These are quick first looks and trend and threats


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Written by the security and AV professionals from team K7, meant for the general audience
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These are usually articles that go into internals of a virus or deal with security issues
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Senior managers speak on areas of interest to them, inside and outside the industry
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May 5th, 2016

Yet another reminder of the importance of implementing robust website security, it was revealed today that the IRCTC website has been hacked, a major public website! Thousands of users’  data including PAN card details etc.,  is in danger of being stolen.

Public websites that are used nation-wide and meant to store huge user data should ensure the highest levels of data security. It should be noted that since such publicly-available websites provide a treasure trove of data to hackers, they are high-value targets of compromise. They could also be are target for pranksters and hacktivists seeking publicity.

Hackers usually hack a website by exploiting one or more of the weak links in the website design. Real-time data stolen from these kinds of websites earn them lot of monetary benefits, as the stolen data can be sold out for huge amounts of money either to legitimate, typically marketing, companies or another hacker group.

Any down-time for such important public portals for even a short amount of time to fix the issue might entail a hefty economic hit, and inconvenience thousands of users. However, security of these public websites demands regular vulnerability assessments and penetration tests to identify weaknesses, and software updates for the hosting platform on which it runs and for third-party installed security software.

Prevention is better than Cure.

V.Dhanalakshmi
Senior Threat Researcher, K7TCL

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April 28th, 2016

This blog intends to inform the general public about the next version of Android (7.0), expected to be labelled “Android Nutella” focussing on the significance of improved or new security features in the sweet next in line from Google.

The next dessert to taste after Marshmallow, provisionally “Nutella” (Android 7.0), loaded on Nexus devices, is expected to hit the market in Q3, 2016.

Few of the confirmed major new features in Android N as per the Android N Developer Preview version are:

  • Multi-window mode
  • Efficient Doze mode
  • Direct-reply notifications/Quick settings
  • Shifting Android Java language libraries to OpenJDK
  • Faster App optimization by ART
  • Android Beta Program
  • Data Saver mode
  • Video and Picture at the sametime
  • Changing display screen size
  • Dark mode
  • New folder icons
  • Clear All feature in recent apps list
  • Lock screen enhancements

It is to be noted from the above feature list of Android N that there are no major security enhancements in Android N revealed in the Developer Preview versions.

Lock screen enhancements:

  • In Android N, it is possible to enable a setting that allows the user to display user information like name, address, blood group, etc., on the lock screen.
  • The latest developer preview 2 of Android N  allows the user to reply to notifications from the lock screen itself.

Saying that, the enhancements at the lock screen level raises the question of privacy, i.e. data security. Suppose the device is misplaced or lost, it is possible for a third party to know the user’s identity. Credit card and banking divisions always verify a user’s identity for any request of user-profile change or account request, exactly the kind of information which can be obtained from a stolen Android N phone might enable a third party to easily steal or misuse the victim’s account.

It goes without saying that there could be a password protection mechanism to access user’s personal data. However, in that case it might not serve the purpose of helping in an emergency.

As the Android threat landscape seems to have gone a bit silent of late, at least in the IT security  world, after the discovery of the Stagefright exploit, and given Google’s super confidence in the absence of malware for Android, perhaps, the Android N development team might have skipped Security in the major feature enhancement list.

Even though the Android malware landscape has not thrown up too much to write home about in the last few months, it is understood that as there is always a malware threat for any popular OS, and hopefully Google is continuing to take security seriously. Note, apparently not all the features have been revealed in the preview versions of Nutella so let us wait for the release candidate of Android N to have a clear picture of any major security feature changes. The proof will be in the eating…

Image courtesy:
nutella.com

V.Dhanalakshmi
Senior Threat Researcher, K7TCL

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April 22nd, 2016

The Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh recently requested the likes of Google, Facebook and WhatsApp to base their servers in India for security reasons.

WhatsApp has launched end-to-end encryption which makes snooping on WhatsApp traffic via, say, a Man-in-the-Middle very difficult, thus maintaining high levels of privacy. However, the events in parts of the country over the past few days are a reminder of the power of social media in disinformation campaigns.

Such social media services are regularly abused by terrorist groups to communicate amongst themselves as well as to spread propaganda. Therefore security agencies require access to communication content as per the provisions of the Information Technology Act. Since encrypted traffic makes it difficult to monitor the activities of suspects, it is important that content on the servers is made available when lawfully requested.

Such requests would be acquiesced to more readily if social media services for Indian citizens were hosted on servers within India’s jurisdiction, instead of typically in the US as is the case currently. The high-profile battle between the FBI and Apple in the US demonstrates the difficulties Indian security agencies could face in obtaining data from outside of India’s jurisdiction.

As I had mentioned a couple of years ago, the public’s opposition to the government imposing on their privacy is based on their prevailing threat perception. Given India’s history, geography and an unenviable record of victimhood, one would suggest that the threat perception in India is rather high.

Let us see if and how the social media giants bend to the government’s will.

Image courtesy of gadgets.ndtv.com.

Samir Mody
Senior Manager, K7TCL

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April 15th, 2016

Following part I of the blog series that describes the security problems in IoT, here is the second part of the series that explains technically how the information stolen from IoT users can be monetized.

risk.top_.jpg

The IoT security challenges described in part I give rise to unprecedented risks. Mischievous parties could remotely trigger havoc inside an IoT user’s physical environment: Burning down houses by hacking microwave ovens, or remotely turning off home security systems, or for the sake of fun, just causing devices to work in an irregular manner. These are just a few examples of IoT hacking which can be used by cyber criminals. The possibilities are endless, almost left to one’s imagination.

The associated risks would also extend to the internet used by the  common man. On a daily basis, websites already violate  user privacy by tracking a user’s activity: what you search for, what links you click on, what websites you visit; this valuable data can be sold off to commercial companies. These companies, in turn, use analytics to build user profiles to serve targeted ads to their audience. However, with the data generated by IoT products, these profiles would contain not only cyber-activity logs but also physical activity data for the user. A person using a pacemaker could now be targeted by insurance companies with specific schemes, even though he/she wouldn’t like others to know about their medical condition.

On the Dark Internet, a major chunk of content is based upon selling stolen credit card information and user credentials. The Dark Internet provides services for DDoS attacks and hacking accounts/websites for a fee. With the increasing adoption of IoT, we might see the rise of a new kind of data on these sites. Data stolen from IoT products would provide an entirely new set of data to be used for malicious purposes. There could be malware and viruses written specifically for IoT products which may go on to cause physical damage to life and property. Consider a botnet, capable of infecting a pacemaker device. It requires only a single command to cause irregularities in the pacemaker’s functionality thereby giving malicious parties the nefarious power to carry out mass murder.

We, as a security concern, believe that industry  can definitely reduce the risks associated in using IoT devices by tackling the afore-mentioned known security problems in the IoT ecosystem at different stages such as  manufacturing and custom-designed security quality assurance testing to ensure the maximum security of the IoT devices at the software level, up until the device reaches the user.

Image credits:
www.vipinkhandelwal.com

Priyal Viroja, Vulnerability Researcher, K7TCL

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April 7th, 2016

Here is the first part of a two-part blog that covers the security problems in the Internet of Things (IoT) in more technical terms than our previous series .

Imagine that you are on your way back home in a self-driven car, browsing the internet on your mobile. As you come within a 2-mile radius of your house, the air-conditioner switches itself on at the temperature of your choice. You enter your garage, the doors opening automatically, and walk into your room. The lighting dynamically adjusts according to the weather outside, and the lasagna that was in the oven is now all warmed up.

Twenty years ago, if somebody told me such a tale, I’d have laughed and said “you watch too much science fiction”. But today, this scenario is within the scope of modern reality. The IoT revolution is finally here, and it is supposedly bringing joy and comfort to people. But there’s a downside to IoT: it is increasingly becoming an attractive target for cybercriminals. The increase in the sheer number and variety of connected devices has opened up possibilities for coming up with new and more diverse attack techniques.

IoT.security.JPG

Security flaws in IoT products have been brought to light by hackers and security researchers. Some of the hacks which made security news were: Smart home, Surveillance cameras, Jeep car (accessed remotely and its engine killed remotely). In addition an airplane’s cockpit controls were accessed via the in-flight entertainment system. As if these weren’t enough, even pacemakers and insulin pumps were demonstrated as being hackable.

If one were to take a closer look into these hacks, a bunch of recurrent fundamental security problems with the IoT ecosystem come forth. Let’s take a look at some of those problems.

Communication Channels

IoT devices mostly communicate wirelessly using protocols like LTE Advanced, Cellular 4G/LTE, 3G GPS/GPRS, 2G/GSM/EDGE, CDMA, EVDO, WIMAX, Weightless, Wifi, Bluetooth, UWB, Z-Wave, Zigbee, 6L0wpan, NFC and RFID. There are known security flaws associated with these protocols, and yet they continue to be widely used. This leaves us with two non-trivial choices:

  1. Fix the issues with these protocols
  2. Come up with better and more secure protocols

Both of the above choices are non-trivial to execute.

Authentication and Authorization

Credentials/tokens are essential in the traditional authentication and authorization approach. However, IoT has added new modes: biometrics, sensors, NFC, RFID, and sometimes, surprise surprise: no authentication at all! All these years industry has been struggling with securely storing credentials in one way or another. But now we have a whole new array of authentication and authorization approaches to take care of.

End-to-End Encryption

Mobile apps, messaging apps in particular, first encrypt the user’s data on the device using state-of-the-art industry-standard encryption algorithms. Then anti-snooping, end-to-end encryption techniques are deployed. However, the same approach can’t be taken with IoT devices as the modes of communication are fundamentally different. Here, the communication is not one-to-one but, one-to-many or many-to-many. Data travels through many communication channels and nodes. Also, the security protocols used by devices might vary.

Minor faults in end-to-end encryption may lead to exposure of credentials, tokens, and other sensitive informations. Imagine that you have a router using a state-of-the-art encryption algorithm. This router then communicates with a thermometer, which stores the network password in plaintext. Now, to break into the network, all one would need to do is target the thermometer, thereby bypassing the entire robust network security framework.

Insecure Web/App Interface

Web/App interfaces are infamous for being targets of choice for hackers. This can be attributed to the bugs/defects present in the underlying frameworks that these interfaces run on. A vulnerable interface could provide a hacker with access to the server or to the cloud itself. The common problems associated with this are:

  1. A lack of robust password recovery mechanisms
  2. No protection against cross-site scripting (XSS), code/SQL injections, etc.,

Hardware Failures

Preoccupied with creating a sleek and minimalistic design, some manufacturers tend to neglect hardware bugs. These bugs, in turn, can allow attackers to reboot the device(s) and their corresponding hotspots. It is not possible to deliver hardware patches over the air.

Unprotected Client Devices

IoT users’ use of desktops, laptops, tablets, mobiles, etc to operate IoT devices, in turn, opens a remote door to devices. All these devices have a long and notorious history of severe vulnerabilities. Consider a scenario of a company building a smart bulb with all these fancy remote control features. They have a highly compatible, secured mobile app, web interface and embedded hardware. But what if customers have a weak wireless setup, outdated mobile operating system, vulnerable desktop applications? On whom are we going to pin the blame for a breach??!

Image credits:
www.eweek.com

… to part II: risks from stolen user’s information

Priyal Viroja, Vulnerability Researcher, K7TCL

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April 1st, 2016

Our State-of- the-Art anti-cyber-threat facility has moved!!

As of today, we are conducting operations from our very own K7 Threat Control Lab Space Station.

Yes, our determined focus on taking our world-wide customer protection status to the next generation led to our decision to invest in infrastructure which would enable us to LITERALLY view the global threat landscape, thereby providing enhanced visual intelligence data.

We have now expanded our horizons to defend networks and devices across solar systems, and to research alienware. Interestingly some inter-galactic entities have expressed a firm desire to deploy endpoint protection on their advanced networked workstations. This is almost certainly as a result of an incident a couple of decades ago when a DOS-like scripty cross-architecture “virus” was transmitted wirelessly to the spaceships of a clan from a neighbouring galaxy, allegedly bringing them down.

We have been told that it was a tough day for their incident response and IT teams, and cost a bazillion hard-earned $PE$Os in damage.

K7 Development, focussed on innovation, is currently in the design phase for the K7IGS (K7 Inter-Galactic Security) product, which is scheduled to launch around the 1st of April 2017.

K7TCL SS infrastructure comes with funky technical features such as:

The docking station, with a physical fibre-optic pipe from Earth, provides an unmatchable 3×108 Mbps, thus allowing threat response in a flash.

The scale of the Internet of Things and the Cloud on Earth is less than microscopic when compared to Inter-Galactic Connectivity in Space and Time. Nevertheless K7TCL is ready for this exciting security challenge whether on Earth or beyond.

Image credits:

Kaarthik RM, K7 Threat Control Lab
Jason Brown from flickr.com
theknightshift.com
boomsbeat.com

Samir Mody
Senior Manager, K7TCL

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March 24th, 2016

This is the seventh part of our series on cyber security, and the second part on Digital Signing. This blog post aims to inform readers about the misuse and exploitation of digital signatures.

The previous installment on Digital Signing discussed the security role of digital signatures in today’s era of internet communication and computerisation. Though designed for authentication and tamper-proofing of digital content, digital signatures and certificates are also exploited and misused to a fair extent.

Consider the case of Stuxnet (2010) wherein the device drivers of the rootkit component were digitally signed, and were actually loaded without any notification on infected systems. These drivers were signed by certificates which were actually stolen, and which were ultimately revoked by the CA which issued them.

The signed malware trend has been on the rise since then. To give some insight on the scale of the issue, let us consider a scenario in our own K7TCL. We pulled out data that represents the total number of malware signatures released over certain discrete chunks of time.

Graph 1: Ratio between signed malware and unsigned malware

The above graph depicts that on average at least one-tenth of automated detections released are for files carrying a valid digital signature. The signing certificates could either have been stolen or legitimately acquired for mala fide purposes. Unwanted Programs/Applications/Adware are examples of those that use “legitimately acquired” certificates. It is widely acknowledged that the Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUP)/Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUA) have been posing a serious problem in the AV community for some time.

To understand this better we further refined our stats data and found that it is PUP/PUAs that dominate the number of digitally-signed-file detections at more than 90%.

Graph 2: Ratio between signed PUP/PUAs and signed malware

These PUP/PUAs can more easily circumvent the security policies of recent versions of Windows that restrict unsigned executables from loading into memory. Thus digital signatures, though they make it possible to keep tabs on what gets executed, they can also lend themselves to nagging PUP/PUAs. There has been a huge increase in signed PUP/PUAs over the past couple of years, indicating a potential dilemma faced by CAs. This is apart from the very serious issues that are caused by malware authors signing their creations with paid-up, as well as stolen, digital certificates. Thus the automatic trust factor associated with digital signatures is being eroded on a daily basis.

The CAs also feel the heat since they are required to revoke or blacklist certificates that have been misused. CAs update what is called a Certificate Revocation List (CRL), wherein revoked certificates are published on a regular basis, but the CRL method had its own shortcomings. Hence Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) was deployed, such that it overcame the difficulties that the CRL scheme had with respect to PKI standards.

Nevertheless, Digital Signing, plays a major role in securing digital content, despite the above-described shortcomings.

K7 Threat Control Lab

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March 17th, 2016

Here is part six of the the blog series on the Internet of Things following on from IoT: How are We Going to Protect Ourselves? that concludes the blog series with a brief idea on how we, as a security company, foresee the future of IoT security.

The problems that an IoT consumer user might face is applicable to enterprises as well, on a large scale. The risks could be even higher in the case of enterprises because the devices in industry, e.g. in a nuclear power facility or water plant, cameras in data centres, medical devices in hospitals, etc., could very well also be part of IoT.

Data from millions of credit cards stolen…, hackers stealing passwords from billions of customers…, cyber-criminals stealing intellectual property from world famous XYZ company… these are the subjects of breaking security news over the last couple of years.

In the future it would be awful to hear news like  “Hackers stole billions of IoT data records”, “Cyber-criminals got access to trillion IoT devices”,  “Almost all the household appliances from XYZ country stopped working after a reported attack from ABC group”, etc. As a security company, we would consider such scenarios as possibilities but we would hate to see them manifest themselves.

The next generation of spam messages are not going to be based on assumption but will be purely and precisely based on the user’s IoT device usage and data, as it is now happening with web search items.

There could be a possibility of a new era of cyber war and cyber terrorism, but at the same time, we would like to welcome you all to the new world of cyber security protection!

http://devicebar.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/What-Is-Internet-of-Things-IoT-e1432593113423.png

Remember, the objective of this blog series was not to make users paranoid about IoT or to spread panic. Rather, it was to create and spread awareness on being secure in a more challenging world of IoT! So, by following simple, but important, protection steps, we should be able to protect ourselves better from IoT security dangers.

Here at K7 we have been protecting our customers and their information systems for more than two decades, and we intend to protect even their IoT devices, at home and elsewhere! We would like to witness the ‘Internet of Things’ turning into the ‘Internet of Secure Things’.

Image credits:
devicebar.com

Senthil Velan
Manager,Vulnerability Research

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March 9th, 2016

Beware of two aggressive ransomware spam campaigns which have been active for the past few weeks.

The above screenshot of my own spam folder exemplifies the typical theme used by the new ransomware kid on the block, “Locky”, and the latest version of an established ransomware called “TeslaCrypt“.

Although both ransomware spam runs pretend to be an “Invoice”, the next stage of the infection vector for Locky and TeslaCrypt differ significantly from each other. Locky spam mails contain an attachment such as ‘scan_<number>.doc’, whereas the current TeslaCrypt spam contains a ZIP archive wrapping a JavaScript file, e.g. ‘invoice_<random alphanumeric>.js’.

The Locky DOC file contains a password-protected macro VBA script. Please note, since macros can contain malicious code they are disabled by default in Microsoft Word, and should remain so. The objective of the Locky macro script as well as the TeslaCrypt JavaScript is to download and execute the respective ransomware payload EXE.

Typical malicious spam campaigns deliver the payload directly in a ZIP attachment containing an EXE. However such attachments are easier to block at the email gateway level since they are considered “high risk”. It is more difficult to block non-EXE files at the gateway as a matter of policy, hence the Locky and TeslaCrypt attachments are more likely to get past gateway filters onto the local computer. Thereafter, given their script context rendered by standard interpreting applications, the download and execution of the ransomware payload is less likely to be blocked by behavioural protection mechanisms such as HIPS and the firewall.

K7 has robust protection at multiple levels against both ransomware campaigns, however, as always, prevention is much better than cure. In the case of spam, it is best to completely avoid emails from unknown sources, especially those which expect one to open an attachment or click on a link.

Samir Mody
Senior Manager, K7TCL

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March 3rd, 2016

Continuing our series on cyber security, following the fifth part on Social Networking, this blog post aims to initiate the readers on the what, where and how of Digital Signatures in information security.


A digital signature is a method of authenticating both the source and the content of any form of electronic data/message. When validated the recipient of the signed electronic data/message can be confident of the integrity of the content, i.e. it hasn’t been altered in any form during transit, and that the sender is the person or entity that signed the content.

Source: https://www.esignit.org/NewEsignit/images/Digital%20authentication%20process.jpg

Digital signatures are based on asymmetric cryptography; a complex mathematical scheme involving a set of public, i.e. freely distributable, and private (aka ‘secret’) encryption keys is employed to create a secure channel for transmission of data across any network. If deployed correctly the receiver can believe that the data/message is perfectly authentic, and the sender cannot claim that it was fraudulent/forged unless the sender admits that their private key has been stolen and misused.

A basic example of usage of a digital signature would be an e-receipt for an online transaction, such as for an online insurance premium payment for which the insurance company could issue a digitally signed receipt from a specific person in that organisation. This receipt would normally require a signature by hand if done as a physical paper transaction. This method of digital authentication will become more and more prevalent as organisations move away from paper documentation.

Digital signatures are also used in digital certificates that are issued to entities that seek them. A digital certificate is like an identity card issued to an entity by a “Certification Authority” (CA), e.g. VeriSign. The certificate contains information about the entity that has been vetted by the CA, the entity’s public key, the CA’s name and the CA’s digital signature.

Since CAs are meant to carefully vet entities before issuing them certificates for a price, typically from INR 50,000 (USD 800) to INR 100,000 (USD 1500) for a period ranging from 1 year to 3 years for an EV (Extended Validity) Cert, digitally signed files are accorded an enhanced trustworthiness. Windows identifies likely safe or harmless files based on the validity of digital signatures on files that are executed on the OS using pre-populated trusted certificates in its certificate repository. Windows employs UAC (User Access Control) mechanisms to prevent malicious files from executing automatically. Files that have digital signatures from Microsoft can suppress UAC while other signers need to be authorized for execution on ‘first run’.

Websites also use digital certificates for authentication, typically an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate. There are various processes for certifying a website. It can be certified on the domain level based on the registration information or the respective organisation can be certified, which would follow a more manual process of scrutiny to check the authenticity of the organization, etc. An EV Cert however requires a higher level of scrutiny and background checks. If a website handles sensitive, personally identifiable information it should be a secure site with appropriately verified digital certificates.

As seen in the image above a digital certificate is not issued for eternity but only for a stipulated period of time. This is done to ensure that an organisation once legitimate remains legitimate to retain certificate renew rights. A CA could either choose to not issue a certificate to the organisation after the stipulated period is complete or, if the organisation has gone rogue, the CA could revoke the certificate during the validity period. A time limit on the validity of a certificate also reduces the potential damage which could be done if a certificate has been silently leaked, i.e. stolen, and is being used to sign malware.

Microsoft now employs a strict policy on what is allowed to be loaded into Windows kernel memory. Windows 10 strictly loads driver files if and only if they are signed by an EV certificate. An EV cert requires legal and human validation of the purchaser, and is a cert which fulfills the EV vetting criteria of the CA. This move should hopefully disrupt the kernel rootkit infection vector on Windows 10 machines.

Though digital signatures play a big part in securing digital content they too have their fair share of cases of abuse and misuse. A follow up to this blog post that discusses more about how digital signatures are misused can be expected in the near future … stay tuned.

…to part 7: (Frau)Duly Digi-Signed

Images courtesy of:
sslshopper.com
esignit.org

K7 Threat Control Lab

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