In the News

Here are three security articles we found rather interesting this week.

Researcher Wows Black Hat with NFC-based Smartphone Hacking Demo (CIO)

Accuvant Labs researcher Charlie Miller has figured out how to break into the Google/Samsung Nexus S and the Nokia 9 smartphones by using Near Field Communication (NFC).

I can read all the files, said Miller about how he managed to break into the Nokia 9 when his home-made NFC-based device is in very close proximity to the targeted smartphone. I can make phone calls, too. Vulnerabilities he identified in the Android-powered Nexus S were located in the browser surface, he said.


The truth behind those Nigerian 419 scammers
 (TechRepublic)

419 Advanced Fee Fraud (also known as the Nigerian 419 scam) is still being used quite frequently to steal money from gullible victims via fraudulent emails. But are these emails really coming from Nigeria, or are they perpetrated by attackers from other countries?

Researchers from the University of Ibadan found the following IP locations within 400 scam emails tested:

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue: A Bargain for the Identity Theft Collective (The Huffington Post)

Adam Levin of Credit.com wrote an interesting story documenting Wisconsin’s complete inability to secure public information.

Last week, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue revealed that it had accidentally made public 110,795 Social Security numbers and tax ID numbers of Wisconsin residents. The numbers were mistakenly embedded in a real estate report and posted to the department’s website for almost three months before being removed.

This is the fourth time since 2006 that Wisconsin state agencies have been involved in the public release of Social Security numbers.

 

A Simple Lesson in Protecting yourself against Malware

We see the stories in the news each and everyday.

Malware hit Android. Malware took advantage of known flaws in Windows. Source code was released for a new family of malware. The thing is … none of this is really news.

I’ll make it simple for you. You can ignore all the rest of the malware stories that come out this year if you remember the following points:

  • Attackers get better day-by-day. After all, if they didn’t, they’d lose.
  • As defenders, you must also get better day by day. If you don’t, you’ll lose.
  • Since we can’t control what the attackers do, the best you can do is play to not lose. This means:

1) Harden your systems (patch them, check users/passwords, remove uneeded software).
2) If you can’t harden your systems, get rid of them.
3) If you can’t harden your systems or get rid of them, implement compensating controls and understand where the gaps leave you exposed.
4) If you can’t do any of these three, get help. Sorry to toot my own horn here, but this is what we specialize in. You don’t need to be perfect, you just have to be getting better a bit faster than the attackers do.
5) If you can’t get help, give up. Just post your banking credentials, customer list and passwords on your website. The attackers are going to get them anyway. If you’re not going to protect yourself, just give up and enjoy the ride down as best you can.

July Updates and Patch Report

After a lovely week off, I am now back in the country and reviewing what happened in the security world while I was gone. To my shock, the answer is… not much. This is probably the first vacation I’ve had in years when the bad guys took a break too.

Did interesting things happen last week? Of course they did. For example, I got to pet two otter cubs, take photos of venomous reptiles without protective glass and hold a grey fox in my lap. However on the security front, we’ve got a few updates here and there, and that’s about it. Sure, there’s news that various attackers have gotten incrementally better at this or that, but that’s not really news. That’s just what they do. Of course, since that’s what they do, it really should be what you do as well. However, that’s well off topic for this post.

Microsoft

We finally have an update to the MSXML problem. That is unless you run version 5.0, but who’d do a silly thing like that? The problem affecting Visual Basic DLLs is also addressed. Both of these issues are being actively exploited, so you should apply those patches immediately.

The patches also include critical issues on servers and workstations that involve Internet Explorer, TLS encryption flaws and file and directory name handling. Luckily, it doesn’t look like any of these patches are likely to cause problems, so you should probably just apply them.

Unless of course you’re running MSXML 5.0 … then you should probably replace with version 6.0.

More on these issues can be found at the SANS ISC Blog

Bonus Time

We gained an extra second last week. How did you spend yours?

If you were like some of our software/service vendors out there, you spent it crashing. This shows, yet again, that time is hard to deal with. There’s not much you can do about that, other than be aware that time isn’t as linear as we’d like, and things like leap seconds, leap years, time zone changes and such can wreak havoc on our systems.

Your best protection is to understand your extended business network better. Use a time management system internally and set it to alert you if systems start to drift. Map out how your service vendors affect your business so you can easily identify when being down is on their side as opposed to yours (I test off my cell phone, so all traffic follows an isolated path).

Basically, the more you understand how information flows through your business, the better you can identify what causes that flow to fail.

Android

Turns out Android has malware. This is probably news if your last phone was a Motorola DynaTAC. So, for those of you just now catching up, here’s the deal: phones are computers now. If you don’t treat your phone like a computer, bad things are going to happen. Use encryption, strong passwords, anti-malware and don’t go installing stupid stuff on it.

In fact, phones are bad computers! Much of the malware that runs on phones comes from applications that are, shall we say, somewhat adult in nature. Perhaps it would be better if, instead of viewing such material on a screen smaller than a mouse, people use that mouse and view it on real computer running real protections.

If you do that, you can ignore all the “OMG! Android has Malwares!!!!11!!” articles that come out over the next year.

WordPress

There is a new WordPress update out. If you’re running WordPress, install it ASAP. You can get it here, or just update it from within your dashboard. However, a caveat first. WordPress, as a platform, is great. You can post things quickly and easily. I use it all the time, myself.

But … and it’s a big but … the risk to using WordPress grows with each plugin that you install. It grows with the number of people who have the ability to post. Many site compromises occur because people host multiple sites with a large hosting company and if any one of them gets compromised, the attackers can bounce to other sites and take those over as well. Thus, if you’re running WordPress, keep all sites up-to-date, make sure all users have decent passwords and use a plugin like Exploit Scanner to check that things are set up right.

If you need help reading the results of Exploit Scanner, we’d be glad to lend a hand. Really, it’s pretty easy to secure WordPress, so it’s not that expensive to get a bit of professional help.

May Updates and Patch Report: Part 2

It’s interesting how you can go through an entire week of work and think that nothing significant happened in the security world. Now that I am trying to write these updates on a weekly basis, I’m paying a bit closer attention. While we won’t have huge patch-focused updates unless it’s the same week as a patch release, it doesn’t mean nothing has been going on. So, without further ado here are this week’s updates and patch report. If you missed last week’s, read it here.

 

Microsoft

EMET 3.0 has been released. What is EMET you ask?

EMET stands for “Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit” and is basically a tool that allows you to protect Windows applications from attack. We’re used to applying patches for things like this, but sometimes a problem is more complex than people think and patches are a long time coming. EMET allows you to shift from a reactive to a proactive stance. This is a different way of protecting your systems and will take some work to get started. However, if your operational guidelines have matured to the point you have identified allowed applications and are either using application control or imaging, this can provide a nice additional layer of protection. With this new version, you can also identify attempts to exploit vulnerabilities, which can give you preliminary warnings of attack.

 

Google

Google has released a new version of Chrome. This new version adds a few features and patches several security bugs. If you are running Chrome, it should have automatically updated. If you want to verify the update has gone through, go to Tools->About and make sure you’re running version 19 or higher.

 

Apple

Apple has released a new version of QuickTime. This version patches seventeen problems and affects the application on both Windows and OSX. If you use it, patch it.  Details are here.

 

Android

Trail of Bits published an interesting article on the relative security merits of Android versus iOS. The heart of their argument is Android phones aren’t updated as often as the iPhone and the Android marketplace is more flexible and this brings additional malware risk.

While this is true, it is also true the reduction of controls allows for faster development. Additionally, the deployment of Android updates is the job of the carrier, not of Google. Blaming Google for the carriers’ unwillingness to deploy updates to older phones is, I think, unfair. The real problem is carriers make more money when people buy new phones, so the longer they support the old phones, the less money they make. Apple has embraced this economic reality by convincing people to throw away their devices and buy new ones every year or so.

So here’s the truth.  If you are concerned about malware you have three options:

1) Use iOS and trust Apple to protect you. Do not jailbreak anything and live with what you get.

2) Use Android and run an anti-malware agent. I like Sophos Mobile Security (beta) and Lookout. On my phone, at least, they even seem to play well together. Don’t install apps willy-nilly.

3) Use Android, run an anti-malware agent (as above), root it and install firewall and adblockers. This makes you more vulnerable to malware, but gives you additional protection to (somewhat) make up for it. Optionally install your own ROM.

You do have to be more vigilant, but if that’s not a problem for you, you can actually get a more secure device than you can with IOS, as you are in charge of your updates and you don’t have to wait for it to fit within a company’s lifecycle.

 

sudo

A very interesting bug in sudo was discovered. There’s no point in my describing it here, as they did such a good job on Sophos Naked Security. Definitely go there and read about it.

 

RealPlayer

RealPlayer has a brand new update. It patches three vulnerabilities in different levels of the product. However, the fourth vulnerability “why are people still using RealPlayer?” remains unpatched. :)

Apply the fix or remove the software.  The latter is generally a better choice.

 

HULK

A new denial of service tool is out. Known as the HTTP Unbearable Load King or “HULK,” it is different in that it takes greater care to make sure requests are unique. With a traditional DDoS tool, you can often find a traffic pattern to filter out and mitigate the attack. However, the more different each request is from one another, the harder this is to do. This tool raises the bar for DDoS protection.

If you are running a DDoS protection tool, take a look at the tool and check it against your protection system.  If it bypasses it, complain to your vendor so they fix the problem.

If you are not running a DDoS protection tool and are comfortable accepting the DDoS risk, just sit back and chuckle over the fact the most stealthy DDoS tool is known as The HULK.

 

That’s it for this week.  If you have any questions, please drop us a note.