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Who Gets Held Accountable For Security?

Charlie Miller On Hacked Batteries, Cloud Security, And The iPad
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Alan: What about a Consumer Reports-type third-party to grade companies on their security? Even if I could do a better job than Sony, the guys at Microsoft and Google definitely are better than the average user. The average user isn't going to be able to do what Google did with counter-hacking the Chinese hackers or what Microsoft did with Waledac which combined technical measures with legal/political measures.

Charlie: Yes, this is one of the solutions I recommended during my recent talk at the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence in Estonia. On a high level, something like Underwriters Laboratories. If you buy a toaster, and it has the UL seal on it, you can be sure it won't burn your house down. We need something like that for software where if you see the UL seal, you know it might not be perfect, but it has undergone and passed a certain level of scrutiny. On a technical level, I could imagine something like a private fuzzing test suite that a product would either pass or fail, and the software maker would not be given the failing test cases. In this way they couldn't "train for the test." They'd probably find way more bugs than the private test suite would find, just in the effort to pass the test.

Alan: Say you have secure hardware and secure software. How do we protect against social engineering?

Charlie: People are usually the weakest link in security. Almost all of the exploits I write at least require the user to go to a malicious Web site. That means clicking on a link sent via email, surfing on a public wireless access point, etc. Computers are designed, for the most part, to do things we ask them to. No matter how much security you build into a system, if the user really wants to run a piece of malware they think will show them some naked pictures, they're going to figure out a way to run that program.

Alan: Let’s talk a little bit about the iPad jailbreak. From what I understand, this is another PDF-based exploit. Have you had a chance to look at this?

Charlie: Yes, I've reverse engineered it a bit. The exploit is delivered via a PDF file, but the underlying vulnerability is in how it parses a font that is embedded in the PDF. This "malicious" font could have been delivered in ways besides PDF files. Anyway, it is a very clever exploit. The bug is in this little state machine that is processing the font. The bug allows the attacker to change where the program thinks the end of the buffer where the state machine is operating is located to beyond where it is supposed to be. Then the state machine can operate on parts of memory it is not supposed to while processing the font. This allows it to corrupt memory (to get control of the process) as well as read and operate on values from memory (which allows it to bypass ASLR, allowing it to find some executable code to use). At that point, it reuses the existing code fragments it wants (this technique is called return oriented programming) to launch a second exploit against a different vulnerability to escape the iOS sandbox, get root, disable code signing, and finally jailbreak the phone.

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  • 0 Hide
    Darkerson , August 2, 2011 4:38 AM
    Pretty interesting read. Keep up the good work!
  • 2 Hide
    pepe2907 , August 2, 2011 5:53 AM
    Good call, but whoever actualy read the license agreements knows software manufacturers refuse any possible liability for any damages.
    If something is going to change, this should be the first. With these license agreements you can't claim anithing. But this change will not be easy.
  • 0 Hide
    DavC , August 2, 2011 7:53 AM
    interesting read!
  • 0 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , August 2, 2011 3:34 PM
    Quote:
    No matter how much security you build into a system, if the user really wants to run a piece of malware they think will show them some naked pictures, they're going to figure out a way to run that program.


    exactly
  • 1 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , August 2, 2011 3:40 PM
    if only software could be people-proof.
  • 2 Hide
    jacobdrj , August 2, 2011 5:05 PM
    mayankleoboy1if only software could be people-proof.

    "A farmer notices his chickens are getting sick, he calls in a physicist to help him. The physicist takes a good look at the chickens and does some calculations, he suddenly stops and says "Ive got it, but it would only work if the chickens were spherical and in a vacuum."" - Big Bang Theory...
  • -1 Hide
    slicedtoad , August 2, 2011 5:46 PM
    So is it safe to say that as an end user we shouldn't be over concerned about personal computer security?
    Here's my checklist. Don't download unknowns, don't password reuse (for the important stuff anyway), get a decent av (like eset) and keep your computer up to date.
    Multi-layered security on a home pc doesn't make sense, nor does 15 character alpha-numeric passwords (in most cases). No one is going to specifically target you or your pc.
  • -5 Hide
    weaselsmasher , August 2, 2011 6:17 PM
    An awful lot of "people like me" "researchers like me" "guys like me" "me me me me me" there.

    What's this article really about, security or celebrity?
  • -3 Hide
    christop , August 2, 2011 7:20 PM
    Enjoyed this..Wish I had a few 0days sitting around to sell..
  • 0 Hide
    PreferLinux , August 2, 2011 9:25 PM
    pepe2907Good call, but whoever actualy read the license agreements knows software manufacturers refuse any possible liability for any damages.If something is going to change, this should be the first. With these license agreements you can't claim anithing. But this change will not be easy.

    Yes, but whether that is fully legal or not is another story.
  • 4 Hide
    cangelini , August 3, 2011 1:54 AM
    weaselsmasherAn awful lot of "people like me" "researchers like me" "guys like me" "me me me me me" there.What's this article really about, security or celebrity?


    I'm inclined to answer "security" and a guy who knows an awful lot about it ;-)
  • 3 Hide
    AlanDang , August 3, 2011 2:28 AM
    weaselsmasherAn awful lot of "people like me" "researchers like me" "guys like me" "me me me me me" there.What's this article really about, security or celebrity?


    Nothing wrong with both, right? The people I invite to interview are people who do a good job of explaining complex technical things in a straightforward manner. At some point though, if you get to keynote an international NATO conference on cyber security, you deserve a little bit of bragging rights. But truthfully, Charlie is still a normal, down-to-earth-guy when doing an interview... and that's a win for everyone. You guys get access to cool content that's rarely discussed at other websites, and it's not too boring to read... and it's free. I can tell you it's way more fun talking with engineers as opposed to PR people...
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , August 3, 2011 4:29 PM
    @Alan Dang, you wrote: "But it seems like in today's world, the end-user is playing a less important role. The end-user with the latest software updates who is also savvy to social engineering cannot protect himself against hackers who steal credit card data from Sony."
    This is incorrect: many banks sell "virtual" credit cards services: these CC number work only for one purchase, so users *can* protect themselves.
    But the sad part in this case is that it's the security conscious users who pay the cost of the protection against hackers, not Sony and the other stupid companies storing credit card numbers on unsecured servers..
  • 0 Hide
    dndhatcher , August 3, 2011 10:29 PM
    The article is very interesting. I tried to listen to the keynote and my eyes glazed over. He's obviously got expertise with the subject matter, but could use some presentation training before he starts on the lecture circuit.

  • 0 Hide
    slicedtoad , August 4, 2011 12:53 AM
    @dndhatcher
    really? i delayed watching it for a while cause it was long but damn was it interesting. He certainly isn't in PR but he's not bad at speaking. Certainly better than mr. facebook.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , August 10, 2011 10:01 AM
    Battery as an attack vector is at least (almost) as old as the original PSP. One way to install custom firmware to it is to modify the battery. Search for "pandoras battery" if you want to know more.