Researchers use Intel SGX to put malware beyond the reach of antivirus software

Processor protects malware from attempts to inspect and analyze it.

Intel Skylake die shot.

Intel Skylake die shot. (credit: Intel)

Researchers have found a way to run malicious code on systems with Intel processors in such a way that the malware can't be analyzed or identified by antivirus software, using the processor's own features to protect the bad code. As well as making malware in general harder to examine, bad actors could use this protection to, for example, write ransomware applications that never disclose their encryption keys in readable memory, making it substantially harder to recover from attacks.

The research, performed at Graz University of Technology by Michael Schwarz, Samuel Weiser, and Daniel Gruss (one of the researchers behind last year's Spectre attack), uses a feature that Intel introduced with its Skylake processors called SGX ("Software Guard eXtensions"). SGX enables programs to carve out enclaves where both the code and the data the code works with are protected to ensure their confidentiality (nothing else on the system can spy on them) and integrity (any tampering with the code or data can be detected). The contents of an enclave are transparently encrypted every time they're written to RAM and decrypted upon being read. The processor governs access to the enclave memory: any attempt to access the enclave's memory from code outside the enclave is blocked; the decryption and encryption only occurs for the code within the enclave.

SGX has been promoted as a solution to a range of security concerns when a developer wants to protect code, data, or both, from prying eyes. For example, an SGX enclave running on a cloud platform could be used to run custom proprietary algorithms, such that even the cloud provider cannot determine what the algorithms are doing. On a client computer, the SGX enclave could be used in a similar way to enforce DRM (digital rights management) restrictions; the decryption process and decryption keys that the DRM used could be held within the enclave, making them unreadable to the rest of the system. There are biometric products on the market that use SGX enclaves for processing the biometric data and securely storing it such that it can't be tampered with.

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Fortnite: Why Kids Love It and What Parents Need to Know

  Fortnite: Battle Royale is the hottest video game for kids right now. More than 125 million people have downloaded the game and it’s estimated that 3.4 million play it monthly. But while the last-man-standing battle game is a blast to play, it also has parents asking a lot of questions as their kids spend …

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Fortnite: Battle Royale

 

Fortnite: Battle Royale is the hottest video game for kids right now. More than 125 million people have downloaded the game and it’s estimated that 3.4 million play it monthly. But while the last-man-standing battle game is a blast to play, it also has parents asking a lot of questions as their kids spend more and more time immersed in the Fortnite realm.

Why kids love it

A few hours on Fortnite and you can easily see why kids (and adults) love it. The game drops up to 100 players onto an island, where they try to find weapons to defend themselves and try to eliminate other players. The battlefield gradually shrinks, forcing players into encounters with each other until just one player remains and becomes the winner.

Even though it’s a battle, the Fortnite characters and interface are colorful and cartoon-like and there’s no blood or gore. The game itself possesses an inherent sense of humor and personality that’s lighthearted yet still competitive. The app is free to download, but players can outfit their characters (for purchase) in an array of battle fashions and any number of fun dances.

Ultimate gaming mash-up

Fortnite: Battle Royale

One reason kids love Fortnite: Battle Royale is that it’s the perfect survival mash-up of several popular media titles: The Hunger Games movie, Call of Duty video game, the first Fortnite (Fortnite: Save the World) video game, and the game PUBG (PlayerUnknownBattlegrounds). Fortnite: Battle Royale takes elements from all of these favorite storylines and game interfaces.

The game has a lot of fun attached for sure. Fortnite’s interface and hilarious character moves can be just as much fun to watch as it is to play. However, as with any other wildly popular, multi-player video game, there are some red flags families need to be aware of.

Fortnite: What to look out for

Excessive screen time. Because of the way Fortnite is structured, kids can easily burn through hours a day if left unmonitored. Some parents have reported their kids becoming Fortnite obsessed, even addictedSuggestion: Pay attention to the amount of time your kids spend playing. If your child is playing on Xbox, PlayStation, or Switch, you can turn on parental controls to limit gaming sessions. Another option, for PC, tablets, and mobile devices, is monitoring software that allows parents to set time limits for apps and websites.Fortnite: Battle Royale

Chat feature. Fortnite is a multi-player game, which means kids play against other gamers they may not know. So, Fortnite’s chat feature carries some potential safety issues such as foul language, potentially befriending an imposter, and cyberbullying. Suggestion: Talk to your child about this aspect of the game and the dangers. Spend time and sit in on a few games and listen to the banter. Then, make the best decision for your family. To turn chat off, open the Settings Menu in the top right of the main Fortnite page, go to the Audio Tab and turn it off.

In-app purchases. Fortnite is free to download but can get expensive quickly. Kids can use virtual currency (purchased via credit card) to access animations, weapons, and outfits for their characters. These items aren’t needed to win the game, but they allow a player to express his or her personality within the game, which is especially important to kids. Some parents have reported finding hundreds of dollars in unauthorized purchases on their credit cards due to Fortnite’s array of in-app purchases. Suggestion: If you know your child is passionate about Fortnite, take away the spending temptation by blocking his or her ability to make in-app purchases. Or, set a weekly limit on purchases.

Fortnite: Battle Royale

Increased anxiety/stress levels. Fortnite’s game structure is a highly-competitive, fast-moving game that renders only one winner. This means, as a solo player, the odds are stacked against you. Play Fortnite enough, and lose enough, and rage can surface. If your child is prone to anxiety or stress, Fortnite may not be the best environment. Suggestion: Monitor your child’s mood. Discuss the emotional highs and lows potentially associated with Fortnite and put some healthy parameters — that address both the types of content and time limits — around gaming habits.

Unsure about allowing your kids to play (or continue playing) Fortnite? Talk to them about it. Join in or watch your child play. Find out what your child loves about the game and if his or her demeanor changes during or after playing. Monitor the amount of time as well. Once you’ve gathered the facts as they pertain to your child, decide how much (or how little) of the Fortnite world is best for your family.

Want to connect more to digital topics that affect your family? Stop by ProtectWhatMatters.online. Also, join the digital security conversation on Facebook.

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her onTwitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures)

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Patch Tuesday drops the mandatory antivirus requirement after all

(credit: amalthya / Flickr)
In the immediate aftermath of the Spectre and Meltdown attacks, Microsoft created an unusual stipulation for Windows patches: systems would only receive the fixes if they had antivirus software installed and if that antiv…

(credit: amalthya / Flickr)

In the immediate aftermath of the Spectre and Meltdown attacks, Microsoft created an unusual stipulation for Windows patches: systems would only receive the fixes if they had antivirus software installed and if that antivirus software created a special entry in the registry to indicate that it's compatible with the Windows fixes.

This was due to the particularly invasive nature of the Meltdown fix: Microsoft found that certain antivirus products manipulated Windows' kernel memory in unsupported ways that would crash systems with the Meltdown fix applied. The registry entry was a way for antivirus software to positively affirm that it was compatible with the Meltdown fix; if that entry was absent, Windows assumed that incompatible antivirus software was installed and hence did not apply the security fix.

This put systems without any antivirus software at all in a strange position: they too lack the registry entries, so they'd be passed over for fixes, even though they don't, in fact, have any incompatible antivirus software.

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Fileless malware targeting US restaurants went undetected by most AV

Enlarge (credit: Carol Von Canon)
Researchers have detected a brazen attack on restaurants across the United States that uses a relatively new technique to keep its malware undetected by virtually all antivirus products on the market.
Malicious code…

Enlarge (credit: Carol Von Canon)

Researchers have detected a brazen attack on restaurants across the United States that uses a relatively new technique to keep its malware undetected by virtually all antivirus products on the market.

Malicious code used in so-called fileless attacks resides almost entirely in computer memory, a feat that prevents it from leaving the kinds of traces that are spotted by traditional antivirus scanners. Once the sole province of state-sponsored spies casing the highest value targets, the in-memory techniques are becoming increasingly common in financially motivated hack attacks. They typically make use of commonly used administrative and security-testing tools such as PowerShell, Metasploit, and Mimikatz, which feed a series of malicious commands to targeted computers.

FIN7, an established hacking group with ties to the Carbanak Gang, is among the converts to this new technique, researchers from security firm Morphisec reported in a recently published blog post. The dynamic link library file it's using to infect Windows computers in an ongoing attack on US restaurants would normally be detected by just about any AV program if the file was written to a hard drive. But because the file contents are piped into computer memory using PowerShell, the file wasn't visible to any of the 56 most widely used AV programs, according to a Virus Total query conducted earlier this month.

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