Elegant 0-day unicorn underscores “serious concerns” about Linux security

Enlarge / A screenshot showing an exploit that takes full control of a fully updated version of Fedora. (credit: Chris Evans)

Recently released exploit code makes people running fully patched versions of Fedora and other Linux distributions vulnerable to drive-by attacks that can install keyloggers, backdoors, and other types of malware, a security researcher says.

One of the exploits—which targets a memory corruption vulnerability in the GStreamer framework that by default ships with many mainstream Linux distributions—is also noteworthy for its elegance. To wit: it uses a rarely seen approach to defeat address space layout randomization and data execution prevention, which are two of the security protections built in to Linux to make software exploits harder to carry out. ASLR randomizes the locations in computer memory where software loads specific chunks of code. As a result, code that exploits existing flaws often results in a simple computer crash rather than a catastrophic system compromise. Meanwhile, DEP, which is often referred to as NX or No-Execute, blocks the execution of code that such exploits load into memory. (Ars Technology Editor Peter Bright has much more about ASLR and DEP here.)

Unlike most ASLR and DEP bypasses, the one folded into the GStreamer exploit doesn't rely on code to manipulate the memory layout or other environmental variables. Instead, it painstakingly arranges the bytes of code in a way that completely disables the protections. And by eliminating the need for JavaScript or other memory-massaging code to execute on a targeted computer, it's possible to carry out attacks that otherwise wouldn't be possible. Chris Evans, the security researcher who developed the exploit, describes the challenge as "a real beast."

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NIST and USCG Issue New Maritime Industry Cybersecurity Profile

In 2013, President Obama issued Executive Order 13636 and directed the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to “lead the development of a framework to reduce cybersecurity risks to critical infrastructure” (Cybersecurity Framework).  The Cybersecurity Framework was published in February 2014.  A number of industries are integrating the Cybersecurity Framework, including by creating industry-focused Framework Profiles (Profiles) as described in the Cybersecurity Framework.

This month, NIST and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) released a “Maritime Bulk Liquids Transfer Cybersecurity Framework Profile” (Bulk Liquids Transfer Profile) to address the vulnerabilities in the transfer process of bulk hazardous liquids in the maritime industry.  These transfers are often a part of a sophisticated supply chain that uses multiple networked systems, and is therefore vulnerable to attack.   The new profile serves to assist in cybersecurity risk assessments for those entities involved in maritime bulk liquids transfer operations as overseen by the USCG, and is intended to act as “non-mandatory guidance to organizations conducting” maritime bulk liquids transfer operations within facilities and vessels under the regulatory control of the USCG under the Code of Federal Regulations 33 CFR 154-156.

The stated benefits of creating the new Bulk Liquids Transfer Profile include:

  • Compliance reporting becoming a byproduct of running an organization’s security operation;
  • Adding new security requirements will become more straightforward;
  • Adding or changing operational methodology will be less intrusive to ongoing operations;
  • Minimizing future work by future organizations;
  • Decreasing the chance that organizations will accidentally omit a requirement;
  • Facilitating understanding of the bulk liquid transfers environment to allow for consistent analysis of cybersecurity-risk; and
  • Aligning industry and USCG cybersecurity priorities.

Other benefits include strengthening strategic communications between:

  • Risk executives and operational technology integration of cybersecurity capabilities;
  • Personnel involved in cybersecurity governance processes and operational technology oversight; and
  • Enterprises who are just becoming aware of cybersecurity recommended practices with subject matter expertise and the collective wisdom of industry experts.

The new profile can be found here.

Tor phone is antidote to Google “hostility” over Android, says developer

Enlarge (credit: Mission Impossible)

The Tor Project recently announced the release of its prototype for a Tor-enabled smartphone—an Android phone beefed up with privacy and security in mind, and intended as equal parts opsec kung fu and a gauntlet to Google.

The new phone, designed by Tor developer Mike Perry, is based on Copperhead OS, the hardened Android distribution profiled first by Ars earlier this year.

"The prototype is meant to show a possible direction for Tor on mobile," Perry wrote in a blog post. "We are trying to demonstrate that it is possible to build a phone that respects user choice and freedom, vastly reduces vulnerability surface, and sets a direction for the ecosystem with respect to how to meet the needs of high-security users."

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