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.
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month saying it released patches in 2019 to fix the flaws reported by Pyle, but that some customers are still running outdated versions of the device’s firmware.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 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.”
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
Slack, the workplace communication platform, has notified some of its users that their hashed passwords have been subject to exposure for the last five years. The company wasn’t specific in its notice, but Wired said that the flaw was in one of its “low-friction features”. The flaw exposed hashed passwords of users when creating or revoking shared invitation links for workspaces.
“When a user performed either of these actions, Slack transmitted a hashed version of their password to other workspace members,” the company said in a notice. “It affected all users who created or revoked shared invitation links between 17 April 2017 and 17 July 2022.”
Putting a plaintext password through a hashing algorithm changes it to a cryptographically scrambled or obfuscated version of itself, now called a “ciphertext”. It is a unique string of characters with a fixed length. Adding “salt”—essentially random data—when hashing would further protect the password from getting easily extracted by threat actors.
The exposure only occurs behind the scenes, though, as Slack users who were sent these invitations couldn’t see the passwords. However, they weren’t completely inaccessible, although seeing the exposed passwords required actively monitoring encrypted traffic from Slack’s servers.
“We have no reason to believe that anyone was able to obtain plaintext passwords because of this issue. However, for the sake of caution, we have reset affected users’ Slack passwords.”
Slack warned that hashes are “secure, but not perfect.” Hashed passwords could still be revered by brute force methods.
Slack promptly patched the flaw after an independent security researcher reported it to Slack last month. It then notified the approximately 0.5 percent of all its users who may have been affected,
The company also took this opportunity to advise its users to enable 2FA (two-factor authentication) on their accounts and create strong and unique passwords. It also advised users to check access logs, which they can find here, for their accounts.
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 “firstname.lastname@example.org” in the email field.
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.
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.
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 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
Networking equipment major Cisco on Wednesday confirmed it was the victim of a cyberattack on May 24, 2022 after the attackers got hold of an employee’s personal Google account that contained passwords synced from their web browser.
“Initial access to the Cisco VPN was achieved via the successful compromise of a Cisco employee’s personal Google account,” Cisco Talos said in a detailed write-up.Networking equipment major Cisco on Wednesday confirmed it was the victim of a cyberattack on May 24, 2022 after the attackers got hold of an employee’s personal Google account that contained passwords synced from their web browser.
“Initial access to the Cisco VPN was achieved via the successful compromise of a Cisco employee’s personal Google account,” Cisco Talos said in a detailed write-up.Read More
Password security is only as strong as the password itself. Unfortunately, we are often reminded of the danger of weak, reused, and compromised passwords with major cybersecurity breaches that start with stolen credentials. For example, in May 2022, the popular wedding planning site, Zola, was the victim of a significant cybersecurity breach where hackers used an attack known as credentialPassword security is only as strong as the password itself. Unfortunately, we are often reminded of the danger of weak, reused, and compromised passwords with major cybersecurity breaches that start with stolen credentials. For example, in May 2022, the popular wedding planning site, Zola, was the victim of a significant cybersecurity breach where hackers used an attack known as credentialRead More
Twitter has confirmed that it was breached last month via a now-patched 0-day vulnerability in Twitter’s systems, allowing an attacker to link email addresses and phone numbers to user accounts. This enabled the attacker to compile a list of 5.4 million Twitter user account profiles.
“We want to let you know about a vulnerability that allowed someone to enter a phone number or email address into the log-in flow in the attempt to learn if that information was tied to an existing Twitter account, and if so, which specific account. We take our responsibility to protect your privacy very seriously, and it is unfortunate that this happened.”
When a person submits a publicly known email address or phone number to Twitter, the system tells this person what Twitter account the email or phone number is associated with. The attacker took advantage of this and created a list containing 5.4 million Twitter users with scraped publicly available details of the accounts, including whether the account was verified.
This is especially worrying for users who want to remain anonymous on the platform. It’s a bit late now, but Twitter recommends anyone trying to stay anonymous should not tie a publicly known phone number or email to their Twitter account.
If you operate a pseudonymous Twitter account, we understand the risks an incident like this can introduce and deeply regret that this happened. To keep your identity as veiled as possible, we recommend not adding a publicly known phone number or email address to your Twitter account.
According to BleepingComputer, the attacker sold the data on twice, saying that “the data would likely be released for free in the future.”
Twitter introduced the vulnerability after updating its code in June 2021. A threat hunter reported this vulnerability in January 2022, with Twitter eventually awarding the researcher for the find as part of its bug bounty program.
While the company says no passwords were compromised, it continues to encourage users to enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for their accounts, either in the form of authentication apps or hardware keys.
The new school season is just around the corner. And while you are getting ready to go back to school, now is a good opportunity to check you are doing all you can to stay as safe as possible online.
Make sure you are doing these five things:
1. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA)
MFA has become a necessary security measure in a world where passwords still rule. It’s added security for your school-related accounts—and actually any online accounts you have, including social media.
MFA is an additional layer of security, after you enter your username and password. This could be a code generated by an app, a push notification you need to accept, a physical key you plug into your computer, or similar.
Use it wherever it is offered to you. Yes, it makes logging in take slightly longer, but it really does make your accounts safer.
2. Use strong passwords
By “strong”, we mean the best possible password string you can come up. If, for example, your school IT administrator sets a maximum password length of 10 and allows a mix of alphabets and numbers, then make your password 10 characters long with the maximum complexity you can.
And while we’re on the subject of passwords, remember to use a unique password for each of your online accounts. If you use the same email and password combination for every account, then if one gets breached you have to assume they have all been breached.
Of course, it’s impossible to remember a strong password for every account you have. This is where password managers come in. They can generate passwords for you, and will remember them all too. Just make sure you use a super strong password for your password manager itself, and protect it with MFA.
Lastly, never share passwords with anyone.
3. Be wary of links and attachments
When it comes to phishing and malware campaigns, danger doesn’t just lurk in emails. It’s on social media, SMS, chat platforms, gaming platforms, and other online watering holes, too.
Remember: if someone sends you an unsolicited link or attachment, you’re right to be suspicious. Treat it as suspect, and always verify with the sender if they’re someone you know, preferably via other means than the medium with which you received the link or attachment.
4. Share with caution
Students can do this in (at least) three ways:
Limit what you share. Don’t give away personal details on social media, including those which tie you to your school.
Be smart about what information you allow apps to access. Does that calendar app really need access to your location?
For high school and college students, think twice before sharing private photos with someone. Consider that they may be shared with others, and how you might feel if that happened.
5. Lock down your files
The school does its part to secure your most important data, but you have a part to play, too.
You can start by locking down the devices you bring to school, such as your smartphone and laptop. Make sure there’s at least a password or code that stops anyone from casually picking up your device, and then opening it.
If you use the cloud to store files, learn how to secure that properly—the cloud-of-your-choice will have a guide on that. Remember, the cloud can only be as secure as you, the user, makes it.
It’s easy when you know how
Thankfully, securing data doesn’t get any more complicated for regular users than the five tips we have listed above. Remain vigilant and remind yourself that cybersecurity and privacy are shared goals and responsibilities. Students should do their part in the same way that your school’s IT team is doing theirs.
Stay safe, and have a pleasant, risk-free school year ahead!