Category: Google

Oct 23 2017

Krebs on Security 2017-10-23 15:42:42

It’s been just over a year since the world witnessed some of the world’s top online Web sites being taken down for much of the day by “Mirai,” a zombie malware strain that enslaved “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices such as wireless routers, security cameras and digital video recorders for use in large-scale online attacks.

Now, experts are sounding the alarm about the emergence of what appears to be a far more powerful strain of IoT attack malware — variously named “Reaper” and “IoTroop” — that spreads via security holes in IoT software and hardware. And there are indications that over a million organizations may be affected already.

Reaper isn’t attacking anyone yet. For the moment it is apparently content to gather gloom to itself from the darkest reaches of the Internet. But if history is any teacher, we are likely enjoying a period of false calm before another humbling IoT attack wave breaks.

On Oct. 19, 2017, researchers from Israeli security firm CheckPoint announced they’ve been tracking the development of a massive new IoT botnet “forming to create a cyber-storm that could take down the Internet.” CheckPoint said the malware, which it called “IoTroop,” had already infected an estimated one million organizations.

The discovery came almost a year to the day after the Internet witnessed one of the most impactful cyberattacks ever — against online infrastructure firm Dyn at the hands of “Mirai,” an IoT malware strain that first surfaced in the summer of 2016. According to CheckPoint, however, this new IoT malware strain is “evolving and recruiting IoT devices at a far greater pace and with more potential damage than the Mirai botnet of 2016.”

Unlike Mirai — which wriggles into vulnerable IoT devices using factory-default or hard-coded usernames and passwords — this newest IoT threat leverages at least nine known security vulnerabilities across nearly a dozen different device makers, including AVTECH, D-Link, GoAhead, Netgear, and Linksys, among others (click each vendor’s link to view security advisories for the flaws).

This graphic from CheckPoint charts a steep, recent rise in the number of Internet addresses trying to spread the new IoT malware variant, which CheckPoint calls “IoTroop.”

Both Mirai and IoTroop are computer worms; they are built to spread automatically from one infected device to another. Researchers can’t say for certain what IoTroop will be used for but it is based at least in part on Mirai, which was made to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

While DDoS attacks target a single Web site or Internet host, they often result in widespread collateral Internet disruption. IoT malware spreads by scanning the Internet for other vulnerable devices, and sometimes this scanning activity is so aggressive that it constitutes an unintended DDoS on the very home routers, Web cameras and DVRs that the bot code is trying to subvert and recruit into the botnet.

However, according to research released Oct. 20 by Chinese security firm Netlab 360, the scanning performed by the new IoT malware strain (Netlab calls it the more memorable “Reaper”) is not very aggressive, and is intended to spread much more deliberately than Mirai. Netlab’s researchers say Reaper partially borrows some Mirai source code, but is significantly different from Mirai in several key behaviors, including an evolution that allows Reaper to more stealthily enlist new recruits and more easily fly under the radar of security tools looking for suspicious activity on the local network.

WARNING SIGNS, AND AN EVOLUTION

Few knew or realized it at the time, but even before the Mirai attacks commenced in August 2016 there were ample warning signs that something big was brewing. Much like the seawater sometimes recedes hundreds of feet from its normal coastline just before a deadly tsunami rushes ashore, cybercriminals spent the summer of 2016 using their state-of-the-art and new Mirai malware to siphon control over poorly-secured IoT devices from other hackers who were using inferior IoT malware strains.

Mirai was designed to wrest control over systems infected with variants of an early IoT malware contagion known as “Qbot” — and it did so with gusto immediately following its injection into the Internet in late July 2016. As documented in great detail in “Who Is Anna Senpai, the Mirai Worm Author?“, the apparent authors of Mirai taunted the many Qbot botmasters in hacker forum postings, promising they had just unleashed a new digital disease that would replace all Qbot infected devices with Mirai.

Mirai’s architects were true to their word: their creation mercilessly seized control over hundreds of thousands of IoT devices, spreading the disease globally and causing total extinction of Qbot variants. Mirai had evolved, and Qbot went the way of the dinosaurs.

On Sept. 20, 2016, KrebsOnSecurity.com was hit with a monster denial-of-service attack from the botnet powered by the first known copy of Mirai. That attack, which clocked in at 620 Gbps, was almost twice the size that my DDoS mitigation firm at the time Akamai had ever mitigated before. They’d been providing my site free protection for years, but when the Mirai attackers didn’t go away and turned up the heat, Akamai said the attack on this site was causing troubles for its paying customers, and it was time to go.

Thankfully, several days later Google brought KrebsOnSecurity into the stable of journalist and activist Web sites that qualify for its Project Shield program, which offers DDoS protection to newsrooms and Web sites facing various forms of online censorship.

The same original Mirai botnet would be used to launch a huge attack — over one terabit of data per second — against French hosting firm OVH. After the media attention paid to this site’s attack and the OVH assault, the Mirai authors released the source code for their creation, spawning dozens of copycat Mirai clones that all competed for the right to infest a finite pool of vulnerable IoT devices.

Probably the largest Mirai clone to rise out of the source code spill was used in a highly disruptive attack on Oct. 20, 2016 against Internet infrastructure giant Dyn (now part of Oracle). Some of the Internet’s biggest destinations — including Twitter, SoundCloud, Spotify and Reddit — were unreachable for large chunks of time that day because Mirai targeted a critical service that Dyn provides these companies.

A depiction of the outages caused by the Mirai attacks on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company. Source: Downdetector.com.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Some people believe that the Dyn attack was in retribution for information presented publicly hours before the attack by Dyn researcher Doug Madory. The talk was about research we had worked on together for a story exploring the rather sketchy history of a DDoS mitigation firm that had a talent for annexing Internet address space from its neighbors in a personal grudge match between that mitigation firm and the original Mirai authors and botmasters.]

It’s a safe bet that whoever is responsible for building this new Reaper IoT botnet will have more than enough firepower capable of executing Dyn-like attacks at Internet pressure points. Attacks like these can cause widespread Internet disruption because they target virtual gateways where third-party infrastructure providers communicate with hordes of customer Web sites, which in turn feed the online habits of countless Internet users.

It’s critical to observe that Reaper may not have been built for launching DDoS attacks: A global network of millions of hacked IoT devices can be used for a variety of purposes — such as serving as a sort of distributed proxy or anonymity network — or building a pool of infected devices that can serve as jumping-off points for exploring and exploiting other devices within compromised corporate networks.

“While some technical aspects lead us to suspect a possible connection to the Mirai botnet, this is an entirely new campaign rapidly spreading throughout the globe,” CheckPoint warns. “It is too early to assess the intentions of the threat actors behind it, but it is vital to have the proper preparations and defense mechanisms in place before an attack strikes.”

AND THE GOOD NEWS IS?

There have been positive developments on the IoT security front: Two possible authors of Mirai have been identified (if not yet charged), and some of Mirai’s biggest botmasters have been arrested and sentenced.

Some of the most deadly DDoS attack-for-hire services on the Internet were either run out of business by Mirai or have been forcibly shuttered in the past year, including vDOS — one of the Internet’s longest-running attack services. The alleged providers of vDOS — two Israeli men first outed by KrebsOnSecurity after their service was massively hacked last year — were later arrested and are currently awaiting trial in Israel for related cybercrime charges.

Using a combination of arrests and interviews, the FBI and its counterparts in Europe have made it clear that patronizing or selling DDoS-for-hire services — often known as “booters” or “stressers” — is illegal activity that can land violators in jail.

The front page of vDOS, when it was still online last year. vDOS was powered by an IoT botnet similar to Mirai and Reaper.

Public awareness of IoT security is on the rise, with lawmakers in Washington promising legislative action if the tech industry continues to churn out junky IoT hardware that is the Internet-equivalent of toxic waste.

Nevertheless, IoT device makers continue to ship products with either little to no security turned on by default or with ill-advised features which can be used to subvert any built-in security.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

According to Netlab, about half of the security vulnerabilities exploited by Reaper were first detailed in just the past few months, suggesting there may be a great number of unpatched and vulnerable systems in real danger from this new IoT malware strain.

Check to make sure your network isn’t part of the problem: Netlab’s advisory links to specific patches available by vendor, as well as indicators of compromise and the location of various Reaper control networks. CheckPoint’s post breaks down affected devices by version number but doesn’t appear to include links to security advisories or patches.

Please note that many of the affected devices are cameras or DVRs, but there also are quite a few consumer wired/wireless routers listed here (particularly for D-Link and Linksys devices).

A listing of known IoT device vulnerabilities targeted by Reaper. Source: Netlab 360 blog.

One incessant problem with popular IoT devices is the inclusion of peer-to-peer (P2P) networking capability inside countless security cameras, DVRs and other gear. Jake Reynolds, a partner and consultant at Kansas City, Mo.-based Depth Security, published earlier this month research on a serious P2P weakness built into many FLIR/Lorex DVRs and security cameras that could let attackers remotely locate and gain access to vulnerable systems that otherwise are not directly connected to the Internet (FLIR’s updated advisory and patches are here).

In Feb. 2016, KrebsOnSecurity warned about a similar weakness powering the P2P component embedded in countless security cameras made by Foscam. That story noted that while the P2P component was turned on by default, disabling it in the security settings of the device did nothing to actually turn off P2P communications. Being able to do that was only possible after applying a firmware patch Foscam made available after users started complaining. My advice is to stay away from products that advertise P2P functionality.

Another reason IoT devices are ripe for exploitation by worms like Reaper and Mirai is that vendors infrequently release security updates for their firmware, and when they do there’s often no easy method available to notify users. Also, these updates are notoriously hard to do and easy to screw up, often leaving the unwary and unlearned with an oversized paperweight after a botched firmware update. So if it’s time to update your device, do it slowly and carefully.

What’s interesting about Reaper is that it is currently built to live harmoniously with Mirai. It’s not immediately clear whether the two IoT malware strains compete for any of the same devices, although some overlaps are bound to occur — particularly as the Reaper authors add new functionality and spreading mechanisms (both Netlab and Checkpoint say the Reaper code appears to be a work-in-progress).

That new Reaper functionality could well include the ability to seek out and supplant Mirai infections (much like Mirai did with Qbot), which would help Reaper to grow to even more terrifying numbers.

No matter what innovation Reaper brings, I’m hopeful that the knowledge being shared within the security community about how to defend against the Mirai attacks today will prove useful in ultimately helping to blunt any attacks from Reaper tomorrow. <Fingers crossed>

Speaking of calms before storms, KrebsOnSecurity.com soon will get its first major facelift since its inception in Dec. 2009. The changes are more structural than cosmetic; we’re striving to make the site more friendly to mobile devices, while maintaining the simple, almost minimalist look and feel of this site. I’ll make another announcement as we get closer to the switch (just so everyone doesn’t freak out and report the site’s been hacked).

Aug 28 2017

Krebs on Security 2017-08-28 10:06:08

A half dozen technology and security companies — some of them competitors — issued the exact same press release today. This unusual level of cross-industry collaboration caps a successful effort to dismantle ‘WireX,’ an extraordinary new crime machine comprising tens of thousands of hacked Android mobile devices that was used this month to launch a series of massive cyber attacks.

Experts involved in the takedown warn that WireX marks the emergence of a new class of attack tools that are more challenging to defend against and thus require broader industry cooperation to defeat.

This graphic shows the rapid growth of the WireX botnet in the first three weeks of August 2017.

This graphic shows the rapid growth of the WireX botnet in the first three weeks of August 2017.

News of WireX’s emergence first surfaced August 2, 2017, when a modest collection of hacked Android devices was first spotted conducting some fairly small online attacks. Less than two weeks later, however, the number of infected Android devices enslaved by WireX had ballooned to the tens of thousands.

More worrisome was that those in control of the botnet were now wielding it to take down several large websites in the hospitality industry — pelting the targeted sites with so much junk traffic that the sites were no longer able to accommodate legitimate visitors.

Experts tracking the attacks soon zeroed in on the malware that powers WireX: Approximately 300 different mobile apps scattered across Google‘s Play store that were mimicking seemingly innocuous programs, including video players, ringtones or simple tools such as file managers.

“We identified approximately 300 apps associated with the issue, blocked them from the Play Store, and we’re in the process of removing them from all affected devices,” Google said in a written statement. “The researchers’ findings, combined with our own analysis, have enabled us to better protect Android users, everywhere.”

Perhaps to avoid raising suspicion, the tainted Play store applications all performed their basic stated functions. But those apps also bundled a small program that would launch quietly in the background and cause the infected mobile device to surreptitiously connect to an Internet server used by the malware’s creators to control the entire network of hacked devices. From there, the infected mobile device would await commands from the control server regarding which Websites to attack and how.

A sampling of the apps from Google's Play store that were tainted with the WireX malware.

A sampling of the apps from Google’s Play store that were tainted with the WireX malware.

Experts involved in the takedown say it’s not clear exactly how many Android devices may have been infected with WireX, in part because only a fraction of the overall infected systems were able to attack a target at any given time. Devices that were powered off would not attack, but those that were turned on with the device’s screen locked could still carry on attacks in the background, they found.

“I know in the cases where we pulled data out of our platform for the people being targeted we saw 130,000 to 160,000 (unique Internet addresses) involved in the attack,” said Chad Seaman, a senior engineer at Akamai, a company that specializes in helping firms weather large DDoS attacks (Akamai protected KrebsOnSecurity from hundreds of attacks prior to the large Mirai assault last year).

The identical press release that Akamai and other firms involved in the WireX takedown agreed to publish says the botnet infected a minimum of 70,000 Android systems, but Seaman says that figure is conservative.

“Seventy thousand was a safe bet because this botnet makes it so that if you’re driving down the highway and your phone is busy attacking some website, there’s a chance your device could show up in the attack logs with three or four or even five different Internet addresses,” Seaman said in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity. “We saw attacks coming from infected devices in over 100 countries. It was coming from everywhere.”

BUILDING ON MIRAI

Security experts from Akamai and other companies that participated in the WireX takedown say the basis for their collaboration was forged in the monstrous and unprecedented distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks launched last year by Mirai, a malware strain that seeks out poorly-secured “Internet of things” (IoT) devices such as security cameras, digital video recorders and Internet routers.

The first and largest of the Mirai botnets was used in a giant attack last September that knocked this Web site offline for several days. Just a few days after that — when the source code that powers Mirai was published online for all the world to see and use — dozens of copycat Mirai botnets emerged. Several of those botnets were used to conduct massive DDoS attacks against a variety of targets, leading to widespread Internet outages for many top Internet destinations.

Allison Nixon, director of security research at New York City-based security firm Flashpoint, said the Mirai attacks were a wake-up call for the security industry and a rallying cry for more collaboration.

“When those really large Mirai DDoS botnets started showing up and taking down massive pieces of Internet infrastructure, that caused massive interruptions in service for people that normally don’t deal with DDoS attacks,” Nixon said. “It sparked a lot of collaboration. Different players in the industry started to take notice, and a bunch of us realized that we needed to deal with this thing because if we didn’t it would just keep getting bigger and rampaging around.”

Mirai was notable not only for the unprecedented size of the attacks it could launch but also for its ability to spread rapidly to new machines. But for all its sheer firepower, Mirai is not a particularly sophisticated attack platform. Well, not in comparison to WireX, that is.

CLICK-FRAUD ORIGINS

According to the group’s research, the WireX botnet likely began its existence as a distributed method for conducting “click fraud,” a pernicious form of online advertising fraud that will cost publishers and businesses an estimated $16 billion this year, according to recent estimates. Multiple antivirus tools currently detect the WireX malware as a known click fraud malware variant.

The researchers believe that at some point the click-fraud botnet was repurposed to conduct DDoS attacks. While DDoS botnets powered by Android devices are extremely unusual (if not unprecedented at this scale), it is the botnet’s ability to generate what appears to be regular Internet traffic from mobile browsers that strikes fear in the heart of experts who specialize in defending companies from large-scale DDoS attacks.

DDoS defenders often rely on developing custom “filters” or “signatures” that can help them separate DDoS attack traffic from legitimate Web browser traffic destined for a targeted site. But experts say WireX has the capability to make that process much harder.

That’s because WireX includes its own so-called “headless” Web browser that can do everything a real, user-driven browser can do, except without actually displaying the browser to the user of the infected system.

Also, Wirex can encrypt the attack traffic using SSL — the same technology that typically protects the security of a browser session when an Android user visits a Web site which requires the submission of sensitive data. This adds a layer of obfuscation to the attack traffic, because the defender needs to decrypt incoming data packets before being able to tell whether the traffic inside matches a malicious attack traffic signature.

Translation: It can be far more difficult and time-consuming than usual for defenders to tell WireX traffic apart from clicks generated by legitimate Internet users trying to browse to a targeted site.

“These are pretty miserable and painful attacks to mitigate, and it was these kinds of advanced functionalities that made this threat stick out like a sore thumb,” Akamai’s Seaman said.

NOWHERE TO HIDE

Traditionally, many companies that found themselves on the receiving end of a large DDoS attack sought to conceal this fact from the public — perhaps out of fear that customers or users might conclude the attack succeeded because of some security failure on the part of the victim.

But the stigma associated with being hit with a large DDoS is starting to fade, Flashpoint’s Nixon said, if for no other reason than it is becoming far more difficult for victims to conceal such attacks from public knowledge.

“Many companies, including Flashpoint, have built out different capabilities in order to see when a third party is being DDoS’d,” Nixon said. “Even though I work at a company that doesn’t do DDoS mitigation, we can still get visibility when a third-party is getting attacked. Also, network operators and ISPs have a strong interest in not having their networks abused for DDoS, and many of them have built capabilities to know when their networks are passing DDoS traffic.”

Just as multiple nation states now employ a variety of techniques and technologies to keep tabs on nation states that might conduct underground tests of highly destructive nuclear weapons, a great deal more organizations are now actively looking for signs of large-scale DDoS attacks, Seaman added.

“The people operating those satellites and seismograph sensors to detect nuclear [detonations] can tell you how big it was and maybe what kind of bomb it was, but they probably won’t be able to tell you right away who launched it,” he said. “It’s only when we take many of these reports together in the aggregate that we can get a much better sense of what’s really going on. It’s a good example of none of us being as smart as all of us.”

According to the WireX industry consortium, the smartest step that organizations can take when under a DDoS attack is to talk to their security vendor(s) and make it clear that they are open to sharing detailed metrics related to the attack.

“With this information, those of us who are empowered to dismantle these schemes can learn much more about them than would otherwise be possible,” the report notes. “There is no shame in asking for help. Not only is there no shame, but in most cases it is impossible to hide the fact that you are under a DDoS attack. A number of research efforts have the ability to detect the existence of DDoS attacks happening globally against third parties no matter how much those parties want to keep the issue quiet. There are few benefits to being secretive and numerous benefits to being forthcoming.”

Identical copies of the WireX report and Appendix are available at the following links:

Flashpoint

Akamai

Cloudflare

RiskIQ

Aug 03 2017

After phishing attacks, Chrome extensions push adware to millions

Enlarge / One of the ads displayed by a fraudulently updated version of the Web Developer extension for Chrome. (credit: dviate)

Twice in five days, developers of Chrome browser extensions have lost control of their code after unidentified attackers compromised the Google Chrome Web Store accounts used to issue updates.

The most recent case happened Wednesday to Chris Pederick, creator of the Web Developer extension. Last Friday, developers of Copy Fish, a browser extension that performs optical character recognition, also had their account hijacked.

In both cases, the attackers used the unauthorized access to publish fraudulent updates that by default are automatically pushed to all Chrome users who have the extensions installed. The tainted extensions were also available for download in Google's official Chrome Web Store. Both Pederick and the Copyfish developers said the fraudulent updates did nothing more than inject ads into the sites users visited. The Copyfish developers provided this account that provided a side-by-side comparison of the legitimate and altered code. Pederick has so far not provided documentation of the changes that were pushed out to the more than one million browsers that have downloaded the Web Developer extension.

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Aug 02 2017

Krebs on Security 2017-08-02 12:17:05

Adobe last week detailed plans to retire its Flash Player software, a cross-platform browser plugin so powerful and so packed with security holes that it has become the favorite target of malware developers. To help eradicate this ubiquitous liability, Adobe is enlisting the help of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla. But don’t break out the bubbly just yet: Adobe says Flash won’t be put down officially until 2020.

brokenflash-aIn a blog post about the move, Adobe said more sites are turning away from proprietary code like Flash toward open standards like HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly, and that these components now provide many of the capabilities and functionalities that plugins pioneered.

“Over time, we’ve seen helper apps evolve to become plugins, and more recently, have seen many of these plugin capabilities get incorporated into open web standards,” Adobe said. “Today, most browser vendors are integrating capabilities once provided by plugins directly into browsers and deprecating plugins.”

It’s remarkable how quickly Flash has seen a decline in both use and favor, particularly among the top browser makers. Just three years ago, at least 80 percent of desktop Chrome users visited a site with Flash each day, according to Google. Today, usage of Flash among Chrome users stands at just 17 percent and continues to decline (see Google graphic below).

For Mac users, the turning away from Flash began in 2010, when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously penned his “Thoughts on Flash” memo that outlined the reasons why the technology would not be allowed on the company’s iOS products. Apple stopped pre-installing the plugin that same year.

The percentage of Chrome users over time that have used Flash on a Web site. Image: Google.

The percentage of Chrome users over time that have used Flash on a Web site. Image: Google.

“Today, if users install Flash, it remains off by default,” a post by Apple’s WebKit Team explains. “Safari requires explicit approval on each website before running the Flash plugin.”

Mozilla said that starting this month Firefox users will choose which websites are able to run the Flash plugin.

“Flash will be disabled by default for most users in 2019, and only users running the Firefox Extended Support Release will be able to continue using Flash through the final end-of-life at the end of 2020,” writes Benjamin Smedberg for Mozilla. “In order to preserve user security, once Flash is no longer supported by Adobe security patches, no version of Firefox will load the plugin.”

Facebook has long hosted plenty of games that invoke Flash, but over time more Facebook apps and games turned to HTML5, the company said.

“Today, more than 200 HTML5 games are live on our platform, most of which launched within the last year,” wrote Facebook’s Jakub Pudelek. “Many of the largest developers on the platform…migrated at least one Flash game to HTML5 on the Facebook platform with minimal impact to their existing customers.”

Finally, Microsoft said it has begun phasing out Flash from Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer, culminating in the removal of Flash from Windows entirely by the end of 2020. For now, Microsoft Edge, the default browser on newer versions of Windows, will continue to ask users for permission to run Flash on most sites the first time the site is visited, remembering the user’s preference on any subsequent visits.

By mid- to late 2018, Microsoft says, Edge will require permission for Flash to be run each browser session. But by mid 2018, Microsoft will disable Flash by default in both Edge and Internet Explorer. Read more about Microsoft’s timeline for Flash elimination here.

For years, unpatched vulnerabilities in Flash plugins have been the top moneymaker for users of various commercial “exploit kits,” crimeware designed to be stitched into the fabric of hacked or malicious sites and exploit browser plugin flaws.

An analysis of exploit kit activity  by Arlington, Va.-based security firm Recorded Future showed that Flash Player vulnerabilities provided six of the top 10 vulnerabilities used by exploit kits in 2016 [full disclosure: Recorded Future is an advertiser on this blog].

Image: Recorded Future

Image: Recorded Future

I look forward to a time when Flash Player is in the rearview mirror entirely. Until then, KrebsOnSecurity will continue to call attention to new security updates for Flash Player and other widely used Adobe products.

Even so, I’ll also continue to encourage readers to remove or hobble Flash Player unless and until it is needed for a specific site or purpose. More on that approach (as well as slightly less radical solutions ) can be found in A Month Without Adobe Flash Player. The short version is that you can probably get by without Flash installed and not miss it at all.

For readers still unwilling to cut the cord, there are half-measures that work almost as well. Fortunately, disabling Flash in Chrome is simple enough. Paste “chrome://settings/content” into a Chrome browser bar and then select “Flash” from the list of items. By default it should be set to “Ask first” before running Flash, although users also can disable Flash entirely here or whitelist and blacklist specific sites.

Another, perhaps less elegant, solution is to keep Flash installed in a browser that you don’t normally use, and then to only use that browser on sites that require it.