Tag Archive for Mobile

Scary SS7 Flaw Strikes Banks

Scary SS7 Flaw Strikes BanksLost in last month’s hub-bub over WannaCry ransomware was the revelation that hackers had successfully exploited the SS7 “flaw” in January 2017. In May reports surfaced that hackers were able to remotely pilfer German bank accounts by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in Signaling System 7 (SS7). SS7 is a standard that defines how to public phone system talks to itself to complete a phone call.

Telephone system Signaling System 7 The high-tech heist was initially reported by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (auf Deutsch). The attack was  a sophisticated operation that combined targeted phishing emails and SS7 exploits to bypass two-factor authentication (2FA) protection. This is the first publicly known exploit of SS7 to intercept two-factor authentication codes sent by a bank to confirm actions taken by online banking customers.

According to ars technica the attack began with traditional bank-fraud trojans. These trojans infect account holders’ computers and steal the passwords used to log in to bank accounts. From there, attackers could view account balances, but were prevented from making transfers without the one-time password the bank sent as a text message. After stealing the necessary login details via phishing emails, the perpetrators leveraged the SS7 flaw to intercept the associated mTAN (mobile transaction authentication numbers) authentication codes sent to the victims — messages notifying them of account activity — to validate the transactions and remain hidden, investigators say.

Central office equipmentGerman Telecommunications giant O2-Telefonica confirmed details of the SS7-based cyber attacks to the newspaper. Ars says, in the past, attackers have obtained mTANs by obtaining a duplicate SIM card that allows them to take control of the bank customer’s phone number. SS7-facilitated compromises, by contrast, can be done remotely on a much larger quantity of phone numbers.

O2 Telefonica confirmed to Help Net Security that the attackers were able to gain access to the network of a foreign mobile network operator in January 2017. The attackers likely purchased access to the foreign telecommunications provider – this can apparently be done for less than 1,000 euros – and have set up call and SMS forwarding.

Ford Road CO in Dearborn Mi is the Oregon officeTwo-factor authentication (2FA) is a security process in which the user provides two authentication factors to verify they are who they say they are.  2FA provides an extra layer of security and makes it harder for attackers to gain access to a person’s devices and online accounts, because knowing the victim’s password alone is not enough to pass the authentication check. Two-factor authentication has long been used to control access to sensitive systems and data, and online services are increasingly introducing 2FA to prevent their users’ data from being accessed by hackers who have stolen a password database or used phishing campaigns to get users’ passwords.

News of the incident prompted widespread concern online. Security advocates railed against the popular and continuous use of text messages to authenticate account information while growing evidence suggests that SS7 is an unsafe channel to deliver such data. Security experts told ars that the same SS7-centric hacking techniques used against German banks will become increasingly prevalent in the future, forcing organizations to reconsider how they authenticate user activity.

Cris Thomas, a strategist at Tenable Network Security warns in the article:

Two-factor authenticationWhile this is not the end of 2FA, it may be the end of 2FA over SS7, which comprises a majority of 2FA systems … Vulnerabilities in SS7 and other cellular protocols aren’t new. They have been presented at security conferences for years … there are other more secure protocols available now that systems can switch to…

Cyber security researchers began issuing warning about this flaw in late 2014 about dangerous flaws in SS7. I wrote about the SS7 flaw in September of 2016  and in March 2107. Maybe this will be the wake up call for the carriers. One industry insider quipped:

This latest attack serves as a warning to the mobile community about what is at stake if these loopholes aren’t closed … The industry at large needs to go beyond simple measures such as two-factor authentication, to protect mobile users and their data, and invest in more sophisticated mobile security.

man-in-the-middle attackIn 2014 security researchers first  demonstrated that SS7 could be exploited to track and eavesdrop on cell phones. This new attack is essentially a man-in-the-middle attack on cell phone communications. It exploits the lack of authentication in the communication protocols that run on top of SS7.

Developed in 1975, today, over 800 telecommunications companies around the world, including AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ), use SS7 make sure their networks interoperate. This technology has not kept up with modern times.  In May 2017, Wired published an article which explains some of the ways to secure SS7. Overcoming SS7 insecurity requires implementing a series of firewalls and filters that can stop the attacks. Researchers Wired spoke to suggest that adding encryption to SS7 would shield network traffic from prying eyes and bolster authentication. Both of these changes are unpopular with the carriers, because they cost money and can impact the network core, so don’t expect any network changes to address the SS7 flaw anytime soon.

Carriers should use SS7 firewall to secure the SS7 networkThe Register reports that the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council found that the proposed replacement for SS7 on 5G networks, dubbed the Diameter protocol has security holes too.

In March 2017, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and California Rep. Ted Lieu sent a letter to Homeland Security’s John Kelly requesting that DHS investigate and provide information about the impact of SS7 vulnerabilities to U.S. companies and governmental agencies. Kelly has not responded to the letter, according to the Wired article.

Of course the TLA’s would never use this “flaw” in SS7 to spy on us.

The Guardian says that given that the SS7 vulnerabilities reside on systems outside of your control, there is very little you can do to protect yourself beyond not using the services.

PoliticianThey recommend for text messages, avoiding SMS and instead using encrypted messaging services such as Apple’s (AAPL) iMessage, Facebook‘s (FB) WhatsApp or the many others available will allow you to send and receive instant messages without having to go through the SMS network to protect your messages from surveillance.

For calls, the Guardian recommends using a service that carries voice over data rather than through the voice call network. This will help prevent your calls from being snooped on. Messaging services including WhatsApp permit calls. Silent Circle’s end-to-end encrypted Phone service or the open-source Signal app also allow secure voice communications.

protect yourself Your location could be being tracked at any stage when you have your mobile phone on. The only way to avoid it is to turn off your phone or turn off its connection to the mobile phone network and rely on Wi-Fi instead.

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Ralph Bach has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

Fake Fingerprints Hack Phones

Fake Fingerprints Hack Phones– Updated 03-30-2016 – The Business Insider proves that you can use Play-Doh to fool the fingerprint sensor in your iPhone

I have pointed out a number of times that biometrics will not be the complete final solution for passwords. Biometrics is the measurement and statistical analysis of people’s physical and behavioral characteristics. The technology is mainly used for identification and access control. The basic premise of biometric authentication is that everyone is unique and an individual can be identified by his or her intrinsic physical or behavioral traits.

BiometricsOne huge issue is that you can’t change your intrinsic physical or behavioral traits if they get stolen or hacked. Well now there is more proof that biometrics can be hacked without cutting off a finger.

Two smarty Sparty’s from Michigan State University’s biometrics group have figured out a way to hack mobile phone fingerprint authentication according to Help Net Security. Apparently the MSU researchers can hack your secure phone by using just a scanner, a color inkjet printer, a special type of paper and ink.

AgIC 2D inkjet printerTurns out that the attack is easy to execute. The first step is to scan the target’s fingerprint image at 300 dpi or higher resolution. Then, the image is mirrored and the original or binarized fingerprint image is printed on the glossy side of an AgIC special paper. The printer uses AgIC silver conductive ink cartridges (along with normal black ink).

CrunchBase explains that advances in material science have made it possible to manufacture almost magical conductive ink. AgIC silver conductive ink contains tiny silver particles and can be purchased online. The ink is printed by standard Brother printers. The ink dries in a few seconds and conductivity emerges instantly when the traces are drawn on special photo inkjet printing paper also available online.

Starbucks appAll in all, an attacker can have a spoofed fingerprint that would allow him to access a phone protected with fingerprint authentication in less than 15 minutes, and the cost of all the tools he needs to do this does not surpass $500.

Researchers Kai Cao and Anil Jain successfully managed to fool the fingerprint sensors on the Samsung (005930) Galaxy S6 and Huawei (002502) Hornor 7 phones.

They posted a demo of the attack on YouTube:


The attack is an improvement over Germany’s Chaos Computer Club’s attack against Apple (AAPL) Touch ID on iPhone 5S by lifting a fingerprint of the genuine user off a glass surface and then making a spoof fingerprint.

More details about the Michigan State researchers work can be found here (PDF).

Mobile paymentsThe Sparty researchers note that not all the mobile phones can be hacked using this method. But their experiment is proof of the urgent need for anti-spoofing techniques for fingerprint recognition systems, especially for mobile devices which are being increasingly used as a part of two factor authentication for site access and payment processing like Apple Pay, Google (GOOG) Pay or Samsung Pay.

The researchers warn that it is only a matter of time before hackers develop improved hacking strategies not just for fingerprints, but other biometric traits that are being adopted for mobile phones (e.g., face, iris and voice).


Ralph Bach has been in IT for over fifteen years and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

Mobile Malware FUD?

Mobile Malware FUD?Just last week, I wondered out-loud from my Bach Seat if all the hype around mobile malware was real or just more FUD. Looks like I am not alone, TechCo recently asked a similar question, “Are We Overstating the Threats from Mobile Devices?

Mobile malwareThe author cites several recent reports that back up the claim that the actual mobile threats that mobile devices introduce into the enterprise is overstated. The data indicates that the mobile malware threat is statistically small and has even decreased since 2012.

• A McAfee report shows out of all the malware now out there, only 1.9% of it is mobile malware. The author equates the mobile threat to 4 million / 195 million McAfee knows about.
• Another report (PDF) from Verizon (VZ) shows even lower numbers, with only 0.03 percent of smartphones being infected with what is called “higher grade malicious code.”
hit by lighting• But some numbers go even lower than that. Damballa, a mobile security vendor that monitors roughly half of mobile data traffic, recently released a report that claims you have a better change of getting hit by lighting than by mobile malware. Dramballa found only 9,688 smartphones out of more than 150 million showed signs of malware infection. If you do the math, that comes out to an infection rate of 0.0064 percent.

Even more interesting is that despite the increase in mobile devices, Damballa found the infection rate had declined by half compared to 2012.

Walled gardenThese reports may show mobile threats aren’t as big of a problem as previously thought, but the author asks, why the numbers are so low at all. After all, cyber criminals like to target new platforms and exploit security weaknesses. Why do they seem to be avoiding mobile devices?

The truth of the matter is that mobile users tend to get their apps from high quality app stores. The stores from Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) work to filter out suspicious apps. If malware is found in apps after they’ve already been on the market for a while, app stores can also execute a kill switch, which takes the app off the store and the devices where they were downloaded. This limits malware’s ability to spread. (rb- I noted the advantages of Apple’s Walled Garden here),

remotely wipe devicesThe article concludes that companies that adopt BYOD should just ignore BYOD security; they just don’t have to go all-out like many businesses have done. Most mobile security experts say a mobile device management system remains a good investment to make sure mobile devices are handled appropriately. MDM systems also allow an organization to remotely wipe devices, thus keeping sensitive data safe in the event a device is lost or stolen. But malware really isn’t a factor in those cases, so the overall message from these recent reports is that getting worked up over mobile threats is not necessary. A company can still gain all the benefits of BYOD without having to worry incessantly over what they’re doing to protect every device that connects to their network.


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Ralph Bach has been in IT for fifteen years and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.

Internet of Things Full of Holes

Internet of Things Full of HolesThe Internet of Things, is big and heading towards huge. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system where unique identifiers are assigned to  objects, animals or people. These “Things” then transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. Whatis.com says IoT evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet.

BI IoT device prediction Business Insider believes that the IoT will be the biggest thing since sliced bread. They claim there are 1.9 billion IoT devices today, and 9 billion by 2018, which roughly equal to the number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable computers, and PCs combined. Gartner (IT) predicts that there will be 26 billion IoT devices by 2020. Based on a recent article on InfoSecurity Magazine is a very scary thing.

The InfoSecurity article says HP (HPQ) found 70% of the most common IoT devices have security vulnerabilities. HP used its Fortify On Demand testing service to uncover the security flaws. HP detected flaws in IoT devices like TVs, webcams, home thermostats, remote power outlets, sprinkler controllers, hubs for controlling multiple devices, door locks, home alarms, scales and garage door openers as well as their cloud and mobile app elements according to the new  study.

HP then tested them with manual and automated tools HP then tested them with manual and automated tools and assessed their security rating according to the vendor neutral OWASP Internet of Things Top 10 list of vulnerability areas. The author concludes that the results raised significant concerns about user privacy and the potential for attackers to exploit the devices and their cloud and app elements. Some of the results are:

  • A total of 250 security concerns were uncovered across all tested devices, which boils down to 25 on average per device,
  • 90% of devices collected at least one piece of personal information via the device, the cloud or its mobile application,
  • 80% of devices studied allowed weak passwords like 1234 opening the door for WiFi-sniffing hackers,
  • 80% raised privacy concerns about the sheer amount of personal data being collected,
  • 70% of the devices analyzed failed to use encryption for communicating with the Internet and local network,
  • 60% had cross-site scripting or other flaws in their web interface vulnerable to a range of issues such as the Heartbleed SSL vulnerability, persistent XSS (cross-site scripting), poor session management and weak default credentials,
  • 60% didn’t use encryption when downloading software updates.

Mike Armistead, VP & General Manager, HP Fortify, explained that IoT opens IoT opens avenues for the attackersavenues for the attackers.

While the Internet of Things will connect and unify countless objects and systems, it also presents a significant challenge in fending off the adversary given the expanded attack surface … With the continued adoption of connected devices, it is more important than ever to build security into these products from the beginning to disrupt the adversary and avoid exposing consumers to serious threats.

HP urged device manufacturers to eliminate the “lower hanging fruit” of common vulnerabilities. They recommend manufacturers, “Implement security … so that security is automatically baked in to your product … Updates to your product’s software are extremely important.”

Antti Tikkanen, director of security response at F-Secure, told InfoSecurity said the problems HP uncovered in this report were just the tip of the iceberg for IoT security risks.

One problem that I see is that while people may be used to taking care of the security of their computers, they are used to having their toaster ‘just work’ and would not think of making sure the software is up-to-date and the firewall is configured correctly … At the same time, the criminals will definitely find ways to monetize the vulnerabilities. Your television may be mining for Bitcoins sooner than you think, and ransomware in your home automation system sounds surprisingly efficient for the bad guys.


I covered the threats that IoT or “smart” devices presented back in 2012. I don’t know where HP (or the rest of the security community) have been.

The current generation of “smart” devices do not seem to have any security. Most likely the manufacturer did not consider basic security or worse calculated it was better to ignore secure design in their rush to gain market share.

It is also annoying that HP did not reveal the details on the products they tested.

Ralph Bach has been in IT for fifteen years and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.


What If Your Phone Lands in the Loo

What If Your Phone Lands in the LooIf you are one of the 75% of Americans who use their mobile in the Lav and your phone took a dip in the toilet (or other liquid for that matter), unless you have a waterproof Galaxy active you need this infographic from The Roosevelts. You need to act fast and follow this handy guide to save your beloved piece of tech.

How To Fix A Phone That Has Been Dropped In A Toilet

Ralph Bach has been in IT for a while and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.