Tag Archive: Computer Repair


The Heartbleed bug: Am I at risk and do I really have to change my password?

The discovery of Heartbleed, a flaw in one of the most widespread encryption standards used online, has panicked webmasters and users alike.

The bug has gone unnoticed for more than two years and could have potentially given hackers access to an unlimited array of secure data — everything from passwords and login details to credit card numbers and addresses.

Although it’s difficult to say exactly how many websites have been exposed, the lower estimates are around 500 million with a large number of major web companies (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc) all forced to update their software to protect against the bug.

However, there have been quite a lot of mixed messages as to whether or not users should change their passwords, with some outlets urging that you should create new ones immediately while others are advising that you wait.

To add to the confusion there’s also been reports of hackers sending out phishing emails related to Heartbleed — in order to trick users into giving up passwords that have yet to be compromised. Be on the look out for these and don’t follow any links in suspicious looking emails – if you want to change a password go to the site directly.

Which sites are affected?
Most Google sites and services (including Gmail and YouTube – but not Chrome) were affected, as were sites maintained by Yahoo (including Tumblr and Flickr). Facebook was also hit by the bug although Twitter and LinkedIn were not.

Other big sites that have confirmed that they weren’t affected include Amazon, Hotmail and Outlook, eBay, PayPal and all of Apple’s properties — including iCloud and iTunes. If you want to check whether or not a site you use is still affected then you can do so here — just enter the URL.

Another big worry is for online banking, but thankfully we have some good news in that department. Lloyds, HSBC, RBS, Natwest, Santander and the Co-Op have all confirmed that they were not affected by the bug (they were using different encryption standards). Barclays has yet to issue a statement.

However, this does not mean that your credit card details are completely safe — as they could have been compromised via your Gmail or another third-party site. The security of mobile banking apps is still a developing situation as well.

So do I need to change my passwords?
In a word: Yes. For the sites we’ve listed above as being affected (including Gmail, Yahoo, Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook) it definitely won’t hurt to change your password some time in the next couple of weeks.

Although security experts have warned that you shouldn’t be too quick to change passwords, this is because not all website have patched their servers and changing your password before this happens could make matters worse. The sites we’ve listed above have patched their servers and if you want to check one we’ve not mentioned — click here and enter the URL.

Unfortunately, some sites (including Google) have specifically said that users don’t need to change their passwords. While it’s true that some sites are confident that they fixed the bug a while back, as most of us are guilty of changing our passwords less frequently than we should do (aka never) we think that this is as good an opportunity as ever to be a bit more security-conscious.

What should my new password be?
In lists of the most frequently used passwords online there’s some obvious clangers that we know you’re too smart to use (these include old standbys such as ‘123456’ and ‘password’ itself) but just because a password doesn’t look obvious to you that doesn’t make it safe.

This means that you shouldn’t really use any single words that are found in the dictionary, any words connected to you (place of birth or pets’ names), nor should you use any obvious ‘substitutions’ (eg pa55w0rd — more complicated variations are required) or patterns derived from your keyboard layout (eg ‘1qaz2wsx’ or ‘zxcvbnm’).

It’s wise to use a variety of characters in your password (including upper and lower case as well as numbers) but an easy way to get more secure is to start thinking of your password as a passphrase.

The easiest way of increasing the difficulty of a password is by simply making it longer — so try combining multiple words together and then adding in numbers between them.

You could pick a number of some significance to you (for example a loved one’s birthday, ie 12/08/1970) and then splicing this with a nonsensical phrase (‘shoesplittingwatchwizard’) to get a suitably difficulty password: Shoe12Splitting08Watch1970Wizard.

Other suggested methods for making a strong and memorable password include taking a sentence or a favourite line from a song as a starting point. So you might take the line “When you call my name it’s like a little prayer” and turn it into wuCmNilaLP. Madonna is optional of course, but we think this a fun method — especially if you can work in numbers somewhere.

You should also use different passwords for your different accounts (perhaps the most difficult piece of advice to follow of all) and if you want to be really secure you should also set up two-step authentication where available.

Ryan says: I recommend everyone on any of the sites mentioned in this article to change their passwords ASAP.

Critical crypto bug leaves Linux, hundreds of apps open to eavesdropping

Hundreds of open source packages, including the Red Hat, Ubuntu, and Debian distributions of Linux, are susceptible to attacks that circumvent the most widely used technology to prevent eavesdropping on the Internet, thanks to an extremely critical vulnerability in a widely used cryptographic code library.

The bug in the GnuTLS library makes it trivial for attackers to bypass secure sockets layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protections available on websites that depend on the open source package. Initial estimates included in Internet discussions such as this one indicate that more than 200 different operating systems or applications rely on GnuTLS to implement crucial SSL and TLS operations, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the actual number is much higher. Web applications, e-mail programs, and other code that use the library are vulnerable to exploits that allow attackers monitoring connections to silently decode encrypted traffic passing between end users and servers.

The bug is the result of commands in a section of the GnuTLS code that verify the authenticity of TLS certificates, which are often known simply as X509 certificates. The coding error, which may have been present in the code since 2005, causes critical verification checks to be terminated, drawing ironic parallels to the extremely critical “goto fail” flaw that for months put users of Apple’s iOS and OS X operating systems at risk of surreptitious eavesdropping attacks. Apple developers have since patched the bug.

“It was discovered that GnuTLS did not correctly handle certain errors that could occur during the verification of an X.509 certificate, causing it to incorrectly report a successful verification,” an advisory issued by Red Hat warned. “An attacker could use this flaw to create a specially crafted certificate that could be accepted by GnuTLS as valid for a site chosen by the attacker.”

GnuTLS developers published this bare-bones advisory that urges all users to upgrade to version 3.2.12. The flaw, formally indexed as CVE-2014-0092, is described by a GnuTLS developer as “an important (and at the same time embarrassing) bug discovered during an audit for Red Hat.” Debian’s advisory is here.

As was the case with last week’s critical encryption bug from Apple, the GnuTLS vulnerability is the result of someone making mistakes in source code that controls critical functions of the program. This time, instead of a single misplaced “goto fail” command, the mistakes involve errors with several “goto cleanup” calls. The GnuTLS program, in turn, prematurely terminates code sections that are supposed to establish secure TLS connections only after the other side presents a valid X509 certificate signed by a trusted source. Attackers can exploit the error by presenting vulnerable systems with a fraudulent certificate that is never rejected, despite its failure to pass routine security checks. The failure may allow attackers using a self-signed certificate to pose as the cryptographically authenticated operator of a vulnerable website and to decrypt protected communications. It’s significant that no one managed to notice such glaring errors, particularly since they were contained in code that anyone can review.

Security researchers are still studying the vulnerability and assessing its effect on the wide array of OSes and applications that depend on GnuTLS. For the moment, readers should assume that the severity is critical given the dizzying amount of downstream code that may be affected. One example: the apt-get installer some distributions of Linux use to distribute and update applications relies on GnuTLS, although exploits against the package can probably be caught by cryptographic code-signing of the downloaded program (thanks to readers for pointing out this secondary level of protection). Version 3 of lib-curl, which is distributed in Debian and Ubuntu, also depends on GnuTLS. Some Debian- and Ubuntu-based virtual private networking applications that work with Cisco Systems hardware are also affected. This list goes on and on.

Source: ArsTechnica

Sophisticated botnet steals more than $47M by infecting PCs and phones

A new version of the Zeus trojan—a longtime favorite of criminals conducting online financial fraud—has been used in attacks on over 30,000 electronic banking customers in Europe, infecting both their personal computers and smartphones. The sophisticated attack is designed to circumvent banks’ use of two-factor authentication for transactions by intercepting messages sent by the bank to victims’ mobile phones.

The malware and botnet system, dubbed “Eurograbber” by security researchers from Check Point Software and Versafe, was first detected in Italy earlier this year. It has since spread throughout Europe. Eurograbber is responsible for more than $47 million in fraudulent transfers from victims’ bank accounts, stealing amounts from individual victims that range from 500 Euros (about $650) to 25,000 Euros (about $32,000), according to a report published Wednesday.

The malware attack begins when a victim clicks on a malicious link, possibly sent as part of a phishing attack. Clicking on the link directs them to a site that attempts to download one or more trojans: customized versions of Zeus and its SpyEye and CarBerp variants that allow attackers to record Web visits and then inject HTML and JavaScript into the victim’s browser. The next time the victim visits their bank website, the trojans capture their credentials and launch a JavaScript that spoofs a request for a “security upgrade” from the site, offering to protect their mobile device from attack. The JavaScript captures their phone number and their mobile operating system information—which are used in the second level of Eurograbber’s attack.

With the phone number and platform information, the attacker sends a text message to the victim’s phone with a link to a site that downloads what it says is “encryption software” for the device. But it is, in fact, “Zeus in the mobile” (ZITMO) malware—a Trojan crafted for the Android and BlackBerry mobile operating systems that injects itself between the user and the mobile browser and SMS messaging software. With both devices now compromised, the malware waits for the victim to access a bank account, and then immediately transfers a percentage of the victim’s balance to an account set up by the criminals running the botnet.

The malware then intercepts the confirmation text message sent by the bank, forwarding it to the trojan’s command and control server via a relay phone number. The server uses the message to confirm the transaction and withdraw the money. The same process happens every time the victim logs into their bank account, gradually withdrawing money without alerting the user.

Both Checkpoint and Versafe have added signature and behavior detection to their malware protection products that can block Eurograbber. Updating software that is a frequent target for Web “driveby download” exploits—such as Adobe Flash, Java, and Web browsers—can help prevent infection by the malware, as can a healthy amount of paranoia about clicking links in e-mails.

Source: Arstechnica

New chip could lead to era of ultra-fast, powerful computing

A group of scientists have developed a quantum computer chip that could lead to ultra-fast computer processors, which would outperform those found in today’s standard electronics and smartphones.

The group, led by researchers from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Photonics, will unveil the new silicon quantum chip at the 2012 British Science Festival, which starts Tuesday.

The new silicon chips are significant because they work by manipulating light particles to perform calculations, an improvement over current chips that use electrical currents.

The new chips are also 1,000 times smaller than older chips made of glass, and could eventually be used to develop tiny hybrid processors – a mix of conventional and quantum processors — in all computers and smartphones.

The centre’s deputy director Mark Thompson said the development of the new, smaller chips means researchers can use the technology in devices that were previously not compatible with older chips.

This means new areas of science can be explored, said Thompson.

“This is very much the start of a new field of quantum-engineering, where state-of-the-art micro-chip manufacturing techniques are used to develop new quantum technologies and will eventually realize quantum computers that will help us understand the most complex scientific problems,” he said in a press release.

One way the team plans to use the new chips is to create safer communication in today’s electronic devices, by creating completely secure environments for online activities such as shopping and banking.

The new chips transmit information in a specialized quantum state that changes whenever someone tries to intercept the data. This makes it impossible for someone to grab information undetected. And because of their tiny size, the chips could eventually be installed in today’s thin smartphones, tablets and computers, protecting the devices from hackers.

Eventually the research team believes the new chip will lead to the development of a fully-functioning quantum processor — a powerful type of computer with unprecedented computing power. A quantum computing device is powerful enough to solve trillions of equations at a time.

A quantum processor could used be in a number of different applications, including the design of new materials and pharmaceuticals.

Source: Bristol University News

Google engineer finds British spyware on PCs and smartphones

Two security researchers have found new evidence that legitimate spyware sold by British firm Gamma International appears to be being used by some of the most repressive regimes in the world.

Google security engineer Morgan Marquis-Boire and Berkeley student Bill Marczak were investigating spyware found in email attachments to several Bahraini activists. In their analysis they identified the spyware infecting not only PCs but a broad range of smartphones, including iOS, Android, RIM, Symbian, and Windows Phone 7 handsets.

The spying software has the capability to monitor and report back on calls and GPS positions from mobile phones, as well as recording Skype sessions on a PC, logging keystrokes, and controlling any cameras and microphones that are installed.

They report the code appears to be FinSpy, a commercial spyware sold to countries for police criminal investigations. FinSpy was developed by the German conglomerate Gamma Group and sold via the UK subsidiary Gamma International. In a statement to Bloomberg, managing director Martin Muench denied the company had any involvement.

“As you know we don’t normally discuss our clients but given this unique situation it’s only fair to say that Gamma has never sold their products to Bahrain,” he said. “It is unlikely that it was an installed system used by one of our clients but rather that a copy of an old FinSpy demo version was made during a presentation and that this copy was modified and then used elsewhere.”

Parallel research by computer investigators at Rapid7 found command and control software servers for the FinSpy code running in Indonesia, Australia, Qatar, Ethiopia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Mongolia, Latvia, and the United Arab Emirates, with another server in the US running on Amazon’s EC2 cloud systems. Less than 24 hours after the research was published, the team noted that several of these servers were shut down.

Gamma and FinSpy gained notoriety last year when documents apparently from the company were found in the Egyptian security service headquarters when it was ransacked by protestors after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. These appear to be a proposal that the Egyptian government buy a five-month license for the software for €287,000. Again Gamma denied involvement.

But Marquis-Boire and Marczak told The New York Times that they appear to have found a link to Gamma in these latest code samples. The malware for Symbian phones uses a code certificate issued to Cyan Engineering, whose website is registered to one Johnny Geds.

The same name is listed as Gamma Group’s sales contact on the FinSpy proposal uncovered in the raid on Egypt’s security headquarters. Muench has confirmed they do employ someone of that name in sales but declined to comment further.

Commercial spyware is an increasingly lucrative racket, as El Reg has pointed out, and there’s growing evidence that Britain is one of the leading players in the market. Privacy International has formally warned the British government that it will be taking legal action on the issue and this latest research only adds weight to the issue.

Source: The Register

Latest Java software opens PCs to hackers: experts

Computer security firms are urging PC users to disable Java software in their browsers, saying the widely installed, free software from Oracle Corp opens machines to hacker attacks and there is no way to defend against them.

The warnings, which began emerging over the weekend from Rapid7, AlienVault and other cyber security firms, are likely to unnerve a PC community scrambling to fend off growing security threats from hackers, viruses and malware.

Researchers have identified code that attacks machines by exploiting a newly discovered flaw in the latest version of Java. Once in, a second piece of software called “Poison Ivy” is released that lets hackers gain control of the infected computer, said Jaime Blasco, a research manager with AlienVault Labs.

Several security firms advised users to immediately disable Java software — installed in some form on the vast majority of personal computers around the world — in their Internet browsers. Oracle says that Java sits on 97 percent of enterprise desktops.

“If exploited, the attacker will be able to perform any action the victim can perform on the victim’s machine,” said Tod Beardsley, an engineering manager with Rapid7’s Metasploit division.

Computers can get infected without their users’ knowledge simply by a visit to any website that has been compromised by hackers, said Joshua Drake, a senior research scientist with the security firm Accuvant.

Java is a computer language that enables programmers to write one set of code to run on virtually any type of machine. It is widely used on the Internet so that Web developers can make their sites accessible from multiple browsers running on Microsoft Windows PCs or Macs from Apple Inc.

An Oracle spokeswoman said she could not immediately comment on the matter.

Security experts recommended that users not enable Java for universal use on their browsers. Instead, they said it was safest to allow use of Java browser plug-ins on a case-by-case basis when prompted for permission by trusted programs such as GoToMeeting, a Web-based collaboration tool from Citrix Systems Inc

Rapid7 has set up a web page that tells users whether their browser has a Java plug-in installed that is vulnerable to attack: www.isjavaexploitable.com

Source: Reuters

Ryan says: I would recommend updating to the latest version of Java.  The latest version of Java Runtime Environment JRE-64-bit is here. For users with older computers, try downloading the latest version in 32-bit.

Half a million Mac computers ‘infected with malware

More than half a million Apple computers have been infected with the Flashback Trojan, according to a Russian anti-virus firm.

Its report claims that about 600,000 Macs have installed the malware – potentially allowing them to be hijacked and used as a “botnet”.

The firm, Dr Web, says that more than half that number are based in the US.

Apple has released a security update, but users who have not installed the patch remain exposed.

Flashback was first detected last September when anti-virus researchers flagged up software masquerading itself as a Flash Player update. Once downloaded it deactivated some of the computer’s security software.

Later versions of the malware exploited weaknesses in the Java programming language to allow the code to be installed from bogus sites without the user’s permission.

Dr Web said that once the Trojan was installed it sent a message to the intruder’s control server with a unique ID to identify the infected machine.

“By introducing the code criminals are potentially able to control the machine,” the firm’s chief executive Boris Sharov told the BBC.

“We stress the word potential as we have never seen any malicious activity since we hijacked the botnet to take it out of criminals’ hands. However, we know people create viruses to get money.

“The largest amounts of bots – based on the IP addresses we identified – are in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, so it appears to have targeted English-speaking people.”

Dr Web also notes that 274 of the infected computers it detected appeared to be located in Cupertino, California – home to Apple’s headquarters.

Java’s developer, Oracle, issued a fix to the vulnerability on 14 February, but this did not work on Macintoshes as Apple manages Java updates to its computers.

Apple released its own “security update” on Wednesday – more than eight weeks later. It can be triggered by clicking on the software update icon in the computer’s system preferences panel.

The security firm F-Secure has also posted detailed instructions about how to confirm if a machine is infected and how to remove the Trojan.

Although Apple’s system software limits the actions its computers can take without requesting their users’ permission, some security analysts suggest this latest incident highlights the fact that the machines are not invulnerable.

“People used to say that Apple computers, unlike Windows PCs, can’t ever be infected – but it’s a myth,” said Timur Tsoriev, an analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

Apple could not provide a statement at this time.

Ryan: Download Apple’s security update for the Flashback Trojan here.

Source: BBC News