This Week In Security: ALPACA, AN0M, Recovering Ransoms, And More

Let’s talk Alpacas. More specifically, “Application Layer Protocol Confusion – Analyzing and mitigating Cracks in tls Authentication“. Although this is definitely a case of someone wanting their name to spell ALPACA, the research itself is pretty clever.

It’s a way to Man-In-the-Middle an HTTPS connection, without actually needing to break the encryption. There are two primary observations at the core of the attack. First, multiple subdomains will often share the same TLS certificate. Secondly, TLS is regularly used to protect more than just HTTPS. So what happens if an HTTPS request is redirected to an SFTP server run by the same company? The TLS handshake will complete successfully, but the data returned by the server is not at all what the browser expected.

The specific details are a little light on this one, but the authors identified three broad categories of attack. The first is an upload attack, where the attacker has privileges to upload files to an FTPS server. From what I can tell, an attacker initiates an FTP upload over SSL, using the control port, and then redirects the victim’s connection to the data port on that server. The entirety of the HTML request is then saved, decrypted, on the FTPS server. This request could contain session cookies and other secrets.

The second identified attack is the opposite, the attacker uploads a malicious file, initiates a download, and then redirects a browser’s request to the FTPS data port. The malicious file is grabbed and the browser may interpret it as code to be run. The third is a reflection technique. This one’s a bit different. Essentially the attacker sends a request for DoBadThings();, and then connects the victim browser to the data port. The response is sent,
Cannot find file: DoBadThings();and the browser might just execute the script fragment. This isn’t one of those attacks that are going to be applicable to just every server, but in just the right setup, it could lead to problems.

VMWare Flaw Exploited

There is a serious VMWare flaw under active exploit right now. It’s apparently in the VMware vCenter control program, and exploiting it is as simple as six curl commands. The flaw is pre-authentication and only requires access to HTTPS port 443. At least one researcher has already seen his VMware honeypot attacked and observed the web-shell the attacker installed. This one looks like a big deal, so make sure you’re up-to-date if you run VMware.

That Time the FBI Ran a Darknet

AN0M was a popular encrypted communication tool for the underworld, really a network consisting of locked down mobile devices with a specialized app running on them. The reality was a bit different, though, the tool was actually being run as Operation Ironside, a join operation by the FBI and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The story is a weird one, and really raises some legal and ethical questions, so buckle up.

First off, things got started back in 2018 when Phantom Secure CEO Vincent Ramos was prosecuted for RICO charges, related to his company’s work on secure phones. They specialized in taking Blackberry phones, yanking out all the IO hardware, like camera, microphone, and even GPS chips, and then installing encrypted communication apps. In short, very similar to AN0M. Phantom Secure was walking a very thin line between being a legitimate provider of secure hardware, and actively supporting criminal enterprise. When Ramos told an undercover FBI agent that his phones were specifically for drug smuggling, it became obvious that he had strayed far onto the wrong side of the law. He and many in the company were charged for related crimes.

One employee already had drug charges on his record, and agreed to cooperate with the FBI in exchange for avoiding further charges. That developer had already been developing his own device, which he called AN0M. The deal he cut with the feds was to turn over his work for immunity. A scheme was hatched, apparently over beers between agents, to complete the development of AN0M and distribute the devices, but to include a complete back door for law enforcement. This is actually very similar to what was done with Crypto AG, under Project Rubicon.

The turned developer distributed the devices to his contacts, and law enforcement agencies around the world got involved, quietly helping to make them popular. The devices served their purpose of providing messaging to all recipients. It just wasn’t known at the time that law enforcement agents were BCC’d on every message. It’s not clear what triggered the raids and announcements, but this was definitely a coordinated action.

There is a lingering question, however. Namely, do law enforcement really have the legal authority to develop and distribute a malicious device and application? Did a warrant actually cover this? Can it? There is sure to be much consternation over such questions in the months to come. Just imagine that WhatsApp is eventually revealed to be an app secretly developed by the Chinese government, then how would you feel about it?

Ransomware and Bitcoin Seizure

And in another major victory for the FBI, The majority of the funds paid by the Colonial pipeline have been recovered. It’s not entirely known how the recovery happened, but you can read the FBI Affidavit that describes the path the Bitcoins took. There’s a strange little statment at the end of that document. “The private key for the Subject Address is in the possession of the FBI in the Northern District of California.” One has to wonder a couple of things. First, how was the FBI able to track those bitcoins? And second, just how did they happen to end up in a wallet that they knew the key for? Could The AN0M story be related?

The private key for the Subject Address is in the possession of the FBI in the Northern District of California

Now here’s another angle to this. Colonial was given the choice, to pay in Bitcoin or Ethereum, and they chose Bitcoin, even though there was a 10% extra fee for that currency. They had their networks mostly back up, and they knew the decryptor wouldn’t be very helpful. They were working with law enforcement, and they still paid. This raises the very real possibility that the payment was made specifically to trace the Bitcoin transactions.

Next, remember how proud JBS was of their incident response? Now we find out that they did indeed pay an $11 million ransom. However, that was in cooperation with federal officials, and was not necessary to recover files. Oh, and paid in Bitcoin. Sound familiar? At this point, it’s a fair guess that the FBI or another agency helping them has an angle on tracing Bitcoin transactions. AN0M is one possibility. Another is that the FBI is running a “mixer”, essentially a Bitcoin money laundering service. (Shoutout to @MalwareJake for that idea.) Regardless, there seems to be a more serious stance taken towards ransomware as a result of the high profile hacks of the last few weeks.

Rocket.Chat Goes Boom

Running a Rocket.Chat instance? Go update it! This popular Open Source messaging platform uses a NoSQL backend for managing users. If you thought getting rid of SQL means you don’t have injection vulnerabilities, think again.

The MongoDB database backend passes requests and data in a JSON-like format. The first attack is to stuff a regex pattern into that JSON, and leak the password hash one character at a time. The second vulnerability uses the $where operator in MongoDB in a clever way. Rather than try to leak information directly, they used error messages to get information out. Put both together, and you can go from simply knowing a user’s email address to a shell on the hosting server in seconds. All in all, it’s an impressive hack, and the video demonstration of it is worth the watch:

Agent Smith Takes Over The Matrix

Include Security found an interesting bug in the Unity engine, where a malicious game object can run arbitrary code on the machine running the engine. It’s the sort of thing that game designers don’t think too much about until it’s a problem. I couldn’t help but think of VR Chat, a multiplayer experience that allows players to upload their own avatars. It’s built in Unity, and uses game objects for those avatars. I haven’t been able to confirm whether it has this vulnerability one way or another, but I’m very much reminded of Agent Smith copying himself onto all the other citizens of the matrix. If VR Chat does indeed have this problem, it would be rather trivial to build an avatar worm to do the same thing. Life imitates art.

Don’t Use a Password Manager?

And finally, one of the hallowed bits of cybersecurity wisdom gets challenged by [Tavis Ormandy] of Google project Zero fame. His take? Don’t use a password manager! Well, actually, it’s that you shouldn’t use a password manager that is a browser extension, because websites can actually interact with the hooks that make them work. There’s more to his argument, and his conclusion is simple. Use the password manager built into Google Chrome. Or Firefox, if that’s what you use. His argument is rather compelling, that many of them aren’t as secure as they claim to be.

 

Ham Radio Traffic Logger Using A Bug In Baofeng Electronics

A Baofeng radio is often one of the first purchases a new ham radio operator makes these days due to the decent features and low price tag. They are far from perfect, but with a bit of creative inspiration, it’s possible to make the quirks work in your favor. By taking advantage of a loud pop on the earphone outputs whenever the LCD backlight turns on, [WhiskeyTangoHotel] built a radio traffic counter using an ESP8266.

Whenever there is a transmission on one of the frequencies the radio is tuned to, the backlight turns on. Connecting the audio output to an oscilloscope, [WhiskeyTangoHotel] measured a 5V spike whenever this happens. Using a pair of diodes in series to drop the voltage to a safe level, the ESP8266 detects the voltage spike and updates a Google spreadsheet with the timestamp via IFTTT.

This gave [WhiskeyTangoHotel] empirical data on how much traffic passes through the local VHF repeater, but we wouldn’t blame them if the hack itself was the real motivator.

Of course, this would also be a perfect application for the RTL-SDR, which should allow you to do the above and much more, all in software. Add a bit of AI and you can even extract the call signs. The RTL-SDR is also a good tool for learning about RF modulation.

UV5-R image via PE1RQM

Cerberus 2080 — Three-Headed Retro Computing Project

For seven months, [Bernardo Kastrup] at [TheByteAttic] has been realizing his childhood dream of building his own computer. It was this dream that steered him into the field of computer design at the age of 17. After thirty years in the industry, he finally has some time to design the computer he dreamt about as a kid. His requirements are ambitious: fully open design, gate-level details, thru-hole or PLCC for easy hacking, well-established processors with existing tool chains, low-cost development tools for CPLDs, no FPGA, standard ITX case compatible, and so on. He quite reasonably decides to use more modern electronics for video (VGA), keyboard (PS/2), and program storage (flash drive). Along the way, he chooses to put three processors on the board instead of one:

  • Zilog Z84C0010 (Z80)
  • WDC W65C0256 (6502)
  • AVR ATMEGA328 (RISC Controller)

When coming up with the concept and requirements, [Bernardo] had a fictitious alternate history in mind — one where there were follow-ups to the ZX80, PET/CBM, or TRS-80 from the late 1970s that were extensions to the original systems. But he also wanted a clean design, without cost-cutting gimmicks, in order to make it easier for learners to focus on computing itself — a didactic architecture, as he describes it. Turn the crank for seven long months, and we have the Cerberus 2080. [Bernardo] has put the design on GitHub, and made a video series out of the whole process, of which the introduction video is below the break. There’s even an online emulator developed by retro hacker  [Andy Toone].

We wrote about the 6502-based ERIC-1 project back in 2014 which shared the bus with an ATMEGA simulating ROM. The Minty Z80 project from 2019 also uses a similar technique. Thanks to [Frédéric] for sending us the tip.

Continue reading “Cerberus 2080 — Three-Headed Retro Computing Project”

Cold War Code Breaking Manual Teaches Impossible Puzzle Solving

Cryptologist [Lambros Callimahos] was a victim of his own success. He wrote a trilogy of books called Military Cryptanalytics covering code breaking in 1977. The first two volumes were eventually published, but the NSA blocked the public release of the third volume back in 1992. But last December, it finally saw the light of day.

Of course, some parts of the book are redacted, including parts of the table of contents. That’s pretty bad when even your chapter headings can be classified. [Richard Bean] over on Phys.org has some notes about the book along with some examples of hard-to-solve crypto puzzles.

Continue reading “Cold War Code Breaking Manual Teaches Impossible Puzzle Solving”

Tractors And The Right To Repair: It’s Going Global

For more than a few years now, we’ve been covering the saga of tractors from the larger manufacturers on which all components are locked down by software to the extent that they can only be replaced by officially sanctioned dealers. We’re thus pleased to see a couple of moments when the story has broken out of the field of a few farmers and right-to-repair geeks and into the mainstream. First up:  a segment on the subject from NPR is worth a listen, as the US public radio station interviews a Montana farmer hit by a $5k fuel sensor on his John Deere as a hook form which to examine the issue. Then there is a blog post from the National Farmers Union, the body representing UK farmers, in which they too lay out the situation and also highlight the data-grabbing aspects of these machines.

Continue reading “Tractors And The Right To Repair: It’s Going Global”

This Week In Security: Ransomware, WeLock, And Amazon Arbitration

Another week of ransomware, and this time it’s the beef market that’s been shut down, due to a crippling infrastructure attack out of Russia — but hold up, it’s not that simple. Let’s cover the facts. Some time on Sunday, May 30, JBS USA discovered a ransomware attack against their systems. It seems that their response team did exceptionally well, pulling the plug on affected machines, and starting recovery right away. By Wednesday, it was reported that most of their operations were back in action.
Continue reading “This Week In Security: Ransomware, WeLock, And Amazon Arbitration”

Fueling Up For Fusion: MAST’s Super-X, JET’s Deuterium-Tritium Experiments For ITER, And More

We’ve had nuclear fission reactors in operation all over the world for ages, but nuclear fusion always seems to be a decade or two away. While one cannot predict when we’ll reach the goal of sustained nuclear fusion, the cutting edge in test hardware is advancing at a rapid pace that makes us optimistic. Beginning as soon as this month and extending over a few years, we’re living through a very exciting time for nuclear fusion and plasma physics.

The Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak (MAST) got a big upgrade to test a new cooled divertor design. JET (Joint European Torus) will be testing the deuterium-tritium fuel mixture that will be powering the ITER (the research project whose name began as an acronym for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor but has since been changed to just ITER). And the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator is coming back online with upgraded cooled divertors by next year.

Here the MAST Upgrade’s Super-X divertors have so far shown a ten-fold decrease in the temperature which the divertor is exposed to while carrying thermal energy out of the tokamak reactor. This means a divertor design and ultimately a fusion reactor that will last longer between maintenance sessions. On the stellarator side of things, Wendelstein 7-X’s new divertors may allow it to demonstrate the first continuous operation of a stellarator fusion reactor. Meanwhile, JET’s fuel experiments should allow us to test the deuterium-tritium fuel while ITER is working towards first plasma by 2025.

Continue reading “Fueling Up For Fusion: MAST’s Super-X, JET’s Deuterium-Tritium Experiments For ITER, And More”