Category: Google

Jan 24 2018

Krebs on Security 2018-01-24 18:56:52

Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, said today it is in the process of rolling out a new service designed to help companies more quickly make sense of and act on the mountains of threat data produced each day by cybersecurity tools.

Countless organizations rely on a hodgepodge of security software, hardware and services to find and detect cybersecurity intrusions before an incursion by malicious software or hackers has the chance to metastasize into a full-blown data breach.

The problem is that the sheer volume of data produced by these tools is staggering and increasing each day, meaning already-stretched IT staff often miss key signs of an intrusion until it’s too late.

Enter “Chronicle,” a nascent platform that graduated from the tech giant’s “X” division, which is a separate entity tasked with tackling hard-to-solve problems with an eye toward leveraging the company’s core strengths: Massive data analytics and storage capabilities, machine learning and custom search capabilities.

“We want to 10x the speed and impact of security teams’ work by making it much easier, faster and more cost-effective for them to capture and analyze security signals that have previously been too difficult and expensive to find,” wrote Stephen Gillett, CEO of the new venture.

Few details have been released yet about how exactly Chronicle will work, although the company did say it would draw in part on data from VirusTotal, a free service acquired by Google in 2012 that allows users to scan suspicious files against dozens of commercial antivirus tools simultaneously.

Gillett said his division is already trialing the service with several Fortune 500 firms to test the preview release of Chronicle, but the company declined to name any of those participating.


It’s not terribly clear from Gillett’s post or another blog post from Alphabet’s X division by Astro Teller how exactly Chronicle will differentiate itself in such a crowded market for cybersecurity offerings. But it’s worth considering the impact that VirusTotal has had over the years.

Currently, VirusTotal handles approximately one million submissions each day. The results of each submission get shared back with the entire community of antivirus vendors who lend their tools to the service — which allows each vendor to benefit by adding malware signatures for new variants that their tools missed but that a preponderance of other tools flagged as malicious.

Naturally, cybercriminals have responded by creating their own criminal versions of VirusTotal: So-called “no distribute” scanners. These services cater to malware authors, and use the same stable of antivirus tools, except they prevent these tools from phoning home to the antivirus companies about new, unknown variants.

On balance, it’s difficult to know whether the benefit that antivirus companies — and by extension their customers — gain by partnering with VirusTotal outweighs the mayhem enabled by these no-distribute scanners. But it seems clear that VirusTotal has helped antivirus companies and their customers do a better job focusing on threats that really matter, as opposed to chasing after (or cleaning up after) so-called “false positives,” — benign files that erroneously get flagged as malicious.

And this is precisely the signal-to-noise challenge created by the proliferation of security tools used in a typical organization today: How to spend more of your scarce cybersecurity workforce, budget and time identifying and stopping the threats that matter and less time sifting through noisy but otherwise time-wasting alerts triggered by non-threats.

I’m not a big listener of podcasts, but I do find myself increasingly making time to listen to Risky Business, a podcast produced by Australian cybersecurity journalist Patrick Gray. Responding to today’s announcement on Chronicle, Gray said he likewise had few details about it but was looking forward to learning more.

“Google has so much data and so many amazing internal resources that my gut reaction is to think this new company could be a meteor aimed at planet Threat Intel™️,” Gray quipped on Twitter, referring to the burgeoning industry of companies competing to help companies trying to identify new threats and attack trends. “Imagine if other companies spin out their tools…Netflix, Amazon, Facebook etc. That could be a fundamentally reshaped industry.”

Well said. I also look forward to hearing more about how Chronicle works and, more importantly, if it works.

Full disclosure: Since September 2016, KrebsOnSecurity has received protection against massive online attacks from Project Shield, a free anti-distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) offering provided by Jigsaw — another subsidiary of Google’s parent company. Project Shield provides DDoS protection for news, human rights, and elections monitoring Web sites.

Jan 19 2018

Malicious Chrome extension is next to impossible to manually remove

(credit: Malwarebytes)

Proving once again that Google Chrome extensions are the Achilles heel of what's arguably the Internet's most secure browser, a researcher has documented a malicious add-on that tricks users into installing it and then is nearly impossible for most to manually uninstall. It was available for download on Google servers until Wednesday, 19 days after it was privately reported to Google security officials, a researcher said.

Once installed, an app called "Tiempo en colombia en vivo" prevents users from accessing the list of installed Chrome extensions by redirecting requests to chrome://apps/?r=extensions instead of chrome://extensions/, the page that lists all installed extensions and provides an interface for temporarily disabling or uninstalling them. Malwarebytes researcher Pieter Arntz said he experimented with a variety of hacks—including disabling JavaScript in the browser, starting Chrome with all extensions disabled, and renaming the folder where extensions are stored—none of them worked. Removing the extension proved so difficult that he ultimately advised users to run the free version of Malwarebytes and let it automatically remove the add-on.

When Arntz installed the extension on a test machine, Chrome spontaneously clicked on dozens of YouTube videos, an indication that inflating the number of views was among the things it did. The researcher hasn't ruled out the possibility that the add-on did more malicious things because the amount of obfuscated JavaScript it contained made a comprehensive analysis too time consuming. The researcher provided additional details in a blog post published Thursday.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Jan 05 2018

Krebs on Security 2018-01-05 16:38:15

Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants have released updates for a pair of serious security flaws present in most modern computers, smartphones, tablets and mobile devices. Here’s a brief rundown on the threat and what you can do to protect your devices.

At issue are two different vulnerabilities, dubbed “Meltdown” and “Spectre,” that were independently discovered and reported by security researchers at Cyberus Technology, Google, and the Graz University of Technology. The details behind these bugs are extraordinarily technical, but a Web site established to help explain the vulnerabilities sums them up well enough:

“These hardware bugs allow programs to steal data which is currently processed on the computer. While programs are typically not permitted to read data from other programs, a malicious program can exploit Meltdown and Spectre to get hold of secrets stored in the memory of other running programs. This might include your passwords stored in a password manager or browser, your personal photos, emails, instant messages and even business-critical documents.”

“Meltdown and Spectre work on personal computers, mobile devices, and in the cloud. Depending on the cloud provider’s infrastructure, it might be possible to steal data from other customers.”

The Meltdown bug affects every Intel processor shipped since 1995 (with the exception of Intel Itanium and Intel Atom before 2013), although researchers said the flaw could impact other chip makers. Spectre is a far more wide-ranging and troublesome flaw, impacting desktops, laptops, cloud servers and smartphones from a variety of vendors. However, according to Google researchers, Spectre also is considerably more difficult to exploit.

In short, if it has a computer chip in it, it’s likely affected by one or both of the flaws. For now, there don’t appear to be any signs that attackers are exploiting either to steal data from users. But researchers warn that the weaknesses could be exploited via Javascript — meaning it might not be long before we see attacks that leverage the vulnerabilities being stitched into hacked or malicious Web sites.

Microsoft this week released emergency updates to address Meltdown and Spectre in its various Windows operating systems. But the software giant reports that the updates aren’t playing nice with many antivirus products; the fix apparently is causing the dreaded “blue screen of death” (BSOD) for some antivirus users. In response, Microsoft has asked antivirus vendors who have updated their products to avoid the BSOD crash issue to install a special key in the Windows registry. That way, Windows Update can tell whether it’s safe to download and install the patch.

But not all antivirus products have been able to do this yet, which means many Windows users likely will not be able to download this patch immediately. If you run Windows Update and it does not list a patch made available on Jan 3, 2018, it’s likely your antivirus software is not yet compatible with this patch.

Google has issued updates to address the vulnerabilities on devices powered by its Android operating system. Meanwhile, Apple has said that all iOS and Mac systems are vulnerable to Meltdown and Spectre, and that it has already released “mitigations” in iOS 11.2, macOS 10.13.2, and tvOS 11.2 to help defend against Meltdown. The Apple Watch is not impacted. Patches to address this flaw in Linux systems were released last month.

Many readers appear concerned about the potential performance impact that applying these fixes may have on their devices, but my sense is that most of these concerns are probably overblown for regular end users. Forgoing security fixes over possible performance concerns doesn’t seem like a great idea considering the seriousness of these bugs. What’s more, the good folks at benchmarking site Tom’s Hardware say their preliminary tests indicate that there is “little to no performance regression in most desktop workloads” as a result of applying available fixes. has a full list of vendor advisories. The academic paper on Meltdown is here (PDF); the paper for Spectre can be found at this link (PDF). Additionally, Google has published a highly technical analysis of both attacks. Cyberus Technology has their own blog post about the threats.

Jan 05 2018

Meltdown and Spectre: Here’s what Intel, Apple, Microsoft, others are doing about it

Enlarge (credit: Jen)

The Meltdown and Spectre flaws—two related vulnerabilities that enable a wide range of information disclosure from every mainstream processor, with particularly severe flaws for Intel and some ARM chips—were originally revealed privately to chip companies, operating system developers, and cloud computing providers. That private disclosure was scheduled to become public some time next week, enabling these companies to develop (and, in the case of the cloud companies, deploy) suitable patches, workarounds, and mitigations.

With researchers figuring out one of the flaws ahead of that planned reveal, that schedule was abruptly brought forward, and the pair of vulnerabilities was publicly disclosed on Wednesday, prompting a rather disorderly set of responses from the companies involved.

There are three main groups of companies responding to the Meltdown and Spectre pair: processor companies, operating system companies, and cloud providers. Their reactions have been quite varied.

Read 52 remaining paragraphs | Comments