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”
The FBI and the NSA released a report on the Russian-based malware that attacks Linux known as Drovorub (PDF) and it is an interesting read. Drovorub uses a kernel module rootkit and allows a remote attacker to control your computer, transfer files, and forward ports. And the kernel module takes extraordinary steps to avoid detection while doing it.
What is perhaps most interesting though, is that the agencies did the leg work to track the malware to its source: the GRU — Russian intelligence. The name Drovorub translates into “woodcutter” and is apparently the name the GRU uses for the program.
A look inside the code shows it is pretty mundane. There’s a server with a JSON configuration file and a MySQL backend. It looks like any other garden-variety piece of code. To bootstrap the client, a hardcoded configuration allows the program to make contact with the server and then creates a configuration file that the kernel module actively hides. Interestingly, part of the configuration is a UUID that contains the MAC address of the server computer.
The rootkit won’t persist if you have UEFI boot fully enabled (although many Linux computers turn UEFI signing off rather than work through the steps to install an OS with it enabled). The malware is easy to spot if you dump raw information from the network, but the kernel module makes it hard to find on the local machine. It hooks many kernel functions so it can hide processes from both the
ps command and the /proc filesystem. Other hooks remove file names from directory listings and also hides sockets. The paper describes how to identify the malware and they are especially interested in detection at scale — that is, if you have 1,000 Linux PCs on a network, how do you find which ones have this infection?
This is a modern spy story, but not quite what we’ve come to expect in Bond movies. “Well, Moneypenny, it appears Spectre is using the POCO library to generate UUIDs,” is hard to work into a trailer. We prefer the old days when high-tech spying meant nonlinear junction detectors, hacking Selectrics, moon probe heists, and passive bugging.
There have been a few moments in the past few years, when a conspiracy theory is suddenly demonstrated to be based in fact. Once upon a time, it was an absurd suggestion that the NSA had data taps in AT&T buildings across the country. Just like Snowden’s revelations confirmed those conspiracy theories, a news in February confirmed some theories about Crypto AG, a Swiss cryptography vendor.
The whole story reads like a cold-war era spy thriller, and like many of those novels, it all starts with World War II. As a result of a family investment, Boris Hagelin found himself at the helm of Aktiebolaget Cryptograph, later renamed to Crypto AG (1952), a Swedish company that built and sold cipher machines that competed with the famous Enigma machine. At the start of the war, Hagelin decided that Sweden was not the place to be, and moved to the United States. This was a fortuitous move, as it allowed Hagelin to market his company’s C-38 cipher machine to the US military. That device was designated the M-209 by the army, and became the standard in-the-field encryption machine.
The past few days have been busy if you’re trying to keep up with the pace of computer security news. Between a serious Chromium bug that’s actively being exploited on Windows 7 systems, the NSA releasing one of their tools as an open source project, and a new Spectre-like speculative execution flaw in Intel processors, there’s a lot to digest.
Continue reading “Spoiler, Use-After-Free, And Ghidra: This Week In Computer Security”
The mid-1980s were a time of drastic change. In the United States, the Reagan era was winding down, the Cold War was heating up, and the IBM PC was the newest of newnesses. The comparatively few wires stitching together the larger university research centers around the world pulsed with a new heartbeat — the Internet Protocol (IP) — and while the World Wide Web was still a decade or so away, The Internet was a real place for a growing number of computer-savvy explorers and adventurers, ready to set sail on the virtual sea to explore and exploit this new frontier.
In 1986, having recently lost his research grant, astronomer Clifford Stoll was made a computer system admin with the wave of a hand by the management of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’s physics department. Commanded to go forth and administer, Stoll dove into what appeared to be a simple task for his first day on the job: investigating a 75-cent error in the computer account time charges. Little did he know that this six-bit overcharge would take over his life for the next six months and have this self-proclaimed Berkeley hippie rubbing shoulders with the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the German Bundeskriminalamt, all in pursuit of the source: a nest of black-hat hackers and a tangled web of international espionage.
Continue reading “Books You Should Read: The Cuckoo’s Egg”
Ask a hundred people why they like to escape to the forest and you’ll probably get a hundred reasons, but chances are good that more than a few will say they seek the peace and quiet of the woods. And while the woods can be a raucous place between the wildlife and the human visitors, it is indeed a world apart from a busy city street, at least in the audio frequencies. But on the EM spectrum, most forests are nearly as noisy as your average cube farm, and that turns out to be a huge problem if you happen to run exquisitely sensitive radio receivers. That’s the reason for the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000 square mile electromagnetic safe-zone in the woods west of Washington DC. Who’s listening to what and why are a fascinating part of this story, as are the steps that are taken to keep this area as electromagnetically quiet as possible.
Continue reading “All Quiet On The West Virginia Border: The National Radio Quiet Zone”
Electronics leak waves and if you know what you’re doing you can steal people’s data using this phenomenon. How thick is your tinfoil hat? And you sure it’s thick enough? Well, it turns out that there’s a (secret) government standard for all of this: TEMPEST. Yes, all-caps. No, it’s not an acronym. It’s a secret codename, and codenames are more fun WHEN SHOUTED OUT LOUD!
The TEMPEST idea in a nutshell is that electronic devices leak electromagnetic waves when they do things like switch bits from ones to zeros or move electron beams around to make images on CRT screens. If an adversary can remotely listen in to these unintentional broadcasts, they can potentially figure out what’s going on inside your computer. Read on and find out about the history of TEMPEST, modern research, and finally how you can try it out yourself at home!
Continue reading “TEMPEST: A Tin Foil Hat For Your Electronics And Their Secrets”