Security

Cryptocurrency miners go nuclear, RSA blunder, Winner back in court, and plenty more

The ups and downs of security this week

By Iain Thomson in San Francisco

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Roundup Here's a quick summary of infosec news from this week, beyond what we've already covered.

Cloud security shop Cyren surveyed 500,000 websites over the past four months, and said it saw a 725 per cent increase in the use of surreptitious crypto-coin mining code. The bulk of that code has shown up in the past two months, and it's clear the rising price of Monero and the ease of installation of JavaScript mining code on pages is proving an attractive combination.

We're still only talking about 1.4 per cent of the websites surveyed actually running coin-crafting scripts, but in some areas the use of coin mining software is becoming very popular. Based on numerous reports, if you're visiting illegal streaming sites or pornography channels, it's likely that your PC will be running on overdrive making coin for others.

But that's not enough for some. The Qihoo 360 Netlab team has found an advertising network that is also bundling currency mining code in adverts – it's not enough to bombard you with pitches it seems, now these people want more.

The sneaky scumbags at this ad network use an algorithm to obtain and use randomly generated web domains, evading ad blockers that filter out adverts and mining code by domain name.

It's clear crypto-mining code isn't a fad anymore, and the easy availability of the software to do it from Coin Hive (who despite their protestations are making bank from its customers) is making it very easy indeed.

All change on the job front

There has been a crushing lack of good security staff around, which has had companies complaining and cybersec professionals grinning as salaries and bonuses rise.

This week (ISC)² published the details [PDF] of its latest survey of IT security staff and the results aren't looking good for their employers. 84 per cent of those surveyed said that they were open to new job opportunities and 14 per cent of those said they were actively on the hunt for pastures new, with only 15 per cent saying they were happy where they were.

The former group certainly has temptations, since recruitment consultants are hunting hard for them. Of those security gurus not looking for jobs, 18 per cent reported getting multiple recruitment calls a day from headhunters looking to see if they'd jump ship and about a third of all staff get at least a couple of calls a week.

One slightly surprising finding came in the choice of future employers. 54 per cent said they would be fine working for a firm that had suffered a data breach in the past, but this rose to 64 per cent if the company in question publically disclosed the breach. People like forthright employers it seems.

Furthermore, a whopping 85 per cent of those surveyed said that they would do an in-depth scan of a potential employer's networks before considering working there. The message is clear – pay recruits well, be honest, and make sure you have your house in order before pitching for new staff.

Red faces at RSA

Another year, another RSA conference and the city of San Francisco is about to get flooded out by security salesfolks, grandstanding CEOs, and the occasional person who knows what they are talking about when it comes to locking down networks and catching crooks.

As someone who has been going to RSA conferences for nearly 20 years, the show has been fairly useless for years from a security news standpoint. The keynotes are largely self-serving drivel, the few interesting talks are drowned out in a sea of crap, and the exhibition floor is a zoo.

The conference has had its problems in the past. Back in 2014, after it came out that RSA may have been paid $10m by the NSA to push a backdoored encryption engine, an alternative conference was organized.

But this year the organizers blundered into a tone-deaf cockup. After a year where more and more attention has been focused on diversity, opportunities for women in the industry, and the #metoo movement, the conference organizers only managed to find and book one woman headliner. And that woman was none other than Monica Lewinsky.

Now Lewinsky is an excellent speaker in her area – namely online harassment. She was one of the first people in the internet age to be monstered online, and has gained considerable knowledge on tackling cyber-abuse, as well as a firm understanding of never trusting your friends and the importance of using a dry cleaner once in a while.

But at a computer security conference it was a tad disappointing that this was the best RSA could come up with. Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos wasn't alone in pointing out that RSA had missed out on some serious talent and even Lewinsky expressed her surprise at being the only one at the show's main presentations.

The outcry caused a fast reverse ferret from the organizers, who said the keynote list wasn't final and it had other women on the shortlist, notably US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. It then went on to blame the industry.

"A diverse speaking program starts with increasing diversity within the technology sector, which needs to be addressed by the industry as a whole," spokesman Ben Waring told USA Today.

If that's the best the organizers could come up with then this year's conference looks to be even more awkward and stunted than usual. Thankfully BSides is also running, so we'll have some good security news that week as well.

Reality not a Winner over court smears

Meanwhile, Reality Winner was also in court this week fighting her prosecution under America's Espionage Act.

Winner is accused of smuggling a classified NSA memo out of her job which detailed election machine hacking. She leaked it to The Intercept, which gave a copy to the authorities to verify, making it easy for agents to apparently identify her.

On Tuesday Winner was back in court and – extraordinarily – was led in clad in an orange jumpsuit and manacled at the hands and feet. As national security journalist Kevin Gosztola noted, that's highly unusual – even Chelsea Manning didn’t get that kind of treatment, and it looked like a ploy to make her seem guilty in the judge's eyes.

Winner's lawyers argued that when 11 FBI agents turned up at Winner's house to interview her, she wasn't read her Miranda rights – and her confession to the g-men at the time, that she stole and leaked the document, is inadmissible.

The FBI admitted that she wasn't read her rights: for example, she was not told she was "free to leave." The agents felt it wasn't necessary.

In any case, the judge refused to grant Winner bail, and with her trial being pushed into early 2019, it means Winner will likely spend another year behind bars before her fate is even decided.

Memcachers take to ransoms

Finally this week has seen the largest-ever distributed denial of service attack, with GitHub the unlucky recipient of 1.35 terabits per second of network traffic. But on Friday, hackers went nuclear.

The attack exploits unsecured internet-facing memcached database servers, tricking them into amplifying small network packets into a tsunami against a victim. This hands criminals massive denial of service capabilities.

As the day progressed it became clear that lots of people had got the wrong sort of message from the GitHub attack, and decided to get in the game, blasting sites and servers using commandeered memcached databases. To add insult to injury, ransom demands were also included in the attack payloads.

The demand, for over $17,000 in Monero to end the attacks, is very steep and there's no reason why you should pay it. Simply block off traffic on UDP port 11211 at the border, or upstream, and watch the assault die. ®

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