Hacking Shelters And Swimming Pools

How would you survive in a war-torn country, where bombs could potentially fall from the sky with only very short notice? And what if the bomb in question were The Bomb — a nuclear weapon? This concern is thankfully distant for most of us, but it wasn’t always so. Only 75 years ago, bombs were raining down on England, and until much more recently the threat of global thermonuclear war was encouraging school kids to “duck and cover”. How do you protect people in these situations?

The answers, naturally, depend on the conditions at hand. In Britain before the war, money was scarce and many houses didn’t have basements or yards that were large enough to build a family-sized bomb shelter in, and they had to improvise. In Cold War America, building bomb shelters ended up as a boon for the swimming pool construction industry. In both cases, bomb shelters proved to be a test of engineering ingenuity and DIY gumption, attempting to save lives in the face of difficult-to-quantify danger from above.

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Tuning Into Atomic Radio: Quantum Technique Unlocks Laser-Based Radio Reception

The basic technology of radio hasn’t changed much since an Italian marquis first blasted telegraph messages across the Atlantic using a souped-up spark plug and a couple of coils of wire. Then as now, receiving radio waves relies on antennas of just the right shape and size to use the energy in the radio waves to induce a current that can be amplified, filtered, and demodulated, and changed into an audio waveform.

That basic equation may be set to change soon, though, as direct receivers made from an exotic phase of matter are developed and commercialized. Atomic radio, which does not rely on the trappings of traditional radio receivers, is poised to open a new window on the RF spectrum, one that is less subject to interference, takes up less space, and has much broader bandwidth than current receiver technologies. And surprisingly, it relies on just a small cloud of gas and a couple of lasers to work.

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Counter-Strike At 20: Two Hackers Upend The Gaming Industry

Choices matter. You’ve only got one shot to fulfill the objective. A single coordinated effort is required to defuse the bomb, release the hostages, or outlast the opposition. Fail, and there’s no telling when you’ll get your next shot. This is the world that Counter-Strike presented to PC players in 1999, and the paradigm shift it presented was greater than it’s deceptively simple namesake would suggest.

The reckless push forward mantra of Unreal Tournament coupled with the unrelenting speed of Quake dominated the PC FPS mind-share back then. Deathmatch with a side of CTF (capture the flag) was all anyone really played. With blazing fast respawns and rocket launchers featured as standard kit, there was little thought put towards conservative play tactics. The same sumo clash of combatants over the ever-so inconveniently placed power weapon played out time and again; while frag counts came in mega/ultra/monster-sized stacks. It was all easy come, easy go.

Counter-Strike didn’t follow the quick frag, wipe, repeat model. Counter-Strike wasn’t concerned with creating fantastical weaponry from the future. Counter-Strike was grounded in reality. Military counter terrorist forces seek to undermine an opposing terrorist team. Each side has their own objectives and weapon sets, and the in-game economy can swing the battle wildly at the start of each new round. What began as a fun project for a couple of college kids went on to become one of the most influential multiplayer games ever, and after twenty years it’s still leaving the competition in the de_dust(2).

Even if you’ve never camped with an AWP, the story of Counter-Strike is a story of an open platform that invited creative modifications and community-driven development. Not only is Counter-Strike an amazing game, it’s an amazing story.

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Say It With Me: Bandwidth

Bandwidth is one of those technical terms that has been overloaded in popular speech: as an example, an editor might ask if you have the bandwidth to write a Hackaday piece about bandwidth. Besides this colloquial usage, there are several very specific meanings in an engineering context. We might speak about the bandwidth of a signal like the human voice, or of a system like a filter or an oscilloscope — or, we might consider the bandwidth of our internet connection. But, while the latter example might seem fundamentally different from the others, there’s actually a very deep and interesting connection that we’ll uncover before we’re done.

Let’s have a look at what we mean by the term bandwidth in various contexts.

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Exploring The Raspberry Pi 4 USB-C Issue In-Depth

It would be fair to say that the Raspberry Pi team hasn’t been without its share of hardware issues, with the Raspberry Pi 2 being camera shy, the Raspberry Pi PoE HAT suffering from a rather embarrassing USB power issue, and now the all-new Raspberry Pi 4 is the first to have USB-C power delivery, but it doesn’t do USB-C very well unless you go for a ‘dumb’ cable.

Join me below for a brief recap of those previous issues, and an in-depth summary of USB-C, the differences between regular and electronically marked (e-marked) cables, and why detection logic might be making your brand-new Raspberry Pi 4 look like an analogue set of headphones to the power delivery hardware.

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Linux Fu: Named Pipe Dreams

If you use just about any modern command line, you probably understand the idea of pipes. Pipes are the ability to connect the output from one program to the input of another. For example, you can more easily review contents of a large directory on a Linux machine by connecting two simple commands using a pipe:

ls | less

This command runs ls and sends its output to the input of the less program. In Linux, both commands run at once and output from ls immediately appears as the input of less. From the user’s point of view it’s a single operation. In contrast, under regular old MSDOS, two steps would be necessary to run these commands:

ls > SOME_TEMP_FILE
less < SOME_TEMP_FILE

The big difference is that ls will run to completion, saving its output a file. Then the less command runs and reads the file. The result is the same, but the timing isn’t.

You may be wondering why I’m explaining such a simple concept. There’s another type of pipe that isn’t as often used: a named pipe. The normal pipes are attached to a pair of commands. However, a named pipe has a life of its own. Any number of processes can write to it and read from it. Learn the ways of named pipes will certainly up your Linux-Fu, so let’s jump in!

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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!