Microsoft and NSA say a security bug affects millions of Windows 10 computers

Microsoft has released a security patch for a dangerous vulnerability affecting hundreds of millions of computers running Windows 10.

The vulnerability is found in a decades-old Windows cryptographic component, known as CryptoAPI. The component has a range of functions, one of which allows developers to digitally sign their software, proving that the software has not been tampered with. But the bug may allow attackers to spoof legitimate software, potentially making it easier to run malicious software — like ransomware — on a vulnerable computer.

“The user would have no way of knowing the file was malicious, because the digital signature would appear to be from a trusted provider,” Microsoft said.

CERT-CC, the the vulnerability disclosure center at Carnegie Mellon University, said in its advisory that the bug can also be used to intercept and modify HTTPS (or TLS) communications.

Microsoft said it found no evidence to show that the bug has been actively exploited by attackers, and classified the bug as “important.”

Independent security journalist Brian Krebs first reported details of the bug.

The National Security Agency confirmed in a call with reporters that it found the vulnerability and turned over the details to Microsoft, allowing the company to build and ready a fix.

Only two years ago the spy agency was criticized for finding and using a Windows vulnerability to conduct surveillance instead of alerting Microsoft to the flaw. The agency used the vulnerability to create an exploit, known as EternalBlue, as a way to secretly backdoor vulnerable computers. But the exploit was later leaked and was used to infect thousands of computers with the WannaCry ransomware, causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage.

Anne Neuberger, NSA’s director of cybersecurity, told TechCrunch that once the vulnerability was discovered, it went through the vulnerabilities equities process, a decision-making process used by the government to determine if it should retain control of the flaw for use in offensive security operations or if it should be disclosed to the vendor. It’s not known if the NSA used the bug for offensive operations before it was reported to Microsoft.

“It’s encouraging to see such a critical vulnerability turned over to vendors rather than weaponized.”

Neuberger confirmed Microsoft’s findings that NSA had not seen attackers actively exploiting the bug.

Jake Williams, a former NSA hacker and founder of Rendition Infosec, told TechCrunch that it was “encouraging” that the flaw was turned over “rather than weaponized.”

“This one is a bug that would likely be easier for governments to use than the common hacker,” he said. “This would have been an ideal exploit to couple with man in the middle network access.”

Microsoft is said to have released patches for Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016, which is also affected, to the U.S. government, military and other high-profile companies ahead of Tuesday’s release to the wider public, amid fears that the bug would be abused and vulnerable computers could come under active attack.

The software giant kept a tight circle around the details of the vulnerabilities, with few at the company fully aware of their existence, sources told TechCrunch. Only a few outside the company and the NSA — such as the government’s cybersecurity advisory unit Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — were briefed.

CISA also issued a directive, compelling federal agencies to patch the vulnerabilities.

Williams said this now-patched flaw is like “a skeleton key for bypassing any number of endpoint security controls,” he told TechCrunch.

Skilled attackers have long tried to pass off their malware as legitimate software, in some cases by obtaining and stealing certificates. Last year, attackers stole a certificate belonging to computer maker Asus to sign a backdoored version of its software update tool. By pushing the tool to the company’s own servers, “hundreds of thousands” of Asus customers were compromised as a result.

When certificates are lost or stolen, they can be used to impersonate the app maker, allowing them to sign malicious software and make it look like it came from the original developer.

Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and chief technology officer at security firm CrowdStrike, said in a tweet that the NSA-discovered bug was a “critical issue.”

“Everyone should patch. Do not wait,” he said.

Mozilla says a new Firefox security bug is under active attack

Mozilla has warned Firefox users to update their browser to the latest version after security researchers found a vulnerability that hackers were actively exploiting in “targeted attacks” against users.

The vulnerability, found by Chinese security company Qihoo 360, was found in Firefox’s just-in-time compiler. The compiler is tasked with speeding up performance of JavaScript to make websites load faster. But researchers found that the bug could allow malicious JavaScript to run outside of the browser on the host computer.

In practical terms, that means an attacker can quietly break into a victim’s computer by tricking the victim into accessing a website running malicious JavaScript code.

But Qihoo did not say precisely how the bug was exploited, who the attackers were, or who was targeted.

Browser vulnerabilities are a hot commodity in security circles as they can be used to infect vulnerable computers — often silently and without the user noticing — and be used to deliver malware or ransomware. Browsers are also a target for nation states and governments and their use of surveillance tools, known as network investigative techniques — or NITs. These vulnerability-exploiting tools have been used by federal agents to spy on and catch criminals. But these tools have drawn ire from the security community because the feds’ failure to disclose the bugs to the software makers could result in bad actors exploiting the same vulnerabilities for malicious purposes.

Mozilla issued the security advisory for Firefox 72, which had only been out for two days before the vulnerability was found.

Homeland Security’s cyber advisory unit, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, also issued a security warning, advising users to update to Firefox 72.0.1, which fixes the vulnerability. Little information was given about the bug, only that it could be used to “take control of an affected system.”

Firefox users can update their browser from the settings.

A ton of Ruckus Wireless routers are vulnerable to hackers

A security researcher has found several vulnerabilities in a number of Ruckus Wireless routers, which the networking giant has since patched.

Gal Zror told TechCrunch that the vulnerabilities he found lie inside in the web user interface software that runs on the company’s Unleashed line of routers.

The flaws can be exploited without needing a router’s password, and can be used to take complete control of affected routers from over the internet.

Routers act as a gateway between a home or office network and the wider internet. Routers are also a major line of defense against unauthorized access to that network. But routers can be a single point of failure. If attackers find and take advantage of vulnerabilities in the router’s software, they can control the device and gain access to the wider internal network, exposing computers and other devices to hacks and data theft.

Zror said his three vulnerabilities can be used to to gain “root” privileges on the router — the highest level of access — allowing the attacker unfettered access to the device and the network.

Although the three vulnerabilities vary by difficulty to exploit, the easiest of the vulnerabilities uses just a single line of code, Zror said.

With complete control of a router, an attacker can see all of the network’s unencrypted internet traffic. An attacker can also silently re-route traffic from users on the network to malicious pages that are designed to steal usernames and passwords.

Zror said that because many of the router are accessible from the internet, they make “very good candidates for botnets” That’s when an attacker forcibly enlists a vulnerable router — or any other internet-connected device — into its own distributed network, controlled by a malicious actor, which can be collectively told to pummel websites and other networks with massive amounts of junk traffic, knocking them offline.

There are “thousands” of vulnerable Ruckus routers on the internet, said Zror. He revealed his findings at the annual Chaos Communication Congress conference in Germany.

Ruckus told TechCrunch it fixed the vulnerabilities in the 200.7.10.202.92 software update, but said that customers have to update their vulnerable devices themselves.

“By design our devices do not fetch and install software automatically to ensure our customers can manage their networks appropriately,” said Ruckus spokesperson Aharon Etengoff. “We are strongly advising our customers and partners to deploy the latest firmware releases as soon as possible to mitigate these vulnerabilities,” he said.

Ruckus confirmed its SmartZone-enabled devices and Ruckus Cloud access points are not vulnerable.

“It’s very important for the customers to know that if they’re running an old version [of the software], they might be super vulnerable to this very simple attack,” said Zror.

A new ‘Zombieload’ flaw hits Intel’s newest Cascade Lake chips

Time to reset your “days since last major chip vulnerability” counter back to zero.

Security researchers have found another flaw in Intel processors — this time it’s a new variant of the Zombieload attack they discovered earlier this year, but targeting Intel’s latest family of chips, Cascade Lake.

Intel calls the vulnerability Transactional Asynchronous Abort, or TAA. It’s similar to the microarchitectural data sampling vulnerabilities that were the focus of earlier chip-based side-channel attacks, but TAA applies only to newer chips.

The new variant of the Zombieload attack allows hackers with physical access to a device the ability to read occasionally sensitive data stored in the processor. The vulnerability is found in how the processor tries to predict the outcome of future commands. This technique, known as speculative execution, makes the processor run faster, but its flawed design makes it possible for attackers to extract potentially sensitive data.

Zombieload was discovered by the same researchers who found Meltdown and Spectre, a set of flaws that could be used to pick out secrets — like passwords — from the processor. It was believed later chip architectures, like Cascade Lake, were toughened against speculative execution attacks, while Intel rolled out software patches to reduce the attack surface.

Neither of the other vulnerabilities in the same family as Zombieload — notably Fallout and RIDL — work on Cascade Lake, they added.

But the researchers said that Intel’s efforts to change the chip design in Cascade Lake are “not sufficient” to protect against these kinds of side-channel attacks.

The same researchers warned Intel about the vulnerability in April — as it did with the other flaws they discovered that were patched a month later. Intel took until this month to investigate, the researchers said.

Intel released patches again for its vulnerable chips on Tuesday, acknowledging that its newest chips are vulnerable to the newest Zombieload variant. But the chip making giant recognizes that the mitigations “may not completely prevent the inference of data through a side channel using these techniques.”

The chip maker said there have been “no reports” of real-world exploits of the vulnerabilities.

Hackers can steal the contents of Horde webmail inboxes with one click

A security researcher has found several vulnerabilities in the popular open-source Horde web email software that allow hackers to near-invisibly steal the contents of a victim’s inbox.

Horde is one of the most popular free and open-source web email systems available. It’s built and maintained by a core team of developers, with contributions from the wider open-source community. It’s used by universities, libraries, and many web hosting providers as the default email client.

Numan Ozdemir disclosed his vulnerabilities to Horde in May. An attacker can scrape and download a victim’s entire inbox by tricking them into clicking a malicious link in an email.

Once clicked, the inbox is downloaded to the attacker’s server.

But the researcher did not hear back from the Horde community. Security researchers typically give organizations three months to fix flaws before they are publicly disclosed.

NIST, the government department that maintains the national vulnerability database, said this week that the flaws pose a “high” security risk to users.

Ozdemir said some — though not all — of the vulnerabilities were recently fixed in the latest Horde webmail version. But the Horde community has not publicly acknowledged the vulnerability — or that users of earlier versions of the webmail are still vulnerable.

“It is really very easy to steal people’s email,” he told TechCrunch.

His bug report filed with Horde remains open at the time of writing. We emailed Horde several times, but did not hear back.

Flaw in Cyberoam firewalls exposed corporate networks to hackers

Sophos said it is fixing a vulnerability in its Cyberoam firewall appliances, which a security researcher says can allow an attacker to gain access to a company’s internal network without needing a password.

The vulnerability allows an attacker to remotely gain “root” permissions on a vulnerable device, giving them the highest level of access, by sending malicious commands across the internet. The attack takes advantage of the web-based operating system that sits on top of the Cyberoam firewall.

Once a vulnerable device is accessed, an attacker can jump onto a company’s network, according to the researcher who shared their findings exclusively with TechCrunch.

Cyberoam devices are typically used in large enterprises, sitting on the edge of a network and acting as a gateway to allow employees in while keeping hackers out. These devices filter out bad traffic, and prevent denial-of-service attacks and other network-based attacks. They also include virtual private networking (VPN), allowing remote employees to log on to their company’s network when they are not in the office.

It’s a similar vulnerability to recently disclosed flaws in corporate VPN providers, notably Palo Alto Networks, Pulse Secure and Fortinet, which allowed attackers to gain access to a corporate network without needing a user’s password. Many large tech companies, including Twitter and Uber, were affected by the vulnerable technology, prompting Homeland Security to issue an advisory to warn of the risks.

Sophos, which bought Cyberoam in 2014, issued a short advisory this week, noting that the company rolled out fixes on September 30.

The researcher, who asked to remain anonymous, said an attacker would only need an IP address of a vulnerable device. Getting vulnerable devices was easy, they said, by using search engines like Shodan, which lists around 96,000 devices accessible to the internet. Other search engines put the figure far higher.

A Sophos spokesperson disputed the number of devices affected, but would not provide a clearer figure.

“Sophos issued an automatic hotfix to all supported versions in September, and we know that 99% of devices have already been automatically patched,” said the spokesperson. “There are a small amount of devices that have not as of yet been patched because the customer has turned off auto-update and/or are not internet-facing devices.”

Customers still affected can update their devices manually, the spokesperson said. Sophos said the fix will be included in the next update of its CyberoamOS operating system, but the spokesperson did not say when that software would be released.

The researcher said they expect to release the proof-of-concept code in the coming months.

Cybersecurity giant Comodo can’t even keep its own website secure

Comodo, which bills itself as a “global leader in cybersecurity solutions,” said its forum was hacked.

The admission came in no less than a forum post, which confirmed a hacker exploited a recently disclosed vulnerability in vBulletin, a popular forum software that Comodo uses on its site. The flaw, which requires little skill to exploit, allows an attacker to remotely run malicious code on a vulnerable forum. In this case, the exploit was used to dump the entire user database.

Exploit code was released on September 23, but patches were released two days later on September 25.

But despite claiming in it disclosure that it takes “security very seriously” and is its “highest priority,” the company didn’t immediately patch its forum software. Four days later, its forum was hacked.

According to the disclosure, Comodo said the hackers stole usernames, names and email addresses, and the last IP adress used to access the forum. Some social media handles were also stolen in the breach.

Comodo said it has about 245,000 registered forum users.

It’s not the most damaging breach on record but it’s a bruising security lapse for a company that claims to be half-decent at this stuff.

It’s Comodo’s second security snafu this year after another breach involving an exposed password, which allowed a security researcher access to the company’s intranet — and access to internal files and documents.

What you missed in cybersecurity this week

There’s not a week that goes by where cybersecurity doesn’t dominates the headlines. This week was no different. Struggling to keep up? We’ve collected some of the biggest cybersecurity stories from the week to keep you in the know and up to speed.

Malicious websites were used to secretly hack into iPhones for years, says Google

TechCrunch: This was the biggest iPhone security story of the year. Google researchers found a number of websites that were stealthily hacking into thousands of iPhones every week. The operation was carried out by China to target Uyghur Muslims, according to sources, and also targeted Android and Windows users. Google said it was an “indiscriminate” attack through the use of previously undisclosed so-called “zero-day” vulnerabilities.

Hackers could steal a Tesla Model S by cloning its key fob — again

Wired: For the second time in two years, researchers found a serious flaw in the key fobs used to unlock Tesla’s Model S cars. It’s the second time in two years that hackers have successfully cracked the fob’s encryption. Turns out the encryption key was doubled in size from the first time it was cracked. Using twice the resources, the researchers cracked the key again. The good news is that a software update can fix the issue.

Microsoft’s lead EU data watchdog is looking into fresh Windows 10 privacy concerns

TechCrunch: Microsoft could be back in hot water with the Europeans after the Dutch data protection authority asked its Irish counterpart, which oversees the software giant, to investigate Windows 10 for allegedly breaking EU data protection rules. A chief complaint is that Windows 10 collects too much telemetry from its users. Microsoft made some changes after the issue was brought up for the first time in 2017, but the Irish regulator is looking at if these changes go far enough — and if users are adequately informed. Microsoft could be fined up to 4% of its global annual revenue if found to have flouted the law. Based off 2018’s figures, Microsoft could see fines as high as $4.4 billion.

U.S. cyberattack hurt Iran’s ability to target oil tankers, officials say

The New York Times: A secret cyberattack against Iran in June but only reported this week significantly degraded Tehran’s ability to track and target oil tankers in the region. It’s one of several recent offensive operations against a foreign target by the U.S. government in recent moths. Iran’s military seized a British tanker in July in retaliation over a U.S. operation that downed an Iranian drone. According to a senior official, the strike “diminished Iran’s ability to conduct covert attacks” against tankers, but sparked concern that Iran may be able to quickly get back on its feet by fixing the vulnerability used by the Americans to shut down Iran’s operation in the first place.

Apple is turning Siri audio clip review off by default and bringing it in house

TechCrunch: After Apple was caught paying contractors to review Siri queries without user permission, the technology giant said this week it will turn off human review of Siri audio by default and bringing any opt-in review in-house. That means users actively have to allow Apple staff to “grade” audio snippets made through Siri. Apple began audio grading to improve the Siri voice assistant. Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have all been caught out using contractors to review user-generated audio.

Hackers are actively trying to steal passwords from two widely used VPNs

Ars Technica: Hackers are targeting and exploiting vulnerabilities in two popular corporate virtual private network (VPN) services. Fortigate and Pulse Secure let remote employees tunnel into their corporate networks from outside the firewall. But these VPN services contain flaws which, if exploited, could let a skilled attacker tunnel into a corporate network without needing an employee’s username or password. That means they can get access to all of the internal resources on that network — potentially leading to a major data breach. News of the attacks came a month after the vulnerabilities in widely used corporate VPNs were first revealed. Thousands of vulnerable endpoints exist — months after the bugs were fixed.

Grand jury indicts alleged Capital One hacker over cryptojacking claims

TechCrunch: And finally, just when you thought the Capital One breach couldn’t get any worse, it does. A federal grand jury said the accused hacker, Paige Thompson, should be indicted on new charges. The alleged hacker is said to have created a tool to detect cloud instances hosted by Amazon Web Services with misconfigured web firewalls. Using that tool, she is accused of breaking into those cloud instances and installing cryptocurrency mining software. This is known as “cryptojacking,” and relies on using computer resources to mine cryptocurrency.

Malicious websites were used to secretly hack into iPhones for years, says Google

Security researchers at Google say they’ve found a number of malicious websites which, when visited, could quietly hack into a victim’s iPhone by exploiting a set of previously undisclosed software flaws.

Google’s Project Zero said in a deep-dive blog post published late on Thursday that the websites were visited thousands of times per week by unsuspecting victims, in what they described as an “indiscriminate” attack.

“Simply visiting the hacked site was enough for the exploit server to attack your device, and if it was successful, install a monitoring implant,” said Ian Beer, a security researcher at Project Zero.

He said the websites had been hacking iPhones over a “period of at least two years.”

The researchers found five distinct exploit chains involving 12 separate security flaws, including seven involving Safari, the in-built web browser on iPhones. The five separate attack chains allowed an attacker to gain “root” access to the device — the highest level of access and privilege on an iPhone. In doing so, an attacker could gain access to the device’s full range of features normally off-limits to the user. That means an attacker could quietly install malicious apps to spy on an iPhone owner without their knowledge or consent.

Google said based off their analysis, the vulnerabilities were used to steal a user’s photos and messages as well as track their location in near-realtime. The “implant” could also access the user’s on-device bank of saved passwords.

The vulnerabilities affect iOS 10 through to the current iOS 12 software version.

Google privately disclosed the vulnerabilities in February, giving Apple only a week to fix the flaws and roll out updates to its users. That’s a fraction of the 90 days typically given to software developers, giving an indication of the severity of the vulnerabilities.

Apple issued a fix six days later with iOS 12.1.4 for iPhone 5s and iPad Air and later.

Beer said it’s possible other hacking campaigns are currently in action.

The iPhone and iPad maker in general has a good rap on security and privacy matters. Recently the company increased its maximum bug bounty payout to $1 million for security researchers who find flaws that can silently target an iPhone and gain root-level privileges without any user interaction. Under Apple’s new bounty rules — set to go into effect later this year — Google would’ve been eligible for several million dollars in bounties.

A spokesperson for Apple did not immediately comment.

Apple expands its bug bounty, increases maximum payout to $1M

Apple is finally giving security researchers something they’ve wanted for years: a macOS bug bounty.

The technology giant said Thursday it will roll out the bug bounty program to include Macs and MacBooks, as well as Apple TV and Apple Watch, almost exactly three years after it debuted its bug bounty program for iOS.

The idea is simple: you find a vulnerability, you disclose it to Apple, they fix it — and in return you get a cash payout. These programs are wildly popular in the tech industry as it helps to fund security researchers in exchange for serious security flaws that could otherwise be used by malicious actors, and also helps fill the void of bug finders selling their vulnerabilities to exploit brokers, and on the black market, who might abuse the flaws to conduct surveillance.

But Apple had dragged its feet on rolling out a bug bounty to its range of computers. Some security researchers had flat-out refused to report security flaws to Apple in absence of a bug bounty.

At the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, head of security engineering and architecture Ivan Krstić announced the program to run alongside its existing iOS bug bounty.

Patrick Wardle, a security expert and principle security researcher at Jamf, said the move was a “no brainer.”

Wardle has found several major security vulnerabilities and dropped zero-days — details of flaws published without allowing the companies a chance to fix — citing the lack of a macOS bug bounty. He has long criticized Apple for not having a bug bounty, accusing the company of leaving a void open for security researchers to sell their flaws to exploit brokers who often use the vulnerabilities for nefarious reasons.

“Granted, they hired many incredible talented researchers and security professionals — but still never really had a transparent mutually beneficial relationship with external independent researchers,” said Wardle.

“Sure this is a win for Apple, but ultimately this a huge win for Apple’s end users,” he added.

Apple said it will open its bug bounty program to all researchers and increase the size of the bounty from the current maximum of $200,000 per exploit to $1 million for a zero-click, full chain kernel code execution attack with persistence — in other words, if an attacker can gain complete control of a phone without any user interaction and simply by knowing a target’s phone number.

Apple also said that any researcher who finds a vulnerability in pre-release builds that’s reported before general release will qualify for up to 50% bonus on top of the category of vulnerability they discover.

The bug bounty programs will be available to all security researchers beginning later this year.

The company also confirmed a Forbes report, published earlier this week, saying it will give a number of “dev” iPhones to vetted and trusted security researchers and hackers under the new iOS Security Research Device Program. These devices are special devices that give the hackers greater access to the underlying software and operating system to help them find vulnerabilities typically locked away from other security researchers — such as secure shell.

Apple said that it hopes expanding its bug bounty program will encourage more researchers to privately disclose security flaws, which will help to increase the protection of its customers.

Read more:
Apple restricts ads and third-party trackers in iPhone apps for kids
New book looks inside Apple’s legal fight with the FBI
Apple has pushed a silent Mac update to remove hidden Zoom web server
Many popular iPhone apps secretly record your screen without asking
Apple rebukes Australia’s ‘dangerously ambiguous’ anti-encryption bill
Apple Card will make credit card fraud a lot more difficult