Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies around the world, including in the United States, have increasingly called for backdoors in the encryption schemes that protect your data, arguing that national security is at stake. But new research indicates governments already have methods and tools that, for better or worse, let them access locked smartphones thanks to weaknesses in the security schemes of Android and iOS.
Cryptographers at Johns Hopkins University used publicly available documentation from Apple and Google as well as their own analysis to assess the robustness of Android and iOS encryption. They also studied more than a decade’s worth of reports about which of these mobile security features law enforcement and criminals have previously bypassed, or can currently, using special hacking tools. The researchers have dug into the current mobile privacy state of affairs and provided technical recommendations for how the two major mobile operating systems can continue to improve their protections.
Google researchers have detailed a sophisticated hacking operation that exploited vulnerabilities in Chrome and Windows to install malware on Android and Windows devices.
Some of the exploits were zero-days, meaning they targeted vulnerabilities that at the time were unknown to Google, Microsoft, and most outside researchers (both companies have since patched the security flaws). The hackers delivered the exploits through watering-hole attacks, which compromise sites frequented by the targets of interest and lace the sites with code that installs malware on visitors’ devices. The boobytrapped sites made use of two exploit servers, one for Windows users and the other for users of Android.
If you’re using an Android device—or in some cases an iPhone—the Telegram messenger app makes it easy for hackers to find your precise location when you enable a feature that allows users who are geographically close to you to connect. The researcher who discovered the disclosure vulnerability and privately reported it to Telegram developers said they have no plans to fix it.
The problem stems from a feature called People Nearby. By default, it’s turned off. When users enable it, their geographic distance is shown to other people who have it turned on and are in (or are spoofing) the same geographic region. When People Nearby is used as designed, it’s a useful feature with few if any privacy concerns. After all, a notification that someone is 1 kilometer or 600 meters away still leaves stalkers guessing where, precisely, you are.
About 18,000 organizations around the world downloaded network management tools that contained a backdoor that a nation state used to install malware that stole sensitive data, the tools provider, SolarWinds, said on Monday.
The disclosure from Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds, came a day after the US government revealed a major security breach hitting federal agencies and private companies. The US Departments of Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security departments were among the federal agencies on the receiving end of hacks that gave access to email and other sensitive resources. Federal agencies using the software were instructed on Sunday to disconnect systems that run the software and perform a forensic analysis of their networks.
Firewalls aren’t just for corporate networks. Large numbers of security- or privacy-conscious people also use them to filter or redirect traffic flowing in and out of their computers. Apple recently made a major change to macOS that frustrates these efforts.
Beginning with Big Sur released last week, some 50 Apple-specific apps and processes are no longer routed through firewalls like Little Snitch and Lulu. The undocumented exemption came to light only after Patrick Wardle, a security researcher at a Mac and iOS enterprise developer Jamf, disclosed the change over the weekend.
Over the past few years, online disinformation has taken evolutionary leaps forward, with the Internet Research Agency pumping out artificial outrage on social media and hackers leaking documents—both real and fabricated—to suit their narrative. More recently, Eastern Europe has faced a broad campaign that takes fake news ops to yet another level: hacking legitimate news sites to plant fake stories, then hurriedly amplifying them on social media before they’re taken down.
On Wednesday, security firm FireEye released a report on a disinformation-focused group it’s calling Ghostwriter. The propagandists have created and disseminated disinformation since at least March 2017, with a focus on undermining NATO and the US troops in Poland and the Baltics; they’ve posted fake content on everything from social media to pro-Russian news websites. In some cases, FireEye says, Ghostwriter has deployed a bolder tactic: hacking the content management systems of news websites to post their own stories. They then disseminate their literal fake news with spoofed emails, social media, and even op-eds the propagandists write on other sites that accept user-generated content.