Open(SSL) season for targeted attackers.

Image by permission from Andrew Mason

Image by permission from Andrew Mason

Heartbleed, the vulnerability which is the result of a coding error in the widely used OpenSSL encryption library has been hogging all the headline over the past few days, and rightly so, it represents a a huge risk to information security for consumers and businesses alike.

You could be forgiven though given the majority of the coverage, for believing that as long as you waited for affected websites to update and subsequently changed your passwords that you would be covered. Wrong, Heartbleed is more death by a thousand cuts than major cardio-vascular event. It’s certainly true that by far the most widespread immediate risk, certainly in terms of numbers of potentially impacted individuals, is in the exposure of sensitive information by vulnerable web servers, information that could include passwords and session cookies, but even once this initial wave of patching is done the residual risk will be enormous.

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It’s not my birthday

Flickr image by andrewmalone used under Creative Commons

I arrived in the office this morning to find a slew of birthday greetings awaiting me, both on Skype and even in direct message form on Twitter, where I was told that my birthday was appearing in someone’s calendar and they had no idea why. For a second I was confused, until my other half told me of her moment of abject fear that she had forgotten my birthday when she logged into Skype, the the proverbial penny dropped.

Like the queen, I have two birthdays each year, my real one and my Skype birthday and there is a good reason for this. Skype decided long ago that certain parts of your Skype profile information should be publicly available and Microsoft have continued this tradition. The privacy settings of these data items are non-configurable, this data comprises your first and last names, gender, detailed location and date of birth which taken together easily constitute “Personally Identifiable Information” under whichever jurisdiction you care to mention.

Whilst is is not compulsory to enter your date of birth on Skype in order to operate an account you are certainly encouraged to do so, whether that be by the “Profile completeness” tips (you get and extra 10% for your birthday!) or the bald invitation to “Add your birthday”. However it is not made clear when you add this data that it will only ever have a privacy setting of “Public”. Once you discover this, no doubt you will want to remove your date of birth, but the interface seems designed to fool you into thinking that this is nether possible nor wise

Skype Date of Birth

“It’s a Security Thing”… It sure is!

Nonetheless it is entirely possible, and advisable to reset this information to read simply “Day”, “Month” & “Year” and to remove your birthdate from the public domain. Either that or elect to have a second alternate birthday, just like I did. I haven’t got any presents yet, but the attention on this Monday morning is lovely.

Of course your friends and people you trust need to know your birthday, otherwise how are you ever going to get the full set of Iron Maiden reissues as birthday presents (true story) but unfortunately information such as date of birth is still all too often used as important security information or qualifying information to apply for identity documents and should not be broadcast so widely. In the words of the New York State Police

“All an identity thief needs is any combination of your Social Security number, birth date, address, and phone number.”

We can argue the pure logic of their claim (“any combination?” surely not) but the fact remains any information given freely, particularly in context increases your risk of identity theft or fraud. If you think that enterprising online criminals are not really interested in this stuff, think again, as much as five years ago they were already referring to Facebook as a “Free DOB Lookup Service”, of course that got resolved but we all know that scammers actively solicit contacts on Skype already and accepting the connection request is all it takes to give away your personal information.

Criminal forum post from 2009

Criminal forum post from 2009

We live in an age where everything is increasingly connected to everything else; accounts, applications, APIs, credentials devices and personal details and more. The less you broadcast, the more you can begin the long process of reclaiming ownership over your own identity. A process which for most of us, is long overdue.

loveme, kissme, catch me, try me.

Picture by dprotz used under Creative Commons

Yesterday evening the FBI issued a press release regarding the legal action against Aleksandr Andreevich Panin, a Russian national perhaps better known as “Gribodemon” and “Harderman”, the online aliases behind the notorious SyEye banking Trojan and Hamza Bendelladj a Tunisian national who went by the online moniker of “Bx1″. Panin has entered a guilty plea to the charges of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, the charges against Bendelladj are still pending. The FBI press release gives thanks to Trend Micro’s Forward Looking Threat Research team for their assistance in the investigation.

Bendelladj is alleged to have operated at least one command and control server for SpyEye, although as our TrendLabs blog and our investigation make clear, his involvement seems to be far deeper. He was arrested at Bangkok airport on the 5th January 2013 and Panin was arrested on July 1 last year when he flew through Atlanta.

The FTR team at Trend Micro began a particularly focused investigation into the person or people behind SpyEye almost 4 years ago. Over the intervening period, we mapped out the infrastructure used to support the malware, we identified weak points in that infrastructure and pursued a number of important leads pointing to the identities of individuals behind this pernicious banking Trojan. Once we felt that we had sufficient information we involved law enforcement who drove it to the successful conclusion you see today.

Our ongoing research turned up a wealth of data, much of which it would be imprudent to share while legal action is still ongoing, however it might interest you to know that some of the most frequent passwords used by one of the accused include “loveme”, “kissme” and “Danny000″. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions regarding OpSec.

The arrests last year and yesterday’s guilty plea are another illustration that Trend Micro’s strategy of going after the people behind online crime, instead of simply the infrastructure they exploit, is the right one. You may more often see stories that a botnet has been “taken down” resulting perhaps in a massive drop in the number of infected computers or Spam, but these types of activity while laudable are only temporary. Criminals will very soon come back and often come back stronger, having learned from their previous failures, the network of compromised computers will be rebuilt and the crime spree begin anew.

As with DNS Changer, as with the Reveton Ransomware, Trend Micro has proactively provided information and assistance to law enforcement that has led to arrests of individuals rather than the simple switching-off of criminal computers. It is through activities such as these that we hope to fulfil our mission of creating a world safe for exchanging digital information.