Linus Torvalds calls the Linux Spectre patches “UTTER GARBAGE”
23.1.2018 securityaffairs

The popular Linus Torvalds harshly criticizes the Spectre patches issued by Intel to patch the Spectre variant 2 flaw affecting its processor chips.
Security experts harshly criticize the patch issued by Intel to patch the Spectre variant 2 flaw affecting its processor chips.

Intel has decided to do not disable the prediction feature in future chips until the company will implement design changes in microarchitecture, but this means that the shipped chips will be “vulnerable by default” and will include a protection flag that can be set by software.

Intel published a technical note about the mitigation of the Spectre flaw

Intel explained its approach in its technical note about Spectre mitigation (“Speculative Execution Side Channel Mitigations“), the tech giant addressed the issue with an opt-in flag dubbed IBRS_ALL bit (IBRS states for Indirect Branch Restricted Speculation).

The famous Linus Torvalds expressed in an email to the Linux Kernel mailing list his disappointment, he defined the Linux Spectre Patches “UTTER GARBAGE”

“All of this is pure garbage. Is Intel really planning on making this shit architectural?” he wrote. “Has anybody talked to them and told them they are f*cking insane? Please, any Intel engineers here – talk to your managers.”

“They do literally insane things. They do things that do not make sense … The patches do things that are not sane.


Spectre patches

The Indirect Branch Restricted Speculation, along with Single Thread Indirect Branch Predictors (STIBP) and Indirect Branch Predictor Barrier (IBPB), prevent the abuse of the prediction feature and the exploitation of the flaw.

Torvalds speculate the Intel’s decision to address the issues in this way is mainly motivated by the intention to avoid legal liability. Recalling two decades of flawed chips would have a catastrophic impact on the tech giant.

Torvalds explained that the impact of using IBRS on existing hardware is so severe that no one will set the hardware capability bits.

“Nobody sane will use them, since the cost is too damn high,” he said.

Of course, the impact on the performance depends on the hardware and workload involved.

Let me close with an abstract from the Linus Torvalds’s email:

“That’s part of the big problem here. The speculation control cpuid stuff shows that Intel actually seems to plan on doing the right thing for meltdown (the main question being _when_). Which is not a huge surprise, since it should be easy to fix, and it’s a really honking big hole to drive through. Not doing the right thing for meltdown would be completely unacceptable.

So the IBRS garbage implies that Intel is _not_ planning on doing the right thing for the indirect branch speculation.

Honestly, that’s completely unacceptable too.” wrote Torvalds.

“Have you _looked_ at the patches you are talking about? You should have – several of them bear your name.

The patches do things like add the garbage MSR writes to the kernel entry/exit points. That’s insane. That says “we’re trying to protect the kernel”. We already have retpoline there, with less overhead.

So somebody isn’t telling the truth here. Somebody is pushing complete garbage for unclear reasons. Sorry for having to point that out.

If this was about flushing the BTB at actual context switches between different users, I’d believe you. But that’s not at all what the patches do.

As it is, the patches are COMPLETE AND UTTER GARBAGE.

They do literally insane things. They do things that do not make sense. That makes all your arguments questionable and suspicious. The patches do things that are not sane.


Three Sonic apps in the Google Play are leaking data to uncertified servers
23.1.2018 securityaffairs Android

According to a researcher from security firm Predeo, three Sonic apps in the Google Play published by SEGA leak users’ data to uncertified servers.
According to a researcher from security firm Predeo, some game applications in the Google Play published by SEGA leak users’ data to uncertified servers.

The Android apps are Sonic Dash, Sonic the Hedgehog™ Classic, and Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom, that have been totally downloaded millions of times.

The expert discovered that the apps are leaking users’ geolocation and device data to suspicious servers, thereby posing a privacy threat to mobile gamers, according to researchers.

“Pradeo’s Lab discovered that some game applications in the Google Play published by SEGA, the famous video games developer and publisher, access and leak users’ geolocation and device data. Hundreds of millions of users are concerned by these data privacy violations.” states the blog post published by Pradeo.


The Sonic apps send data to an average of 11 distant servers, three of which are not certified. Most of the servers obviously collect data for marketing purposes, but the expert observed that two of the three uncertified servers are linked to a potential unwanted library app dubbed Android/Inmobi.D,

Android.InMobi is classified as an advertisement library that is bundled with certain Android applications.

The expert discovered that the Sonic apps also leak mobile network information, including the service provider name, network type, and device information (i.e. manufacturer, commercial name, battery level, the maximum level of the battery, and operating system version number).

The researchers at Pradeo also conducted a vulnerability assessment for the three Sonic App and discovered an average of 15 OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) flaws.

Experts discovered two critical flaws, X.509TrustManager and PotentiallyByPassSslConnection, that could be exploited by hackers to power man-in-the-middle attacks due to the lack of validation for SSL certificate errors.

“Unsafe implementation of the interface X509TrustManager. Specifically, the implementation ignores all SSL certificate validation errors when establishing an HTTPS connection to a remote host, thereby making your app vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. An attacker could read transmitted data (such as login credentials) and even change the data transmitted on the HTTPS connection.” reads the description for the X.509TRUSTMANAGER flaw, while the POTENTIALLY_BYPASS SSL_CONNECTION is described as:

“The implementation bypasses all SSL certificate validation errors when establishing an HTTPS connection to a remote host, thereby making your app vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. An attacker could read transmitted data (such as login credentials) and even change the data transmitted on the HTTPS connection.”

I suggest you read the post to discover the remaining issues and the risks they posed to the users.

Seagate Patches Flaws in Personal Cloud, GoFlex Products
22.1.2018 securityweek
Seagate recently patched several vulnerabilities discovered by researchers in the company’s Personal Cloud and GoFlex products, but some weaknesses impacting the latter remain unfixed.

GoFlex Home vulnerabilities

In late September 2017, researcher Aditya K. Sood discovered vulnerabilities that can be exploited for cross-site scripting (XSS) and man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks in Seagate’s GoFlex Home network-attached storage (NAS) product.

GoFlex users are provided a web service, accessible at, that allows them to remotely manage the product and upload files to the cloud. The service can be accessed using the name of the device, a username, and a password. An HTTP server present in the GoFlex firmware requires port forwarding on the user’s router in order to connect to the web service.Vulnerabilities in Seagate GoFlex

Sood discovered that the embedded server still supports SSLv2 and SSLv3, and the service supports SSLv3. SSLv2 and SSLv3 are obsolete protocols that are known to be vulnerable to MitM attacks, including via the methods known as DROWN and POODLE.

The expert has identified more than 50,000 Seagate devices – hosted on unique IP addresses – that have SSLv2 and SSLv3 enabled.

Sood also noticed that the unique name (device_id) of each device is not difficult to find. During the tests he conducted, the expert managed to collect more than 17,000 unique device IDs.

Another security hole found by the researcher is an XSS affecting the website. An attacker could have exploited this vulnerability to execute malicious code in the context of a user’s browsing session by getting the victim to click on a specially crafted link.

While Seagate has fixed the XSS vulnerability, the company told Sood it does not plan on addressing the issue related to the use of SSLv2 and SSLv3.

The researcher disclosed his findings on Monday. Additional technical details on the vulnerabilities are available on his blog.


Securify researcher Yorick Koster also disclosed recently a couple of vulnerabilities he discovered in Seagate products. Specifically, he found that Personal Cloud NAS devices are affected by command injection and file deletion flaws.

The security holes affect the Seagate Media Server application, which allows users to easily access their photos, music and movies. The app can be accessed without authentication and unauthenticated users can upload files using a Public folder.Vulnerabilities in Seagate Personal Cloud NAS device

The command injection vulnerabilities, tracked as CVE-2018-5347, allow an unauthenticated attacker to run arbitrary commands with root privileges. The security holes can be exploited remotely via cross-site request forgery (CSRF) attacks even if a device is not directly connected to the Internet.

Koster also found that the Media Server app is affected by a vulnerability that allows an unauthenticated attacker to delete arbitrary files and folders from the NAS device. Since CSRF protections are missing, this flaw can also be exploited remotely by getting the targeted user to access a specially crafted website.

The vulnerabilities discovered by Koster were patched by Seagate on December 11 with the release of firmware version Separate advisories detailing the command injection and file deletion flaws, including proof-of-concept (PoC) code, were published earlier this month.

Intel Halts Spectre, Meltdown CPU Patches Over Unstable Code
22.1.2018 securityweek
Intel on Monday said that users should stop deploying patches for the “Spectre” and “Meltdown” chip vulnerabilities disclosed by researchers earlier this month, saying the patches could cause problems in affected devices, including higher than expected reboots and other “unpredictable” system behavior.

The US chip giant recommended that OEMs, cloud service providers, system manufacturers, software vendors and end users stop deployment of current versions of the patches.

"We have now identified the root cause of the reboot issue impacting Broadwell and Haswell platforms, and made good progress in developing a solution to address it," Navin Shenoy, Intel data center group executive vice president, wrote in security update.

"We ask that our industry partners focus efforts on testing early versions of the updated solution so we can accelerate its release," Shenoy added.

Last Wednesday, Intel shared information on the performance impact of the inital Meltdown and Spectre patches on data centers, and the company did warn customers that systems with several types of processors may experience more frequent reboots after firmware updates are installed.

Shenoy said that Intel expects to share more details on the timing of new patches later this week.

As technology firms rush out fixes to address the security risks, many of the updates have turned out to be unstable.
Red Hat has also decided to pull microcode patches for one variant of the Spectre exploit after users complained that updates had caused their systems to stop booting.

The updates initially released by Microsoft caused some systems using AMD processors to stop booting. Some systems running Ubuntu also failed to boot after Canonical’s first round of updates was installed.

Several industrial control systems (ICS) vendors have advised customers not to apply them before conducting thorough tests.

VMware also decided to delay new releases of microcode updates until Intel addresses these problems.

SamSam Ransomware Attacks Hit Healthcare Firms
22.1.2018 securityweek
Two SamSam Ransomware Healthcare Attacks, Two Variants, and Two Different Results

Earlier this month, Hancock Health, headquartered in Greenfield, Indiana, was infected with the SamSam ransomware. This past weekend, Allscripts -- a major electronic health record (EHR) company headquartered in Chicago, IL -- confirmed that it had also been hit by Ransomware, which it described as a SamSam (also known as Samas) variant.

The methodologies employed in each attack are different. SamSam is not usually delivered by email phishing. It is more usually introduced after the target has already been breached. This method was described in the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report V22 : "In the case of SamSam (Ransom.SamSam) the attackers’ initial point of entry was a public-facing web server. They exploited an unpatched vulnerability to compromise the server and get a foothold on the victim’s network."

This bears a strong similarity to what we know about the attack against Hancock Health, Greenfield, disclosed last week. The Greenfield Reporter wrote, "...the hacker gained access to the system by using the hospital’s remote-access portal, logging in with an outside vendor’s username and password. The attack was not the result of an employee opening a malware-infected email."

On Jan. 15, Hancock released a statement saying, "At approximately 9:30 PM on Thursday, January 11, 2018, an attack on the information systems of Hancock Health was initiated by an as-yet unidentified criminal group."

One day later it announced that it had decided to pay the ransom. CEO, Steve Long, said, "Restoring from backup was considered, though we made the deliberate decision to pay the ransom to expedite our return to full operations.” Payment was made on Friday, January 12, and, "By Monday, January 15, 2018, critical systems were restored to normal production levels and the hospital was back online."

Last Friday (Jan. 19) Long posted a more detailed description of the events. He confirmed that the malware was SamSam, and that it had been a supply chain attack via a provider of ICS equipment to the hospital. The attackers targeted Hancock's remote emergency IT backup facility and used the connections from there to gain access to the primary facility -- targeting files associated with the most critical information systems in the hospital.

Long notes that when the hospital made the business decision to pay the ransom (set at 4 bitcoins, thought to be worth $55,000 at the time), the hospital believed that it could recover its files from backup, but that the time and cost involved made it more efficient to pay the ransom. Now he added, "Several days later it was learned that, though the electronic medical record backup files had not been touched, the core components of the backup files from all other systems had been purposefully and permanently corrupted by the hackers."

Forensic firm Pondurance suggested that no patient data had been stolen, while the FBI confirmed that the SamSam group are more interested in receiving the ransom than in harvesting patient data.

The more recent attack against Allscripts occurred late last week. Allscripts emailed its clients on Jan. 18: "...early on the morning of January 18, we became aware of a ransomware incident that has impacted our hosted Professional EHR service and our Electronic Prescription of Controlled Substances ("EPCS") service, which are hosted in our Raleigh and Charlotte, NC data centers. According to industry reports, we are one of dozens of companies impacted by this attack, which is a variant of the SamSam ransomware."

Next day another email stated, "Material progress has been made to restore service as we now have access to data and services that were previously subject to the SamSam malware. We are in the process of cleaning impacted systems and services to ensure they will be operational once we are able to bring the services back online."

There has been no mention of any ransom payment, and no public discussion of the attack from Allscripts. The information above comes from copies of the emails posted to Reddit.

If the malware really is a variant of the SamSam ransomware, then it marks a divergence from its usual use. CSO Online reported Saturday, "The variant of SamSam that infected Allscripts was a new variant unrelated to the version of SamSam that infected systems at Hancock Health Hospital in Greenfield, Indiana and Adams Memorial Hospital in Decatur, Indiana... Allscripts said that all appearance this was commodity malware and that the company wasn’t directly targeted."

The implication from 'material progress' having been made so quickly without any ransom payment suggests that restitution is coming from Allscripts' backups rather than from decryption keys. This further supports the description of the attack being a commodity malware attack rather than a targeted attack as with Hancock Health. In the targeted attack, the attackers destroyed backups before infecting files; in the Allscripts attack, backup files were left intact.

These differences make it uncertain at this stage whether the same cybercriminals were behind both attacks, or whether the attacks have come from separate groups. Certainly, the financial success of the targeted attack compared to the financial failure of the commodity attack justifies the targeted approach in criminal terms.

SecurityWeek has approached Allscripts for a comment on the attack, and will update this story with any response.

Gemalto Licensing Tool Exposes ICS, Corporate Systems to Attacks
22.1.2018 securityweek ICS

A significant number of industrial and corporate systems may be exposed to remote attacks due to the existence of more than a dozen vulnerabilities in a protection and licensing product from Gemalto.

Gemalto Sentinel LDK is a software licensing solution used by many organizations worldwide on both their enterprise and industrial control systems (ICS) networks. In addition to software components, the solution provides hardware-based protection, specifically a SafeNet Sentinel USB dongle that users connect to a PC or server when they want to activate a product.

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab discovered that when the token is attached to a device, the necessary drivers are installed – either downloaded by Windows or provided by third-party software – and the port 1947 is added to the list of exceptions in the Windows Firewall. The port remains open even after the USB dongle has been removed, allowing remote access to a system.Sentinel USB token makes devices vulnerable to remote attacks

Experts discovered a total of 14 vulnerabilities in Sentinel components, including ones that allow denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, arbitrary code execution with system privileges, and capturing NTLM hashes. Since port 1947 allows access to the system, these flaws can be exploited by a remote attacker.

Kaspersky decided to analyze the product after the company’s ICS CERT team repeatedly encountered it during penetration testing assignments.

Malicious actors can scan the network for port 1947 to identify remotely accessible devices or, if they have physical access to the targeted machine, they can connect the USB dongle – even if the computer is locked – in order to make it remotely accessible.

The Gemalto product also includes an API that can be used to remotely enable and disable the administrator interface and change settings, including proxy settings for obtaining language packs. Changing the proxy allows an attacker to obtain the NTLM hash for the user account running the licensing software process.

Eleven vulnerabilities were discovered by Kaspersky in late 2016 and early 2017, and three others were found by June 2017. Gemalto has been notified and the company has implemented fixes with the release of version 7.6, but Kaspersky is not entirely happy with how the vendor has handled the situation. The first round of flaws was only resolved in late June 2017 and Gemalto did not properly communicate to customers the risks posed by these vulnerabilities – several software developers using the license management solution told Kaspersky they had not been aware of the security holes and continued using vulnerable versions.

Related: Learn More at SecurityWeek’s 2018 ICS Cyber Security Conference

In addition to installing the latest version of the Sentinel driver, Kaspersky has advised users to close port 1947 if it’s not needed for regular activities.

While the exact number of devices using this Gemalto product is unknown, Kaspersky believes it could be millions. A 2011 study by Frost and Sullivan showed that the SafeNet Sentinel had a 40 percent share in the license control solutions market in North America and 60 percent in Europe.

The vulnerable Gemalto software is found in the products of several major companies, including ABB, General Electric, HP, Cadac Group, Siemens, and Zemax.

Last week, ICS-CERT and Siemens warned that more than a dozen versions of the SIMATIC WinCC Add-On were affected by three critical and high severity vulnerabilities introduced by the use of Gemalto software. Siemens said the flaws, two of which are related to how language packs are processed, allow DoS attacks and arbitrary code execution.

Siemens told customers that the vulnerable Gemalto software is used in SIMATIC WinCC add-ons released in 2015 and earlier.

“Given how wide spread this license management system is, the possible scale of consequences is very large, because these tokens are used not only in regular corporate environments, but also in critical facilities with strict remote access rules. The latter could easily be broken with the help of the issue which we discovered to be putting critical networks in danger,” warned Vladimir Dashchenko, head of the vulnerability research group at Kaspersky ICS CERT.

Can Biometrics Solve the Authentication Problem?
22.1.2018 securityweek Safety
Are Biometrics as a Form of Authentication Over-hyped and Unreliable?

When Apple introduced the Touch ID fingerprint access button, commentators believed it would kick-start the ever-promising, never-quite-delivering biometric market. But Touch ID was defeated by hackers within days. When Apple introduced the FaceID biometric, the same happened – it was defeated within weeks. In November 2017, F-Secure demonstrated that Android’s Trusted Face Smart Lock can be defeated by a selfie. Also in November, researchers at the University of Eastern Finland concluded that voice impersonators can fool speaker/voice recognition systems.

There is probably no physical biometric factor that has not been defeated by hackers or researchers. Which begs the question: are biometrics as a form of authentication over-hyped and unreliable? Can they possibly provide an alternative to the much denigrated password?

Biometrics in use

Large-scale use of biometric authentication is primarily tied to smartphones. The wide-range of sensors built into these handheld and ubiquitous devices make them an ideal tool for face and iris recognition (camera), voice (microphone), and touch (fingerprint). This authenticates the user to the device, allowing further authorized access to other devices via the phone (although this does not, in itself, confirm that it is the authenticated user still operating the phone).

Banks are increasingly using voice and face recognition via smartphones for mobile banking purposes. Barclays introduced phone-based voice authentication, and HSBC allowed selfie-based face authentication in 2016.

Biometrics are also used in stand-alone situations, where they can be used to access restricted buildings or rooms. For example, in December 2017, Los Angeles Airport started trialing facial biometrics to speed out-bound passenger flow. The passenger’s facial image is compared to the facial image captured during the immigration process to prove identity.

In such circumstances, biometrics are very popular; but we need to differentiate between consumer smartphone-based biometrics and corporate usage. Biometrics are not currently used widely within industry. The main reasons are cost, possible privacy issues, and because it cannot be guaranteed that every member of the workforce has a smartphone.

Biometric strengths

Biometric authentication has several distinct advantages over passwords. These include:

Ease of use – “Biometrics are incredibly popular with users,” explains Shane Young, president & CEO of inBay Technologies. “Inherent biological... features are convenient: they are part of who we are, always with us and in most cases, we don’t have to think too much to use them (unlike remembering a password).”

Numerous surveys have confirmed this. A July 2016 survey conducted by Visa said two-thirds of Europeans would welcome the use of biometrics in payments. An August 2017 survey by Unisys suggests that 68% of users would trust organizations more if they were to use biometric authentication; 63% believe it is more secure than PIN and password; and 57% believe fingerprints to be the most secure form of authentication.

Can’t be lost – Associated with ‘ease of use’ is the idea that, unlike passwords, biometrics can be neither lost nor forgotten because the user is the biometric. This is true, but needs two qualifications. Firstly, if the biometric device is a smartphone, then the phone itself can – and often is – lost or stolen. Secondly, like a password, it is the device that is authenticated at a point in time. Subsequent use of an authenticated device could be by anyone. In reality, the ‘cannot-be-lost’ argument offers little advantage for smartphone biometrics over passwords other than it is easier to forget a complex password than to lose a personal device, and it is easier to use than inputting a complex password.

Automatically unique – Biometrics are automatically unique to each user. This argument might not hold up against detailed scientific analysis – even fingerprints cannot be guaranteed to be 100% unique. Voices can be imitated and twins can have identical faces – but in general, the risk of such ‘collisions’ occurring naturally is very small.

Biometric Weaknesses

Biometric authentication also has several weaknesses. These include:

Additional cost – A biometric solution cannot be implemented without incurring additional cost. “Anytime you require hardware, you incur additional cost – both monetary costs and costs in convenience (and therefore, cost to user adoption),” explains Ian Paterson, CEO of Plurilock. “Fingerprints require fingerprint readers, facial recognition requires special infrared cameras to work well, and retinal scans are even more cumbersome.”

Susceptibility to cloning or coercion – No biometric has yet proven itself to be proof against cloning. “Mainstream biometrics really means mobile devices, where – for the most part – they have only proven reliable enough at scale to be a convenience feature, used in parallel with the passcode as backup,” says security researcher and consultant, Stewart Twynham. “Even Tim Cook’s keynote announcement of Face ID came with the caveat that you should protect your data with a passcode if you have an ‘evil twin’.”

The implication is that biometrics are only as strong as the built-in biometrics found in the majority of contemporary smartphones – and these biometrics are routinely spoofed by researchers and hackers within days or weeks of their release.

“Whether a particular biometric method is useful or not depends on the sensor quality and ease of duplicating a particular biometric,” comments Jarno Niemela, lead researcher at F-Secure Labs. “For example fingerprints are a field where the attacker has significant advantage, since they are easy to copy and can be obtained from about anything that a person has been handling, or even from a photo.”

A related weakness in smartphone-based biometrics comes with the nature of smartphones – their mobility. This could allow a physical attacker to coerce the user into authenticating the device remotely. Since it is the device rather than the user of the device that is authenticated for mobile apps (whether they are banking apps or corporate access), a physical attacker such as a burglar could employ user-coercion (in crypto terms, aka ‘rubber-hose decryption’) to defeat biometric authentication.

Difficult to change – Despite the apparent strength of their apparent immutability, it is possible that biometric templates may need to be changed – but this is considerably more complex and costly than simply changing a password. There are two primary scenarios: theft of the biometric templates, and the aging of the user.

“Biometric data,” comments Carl Leonard, principal security analyst with Forcepoint, “is arguably more valuable than passwords since biometrics are, on the whole, immutable. The breach of the US Office of Personnel Management in 2015,” he adds, “included personal data of individuals including fingerprints.”

“The big problem with biometrics,” says Joseph Carson, chief security scientist at Thycotic, “is when they are compromised you cannot change them; it is like a hard-coded password which is a bad idea to use in today’s security world.”

The second scenario is an unknown quantity. Biometric characteristics actually do change over time. For example, fingerprints get worn through incessant use and/or injury, and voices change with age and illness. Where biometrics are already in use, their use is too recent to know whether this will prove a problem over time. Machine learning techniques could be used to adapt the template slowly with minute changes as they occur, but this simply adds more complexity and cost to the solution.

Privacy push-back – Despite consumer acceptance of smartphone-based biometrics, there is less overwhelming acceptance from corporate users. Many such users are unhappy about handing permanent personal data to what might prove to be a temporary employer. Such personal and perhaps conflicting attitudes to the private nature of biometrics are reflected in some contemporary legal concerns.

For example, comments Darren Abernethy, senior global privacy manager at TrustArc, “Some laws, such as the EU’s rapidly approaching General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, which takes effect May 25, 2018), treat newly defined ‘biometric data’ as in essence sensitive personal information (SPI). The mandatory use of biometric data for authentication purposes creates the ironic situation where an individual must offer sensitive information – and likely separately provide explicit consent for its processing – in order to access a particular piece of hardware/software that itself may not otherwise contain SPI.”

This even tips over into constitutional issues. “There is a relevant Constitutional Fifth Amendment consideration with biometric data as well,” adds Abernethy; “namely, that whereas the government forcing an individual to reveal a traditional text-based password would amount to impermissible compelled testimonial self-incrimination, the same is not true with respect to a fingerprint.” In law enforcement scenarios, biometric authentication of smartphones is less secure than ‘forgettable’ passwords, since the user can be compelled to unlock the phone with biometrics; but not with a password.

Biometric Viewpoints

For at least a decade, each new year has started with predictions that this will be the year in which biometrics takes over authentication. It hasn’t happened yet. Nevertheless, the obvious advantages of biometrics remain compelling. The predictions continue; but have become more tempered.

“In 2018,” TrustArc’s Abernethy told SecurityWeek, “we’ll see less emphasis on traditional passwords and more on ways to achieve security via 2-factor authentication techniques involving biometric solutions like voice recognition, facial scans and fingerprints. For security vendors, the storage and record-keeping stakes are higher to protect biometric data because contrary to a credit card number that can be discontinued, you can’t replace a person’s facial structure with a new one once a facial scan is compromised.”

The biggest advantage is that biometrics reduce user ‘friction’; that is, the amount of effort required to properly authenticate yourself before using a system. The greater the friction, the greater the likelihood that the user will try to circumvent the controls that inhibit easy working. Biometrics do not eliminate friction, but they drastically reduce it.

The biggest disadvantages include cost, complexity, and a lack of clear proof that biometrics cannot be circumvented or defeated. More sophisticated biometric sensor devices can improve their reliability, but that will always come with a cost. “Next improvement in fingerprint scanning,” comments F-Secure’s Niemela, “will be sensors that are capable of also identifying the blood vessels in fingers, in which case just duplicating a visible print will not be enough.”

A 3D facial recognition system with infrared scanning would also improve facial scans. “With infrared cameras,” he adds, “cold objects (such as a photo image) will not show at all, or at least not correctly; and even a mask will very likely present a distorted thermal image.”

The improving technology of biometric scanners can be seen in Microsoft’s Windows Hello facial recognition system. In December 2017, researchers demonstrated that specially printed face images could defeat Microsoft’s ‘near infrared’ imaging in Windows 10 versions 1511 and 1607 – but not in the latest 1703 and 1709 versions.

Nevertheless, the continuing discussion over whether biometrics provide an adequate alternative, or addition, to passwords to solve the authentication problem ignores one underlying issue. Regardless of whether authentication is by either or both methods, it is a point-in-time authentication. Neither can ensure that the current user is the originally authenticated user. Current thinking is that this can be best solved by continuous and passive biometric behavioral user monitoring – which, notes Plurilock’s Paterson – has the additional advantage of not requiring any extra hardware.

Behavioral biometrics aggregates a potentially wide-range of features that can be gathered passively from each individual user. Some of these have been used by security officers for many years. For example, if the IP address of a local employee suddenly switches to Russia or China, the system can be fairly certain that it is not the legitimate user, and can block further access.

New behavioral biometric applications are adding additional options, such as the user’s keyboard cadence and mouse gestures. How many different ‘biometrics’ are included in such authentication can be tailored to the system being accessed: particularly sensitive areas of the environment can require additional continuous authentication.

It is a new approach that is yet to be proven over time or at scale – but it promises much. If the user is continuously monitored, it reduces the reliance on the initial authentication. This cannot be eliminated, but could be designed to reduce user friction on access. Less strong passwords or more basic fingerprint or face scanners could be used, with the knowledge that any intruder will be immediately recognized by the behavioral biometrics.

It is possible that we are entering a new debate before the old one is settled. It could be that the debate will become one of whether passwords or static biometrics should be paired with continuous behavioral biometrics.

The argument is similar to whether perimeter defenses should be replaced by incident response defenses. In this analogy, static passwords or biometrics are akin to perimeter defenses (anti-virus and firewalls); while behavioral monitoring is akin to network anomaly detection. The answer is the same in each case: you need both defenses, and you need both methods of authentication to remain secure.

“The premise of [static] biometric authentication is a powerful and effective security measure,” summarizes James Romer, EMEA chief security architect at SecureAuth. “But It is important to remember that authentication via facial recognition is not new and that no security measure is a silver bullet. No single authentication technique is beyond the reach of cyber criminals. Devices will be hacked and sensors will be tricked. It is important to layer such technology with adaptive authentication methods, such as IP reputation, phone number fraud prevention capabilities or behavioral biometrics. Effective security depends on layers.”

The bottom-line is that authentication is a risk valuation. Individual security officers need to balance the increased friction and cost of multiple layers of authentication, including passwords and/or biometrics and ongoing behavioral biometrics, to the risk involved to their own data in their own environment. What might be the right solution for one organization or environment might be the wrong solution for another.

Red Hat Pulls Spectre Patches Due to Instability
22.1.2018 securityweek
Red Hat has decided to pull microcode patches for one variant of the Spectre exploit after users complained that updates had caused their systems to stop booting.

Red Hat was among the first vendors to release mitigations for the CPU attack methods known as Spectre and Meltdown. In addition to kernel updates, users of the Linux distribution have been provided microcode updates that can be applied non-persistently using the microcode_ctl mechanism.

By placing the microcode in /lib/firmware/, the update is applied each time the system boots. However, one of the Spectre mitigations has been causing problems and Red Hat has decided to remove it.

The Meltdown attack relies on one vulnerability tracked as CVE-2017-5754. There are two main variants of the Spectre attack: one uses CVE-2017-5753 (Variant 1) and the other one CVE-2017-5715 (Variant 2).

Red Hat determined that the mitigations included in its microcode_ctl and linux-firmware packages for CVE-2017-5715 have caused problems for some users, which is why the latest versions of these packages do not address this variant of the Spectre exploit.

“Red Hat is no longer providing microcode to address Spectre, variant 2, due to instabilities introduced that are causing customer systems to not boot,” Red Hat said. “The latest microcode_ctl and linux-firmware packages are reverting these unstable microprocessor firmware changes to versions that were known to be stable and well tested, released prior to the Spectre/Meltdown embargo lift date on Jan 3rd.”

Red Hat has advised customers to protect their devices against attacks by obtaining updated microcode provided by CPU vendors as system firmware updates. Unlike microcode applied via the microcode_ctl mechanism, system firmware updates represent a more permanent solution.

The Meltdown and Spectre patches are believed to be efficient in protecting against attacks. However, many of the updates have turned out to be unstable and industrial control systems (ICS) vendors have advised customers not to apply them before conducting thorough tests.

The updates initially released by Microsoft caused some systems using AMD processors to stop booting. Some systems running Ubuntu also failed to boot after Canonical’s first round of updates was installed.

Intel itself said the microcode updates it released in response to Meltdown and Spectre caused some systems to reboot more often. VMware has decided to delay new releases of microcode updates until Intel addresses these problems.

40,000 Potentially Impacted in OnePlus Payment System Hack
22.1.2018 securityweek Incindent
Up to 40,000 OnePlus customers may have been impacted after attackers managed to compromise the company’s payment page.

In a Friday post on the OnePlus forums, the Chinese smartphone company confirmed the attack and also revealed that the attackers managed to inject rogue code into its payment page, allowing them to steali credit card information enteredin by users.

The company launched an investigation last week, after some of its users started complaining about fraudulent transactions occurring on their credit cards following purchases made on

“We are deeply sorry to announce that we have indeed been attacked, and up to 40k users at may be affected by the incident. We have sent out an email to all possibly affected users,” a company’s employee said in a forum post.

The malicious script, the employee revealed, was designed to capture and send data directly from the user's browser. The script has been removed, the compromised server quarantined, and relevant system structures have been reinforced, the company says.

All OnePlus users who entered credit card information on the website between mid-November 2017 and January 11, 2018, may be impacted by the breach. The hack happened around the same time OnePlus 5T, the latest flagship smartphone from the Chinese maker, was launched.

Immediately after being alerted on the incident, the company also suspended credit card payments on its website, but continued to support PayPal payments.

The malicious code injected in the payment page was designed to steal credit card information such as card numbers, expiry dates, and security codes that the users would enter on the website during the compromise period.

According to OnePlus, the incident didn’t impact users who paid via a saved credit card. Users who paid via the "Credit Card via PayPal" method and those who used PayPal to pay should not be affected either.

“We cannot apologize enough for letting something like this happen. We are working with our providers and local authorities to better address the incident. We are also working with our current payment providers to implement a more secure credit card payment method, as well as conducting an in-depth security audit,” the OnePlus employee said.

Not only should enterprises assume they have been or will be breached, but also should savvy consumers assume their financial data is bound to be compromised, Tyler Moffitt, Senior Threat Research Analyst, Webroot, pointed out in an emailed statement to SecurityWeek. Thus, Moffitt encourages users to take steps to be warned when unauthorized transactions occur on their accounts.

“Additionally, when online shopping, it is inherently more secure for consumers to use their PayPal accounts than enter their credit card data upon checkout – it is best practice to enter credit card information as rarely as possible. Most merchants have PayPal, Masterpass or Visa Checkout options available, which are more secure payment protocol alternatives,” Moffitt concluded.

Hacker infected pumps at gas-stations in Russia in a profitable fraud scheme
22.1.2018 securityaffairs Hacking

Authorities discovered a fraudulent scheme involving dozens of gas-station employees who installed malicious programs on electronic gas pumps to cheat customers
Russian law enforcement investigated fraudulent activities involving gas-station payment systems.

Authorities discovered a fraudulent scheme involving dozens of gas-station employees who installed malicious programs on electronic gas pumps to trick customers into paying for more fuel than they pumped into their vehicles.

The software allows gas-station employees to deliver between 3 to 7 percent less per gallon of pumped gas.

The scam shorted customers between 3-to-7 percent per gallon of gas pumped.

“At dozens of gas stations owned by the largest oil companies, FSB officers identified malicious computer programs, thanks to which the owners of cars quietly missed the fuel. At times, “underweight” was up to 7% of the amount of gasoline that was being refueled into the tank. Identify the virus was almost impossible. Their creator and distributor was detained.” reported media outlet Rosbalt.

On Saturday, Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested the hacker Denis Zayev. The man was charged with the creation of several programs designed for such kind of frauds.

Authorities revealed that the programs were found only on gas stations in the south of the country.

According to the authorities, the man was selling the software to gas-station employees. involved in the fraud scheme. Zayev was sharing profits with gas-station employees, it has been estimated that the fraud allowed the hacker and employees to earn “hundreds of millions of rubles.”

The malicious software was undetectable by inspectors and oil companies that monitor gasoline inventory remotely.

“At dozens of gas stations, malicious programs were discovered, which made it unnoticeable for customers to undercharge fuel when refueling their cars. “A giant scam covered almost the entire south of Russia,” viruses “were found in dozens of gas stations in the Stavropol Territory, Adygea, Krasnodar Territory, Kalmykia, several republics of the North Caucasus, etc.” continues the Rosbalt.”A whole network was built to steal fuel from ordinary citizens – they did not bear any financial loss, “the source said. “

Zaiev’s software was very sophisticated programs that were injected both into the software of the pumps and into the cash register to modify records.

The Rosbalt provided details about the way the programs worked. Every morning, gas-station employees left one of the reservoirs empty (for example, under the guise of maintenance). When a customer made a purchase, the software automatically undercharged him from 3% to 7% of the amount of gasoline purchased. The meter on the column was instructed to display the clients to show that the entire volume of paid fuel was poured into the tank. The stolen gasoline was automatically sent to the tank left empty. The malware virus erased any track of this operation.

The fuel was collected in the tank to be sold later by scammers that shared the profits of the sale.

Vulnerabilities and cyber attacks involving systems at gas-stations are not a novelty.

In January 2014, a criminal organization hit gas station ATMs located in South America. The gang used Bluetooth-enabled skimmers to steal 2 million dollars from customers.

Early 2015, experts at Rapid7 revealed that more than 5000 Automated tank gauges (ATGs) used to prevent fuel leaks at gas stations in US were vulnerable to remote cyber attacks.

UK Teen Gained Access to CIA Chief's Accounts: Court
22.1.2018 securityweek BigBrothers
A British teenager managed to access the communications accounts of top US intelligence and security officials including the then CIA chief John Brennan, a London court heard Friday.

Kane Gamble, now 18, was aged 15 and 16 when, from his bedroom in Coalville, central England, he managed to impersonate his targets to gain highly sensitive information.

"Kane Gamble gained access to the communications accounts of some very high-ranking US intelligence officials and government employees," prosecutor John Lloyd-Jones told England's Old Bailey central criminal court. "He also gained access to US law enforcement and intelligence agency networks."

Gamble has admitted 10 offences against the computer misuse act, between June 2015 and February 2016, and is awaiting sentencing.

The court heard how the teenager founded the group Crackas With Attitude (CWA), who used "social engineering" -- manipulating call centres and help desks into divulging confidential information -- which they then exploited.

Gamble impersonated Brennan in calls to the telecommunications companies Verizon and AOL, although in one attempt, he stumbled on a question about Brennan's first pet.

Several sensitive documents were reportedly obtained from Brennan's private email inbox and Gamble managed to get information about military and intelligence operations in Iran and Afghanistan.

"It also seems he was able to successfully access Mr Brennan's iCloud account," the prosecutor said.

Gamble called AOL and initiated a password reset, took control of Brennan's wife's iPad.

- 'I own you' -

Gamble also targeted the then US secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson and made calls to his phone number.

He left Johnson's wife a voicemail saying "Am I scaring you?" and managed to get a message to appear on the family television saying: "I own you".

Other targets included the then US president Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser Avril Haines, his senior science and technology adviser John Holdren, and FBI special agent Amy Hess.

Gamble gained extensive unauthorised access to the US Department of Justice network and was able to access court case files, including on the Deepwater oil spill.

He boasted that he had a list of all Homeland Security employees.

Gamble gave some of the material he managed to access to WikiLeaks.

He was arrested at his home on February 9 last year at the request of the FBI.

He claimed he was motivated to act out of support for the Palestinians, and due to the United States "killing innocent civilians", the prosecutor said.

Gamble, wearing a black jacket, spoke only to confirm his name, mumbling "yes", and sat in the court next to his mother.

He will be sentenced at a date yet to be fixed.

Kaspersky Files Injunction to Expedite Appeal Against DHS Ban
22.1.2018 securityweek BigBrothers
Kaspersky Lab last week filed a motion for a preliminary injunction as part of its appeal against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s decision to ban the company’s products in federal agencies.

Kaspersky’s appeal targets the DHS’s Binding Operational Directive (BOD) 17-01, which the agency issued in September in response to concerns that the company may be aiding Russia’s espionage efforts. President Donald Trump reinforced the ban in mid-December with the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2018.

The security firm filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government shortly after the president signed the bill, arguing that the ban is unconstitutional as it infringes the company’s due process rights. Kaspersky believes the DHS should have given it the opportunity to view the information obtained by the agency before the directive was issued.

“[Kaspersky] has made this filing in hopes that the court will address and resolve the appeal expeditiously in light of the BOD’s damage to the company,” Kaspersky told SecurityWeek.

“The company asserts that the DHS decision is unconstitutional and relied on subjective, non-technical public sources, such as uncorroborated and often anonymously sourced media reports, related claims, and rumors. Furthermore, DHS has failed to provide the company adequate due process to rebut the unsubstantiated allegations underlying the BOD and has not provided any evidence of wrongdoing by the company,” it added.

When it announced the lawsuit, Kaspersky said it had voluntarily reached out to the DHS in July and offered to assist with any investigation into the company and its products. While the agency seemed to appreciate the offer, it did not follow-up and instead issued the controversial directive without warning.

The security firm said that while only a relatively small percentage of its revenue comes from the U.S. government, the DHS’s actions have had a negative impact on sales in other sectors, in both the United States and other countries.

The accusations against Kaspersky Lab stem from the connection between Eugene Kaspersky, the company’s founder and CEO, and Russian intelligence.

“Dissuading consumers and businesses in the United States and abroad from using Kaspersky Lab products solely because of its geographic origins and without any credible evidence does not constitute a risk-based approach to cybersecurity and does little to address information security concerns related to government networks,” Mr. Kaspersky said when the appeal was filed.

Kaspersky has attempted to clear its name by launching a new transparency initiative that involves giving partners access to source code and paying significantly larger bug bounties for vulnerabilities found in the firm’s products.

It has also attempted to provide a logical explanation over accusations that its software had been exploited by Russian hackers to steal data belonging to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) from a contractor’s device.

Op EvilTraffic CSE CybSec ZLAB Malware Analysis Report – Exclusive, tens of thousands of compromised sites involved in a new massive malvertising campaign  Virus
22.1.2018 securityaffairs   Operation EvilTraff

Malware experts at CSE Cybsec uncovered a massive malvertising campaign dubbed EvilTraffic leveraging tens of thousands compromised websites. Crooks exploited some CMS vulnerabilities to upload and execute arbitrary PHP pages used to generate revenues via advertising.
In the last days of 2017, researchers at CSE Cybsec observed threat actors exploiting some CMS vulnerabilities to upload and execute arbitrary PHP pages used to generate revenues via advertising. The huge malvertising campaign was dubbed EvilTraffic

The compromised websites involved in the EvilTraffic campaign run various versions of the popular WordPress CMS. Once a website has been compromised, attackers will upload a “zip” file containing all the malicious files. Despite the “zip” file has different name for each infection, when it is uncompressed, the files contained in it have always the same structure. We have found some of these archives not used yet, so we analyzed their content.

The malicious files are inserted under a path referring probably different versions of the same malware (“vomiu”, “blsnxw”, “yrpowe”, “hkfoeyw”, “aqkei”, “xbiret”, “slvkty”).

Under this folder there are:

a php file, called “lerbim.php”;
a php file, that has the same name of the parent dir; it has initially “.suspected” extension and only in a second time, using “lerbim.php” file, it would be changed in “.php” file;
two directories, called “wtuds” and “sotpie”, containing a series of files.
An example of this structure is shown in the following figure:


The main purpose of the “malware” used in the EvilTraffic campaign is to trigger a redirecting chain through at least two servers which generate advertising traffic.

The file “{malw_name}.php” becomes the core of all this context: if it is contacted by the user through the web browser, it redirects the flow first to “” and then to “”, which acts as a dispatcher to different sites registered to this revenue chain.


These sites could be used by attackers to offer commercial services that aim to increase traffic for their customers, but this traffic is generated in an illegal way by compromising websites. The sites could host also fraudulent pages which pretend to download suspicious stuff (i.e. Toolbars, browser extensions or fake antivirus) or steal sensitive data (i.e. credit card information).

In order to increase the visibility of the web, the compromised sites must have a good page-rank on search engines. So, the malware performs SEO Poisoning by leveraging on wordlist containing the trending searched words

The population of the compromised site with the wordlists and their relative query results is triggered contacting the main PHP using a specific User-Agent on a path “{malw_name}/{malw_name}.php?vm={keyword}”.

Researchers from CSE CybSec ZLab discovered roughly 18.100 compromised websites.

While researchers were analyzing the EvilTraffic malvertising campaign, they realized that most of the compromised websites used in the first weeks of the attacks have been cleaned up in the last days. just in one week, the number of compromised websites dropped from around 35k to 18k.

According to Alexa Traffic Rank, is ranked number 132 in the world and 0.2367% of global Internet users visit it. Below are reported some traffic statistics related to provided by

Daily Unique Visitors 1,183,500
Monthly Unique Visitors 35,505,000
Pages per visit 1.41
Daily Pageviews 1,668,735
The analysis of the traffic shows an exponential increase in the traffic during October 2017.

Experts discovered that crooks behind the Operation EvilTraffic used a malicious software to hijack traffic, it acts as brows a browser hijacker. The malware is distributed via various methods, such as:

Attachment of junk mail
Downloading freeware program via unreliable site
Open torrent files and click on malicious links
By playing online games
By visiting compromised websites
The main purpose of the malware is to hijack web browsers changing browser settings such as DNS, settings, homepage etc. in order to redirect as more traffic as possible to the dispatcher site.

Further technical details about this campaign, including IoCs, are available in the report titled:

“Tens of thousands of compromised web sites involved in new massive malvertising campaign”

Google awarded Chinese hacker record $112,500 for Android exploit chain
22.1.2018 securityaffairs Android

Google has awarded a record $112,500 to a security researcher for reporting an exploit chain that could be used to hack Pixel smartphones.
Last week the Google disclosed the technical details of the exploit chain that was devised in August 2017 by the Guang Gong from Alpha Team at Qihoo 360 Technology. The exploit chain triggers two vulnerabilities, CVE-2017-5116 and CVE-2017-14904, researchers submitted it through the Android Security Rewards (ASR) program.

“The exploit chain includes two bugs, CVE-2017-5116 and CVE-2017-14904. CVE-2017-5116 is a V8 engine bug that is used to get remote code execution in sandboxed Chrome render process. CVE-2017-14904 is a bug in Android’s libgralloc module that is used to escape from Chrome’s sandbox. Together, this exploit chain can be used to inject arbitrary code into system_server by accessing a malicious URL in Chrome.” reads the analysis published by Google.


Chaining the vulnerabilities the attackers can remotely inject arbitrary code into the system_server process when a malicious URL in Chrome is accessed.

In an attack scenario, the victims can be tricked into clicking on such a URL by hackers that can fully compromise their mobile device.

Gong was awarded $105,000 for this exploit chain, he received also an additional award of $7500 through the Chrome Rewards program.

Google addressed the flaws as part of Google Android ‘s December security bulletin that addressed a total of 42 bugs.

Pixel mobile devices and partner devices using A/B updates will automatically install the security updates that fixed the flaws.

“The Android security team responded quickly to our report and included the fix for these two bugs in the December 2017 Security Update. Supported Google device and devices with the security patch level of 2017-12-05 or later address these issues.” concluded Google.

The overall ASR payout rewards is over $1.5 million to date, with the top research team earning $300,000 for 118 vulnerability reports.

A hospital victim of a new SamSam Ransomware campaign paid $55,000 ransom
21.1.2018 securityaffairs

The Samsam Ransomware made the headlines in the first days of 2018, the malicious code infected systems of some high-profile targets, including a hospital that paid a $55,000 ransom.
The SamSam ransomware is an old threat, attacks were observed in 2015 and the list of victims is long, many of them belong to the healthcare industry.

Among the victims of the Samsam Ransomware there is the MedStar non-profit group that manages 10 hospitals in the Baltimore and Washington area. Crooks behind the attack on MedStar requested 45 Bitcoins (about US$18,500) for restoring the encrypted files, but the organization refused to pay the Ransom because it had a backup of the encrypted information.

In April 2016, the FBI issued a confidential urgent “Flash” message to the businesses and organizations about the Samsam Ransomware, why it is so dangerous?

Back to the present, the Samsam Ransomware made the headlines in the first days of 2018, the malicious code infected systems of some high-profile targets, including hospitals, an ICS firm, and a city council.

According to Bleeping Computer, the malware was used in attacks against the Hancock Health Hospital and the in Indiana, the , cloud-based EHR (electronic health records) provider , and an unnamed ICS firm in the US.

In one case, managers of the Hancock Health hospital decided to pay the $55,000 ransom.

“Hancock Health paid a $55,000 ransom to hackers to regain access to its computer systems, hospital officials said.Part of the health network had been held hostage since late Thursday, when ransomware locked files including patient medical records.” reported the Greenfield Reporter.

“The hackers targeted more than 1,400 files, the names of every one temporarily changed to “I’m sorry.” They gave the hospital seven days to pay or the files would be permanently encrypted, officials said.”

In at least three attacks the ransomware locked files and dropped a ransom note with the names “sorry,” a circumstance that suggests an ongoing malware campaign launched by the same threat actor.

Hackers use to scan the Internet for machines with open RDP connections, then they attempt to hack using brute-force attacks.


“Bleeping Computer has tracked down this ransom note to recent SamSam infections. According to data provided by the ID-Ransomware service, there have been 17 submissions of SamSam-related files to the service in January alone.” continues Bleeping Computers.

The analysis of Bitcoin address reported in the ransom note shows crooks made nearly 26 Bitcoin (roughly $300,000), the first payment made by one of the victims is date back December 25.