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Is Amazon Alexa Safe? Cybersecurity Researchers Uncover Serious Privacy Issues

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As seen on: newsweek.com by Jocelyn Grzeszczak on 8/13/20

A cybersecurity firm has uncovered serious privacy concerns in Amazon’s popular “Alexa” device, leading to questions about its safety.

Check Point, the California- and Israel-based technology company, published a report Thursday detailing “vulnerabilities found on Amazon’s Alexa,” including a hacker’s access to the user’s voice history and personal information, as well as the ability to silently install or remove skills on the user’s account.

“In effect, these exploits could have allowed an attacker to remove/install skills on the targeted victim’s Alexa account, access their voice history and acquire personal information through skill interaction when the user invokes the installed skill,” according to the report. “Successful exploitation would have required just one click on an Amazon link that has been specially crafted by the attacker.”

Amazon’s Alexa line is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) technology, and the conglomerate had sold more than 200 million Alexa devices by the end of 2019, CNET reported. The Alexa essentially functions as a virtual assistant to its user, able to take voice commands, play music, set alarms, and offer weather or news reports.

Developers are continually working on new programs to make the devices even more user-friendly. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, Amazon announced Alexa Conversations was moving into its beta phase, and would now be able to provide an AI-driven element to voice interactions, making conversations flow more naturally.

 

Amazon Alexa
Amazon highlights how its Alexa digital assitant can be integrated into various smart home devices at its exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 11, 2019. Cybersecurity firm Check Point uncovered serious privacy concerns in the Alexa device in a report published August 13.

In its report, Check Point described how an attacker could hack into a user’s Amazon account to compromise their Alexa device, including a breakdown of the code needed to carry out such an action. In one example of how an attack could occur, the user would click on a malicious link provided by the hacker, allowing them to inject their code into the user’s account.

Check Point also detailed how an attacker could get the device’s entire voice history, which could expose banking information, home addresses or phone numbers, as all interactions with the device are recorded.

Virtual assistants provide relatively easy targets for attackers wishing to steal sensitive information or disrupt a user’s smart home device, according to the report. Check Point’s research found a weak spot in Amazon’s security technology, the report stated.

“What we do know is that Alexa had a significant period of time where it was vulnerable to hackers,” Check Point spokesman Ekram Ahmed told Fox News. “Up until Amazon patched, it’s possible that personal and sensitive information was extracted by hackers via Alexa. Check Point does not know the answer to whether that occurred yet or not, or to the degree to which that happened.”

In an emailed statement to Newsweek, an Amazon spokesperson wrote that security of its devices is a top priority for the company.

“We appreciate the work of independent researchers like Check Point who bring potential issues to us. We fixed this issue soon after it was brought to our attention, and we continue to further strengthen our systems,” according to the statement. “We are not aware of any cases of this vulnerability being used against our customers or of any customer information being exposed.”

To ensure Alexa devices are secure, Check Point recommends that users avoid unfamiliar apps, think twice before sharing information with a smart speaker and conduct research on any downloaded apps, a company spokesperson wrote in an email to Newsweek.

Update (08/13/20, 11:52 a.m.): This article has been updated to include responses from Amazon and Check Point.

Microsoft: Russians targeted conservative think tanks, U.S. Senate

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Originally Seen: Cybersecurity.com on August 21, 2018 by Sean Lyngaas

The Russian intelligence office that breached the Democratic National Committee in 2016 has spoofed websites associated with the U.S. Senate and conservative think tanks in a further attempt to sow discord, according to new research from Microsoft.

The tech giant last week executed a court order and shut down six internet domains set up by the Kremlin-linked hacking group known as Fancy Bear or APT 28, Microsoft President Brad Smith said.

“We have now used this approach 12 times in two years to shut down 84 fake websites associated with this group,” Smith wrote in a blog post. “We’re concerned that these and other attempts pose security threats to a broadening array of groups connected with both American political parties in the run-up to the 2018 elections.”

The domains were constructed to look like they belonged to the Hudson Institute and International Republican Institute, but were in fact phishing websites meant to steal credentials.

The two think tanks are conservative, yet count many critics of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin among their members. The International Republican Institute lists Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as board members. The Hudson Institute and International Republican Institute also have programs that promote democracy and good governance worldwide.

There is no evidence that the domains had been used to carry out successful cyberattacks, according to Microsoft. The company says it continues to work with both think tanks and the U.S. Senate to guard against any further attacks.

The attacks come as more and more instances of cyberattacks directed at the 2018 midterm elections come to light. Last month, Russian intelligence targeted Sen. Claire McCaskill, a critic of Moscow and a red-state Democrat who faces a tough reelection bid in Missouri. Additionally, a number of election websites have been hit with DDoS attempts during their primary elections.

“We are concerned by the continued activity targeting these and other sites and directed toward elected officials, politicians, political groups and think tanks across the political spectrum in the United States,” Microsoft’s blog post read. “Taken together, this pattern mirrors the type of activity we saw prior to the 2016 election in the United States and the 2017 election in France.”

Smith also announced that Microsoft was providing cybersecurity protection for candidates, campaigns and political institutions that use Office 365 at no additional cost.

Greg Otto contributed to this story. 

HP keylogger: How did it get there and how can it be removed?

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Originally seen: October 2017 TechTarget.

 keylogging flaw found its way into dozens of Hewlett Packard laptops. Nick Lewis explains how the HP keylogger works and what can be done about it.

More than two dozen models of Hewlett Packard laptops were found to contain a keylogger that recorded keystrokes into a log file. HP released patches to remove the keylogger and the log files. How did the HP keylogger vulnerability get embedded in the laptops? And is there anything organizations can do to test new endpoint devices?

When it comes to security, having high expectations for security vendors and large vendors with deep pockets is reasonable given that customers usually pay a premium believing the vendors will devote significant resources to secure their products. Unfortunately, as with most other security teams, companies often don’t have enough resources or organizational fortitude to ensure security is incorporated into all of the enterprise’s software development.

But even the most secure software development can enable security issues to slip through the cracks. When you add in an outsourced hardware or software development team, it’s even easier for something to go unnoticed.

So while vendors might talk a good talk when it comes to security, monitoring them to ensure they uphold their end of your agreement is absolutely necessary.

One case where a vulnerability apparently escaped notice was uncovered when researchers at Modzero AG, an information security company based in Winterthur, Switzerland, found that a bug had been introduced into HP laptops by a third-party driver installed by default.

But even the most secure software development can enable security issues to slip through the cracks.

The vulnerability was discovered in the Conexant HD Audio Driver package, where the driver monitors for certain keystrokes used to mute or unmute audio. The keylogging functionality, complete with the ability to write all keystrokes to a log file, was probably introduced to help the developers debug the driver.

We can hope that the HP keylogger vulnerability was left in inadvertently when the drivers were released to customers. Modzero found metadata indicating the HP keylogger capability was present in HP computers since December 2015, if not earlier.

It’s difficult to know whether static or dynamic code analysis tools could have detected this vulnerability. However, given the resources available to HP in 2015, including a line of business related to application and code security, as well as the expectations of their customers, it might be reasonable to assume HP could have incorporated these tools into their software development practices. However, the transfer of all of HP’s information security businesses to a new entity, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, began in November 2015, and was completed in September 2017, when Micro Focus merged with HPE.

It’s possible that Modzero found the HP keylogger vulnerability while evaluating a potential new endpoint for an enterprise customer. They could have been monitoring for open files, or looking for which processes had the files open to determine what the process was doing. They could have been profiling the individual processes running by default on the system to see which binaries to investigate for vulnerabilities. They could even have been monitoring to see if any processes were monitoring keystrokes.

Enterprises can take these steps on their own or rely on third parties to monitor their vendors. Many enterprises will install their own image on an endpoint before deploying it on their network — the known good images used for developing specific images for target hardware could have their unique aspects analyzed with a dynamic or runtime application security tool to determine if any common vulnerabilities are present.

Fancy Bears hackers target International Olympic Committee

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Originally seen on Tech Target and written by: Madelyn Bacon

News roundup: The hacking group called Fancy Bears claims to have hacked the Olympics again.

The International Olympic Committee has had its email stolen again, this time in a response to its ban on Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics.

A hacking group that calls itself Fancy Bears posted email messages allegedly from officials at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and other associated groups, like the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). There’s no confirmation yet that the email messages are authentic, but Fancy Bears focuses on anti-doping efforts that got Russia banned from this year’s Olympic Games.

“The national anti-doping agencies of the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other countries joined WADA and the USOC under the guidance of iNADO [Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations],” Fancy Bears said on its website. “However, the genuine intentions of the coalition headed by the Anglo-Saxons are much less noble than a war against doping. It is apparent that the Americans and the Canadians are eager to remove the Europeans from the leadership in the Olympic movement and to achieve political dominance of the English-speaking nations.”

Fancy Bears is believed to be the same hacking group known as Fancy Bear that claimed responsibility for the 2016 hack on the U.S. Democratic National Committee, which interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Fancy Bear hackers have been linked to Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU, by American intelligence officials.

The batch of email messages Fancy Bears posted is from 2016 through 2017 and mainly focuses on discrediting Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who led the investigation into Russia’s widespread cheating in previous Olympic Games. It was because of the findings in his investigation that many Russian athletes are banned from the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The IOC declined to comment on the “alleged leaked documents” and whether or not they are legitimate.

It’s not clear how Fancy Bears allegedly breached the IOC email. However, in 2016, the same group targeted WADA with a phishing scheme and released documents that focused on previous anti-doping efforts following the 2016 Summer Olympics. In that case, the hacking group released the medical records for U.S. Olympic athletes Simone Biles, Serena and Venus Williams and Elena Delle Donne. The medical records showed that these athletes were taking prohibited medications, though they all obtained permission to use them and, thus, were not violating the rules. This release happened in the midst of McLaren’s investigation into the widespread misconduct by Russian athletes.

In one email released in this week’s dump, IOC lawyer Howard Stupp complained that the findings from McLaren’s investigation were “intended to lead to the complete expulsion of the Russian team” from the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and now from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

What do you think about this alleged Olympics hack?