to reconstruct the password data from the hash. Encryption would only be used if there was a need to get the original password back.”

Could the hackers have the encryption key?
This is the 64 million dollar question (and is only relevant if the passwords were encrypted). We don’t know, and we may never know. But it is certainly possible. There are two possibilities: it could have been cracked or it could have been stolen.

Reuters spoke to eBay spokeswoman Amanda Miller:

She said the hackers gained access to 145 million records of which they copied “a large part”. Those records contained passwords as well as email addresses, birth dates, mailing addresses and other personal information, but not financial data such as credit card numbers.
Hackers raid eBay in historic breach, access 145 million records

eBay says the database was compromised some time around late February or early March; but wasn’t discovered until about two weeks ago. What we don’t know is whether the compromise was still in active use by the hackers, what else they did during the two months they were undetected, or whether they left something unwelcome behind. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that having gained access without being discovered the hackers did not have a good look round.

Chris Oakley, principle security consultant at Nettitude

Chris Oakley, principle security consultant at Nettitude

(Incidentally, it is worth pointing out at this point another comment from HTB’s Kolochenko. Basically, eBay’s statement that financial details were safely stored on a separate server is pretty meaningless. “The two servers would have to communicate,” he explained. “The hackers could have installed some malware to listen to the communication between the servers, and sniffed the plaintext traveling between them.”)

So could they have found the encryption key? Opinion is divided. “This is a primary argument for using hashing over encryption for password storage,” comments Nettitude’s Oakley; “an attacker who is able to compromise the database may also be in a position to obtain the encryption key(s).” (Incidentally, if the passwords were hashed rather than encrypted, the hackers could just as likely have found the salt or salt mechanism, rendering the hashed passwords relatively easy to crack via rainbow tables.)

On the other hand, “I would hope they [eBay] didn’t ‘tape the key to the door of the safe’”, comments Trey Ford, global security strategist at Rapid7. “eBay and PayPal have solid security teams, and go through regular third-party assessments. I refuse to believe they would handle encryption key materials that poorly.”

Trey Ford, global security strategist at Rapid7

Trey Ford, global security strategist at Rapid7

And yet they left the users’ email addresses and other personal information unencrypted. If they were using encryption seriously, they would have used a hardware security module (HSM) to house the keys, and would have encrypted everything. “They do not seem to be very confident about their encryption system,” comments Sebastian Munoz, CEO of REALSEC, “when they are suggesting their customers to reset passwords. If efficiently encrypted, using specific certified hardware, there would be no need to reset the passwords, since protection is guaranteed. When you use a Hardware Security Module (HSM) and not a simple and insecure encryption-by-software process, there is no way that hackers can gain access to the encryption keys.”

Munoz further suspects that software based encryption was used since only the passwords were encrypted. Since software encryption impacts on performance, then cost arguments come into play.

Sebastian Munoz, CEO of REALSEC

Sebastian Munoz, CEO of REALSEC

So, given the duration of the breach and the probable lack of an HSM, it is perfectly possible that the hackers also found the encryption key – and if this is the case, they now have access to all of the greater part of 145 million passwords, along with ‘email address, physical address, phone number and date of birth’.

If they did not find the key, would they be able to crack the encryption key? Again, opinion is divided – it all depends upon what encryption algorithm was used. Older encryption algorithms might be susceptible to a ‘known plaintext’ attack (see Wikipedia for details). Getting the necessary plaintext would be no problem. The most popular passwords are remarkable consistent – so a simple analysis with something like DigiNinja’s Pipal on an existing cracked database would provide a fair sampling of plaintext.

Dr Guy Bunker, spokesperson for the Jericho Forum and a cyber security expert at Clearswift

Dr Guy Bunker, spokesperson for the Jericho Forum and a cyber security expert at Clearswift

“However,” notes Bromium’s Ian Pratt, “assuming any kind of modern encryption (e.g. AES-128) was used then a known plaintext attack should not be feasible to recover the key and hence reveal other passwords.”

“Another approach,” suggested Clearswift’s Bunker, “is to ‘inject’ known passwords (either the hash or the encrypted version) into the database. This would create the equivalent of denial of service for the individual but would allow the attacker free reign over the account.”

The problem is we simply do not know what has happened. eBay’s attempts to downplay the incident is simply leading to conjecture.

UPDATE
While writing this report, Rapid7’s Trey Ford noticed adverts for the sale of eBay’s stolen database beginning to appear on Pastebin. “There has now been a posting on pastebin claiming to offer ‘145 312 663 unique records’ relating to the eBay breach,” he told me by email. We don’t know if they’re genuine, “it’s possible that a criminal has just spotted an opportunity to cash in on the attack with some other credentials dump they have.”

An analysis of the sample provided is inconclusive – the records are possibly genuine but not certainly genuine. But Ford had a look at the sample:

The sample that has been shared indicates that cracking the passwords will take considerable time. This is nothing like what we saw when LinkedIn was breached and the stolen credentials were quickly cracked due to only SHA-1 hashing being used for storage. In contrast, this credentials set is using PBKDF2 (Password-Based Key Derivation Function 2) SHA-256 hashes, which means they employ a strong hash function and also intentionally make cracking them more difficult and slow by individually salting and using a high number of hash iterations. The method used can be regarded as the state-of-the-art way to store passwords on web applications. Again though, we don’t know that these are credentials taken from the eBay breach, and no details have come from eBay on how they secure passwords.

This would fit in with eBay’s apparent confidence that the passwords cannot be hacked. However, Reuters spoke to eBay about the sample, and

eBay’s [spokesperson Amanda] Miller said the information was not authentic.
U.S. states probe eBay cyber attack as customers complain

AppRiver’s Jon French also noticed the Pastebin offer. He told me by email,

I’ll be wary of anything like this until I see people saying they see their own names (or if I end up seeing mine). Eventually if the Pastebin offer is legit, someone will post the file for free somewhere or some security company that buys it will verify authenticity.

His colleague, Troy Gill, a senior security analyst at AppRiver also suggested something that serious criminals will be well aware of: “There is always the remote possibility that this is a honey pot set by authorities to lure in would be buyers.”

Summary
eBay is taking the standard route for crisis management: say nothing. This is hugely disrespectful to its customers, who need and have a right to know everything possible. But eBay is also making a mistake in trying to downplay the effect of the stolen data. It says it has “no evidence of the compromise resulting in unauthorized activity for eBay users, and no evidence of any unauthorized access to financial or credit card information.” This is meant to make its customers feel better – the danger is that it might.

What eBay isn’t saying is that the unencrypted personal data also stolen (email address, physical address, phone number and date of birth) is a phisher’s wet dream. Armed with that information criminals will be able to concoct very compelling emails and cold call telephone calls. This is likely to happen on a vast scale and very soon. eBay might feel confidant about its own business, but the data it has lost puts millions of individuals and other companies in danger.

“When companies like eBay keep silent about the details,” commented High-Tech Bridge’s Kolochenko, “I would tend to expect the worst.” It is perhaps worth remembering the Adobe incident, which started off with a breach of a couple of million and slowly escalated into one of the worst breaches in history.

Categories: All, Security Issues
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