NHS not exactly target of “cyber-attack”

The Security and Intelligence Committee takes all this cyber-thingy stuff very seriously.

I got home, put on BBC News and there was some dope being interviewed about a “cyber-attack on the NHS”, blithering on about their M3 network and how secure it is. I turned over to Sky, and there was someone from Alienvault talking sense, but not detail. Followed by the chair of the Security and Intelligence Committee, Dominic Grieve, blustering on about how seriously the government took cyber-security but admitting he didn’t know anything about technology, in case it wasn’t obvious. I have never met anyone in parliament who does (see previous rants).

So what’s actually happening? It’s not an attack on the NHS. It’s a bunch of criminals taking advantage of a big in Microsoft’s server software. Almost certainly MS17-010. An attack based on this exploit was used by NSA in America (Equation Group) until someone snaffled it and leaked it (allegedly Shadow Brokers). It’s been used in a family of ransomware called WannaCrypt, and it’s being used to extort money all over the place. I see no reason to believe the NHS has been targeted specifically. It’s targeting everyone vulnerable, all over the world. Poorer countries running more old software, or bootleg version that don’t receive updates,  are worst hit.

So why is the news full of it being the NHS, and only the NHS? One reason is that Microsoft issued a patch for MS17-010 a good while back. And the NHS didn’t apply it. Why? Because they’re still using Windows XP and Microsoft didn’t issue the patch for Windows XP. Simple.

A lot (repeat A LOT) of companies use older Microsoft systems because (a) they’ve bought them, why should they pay again; and (b) Microsoft abandoned backward compatibility with Windows 7, so a lot of legacy software (dating back to the 1980’s) won’t run any more. Upgrading isn’t so simple.

There’s a lot of money (from Crapita Illogica, Atos and G4S – amongst others) in flogging government projects dodgy Microsoft-based IT. Microsoft Servers are considered Job Security for people who can only understand how to use a wizard, but know it’ll break down regularly and they’ll be called upon to reinstall it.

No one who knows how computers work would ever use Microsoft servers except as a last resort.

Update 13-May-2017

Guess what? Microsoft has now released a patch for older versions of their server software (ie. Server 2003 and Windows XP). That was jolly quick; it’s like they had it already but didn’t release it to punish those who refused to “upgrade”.

Blue Whale Challenge

Blue Whale at the Marine Life Hall, American Museum of Natural History
This is a blue whale. Nothing to do with the latest chain letter hoax.
People seem to be getting really worked up about a so-called “Blue Whale Challenge” social media game. And understandably so – it’s a game where vulnerable children are targeted and given progressive challenge, culminating in something that will kill them.

I saw this first a couple of months ago, and each time it turns up the lurid details have been embellished further. It sounds too macabre to be true. And it’s not.

About a year ago someone in Russia published an on-line article hoping to explain the high number of teenage suicides in the country, and blaming it on the Internet. Apparently a statistically significant number of teenagers belonging to one particular on-line group had died; the on-line group must therefore be to blame.

Wrong! If you have an on-line group of depressed teenagers then you are going to have a higher proportion of suicides amongst them. The writers have confused cause and effect.

However, facts never got in the way of a good lurid story and this one seems to have bounced around Russia for most of 2016, where it morphed into an evil on-line challenge game. It then jumped the language gap to English in winter 2017.

The story spreads as a cautionary tale, with the suggestion that you should pass it on to everyone you know so they can check their kids for early signs they are being targeted (specifically, cutting a picture of a whale in to their arm). In other words, a classic email urban legend. It’s only a matter of time before the neighbourhood watch people add it to their newsletters.

Update:

The Daily Mail has reported this as fact, so I must be wrong and it must be true. Or perhaps I’m right and they have nothing to back their carefully worded account. Wouldn’t be the first time…

 

 

More Fraud on Amazon Marketplace

Fancy a roll of sellotape for £215.62? Amazon has this and 708,032 other products listed by a seller called linkedeu, who’s full range can be found here:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?merchant=AA722TCREQZHH.

This isn’t the first time sellers like this have appeared, and it won’t be the last. However, this time I’ve reported it to Amazon and I intend to time their response. How could they let some fraudster list nearly quarter of a million items without anyone checking?

The seller does have a business address in California, but I suspect this is fake too, and the name and address may well be a legitimate company.

 

ParentPay seriously broken (again)

400 Bad Request
ParentPay, the Microsoft-based school payment system that’s the bane of so many parents’ lives, has yet another problem. Since Saturday, every time I go to their web site I get a page back that displays as above. Eh? Where does this page come from – it’s not a browser message. A look at the source reveals what they’re up to:

<html>
<head><title>400 Request Header Or Cookie Too Large</title></head>
<body bgcolor="white">
<center><h1>400 Bad Request</h1></center>
<center>Request Header Or Cookie Too Large</center>
<hr><center>nginx</center>
</body>
</html>
<!-- a padding to disable MSIE and Chrome friendly error page -->
<!-- a padding to disable MSIE and Chrome friendly error page -->
<!-- a padding to disable MSIE and Chrome friendly error page -->
<!-- a padding to disable MSIE and Chrome friendly error page -->
<!-- a padding to disable MSIE and Chrome friendly error page -->
<!-- a padding to disable MSIE and Chrome friendly error page -->

 

Okay, but what the hell is wrong? This is using Chrome Version 56.0 on a Windows platform. Can ParentPay not cope with its standard request header? If a cookie is too large, the only culprit can be ParentPay itself for storing too much in its own cookie.

I’ve given them three days to fix it.

Unfortunately, parents of children at schools are forced to use this flaky web site and hand over their credit card details. How much confidence do I have in their technology? Take a guess!

Solution

So what to do about this? Well they have the URL https://parentpay.com, so I tried that too. It redirected to the original site, with a slightly different error message sent from the remote server – one that omitted mention of cookies. So it was definitely Chrome’s header? Upgrade Chrome for 56.0 to 57.0, just in case…. No dice.

A look at the cookies it stored was interesting. 67 cookies belonging to this site? I know Microsoft stuff is flabby, but this is ridiculous! Rather than trawling through them, I just decided to delete the lot.

That worked.

It appears ParentPay’s bonkers ASP code had stored more data in my browser than it was prepared to accept back. Stunning!

 

M A G Airports web site exploitable for mailbombing attacks

Last July I was surprised to receive an email of “special offers” from Manchester Airport. I’ve only ever been to Manchester once, and I drove. It was actually sent to a random email address; was the company just sending out random spam?

I checked, and visiting their web site produced a JavaScript pop-up asking you to enter your email address to receive special offers. I wondered if I’d accidentally confirmed acceptance to be added to the wrong mailing list, so I checked. No. Apparently this sign-up doesn’t bother to confirm that you actually own the email addressed entered; it just starts spamming whoever you ask it to.

It got worse. A look at the code showed it was easy for someone to make a load of calls to their site and add as many bogus addresses as they liked at the rate of several every second.

And it gets even worse – a quick look at the sites for other airports operated by MAG had identical pop-up sign-ups (Stansted, Bournemouth and East Midlands).

Naturally I called them to let them know what a bunch of silly arses they were. After being passed around from one numpty to another, I was promised a call back. “Okay, but I’ll go public if you don’t bother”.

Guess what? That was last July and they haven’t bothered. They did, however, remove the pop-up box eventually. They didn’t disable it, however. The code is still there on a domain owned by MAG Airports, and you can still use it to do multiple sign-ups with no verification.

So what are they doing wrong? Two things:

  1. Who in their right mind would allow unlimited sign-ups to a newsletter without verifying that the owner of the email address actually wanted it? Were they really born yesterday? Even one of the MD’s kids writing their web site wouldn’t have made such an elementary mistake.
  2. Their cyber-security incident reporting mechanisms need a lot of work. Companies that don’t have a quick way of hearing about security problems are obviously not doing themselves or the public any favours.

One assumes that MAG Airports doesn’t have any meaningful cybersecurity department; nor any half-way competent web developers. I’d be delighted to hear from them otherwise.

In the meantime, if you want to add all your enemies to their spamming list, here’s the URL format to do it:

Okay, perhaps not but if it’s not fixed by the next time I’m speaking at a conference, it’s going on the demo list.

 

It’s official – the Ruskies got Trump elected

This weekend the news has been full of the story that the CIA has accused Russia of swinging the US presidential election in favour of Donald Trump. Their evidence? Not much to speak of. Normally I’d be commenting on the technical merits of this kind of thing, but there are no technical details to back any of this up.

Apparently someone with “links to the Russian government” handed a bunch of pilfered emails to WikiLeaks that shed Hillary Clinton in a bad light. Let’s look at theses features in order.

  1. A lot of prominent people, companies and organisations have links to the Russian Government. They’re trying to imply Putin was behind it, but that’s hardly proof. In fact they’re rather coy about identifying the source of the leak anyway.
  2. WikiLeaks has a very good system in place to make it impossible to identify the source of any uploads. That’s the whole point. The identity of the uploader can only be conjecture.
  3. Hillary Clinton can come across as crooked without the help of the Russians. As can Trump, of course. Anyone could have obtained those emails and uploaded them. The most likely source is an insider; and it’s likely every foreign intelligence agency was reading them before long. And anyway, you could argue that someone has done the American people a great favour by exposing dodginess.

It’s worth remembering that largest number of cyber attacks originate from the USA, not Russia or China. Yet some people persist in blaming them any time something goes wrong. Doubtless they are behind some of it, but let’s get this in perspective.

It’s no secret that Putin and the Russian government are likely to prefer Trump to Clinton. Trump is telling it like it is on foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, whereas the American establishment is defending the indefensible corner they’ve painted themselves in to. Trump realises the Cold War is over, the CIA doesn’t. Whatever else you think about them, I’m sure both leaders recognise each other as being able to do business.

Trump dismissed the latest fluff pointing out that the information came from the same people as “Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction”. He has a point.

 

National Lottery Accounts compromised

This morning Camalot released the news that they’d detected suspicious logins on 26,000 of its on-line punter accounts, of which 50 had been altered. As far as they know. They’re keen to stress that this doesn’t affect their core system (i.e. can’t be used to fiddle the payouts).

It’s entirely possible that they haven’t been breached at all – people could be re-using passwords taken in an earlier heist. What’s odd is that someone has accessed thousands of accounts but done nothing with them. Why? Kiddies, possibly.

If this is as Camalot is currently reporting, well done to them for spotting the suspicious logins and acting fast.

Enough with this “Trump Crashes Immigration Site” rubbish!

Ha Ha Ha! On Wednesday, Canada’s web site for prospective immigrants crashed due to the weight of American’s trying to escape from a USA run by Donald Trump. Really? Now other immigration sites such as New Zealand are reporting similar problems and certain some media outlets are lapping it up.

It’s a funny story, but I suspect that it’s too good for some people to check the facts.

There are two possibilities here:

  1. A load of American’s panicked suddenly.
  2. Some jokers decided a DDoS attack at this point to make it appear American’s were panicking would me funny

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I think option two is way more likely. People have been joking about the “move to Canada” option for months.

Are you a Tesco bank customer? Please verify your details. Spam meets salami.

I’m surprised I haven’t seen any phishing emails targeting hapless Tesco Bank customers following the publicity surrounding the weekend’s account raids. Give them a few more minutes.

Details on what happened are very thin on the ground. This morning on R4 Today they were saying a few thousand, but less than 10K customers had been affected. Estimates are now going up to 20K. But what’s interesting is this appears to be close to a good old fashioned salami raid, a term that the newbies in security may not even have heard of.

A salami raid got its name from thinly cut salami (a kind of foul-smelling sausage). If you cut off a thin slice, no one will notice, and if you do this to a large number of unfortunately sausages, none of their owners are likely to spot it but you’ll end up with a lot of processed meat.

Traditionally this approach was employed by computer programmers diverting pennies from a large number of accounts in to their own, but its unlikely to be the case with Tesco. The spotlight is likely to fall on people making use of the on-line banking facility to enrich themselves using other people’s logins, although I find it curious that accounts weren’t emptied while they had the chance.

Has LinkedIn had its data blagged again?

This could very well be related to the breach that occurred in May, but it might be a new one.

This morning a trap email account, known only to me and LinkedIn, started to receive a lot of spam of a similar nature. This hasn’t happened before. For anyone else to be aware of this addresses existence it had to be stolen from me or from LinkedIn, or possibly by monitoring an ISP if not encrypted en-route. I’m pretty confident that it wasn’t stolen from me; the system it exists on is pretty secure and under my nose. As an added measure, all addresses are stored with additional traps that aren’t known to a third party, and if none of these is used its reasonable to assume that the data wasn’t pinched from me.

Monitoring an ISP is possible, but I don’t think it’s likely.

This means the address was probably stolen from LinkedIn. It’s hard to know for sure whether this was in May or later, but there was no indication it had gone missing until this morning so it’s worth of more investigation.

Has anyone else suddenly started receiving spam on a linkedin-specific address?