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Sounding the Alarm on Emergency Alert System Flaws

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is urging states and localities to beef up security around proprietary devices that connect to the Emergency Alert System — a national public warning system used to deliver important emergency information, such as severe weather and AMBER alerts. The DHS warning came in advance of a workshop to be held this weekend at the DEFCON security conference in Las Vegas, where a security researcher is slated to demonstrate multiple weaknesses in the nationwide alert system.

A Digital Alert Systems EAS encoder/decoder that Pyle said he acquired off eBay in 2019. It had the username and password for the system printed on the machine.

The DHS warning was prompted by security researcher Ken Pyle, a partner at security firm Cybir. Pyle said he started acquiring old EAS equipment off of eBay in 2019, and that he quickly identified a number of serious security vulnerabilities in a device that is broadly used by states and localities to encode and decode EAS alert signals.

“I found all kinds of problems back then, and reported it to the DHS, FBI and the manufacturer,” Pyle said in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity. “But nothing ever happened. I decided I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it yet because I wanted to give people time to fix it.”

Pyle said he took up the research again in earnest after an angry mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I was sitting there thinking, ‘Holy shit, someone could start a civil war with this thing,”’ Pyle recalled. “I went back to see if this was still a problem, and it turns out it’s still a very big problem. So I decided that unless someone actually makes this public and talks about it, clearly nothing is going to be done about it.”

The EAS encoder/decoder devices Pyle acquired were made by Lyndonville, NY-based Digital Alert Systems (formerly Monroe Electronics, Inc.), which issued a security advisory this month saying it released patches in 2019 to fix the flaws reported by Pyle, but that some customers are still running outdated versions of the device’s firmware. That may be because the patches were included in version 4 of the firmware for the EAS devices, and many older models apparently do not support the new software.

“The vulnerabilities identified present a potentially serious risk, and we believe both were addressed in software updates issued beginning Oct 2019,” EAS said in a written statement. “We also provided attribution for the researcher’s responsible disclosure, allowing us to rectify the matters before making any public statements. We are aware that some users have not taken corrective actions and updated their software and should immediately take action to update the latest software version to ensure they are not at risk. Anything lower than version 4.1 should be updated immediately. On July 20, 2022, the researcher referred to other potential issues, and we trust the researcher will provide more detail. We will evaluate and work to issue any necessary mitigations as quickly as possible.”

But Pyle said a great many EAS stakeholders are still ignoring basic advice from the manufacturer, such as changing default passwords and placing the devices behind a firewall, not directly exposing them to the Internet, and restricting access only to trusted hosts and networks.

Pyle, in a selfie that is heavily redacted because the EAS device behind him had its user credentials printed on the lid.

Pyle said the biggest threat to the security of the EAS is that an attacker would only need to compromise a single EAS station to send out alerts locally that can be picked up by other EAS systems and retransmitted across the nation.

“The process for alerts is automated in most cases, hence, obtaining access to a device will allow you to pivot around,” he said. “There’s no centralized control of the EAS because these devices are designed such that someone locally can issue an alert, but there’s no central control over whether I am the one person who can send or whatever. If you are a local operator, you can send out nationwide alerts. That’s how easy it is to do this.”

One of the Digital Alert Systems devices Pyle sourced from an electronics recycler earlier this year was non-functioning, but whoever discarded it neglected to wipe the hard drive embedded in the machine. Pyle soon discovered the device contained the private cryptographic keys and other credentials needed to send alerts through Comcast, the nation’s third-largest cable company.

“I can issue and create my own alert here, which has all the valid checks or whatever for being a real alert station,” Pyle said in an interview earlier this month. “I can create a message that will start propagating through the EAS.”

Comcast told KrebsOnSecurity that “a third-party device used to deliver EAS alerts was lost in transit by a trusted shipping provider between two Comcast locations and subsequently obtained by a cybersecurity researcher.

“We’ve conducted a thorough investigation of this matter and have determined that no customer data, and no sensitive Comcast data, were compromised,” Comcast spokesperson David McGuire said.

The company said it also confirmed that the information included on the device can no longer be used to send false messages to Comcast customers or used to compromise devices within Comcast’s network, including EAS devices.

“We are taking steps to further ensure secure transfer of such devices going forward,” McGuire said. “Separately, we have conducted a thorough audit of all EAS devices on our network and confirmed that they are updated with currently available patches and are therefore not vulnerable to recently reported security issues. We’re grateful for the responsible disclosure and to the security research community for continuing to engage and share information with our teams to make our products and technologies ever more secure. Mr. Pyle informed us promptly of his research and worked with us as we took steps to validate his findings and ensure the security of our systems.”

The user interface for an EAS device.

Unauthorized EAS broadcast alerts have happened enough that there is a chronicle of EAS compromises over at fandom.com. Thankfully, most of these incidents have involved fairly obvious hoaxes.

According to the EAS wiki, in February 2013, hackers broke into the EAS networks in Great Falls, Mt. and Marquette, Mich. to broadcast an alert that zombies had risen from their graves in several counties. In Feb. 2017, an EAS station in Indiana also was hacked, with the intruders playing the same “zombies and dead bodies” audio from the 2013 incidents.

“On February 20 and February 21, 2020, Wave Broadband’s EASyCAP equipment was hacked due to the equipment’s default password not being changed,” the Wiki states. “Four alerts were broadcasted, two of which consisted of a Radiological Hazard Warning and a Required Monthly Test playing parts of the Hip Hop song Hot by artist Young Thug.”

In January 2018, Hawaii sent out an alert to cell phones, televisions and radios, warning everyone in the state that a missile was headed their way. It took 38 minutes for Hawaii to let people know the alert was a misfire, and that a draft alert was inadvertently sent. The news video clip below about the 2018 event in Hawaii does a good job of walking through how the EAS works.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is urging states and localities to beef up security around proprietary devices that connect to the Emergency Alert System — a national public warning system used to deliver important emergency information, such as severe weather and AMBER alerts. The DHS warning came in advance of a workshop to be held this weekend at the DEFCON security conference in Las Vegas, where a security researcher is slated to demonstrate multiple weaknesses in the nationwide alert system.Read More

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Cisco Patches High-Severity Vulnerability Affecting ASA and Firepower Solutions

Cisco on Wednesday released patches to contain multiple flaws in its software that could be abused to leak sensitive information on susceptible appliances.
The issue, assigned the identifier CVE-2022-20866 (CVSS score: 7.4), has been described as a “logic error” when handling RSA keys on devices running Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) Software and Cisco Firepower Threat Defense (FTD)Cisco on Wednesday released patches to contain multiple flaws in its software that could be abused to leak sensitive information on susceptible appliances.
The issue, assigned the identifier CVE-2022-20866 (CVSS score: 7.4), has been described as a “logic error” when handling RSA keys on devices running Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) Software and Cisco Firepower Threat Defense (FTD)Read More

It Might Be Our Data, But It’s Not Our Breach

Image: Shutterstock.

A cybersecurity firm says it has intercepted a large, unique stolen data set containing the names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, Social Security Numbers and dates of birth on nearly 23 million Americans. The firm’s analysis of the data suggests it corresponds to current and former customers of AT&T. The telecommunications giant stopped short of saying the data wasn’t theirs, but it maintains the records do not appear to have come from its systems and may be tied to a previous data incident at another company.

Milwaukee-based cybersecurity consultancy Hold Security said it intercepted a 1.6 gigabyte compressed file on a popular dark web file-sharing site. The largest item in the archive is a 3.6 gigabyte file called “dbfull,” and it contains 28.5 million records, including 22.8 million unique email addresses and 23 million unique SSNs. There are no passwords in the database.

Hold Security founder Alex Holden said a number of patterns in the data suggest it relates to AT&T customers. For starters, email addresses ending in “att.net” accounted for 13.7 percent of all addresses in the database, with addresses from SBCGLobal.net and Bellsouth.net — both AT&T companies — making up another seven percent. In contrast, Gmail users made up more than 30 percent of the data set, with Yahoo addresses accounting for 24 percent. More than 10,000 entries in the database list “none@att.com” in the email field.

Hold Security found these email domains account for 87% of all domains in the data set. Nearly 21% belonged to AT&T customers.

Holden’s team also examined the number of email records that included an alias in the username portion of the email, and found 293 email addresses with plus addressing. Of those, 232 included an alias that indicated the customer had signed up at some AT&T property; 190 of the aliased email addresses were “+att@”; 42 were “+uverse@,” an oddly specific reference to a DirecTV/AT&T entity that included broadband Internet. In September 2016, AT&T rebranded U-verse as AT&T Internet.

According to its website, AT&T Internet is offered in 21 states, including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. Nearly all of the records in the database that contain a state designation corresponded to those 21 states; all other states made up just 1.64 percent of the records, Hold Security found.

Image: Hold Security.

The vast majority of records in this database belong to consumers, but almost 13,000 of the entries are for corporate entities. Holden said 387 of those corporate names started with “ATT,” with various entries like “ATT PVT XLOW” appearing 81 times. And most of the addresses for these entities are AT&T corporate offices.

How old is this data? One clue may be in the dates of birth exposed in this database. There are very few records in this file with dates of birth after 2000.

“Based on these statistics, we see that the last significant number of subscribers born in March of 2000,” Holden told KrebsOnSecurity, noting that AT&T requires new account holders to be 18 years of age or older. “Therefore, it makes sense that the dataset was likely created close to March of 2018.”

There was also this anomaly: Holden said one of his analysts is an AT&T customer with a 13-letter last name, and that her AT&T bill has always had the same unique misspelling of her surname (they added yet another letter). He said the analyst’s name is identically misspelled in this database.

KrebsOnSecurity shared the large data set with AT&T, as well as Hold Security’s analysis of it. AT&T ultimately declined to say whether all of the people in the database are or were at some point AT&T customers. The company said the data appears to be several years old, and that “it’s not immediately possible to determine the percentage that may be customers.”

“This information does not appear to have come from our systems,” AT&T said in a written statement. “It may be tied to a previous data incident at another company. It is unfortunate that data can continue to surface over several years on the dark web. However, customers often receive notices after such incidents, and advice for ID theft is consistent and can be found online.”

The company declined to elaborate on what they meant by “a previous data incident at another company.”

But it seems likely that this database is related to one that went up for sale on a hacker forum on August 19, 2021. That auction ran with the title “AT&T Database +70M (SSN/DOB),” and was offered by ShinyHunters, a well-known threat actor with a long history of compromising websites and developer repositories to steal credentials or API keys.

Image: BleepingComputer

ShinyHunters established the starting price for the auction at $200,000, but set the “flash” or “buy it now” price at $1 million. The auction also included a small sampling of the stolen information, but that sample is no longer available. The hacker forum where the ShinyHunters sales thread existed was seized by the FBI in April, and its alleged administrator arrested.

But cached copies of the auction, as recorded by cyber intelligence firm Intel 471, show ShinyHunters received bids of up to $230,000 for the entire database before they suspended the sale.

“This thread has been deleted several times,” ShinyHunters wrote in their auction discussion on Sept. 6, 2021. “Therefore, the auction is suspended. AT&T will be available on WHM as soon as they accept new vendors.”

The WHM initialism was a reference to the White House Market, a dark web marketplace that shut down in October 2021.

“In many cases, when a database is not sold, ShinyHunters will release it for free on hacker forums,” wrote BleepingComputer’s Lawrence Abrams, who broke the news of the auction last year and confronted AT&T about the hackers’ claims.

AT&T gave Abrams a similar statement, saying the data didn’t come from their systems.

“When asked whether the data may have come from a third-party partner, AT&T chose not to speculate,” Abrams wrote. “‘Given this information did not come from us, we can’t speculate on where it came from or whether it is valid,’” AT&T told BleepingComputer.

Asked to respond to AT&T’s denial, ShinyHunters told BleepingComputer at the time, “I don’t care if they don’t admit. I’m just selling.”

On June 1, 2022, a 21-year-old Frenchman was arrested in Morocco for allegedly being a member of ShinyHunters. Databreaches.net reports the defendant was arrested on an Interpol “Red Notice” at the request of a U.S. federal prosecutor from Washington state.

Databreaches.net suggests the warrant could be tied to a ShinyHunters theft in May 2020, when the group announced they had exfiltrated 500 GB of Microsoft’s source code from Microsoft’s private GitHub repositories.

“Researchers assess that Shiny Hunters gained access to roughly 1,200 private repositories around March 28, 2020, which have since been secured,” reads a May 2020 alert posted by the New Jersey Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Cell, a component within the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

“Though the breach was largely dismissed as insignificant, some images of the directory listing appear to contain source code for Azure, Office, and some Windows runtimes, and concerns have been raised regarding access to private API keys or passwords that may have been mistakenly included in some private repositories,” the alert continues. “Additionally, Shiny Hunters is flooding dark web marketplaces with breached databases.”

Last month, T-Mobile agreed to pay $350 million to settle a consolidated class action lawsuit over a breach in 2021 that affected 40 million current and former customers. The breach came to light on Aug. 16, 2021, when someone starting selling tens of millions of SSN/DOB records from T-Mobile on the same hacker forum where the ShinyHunters would post their auction for the claimed AT&T database just three days later.

T-Mobile has not disclosed many details about the “how” of last year’s breach, but it said the intruder(s) “leveraged their knowledge of technical systems, along with specialized tools and capabilities, to gain access to our testing environments and then used brute force attacks and other methods to make their way into other IT servers that included customer data.”

A sales thread tied to the stolen T-Mobile customer data.

A cybersecurity firm says it has intercepted a large, unique stolen data set containing the names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, Social Security Numbers and dates of birth on nearly 23 million Americans. The firm’s analysis of the data suggests it corresponds to current and former customers of AT&T. The telecommunications giant stopped short of saying the data wasn’t theirs, but it maintains the records do not appear to have come from its systems and may be tied to a previous data incident at another company.Read More

Cyber-Insurance Fail: Most Businesses Lack Ransomware Coverage

Even among businesses with cyber insurance, they lack coverage for basic costs of many cyberattacks, according to a BlackBerry survey.Even among businesses with cyber insurance, they lack coverage for basic costs of many cyberattacks, according to a BlackBerry survey.Read More

4 Flaws, Other Weaknesses Undermine Cisco ASA Firewalls

More than 1 million instances of firewalls running Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) software have four vulnerabilities that undermine its security, a researcher finds.More than 1 million instances of firewalls running Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) software have four vulnerabilities that undermine its security, a researcher finds.Read More

New Hacker Forum Takes Pro-Ukraine Stance

A uniquely politically motivated site called DUMPS focuses solely on threat activity directed against Russia and BelarusA uniquely politically motivated site called DUMPS focuses solely on threat activity directed against Russia and BelarusRead More

Summer of exploitation leads to healthcare under fire

May 2021 was a tough month for the Healthcare and Medical sector–the most notable threat trend at the time was the heavy use of a new popular exploit against Dell systems, leading to immense effort by attackers to utilize the exploit before it became less effective due to patching.  

During this period, hospitals in central Florida were hit with malicious attacks that disrupted their operations and forced them to conduct business via pen and paper. In addition, a hospital system in Southern California was forced to modify how it did business due to a cyberattack. The San Diego-based health system quickly moved its information technology program offline, to reduce the damage done by the attack. However it also put a roadblock in the way of legitimate employees and customers trying access their medical information online.

Figure 1. United States Healthcare and Medical Threat Family Detections by Month

After the spike in May, CVE 2021-21551 detections dropped to about a quarter of the original numbers, and remained there throughout the year, except for another spike in February 2022. It seems the primary target for these attacks were healthcare and medical organizations in Pensacola, FL, but detections for New York, Wisconsin and New Jersey weren’t far behind.

Heavy detections of TrickBot were observed, especially against organizations in York, Pennsylvania during the first three months of 2021. But detections of this threat all over the United States quickly dropped beginning in April 2021 and steadily declined throughout the time period. TrickBot isn’t a stranger to healthcare organizations and has historically targeted them for the sake of launching ransomware or causing operational disruption.

This threat is even a concern to the US Government, which released an alert, through the CISA portal, back in October of 2020, about the danger of the TrickBot organization specifically targeting Healthcare organizations.

Figure 2. United States Healthcare & Medical Family Threat Detections Pie Chart

In August and September, we observed significant spikes of AI behavioral-based detections, which lines up with a series of newsworthy healthcare breaches during the same period. 

For example, a healthcare group in central Indiana was the victim of an attack that lead to a ransomware infection and the loss of information from patients and employees, then released on the dark web. The attack itself occurred in early August and forced organizations to turn away ambulances for several days, an action which led to the death of a person in Germany.

Another attack in early August, this time against a healthcare management firm in Dallas, Texas, resulted in the theft of valuable information, including patient information, health insurance and financial data. 

Securing healthcare and medical organizations

Our recommendations for securing healthcare and medical organizations start with acknowledging that securing these organizations from every possible threat is not possible. Therefore, when considering how to defend against a ransomware attack, be sure to account for getting operations back online after an attack. This includes having plans for operating the business without the use of computers, establishing secure backups of sensitive data off-site and off-line, while still following HIPPA protocol.

Beyond that, this industry has dealt with lots of heavy attacks originating from both attempts to exploit vulnerabilities, as well as spear phishing. Quickly patching vulnerabilities is a high priority, however given that quick patching isn’t always an option, times like these require risk reduction, such as removing non-patchable endpoints from direct Internet access, creating additional layers of authentication to access high value systems, and a thorough review of user accounts and permissions, to tighten up who has access to what.

Finally, many of these organizations utilize mobile stations for inputting or reviewing data. These systems should not be able to do things like using USB drives. They should have screen protectors to prevent unintended information disclosure, and these systems should be completely wiped with a new image on a regular basis, to ensure removal of any hidden rootkit-level threats.