262-Brief Updates

This week I offer brief updates from the road.

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Senators Urge FTC to Probe ID.me Over Selfie Data

Some of more tech-savvy Democrats in the U.S. Senate are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate identity-proofing company ID.me for “deceptive statements” the company and its founder allegedly made over how they handle facial recognition data collected on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service, which until recently required anyone seeking a new IRS account online to provide a live video selfie to ID.me.

In a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan, the Senators charge that ID.me’s CEO Blake Hall has offered conflicting statements about how his company uses the facial scan data it collects on behalf of the federal government and many states that use the ID proofing technology to screen applicants for unemployment insurance.

The lawmakers say that in public statements and blog posts, ID.me has frequently emphasized the difference between two types of facial recognition: One-to-one, and one-to-many. In the one-to-one approach, a live video selfie is compared to the image on a driver’s license, for example. One-to-many facial recognition involves comparing a face against a database of other faces to find any potential matches.

Americans have particular reason to be concerned about the difference between these two types of facial recognition, says the letter to the FTC, signed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):

“While one-to-one recognition involves a one-time comparison of two images in order to confirm an applicant’s identity, the use of one-to-many recognition means that millions of innocent people will have their photographs endlessly queried as part of a digital ‘line up.’ Not only does this violate individuals’ privacy, but the inevitable false matches associated with one-to-many recognition can result in applicants being wrongly denied desperately-needed services for weeks or even months as they try to get their case reviewed.”

“This risk is especially acute for people of color: NIST’s Facial Recognition Vendor Test found that many facial recognition algorithms have rates of false matches that are as much as 100 times higher for individuals from countries in West Africa, East Africa and East Asia than for individuals from Eastern European countries. This means Black and Asian Americans could be disproportionately likely to be denied benefits due to a false match in a one-to-many facial recognition system.”

The lawmakers say that throughout the latter half of 2021, ID.me published statements and blog posts stating it did not use one-to-many facial recognition and that the approach was “problematic” and “tied to surveillance operations.” But several days after a Jan. 16, 2022 post here about the IRS’s new facial ID requirement went viral and prompted a public backlash, Hall acknowledged in a LinkedIn posting that ID.me does use one-to-many facial recognition.

“Within days, the company edited the numerous blog posts and white papers on its website that previously stated the company did not use one-to-many to reflect the truth,” the letter alleges. “According to media reports, the company’s decision to correct its prior misleading statements came after mounting internal pressure from its employees.”

Cyberscoop’s Tonya Riley published excerpts from internal ID.me employee Slack messages wherein some expressed dread and unease with the company’s equivocation on its use of one-to-many facial recognition.

In February, the IRS announced it would no longer require facial scans or other biometric data from taxpayers seeking to create an account at the agency’s website. The agency also pledged that any biometric data shared with ID.me would be permanently deleted.

But the IRS still requires new account applicants to sign up with either ID.me or Login.gov, a single sign-on solution already used to access 200 websites run by 28 federal agencies. It also still offers the option of providing a live selfie for verification purposes, although the IRS says this data will be deleted automatically.

Asked to respond to concerns raised in the letter from Senate lawmakers, ID.me instead touted its successes in stopping fraud.

“Five state workforce agencies have publicly credited ID.me with helping to prevent $238 billion dollars in fraud,” the statement reads. “Conditions were so bad during the pandemic that the deputy assistant director of the FBI called the fraud ‘an economic attack on the United States.’ ID.me played a critical role in stopping that attack in more than 20 states where the service was rapidly adopted for its equally important ability to increase equity and verify individuals left behind by traditional options. We look forward to cooperating with all relevant government bodies to clear up any misunderstandings.”

As Cyberscoop reported on Apr. 14, the House Oversight and Reform Committee last month began an investigation into ID.me’s practices, with committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) saying the committee’s questions to the company would help shape policy on how the government wields facial recognition technology.

A copy of the letter the senators sent to the FTC is here (PDF).

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When Your Smart ID Card Reader Comes With Malware

Millions of U.S. government employees and contractors have been issued a secure smart ID card that enables physical access to buildings and controlled spaces, and provides access to government computer networks and systems at the cardholder’s appropriate security level. But many government employees aren’t issued an approved card reader device that lets them use these cards at home or remotely, and so turn to low-cost readers they find online. What could go wrong? Here’s one example.

A sample Common Access Card (CAC). Image: Cac.mil.

KrebsOnSecurity recently heard from a reader — we’ll call him “Mark” because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press — who works in IT for a major government defense contractor and was issued a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) government smart card designed for civilian employees. Not having a smart card reader at home and lacking any obvious guidance from his co-workers on how to get one, Mark opted to purchase a $15 reader from Amazon that said it was made to handle U.S. government smart cards.

The USB-based device Mark settled on is the first result that currently comes up one when searches on Amazon.com for “PIV card reader.” The card reader Mark bought was sold by a company called Saicoo, whose sponsored Amazon listing advertises a “DOD Military USB Common Access Card (CAC) Reader” and has more than 11,700 mostly positive ratings.

The Common Access Card (CAC) is the standard identification for active duty uniformed service personnel, selected reserve, DoD civilian employees, and eligible contractor personnel. It is the principal card used to enable physical access to buildings and controlled spaces, and provides access to DoD computer networks and systems.

Mark said when he received the reader and plugged it into his Windows 10 PC, the operating system complained that the device’s hardware drivers weren’t functioning properly. Windows suggested consulting the vendor’s website for newer drivers.

The Saicoo smart card reader that Mark purchased. Image: Amazon.com

So Mark went to the website mentioned on Saicoo’s packaging and found a ZIP file containing drivers for Linux, Mac OS and Windows:

Image: Saicoo

Out of an abundance of caution, Mark submitted Saicoo’s drivers file to Virustotal.com, which simultaneously scans any shared files with more than five dozen antivirus and security products. Virustotal reported that some 43 different security tools detected the Saicoo drivers as malicious. The consensus seems to be that the ZIP file currently harbors a malware threat known as Ramnit, a fairly common but dangerous trojan horse that spreads by appending itself to other files.

Image: Virustotal.com

Ramnit is a well-known and older threat — first surfacing more than a decade ago — but it has evolved over the years and is still employed in more sophisticated data exfiltration attacks. Amazon said in a written statement that it was investigating the reports.

“Seems like a potentially significant national security risk, considering that many end users might have elevated clearance levels who are using PIV cards for secure access,” Mark said.

Mark said he contacted Saicoo about their website serving up malware, and received a response saying the company’s newest hardware did not require any additional drivers. He said Saicoo did not address his concern that the driver package on its website was bundled with malware.

In response to KrebsOnSecurity’s request for comment, Saicoo sent a somewhat less reassuring reply.

“From the details you offered, issue may probably caused by your computer security defense system as it seems not recognized our rarely used driver & detected it as malicious or a virus,” Saicoo’s support team wrote in an email.

“Actually, it’s not carrying any virus as you can trust us, if you have our reader on hand, please just ignore it and continue the installation steps,” the message continued. “When driver installed, this message will vanish out of sight. Don’t worry.”

Saicoo’s response to KrebsOnSecurity.

The trouble with Saicoo’s apparently infected drivers may be little more than a case of a technology company having their site hacked and responding poorly. Will Dormann, a vulnerability analyst at CERT/CC, wrote on Twitter that the executable files (.exe) in the Saicoo drivers ZIP file were not altered by the Ramnit malware — only the included HTML files.

Dormann said it’s bad enough that searching for device drivers online is one of the riskiest activities one can undertake online.

“Doing a web search for drivers is a VERY dangerous (in terms of legit/malicious hit ration) search to perform, based on results of any time I’ve tried to do it,” Dormann added. “Combine that with the apparent due diligence of the vendor outlined here, and well, it ain’t a pretty picture.”

But by all accounts, the potential attack surface here is enormous, as many federal employees clearly will purchase these readers from a myriad of online vendors when the need arises. Saicoo’s product listings, for example, are replete with comments from customers who self-state that they work at a federal agency (and several who reported problems installing drivers).

A thread about Mark’s experience on Twitter generated a strong response from some of my followers, many of whom apparently work for the U.S. government in some capacity and have government-issued CAC or PIV cards.

Two things emerged clearly from that conversation. The first was general confusion about whether the U.S. government has any sort of list of approved vendors. It does. The General Services Administration (GSA), the agency which handles procurement for federal civilian agencies, maintains a list of approved card reader vendors at idmanagement.gov (Saicoo is not on that list). [Thanks to @MetaBiometrics and @shugenja for the link!]

The other theme that ran through the Twitter discussion was the reality that many people find buying off-the-shelf readers more expedient than going through the GSA’s official procurement process, whether it’s because they were never issued one or the reader they were using simply no longer worked or was lost and they needed another one quickly.

“Almost every officer and NCO [non-commissioned officer] I know in the Reserve Component has a CAC reader they bought because they had to get to their DOD email at home and they’ve never been issued a laptop or a CAC reader,” said David Dixon, an Army veteran and author who lives in Northern Virginia. “When your boss tells you to check your email at home and you’re in the National Guard and you live 2 hours from the nearest [non-classified military network installation], what do you think is going to happen?”

Interestingly, anyone asking on Twitter about how to navigate purchasing the right smart card reader and getting it all to work properly is invariably steered toward militarycac.com. The website is maintained by Michael Danberry, a decorated and retired Army veteran who launched the site in 2008 (its text and link-heavy design very much takes one back to that era of the Internet and webpages in general). His site has even been officially recommended by the Army (PDF). Mark shared emails showing Saicoo itself recommends militarycac.com.

Image: Militarycac.com.

“The Army Reserve started using CAC logon in May 2006,” Danberry wrote on his “About” page. “I [once again] became the ‘Go to guy’ for my Army Reserve Center and Minnesota. I thought Why stop there? I could use my website and knowledge of CAC and share it with you.”

Danberry did not respond to requests for an interview — no doubt because he’s busy doing tech support for the federal government. The friendly message on Danberry’s voicemail instructs support-needing callers to leave detailed information about the issue they’re having with CAC/PIV card readers.

Dixon said Danberry has “done more to keep the Army running and connected than all the G6s [Army Chief Information Officers] put together.”

In many ways, Mr. Danberry is the equivalent of that little known software developer whose tiny open-sourced code project ends up becoming widely adopted and eventually folded into the fabric of the Internet.  I wonder if he ever imagined 15 years ago that his website would one day become “critical infrastructure” for Uncle Sam?

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261-A Client Stops By

This week a client stops by to discuss his recent full privacy reboot, plus the latest news.

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DEA Investigating Breach of Law Enforcement Data Portal

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says it is investigating reports that hackers gained unauthorized access to an agency portal that taps into 16 different federal law enforcement databases. KrebsOnSecurity has learned the alleged compromise is tied to a cybercrime and online harassment community that routinely impersonates police and government officials to harvest personal information on their targets.

Unidentified hackers shared this screenshot of alleged access to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s intelligence sharing portal.

On May 8, KrebsOnSecurity received a tip that hackers obtained a username and password for an authorized user of esp.usdoj.gov, which is the Law Enforcement Inquiry and Alerts (LEIA) system managed by the DEA.

KrebsOnSecurity shared information about the allegedly hijacked account with the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Justice, which houses both agencies. The DEA declined to comment on the validity of the claims, issuing only a brief statement in response.

“DEA takes cyber security and information of intrusions seriously and investigates all such reports to the fullest extent,” the agency said in a statement shared via email.

According to this page at the Justice Department website, LEIA “provides federated search capabilities for both EPIC and external database repositories,” including data classified as “law enforcement sensitive” and “mission sensitive” to the DEA.

A document published by the Obama administration in May 2016 (PDF) says the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) systems in Texas are available for use by federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement, as well as the Department of Defense and intelligence community.

EPIC and LEIA also have access to the DEA’s National Seizure System (NSS), which the DEA uses to identify property thought to have been purchased with the proceeds of criminal activity (think fancy cars, boats and homes seized from drug kingpins).

“The EPIC System Portal (ESP) enables vetted users to remotely and securely share intelligence, access the National Seizure System, conduct data analytics, and obtain information in support of criminal investigations or law enforcement operations,” the 2016 White House document reads. “Law Enforcement Inquiry and Alerts (LEIA) allows for a federated search of 16 Federal law enforcement databases.”

The screenshots shared with this author indicate the hackers could use EPIC to look up a variety of records, including those for motor vehicles, boats, firearms, aircraft, and even drones.

Claims about the purloined DEA access were shared with this author by “KT,” the current administrator of the Doxbin — a highly toxic online community that provides a forum for digging up personal information on people and posting it publicly.

As KrebsOnSecurity reported earlier this year, the previous owner of the Doxbin has been identified as the leader of LAPSUS$, a data extortion group that hacked into some of the world’s largest tech companies this year — including Microsoft, NVIDIA, Okta, Samsung and T-Mobile.

That reporting also showed how the core members of LAPSUS$ were involved in selling a service offering fraudulent Emergency Data Requests (EDRs), wherein the hackers use compromised police and government email accounts to file warrantless data requests with social media firms, mobile telephony providers and other technology firms, attesting that the information being requested can’t wait for a warrant because it relates to an urgent matter of life and death.

From the standpoint of individuals involved in filing these phony EDRs, access to databases and user accounts within the Department of Justice would be a major coup. But the data in EPIC would probably be far more valuable to organized crime rings or drug cartels, said Nicholas Weaver, a researcher for the International Computer Science Institute at University of California, Berkeley.

Weaver said it’s clear from the screenshots shared by the hackers that they could use their access not only to view sensitive information, but also submit false records to law enforcement and intelligence agency databases.

“I don’t think these [people] realize what they got, how much money the cartels would pay for access to this,” Weaver said. “Especially because as a cartel you don’t search for yourself you search for your enemies, so that even if it’s discovered there is no loss to you of putting things ONTO the DEA’s radar.”

The DEA’s EPIC portal login page.

ANALYSIS

The login page for esp.usdoj.gov (above) suggests that authorized users can access the site using a “Personal Identity Verification” or PIV card, which is a fairly strong form of authentication used government-wide to control access to federal facilities and information systems at each user’s appropriate security level.

However, the EPIC portal also appears to accept just a username and password, which would seem to radically diminish the security value of requiring users to present (or prove possession of) an authorized PIV card. Indeed, KT said the hacker who obtained this illicit access was able to log in using the stolen credentials alone, and that at no time did the portal prompt for a second authentication factor.

It’s not clear why there are still sensitive government databases being protected by nothing more than a username and password, but I’m willing to bet big money that this DEA portal is not only offender here. The DEA portal esp.usdoj.gov is listed on Page 87 of a Justice Department “data inventory,” which catalogs all of the data repositories that correspond to DOJ agencies.

There are 3,330 results. Granted, only some of those results are login portals, but that’s just within the Department of Justice.

If we assume for the moment that state-sponsored foreign hacking groups can gain access to sensitive government intelligence in the same way as teenage hacker groups like LAPSUS$, then it is long past time for the U.S. federal government to perform a top-to-bottom review of authentication requirements tied to any government portals that traffic in sensitive or privileged information.

I’ll say it because it needs to be said: The United States government is in urgent need of leadership on cybersecurity at the executive branch level — preferably someone who has the authority and political will to eventually disconnect any federal government agency data portals that fail to enforce strong, multi-factor authentication.

I realize this may be far more complex than it sounds, particularly when it comes to authenticating law enforcement personnel who access these systems without the benefit of a PIV card or government-issued device (state and local authorities, for example). It’s not going to be as simple as just turning on multi-factor authentication for every user, thanks in part to a broad diversity of technologies being used across the law enforcement landscape.

But when hackers can plunder 16 law enforcement databases, arbitrarily send out law enforcement alerts for specific people or vehicles, or potentially disrupt ongoing law enforcement operations — all because someone stole, found or bought a username and password — it’s time for drastic measures.

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Microsoft Patch Tuesday, May 2022 Edition

Microsoft today released updates to fix at least 74 separate security problems in its Windows operating systems and related software. This month’s patch batch includes fixes for seven “critical” flaws, as well as a zero-day vulnerability that affects all supported versions of Windows.

By all accounts, the most urgent bug Microsoft addressed this month is CVE-2022-26925, a weakness in a central component of Windows security (the “Local Security Authority” process within Windows). CVE-2022-26925 was publicly disclosed prior to today, and Microsoft says it is now actively being exploited in the wild. The flaw affects Windows 7 through 10 and Windows Server 2008 through 2022.

Greg Wiseman, product manager for Rapid7, said Microsoft has rated this vulnerability as important and assigned it a CVSS (danger) score of 8.1 (10 being the worst), although Microsoft notes that the CVSS score can be as high as 9.8 in certain situations.

“This allows attackers to perform a man-in-the-middle attack to force domain controllers to authenticate to the attacker using NTLM authentication,” Wiseman said. “This is very bad news when used in conjunction with an NTLM relay attack, potentially leading to remote code execution. This bug affects all supported versions of Windows, but Domain Controllers should be patched on a priority basis before updating other servers.”

Wiseman said the most recent time Microsoft patched a similar vulnerability — last August in CVE-2021-36942 — it was also being exploited in the wild under the name “PetitPotam.”

“CVE-2021-36942 was so bad it made CISA’s catalog of Known Exploited Vulnerabilities,” Wiseman said.

Seven of the flaws fixed today earned Microsoft’s most-dire “critical” label, which it assigns to vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malware or miscreants to remotely compromise a vulnerable Windows system without any help from the user.

Among those is CVE-2022-26937, which carries a CVSS score of 9.8, and affects services using the Windows Network File System (NFS). Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative notes that this bug could allow remote, unauthenticated attackers to execute code in the context of the Network File System (NFS) service on affected systems.

“NFS isn’t on by default, but it’s prevalent in environment where Windows systems are mixed with other OSes such as Linux or Unix,” ZDI’s Dustin Childs wrote. “If this describes your environment, you should definitely test and deploy this patch quickly.”

Once again, this month’s Patch Tuesday is sponsored by Windows Print Spooler, a core Windows service that keeps spooling out the security hits. May’s patches include four fixes for Print Spooler, including two information disclosure and two elevation of privilege flaws.

“All of the flaws are rated as important, and two of the three are considered more likely to be exploited,” said Satnam Narang, staff research engineer at Tenable. “Windows Print Spooler continues to remain a valuable target for attackers since PrintNightmare was disclosed nearly a year ago. Elevation of Privilege flaws in particular should be carefully prioritized, as we’ve seen ransomware groups like Conti favor them as part of its playbook.”

Other Windows components that received patches this month include .NET and Visual Studio, Microsoft Edge (Chromium-based), Microsoft Exchange Server, Office, Windows Hyper-V, Windows Authentication Methods, BitLocker, Remote Desktop Client, and Windows Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol.

Also today, Adobe issued five security bulletins to address at least 18 flaws in Adobe CloudFusion, Framemaker, InCopy, InDesign, and Adobe Character Animator. Adobe said it is not aware of any exploits in the wild for any of the issues addressed in today’s updates.

For a more granular look at the patches released by Microsoft today and indexed by severity and other metrics, check out the always-useful Patch Tuesday roundup from the SANS Internet Storm Center. And it’s not a bad idea to hold off updating for a few days until Microsoft works out any kinks in the updates: AskWoody.com usually has the skinny on any patches that may be causing problems for Windows users.

As always, please consider backing up your system or at least your important documents and data before applying system updates. And if you run into any problems with these patches, please drop a note about it here in the comments.

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Your Phone May Soon Replace Many of Your Passwords

Apple, Google and Microsoft announced this week they will soon support an approach to authentication that avoids passwords altogether, and instead requires users to merely unlock their smartphones to sign in to websites or online services. Experts say the changes should help defeat many types of phishing attacks and ease the overall password burden on Internet users, but caution that a true passwordless future may still be years away for most websites.

Image: Blog.google

The tech giants are part of an industry-led effort to replace passwords, which are easily forgotten, frequently stolen by malware and phishing schemes, or leaked and sold online in the wake of corporate data breaches.

Apple, Google and Microsoft are some of the more active contributors to a passwordless sign-in standard crafted by the FIDO (“Fast Identity Online”) Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), groups that have been working with hundreds of tech companies over the past decade to develop a new login standard that works the same way across multiple browsers and operating systems.

According to the FIDO Alliance, users will be able to sign in to websites through the same action that they take multiple times each day to unlock their devices — including a device PIN, or a biometric such as a fingerprint or face scan.

“This new approach protects against phishing and sign-in will be radically more secure when compared to passwords and legacy multi-factor technologies such as one-time passcodes sent over SMS,” the alliance wrote on May 5.

Sampath Srinivas, director of security authentication at Google and president of the FIDO Alliance, said that under the new system your phone will store a FIDO credential called a “passkey” which is used to unlock your online account.

“The passkey makes signing in far more secure, as it’s based on public key cryptography and is only shown to your online account when you unlock your phone,” Srinivas wrote. “To sign into a website on your computer, you’ll just need your phone nearby and you’ll simply be prompted to unlock it for access. Once you’ve done this, you won’t need your phone again and you can sign in by just unlocking your computer.”

As ZDNet notes, Apple, Google and Microsoft already support these passwordless standards (e.g. “Sign in with Google”), but users need to sign in at every website to use the passwordless functionality. Under this new system, users will be able to automatically access their passkey on many of their devices — without having to re-enroll every account — and use their mobile device to sign into an app or website on a nearby device.

Johannes Ullrich, dean of research for the SANS Technology Institute, called the announcement “by far the most promising effort to solve the authentication challenge.”

“The most important part of this standard is that it will not require users to buy a new device, but instead they may use devices they already own and know how to use as authenticators,” Ullrich said.

Steve Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University and an early internet researcher and pioneer, called the passwordless effort a “huge advance” in authentication, but said it will take a very long time for many websites to catch up.

Bellovin and others say one potentially tricky scenario in this new passwordless authentication scheme is what happens when someone loses their mobile device, or their phone breaks and they can’t recall their iCloud password.

“I worry about people who can’t afford an extra device, or can’t easily replace a broken or stolen device,” Bellovin said. “I worry about forgotten password recovery for cloud accounts.”

Google says that even if you lose your phone, “your passkeys will securely sync to your new phone from cloud backup, allowing you to pick up right where your old device left off.”

Apple and Microsoft likewise have cloud backup solutions that customers using those platforms could use to recover from a lost mobile device. But Bellovin said much depends on how securely such cloud systems are administered.

“How easy is it to add another device’s public key to an account, without authorization?” Bellovin wondered. “I think their protocols make it impossible, but others disagree.”

Nicholas Weaver, a lecturer at the computer science department at University of California, Berkeley, said websites still have to have some recovery mechanism for the “you lost your phone and your password” scenario, which he described as “a really hard problem to do securely and already one of the biggest weaknesses in our current system.”

“If you forget the password and lose your phone and can recover it, now this is a huge target for attackers,” Weaver said in an email. “If you forget the password and lose your phone and CAN’T, well, now you’ve lost your authorization token that is used for logging in. It is going to have to be the latter. Apple has the infrastructure in place to support it (iCloud keychain), but it is unclear if Google does.”

Even so, he said, the overall FIDO approach has been a great tool for improving both security and usability.

“It is a really, really good step forward, and I’m delighted to see this,” Weaver said. “Taking advantage of the phone’s strong authentication of the phone owner (if you have a decent passcode) is quite nice. And at least for the iPhone you can make this robust even to phone compromise, as it is the secure enclave that would handle this and the secure enclave doesn’t trust the host operating system.”

The tech giants said the new passwordless capabilities will be enabled across Apple, Google and Microsoft platforms “over the course of the coming year.” But experts said it will likely take several more years for smaller web destinations to adopt the technology and ditch passwords altogether.

Recent research shows far too many people still reuse or recycle passwords (modifying the same password slightly), which presents an account takeover risk when those credentials eventually get exposed in a data breach. A report in March from cybersecurity firm SpyCloud found 64 percent of users reuse passwords for multiple accounts, and that 70 percent of credentials compromised in previous breaches are still in use.

A March 2022 white paper on the FIDO approach is available here (PDF). A FAQ on it is here.

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260-Google’s New Policy Change

This week I discuss Google’s new data removal policy, the first issue of UNREDACTED Magazine, and numerous privacy & OSINT updates.

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Russia to Rent Tech-Savvy Prisoners to Corporate IT?

Image: Proxima Studios, via Shutterstock.

Faced with a brain drain of smart people fleeing the country following its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Federation is floating a new strategy to address a worsening shortage of qualified information technology experts: Forcing tech-savvy people within the nation’s prison population to perform low-cost IT work for domestic companies.

Multiple Russian news outlets published stories on April 27 saying the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service had announced a plan to recruit IT specialists from Russian prisons to work remotely for domestic commercial companies.

Russians sentenced to forced labor will serve out their time at one of many correctional centers across dozens of Russian regions, usually at the center that is closest to their hometown. Alexander Khabarov, deputy head of Russia’s penitentiary service, said his agency had received proposals from businessmen in different regions to involve IT specialists serving sentences in correctional centers to work remotely for commercial companies.

Khabarov told Russian media outlets that under the proposal people with IT skills at these facilities would labor only in IT-related roles, but would not be limited to working with companies in their own region.

“We are approached with this initiative in a number of territories, in a number of subjects by entrepreneurs who work in this area,” Khabarov told Russian state media organization TASS. “We are only at the initial stage. If this is in demand, and this is most likely in demand, we think that we will not force specialists in this field to work in some other industries.”

According to Russian media site Lenta.ru, since March 21 nearly 95,000 vacancies in IT have remained unfilled in Russia. Lenta says the number unfilled job slots actually shrank 25 percent from the previous month, officially because “many Russian companies are currently reviewing their plans and budgets, and some projects have been postponed.” The story fails to even mention the recent economic sanctions that are currently affecting many Russian companies thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

The Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) estimated recently that between 70,000 and 100,000 people will leave Russia as part of the second wave of emigration of IT specialists from Russia. “The study also notes that the number of IT people who want to leave Russia is growing. Experts consider the USA, Germany, Georgia, Cyprus and Canada to be the most attractive countries for moving,” Lenta reported of the RAEC survey.

It’s not clear how many “IT specialists” are currently serving prison time in Russia, or precisely what that might mean in terms of an inmate’s IT skills and knowledge. According to the BCC, about half of the world’s prison population is held in the United States, Russia or China. The BCC says Russia currently houses nearly 875,000 inmates, or about 615 inmates for every 100,000 citizens. The United States has an even higher incarceration rate (737/100,000), but also a far larger total prison population of nearly 2.2 million.

Sergei Boyarsky, deputy chairman of the Russian Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, said the idea was worth pursuing if indeed there are a significant number of IT specialists who are already incarcerated in Russia.

“I know that we have a need in general for IT specialists, this is a growing market,” said Boyarsky, who was among the Russian leaders sanctioned by the United States Treasury on Marc. 24, 2022 in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Boyarsky is head of the St. Petersburg branch of United Russia, a strongly pro-Putin political party that holds more than 70 percent of the seats in the Russian State Duma.

“Since they still work there, it would probably be right to give people with a profession that allows them to work remotely not to lose their qualifications,” Boyarsky was quoted as saying of potentially qualified inmates. “At a minimum, this proposal is worth attention and discussion if there are a lot of such specialists.”

According to Russia’s penitentiary service, the average salary of those sentenced to forced labor is about 20,000 rubles per month, or approximately USD $281. Russian news outlet RBC reports that businesses started using prison labor after the possibility of creating correctional centers in organizations appeared in 2020. RBC notes that Russia now has 117 such centers across 76 Russian regions.

from Krebs on Security https://ift.tt/FlcnKTR

You Can Now Ask Google to Remove Your Phone Number, Email or Address from Search Results

Google said this week it is expanding the types of data people can ask to have removed from search results, to include personal contact information like your phone number, email address or physical address. The move comes just months after Google rolled out a new policy enabling people under the age of 18 (or a parent/guardian) to request removal of their images from Google search results.

Google has for years accepted requests to remove certain sensitive data such as bank account or credit card numbers from search results. In a blog post on Wednesday, Google’s Michelle Chang wrote that the company’s expanded policy now allows for the removal of additional information that may pose a risk for identity theft, such as confidential log-in credentials, email addresses and phone numbers when it appears in Search results.

“When we receive removal requests, we will evaluate all content on the web page to ensure that we’re not limiting the availability of other information that is broadly useful, for instance in news articles,” Chang wrote. “We’ll also evaluate if the content appears as part of the public record on the sites of government or official sources. In such cases, we won’t make removals.”

Google says a removal request will be considered if the search result in question includes the presence of “explicit or implicit threats” or “explicit or implicit calls to action for others to harm or harass.” The company says if it approves your request, it may respond by removing the provided URL(s) for all queries, or for only queries including your name.

While Google’s removal of a search result from its index will do nothing to remove the offending content from the site that is hosting it, getting a link decoupled from Google search results is going to make the content at that link far less visible. According to recent estimates, Google enjoys somewhere near 90 percent market share in search engine usage.

KrebsOnSecurity decided to test this expanded policy with what would appear to be a no-brainer request: I asked Google to remove search result for BriansClub, one of the largest (if not THE largest) cybercrime stores for selling stolen payment card data.

BriansClub has long abused my name and likeness to pimp its wares on the hacking forums. Its homepage includes a copy of my credit report, Social Security card, phone bill, and a fake but otherwise official looking government ID card.

The login page for perhaps the most bustling cybercrime store for stolen payment card data.

Briansclub updated its homepage with this information in 2019, after it got massively hacked and a copy of its customer database was shared with this author. The leaked data — which included 26 million credit and debit card records taken from hacked online and brick-and-mortar retailers — was ultimately shared with dozens of financial institutions.

TechCrunch writes that the policy expansion comes six months after Google started allowing people under 18 or their parents request to delete their photos from search results. To do so, users need to specify that they want Google to remove “Imagery of an individual currently under the age of 18” and provide some personal information, the image URLs and search queries that would surface the results. Google also lets you submit requests to remove non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images from Google, along with involuntary fake pornography, TechCrunch notes.

This post will be updated in the event Google responds one way or the other, but that may take a while: Google’s automated response said: “Due to the preventative measures being taken for our support specialists in light of COVID-19, it may take longer than usual to respond to your support request. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and we’ll send you a reply as soon as we can.”

from Krebs on Security https://ift.tt/qusomY5