Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What's in your firmware, and why should you care?

Hi folks, Today, we have officially launched our new site, and product, This is a place where you can upload a firmware image, and get a report on what's in it.

For example, in my 2017 laptop, I have about 380 Windows PE format executables. This is what's known as the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, or UEFI, for short. The idea is that this mechanism provides a much more flexible way for manufacturers to add new hardware, rather having to modify handwritten assembler, as with a traditional BIOS. This is Good Thing (tm), but they are compiled C code, and this, in turn, is a format well understood by attackers, and defenders, alike.

Fortunately, these programs are cryptographically signed, and are therefore immune to attack... unless...

(1) You can compromise the Root Of Trust. This is the first part of the chain, and is responsible for checking the crypto sig of everything else. This is really hard, and we don't _think_ anyone has done it yet, but we may be sure they are trying, or,

(2) A stolen certificate might be used to sign malicious code, or,

(3) Something malicious might be installed at the factory. It'd never happen, right? Except it already has, at least once, but that's another story.

Extracting a firmware image is mostly complicated, and is not an end-user play, but if you are a geek, and want to know what's in your firmware, there are a couple of ways to get the image.

On a Mac, running High Sierra, you can simply open a terminal, and type "sudo /usr/libexec/firmwarecheckers/eficheck/eficheck --save -b out.bin", and then upload it to

Any machine running Windows 8 or higher, should be using UEFI, and, for Intel based machines, the best approach at this point, is to use Chipsec, and open source tool found here. This requires reading their manual, but is easy enough once you get the idea.

We will make easier mechanisms available as we build them.

Folks, this is tricky stuff, but we need to pay more attention to it, because anything running in the firmware has complete control over the rest of the computer, and probably cannot be seen by anything running at the operating system level. Anything in the firmware is potentially a rootkit.

As well as your own, or your business, computer, think about critical infrastructure devices, medical devices, automobiles, and all IoT devices. They all have firmware, and no one really knows what's in it.

We need to find out.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ok, this was scary

Tonight, I had to file a claim for one of my teenager's phones. It's dead. I called AT&T, and after quite a bit of (perfectly reasonable) back and forth about whether it was a warranty, or an insurance claim, I finally got through to an appropriate insurance person.

In order to validate that I was who I claimed to be, they asked me (reasonably enough) my last four of my social, but then they said, "and, now sir, just a couple more questions, compiled from publicly available information..."

Having been here before, I immediately, and metaphorically, gasped, and the first question was, "What color is your 2007 Chevy Express?"

I answered, "White", and they asked me another, obvious question, which I answered correctly, and the claim went on from there, but...

How the hell did they know that I had a 2007 Chevy Express????

And, they had it at their fingertips!!!!

If you are not seriously disturbed by this, you are not paying attention.

Folks, this is the Privacy Revolution in action.

If you need more, I suggest you read this,, and this, and this.

George Orwell was right. He just got the dates wrong.


Stand by for more information, and try to stay safe.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Bad Comcast, bad!

So, anyway, a couple of days ago, I decided to hang out a honeypot. This involved logging into my cable modem, to set a DMZ, and then to add a particular IP address into it. This worked just fine, but then I decided to double check what IPs were connected to my modem.

As expected, nearly all the connected devices had an address like This was fine, but I was surprised to see a stray address...

By my understanding (and from what I could find on google), nobody other than my provider, Comcast, should be able to connect to my modem from the outside, and yet here was an obvious outsider.

A quick search of who this IP might belong to, revealed that it was a DoD, or military, IP address.

As you might expect, this got my attention, and I started regular monitoring of my modem.

Regular monitoring revealed that there were about six foreign addresses that connected to my two cable modems, some more persistently than others, but, again, by my understanding, no one should connecting, other than Comcast.

I thought, "They must have my password!", so I changed it, and rebooted my modems.

They continue to connect.

I have no way to tell what port, and service, they are connecting to, so I have no idea what they might have been trying to do. This is not a Good Thing (tm).

The obvious answer here is that my modem firmware has been compromised, and I have no way to check that.

This is where is gets nasty.

I called Comcast, to try to get some support.

I first fought my way through the voice activated menus (sucks if you have an Australian accent), and finally got to a human, whose principal task was to sell me an upgrade.

This failed, so he switched me through to tech support.

This guy spoke better English, but after a while came to understand that he had no idea what I was talking about, and switched me through to the next level support.

This guy listened to me, but his response, from which he could not be shifted, was, "We just rent you the modem. Your network security is your responsibility."

I am _perfectly_ happy to make _my_ network secure, but he was immune to my argument that it was his kit, and was actually outside my network.

He basically ignored me.

I still have no understanding of why remote IPs can connect to me, but I'm working on it.

The _really_ interesting thought here is, "If it can happen to me, who else is it happening to?"

If you are a Comcast customer, and want to check, the basic routine is to point your browser at, and log in. The default id is "cusadmin", and the default password is "highspeed".

You then go to "Gateway summary", select "Network", and scroll down to select "Connected computers".

If you see any addresses, outside the pattern of your computer addresses, then you have the same issue.

I'm _sure_ there is a perfectly reasonable, legitimate explanation, but I just can't see it yet, and Comcast did crappy tech support.

I would hate to think that the firmware of my modem had been compromised, and that people were monitoring my Internet traffic. That would never happen, right?

Please let me know if you see similar patterns.

The Internet is tricky. Stay safe, folks.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Golden State Killer DNA

Unless you are living under a rock, you will be aware that the police have made an arrest in the case of the Golden State Killer, based on a DNA match.

It was a cold case, and all they are currently saying is that they got a "clue" about six days ago, and put him under surveillance. Then they got a fresh DNA sample, from something that was discarded, and got enough of a match with crime scene DNA, that they made an arrest.

What they are not saying is what the "clue" was. They are just saying it was because of the latest DNA tests, but they are not saying what made them look at an ex-cop, who had never been a suspect in the first place.

I bet that we will find that it is an unexpected, and positive, side effect of the Privacy Revolution. (For more background on that, see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

I don't, for even a minute, think that the alleged perp put his DNA online, but, it seems that he has two or three kids. I bet one of them did, probably just to innocently look for relatives.

A quick Google reveals that there are quite a number of searchable DNA databases, completely aside from the obvious genealogy websites.

Cold case. Six days from the "clue", to an arrest.

It's a positive result, but we live in "Interesting times".

Stay safe, folks.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Fake 'Virus Detected' Scam

So, anyway, I get a lot of these scam pitches each day. The email looks something like this ...

Sometimes the email purports to be from Fedex, and sometimes it tells me I have broken pictures, but however it comes, it tells me to "Click here".

If you do, you are taken to a fake "virus detected" screen, that looks a lot like this ...

This kind of thing has been around for ages, and the idea is that they try to get you to call the 888 number, where they try to convince you to give them remote access to your computer, so that the nice technician can "help" you.

It's not exploitive, per se, but it would be a significant nuisance to a non-techie, because it hijacks the browser enough that you can't close the browser, and get rid of it. It must work a bit, because they keep trying it.

This is the sort of thing I took great pleasure in blocking, when I had a suitable product in a previous life, so I thought I'd see who was blocking it today.

It only serves that page the first time you go to it, and after that, either takes you to a (probably) fake Canadian Pharmacy (usually somewhere in Russia), or a Diet Pills site, so in order to test against a number of products, I used a thing called HttpReplay, to capture the initial sockets, and then to replay it against the eight products I had readily to hand.

I made sure that each product was able to update itself, and declare itself "current",and then I opened the socket trace, and pretended to cruise to the website. Pretty much doing what a regular user might have done. All products are the consumer versions, and are installed with default options, just as a normal end-user might. Here are the scores

McAfee Miss
Sophos Block
Eset Miss
Avast Miss
Symantec Block
Kaspersky Miss
Panda Miss
Avira Miss

Obviously, I'm not saying that this proves anything much, except that I reckon everyone should be blocking this sort of thing, because if I'm seeing it every day, chances are that lots of people are.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Privacy Revolution in Action

As a practical example of the Privacy Revolution, I have a little story.

In 2008, I was in London, staying at the excellent Royal Trafalgar hotel. I ordered a cab, and went downstairs to pay my bill. They ran my card, and said, "I'm sorry, sir. Your card has been declined. Do you have another?"

I said something to the effect of, "Wait ... what??? I know there's money in that account. There must be some mistake!"

They said, "I'm sorry, but you'll have to call the bank."

I sighed, and sent the cab away, and got on the phone to my bank. I fought my way through the voice prompts (never easy, when you have an accent), and finally got to speak to a human. They said, "Did you tell us you were traveling overseas?"

I felt like saying a great many things, some even unkind, but I thought better of it, and simply said, "No. I didn't know I had to."

They said, "You'll have to talk to our fraud department to get the card unblocked."

I got a human pretty quickly this time, and he asked me all the obvious questions, such as, "Last four of social, how many accounts do you have, what sort of accounts are they, and who's on the accounts with you,", all of which I answered successfully.

He then said, "And now, sir, just a couple more questions, based on publicly available information... What age-range would best describe this person... 25-30, 30-35, 35-40... Laura ************."

They used the maiden name of one of my daughters-in-law.

I was stunned.

This young lady had been married to my son for eight years at that point, and had not used her maiden name since she got married.

I stammered out the correct answer, and they asked me a different age range, and then used my wife's name, which was not a shock, and I answered that one. Correctly, thankfully.

They unblocked my card, and I got another cab to the airport, and home, but all the way, my mind was racing...Laura had never lived at the same address as me ... There was no obvious connection ... I well understood that if someone googled for a couple of days, someone could figure it out, but _at their fingertips_, they knew that I should know who this person, with a different name, was, and how old she was.

Finally, I thought... "It must be FaceBook, because on there, she calls herself Laura *MaidenName* Thompson. That must be it!", and I smacked them a little bit in my blog.

A couple of days later, a friend who worked at RSA called me, and said, "Uh ... Rog ... that blog you did. It wasn't FaceBook. It was us. We have a product called Knowledge Based Authentication (KBA), that we sell to banks."

Again, I was stunned. Then I was relieved, because I consider RSA to be Good Guys, and then I was stunned again, because the realization hit me, that if Good Guys like Google and RSA were collecting all this information, it was a given that Bad Guys were too, and we have no idea just who is.

Now, this was ten years ago, and lots of things have changed. RSA (who wasn't doing anything wrong with KBA) has sold KBA to someone else (Google knows who), and they aren't doing anything wrong with it either, but we may be confident that the race to collect information continues unabated, and probably accelerates.

It's bad enough that leaked personal data can be used in obvious things, like directed malware attacks, and common fraud, but recent events have shown us that one unexpected consequence of this is Mass Psychological Profiling, and the even scarier, Mass Psychological _Persuasion_.

This is the Privacy Revolution, folks. In the fullness of time, we will come to understand that the effect on humanity will be just as massive as the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Privacy Revolution is the fourth Great Revolution (Part 2)

So, the next interesting thing to happen was that at the end of 2007, I sold my company, Exploit Prevention Labs (XPL) to AVG. XPL watched for exploits coming off the web, because I'd figured out in 2005 that the Web was the next attack surface. (Windows XP Service Pack 2 had been released in 2004, and for the first time, the firewall was on by default, and I knew that this would be an extinction level event for the malware of the day, network worms, like Code Red, but I also knew that the Bad Guys would not give up, and the web was the obvious attack point... but I digress...)

Because of AVGs huge client base, I suddenly had a hundred million pairs of eyes helping to watch what was going on, and one day, I noticed some interesting stuff coming through FaceBook from Russia, and I thought, "I wonder why it's all coming from Russia?", so I tweaked the detection a bit, and did a release, and suddenly the main source shifted to the USA. Still FaceBook, but the USA.

Now, to be perfectly clear, upon further examination, the triggering code was not exploitive, or malicious. It was just obfuscated enough that it looked suspicious at first glance, and it was interesting, because it was coming through FaceBook. And, again, FaceBook was not doing anything wrong... it's just how things worked. People linked to their own websites, outside of FaceBook.

The triggering application turned out to be a Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer Support app. The idea was that you could access the app, and that would show your support for a clearly worthy cause. In using the app, however, you quite clearly said that you allowed the app to access all your contacts, and presumably your information. A couple of hundred thousand women had allowed that at the time I noticed.

Further examination showed that the information was going back to a website called, and this was the website...

No "About us" or "Contact us". Just that block graphic. Searching google a bit, revealed that they made "social applications". For example, they had a "Do it yourself survey" app, that anyone could tweak, and release. Again, I am not suggesting there was anything malicious here, but presumably anyone using any of the apps would provide all their information to that app, and google revealed they had a lot of apps.

Ownership was hidden behind a privacy protector.

Again, this implies no wrongdoing, and it is not uncommon to hide website ownership, but it does mean that we have no idea who was collecting the data, or what they were doing with the data.

By 2010, the site had morphed into a much more normal looking website...

It morphed a few more times, and then seemed to disappear entirely sometime in 2015.

Again, I am not suggesting that they were doing anything malicious. They just collected a whole lot of data, and we don't know who they were, and why they wanted the data. There doesn't seem to be any connection to any of the players in the current Cambridge Analytica saga, so the burning question is ...

Just how many organizations are out there collecting data, and what are they doing with it?

Part 3 tomorrow, folks.