Thursday, 10 April 2014

Man who introduced serious 'Heartbleed' security flaw denies he inserted it deliberately

The German software developer who introduced a security flaw into an encryption protocol used by millions of websites globally says he did not insert it deliberately as some have suggested.
In what appears to be his first comments to the media since the bug was uncovered, Robin Seggelmann said how the bug made its way into live code could "be explained pretty easily".
The encryption flaw, called Heartbleed, has exposed large swathes of the internet to malicious exploitation, prompting some security experts to warn internet users against even using the web for the next few days.
The bug introduced a flaw into the popular OpenSSL software, which is used by many popular social networking websites, search engines, banks, and online shopping sites to keep personal and financial data safe. It allowed those who knew of its existence to intercept usernames, passwords, credit card details, and various other sensitive information from a website's server in plain text.
It also allowed for a server's private encryption keys to be stolen. Once stolen, these keys can be used by criminals to decrypt data sent between a website's server and a user of that website.
"On a scale of one to 10, it is an 11," renowned security expert Bruce Schneier said of the bug.
'Unfortunately' missed
Mr Seggelmann, of M√ľnster in Germany, said the bug which introduced the flaw was "unfortunately" missed by him and a reviewer when it was introduced into the open source OpenSSL encryption protocol over two years ago.
"I was working on improving OpenSSL and submitted numerous bug fixes and added new features," he said.
"In one of the new features, unfortunately, I missed validating a variable containing a length."
After he submitted the code, a reviewer "apparently also didn’t notice the missing validation", Mr Seggelmann said, "so the error made its way from the development branch into the released version." Logs show that reviewer was Dr Stephen Henson.
Mr Seggelmann said the error he introduced was "quite trivial", but acknowledged that its impact was "severe".
Conspiracy theories
A number of conspiracy theorists have speculated the bug was inserted maliciously.
Mr Seggelmann said it was "tempting" to assume this, especially after the disclosure by Edward Snowden of the spying activities conducted by the US National Security Agency and others.
"But in this case, it was a simple programming error in a new feature, which unfortunately occurred in a security relevant area," he said.
"It was not intended at all, especially since I have previously fixed OpenSSL bugs myself, and was trying to contribute to the project."
Despite denying he put the bug into the code intentionally, he said it was entirely possible intelligence agencies had been making use of it over the past two years.
"It is a possibility, and it's always better to assume the worst than best case in security matters, but since I didn't know [about] the bug until it was released and [I am] not affiliated with any agency, I can only speculate."
Benefits of discovery
If anything had been demonstrated by the discovery of the bug, Mr Seggelmann said it was awareness that more contributors were needed to keep an eye over code in open source software.
"It’s unfortunate that it’s used by millions of people, but only very few actually contribute to it," he said.
"The benefit of open source software is that anyone can review the code in the first place.
"The more people look at it, the better, especially with a software like OpenSSL."

Alleged member of hacking group Anonymous attempted to access Monitor site

McALLEN — A Donna man with ties to the international computer hacking group Anonymous is accused of trying to break into various web severs including Hidalgo County, La Joya ISD and The Monitor.
On Thursday morning, a somber looking Fidel Salinas went before Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby who informed him of the new accusations presented in a superseding indictment that was recently handed down. Ormsby allowed Salinas, 27, to remain out on bond pending trial.
Salinas had originally been indicted in September following an FBI investigation into his attempt to hack the HidalgoCounty web server.
Cyber crimes were called to assist a local investigation after the hacking of the Hidalgo County website Jan. 5, 2012, when more than 14,000 attempts to log on to its server were made, keeping network administrators from accessing it for about half a day, according to a criminal complaint.
As the investigation developed, authorities later learned that Salinas had tried to gain access to La Joya ISD and the Monitor’s servers.
Authorities believe Salinas belonged to a conspiracy related to Anonymous where he had entered the group’s chat room called Operation Anti-Security.

Has the NSA Been Using the Heartbleed Bug as an Internet Peephole?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
When ex-government contractor Edward Snowden exposed the NSA’s widespread efforts to eavesdrop on the internet, encryption was the one thing that gave us comfort. Even Snowden touted encryption as a saving grace in the face of the spy agency’s snooping. “Encryption works,” the whistleblower said last June. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”
But Snowden also warned that crypto systems aren’t always properly implemented. “Unfortunately,” he said, “endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.”
Since the Heartbleed bug has existed for two years, it raises obvious questions about whether the NSA or other spy agencies were exploiting it before its discovery.
This week, that caveat hit home — in a big way — when researchers revealed Heartbleed, a two-year-old security hole involving the OpenSSL software many websites use to encrypt traffic. The vulnerability doesn’t lie in the encryption itself, but in how the encrypted connection between a website and your computer is handled. On a scale of one to ten, cryptographer Bruce Schneier ranks the flaw an eleven.
Though security vulnerabilities come and go, this one is deemed catastrophic because it’s at the core of SSL, the encryption protocol so many have trusted to protect their data. “It really is the worst and most widespread vulnerability in SSL that has come out,” says Matt Blaze, cryptographer and computer security professor at the University of Pennsylvania. But the bug is also unusually worrisome because it could possibly be used by hackers to steal your usernames and passwords — for sensitive services like banking, ecommerce, and web-based email — and by spy agencies to steal the private keys that vulnerable web sites use to encrypt your traffic to them.
A Google employee was among those who discovered the hole, and the company said it had already patched any of its vulnerable systems prior to the announcement. But other services may still be vulnerable, and since the Heartbleed bug has existed for two years, it raises obvious questions about whether the NSA or other spy agencies were exploiting it before its discovery to conduct spying on a mass scale.
“It would not at all surprise me if the NSA had discovered this long before the rest of us had,” Blaze says. “It’s certainly something that the NSA would find extremely useful in their arsenal.”

NSA Sets Its Sights on SSL

Although the NSA could use the Heartbleed vulnerability to obtain usernames and passwords (as well as so-called session cookies to access your online accounts), this would only allow them to hijack specific accounts whose data they obtained. For the NSA and other spies, the real value in the vulnerability lies in the private keys used for SSL that it may allow attackers to obtain.
Cracking SSL to decrypt internet traffic has long been on the NSA’s wish list. Last September, the Guardian reported that the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ had “successfully cracked” much of the online encryption we rely on to secure email and other sensitive transactions and data.
According to documents the paper obtained from Snowden, GCHQ had specifically been working to develop ways into the encrypted traffic of Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Hotmail to decrypt traffic in near-real time, and there were suggestions that they might have succeeded. “Vast amounts of encrypted internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable,” GCHQ reported in one top-secret 2010 document. Although this was dated two years before the Heartbleed vulnerability existed, it highlights the agency’s efforts to get at encrypted traffic.
The Snowden documents cite a number of methods the spy agencies have used under a program codenamed “Project Bullrun” to undermine encryption or do end-runs around it — including efforts to compromise encryption standards and work with companies to install backdoors in their products. But at least one part of the program focused on undermining SSL. Under Bullrun, the Guardian noted, the NSA “has capabilities against widely used online protocols, such as HTTPS, voice-over-IP and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), used to protect online shopping and banking.”
Security experts have speculated about whether the NSA cracked SSL communications and if so how the agency might have accomplished the feat. Now, Heartbleed raises the possibility that in some cases the NSA might not have needed to crack SSL. Instead, it’s possible the agency used the vulnerability to obtain the private keys of companies to decrypt their traffic.

The Good News

So far, though, there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case. And there are reasons why this method wouldn’t be very efficient for the NSA.
First, the vulnerability didn’t exist on every site. And even on sites that were vulnerable, using the Heartbleed bug to find and grab the private keys stored on a server’s memory isn’t without problems. Heartbleed allows an attacker to siphon up to 64kb of data from a system’s memory by sending a query. But the data that’s returned is random — whatever is in the memory at the time — and requires an attacker to query multiple times to collect a lot of data. Though there’s no limit to the number of queries an attacker can make, no one has yet produced a proof-of-concept exploit for reliably and consistently extracting a server’s persistent key from memory using Heartbleed.
“It is very likely that it is possible in at least some cases, but it hasn’t been demonstrated to work all the time. So even if a site is vulnerable, there’s no guarantee you’re going to be able to use [Heartbleed] to actually get keys,” Blaze says. “Then you’ve got the problem that it’s an active attack rather than a passive attack, which means they need to be able to do multiple round trips with the server. This is potentially detectable if they get too greedy doing it.”
The vulnerability didn’t exist on every site. And even on sites that were vulnerable, using the Heartbleed bug to find and grab the private keys stored on a server’s memory isn’t without problems.
The security firm CloudFlare, which has spent the last three days testing various configurations to determine if, and under what conditions, it’s possible to extract private keys using the Heartbleed vulnerability, says it hasn’t been able to do so successfully yet, though its tests have been limited to configurations that include the Linux operating system on Nginx web servers.
Nick Sullivan, a Cloudflare systems engineer, says he has “high confidence” that a private key can’t be extracted in most ordinary scenarios. Though it may be possible to obtain the key under certain conditions, he doubts it has occurred.
“I think it is extremely unlikely that a malicious attacker has obtained a private key from an Nginx server of a busy website,” he says.
So far, they believe private keys can’t be extracted from Apache servers either, though they don’t have the same level of confidence in that yet. “If it is possible with Apache, it’s going to be difficult,” he says.
A few other researchers have claimed on Twitter and on online forums that they have retrieved private keys under various circumstances, though there doesn’t appear to be a uniform method that works across the board.
Either way, there are now signatures available to detect exploits against Heartbleed, as Dutch security firm Fox-IT points out on its website, and depending on how much logging companies do with their intrusion-detection systems, it may be possible to review activity retroactively to uncover any attacks going back over the last two years.
“I suspect there are many people doing exactly that right now,” Blaze says.
So what might the world’s spy agencies say about all this? The GCHQ has a standard response for anyone who might wonder if the spooks used this or any other vulnerability to undermine SSL for their BULLRUN program. In a PowerPoint presentation the British spy agency prepared about BULLRUN for fellow spies, they warned: “Do not ask about or speculate on source or methods underpinning BULLRUN successes.” In other words, they’ll never say.

The mysterious disappearance of China’s elite hacking unit

In this Nov. 7, 2012 photo, U.S. and Chinese national flags are hung outside a hotel during the U.S. Presidential election event, organized by the U.S. embassy in Beijing. As public evidence mounts that the Chinese military is responsible for stealing massive amounts of U.S. government data and corporate trade secrets, the Obama administration is eyeing fines and other trade actions it may take against Beijing or any other country guilty of cyberespionage. The Chinese government, meanwhile, has denied involvement in the cyber-attacks tracked by Mandiant. Instead, the Foreign Ministry said that China, too, is a victim of hacking, some of it traced to the U.S. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei cited a report by an agency under the Ministry of Information Technology and Industry that said in 2012 alone that foreign hackers used viruses and other malicious software to seize control of 1,400 computers in China and 38,000 websites. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
The company that helped uncover major online security breaches from China last year says exposing the hackers had the effect of shutting them down — at least temporarily.
Last year, the New York Times reported on what it believed to be an elite Chinese military unit that had been sitting on its networks, quietly spying on it and countless other U.S. companies. The news kicked off months' worth of debate about America's exposure to cyberattack.
The unit, labeled as "Advanced Persistent Threat 1" or APT1 by the independent security firm Mandiant, usually communicates with the malware it has installed in various targets year-round.
But after the Times sounded the alarm in early 2013, APT1 ceased virtually all its activity, according to a new report from Mandiant published Thursday.
That's unusual behavior for this group compared to previous years. And it's also an abnormal pattern compared to other threats Mandiant tracks and that it says are based in China. Take an actor they call APT12, for instance.
After the Times report, this advanced persistent threat didn't stop its activities for more than a couple months. If anything, its command and control communications seemed to intensify in late summer last year compared to previous years.
What can we draw from this data?  First, security experts say it appears that APT1 is being operated by a rational actor that can alter its behavior in response to external stimuli. The decline in APT1's activity coincided not only with the Times' report, but also with denials by the Chinese government that it was probing U.S. networks.
"This is actually fascinating evidence that shows that you have an adaptive adversary," said Allan Friedman, a cybersecurity scholar at George Washington University. "If we interpret this as a fairly complete sample, then it looks like they shut down things as soon as this information was published."
That's supported by another finding in the Mandiant report showing that APT1 abruptly changed the IP addresses it was using to access its malware when Mandiant issued its own profile on the hacking unit.
The fact that APT1 took steps to avoid detection is also relevant, experts say.
"To see that that's actually playing out in the background, that APT1 is supporting this denial storyline the government is telling, shows that they wanted to be seen as not actively doing this, or at least to cover up their involvement," said Mandiant threat intelligence manager Laura Galante.
The drop in activity may also suggest that "naming and shaming" by the United States is a viable tactic, said Jason Healey, a cyber scholar at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
"When APT1 eventually bounced back," said Healey, "I heard from people saying, naming and shaming doesn't work. But it was never followed up by a campaign of, 'When they bounce back, what do we do to hit them again?'"
What's still unclear is who orchestrated the change in behavior. It's possible that higher-ups in the Chinese government were not aware of what APT1 was doing, said Friedman. If that's the case, he said, then upon seeing the U.S. reports, Beijing may have called down to stop the activity because it didn't serve China's strategic mission. But Friedman adds there's also a chance that APT1's espionage was part of an officially sanctioned program, and that when APT1 was detected, its tactics changed simply to limit the Chinese government's exposure to criticism.
Based on Mandiant's more recent data that hasn't been published yet, Galante finds the latter argument more persuasive.
"We still see a similar volume of Chinese APT activity in client networks," she said. "I could say with confidence that the threat from Chinese-based actors to corporate networks, particularly in industries the Chinese [government] has identified to be strategic emerging industries, remains an unabated threat."

GovWin IQ website hacked, credit card information of 25,000 at risk

 GovWin IQ System run by an enterprise software and information solutions provider Deltek suffers a security breach that puts information of around 80,000 employees of federal contractors at risk.

GovWin  are designed specifically for Government Contractors aiming to grow their business.

The breach occurred sometime between July 3,2013 and November 2,2013.  However, the company came to know about the breach only on March 13,2014. 

The hacker exploited a security vulnerability in the GovWin IQ System and managed to access customers' data.  The information accessed by hackers includes Names, billing addresses, phone numbe,s. and business email IDs.

According to Federal News radio report, the hackers also had access to credit card information of about 25,000 of those affected customers. Those who had card information compromised are being offered free credit monitoring services.

The company says it is cooperating with law enforcement on this case.  They have also hired a cyber security forensic firm. They also claimed to have arrested the hacker believed to behind the breach.
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Not just websites hit by OpenSSL's Heartbleed – PCs, phones and more under threat

While most of the buzz surrounding OpenSSL's Heartbleed vulnerability has focussed on websites and other servers, the SANS Institute reminds us that software running on PCs, tablets and more is just as potentially vulnerable.
Williams said the data-leaking bug “is much scarier” than the gotofail in Apple's crypto software, and his opinion is that it will have been known to black hats before its public discovery and disclosure.
In a presentation given yesterday, Jake Williams – aka MalwareJake – noted that vulnerable OpenSSL implementations on the client side can be attacked using malicious servers to extract passwords and cryptographic keys.
Williams said a malicious server could easily send a message to vulnerable software on phones, laptops, PCs, home routers and other devices, and retrieve a 64KB block of sensitive data from the targeted system. It's an attack that would probably yield handy amounts of data if deployed against users of public Wi-Fi hotspots, for example.
Writing code to exploit vulnerabilities in clients is “not going to be that difficult to do,” he said.
Security penetration testers are going to find themselves in work “through 2020” with this bug, Williams said, and noted that it's going to be hard to identify vulnerabilities in some environments. For example, he said, it's going to be hard to tell if Windows client programs were compiled against vulnerable OpenSSL versions.
And that's not to mention all the "non-port-443" software that might be compiled to vulnerable versions of OpenSSL - e-mail servers, databases, LDAP services, and so on.
While The Register has a code-level description of Heartbleed here, it's also handy to have an easy pictorial, which Williams provided. In the OpenSSL RFC, there are two user-supplied inputs that create the problem as shown in the image below:
When the attacker sends a request filled in as per the second of the two message blocks, here's* what's returned by the target:
This can happen during connection negotiation, which is why the flaw can be exploited by an unauthenticated attacker. Williams also noted that the risk that the vulnerability could reveal site certificates means that if an attacker – or a spook – has previously recorded encrypted sessions, they will now be able to decrypt that traffic.
Worse, he said it's also feasible that what turns up in the leaked memory could give attackers hints at how to take the axe to other software, turning known bugs that are currently seen as “hard to exploit” into easy kills.
Another issue that could be easily overlooked, he said, is in the cloud. If you're running VMs in a cloud environment: admins must find their cloud machines and make sure their code base isn't Heartbleed vulnerable.
User training is going to be another big issue: end-users are going to have to be trained to check certificate issue dates, to make sure that their trusted services (like the bank) have re-issued their certificates.
Then, he added, there are thousands of “shoestring budget” VPN concentrators in smaller businesses that will be vulnerable and probably won't be updated.
Williams was critical of vendors, since so few of them have made vulnerability statements (SANS has a list here). “Too many vendors not communicating with their customers,” he said.
Google has released its response to Heartbleed here, in which it lists the status of key products and services. CloudSQL is currently being patched, users need to update OpenSSL on each running instance on Google Compute Engine, the Google Search Appliance is currently being updated, and it says only Android 4.1.1 is at risk.
Regarding vulnerable Android units, Williams said he'll be watching carrier responses “with interest”.

Only three of 43 police forces able to tackle cybercrime challenges

Metropolitan Police officer on the streets of London
Just three of the 43 police forces in England and Wales have the skills and strategies to deal with cyber crime issues, according to a new report.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) warned in its Strategic Policing Requirement report that despite heavy investment and development strategies set by the government, digital issues continue to baffle police.
"Digital technology and the internet are providing criminals new opportunities to commit cybercrime," read the report.
"We expected to find police forces had sought to understand the threat and their role in tackling it. But HMIC found only three forces (Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and West Midlands) had developed comprehensive cybercrime strategies."
The report also highlighted a marked cyber skills shortage within police forces, revealing that only two percent of officers are trained to investigate cybercrime.
The HMIC's finding comes during a wider cyber skills shortage in the UK. The National Audit Office (NAO) warned in February 2013 that the cyber skills gap will last 20 years, costing the nation £27bn a year.
Plugging the gap and improving law enforcement has been an ongoing goal of the UK government's cyber skills strategy. The strategy has seen the government mount several initiatives designed to improve the country's cyber resilience including the creation of the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT).
The HMIC said it expects the initiatives to help rectify the current lack of cyber awareness within the police.
"The fact that forces are not yet able to demonstrate that they understand their roles in tackling this threat of a large-scale cyber incident is fully understood as a problem by the police, the Home Office and the NCA," read the report.
"We found evidence that across these bodies, and wider partners, work is underway to help provide the clarity that is needed for police forces and PCCs [police and crime commissioners] about their roles and the capacity and capability they need to put in place to respond to the threat effectively."
The NCA announced plans to help bolster the UK's cyber expert pool in October 2013 when it pledged to train 400 new cyber intelligence officers over the next year.

Ministry of Health Saudi Arabia website defaced by Moroccan hackers