Cybersecurity Intelwars internetofthings securityengineering

IoT Security Principles

The BSA — also known as the Software Alliance, formerly the Business Software Alliance — is an industry lobbying group. They just published “Policy Principles for Building a Secure and Trustworthy Internet of Things.”

They call for:

  • Distinguishing between consumer and industrial IoT.
  • Offering incentives for integrating security.
  • Harmonizing national and international policies.
  • Establishing regularly updated baseline security requirements

As with pretty much everything else, you can assume that if an industry lobbying group is in favor of it, then it doesn’t go far enough.

And if you need more security and privacy principles for the IoT, here’s a list of over twenty.

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Hacked by Police

French police hacked EncroChat secure phones, which are widely used by criminals:

Encrochat’s phones are essentially modified Android devices, with some models using the “BQ Aquaris X2,” an Android handset released in 2018 by a Spanish electronics company, according to the leaked documents. Encrochat took the base unit, installed its own encrypted messaging programs which route messages through the firm’s own servers, and even physically removed the GPS, camera, and microphone functionality from the phone. Encrochat’s phones also had a feature that would quickly wipe the device if the user entered a PIN, and ran two operating systems side-by-side. If a user wanted the device to appear innocuous, they booted into normal Android. If they wanted to return to their sensitive chats, they switched over to the Encrochat system. The company sold the phones on a subscription based model, costing thousands of dollars a year per device.

This allowed them and others to investigate and arrest many:

Unbeknownst to Mark, or the tens of thousands of other alleged Encrochat users, their messages weren’t really secure. French authorities had penetrated the Encrochat network, leveraged that access to install a technical tool in what appears to be a mass hacking operation, and had been quietly reading the users’ communications for months. Investigators then shared those messages with agencies around Europe.

Only now is the astonishing scale of the operation coming into focus: It represents one of the largest law enforcement infiltrations of a communications network predominantly used by criminals ever, with Encrochat users spreading beyond Europe to the Middle East and elsewhere. French, Dutch, and other European agencies monitored and investigated “more than a hundred million encrypted messages” sent between Encrochat users in real time, leading to arrests in the UK, Norway, Sweden, France, and the Netherlands, a team of international law enforcement agencies announced Thursday.

EncroChat learned about the hack, but didn’t know who was behind it.

Going into full-on emergency mode, Encrochat sent a message to its users informing them of the ongoing attack. The company also informed its SIM provider, Dutch telecommunications firm KPN, which then blocked connections to the malicious servers, the associate claimed. Encrochat cut its own SIM service; it had an update scheduled to push to the phones, but it couldn’t guarantee whether that update itself wouldn’t be carrying malware too. That, and maybe KPN was working with the authorities, Encrochat’s statement suggested (KPN declined to comment). Shortly after Encrochat restored SIM service, KPN removed the firewall, allowing the hackers’ servers to communicate with the phones once again. Encrochat was trapped.

Encrochat decided to shut itself down entirely.

Lots of details about the hack in the article. Well worth reading in full.

The UK National Crime Agency called it Operation Venetic: “46 arrests, and £54m criminal cash, 77 firearms and over two tonnes of drugs seized so far.”

Many more news articles. EncroChat website. Slashdot thread. Hacker News threads.

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Analyzing IoT Security Best Practices

New research: “Best Practices for IoT Security: What Does That Even Mean?” by Christopher Bellman and Paul C. van Oorschot:

Abstract: Best practices for Internet of Things (IoT) security have recently attracted considerable attention worldwide from industry and governments, while academic research has highlighted the failure of many IoT product manufacturers to follow accepted practices. We explore not the failure to follow best practices, but rather a surprising lack of understanding, and void in the literature, on what (generically) “best practice” means, independent of meaningfully identifying specific individual practices. Confusion is evident from guidelines that conflate desired outcomes with security practices to achieve those outcomes. How do best practices, good practices, and standard practices differ? Or guidelines, recommendations, and requirements? Can something be a best practice if it is not actionable? We consider categories of best practices, and how they apply over the lifecycle of IoT devices. For concreteness in our discussion, we analyze and categorize a set of 1014 IoT security best practices, recommendations, and guidelines from industrial, government, and academic sources. As one example result, we find that about 70\% of these practices or guidelines relate to early IoT device lifecycle stages, highlighting the critical position of manufacturers in addressing the security issues in question. We hope that our work provides a basis for the community to build on in order to better understand best practices, identify and reach consensus on specific practices, and then find ways to motivate relevant stakeholders to follow them.

Back in 2017, I catalogued nineteen security and privacy guideline documents for the Internet of Things. Our problem right now isn’t that we don’t know how to secure these devices, it’s that there is no economic or regulatory incentive to do so.

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Zoom Will Be End-to-End Encrypted for All Users

Zoom is doing the right thing: it’s making end-to-end encryption available to all users, paid and unpaid. (This is a change; I wrote about the initial decision here.)

…we have identified a path forward that balances the legitimate right of all users to privacy and the safety of users on our platform. This will enable us to offer E2EE as an advanced add-on feature for all of our users around the globe — free and paid — while maintaining the ability to prevent and fight abuse on our platform.

To make this possible, Free/Basic users seeking access to E2EE will participate in a one-time process that will prompt the user for additional pieces of information, such as verifying a phone number via a text message. Many leading companies perform similar steps on account creation to reduce the mass creation of abusive accounts. We are confident that by implementing risk-based authentication, in combination with our current mix of tools — including our Report a User function — we can continue to prevent and fight abuse.

Thank you, Zoom, for coming around to the right answer.

And thank you to everyone for commenting on this issue. We are learning — in so many areas — the power of continued public pressure to change corporate behavior.

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Availability Attacks against Neural Networks

New research on using specially crafted inputs to slow down machine-learning neural network systems:

Sponge Examples: Energy-Latency Attacks on Neural Networks shows how to find adversarial examples that cause a DNN to burn more energy, take more time, or both. They affect a wide range of DNN applications, from image recognition to natural language processing (NLP). Adversaries might use these examples for all sorts of mischief — from draining mobile phone batteries, though degrading the machine-vision systems on which self-driving cars rely, to jamming cognitive radar.

So far, our most spectacular results are against NLP systems. By feeding them confusing inputs we can slow them down over 100 times. There are already examples in the real world where people pause or stumble when asked hard questions but we now have a dependable method for generating such examples automatically and at scale. We can also neutralize the performance improvements of accelerators for computer vision tasks, and make them operate on their worst case performance.

The paper.

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"Sign in with Apple" Vulnerability

Researcher Bhavuk Jain discovered a vulnerability in the “Sign in with Apple” feature, and received a $100,000 bug bounty from Apple. Basically, forged tokens could gain access to pretty much any account.

It is fixed.

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Facebook Announces Messenger Security Features that Don’t Compromise Privacy

Note that this is “announced,” so we don’t know when it’s actually going to be implemented.

Facebook today announced new features for Messenger that will alert you when messages appear to come from financial scammers or potential child abusers, displaying warnings in the Messenger app that provide tips and suggest you block the offenders. The feature, which Facebook started rolling out on Android in March and is now bringing to iOS, uses machine learning analysis of communications across Facebook Messenger’s billion-plus users to identify shady behaviors. But crucially, Facebook says that the detection will occur only based on metadata­ — not analysis of the content of messages­ — so that it doesn’t undermine the end-to-end encryption that Messenger offers in its Secret Conversations feature. Facebook has said it will eventually roll out that end-to-end encryption to all Messenger chats by default.

That default Messenger encryption will take years to implement.


Facebook hasn’t revealed many details about how its machine-learning abuse detection tricks will work. But a Facebook spokesperson tells WIRED the detection mechanisms are based on metadata alone: who is talking to whom, when they send messages, with what frequency, and other attributes of the relevant accounts — essentially everything other than the content of communications, which Facebook’s servers can’t access when those messages are encrypted. “We can get pretty good signals that we can develop through machine learning models, which will obviously improve over time,” a Facebook spokesperson told WIRED in a phone call. They declined to share more details in part because the company says it doesn’t want to inadvertently help bad actors circumvent its safeguards.

The company’s blog post offers the example of an adult sending messages or friend requests to a large number of minors as one case where its behavioral detection mechanisms can spot a likely abuser. In other cases, Facebook says, it will weigh a lack of connections between two people’s social graphs — a sign that they don’t know each other — or consider previous instances where users reported or blocked a someone as a clue that they’re up to something shady.

One screenshot from Facebook, for instance, shows an alert that asks if a message recipient knows a potential scammer. If they say no, the alert suggests blocking the sender, and offers tips about never sending money to a stranger. In another example, the app detects that someone is using a name and profile photo to impersonate the recipient’s friend. An alert then shows the impersonator’s and real friend’s profiles side-by-side, suggesting that the user block the fraudster.

Details from Facebook

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Bluetooth Vulnerability: BIAS

This is new research on a Bluetooth vulnerability (called BIAS) that allows someone to impersonate a trusted device:

Abstract: Bluetooth (BR/EDR) is a pervasive technology for wireless communication used by billions of devices. The Bluetooth standard includes a legacy authentication procedure and a secure authentication procedure, allowing devices to authenticate to each other using a long term key. Those procedures are used during pairing and secure connection establishment to prevent impersonation attacks. In this paper, we show that the Bluetooth specification contains vulnerabilities enabling to perform impersonation attacks during secure connection establishment. Such vulnerabilities include the lack of mandatory mutual authentication, overly permissive role switching, and an authentication procedure downgrade. We describe each vulnerability in detail, and we exploit them to design, implement, and evaluate master and slave impersonation attacks on both the legacy authentication procedure and the secure authentication procedure. We refer to our attacks as Bluetooth Impersonation AttackS (BIAS).

Our attacks are standard compliant, and are therefore effective against any standard compliant Bluetooth device regardless the Bluetooth version, the security mode (e.g., Secure Connections), the device manufacturer, and the implementation details. Our attacks are stealthy because the Bluetooth standard does not require to notify end users about the outcome of an authentication procedure, or the lack of mutual authentication. To confirm that the BIAS attacks are practical, we successfully conduct them against 31 Bluetooth devices (28 unique Bluetooth chips) from major hardware and software vendors, implementing all the major Bluetooth versions, including Apple, Qualcomm, Intel, Cypress, Broadcom, Samsung, and CSR.

News articles.

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Secure Internet Videoconferencing Apps: Zoom and Others

The NSA just published a survey of video conferencing apps. So did Mozilla.

Zoom is on the good list, with some caveats. The company has done a lot of work addressing previous security concerns. It still has a bit to go on end-to-end encryption. Matthew Green looked at this. Zoom does offer end-to-end encryption if 1) everyone is using a Zoom app, and not logging in to the meeting using a webpage, and 2) the meeting is not being recorded in the cloud. That’s pretty good, but the real worry is where the encryption keys are generated and stored. According to Citizen Lab, the company generates them.

The Zoom transport protocol adds Zoom’s own encryption scheme to RTP in an unusual way. By default, all participants’ audio and video in a Zoom meeting appears to be encrypted and decrypted with a single AES-128 key shared amongst the participants. The AES key appears to be generated and distributed to the meeting’s participants by Zoom servers. Zoom’s encryption and decryption use AES in ECB mode, which is well-understood to be a bad idea, because this mode of encryption preserves patterns in the input.

The algorithm part was just fixed:

AES 256-bit GCM encryption: Zoom is upgrading to the AES 256-bit GCM encryption standard, which offers increased protection of your meeting data in transit and resistance against tampering. This provides confidentiality and integrity assurances on your Zoom Meeting, Zoom Video Webinar, and Zoom Phone data. Zoom 5.0, which is slated for release within the week, supports GCM encryption, and this standard will take effect once all accounts are enabled with GCM. System-wide account enablement will take place on May 30.

There is nothing in Zoom’s latest announcement about key management. So: while the company has done a really good job improving the security and privacy of their platform, there seems to be just one step remaining.

Finally — I use Zoom all the time. I finished my Harvard class using Zoom; it’s the university standard. I am having Inrupt company meetings on Zoom. I am having professional and personal conferences on Zoom. It’s what everyone has, and the features are really good.

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Vulnerability Finding Using Machine Learning

Microsoft is training a machine-learning system to find software bugs:

At Microsoft, 47,000 developers generate nearly 30 thousand bugs a month. These items get stored across over 100 AzureDevOps and GitHub repositories. To better label and prioritize bugs at that scale, we couldn’t just apply more people to the problem. However, large volumes of semi-curated data are perfect for machine learning. Since 2001 Microsoft has collected 13 million work items and bugs. We used that data to develop a process and machine learning model that correctly distinguishes between security and non-security bugs 99 percent of the time and accurately identifies the critical, high priority security bugs, 97 percent of the time.

News article.

I wrote about this in 2018:

The problem of finding software vulnerabilities seems well-suited for ML systems. Going through code line by line is just the sort of tedious problem that computers excel at, if we can only teach them what a vulnerability looks like. There are challenges with that, of course, but there is already a healthy amount of academic literature on the topic — and research is continuing. There’s every reason to expect ML systems to get better at this as time goes on, and some reason to expect them to eventually become very good at it.

Finding vulnerabilities can benefit both attackers and defenders, but it’s not a fair fight. When an attacker’s ML system finds a vulnerability in software, the attacker can use it to compromise systems. When a defender’s ML system finds the same vulnerability, he or she can try to patch the system or program network defenses to watch for and block code that tries to exploit it.

But when the same system is in the hands of a software developer who uses it to find the vulnerability before the software is ever released, the developer fixes it so it can never be used in the first place. The ML system will probably be part of his or her software design tools and will automatically find and fix vulnerabilities while the code is still in development.

Fast-forward a decade or so into the future. We might say to each other, “Remember those years when software vulnerabilities were a thing, before ML vulnerability finders were built into every compiler and fixed them before the software was ever released? Wow, those were crazy years.” Not only is this future possible, but I would bet on it.

Getting from here to there will be a dangerous ride, though. Those vulnerability finders will first be unleashed on existing software, giving attackers hundreds if not thousands of vulnerabilities to exploit in real-world attacks. Sure, defenders can use the same systems, but many of today’s Internet of Things (IoT) systems have no engineering teams to write patches and no ability to download and install patches. The result will be hundreds of vulnerabilities that attackers can find and use.

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Kubernetes Security

Attack matrix for Kubernetes, using the MITRE ATT&CK framework. A good first step towards understand the security of this suddenly popular and very complex container orchestration system.

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Microsoft Buys

A few months ago, Brian Krebs told the story of the domain, and how it is basically a security nightmare:

At issue is a problem known as “namespace collision,” a situation where domain names intended to be used exclusively on an internal company network end up overlapping with domains that can resolve normally on the open Internet.

Windows computers on an internal corporate network validate other things on that network using a Microsoft innovation called Active Directory, which is the umbrella term for a broad range of identity-related services in Windows environments. A core part of the way these things find each other involves a Windows feature called “DNS name devolution,” which is a kind of network shorthand that makes it easier to find other computers or servers without having to specify a full, legitimate domain name for those resources.

For instance, if a company runs an internal network with the name, and an employee on that network wishes to access a shared drive called “drive1,” there’s no need to type “” into Windows Explorer; typing “\\drive1\” alone will suffice, and Windows takes care of the rest.

But things can get far trickier with an internal Windows domain that does not map back to a second-level domain the organization actually owns and controls. And unfortunately, in early versions of Windows that supported Active Directory — Windows 2000 Server, for example — the default or example Active Directory path was given as “corp,” and many companies apparently adopted this setting without modifying it to include a domain they controlled.

Compounding things further, some companies then went on to build (and/or assimilate) vast networks of networks on top of this erroneous setting.

Now, none of this was much of a security concern back in the day when it was impractical for employees to lug their bulky desktop computers and monitors outside of the corporate network. But what happens when an employee working at a company with an Active Directory network path called “corp” takes a company laptop to the local Starbucks?

Chances are good that at least some resources on the employee’s laptop will still try to access that internal “corp” domain. And because of the way DNS name devolution works on Windows, that company laptop online via the Starbucks wireless connection is likely to then seek those same resources at “”

In practical terms, this means that whoever controls can passively intercept private communications from hundreds of thousands of computers that end up being taken outside of a corporate environment which uses this “corp” designation for its Active Directory domain.

Microsoft just bought it, so it wouldn’t fall into the hands of any bad actors:

In a written statement, Microsoft said it acquired the domain to protect its customers.

“To help in keeping systems protected we encourage customers to practice safe security habits when planning for internal domain and network names,” the statement reads. “We released a security advisory in June of 2009 and a security update that helps keep customers safe. In our ongoing commitment to customer security, we also acquired the domain.”

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Firefox Enables DNS over HTTPS

This is good news:

Whenever you visit a website — even if it’s HTTPS enabled — the DNS query that converts the web address into an IP address that computers can read is usually unencrypted. DNS-over-HTTPS, or DoH, encrypts the request so that it can’t be intercepted or hijacked in order to send a user to a malicious site.


But the move is not without controversy. Last year, an internet industry group branded Mozilla an “internet villain” for pressing ahead the security feature. The trade group claimed it would make it harder to spot terrorist materials and child abuse imagery. But even some in the security community are split, amid warnings that it could make incident response and malware detection more difficult.

The move to enable DoH by default will no doubt face resistance, but browser makers have argued it’s not a technology that browser makers have shied away from. Firefox became the first browser to implement DoH — with others, like Chrome, Edge, and Opera — quickly following suit.

I think DoH is a great idea, and long overdue.

Slashdot thread. Tech details here. And here’s a good summary of the criticisms.