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Tech News

Another Linux distro poisoned with malware

Last time it was Gentoo, a hard-core, source-based Linux distribution that is popular with techies who like to spend hours tweaking their entire operating sytem and rebuilding all their software from scratch. That sort of thing is not for everyone, but it is harmless fun and it does give you loads of insight into how everything fits together. That sets it apart from distros such as ElementaryOS and Mint, which rival and even exceed Windows and macOS for ease of installation and use, but do not leave you with much of a sense of how it all actually works. This time, the malware poisoning happened to Arch Linux, another distro we would characterise as hard-core, though very much more widely used than Gentoo. Three downloadable software packages in the Arch User Respository were found to have been rebuilt so they contained what you might refer to as zombie malware. Bots or zombies are malware programs that call home to fetch instructions from the crooks on what to do next. The hacked packages were: acroread 9.5.5-8, balz 1.20-3 and minergate 8.1-2;  they have all apparently been restored to their pre-infection state.

Biometrics of five million taxpayers taken by HMRC

HMRC has been accused of building a biometric voice database of 5.1 million taxpayers without their explicit consent. The database was built using what HMRC called its Voice ID service, in which callers to the organisations self-assessment helpline were obliged to provide a Voice ID, without being given a clear choice to opt-out. Thats according to privacy group Big Brother Watch, which made the claims in an investigation. While it was possible to avoid opting in to Voice ID by shouting no three times in response to the automated helpline demand, HMRC did not provide any apparent way for taxpayers to opt out, while the nature of the phone line meant that most callers could not simply put the phone down either. Voice ID technology is a form of biometric identification and authentication, as sensitive as a fingerprint, explained Big Brother Watch.

Poisoned smartphone batteries can act as keyloggers

Power trace sniffing, a badly-designed API and some cloudy AI spell potential trouble. A group of researchers has demonstrated that smartphone batteries can offer a side-channel attack vector by revealing what users do with their devices through analysis of power consumption. Both snitching and exfiltration were described in this paper *(PDF), accepted for Julys Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium. Nobody needs to panic yet, because the attack is not yet more than a decently-tested theory and it would be hard to execute. But there is also a real-world implication because the paper shows how a too-free API can help attackers in ways its designers never imagined. The paper, by researchers from UT Austin, the Hebrew University, and Technion explained that a poisoned battery can gather enough information about power-hungry phone components to reveal user activity.

Hey Cortana, Help Me Hack this Laptop

Microsofts smart assistant Cortana will helpfully let hackers change a password on locked computers, access data on the device and execute malicious code, a security researcher at cybersecurity company McAfee has revealed. The vulnerability, patched Tuesday by Microsoft, is the result of default settings that enable the Hey Cortana voice activation from the lock screen. As senior principle engineer at McAfee, Cedric Cochin puts it: This led to some interesting behavior and ultimately vulnerabilities allowing arbitrary code execution. The vulnerability was submitted to Microsoft as part of the McAfee Labs Advanced Threat Research teams responsible disclosure policy, on April 23.

VPNFilter Malware: List of Vulnerable Routers Just Got Bigger.

The VPNFilter router malware, a giant-sized IoT botnet revealed two weeks ago, just went from bad to somewhat worse. Originally thought to affect 15-20 mostly home/Soho routers and NAS devices made by Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear, TP-Link, and QNAP, this has now been expanded to include at least another 56 from Asus, D-Link, Huawei, Ubiquiti, UPVEL, and ZTE. Talos gets this information by trying to determine the models on which VPNFilter has been detected but given the size of that job (affected devices number at least 500,000, probably more) the list is unlikely to be complete. The updated alert confirms that VPNFilter has the ability to carry out man-in-the-middle interception of HTTP/S web traffic (something that SophosLabs own investigation of the malware concluded was highly likely), which means that it is not only able to monitor traffic and capture credentials but potentially deliver exploits to network devices too. Home routers have become a big target but malware able to infect so many of them is relatively rare. The last home router scare of this multi-vendor magnitude was probably DNSChanger which took years for anyone to notice, having first emerged in 2007.

Security Minister Seeks to ID Net Users

The UK Governments Security Minister, Ben Wallace, has called for a new system of Digital IDs in order to end mob rule on the internet by preventing people from being able to hide behind anonymity online. You know, like Russia, Syria and China have tried repeatedly to do. Should we be more like them? People are flawed. Sometimes it can seem like for every polite, law abiding and well-mannered person there is another individual who seems intent upon highlighting the very worst of humanity. In our personal off-line lives we can often avoid such people, but in the online world you are bound to cross a few of them eventually or see their impact upon others and much of the time they do this anonymously.  But you can still avoid most of them, if you so choose. Equally we can all have our off-moments, when we let down our guard and say something that we probably should not have. In keeping with that, some topics are more likely to divide and ignite argument than they are to unite and those tend to be the biggest sparks. This is one area where Politicians are perhaps more of a target than most due to the impact they can have upon our everyday lives (e.g. Brexit). Anger quickly turns into abuse. In this context it is easier to understand Ben Wallaces otherwise odd claim of mob rule, since you would only see that if you were deliberately exposing yourself to it and that is something which politicians open the floodgates to (some of them thrive on the divisions they create). Sadly for them the easy option of simply avoiding social media altogether does not work, especially when so many of the electorate use it. Admittedly Wallace does make a fair point about the level of trolling and abuse online, although attempting to solve that via compulsory Digital IDs and then applying it only in the UK (while excluding other countries) could be rather challenging and may even be impossible, without turning the entire internet into a walled garden. Totalitarian states also happen to love walled gardens that only they and the thought police control. The logical progression of such an approach may also result in the banning of Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which are often legitimately used as a privacy or security tool and also for remote working or avoiding unfair geographic restrictions. Equally civil rights campaigners in non-democratic countries have been able to use such tools to campaign for freedom etc.