The Case Of The Vintage Computer, The Blown Fuse, And The Diode

If you are the operator of a vintage computer, probably the only one of its type remaining in service, probably the worst thing you can hear is a loud pop followed by your machine abruptly powering down. That’s what happened to the Elliott 803B in the UK’s National Museum Of Computing, and its maintainer [Peter Onion] has written an account of his getting it back online.

The Elliott is a large machine from the early 1960s, and because mains supplies in those days could be unreliable it has a rudimentary UPS to keep it going during a brownout. A hefty Ni-Cd battery is permanently hooked up to a charger that also serves as the power supply for the machine, ensuring that it can continue to operate for a short while as the voltage drops. A spate of fuses had blown in this power supply, so we’re taken through the process of fault-finding. Eventually the failure is found in a rectifier diode, the closest modern equivalent is substituted, and after testing the machine comes back to life.

We’re used to reading these stories from the other side of the Atlantic, so we welcome TNMOC saying that this is the first of a series of technical posts on their work. We visited the museum back in 2016, and also featured its famous recreated Colossus.

This Week In Security: Ransomware Keys, IOS Woes, And More

Remember the end of GandCrab we talked about a couple weeks back? A new wrinkle to this story is the news that a coalition of law enforcement agencies and security researchers have released a decrypter and the master decryption keys for that ransomware. It’s theorized that researchers were able to breach the command and control servers where the master keys were stored. It’s yet to be known whether this breach was the cause for the retirement, or was a result of it.

Apple’s Secure Enclave is Broken?

A Youtube video and Reddit thread show a way to bypass the iPhone’s TouchID and FaceID, allowing anyone to access the list of saved passwords. The technique for breaking into that data? Tap the menu option repeatedly, and cancel the security prompts. Given enough rapid tries, the OS gives up on the validation and simply shows the passwords!

The iPhone has an onboard security chip, the Secure Enclave, that is designed to make this sort of problem nearly impossible. The design specification dictates that data like passwords are encrypted, and the only way to decrypt is to use the Enclave. The purpose is to mitigate the impact of programming bugs like this one. It seems that the issue is limited to the iOS 13 Beta releases, and you’d expect bugs in beta, but a bug like this casts some doubt on the effectiveness of Apple’s Security Enclave.

URL Scheme Hijacking

Our next topic is also iOS related, though it’s possible the same issue could effect Android phones: URL scheme problems. The researchers at Trend Micro took a look at how iOS handles conflicting app URLs. Outside of the normal http: and https: URLs, applications can register custom URL schemes in order to simplify inter-process communication. The simplest example is something like an email address and the mailto: scheme. Even on a desktop, using one of these links will open a different application to handle that request. What could go wrong?

One weakness in using URL schemes like this is that not all apps properly validate what launched the request, and iOS allows multiple apps to use the same URL scheme. In the example given, a malicious app could register the same URL handler as the target, and effectively launch a man-in-the-middle attack.

Bluekeep, and Patching Systems

It has been five weeks since Bluekeep, the Remote Desktop Protocol vulnerability, was revealed. Approximately 20% of the vulnerable systems exposed to the internet have been patched. Bitsight has been running scans of the remaining vulnerable machines, and estimates about 800,000 remaining vulnerable systems. You may remember this particularl vulnerability was considered so problematic that even the NSA released a statement encouraging patching. So far, there hasn’t been a worm targeting the vulnerability, but it’s assumed that at least some actors have been using this vulnerability in attacks.

This Week In Security: Censoring Researchers, The Death Of OpenPGP, Dereferencing Nulls, And Zoom Is Watching You

Last week the schedule for our weekly security column collided with the Independence Day holiday. The upside is that we get a two-for-one deal this week, as we’re covering two weeks worth of news, and there is a lot to cover!

[Petko Petrov], a security researcher in Bulgaria, was arrested last week for demonstrating an weakness he discovered in a local government website. In the demonstration video, he stated that he attempted to disclose the vulnerability to both the software vendor and the local government. When his warnings were ignored, he took to Facebook to inform the world of the problem.

From the video, it appears that a validation step was performed on the browser side, easily manipulated by the end user. Once such a flaw is discovered, it becomes trivial to automate the process of scraping data from the vulnerable site. The vulnerability found isn’t particularly interesting, though the amount of data exposed is rather worrying. The bigger story is that as of the latest reports, the local government still intends to prosecute [Petko] for downloading data as part of demonstrating the attack.

Youtube Censorship

We made a video about launching fireworks over Wi-Fi for the 4th of July only to find out @YouTube gave us a strike because we teach about hacking, so we can't upload it. YouTube now bans: "Instructional hacking and phishing: Showing users how to bypass secure computer systems"

In related news, Google has begun cracking down on “Instructional Hacking and Phishing” videos. [Kody] from the Null Byte Youtube channel found himself locked out of his own channel, after receiving a strike for a video discussing a Wifi vulnerability.

The key to getting a video unblocked seems to be generating lots of social media attention. Enough outcry seems to trigger a manual review of the video in question, and usually results in the strike being rescinded.

Improved Zip Bomb

A zip bomb is a small zip file that unzips into a ridiculously large file or collection of files. While there are obvious nefarious uses for such a file, it has also become something of a competition, crafting the most extreme zip bomb. The previous champion was 42.zip, a recursive zip file that when fully extracted, weighs in at 42 petabytes. A new contender may have just taken the crown, and without using zip file recursion.

[David Fifield] discovered a pair of ZIP tricks. First being that multiple files can be constructed from a single “kernel” of compressed data. The second is that file headers could also be part of files to be decompressed. It’s clever work, and much easier to understand when looking at the graphics he put together. From those two points, the only task left is to optimize. Taking advantage of the zip64 format, the final compression ratio was approximately 98 million to one.

Breaking OpenPGP Keyservers

OpenPGP as we know it is on the ropes. OpenPGP is the technique that allows encryption and verification of emails through cryptographic signatures. It’s the grandaddy of modern secure communication, and still widely used today. One of the features of OpenPGP is that anyone can upload their public key to keyservers hosted around the world. Because of the political climate in the early 90’s when OpenPGP was first developed, it was decided that a baked-in feature of the keyserver was that uploaded keys could never be deleted.

Another feature of OpenPGP keys is that one user can use their key to sign another user’s key, formally attesting that it is valid. This creates what is known as a “web of trust”. When an OpenPGP instance validates a signature, it also validates all the attestations attached to that signature. Someone has spammed a pair of OpenPGP certificates with tens of thousands of signatures. If your OpenPGP client refreshes those signatures, and attempts to check the validations, it will grind to a halt under the load. Loading the updated certificate permanently poisons the offline key-store. In some cases, just the single certificate can be deleted, but some users have had to delete their entire key store.

It’s now apparent that parts of the OpenPGP infrastructure hasn’t been well maintained for quite some time. [Robert J. Hansen] has been spearheading the public response to this attack, not to mention one of the users directly targeted. In a follow-up post, he alluded to the need to re-write the keyserver component of OpenPGP, and the lack of resources to do so.

It’s unclear what will become of the OpenPGP infrastructure. It’s likely that the old keyserver network will have to be abandoned entirely. An experimental keyserver is available at keys.openpgp.org that has removed the spammed signatures.

Beware the QR Codes

Link shorteners are a useful way to avoid typing out a long URL, but have a downside — you don’t know what URL you’re going to ahead of time. Thankfully there are link unshorteners, like unshorten.it. Paste a shortlink and get the full URL, so you don’t accidentally visit a shady website because you clicked on a shortened link. [Nick Guarino] over at cofense.com raises a new alarm: QR codes can similarly lead to malicious or questionable websites, and are less easily examined before scanning. His focus is primarily how a QR code can be used to bypass security products, in order to launch a fishing attack.

Most QR scanners have an option to automatically navigate to the web page in the code. Turn this option off. Not only could scanning a QR code lead to a malicious web site, but URLs can also launch actions in other apps. This potential problem of QR codes is very similar to the problem of shortened links — the actual payload isn’t human readable prior to interacting with it, when it’s potentially too late.

Dereferencing Pointers for Fun and Profit

On the 10th, the Eset blog, [welivesecurity], covered a Windows local priveledge escalation 0-day being actively exploited in the wild. The exploit highlights several concepts, one of which we haven’t covered before, namely how to use a null pointer dereference in an exploit.

In C, a pointer is simply a variable that holds a memory location. In that memory location can be a data structure, a string, or even a callable function. By convention, when pointers aren’t referring to anything, they are set to NULL. This is a useful way to quickly check whether a pointer is pointing to live data. The process of interacting with a pointer’s data is known a dereferencing the pointer. A NULL pointer dereference, then, is accessing the data referred to by a pointer that is set to NULL. This puts us in the dangerous territory of undefined behavior.

Different compilers, architectures, and even operating systems will potentially demonstrate different behavior when doing something undefined. In the case of C code on 32-bit Windows 7, NULL is indistinguishable from zero, and memory location zero is a perfectly valid location. In this case, we’re not talking about the physical location zero, but logical address zero. In modern systems, each process has a dedicated pool of memory, and the OS manages the offset and memory mapping, allowing the process to use the simpler logical memory addressing.

Windows 7 has a function, “NtAllocateVirtualMemory”, that allows a process to request access to arbitrary memory locations. If a NULL, or zero, is passed to this function as the memory location, the OS simply picks a location to allocate that memory. What many consider a bug is that this function will effectively round down small memory locations. It’s quite possible to allocate memory at logical address 0/NULL, but is considered to be bad behavior. The important takeaway here is that in Windows 7, a program can allocate memory at a location referred to by a null pointer.

On to the vulnerability! The malicious program sets up a popup menu and submenu as part of its GUI. While this menu is still being initialized, the malicious program cancels the request to set up the menu. By timing the cancellation request precisely, it’s possible for the submenu to still be created, but to be a null pointer instead of the expected object. A second process can then trigger the system process to call a function expected to be part of the object. Because Windows allows the allocation of memory page zero, this effectively hands system level execution to the attacker. The full write-up is worth the time to check out.

Zoom Your Way to Vulnerability

Zoom is a popular web-meeting application, aimed at corporations, with the primary selling point being how easy it is to join a meeting. Apparently they worked a bit too hard on easy meeting joins, as loading a malicious webpage on a Mac causes an automatic meeting join with the mic and webcam enabled, so long as that machine has previous connected to a Zoom meeting. You would think that uninstalling the Zoom client would be enough to stop the madness, but installing Zoom also installs a local webserver. Astonishingly, uninstalling Zoom doesn’t remove the webserver, but it was designed to perpetually listen for a new Zoom meeting attempt. If that sounds like a Trojan to you, you’re not wrong.

The outcry over Zoom’s official response was enough to inform them of the error of their ways. They have pushed an update that removes the hidden server and adds a user interaction before joining a meeting. Additionally, Apple has pushed an update that removes the hidden server if present, and prompts before joining a Zoom meeting.

Wireless Keyboards Letting You Down

Have you ever typed your password using a wireless keyboard, and wondered if you just broadcast it in the clear to anyone listening? In theory, wireless keyboards and mice use encryption to keep eavesdroppers out, but at least Logitech devices have a number of problems in their encryption scheme.

Part of the problem seems to be Logitech’s “Unifying” wireless system, and the emphasis on compatibility. One receiver can support multiple devices, which is helpful when eliminating cable clutter, but also weakens the encryption scheme. An attacker only has to be able to monitor the radio signals during pairing, or even monitoring signals while also observing keypresses. Either way, a few moments of processing, and an attacker has both read and write access to the wireless gear.

Several even more serious problems have fixed with firmware updates in the past years, but [Marcus Mengs], the researcher in question, discovered that newly purchased hardware still doesn’t contain the updated firmware. Worse yet, some of the effected devices don’t have an officially supported firmware update tool.

Maybe wired peripherals are the way to go, after all!

Spice With A Sound Card

In years gone by, trying out a new circuit probably would have meant heating up a soldering iron. Solderless breadboards have made that even easier and computer simulation is easier still, but there’s something not quite as satisfying about building a circuit virtually. [Thedeuluiz] has a way to get some of the best of both worlds with the RTSpice project.

The idea is simple in concept, although not as simple in execution. The program does a Spice-like simulation of a circuit and can accept input and produce output from a PC’s sound card. Obviously, that means you can’t simulate RF circuits — at least not at the input and the output. It also means the simulation has to run lightning fast to keep up with the sound card sample rate. According to the author, it works best with modest circuits but exactly how big you can go will depend on your hardware.

Continue reading “Spice With A Sound Card”

Connecting New York City To The Backbone: Meet NYC’s Mesh Network

Access to fast and affordable internet is a big issue in the USA, even in a major metropolis such as New York City. Amidst a cartel of ISPs who simply will not deliver, a group of NYC inhabitants first took it upon themselves to ease this situation by setting up their own mesh-based internet connections way back in 2013. Now they will be installing a new Supernode to take the installation base far beyond the current 300 buildings serviced.

As a community project, NYC Mesh is run as a non-profit organization, with its community members supporting the effort through donations, along with partnerships with businesses. Its router hardware consists out of off-the-shelf equipment (with a focus on the Ubiquiti NanoStation NSM5) that get flashed with custom firmware containing the mesh routing functionality.

As this article by Vice mentions, NYC Mesh is one of 750 community-led broadband projects in the US. Many of those use more traditional fixed wiring with distribution lines, but NYC Mesh focuses fully on wireless (WiFi) links with wireless mesh networking. This has the obvious benefit that given enough bandwidth on the Supernodes that hook into the Internet exchange points (IXP) and an efficient mesh routing protocol, it’s quick and easy to hook up new clients and expand the network.

The obvious downsides of using WiFi and RF in general is that they are not immune to outside influences, such as weather (rain), RF interference (including from other WiFi stations) and of course fairly limited range if there’s no direct line of sight. In a densely populated city such as NYC this is not much of an issue, with short hops between roof tops.

This Week In Security: Invalid Curve Attacks, OpenSSH Shielded, And More Details On Coinbase

AMD Epyc processors support Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV), a technique that prevents even a hypervisor reading memory belonging to a virtual machine. To pull this off, the encryption and decryption is handled on the fly by the Platform Security Processor (PSP), which is an ARM core that handles processor start-up and many security features of modern AMD processors. The vulnerability announced this week is related to the encryption scheme used. The full vulnerability is math heavy, and really grokking it requires a deeper understanding of elliptical curve cryptography (ECC) than your humble author currently possesses.

During the process of starting a virtual machine, the VM process goes through a key-sharing process with the PSP, using an ECC Diffie-Hellman key exchange. Rather than raising prime numbers to prime exponents, an ECC-DH process bounces around inside an elliptical curve in order to find a shared secret. One of the harder problems to solve when designing an ECC based cryptographic system, is the design of the curve itself. One solution to this problem is to use a published curve that is known to be good. AMD has taken this route in their SEV feature.

The attack is to prime the key exchange with invalid data, and observing the shared key that is generated. A suitably simple initial value will leak information about the PSP’s secret key, allowing an attacker to eventually deduce that key and decrypt the protected memory. If you’d like to bone up on invalid curve attacks, here’s the seminal paper. (PDF)

OpenSSH Shielding

[Damien Miller] of OpenSSH was apparently tired of seeing that project tied to vulnerabilities like Rambleed and Rowhammer, so added a technique he’s calling key-shielding. OpenSSH now encrypts private keys in memory using a 16 kB pre-key. While an attacker with full knowledge of the process’s memory wouldn’t be deterred, the error rate of Rambleed and similar attacks is high enough that the 16 kB of randomness is likely to thwart the attempt to recover the secret key.

Firefox and Coinbase

We mentioned Firefox vulnerabilities and updates last week, and as anticipated, more information is available. [Philip Martin] from Coinbase shared more information on Twitter. Coinbase employees, as well as other cryptocurrency companies, were targeted with fishing emails. These lured employees to a malicious page that attempted to exploit a pair of Firefox vulnerabilities. Coinbase has a security system in place that was able to prevent the exploit, and their security team was able to reverse engineer the attack.

The first vulnerability has been dissected in some detail by a Google security researcher. It’s a weakness in Firefox’s Javascript engine related to type handling. An object is created with one data type, and when that data is changed to another type, not all the data handlers are appropriately updated. Under the hood, a value is assumed to be a pointer, but is actually a double-length value, controlled by the attacker.

The second vulnerability is in the functions used to prompt for user interaction. Specifically the call to “Prompt:Open” isn’t properly validated, and can result in the un-sandboxed Firefox process loading an arbitrary web location. I suspect the sandbox escape is used to run the initial exploit a second time, but this time it’s running outside the sandbox.

Odds and Ends

[Tom] wrote a great intro into how to Impersonate The President With Consumer-Grade SDR, go check it out!

Another city, more ransomware. Riviera Beach, Florida was hit with a ransomware attack, and paid $600,000 in an attempt to get their data back. For a city of 35,000 inhabitants, that’s $17.14 in ransom per man, woman, and child. According to the linked article, though, the city was insured.

How Do You Get PCI-E On The Atomic Pi? Very Carefully.

At this point, you’ve almost certainly heard about the Atomic Pi. The diminutive board that once served as the guts of a failed robot now lives on as a powerful x86 SBC available at a fire sale price. How long you’ll be able to buy them and what happens when the initial stock runs out is another story entirely, but there’s no denying that folks are already out there doing interesting things with them.

One of them is [Jason Gin], who recently completed an epic quest to add a PCI Express (PCI-E) slot to his Atomic Pi. Things didn’t exactly go according to plan and the story arguably has more lows than highs, but in the end he emerged victorious. He doesn’t necessarily recommend you try the same modification on your own Atomic Pi, but he does think this sets the stage for the development of a more refined upgrade down the line.

[Jason] explains that the board’s Ethernet controller was already communicating with the Intel Atom x5-Z8350 SoC over PCI-E, so there was never a question about whether or not the modification was possible. In theory, all you needed to do was disable the Ethernet controller and tack on an external PCI-E socket so you could plug in whatever you want. The trick is pulling off the extremely fine-pitch soldering such a modification required, especially considering how picky the PCI Express standard is.

In practice, it took several attempts with different types of wire before [Jason] was able to get the Atomic Pi to actually recognize something plugged into it. Along the way, he managed to destroy the Ethernet controller somehow, but that wasn’t such a great loss as he planned on disabling it anyway. The final winning combination was 40 gauge magnet wire going between the PCB and a thin SATA cable that is mechanically secured to the board with a piece of metal to keep anything from flexing.

At this point, [Jason] has tested enough external devices connected to his hacked-on port to know the modification has promise. But the way he’s gone about it is obviously a bit temperamental, and far too difficult for most people to accomplish on their own anyway. He’s thinking the way forward might be with a custom PCB that could be aligned over the Ethernet controller and soldered into place, though admits such a project is currently above his comfort level. Any readers interested in a collaboration?

Like most of you, we had high hopes for the Atomic Pi when we first heard about it. But since it became clear the board is the product of another company’s liquidation, there’s been some understandable trepidation in the community. Nobody knows for sure what the future looks like for the Atomic Pi, but that’s clearly not stopping hackers from diving in.