Google and Security: The Google Play Protect Situation

September 1, 2022

Unfortunately for Android users, Google’s default app-security program is not the safest bet. A write-up at News Patrolling explores “Why Google Play Protect Fails to Identify Malicious Apps.” A few points are obvious—Google cannot help users who turn the feature off, for example, or those who install software from other sources. The company also lacks Apple’s advantage of controlling both hardware and software. That does not explain, however, why third-party tools from AhnLab to Trend Micro outperform Play Protect. Reporter Satya Prakash observes:

  • New kid on the block – As compared to other security software platforms that have been in existence for decades, Google Play Protect was launched in 2017. While it’s true that Google can hire the best security experts, it may still take some time for Google Play Protect to achieve the same level of security as offered by private software platforms. …
  • Too many apps and devices – There are around 3 million apps on Google Play and several thousands are added almost every day. Combine that with thousands of different types of smartphones, having different Android versions. Apparently, it’s a massive task to be able to fix security vulnerabilities that may be present in each of these cases.
  • Reliance on automated systems – Due to huge number of apps and devices, Google relies on automated systems to detect harmful behavior. Private security firms use the same approach, but apparently, they are doing a much better job. Hackers are constantly looking for new security vulnerabilities that can be exploited. This makes the job tougher for Google Play Protect.”

Happily, there are many stronger alternatives as tested by AV-Test. Their list is worth a look-see for Android users who care about security. A comparison to last year’s results shows Play Protect has actually improved a bit. Perhaps someday it will perform as well in its own app store as its third-party competition.

Cynthia Murrell, September 1, 2022

How about a Decade of Vulnerability? Great for Bad Actors

August 10, 2022

IT departments may be tired of dealing with vulnerabilities associated with Log4j, revealed late last year, but it looks like the problem will not die down any time soon. The Register reveals, “Homeland Security Warns: Expect Log4j Risks for ‘a Decade or Longer’.” Because the open-source tool is so popular, it can be difficult to track down and secure all instances of its use within an organization. Reporter Jessica Lyons Hardcastle tell us:

“Organizations can expect risks associated with Log4j vulnerabilities for ‘a decade or longer,’ according to the US Department of Homeland Security. The DHS’ Cyber Safety Review Board‘s inaugural report [PDF] dives into the now-notorious vulnerabilities discovered late last year in the Java world’s open-source logging library. The bugs proved to be a boon for cybercriminals as Log4j is so widely used, including in cloud services and enterprise applications. And because of this, miscreants soon began exploiting the flaws for all kinds of illicit activities including installing coin miners, stealing credentials and data, and deploying ransomware.”

Fortunately, no significant attacks on critical infrastructure systems have been found. Yet. The write-up continues:

“‘ICS operators rarely know what software is running on their XIoT devices, let alone know if there are instances of Log4j that can be exploited,’ Thomas Pace, a former Department of Energy cybersecurity lead and current CEO of NetRise, told The Register. NetRise bills itself as an ‘extended IoT’ (xIoT) security firm. ‘Just because these attacks have not been detected does not mean that they haven’t happened,’ Pace continued. ‘We know for a fact that threat actors are exploiting known vulnerabilities across industries. Critical infrastructure is no different.'”

Security teams have already put in long hours addressing the Log4j vulnerabilities, often forced to neglect other concerns. We are told one unspecified US cabinet department has spent some 33,000 hours guarding its own networks, and the DHS board sees no end in sight. The report classifies Log4j as an “endemic vulnerability” that could persist for 10 years or more. That is a long time for one cyber misstep to potentially trip up so many organizations. See the article for suggestions on securing systems that use Log4j and other open-source software.

Cynthia Murrell, August 10, 2022

What Microsoft Wants: Identity System and Data for Good Purposes Of Course

June 28, 2022

Microsoft wants its new Verified ID program to move beyond social media platforms. According to Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. in the article, “Microsoft Wants Everything To Come With Its Verified Check Mark,” Microsoft wants Verified ID to validate more personal information and it is starting with verifying credentials.

Verified ID would allow people to get digital credentials that prove where they graduated, their jobs, where they bank, and if they are in good health. Microsoft says Verified ID would be good for people who need to quickly share their personal information, such as job applications. Verified ID uses blockchain-based decentralized identity standards. Microsoft plans to release its Entry Verified ID, its official name, in August. The name for Microsoft’s identity product line is Entra.

Ankur Patel is a Microsoft principal program manager for digital identity and he believes Entry Verified ID will be mainstream in three years:

“In the first year, it’s likely that Verified ID will be used by organizations in tandem with existing verification methods, both digital and analog, with a portion of their users, according to Patel. Wider adoption will depend, in part, on making sure that the service itself hasn’t “done harm,” he acknowledged.

One potential risk is that individuals might inadvertently share sensitive information with the wrong parties using the system, Patel said. ‘In the physical world, when you’re presenting these kinds of things, you’re careful — you don’t just give your birth certificate to anybody,’ he said. Microsoft is aiming to limit the issues in its own digital wallets with features meant to protect against this type of accidental exposure, Patel said.”

Microsoft wants to verify everyone’s information, but what about guaranteeing that its own products are real?

Whitney Grace, June 28, 2022

Follina, Follina, Making Microsofties Cry

June 6, 2022

I read “China-Backed Hackers Are Exploiting Unpatched Microsoft Zero-Day.” According to the estimable Yahoo News outfit:

China-backed hackers are exploiting an unpatched Microsoft Office zero-day vulnerability, known as “Follina”, to execute malicious code remotely on Windows systems…. The flaw, which affects 41 Microsoft products including Windows 11 and Office 365, works without elevated privileges, bypasses Windows Defender detection, and does not need macro code to be enabled to execute binaries or scripts.

Ah, ha, Windows 11. The trusted protection thing? Yeah, well. The write up added some helpful time information:

The Follina zero-day was initially reported to Microsoft on April 12, after Word documents – which pretended to be from Russia’s Sputnik news agency offering recipients a radio interview – were found abusing the flaw in the wild. However, Shadow Chaser Group’s crazyman, the researcher who first reported the zero-day, said Microsoft initially tagged the flaw as not a “security-related issue”. The tech giant later informed the researcher that the “issue has been fixed,” but a patch does not appear to be available.

Bob Dylan’s song makes this latest security issue easy to remember:

Follina, Follina
Girl, you’re on my mind
I’m a-sittin down thinkin of you
I just can’t keep from crying

Big sobs, not sniffles.

Stephen E Arnold, June 6, 2022

Netgear: A Pioneer in What Might Be Called Baked In Insecurity

May 31, 2022

Computer security is an essential component for anyone using the Internet, because hackers target companies and individuals with scams and ransomware as well as steal personal information and intellectual property. As remote work becomes more common, the need for enhanced digital security increases. Companies that build hardware and software for Internet access are challenged to build robust and secure products. They also stand behind their products’ quality, but in a recent case networking equipment manufacturer Netgear admitted a flaw. Forbes reports the details in, “Netgear Says It Can’t Fix Multiple Vulnerabilities On Two Of Its Routers For Homeworkers.”

Netgear described the BR200 and BR500 models as secure routers for at-home workers connecting to their corporate networks. Unfortunately, these routers have exploitable security vulnerabilities and they cannot be fixed. Netgear will replace the defective models with a free or discounted router. The problem is minuscule, but all it takes is one crack to bring down a dam:

“The vulnerability of these two routers means there could be a security breach if a user is visiting a suspicious website and clicking on a malicious link while they have the router’s built-in web interface for adjusting the router’s settings. Frankly, that’s pretty unlikely to happen but with computer security, no matter how minuscule the threat might be, it must be taken seriously. The hacker only has to get lucky once.”

It is wonderful that Netgear admitted the mistake and is working with its customers to resolve the issue. Netgear also released a list of precautions BR200 and BR500 owners could use to prevent the hack if they wish to keep the router.

We wish more companies would own up to mistakes like Netgear. Politicians could certainly learn a thing or two from Netgear. Could Microsoft garner a fresh insight? Maybe?

Whitney Grace, May 31, 2022

DuckDuckGo: A Duck May Be Plucked

May 25, 2022

Metasearch engines are not understood by most Internet users. Here’s my simplified take: A company thinks it can add value to the results output from an ad-supported search engine. Maybe the search engine is a for-fee outfit? Either way, the metasearch systems gets the okay to send queries and get results. The results stream back to the metasearch outfit and the value-adding takes place.

One of the better metasearch systems was the pre-IBM Vivisimo. This outfit sent out queries to an ad-supported search engine, accepted the results, and then clustered them. The results appeared to the Vivisimo user as a results list with some folders in a panel. The idea was that the user could scan the folders and the results list. The user could decide to click on a folder and see what results it contained or just click on a link. The magic, as I understood it, was that the clustering took place in near real time. Plus, the query on the original Vivisimo pre-IBM system could send the user’s query to multiple Web search engines. The results from each search system would be de-duplicated. An interesting factoid from the 2000s is that search systems returned overlapping results 70 percent of more of the time. Dumping the duplicates was helpful. There were other interesting metasearch systems as well, but I am just using Vivisimo as an example of a pretty good one.

Privacy, like security, is a tricky concept to explain.

Using privacy to sell a free Web search system raises a number of questions; for example:

  1. What’s privacy in the specific context of the metasearch engine mean?
  2. Where is the money coming from to keep the lights on at the metasearch outfit?
  3. What about log files?
  4. What about legal orders to reveal data about users?
  5. What’s the quid pro quo with the search engine or engines whose results the metasearch system uses?
  6. What part of the search chain captures data, inserts trackers, bugs, cookies, etc. into the user’s query?

None of these questions catch the attention of the real news folks nor do most users know what the questions require to answer. The metasearch engines typically do not become chatty Cathies when someone like me shows up to gather information about metasearch systems. I recall the nervousness of the New York City wizard who cooked up Ixquick and the evasiveness of the owner of the Millionshort services.

Now we come to the the notion that a duck can be plucked. My hunch is that plucking a duck is a messy affair both duck and duck plucker.

DuckDuckGo Browser Allows Microsoft Trackers Due to Search Agreement” presents information which appears to suggest that the “privacy” oriented DuckDuckGo metasearch system is not so private as some believed. The cited article states:

The privacy-focused DuckDuckGo browser purposely allows Microsoft trackers on third-party sites due to an agreement in their syndicated search content contract between the two companies.

You can read the cited article to get more insight into the assertion that DuckDuck has been pluck plucked in the feathered hole of privacy.

Am I surprised? No. Search is without a doubt one of the most remarkable business segments for soft fraud. How do I know? My partners and I created The Point in 1994, and even though you don’t remember it, I sure remember what I learned about finding information online. Lycos (CMGI) bought our curated search business, and I wrote several books about search. You know what? No one wants to think about search and soft fraud. Maybe more people should?

Net net: Free comes at a cost. One does not know what one does not know.

Stephen E Arnold, May 25, 2022

True or False: Google and Dangerous Functionality

May 13, 2022

I want to be clear: I cannot determine if security-related announcements are PR emissions, legitimate items of data, or clickbait craziness. I am on the fence with the information is “Google Cloud Apparently Has a Security Issue Even Firewalls Can’t Stop.”

The write up presents as real news:

A misconfiguration in Google Cloud Platform has been found which could give threat actors full control over a target virtual machine (VM) endpoint

These virtual machines are important cogs in some bad actors machinery. Sure, legitimate outfits rely on the Google for important work as well. Therefore, the announcement points some bad actors toward a new opportunity to poke around and outfits engaged in ethically informed activities to batten down their digital hatches.

The write up points out that the Google agreed that “misconfiguration could bypass firewall settings.”

And the Google, being Googley, semi-agrees. Does this mean that the Google Cloud is just semi-vulnerable?

Stephen E Arnold, May 13, 2022

Ethical Behavior and the Ivy League: Redefinition by Example

April 5, 2022

First, MIT and its dalliance with the sophisticated Jeffrey Epstein. Then there was Harvard and its indifference to an allegation of improper interpersonal behavior. Sordid details abound in this allegedly accurate report. Now Yale. The bastion of “the dog”, the football game, Skull and Bones, etc., etc.

A Former Yale Employee Admits She Stole $40 Million in Electronics from the University” makes clear that auditing, resource management, and personnel supervision are not the esteemed institution greatest strengths.

I gave a talk at Yale a decade ago. The subject was Google, sparked because one of the Yale brain trust found my analysis interesting. Strange, I thought, at the time. No one else cares about my research about Google’s systems and methods. I showed up and was greeted as though I was one of the gang. (I wasn’t.)

At dinner someone asked me, “Where did you get your PhD?” I replied with my standard line: “I don’t have a PhD. I quit to take a job at Halliburton Nuclear.” As you might imagine, the others at the dinner were not impressed.

I gave my lecture and no one — absolutely none of the 100 people in the room — asked a question. No big deal. I am familiar with the impact some of my work has elicited. One investment banker big wheel threw an empty Diet Pepsi can at me after I explained how the technology of CrossZ (a non US analytics company) preceded in invention the outfit the banked just pumped millions into. Ignorance is bliss. Same at Yale during and after my lecture.

Has Yale changed? Seems to be remarkably consistent: Detached from the actions of mere humans, convinced of a particular world view, and into the zeitgeist of being of Yale.

But $40 million?

An ethical wake up call? Nope, hit the snooze button.

Stephen E Arnold, April 5, 2022

Microsoft Help Files: Truly Helpful?

March 28, 2022

We are approaching April Fools’ Day. One company reliably provides a clever way to make me laugh. CHM? Do you know what the acronym means? No. It is a short hand way to say Compiled HTML Help file. CHH becomes CHM. Makes perfect sense to a Softie.

The tickled ribs result from bad actors using the CHM files to deliver malware.  You can read the explanation and inspiration for bad actors in “Microsoft Help Files Disguise Vidar Malware.”

The write up states:

… the .ISO file contains a .CHM file named “pss10r.chm.” Towards the end of the file’s code is a snippet of HTML application (HTA) code containing JavaScript  that covertly triggers a second file, “app.exe.” This is, in fact, Vidar malware. “One of the objects unpacked from the .CHM is the HTML file ‘PSSXMicrosoftSupportServices_HP05221271.htm’ —  the primary object that gets loaded once the CHM pss10r.chm is opened,” according to the Trustwave writeup. “This HTML has a button object which automatically triggers the silent re-execution of the .CHM “pss10r.chm” with mshta.” Mshta is a Windows binary used for executing HTA files.

With the preliminaries out of the way the malware payload downloads, does some house cleaning, and phones home.

Microsoft, the go to solution for compromising security? Maybe. And what about Defender? What about the super smart cyber security systems from big name vendors. Yeah, how about those defenses?

Now we know there is one thing worse than the informational content of Microsoft help files.

Want to guess?

The Register reports that “Microsoft Azure developers targeted by 200 data stealing npm packages.” Not familiar with npm? NPM is a software registry and contains more than 750,000 code packages. Some open source developers use npm to share software. What if an npm code package has been modified so that malicious actions are included?


Stephen E Arnold, March 28, 2022

Amazon: Insider Threats at the Online Bookstore

February 22, 2022

When I mention that insider threats are a big deal for organizations, some people roll their eyes. Executives want to hear that smart software, equipped with real time threat intelligence, and adaptive perimeter devices eliminate most security threats.

Yeah, but not in my experience. Most people don’t realize how desperate some people are for money or attention. One of those odd ball posts in a free news service said that in the US up to two thirds of the working class have no savings. Big earners don’t need money, or that’s what many people think.

Quick example: Years ago I worked for a big time financial executive at a then super big time financial services firm. When he and I went to lunch, he would ask me to pick up the tab. He explained that he could expense me more easily than shove more charges into his company expense report. I asked how that was possible. The person made more than $1 million per year excluding the new year bonus. The answer was instructive.

I noted these points:

  • The need for a New York Athletic Club membership. His employer wanted him to go to Crunch.
  • The need for three country club memberships. The company paid for one.
  • The need for three nannies because his wife worked long hours and the children required attention because the pride number three
  • The need for a car service. The company only paid for rides from the Manhattan office to his home when he worked after 7 pm. He needed more flexible car service.
  • Mortgage payments sucked up cash for the big house in a state bordering New York and a weekend getaway in Florida.
  • His desire to invest in hot growth companies.
  • Miscellaneous expenses like personal auto leases, sneakers, and private schools for his pride or future influencers.

I have not forgotten about the other six deadly sins nor the simple desire to make more money to outdo one’s MBA classmates. Nor have I forgotten the power of carnal desire and the unreasonable effectiveness of honey traps, old Facebook posts, or leaked email.

Against this backdrop think about the information in this allegedly true story: “Former Amazon Employee Sentenced to 10 Months in Prison for Involvement in Bribery Scheme.” The write up reports:

Kadimisetty is one of six individuals who the U.S. Department of Justice charged with conspiracy for allegedly bribing Amazon employees to gain an “upper hand” over other sellers on Amazon’s online marketplace. In addition to Kadimisetty, the group of individuals included seller consultant Ed Rosenberg, Joseph Nilsen, Kristen Leccese, Hadis Nuhanovic and Nishad Kunju, who was employed by Amazon in India until 2018. Between late 2017 and 2020, these people allegedly bribed Amazon employees to leak information about the company’s search and ranking algorithms, as well as share confidential data on third-party sellers they competed with on the marketplace. [emphasis added]

Insiders? Yep. Friends of insiders? Maybe? Do automated smart cyber systems identify these individuals? Sure in marketing presentations. In real life? Well… Companies are big and management is tough. When images of a malfunction which allowed an F 35 fall off the deck of an aircraft carrier suggested that’s the way things are. Sure.

Stephen E Arnold, February 22, 2022

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