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Preventing a DDOS is not going to be easy

As a follow-up to my previous post on DDOS attacks [1,2], I’ve seen a lot of so-called ‘solutions’ to the problem, which really aren’t solutions at all.

While it’s still not explicitly clear that the StarHub DDOS was executed by Mirai, a recently released malware built specifically for DDOS, the timing and similarity of it to other Mirai attacks leave little room for doubt–at least to me.

If indeed, StarHub was a victim of a Mirai based attack, it would seem extremely odd that their CTO would reference phishing emails as a vector for infection. So a few things don’t quite line up here, including the advice from the CTO to change the default username and password, when Brian Krebs already reported that doesn’t quite help:

Several readers have pointed out that while advising IoT users to change the password via the device’s Web interface is a nice security precaution, it may or may not address the fundamental threat. That’s because Mirai spreads via communications services called “telnet” and “SSH,” which are command-line, text-based interfaces that are typically accessed via a command prompt (e.g., in Microsoft Windows, a user could click Start, and in the search box type “cmd.exe” to launch a command prompt, and then type “telnet” <IP address> to reach a username and password prompt at the target host).

The trouble is, even if one changes the password on the device’s Web interface, the same default credentials may still allow remote users to log in to the device using telnet and/or SSH.

If you’re more technically inclined, I strongly suggest listening the feature interview on last week’s risky business podcast.

But the last piece of advice that the StarHub CTO gave, that didn’t make sense to me at all was this:

“If you were to buy a webcam from Sim Lim Square, try to get a reputable one”

Again, this may seem like good advice, but it doesn’t conform to the evidence. Brian Krebs has a list of devices that are hack-able, and they include the likes of Panasonic, RealTek, Samsung and Xerox. All of which regular consumers would consider ‘reputable’.

So StarHub claimed that you should change your passwords–but doesn’t protect you from Mirai.

StarHub claim that you should buy equipment from ‘reputable’ suppliers, but even reputable suppliers produce hackable IOT devices, that can’t be secured.

Finally StarHub are going to be sending technicians out in the field to help subscribers, and while this is laudable, it’s not a sustainable solution. It only fixes a short-term problem, because as long consumers continue to buy hack-able IOT devices, the threat isn’t going to go away.

And how often can StarHub afford to send technicians to make home visits before the cost start becoming un-bearable?

The way to view this issue is from a legal, economical and technical perspective–and in that order.

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How the StarHub DDOS (possibly) happened

starhub-dns-attackCustomers of Singaporean ISP StarHub, suffered two major disruptions to their service over the past week, in what the telco said was a result of a “intentional and likely malicious distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks”.

Oh the humanity!!

In what appears to be a copycat of the Dyn attack we saw (at roughly the same time), the attack signals the first local salvo in the war of IOT devices. But is it really that serious?

If you’re wondering what the hell happened, let’s walk this through step-by-step, from the attackers perspective.

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Internet of shitty things!

b66b95478fBrian Krebs is the most reputable name in CyberSecurity reporting, his krebsonsecurity website is the best source of ‘real’ journalism on the subject.

But reputation works both ways, the same thing that makes him popular in some circles, makes him unpopular in other. He’s had criminal hackers send him heroin in the mail and even have SWAT teams descend on his home with guns all blazing (in a phenomenon called swatting!). Reporting and exposing underground cyber-criminals comes at a price, you don’t piss of darknet crime lords without taking a few hits along the way.

The problem though is when those ‘few’ hits, turn into a hurricane of web traffic aimed at your server, because that’s exactly what descended on Krebs’ server late last week, when krebsonsecurity was hit by an epic DDOS attack

DDOS is an acronym for Distributed-Denial-of-Service, which basically means forcing so much web traffic to a single website that it eventually collapses–making it unable to provide services to the ‘real’ visitors of the site. All websites run on servers with finite capacity, DDOS attacks are about sending enough traffic to those servers that they eventually exceed that capacity.

But this DDOS was different, and krebsonsecurity will go down in history as the Hiroshima of this type of DDOS. But nuclear weapons only had Hiroshima and Nagasaki, krebsonsecurity will be the first in a Looooong line of DDOS attacks of this scale.

So what makes this attack so different as to merit it’s own class? Well 3 things.

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All you eggs in one basket

Is it wise to use an online password manager? After all, putting your passwords on the cloud seems like a really dumb idea.

But I use password manager because while storing stuff on the cloud may present risk, it’s far riskier and dumber to re-use passwords.

Why you need a password manager?

Despite the sexiness of zero-day exploits and hardcore state-sponsored hacking groups we see on the news, the number one way the average person gets hacked is through password compromise (boring!). That’s when hackers guess, or somehow figure out your passsword, and then use it to access the various online services you subscribe to.

Most people downplay the risk of this happening, ebcause they think they’re not rich enough, or famous enough to be the target of hackers. But in an era, where hacks compromise millions of accounts, and hackers can automate exploits to run on cheap cloud servers from Amazon–you’d be surprise what hackers consider a worthwhile target.

But how do hackers get your password?

On occassion they actually guess it, ala ‘the fappenning’, but more commonly they get your passwords by hacking other services. Shockingly, sometimes the easiest way to get your Google password is to hack dodgy forums, and insecure chat rooms that litter the internet.

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The safest place for your money is under the mattress

money-under-mattress

When I was in school, we joked about people who kept their money under the mattress, that somehow those who didn’t use banks were less intelligent than people who did.The general thinking was that smart people kept their money in the bank, where it was safe from theft, fire and flood, while still collecting interest.

In the 80’s this was a compelling argument, when interest rates were high and banks really did provide security,but is that thinking still applicable today?

In June of 2000, Maybank launched their ‘new’ internet banking platform, Maybank2u, which allowed their customers to do their banking online, outside of traditional branches or even ATMs. Few years later, it begun offering online purchases and soon after the mobile app was launched.

But while online banking platforms brought convenience, they also introduced new security threats — and it wasn’t clear whose job it was to secure against those new threats, and who would be liable for inevitable financial losses.

Was it going to be bank who assumed liability, just like they did before, or would it be the account holder, or possibly a mixture of both?

The answer depends on who gets attacked, because not all attacks are equal.

Not all attacks are equal

There’s two types of attack, one where the bank itself is attacked, and another where the account holder is targeted instead.

When someone walks into a bank  with the threat of violence, and walks out with $30,000 of the banks cash, the bank absorbs all the loses. After all, that’s why your money is in their safe and not under the mattresses.

507d7acb92f46ed8d8779be14e3f2051But there exist another class of attack–customer impersonation, where the attacker isn’t threatening violence or even ‘attacking’, but trying to fool the bank into believing they are the rightful account holders. In other words, the attacker is trying to impersonate you, to get to your money.

And in the digital world, customer impersonation is far more common. Consider the case of ATM fraud.

ATMs identify a user by verifying their ATM cards, and then prompting them for the PIN. More specifically, the ATM first authenticates the inserted ATM card (is this card real?) and then proceeds to ask the user for the PIN (is the person the accountholder?), once an ATM is satisfied, it then proceeds to grant the user access to the account.

Hence if an attacker managed to steal your card and knows your PIN, the ATM has no way to differentiate between you and the attacker. Anyone could take your money from your account, by just having your ATM card and PIN, in contrast robbers attacking a bank would simply be taking the bank’s cash…not yours.

Credit Card fraud is another prime example, but at least in Malaysia end customers have their liability capped at RM250 provided they report their lost cards in a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. For debit cards and ATM cards are not protected in the same way. Which is strange because the poorer sections of society who need more protection usually have debit instead of credit cards.

But even credit card users need to be wary, because changes in the liability model are bound to happen when we introduce Chip and Pin. (read more here)

To summarize, customer impersonation isn’t the same as a bank robbery, when the bank issues you credentials (like PINs, passwords or ATM cards), the responsibility to secure those credentials are yours–and if those credentials are compromised, then you’ll have to shoulder some of the financial losses as well.

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Anonymity and IP addresses

anonymous_guy_fawkes

This week, I’ll put the final touches on my move from Malaysia to Singapore.

So, I felt it would a good idea to read through some Singaporean tech articles to see how tech events played out on the little red dot, and offer some unsolicited  and completely useless advice on them.

It wasn’t easy shifting through a boat-load of gadget reviews masquerading as tech journalism (I guess some things are the same in every country), but underneath the hundreds of phone reviews and fiber broadband comparison, I found a little interesting report on illegal downloads.

The Singapore Straits time reports that:

A local law firm that started proceedings to go after illegal downloaders in Singapore on behalf of two Hollywood studios said it will cooperate with the local authorities to ensure no abuse of process.

It follows a rare intervention by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) in civil applications made by Samuel Seow Law Corp (SSLC) in the High Court last month.

“We will work with the local authorities to ensure that there will be no unnecessary alarm to consumers who receive the letters of demand we plan to send out,” Mr Samuel Seow, managing director of SSLC, told The Straits Times yesterday.

This is just a re-hashed version of what happened last year in Singapore, when the same law firm went after downloaders of another movie, the difference is that this time they’ll be doing it under the watchful eyes of the AGC.

There is something to be said here about copyright-trolling, the abuse of power and the bullying tactics usually involved. But, we’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Today, I want to explore a little bit about anonymity and how many people have a mistaken notion about what it is.

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Random thoughts

You’ve probably heard of the hackers who almost got away with $1 billion, only to be thwarted by a typo. (if it weren’t for those meddling keyboards!) What you probably didn’t hear was that they had already wired $100 million…

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2600 article

*A republication of my article on 2600, a hacker magazine* Greetings from Malaysia. This is my first time writing to 2600, although I’ve been a kindle subscriber for more than 2 years now. For my first article, I hoped to…