A report suggests you may have eavesdroppers in your living room.
Originally seen: April 11,2019 on Zdnet by Charlie Osborne
Amazon is using a team of human staff to eavesdrop on queries made to Amazon Alexa-enabled smart speakers in a bid to improve the voice assistant’s accuracy, a new report suggests.
If you check out your Amazon Echo smart speaker’s history via the Alexa app (Alexa account – > History), depending on where and when you use the device, you may see little more than general, genuine queries.
My history is full of cooking timer requests, light control commands, and news briefings.
There are also a few nonsense recordings generated by the nearby television on record — including a man talking about his dog and politics mentioned once or twice — and while they may be seen as acceptable recording errors, the idea of an unknown human listening in may be enough to make you uneasy.
According to Bloomberg, this may be the case, as Amazon staff in areas including Boston, Costa Rica, India, and Romania are listening in to as many as 1,000 audio clips per day during nine-hour shifts.
While much of the work is described as “mundane,” such as listening in for phrases including “Taylor Swift” to give the voice assistant context to commands, other clips captured are more private — including the example of a woman singing in the shower and a child “screaming for help.”
Recordings sent to the human teams do not provide full names, but they do connect to an account name, device serial number, and the user’s first name to clips.
Some members of the team are tasked with transcribing commands and analyzing whether or not Alexa responded properly. Others are asked to jot down background noises and conversations picked up improperly by the device.
“The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word — or come across an amusing recording,” Bloomberg says.
In some cases, however, the soundbites were not so amusing. Two unnamed sources told the publication that in several cases they picked up potentially criminal and upsetting activities, accidentally recorded by Alexa.
An Amazon spokesperson said in an email that only “an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings” is annotated in order to improve the customer experience.
“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” the spokesperson added. “We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system.”
It is possible to withdraw from these kinds of programs for the benefit of your personal privacy. In order to do so, jump into the Alexa app and go to Alexa Account – > Alexa Privacy – > “Manage how your data improves Alexa.”
In this tab, you can toggle various options including whether or not you permit your Alexa usage to be used to “develop new features,” and whether messages you send with Alexa can be used by Amazon to “improve transcription accuracy.”
In related news, the Intercept reported in January that the Amazon-owned company provided its Ukraine-based research and development team close to “unfettered” access to an unencrypted folder full of all the video footage recorded by every Ring camera worldwide. Some employees had access to a form of ‘god’ mode which permitted 24/7 access to customer camera feeds.
Earl Enterprises, which manages popular restaurant brands including Buca di Beppo, Planet Hollywood, Earl of Sandwich, Chicken Guy!, Mixology, and Tequila Taqueria, announced that nearly 100 restaurant locations around the United States may have exposed customer payment card data over a 10-month period from May 2018 to March 2019.
In a data breach notice posted on its website, Earl Enterprises confirmed that malware was installed on some point of sale systems at certain affected restaurant locations. The malware was designed to capture payment card data, including credit and debit card numbers, expiration dates, and cardholder names. Online orders paid for online through third-party apps or platforms were not affected by this breach. Per the company, the incident has been contained and is being investigated.
Earl Enterprises has yet to confirm the size, but independent security researchers reported over 2 million stolen cards are now for sale on the dark web on the dark web, seemingly as a result of this breach.
What does this mean?
While cardholders are generally not liable for fraudulent charges, it is important to monitor your credit and debit card accounts for suspicious charges and report fraudulent activity to your bank in a timely fashion.
This IDC White Paper discusses IBM Cloud for VMware Solutions, a portfolio of VMware environment offerings hosted within the IBM Cloud. This document highlights the strengths of the portfolio and illustrates how it offers a secure and flexible path to public cloud and to broader digital transformation.
There are no current reports of the vulnerability being exploited in the wild. However, given the ease in which the bug can be exploited, users should accept incoming updates to their Android builds as soon as possible.
As vendors utilizing the Android operating system roll out security patches and updates at different rates, Google has declined to reveal the technical details of the exploit to mitigate the risk of attack.
Google’s bulletin also outlined remote code execution flaws impacting the Android library, system files, and Nvidia components. Elevation of privilege and information disclosure security holes have also been resolved.
Source code patches for the .PNG issue, alongside other security problems raised in the bulletin, have also been released to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) repository.
In January, researchers revealed the existence of a new malvertising group called VeryMal. The scammers specifically target Apple users and bury malicious code in digital images using steganography techniques to redirect users from legitimate websites to malicious domains controlled by the attackers.
We often hear about sextortion, business email compromise (BEC), and inheritance scams, but the often overlooked “Romance Scams” could be the most insidious of them all. Not only do victims lose money, but the emotional entanglement ultimately leads to heartbreak.
Romance scams are months long, if not year long, campaigns where bad actors catfish, or pretend to be in love with, an unsuspecting victim in order to steal money from them. They do this by creating fake romantic relationships that the victims become invested in and are willing to help them with fake financial troubles.
In a report shared with BleepingComputer, the Agari Cyber Intelligence Division (ACID) outlines how a criminal gang out of Nigeria called “Scarlet Widow” targets those who are more likely to be lonely such as farmers, elderly, the disabled, and divorced.
This catfishing is done through the creation of fake personas that utilize stolen pictures of attractive people, fake names, personalities, and back stories where they were victimized in the past, but still believe that love is possible. They then create accounts on social media and dating sites, including ones that may attract those looking for love or are lonely such as Dating4Disabled.com, Farmers Dating Site, and DivorcedPeopleMeet.com.
For example, one of the fake personas discovered by Agari is a person named “U.S. Army Captain Michael” who is serving a tour of duty overseas, but is looking for love after he lost his wife.
“According to one of his fake dating site profiles, Captain Micheal is a 43-year-old Catholic man from Austin, Texas, who is currently serving a tour of duty overseas in Kabul, Afghanistan. His profile indicates that, like most of the other personas created by Scarlet Widow, he has lost a loved one in his past. In this case, Captain Micheal lost his wife, as his status describes him as “Widowed.” Since the death of his wife, he has been “searching for so long” for the perfect woman and hopes the women has a trusting mind to fall in love.”
The fake persona for Captain Michael was posted to dating sites such as MilitaryCupid.com and MarriedDateLink.com during a 6 month period in 2017.
Agari states that each of the personas created by Scarlet Widow have different personalities and ways of communicating that reflect their backstory and who they are targeting. For example, the researchers state that Captain Michael’s messages are usually short and to the point, while the gang’s female personas have a “softer, inquisitive, and more verbose tone”.
It’s all about the money
Ultimately, though, these scams are not about making true romance, but about stealing as much money from the victims as they can.
Once a “relationship” is established, the scammers tell their victims that they are having financial difficulty and need financial assistance. This assistance is usually in the form of money for plane tickets, travel assistance, or accommodations.
If the victim is shown to be willing to send money, then the scammers continue with their relationship while continuing to siphon money over a long period of time.
Such is the case with Texan man who was going through a painful divorce and met one of the gang’s fictitious characters named “Laura Cahill”. Over a period of one year, the Scarlet Widow persona was able to scam the individual out of $50,000.
This person was so firmly hooked that when the scammers didn’t reply to him in over a week, he sent a distraught email to her pleading for a reply.
It ultimately got so bad, that this individual stole $10,000 from his father to send to the scammers. This “relationship” ultimately ended when the scammers stopped replying, but it shows how deeply entrenched victims can get in these fake “relationships”.
While this sounds like something that few would fall for, according to Agari it is not that unusual.
“We are tracking a number of Nigerian scammer groups that continue to engage in romance scams and seek out new victims. In 2018, Agari documented a long-running, $500,000 swindle of a divorced American woman with children who refinanced her home to send money to the con artist. Eventually the creditors closed in, and she was forced to sell her house, pull her children out of school, and move the family in with a friend. She continued to believe he was real until Agari presented her with irrefutable evidence of the truth, enabling her to finally break free in 2018. “
Unfortunately, protecting yourself from scams like this can be difficult, especially if you are the type of person that they are targeting. That is because lonely people crave love and camaraderie in their life and may miss warning signs.
Originally seen on CYBERSCOOP by Jeff Stone: February 6, 2019
At least eight airlines, including Southwest, use e-ticketing systems that could allow hackers to access sensitive information about travelers merely by intercepting emails, according to research published Wednesday by the mobile security company Wandera.
The systems fail to secure customers’ personally identifiable information, including names, boarding passes, passport numbers and flight numbers, Wandera said.
The email vulnerabilities still exist, Wandera found, even though researchers notified affected companies weeks ago, and despite growing corporate awareness about the risks associated with sacrificing security for convenience.
The weakness is a check-in link that is emailed to customers, Wandera researchers found. Customer information is embedded in the links, allowing travelers to travel from their email to a website where they check in for a flight without needing to enter their username and password. However the links are unencrypted and re-usable, presenting a tempting target for hackers, according to Michael Covington, vice president of product at Wandera.
“The airlines, in an effort to make it easy for their passengers to check in, have taken shortcuts that have led to the potential exposure of personal information,” he said.
Affected airlines include Southwest, Air France, KLM, Vueling, Jetstar, Thomas Cook, Transavia and Air Europa, Wandera found. Wandera has reported the vulnerability to each company and received responses, though none appear to have fixed the vulnerability, Covington said.
The airlines appear to be using unique servers for automated marketing that fail to protect user information.
“It’s not just the personal information they could get into, but the e-ticketing systems are basically allowing people in without authentication, which would allow you to change details about people like seat assignments and bags checked,” Covington said. “In some cases you can change existing bookings.”
There is no evidence outsiders have exploited the vulnerabilities.
Southwest Airlines is perhaps the best known low-cost airline operating in the U.S., with a 5 percent capacity growth planned for 2019, according to industry analysts at the Center for Aviation. Air France and KLM, which merged under a single holding company in 2004, jointly form one of the world’s largest airlines. Other companies named in the report — Vueling, Transavia and Air — are based in Europe. Thomas Cook is a British charter airline and Jetstar is a low-cost airline in Australia.
CyberScoop sought comment from each of the airlines named in this report. Several acknowledged receiving a request for comment. All except three failed to provide a statement or answer questions by press time.
In a statement, a Thomas Cook spokeswoman said, “We take the security of our customers’ data very seriously and have investigated this matter as a priority. We have looked into the questions raised and have taken immediate action to further increase the security of our customer data.” A Southwest spokesman said, “While we don’t have a comment on this specific issue, the safety and protection of our customers and their data privacy is our highest priority.”
A spokesperson for JetStar said the company takes data security and privacy “extremely seriously” and that the airline has “multiple layers of security in place.”
Air travelers anxious for a web connection in an airport, hotel or elsewhere on their journey are especially at risk because they could be more likely to connect to public WiFi, ignoring security precautions, Covington said.
“If you’re on a Wi-Fi network or a physical network that uses encryption, this would not be a problem,” he said.
“I can’t speak for the airlines individually,” he said. “We’re not a vulnerability testing company, and it’s not our business to go out and find this. But I can tell you the airlines we’ve engaged with have been keen to listen and are open to hearing more.”
Originally seen on ThreatPost by Lindsay O’Donnell: February 26th, 2019
A tricky two-stage phishing scam is targeting Facebook and Google credentials using a landing page that hides behind Google’s translate feature.
Recently-discovered phishing emails scoop up victims’ Facebook and Google credentials and hides its malicious landing page via a novel method – Google Translate.
The phishing campaign uses a two-stage attack to target both Google and Facebook usernames and passwords, according to researchers at Akamai who posted a Tuesday analysis. But in a tricky twist of events, the scam also evades detection through burying its landing page in a Google Translate page – meaning that victims sees a legitimate Google domain and are more likely to input their credentials.
“When it comes to phishing, criminals put a lot of effort into making their attacks look legitimate, while putting pressure on their victims to take action,” Larry Cashdollar, with Akamai, said in a Tuesday post. “This is an interesting attack, as it uses Google Translate, and targets multiple accounts in one go.”
Cashdollar said that he first noticed the attack on Jan. 7 when an email notification on his phone informed him that his Google account had been accessed from a new Windows device.
The message, titled “Security Alert,” features an image branded with Google that says “A user has just signed in to your Google Account from a new Windows device. We are sending you this email to verify that it is you.” Then, there’s a “Consult the activity” button below the message.
Interestingly, the message looked much more convincing in its condensed state on his mobile device, rather than on a desktop where the title of the email sender is more apparent, he said.
Upon closer look at the email, Cashdollar found that the “security alert” was sent from “facebook_secur[@]hotmail.com.”
That triggered two suspicions: Firstly, the email is from a Hotmail account, raising red flags – but also, the entire address had nothing to do with Google, instead referencing Facebook.
“Taking advantage of known brand names is a common phishing trick, and it usually works if the victim isn’t aware or paying attention,” he said. “Criminals conducting phishing attacks want to throw people off their game, so they’ll use fear, curiosity, or even false authority in order to make the victim take an action first, and question the situation later.”
When clicking on the “Consult the activity” button, Cashdollar was brought to a landing page that appeared to be a Google domain, prompting him to sign into his Google account.
However, one thing stuck out about the landing page – it was loading the malicious domain via Google Translate, Google’s service to help users translate webpages from one language to another.
Using Google Translate helps the bad actor hide any malicious attempts through several ways: Most importantly, the victim sees a legitimate Google domain which “in some cases… will help the criminal bypass endpoint defenses,” said Cashdollar.
Using Google Translate also means the URL bar is filled with random text. Upon further inspection of that text, victims could see the real, malicious domain, “mediacity,” being translated.
Luckily, “while this method of obfuscation might enjoy some success on mobile devices (the landing page is a near-perfect clone of Google’s older login portal), it fails completely when viewed from a computer,” said Cashdollar.
For those who fail to notice red flags regarding the landing page, their credentials (username and password) are collected – as well as other information including IP address and browser type – and emailed to the attacker.
“We are aware of the phishing attempts and have blocked all sites in question, on multiple levels,” a Google spokesperson told Threatpost. The spokesperson urged users to report them if they encounter a phishing site.
However, the attack didn’t stop there. The attacker then attempts to hit victims twice, by forwarding them to a different landing page that purports to be Facebook’s mobile login portal as part of the attack.
These type of two-stage attacks appear to be on the rise as bad actors look to take advantage of victims who already fell for the first part of the scam, Cashdollar told Threatpost: “It seems this is becoming more common as the attacker knows they’ve gained your trust and try to steal additional credentials.”
Like the Google page, this Facebook landing page has some red flags. It uses an older version of the Facebook mobile login form, for instance.
“This suggests that the kit is old, and likely part of a widely circulated collection of kits commonly sold or traded on various underground forums,” said Cashdollar.
Despite these mistakes, the two stages of the phishing attack suggest a certain level of sophistication on the part of the attacker.
“It isn’t every day that you see a phishing attack leverage Google Translate as a means of adding legitimacy and obfuscation on a mobile device. But it’s highly uncommon to see such an attack target two brands in the same session,” he said.
Phishing Scams on the Rise
Phishing attacks have continued to grow over the past year – and this particular scam is only one example of how bad actors behind the scams are updating their methods to become trickier.
Other methods of phishing have increased as well. Up to 49 percent of respondents said they have experienced “voice phishing” (when bad actors use social engineering over the phone to gain access to personal data) or “SMS/text phishing” tactics (when social engineering is used via texts to collect personal data) in 2018. That’s up from the 45 percent of those who experienced these methods in 2017.
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.
When news hit this week that West Virginian military members serving abroad will become the first people to vote by phone in a major US election this November, security experts were dismayed. For years, they have warned that all forms of online voting are particularly vulnerable to attacks, and with signs that the midterm elections are already being targeted, they worry this is exactly the wrong time to roll out a new method. Experts who spoke to WIRED doubt that Voatz, the Boston-based startup whose app will run the West Virginia mobile voting, has figured out how to secure online voting when no one else has. At the very least, they are concerned about the lack of transparency.
“From what is available publicly about this app, it’s no different from sending voting materials over the internet,” says Marian Schneider, president of the nonpartisan advocacy group Verified Voting. “So that means that all the built-in vulnerability of doing the voting transactions over the internet is present.”
And there are a lot of vulnerabilities when it comes to voting over the internet. The device a person is using could be compromised by malware. Or their browser could be compromised. In many online voting systems, voters receive a link to an online portal in an email from their election officials—a link that could be spoofed to redirect to a different website. There’s also the risk that someone could impersonate the voter. The servers that online voting systems rely on could themselves be targeted by viruses to tamper with votes or by DDoS attacks to bring down the whole system. Crucially, electronic votes don’t create the paper trail that allows officials to audit elections after the fact, or to serve as a backup if there is in fact tampering.
But the thing is, people want to vote by phone. In a 2016 Consumer Reportssurvey of 3,649 voting-age Americans, 33 percent of respondents said that they would be more likely to vote if they could do it from an internet-connected device like a smartphone. (Whether it would actually increase voter turnout is unclear; a 2014 report conducted by an independent panel on internet voting in British Columbia concludes that, when all factors are considered, online voting doesn’t actually lead more people to vote.)
Thirty-one states and Washington, DC, already allow certain people, mostly service members abroad, to file absentee ballots online, according to Verified Voting. But in 28 of those states—including Alaska, where any registered voter can vote online—online voters must waive their right to a secret ballot, underscoring another major risk that security experts worry about with online voting: that it can’t protect voter privacy.
“Because of current technological limitations, and the unique challenges of running public elections, it is impossible to maintain separation of voters’ identities from their votes when Internet voting is used,” concludes a 2016 joint report from Common Cause, Verified Voting, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. That’s true whether those votes were logged by email, fax, or an online portal.
Voatz says it’s different. The 12-person startup, which raised $2.2 million in venture capital in January, has worked on dozens of pilot elections, including primaries in two West Virginia counties this May. On a website FAQ, it notes, “There are several important differences between traditional Internet voting and the West Virginia pilot—mainly, security.”
Voatz CEO Nimit Sawhney says the app has two features that make it more secure than other forms of online voting: the biometrics it uses to authenticate a voter and the blockchain ledger where it stores the votes.
The biometrics part occurs when a voter authenticates their identity using a fingerprint scan on their phones. The app works only on certain Androids and recent iPhones with that feature. Voters must also upload a photo of an official ID—which Sawhney says Voatz verifies by scanning their barcodes—and a video selfie, which Voatz will match to the ID using facial-recognition technology. (“You have to move your face and blink your eyes to make sure you are not taking a video of somebody else or taking a picture of a picture,” Sawhney says.) It’s up to election officials to decide whether a voter should have to upload a new selfie or fingerprint scan each time they access the app or just the first time.
“We feel like that extra level of anonymization on the phone and on the network makes it really really hard to reverse-engineer.”
NIMIT SAWHNEY, VOATZ
The blockchain comes in after the votes are entered. “The network then verifies it—there’s a whole bunch of checks—then adds it to the blockchain, where it stays in a lockbox until election night,” Sawhney says. Voatz uses a permissioned blockchain, which is run by a specific group of people with granted access, as opposed to a public blockchain like Bitcoin. And in order for election officials to access the votes on election night, they need Voatz to hand deliver them the cryptographic keys.
Sawhney says that election officials print out a copy of each vote once they access them, in order to do an audit. He also tells WIRED that in the version of the app that people will use in November, Voatz will add a way for voters to take a screenshot of their vote and have that separately sent to election officials for a secondary audit.
To address concerns about ballot secrecy, Sawhney says Voatz deletes all personal identification data from its servers, assigns each person a unique but anonymous identifier within the system, and employs a mix of network encryption methods. “We feel like that extra level of anonymization on the phone and on the network makes it really really hard to reverse-engineer,” he says.
Experts Are Concerned
Very little information is publicly available about the technical architecture behind the Voatz app. The company says it has done a security audit with three third-party security firms, but the results of that audit are not public. Sawhney says the audit contains proprietary and security information that can’t leak to the public. He invited any security researchers who want to see the audit to come to Boston and view it in Voatz’s secure room after signing an NDA.
This lack of transparency worries people who’ve been studying voting security for a long time. “In over a decade, multiple studies by the top experts in the field have concluded that internet voting cannot be made secure with current technology. VOATZ claims to have done something that is not doable with current technology, but WON’T TELL US HOW,” writes Stanford computer scientist and Verified Voting founder David Dill in an email to WIRED.
Voatz shared one white paper with WIRED, but it lacks the kind of information experts might expect—details on the system architecture, threat tests, how the system responds to specific attacks, verification from third parties. “In my opinion, anybody purporting to have securely and robustly applied blockchain technology to voting should have prepared a detailed analysis of how their system would respond to a long list of known threats that voting systems must respond to, and should have made their analysis public,” Carnegie Mellon computer scientist David Eckhardt wrote in an email.
Ideally, experts say, Voatz would have held a public testing period of its app before deploying it in a live election. Back in 2010, for example, Washington, DC, was developing an open-source system for online voting and invited the public to try to hack the system in a mock trial. Researchers from the University of Michigan were able to compromise the election server in 48 hours and change all the vote tallies, according to their report afterward. They also found evidence of foreign operatives already in the DC election server. This kind of testing is now considered best practice for any online voting implementation, according to Eckhardt. Voatz’s trials have been in real primaries.
“West Virginia is handing over its votes to a mystery box.”
DAVID DILL, STANFORD UNIVERSITY
Voatz’s use of blockchain itself does not inspire security experts, either, who dismissed it mostly as marketing. When asked for his thoughts on Voatz’s blockchain technology, University of Michigan computer scientist Alex Halderman, who was part of the group that threat-tested the DC voting portal in 2010, sent WIRED a recent XKCD cartoon about voting software. In the last panel, a stick figure with a microphone tells two software engineers, “They say they’ve fixed it with something called ‘blockchain.’” The engineers’ response? “Aaaaa!!!” “Whatever they’ve sold you, don’t touch it.” “Bury it in the desert.” “Wear gloves.”
“Voting from an app on a mobile phone is as bad an idea as voting online from a computer,” says Avi Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins, who has studied electronic voting systems since 1997. “The fact that someone is throwing around the blockchain buzzword does nothing to make this more secure. This is as bad an idea as there is.”
Blockchain has its own limitations, and it’s far from a perfect security solution for something like voting. First of all, information can be manipulated before it enters the chain. “In fact, there is an entire industry in viruses to manipulate cryptocurrency transactions before they enter the blockchain, and there is nothing to prevent the use of similar viruses to change the vote,” says Poorvi Vora, a computer scientist and election security expert at George Washington University.
She adds that if the blockchain is a permissioned version, as Voatz’s is, “It is possible for those maintaining the blockchain to collude to change the data, as well as to introduce denial of service type attacks.”
India-based tech support scams have taken a new turn, using phishing emails targeting Apple users to push them to a fake Apple website. This phishing attack also comes with a twist—it pops up a system dialog box to start a phone call. The intricacy of the phish and the formatting of the webpage could convince some users that their phone has been “locked for illegal activity” by Apple, luring users into soon clicking to complete the call.
Scammers are following the money. As more people use mobile devices as their primary or sole way of connecting to the Internet, phishing attacks and other scams have increasingly targeted mobile users. And since so much of people’s lives are tied to mobile devices, they’re particularly attractive targets for scammers and fraudsters.
“People are just more distracted when they’re using their mobile device and trust it more,” said Jeremy Richards, a threat intelligence researcher at the mobile security service provider Lookout. As a result, he said, phishing attacks against mobile devices have a higher likelihood of succeeding.
I attempted to bluff my way through a call to the “support” number to collect intelligence on the scam. The person answering the call, who identified himself as “Lance Roger from Apple Care,” became suspicious of me and hung up before I could get too far into the script.
Running down the scam
In a review of spam messages I’ve received this weekend, I found an email with the subject line, “[username], Critical alert for your account ID 7458.” Formatted to look like an official cloud account warning (but easily, by me at least, discernable as a phish), the email warned, “Sign-in attempt was blocked for your account [email address]. Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your profile.” A “Check Activity” button below was linked to a webpage on a compromised site for a men’s salon in southern India.
Meanwhile, an animated dialog box on the screen urged the target to make the call because their phone had been “locked due to illegal activity.” Script on the site scrapes data from the “user agent” data sent by the browser to determine what type of device the page was visited from:
window.defaultText='Your |%model%| has been locked due to detected illegal activity! Immediately call Apple Support to unlock it!';
While the site is still active, it is now marked as deceptive by Google and Apple. I passed technical details of the phishing site to an Apple security team member.
The scam is obviously targeted at the same sort of audience as Windows tech support scamswe’ve reported on. But it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how schemes like this could be used to target people at a specific company, customers of a particular bank, or users of a certain cloud platform to perform much more tailored social engineering attacks.
The latest update on AT&T’s mobile 5G network trials indicates the company will need to work faster to meet its goal of launching a commercial service by the end of the year.
AT&T’s latest update on its mobile 5G trials indicates the carrier has significant hurdles to clear to achieve its goal of launching by the end of the year a commercial service based on the high-speed wireless technology.
AT&T published this week a blog describing its progress in the mobile 5G network trials in Austin and Waco, Texas; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and South Bend, Ind. The company started the tests roughly 18 months ago in Austin, adding the other cities late last year.
Chris Antlitz, analyst, Technology Business Research Inc.
“When I look at how AT&T is characterizing these tests, it doesn’t look like mobile 5G to me,” said Chris Antlitz, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., based in Hampton, N.H.. “It seems like there are some inconsistencies there.”
AT&T plans to deliver mobile 5G over the millimeter wave (mmWave) band, which is a spectrum between 30 gigahertz (GHz) and 300 GHz. MmWave allows for data rates up to 10 Gbps, which comfortably accommodates carriers’ plans for 5G. But before service providers can use the technology, they have to surmount its limitations in signal distance and in traveling through obstacles, like buildings.
AT&T’s mobile 5G network challenges
AT&T’s update indicates mmWave’s constraints remain a challenge. In Waco, for example, AT&T delivered 5G to a retail business roughly 500 feet away from its cellular transmitter. That maximum distance would require more transmitters than the population outside of major cities could support, Antlitz said.
AT&T, however, could provide a fixed wireless network that sends a 5G signal to residences and businesses as an alternative to wired broadband, Antlitz said. AT&T rival Verizon plans to offer that product by the end of the year.
Other shortcomings include AT&T’s limited success in sending a 5G signal from the cellular transmitter through the buildings, trees and other obstacles likely to stand in the way of its destination. In the trial update, AT&T said it achieved gigabit speeds only in “some non-line of sight conditions.” A line of sight typically refers to an unobstructed path between the transmitting and receiving antennas.
Distance and piercing obstacles are challenges for any carrier using mmWave for a mobile 5G network. Buildings and other large physical objects can block the technology’s short, high-frequency wavelengths. Also, gases in the atmosphere, rain and humidity can weaken mmWave’s signal strength, limiting the technology’s reach to six-tenths of a mile or less.
AT&T’s achievement in network latency also falls short of what’s optimal for a mobile 5G network. The carriers’ 9 to 12 milliseconds seem “a little high,” Antlitz said. “I would expect that on LTE, not 5G. 5G should be lower.”
While AT&T has likely made some progress in developing mobile 5G, “a lot of work needs to be done,” said Rajesh Ghai, an analyst at IDC.
Delays possible in AT&T, Verizon 5G offerings
Meanwhile, Verizon is testing its fixed wireless 5G network — a combination of mmWave and proprietary technology — in 11 major metropolitan areas. So far, the features Verizon has developed places the carrier “fairly far ahead of AT&T in terms of maximizing the capabilities of 5G,” Antlitz said.
“Some of this stuff might wind up getting pushed into 2019,” Antlitz said. “There are so many things that could throw a monkey wrench in their timetable. The probability of something doing that is very high.”