Despite the fact that everyone (including me) has been telling you that encryption makes the data stored on your smartphone safer, it would seem that is not necessarily the case for iOS devices. Renowned iPhone hacker, developer and author Jonathan Zdziarski presented a large body of research and evidence that Apple has built backdoor data access into its devices for some time, and not just the kind required by law enforcement for warranted search or for troubleshooting and debugging. Also damning was the fact that these processes and services aren’t documented at all by Apple, but are apparently well-known by various law enforcement agencies and forensic data specialists. And the cherry on top? The encryption on your iPhone can easily be bypassed by these backdoor tools through USB connections, wifi and possibly even cellular connections.
What this means for you:
According to Mr. Zdziarski’s findings, iPhone encryption is essentially bypassed because iOS maintains a base state of authentication even if your phone is “locked” with a pin or password. The tools and services running quietly in the background of your device have direct access to your data, and not just the “anonymous” or “non-identifying” data that Apple collects for performance and troubleshooting purposes. Apple has yet to comment on Mr. Zdziarski’s findings, but the growing media attention on this issue will likely force a response from the Cupertino company. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about this, as these backdoors are so deeply embedded in the operating system of iOS that removing or disabling them is impossible. You can, of course, demonstrate your displeasure by contacting your local congress-critter, providing feedback to Apple, as well as restraining yourself from buying Apple products until they address everyone’s privacy concerns. Given Apple’s strangle-hold on the smartphone market, they have very little incentive to change anything unless consumer sentiment starts to sway against them on this issue.
A new battle front just opened up in the corporate espionage cyberwar. Security firm TrapX has released information on a new attack that appears to be focused on shipping and logistics firms, and is being delivered via hand-held inventory scanners made by a specific manufacturer in China. The wireless devices appear to contain malware that once connected to a company’s corporate network targets enterprise resource planning (ERP) servers and attempts to compromise them through a variety of known weaknesses. If successful it then facilitates the installation of command-and-control malware that provides a backdoor on the compromised server to an unidentified location in China. The manufacturer of the scanners has denied the devices were intentionally shipped with the malware, but their close proximity to the Lanxiang Vocational School (allegedly tied to other infamous hacking incidents) has raised security eyebrows everywhere.
What this means for you:
It’s a safe bet that you probably won’t be directly affected by this particular hacking vector unless you are one of the handful of firms who bought and used the devices before the manufacturer rectified the issue. However, this is just another crack in the dangerously swollen dike that is technology security, and the white hats are rapidly running out of fingers and toes with which to plug the holes. The fact that the Chinese have targeted supply chain technologies means they are fishing for big data to steal, and the amount of money (and power) at stake is enough for the bad guys to continually search out new ways to compromise and breach businesses. They know they have the good guys over a barrel, as we have to continually try to guess where the next mole will pop up in a playing grid with an infinite number of holes. Will we get to a point that we have to run a malware scan on anything with electronics and a means to transmit data? It’s starting to look that way.
Over the past four months, many of the Western world’s largest banking institution websites have been under attack by a well-organized and funded cyber “brigade” that is allegedly part of the US-branded terrorist group “Izz ad-Din al-Qassam” – the military arm of Hamas. Aside from the publicly-stated political agenda motivating the attacks, little else was known about how the attacks were being carried out. Security analysts believed that rather than using large numbers of zombified consumer computers, this series of attacks were actually being powered by a smaller number of more-powerful webservers.
Security firm Incapsula confirmed this theory after recently discovering that a single UK webserver was behind a most recent attack on PNC, HSBC and Fifth Third banking websites. The server had been compromised with a simple backdoor program that allowed a remote operator to launch DDoS-style attacks using a simple, light-weight interface that may have been operating for months unbeknownst to the host or the server’s legitimate admin. Even though it was a single, relatively small server, it was capable of crippling websites of major financial institutions.
What this means for you:
The server in question wasn’t compromised using some sophisticated exploit, brute force attack or clever social engineering. According to Incapsula, the server was using an easily guessable admin password that resulted in an effortless and undetectable security breach. As consumer technology has become more accessible, so have server-class platforms that can be rented out by anyone with a credit card, and typically can be set up in minutes with only a rudimentary knowledge of server administration. This results in situations that look a lot like handing a powerful weapon to someone who has only been given very basic instructions on which end to hold and which end to point at the target. However, in the hands of a skilled hacker, a small “team” of compromised webservers is the equivalent of having a small special forces team operating behind enemy lines. Bottom line – if you have servers in your technology portfolio that aren’t being managed properly, your own technology might be waging an invisible war right under your nose.
Image courtesy of “renjith krishnan” / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In a House Intelligence committee report released on Monday, Oct 8, 2012, US lawmakers cite security concerns with Chinese electronics manufacturing firms Huawei and ZTE. Though neither could be considered a brand recognizable in the US, both firms manufacture electronics that are used to power telecommunication devices all over the world. Though no overt wrongdoing was detected in the 9-month investigation, the report notes that the firms refused to fully cooperate with the investigation. The Chinese government is known to have a heavy hand in directing operations and even strategy for Chinese businesses, mostly to ensure tight control over national security, so it’s no wonder investigators may have encountered resistance from the companies.
What this means for you:
Independent, industry-led investigations have not found any evidence that equipment utilizing parts manufactured by either company have purposefully included security defects or “backdoors” that may have been mandated by the Chinese government as a possible means to infiltrate other countries’ data networks, though vulnerabilities have been found in older Huawei routers. Similar defects have been found in Cisco routers (an American company) which lends credence that the vulnerabilities were not state-sponsored “backdoors”, but instead a product of ongoing security research and development. The intelligence report seems to be more politically minded as opposed to highlighting a clear and present danger, focusing on “what-if” scenarios given China’s heavy-handed government, and fails to note that Chinese (or any other nationality) hackers don’t need an easy-to-detect backdoor to hack American business interests.