REvil has struck again. What can we do? Design for explicit access.

At a glance… 

  • Kaseya VSA is used by IT organizations and many Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to track IT assets and to deliver software installations and patches to a network of endpoint nodes.  
  • Over the 4th of July weekend, a ransomware attack perpetrated by the REvil gang and its affiliates was delivered through the Kaseya VSA remote management software.  
  • Each Windows node on the network runs a Kaseya agent, which is responsible for downloading and installing patches and software packages from the VSA server. It is common practice for an MSP to use a single VSA server to manage all of the MSP’s client networks, meaning that one compromised VSA server can create a downstream impact on hundreds of individual businesses. 
  • 1,500 businesses may be effected. 

The fascinating anatomy of the hack 

REvil’s successful hack began with an SQL injection attack against the VSA server. The attacked VSA servers were exposed to the Internet, presumably to allow for remote access to the VSA server by an MSP’s employees. An SQL injection attack was crafted by the hackers to (a) bypass authentication, (b) upload a file, and (c) inject a command to distribute a malicious software patch. This software patch was then dutifully downloaded by Kaseya agents installed on Windows endpoints attached to the compromised VSA server. The technical details of how this was accomplished are explained quite clearly in this article by Sophos

The hack itself is fascinating from a technical perspective in multiple ways. First, an authentication bypass renders an entire stack of security technology (authentication providers and MFA) entirely irrelevant. There is no password guessing or credential stealing involved in this attack. Second, the MSP model where client networks are intermingled in a single VSA instance is inherently dangerous in that a single compromised server (whether it be a via a 0-day exploit or a more traditional stolen credential) can spread malicious software across many disparate organizations, geographies, and networks. Third, it is perturbing that a piece of software like the VSA server was directly exposed to the Internet. The lack of any intervening, independent authentication (e.g., a VPN or IIS authentication using certificates or Kerberos) places an inordinate amount of trust in the security architecture of a single piece of software (the VSA server). 

In general, the best way to mitigate hacks of all varieties is to apply a few principles: 

  1. Keep independent networks as separate as possible, and always require authentication to move between them. 
  1. Authenticate users and devices in layers that rely on disparate software stacks. Software is built by humans, and humans make mistakes that cause security vulnerabilities. Using independent software stacks to layer together multiple forms of authentication ensures that a hacker has to find multiple, independent mistakes that are exploitable in conjunction. 
  1. Because there is still no perfect way to prevent endpoint attacks from happening, effective endpoint protection is essential. The Kaseya exploit relied on anti-virus exceptions on the endpoint to allow a malicious file to be downloaded, decoded into an executable, and run via a shell command. This malicious executable then executed a side loading attack to actually launch the encryption process. Effective anomaly detection could have shut down the encrypting process before it got too far, and an alternative approach to using an anti-virus exception would have stopped the attack when it tried to execute the downloaded executable. 

A collective reconsideration of how we protect networks and endpoints is overdue 

This latest attack from REvil confirms the obvious – the business of ransomware is here to stay. Whether it is REvil, a spinoff from REvil, or an entirely new organization that is inspired by REvil’s success, a collective reconsideration of how we protect networks and endpoints is overdue. It has become standard practice to disable security software in order to enable functionality, rather than demanding the opposite – that software declare its intended behaviors in order to enable security software to detect anomalous behavior. 

A system of specific access vs. access to the entire network 

Our LINK system is architected with this last principle in mind. Rather than assume that all mobile devices need access to the company network (e.g., via VPN), LINK assumes that only a small number of applications and data repositories should be mobilized. To configure LINK, IT specifies exactly what intranet applications, email servers, and file repositories (Document Management Systems, One Drive, SMB shares, etc.) should be accessible from a mobile device, and this specification is role-based so that IT can take a pessimistic approach to mobile access (i.e., you can’t access anything unless permission is explicitly granted to you). LINK also uses multiple, independent layers of authentication – SSL certificates to authenticate the device, then traditional password-based authentication if the SSL authentication succeeds. Finally, each LINK installation acts as its own certificate authority for the purposes of SSL authentication. Hence, stealing a certificate for one installation does not grant access to any other installations. 

As we expand LINK beyond mobile, our goal is to promote a different approach to endpoint computing. This approach starts with the idea that users, applications and data need to be integrated explicitly, rather than implicitly. This creates a work environment that is easily encapsulated, encrypted, and protected with limited entry points and exit points to move data in and out of this environment. While no approach is perfect, the more explicit we are about how users, applications, and data interact, the better chance we have to stop the ransomware business before it expands any further. 

-Seth Hallem, CEO & Co-founder, Mobile Helix

Research Reveals iOS and Android Encryption Weaknesses

Why Secure Containers Are Needed

The Research

iOS has solid encryption, there is no backdoor, hence, your firm’s data is safe under lock and key, correct?  Not necessarily. Enlightening new research by cryptographers at Johns Hopkins University (1) has surfaced weaknesses in the iOS and Android encryption schemes. Ironically, in the case of iOS, part of the weakness is related to a security hierarchy which is often unused.

“Apple provides interfaces to enable encryption in both first-party and third-party software, using the iOS Data Protection API. Within this package, Apple specifies several encryption “protection classes” that application developers can select when creating new data files and objects. These classes allow developers to specify the security properties of each piece of encrypted data, including whether the keys corresponding to that data will be evicted from memory after the phone is locked (“Complete Protection” or CP) or shut down (“After First Unlock” or AFU) …

… the selection of protection class makes an enormous practical difference in the security afforded by Apple’s file encryption. Since in practice, users reboot their phones only rarely, many phones are routinely carried in a locked-but-authenticated state (AFU). This means that for protection classes other than CP, decryption keys remain available in the device’s memory. Analysis of forensic tools shows that to an attacker who obtains a phone in this state, encryption provides only a modest additional protection over the software security and authentication measures described above.” (JHU – bold is our addition)

The reality is that most of our iPhones are commonly in “After First Unlock” state because we rarely reboot our phones. To achieve maximum security, we would have to power down our iPhones and authenticate after each use. That is, scores or hundreds of times per day. Otherwise, all data in the AFU state is vulnerable to law enforcement agencies or criminals with the right forensic tools. As the Hopkins researchers noted, “Law enforcement agencies, including local departments, can unlock devices with Advanced Services for as cheap as $2,000 USD per phone, and even less in bulk, and commonly do so.”

“There’s great crypto available, but it’s not necessarily in use all the time,” says Maximilian Zinkus, Johns Hopkins University. The Hopkins researchers also extended their analysis to include the vulnerability of iCloud services and device backups:

In an interview, Apple stressed that its goal is to balance security and convenience. The result: law firms and other enterprises who rely on iOS’ first-party apps (e.g., iOS Mail) may be unknowingly using an encryption scheme which does not meet their requirements.

Device owners may take actions to ensure greater security. Apple Insider cites a few user actions including: Use SOS mode; use the setting which locks iOS devices after 10 failed login attempts; and don’t use iCloud back-ups. But these user-optional mitigations are not adequate for enterprise security, and they don’t address the forensic techniques used to steal data in the AFU state. Enterprises need systematic approaches across all firm-managed devices.

Why Secure Containers Are Needed

Sophisticated attackers and government agencies have a variety of available tools at their disposable to extract sensitive data from a seized or stolen device. The preponderance of evidence shows that law enforcement is largely successful in cracking open a device and extracting sensitive information as needed. Evidence further suggests that these techniques are ported to even the latest iOS versions and devices (take a close look at https://www.grayshift.com/ – they offer the state-of-the-art in device forensics). What can you do to truly protect sensitive data? The built-in capabilities of the operating system are not sufficient.

Secure containers provide an additional layer of encryption by implementing an entirely independent encryption mechanism to protect data. To examine the protection offered by secure contain apps, we will refer to our LINK app in this discussion. LINK not only uses its own, independent encryption scheme, Link also uses its own built-in encryption technology. In other words, the LINK encryption software stands entirely independent from the operating system, regardless of whether that operating system is intact or compromised. As long as encryption keys are protected well, then secure containers can provide the kind of locked-down encryption that law firms want to protect email and documents, which encapsulate a large majority of a firm’s most sensitive data.

LINK’s data protection exceeds iOS in a few significant ways:

  1. LINK is an app, and iOS apps are routinely removed from memory. Hence, while LINK does necessarily keep encryption keys in memory when the app is active, once the app is removed from memory its encryption keys are too. This stands in contrast to iOS’ “AFU” encryption.
  2. LINK allows IT to identify data that is only accessible when the device is online. This makes it awfully difficult to get the encryption keys for that data, especially once the device has been identified as lost or stolen and flagged for a remote wipe.
  3. LINK’s online encryption keys are really hard to guess. Offline keys are hard to guess too, as long as your organization uses complex A-D passwords. Online keys are not derived from a user’s passcode or even a user’s A-D password. LINK’s encryption keys are derived from randomized 32-character strings that are generated on the LINK servers using entropy available on the server. Brute-forcing the key derivation is unlikely to work, which means an attacker would have to compromise the LINK Controller that sits safely inside our customers’ networks, then break the encryption scheme protecting sensitive data stored in our Controller database. Getting LINK data is a lot more complicated than stealing or seizing a mobile device.
  4. LINK aggressively limits the amount of data available on the device, online or offline. We do so by simply expiring away data that sits unused on the device. This is a really simple way to limit exposure without much practical impact on a user. Users can always go back to their email (via search) or to the document management system to find what they were working on. There is no practical reason to store lots of old, unused data on a device that is easy to steal and, as it turns out, compromise once stolen.
  5. LINK’s data is useless when obtained from an iCloud backup or a local backup to a Mac device. LINK’s encryption keys are never backed up. An attacker’s best hope is to brute force both the iOS device passcode and the user’s A-D password before IT notices that the device is lost or stolen. This is incredibly difficult to accomplish given Apple’s built-in protections against brute-forcing passcode and given a reasonably complex, hard-to-guess A-D password.

The JHU research simply reminds us that Apple’s interests diverge widely from those of an individual law firm. Apple has to balance the needs of law enforcement and users to make data accessible while still providing a reasonable degree of protection. Law firms’ best interests lie in maximally protecting data against unauthorized access. In order to achieve this latter goal, Apple’s built-in technology simply won’t suffice.

-Seth Hallem

Seth Hallem is the CEO, Chief Architect, and Co-Founder of Mobile Helix, makers of the LINK App. With LINK professionals can review, annotate, compare, and email files, as well as use the firm intranet, using a single secure container app. www.mobilehelix.com


References:

  1. “Data Security on Mobile Devices,” Maximilian Zinkus, Tushar M. Jois, and Matthew Green, Johns Hopkins University.
  2. “How Law Enforcement Gets Around Your Smartphone’s Encryption,” Lily Hay Newman, Wired.
  3. “Many iOS Encryption Measures ‘Unused,” Say Cryptogographers,” Hartley Charlton, MacRumors.
  4. “Apple encryption is a balance between user convenience and total security, new study shows,” Wesley Hilliard, AppleInsider.

Phishing Never Takes a Holiday

No. I’m not referring to the now infamous GoDaddy employee $650 holiday bonus email. Employees who responded to the email with the requested information were later informed that they had failed the company phishing test. If you have not yet read that dispiriting story, it’s here.

I am referring to this charming email which I received this morning.

Phishing Email and Fish
Phishing Email from “noreply@freeinvoice.it”

It is from: “Mobilehelix passwordexpiration.”

Presumably, that would be warning enough for your employees to hit the “Delete” button posthaste.

If not that, then maybe those over-sized blue bands which overlap the line below would be a tip-off.

(I have obscured the recipient’s email address.)

This is a very good opportunity for me to show you a security feature in our LINK App. When you open an email in LINK you will always see the alias and below it the sender’s email address. You don’t have to tap or do anything else to display the email address. It’s there.

In this case the alias is the aforementioned, “Mobilehelix passwordexpiration.”

And the email address is, “noreply@freeinvoice.it.”

If your employee were uncertain as to whether to hit that “Delete” button, I think that seeing that the email is from “noreply@freeinvoice.it” would be the icing on the cake. This email is definitely not from the company IT department. Delete.

We are serious about security at Mobile Helix. Much of what we build into the LINK system, such as certificate-based device registration in the new user registration process, is behind the scenes. It’s invisible to your employee and works in the background.

But this security feature is a designed to help your employees to be watchdogs for senders with devious intentions. 90% of organizations experienced targeted phishing attacks in 2019. Humans are the weakest link. This is one simple tool to help all of us to be vigilant.

-Maureen

Originally published in LinkedIn on December 28, 2020

LINK App: Send-and-File to DMS

We are receiving more and more requests to Send-and-File to iManage and NetDocuments. Our LINK app has done this for years.

Filing email to DMS is becoming important from a governance perspective. Not only do law firms want emails to be accessible in DMS with the Matter. But some law firms want to reduce the risk of years of email in Outlook. One of our law firm customers deletes all email at the 90-day mark. Truly. Another firm archives all email after 90 days. Retrieving email from the archive is possible but time-consuming. Therefore, filing to DMS becomes more attractive to attorneys.

Even without such law firm email policies, filing email to the Matter is increasing. The key is that is filing to DMS needs to be easy.

But Send-and-File on mobile devices is rare. It requires a tight integration of DMS and Email, as well as comprehensive security to protect confidential client data. LINK provides both the easy workflow and the security. Draft the email, tap Send, then tap a Recommended, Recent, or DMS folder to file.

LINK has predictive filing, too. LINK learns where you file a certain correspondent’s email and will show you Recommended, Recent, and DMS folders. In many cases you can file to one of these folders with a single tap.

New in LINK, the attorney can now go to the LINK email settings to turn Send-and-File on or off by default. The attorney can also toggle Send-and-File off and on, per individual email by tapping the envelope icon in draft email. When the envelope is green, Send-and-File is on.

Send and File Setting in LINK

Watch this brief video to see all of LINK’s Send-and-File features.

If you have questions, just write to us at: contact at mobilehelix.com. We’re ready to help you.

Learn more about LINK’s encryption, authentication, and secure container in this 5-minute video: LINK’s Security and Data Protection.

-Maureen

LINK App: New Safari Button

Here is a great new feature in LINK which I use several times a day. When you open a web page in the LINK app using LINK’s browser, you can now tap the familiar Safari button to open the page in the device’s Safari browser.

You can open a link in an email, or in a document, or from an application page, then tap the Safari button to open the page outside of LINK. Here is an example.

Tap on link in Email
Opens in LINK’s browser
Tap Safari Button
Opens in Safari
Tap on “Link” to return to LINK app

I use the Safari button when I receive a link to an uncommon video conference or signature service (we test the popular ones in the LINK browser), or when a page is not rendering correctly. I also use the Safari button when I want to read something, but not now. I open it in Safari. It stays open in Safari. Then I can go back to LINK and continue working.

Sound good? Here are other benefits of the Safari button:

  1. Safari is where you do your personal browsing. If you are logged in to nytimes.com, for example, those cookies are cached in Safari. If you click a hyperlink in Link, your cookies/password manager are not available to you. Better to just browse in Safari.
  2. The LINK browser routes all traffic through your office network. The Safari button allows you to move all personal web browsing into your personal browser. This (a) keeps your work network safe, and (b) prevents web proxies that your company establishes from intercepting and monitoring your traffic. It is a simple matter of employee privacy – you should always have the ability to keep your personal business personal.
  3. Native Safari has special capabilities that LINK does not. In particular, Safari has knowledge of all the apps on your device and many sites will use this capability to automatically launch a mobile app, rather than continuing to view a website in the browser. Safari also has a few important features that are not implemented in LINK’s browser. Chief amongst them is WebRTC, which is a protocol for real-time applications like in-browser video conferencing.
  4. IT can control when Link automatically pushes hyperlinks clicked in email to the native Safari browser. For example, IT can configure Facebook links to automatically open in Safari outside of the LINK container.

Have any questions? Let me know at contact@mobilehelix.com.

-Maureen

Who is putting security at risk? It might be your CXOs…

A new report from MobileIron, “Trouble at the Top,” is eye-popping, although perhaps not surprising to IT professionals. In fact, it might provide very helpful data in making your case for security policies within your organization.

Between February and March 2020 Vanson Bourne interviewed 300 enterprise IT decision-makers and 50 C-level executives in Europe, UK, and the US regarding their organizations’ mobile security protocols.

C-Suite executives are highly targeted for cybersecurity attacks, including phishing.

Yet “76% of C-level executives admitted to requesting to bypass one or more of their organization’s security protocols” during the last year, per the findings.

In a note of irony for IT professionals, “Almost three in four (72%) IT decision-makers also claimed the C-suite is the most likely to forget or need help with resetting their passwords,” writes ZDNet, quoting from the MobileIron study.

MobileIron’s overall point is that employees need the right tools to be secure and productive at the same time. Or, as we would say, security measures cannot afford to impair usability or people will conjure up a way around them.

There is much more in the study. You can register for the download of MobileIron’s “Trouble at the Top” report here.

-Maureen

ILTA Webinar: Mobile, Secure NetDocuments Workflows: NetDocuments® DMS + LINK Encrypted App

Do you use NetDocuments® DMS today or are you evaluating NetDocuments? If you are looking for an encrypted container app approach for mobile NetDocuments DMS, our LINK app may provide that extra client-side security that you are looking for.

Date and time: Monday, February 11, 2019, Noon EST

Watch a recording of the demo here

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Hacking is a booming business, and it’s time for a disruption – CSO Online

By Mobile Helix CEO and Co-founder, Seth Hallem

Hackers are siphoning billions from the global economy each year by stealing data for profit. However, in spite of this rising threat, enterprises continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. It is time to change our assumptions and to re-think how we protect sensitive data.

Hacking is a booming business. Business has been good for several years now. Data breaches are at all-time highs. Cyber-attacks are skyrocketing, and ransomware is a growing fad. And the best news of all is that the same old tricks (see XSS, SQL Injection, SPAM ….) are still working just as well as they always have. How is it possible that a business that was estimated to cost the global economy $450 billion dollars is continuing to grow? That is a lot of money diverted to criminals in lieu of legitimate participants in our global economy.

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What CISOs must learn from Bitcoin and a research team at Georgia Tech

By Seth Hallem, originally published in HelpNetSecurity, Sept. 16, 2013

It has been an eventful time in the mobile world with two recent breaking stories revealing vulnerabilities in the security infrastructure for Android and iOS respectively. While vastly different in their nature, both point to a fundamental lesson that CISOs in an increasingly mobile world cannot ignore – when it comes to encryption, read the fine print. Otherwise you may find yourself up the proverbial creek without a paddle (i.e., remediation strategy).

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Passing Through U.S. Customs and Border Patrol with Your Smartphone? LINK App to the Rescue!

Peripatetic lawyers, take note from Friday, 1/5/2018, in the Washington Post:

“U.S. customs agents conducted 60 percent more searches of travelers’ cellphones, laptops and other electronic devices during the government’s 2017 fiscal year, according to statistics released Friday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The agency said it searched 30,200 devices but the inspections affected only 0.007 percent of the 397 million travelers — including American citizens as well as foreign visitors — who arrived from abroad during the 12-month period that ended Sept 30.”1

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