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Boston University Researchers Identify Network Time Protocol (NTP) Vulnerabilities

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Increasing distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on computer networks are gaining the attention of researchers. A group of Boston University (BU) researchers published a report this week that examines the risk that unauthenticated Network Time Protocol (NTP) networks face due to software implementation flaws. “Attacking the Network Time Protocol” by Aanchal Malhotra, Isaac E. Cohen, Erik Brakke and Sharon Goldberg of BU notes that NTP, one of the oldest Internet protocols, is prone to DDoS attacks.

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Malhotra, a Ph.D. candidate, discovered security vulnerabilities in a network time protocol that were used to synchronize computer clocks, according to ThreatPost. These vulnerabilities could enable an attacker on a network to roll back time on computers and impact cryptographic calculations, initiate DDoS attacks, or affect security measures.

Goldberg, a BU computer science associate professor, said Malhotra conducted the attack by changing time with the NTP. Both researchers were surprised that no one had previously considered this as an attack vector. They recognized it as a tool to initiate attacks against systems impacted by time.

Cryptographic Protocols Utilize Time

The vulnerability is critical since time plays an important role in computing applications and numerous cryptographic protocols heavily utilize time, the research paper notes.

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The researchers sought to examine attacks on unauthenticated NTP deemed possible within the NTP protocol specification. They considered both on-path attacks on the path between the NTP client and a client server and off-path attacks where an attacker anywhere on the server is not observing client-server traffic.

The on-path attacks involve various techniques to intercept NTB server traffic, the paper noted. The attackers shift time on the NTP server’s clients. An on-path attacker can easily identify when a client initializes.

An off-path attacker can exploit the NTP’s rate-limiting mechanism, the “Kiss-o-Death” (KoD) packet, and disable NTP, the researchers noted. In such a scenario, the attacker only has to spoof a single KoD packet from the client’s preconfigured servers, whereby the client stops querying its servers and cannot update its clock. Standard networking scanning tools can accomplish such an attack within a few hours.

NTP Ecosystem Integrity Examined

The paper examined the integrity of the NTP ecosystem using new network-wide sans and the openNTPproject.

Two NTP servers retreated in time by about 12 years on Nov. 19, 2012, and delivered outages to Active Director authentication servers, routers, and PBXs. The paper observed that multiple applications can fail simultaneously on the system when NTP fails.

NTP can exploit the Resource Public Key Infrastructure, the paper noted, referring to a new infrastructure that secures routing.

Attackers can also use NTP for cache flushing. DNS cache entries usually live for around 24 hours. Pushing a “resolver” ahead in time by one day will cause the expiration of most cache entries. A failure such as the one in November 2012 could drive multiple resolvers to flush caches simultaneously, flooding DNS queries onto the network.

Also read: Hacker paralyzes Rutgers University DDoS attacks; Mocks its cybersecurity efforts

Bitcoin Block Chain VulnerableBitcoinh

The researchers observed that an NTP attacker can trick someone into rejecting a legitimate bitcoin block chain block. The bitcoin block chain consists of time-stamped blocks that add to the block chain based on validity interval. An NTP attacker can also trick a victim into wasting computational energy on proofs-of-work for a block that is stale.

NTP vulnerabilities are not new. Attackers carried out high-profile DDoS attacks in late 2013 and early 2014 by amplifying traffic from NTP servers.

History Of NTP Vulnerabilities

In January of 2014, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) issued an alert about NTP amplification attacks. It noted that such an attack emerges as a DDoS relying on the use of publicly accessible NTP servers.

US-CERT logo

The US-CERT noted that the attack technique consists of a “get monlist” request to an NTP server with the source address spoofed to be the victim’s address. The solution is to disable the “monlist” within the NTP server or to upgrade to a later NTP version that disables the “monlist.”

The simplest course of action, US-CERT noted, is to upgrade all ntpd versions publicly accessible to 4.2.7. It is also possible to disable the monitor function in earlier software versions.

DDoS attacks congested Internet connectivity and disrupted online services at unprecedented levels in 2013, overshadowing attacks against the application layer that hackers preferred in previous years.

Security Report Cites DDoS Threat

Arbor Networks, which specializes in DDoS and advanced threat protection, released a Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report in January of 2014 and noted that DDoS attacks were the top operational threat to service providers and enterprise environments, according to threatpost.com. Darren Anstee, solutions architect at Arbor Networks, said attackers were trying to impact service availability or, as part of a broader campaign, to distract from financial fraud and theft, according to threatpost.com.

Attacks like the takedown of Spamhaus, an international organization to track spammers, are outliers with triple the traffic used than in multiple attacks targeting big financial institutions such as Wells Fargo, PNC and Bank of America, which were allegedly carried out by the al-Qassam Cyber Fighters.

The availability of open DNS resolvers allowed the Spamhaus attackers to spoof Spamhaus IP addresses and send large amounts of DNS requests. These attacks carried collateral damage affecting online streaming media like Netflix.

The Arbor report noted few companies have the security staff needed to protect infrastructure such as DNS.

The vulnerabilities uncovered by the BU researchers can be exploited with various levels of sophistication on the attackers’ part, Goldberg said.

Interest has grown about NTP-based DDoS attacks, the BU researchers noted, but less of the study has examined implications of shifting time by means of NTP attacks. The BU team explored new on-path and off-pack attacks exploiting NTP protocol vulnerabilities. They also noted complementary efforts to determine ntpd software bugs because ntpd usually runs as a host machine’s root.

The BU team noted that their work could motivate the Internet community to further examine NTP cryptographic authentication.

Images from Shutterstock and US-Cert.

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Uber Is Paying Hackers to Keep Quiet

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Uber Technologies Inc. has reportedly paid hackers to delete scores of private data stolen from the company in a security breach that was concealed for over a year. The revelation provides further confirmation that, when it comes to cyber security, crime does pay.

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Massive Data Breach

According to Bloomberg Technology, hackers retrieved the personal data of 57 million Uber customers and drivers at some point last year. Nobody heard about it because the rideshare company paid the hackers $100,000 to keep quiet. A purge at the front office of Uber also ensured that the massive cyber breach was kept under wraps.

The compromised data was from October 2016 and included the names, phone numbers and addressed of 50 million Uber riders globally. About seven million drivers had their personal information accessed as well.

At the time of the cyber attack, Uber was inundated with a slew of legal issues stemming from alleged privacy violations. Rather than shine even more negative spotlight on the company, Uber executives decided to pay hackers to stay quiet.

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“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEO in September, said in a statement that was published by Bloomberg. “We are changing the way we do business.”

Hackers have done a masterful job infiltrating companies and governments in recent years. As a reminder, recent cyber attacks levied against Yahoo!, Target Corp and Equifax Inc. dwarf Uber’s 57 million compromised accounts.

Various reports indicate that cyber attacks are bleeding the global economy dry. One report, issued by the World Economic Forum, suggests that cyber crime cost the world economy $445 billion in 2016. If cyber crime were its own market cap, it would exceed Microsoft Inc., Facebook Inc. and ExxonMobil Corp

The Fall of Uber?

Uber revolutionized the ride-hailing business over the span of seven years by giving more power to the consumer. Several missteps later, the company finds itself in legal hot water, with its future appearing less certain than it did just one year ago.

The rideshare company faces at least five U.S. probes ranging from bribes to illicit software and right up to unethical pricing schemes. According to another Bloomberg report, Uber is under investigation for violating price transparency regulations, not to mention the alleged theft of documents for Google’s autonomous cars.

Some governments are sensing weakness in the ride-hailing service, and are moving toward banning the Uber app entirely. London is the most prominent example of a city that has taken definitive steps to outlaw the service over a “lack of corporate responsibility.”

Even with its legal troubles, Uber is a revolutionary technology that has influenced a bevy of other innovations aimed at improving the human experience.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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Ethereum Notches Two-Month High as Bitcoin Offspring Triggers Volatility

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Digital currency Ethereum climbed to a two-month high on Monday, taking some of the heat off Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, which have slumped since the weekend.

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Ethereum Forges Higher Path

Concerns over Bitcoin created a favourable tailwind for Ethereum (ETH/USD), which is the world’s No. 2 digital currency by total assets. Ether’s price topped $340.00 on Monday and later settled at $323.54. That was the highest since June 20.

At its peak, ether was up 10% on the day and 70% for the month of August.

The ETH/USD was last down 2.2% at $315.02, according to Bitfinex. Prices are due for a brisk recovery, based on the daily momentum indicators.

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Fractured Bitcoin Community

Bitcoin and its offshoot, Bitcoin Cash, retreated on Monday following a volatile weekend. The BTC/USD slumped at the start of the week and was down more than 3% on Tuesday, with prices falling below $3,900.00. Just last week, Bitcoin was trading at new records near $4,500.00.

Bitcoin Cash, which emerged after the Aug. 1 hard fork, climbed to new records on Saturday, but has been in free-fall ever since. The BTH was down another 20% on Tuesday to $594.49, according to CoinMarketCap. Its total market value has dropped by several billion over the past two days.

Analysts say that a “fractured” Bitcoin community has made Ethereum a more attractive bet this week. The ether token has shown remarkable poise over the past seven days, despite trading well shy of a new record.

Other drivers behind Ethereum’s advance are steady demand from South Korean investors and growing confidence in a smooth upgrade for the the ETH network. The upgrade, which has been dubbed “Metropolis,” is expected in the next several weeks. Its key benefits include tighter transaction privacy and greater efficiency.

Ethereum Prices Unaffected by ICO Heist

Fin-tech developer Enigma was on the receiving end of a cyber-heist on Monday after hackers took over the company’s website, mailing list and instant messaging platforms. The hack occurred three weeks before Enigma’s planned Initial Coin Offering (ICO) for September 11.

In addition to defacing the company’s website, the hackers pushed a special “pre-sale” ahead of the ICO. While many users realized it was a scam, 1,492 ether tokens – valued at $495,000 – were directed into the hackers’ cryptocurrency wallet by unsuspecting backers.

The irony in all this is that Engima is a cryptography company that prides itself on top-notch security protocols. The company issued a statement that its servers had not been compromised.

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Ethereum Prices on Track for 35% Monthly Drop

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It has been a difficult month for ethereum. The world’s No. 2 digital currency has lost a third of its value over the past 30 days following a series of cyber breaches targeting vulnerable wallets and ICOs.

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Ethereum Struggles to Regain Momentum

Ethereum (ETH/USD) was trading near $197.00 Sunday at 6:30 BST, according to Bitfinex. That represents a decline of around 5%. At current values, ethereum’s market cap was $18.4 billion.

The ETH/USD exchange rate has struggled throughout July, with prices briefly falling below $160.00. The decline, which amounted to a 60-day low, lured bargain-hunters back into the market. After surging back toward $250.00, the ETH/USD has consolidated below the $220-mark, which continues to offer strong resistance. On the opposite side of the spectrum, major support is located at $180.00.

A price recovery may prove elusive in the short-term, with the Relative Strength Index (RSI) and Stochastic indicator signalling weak underlying momentum.

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Despite its recent decline, ethereum’s value has surged more than 2,200% this year.

Cyber Attacks, SEC Weigh on Market

The ethereum network suffered a large-scale cyber breach earlier this month resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars. A community of ethical hackers quickly banded together to “rescue” hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tokens.

Blockchain-based trading platform Coindash was also hijacked during an initial coin offering (ICO). The breach exposed Coindash’s ether wallet address, resulting in the loss of $7 million worth of ether.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has also taken an interest in the ethereum-based ICO market. Last week, the regulator concluded that a certain multi-million dollar token sale last year violated securities law. Although ICOs have been compared to crowd-sourcing, the SEC maintained that some tokens were in fact securities.

Analysts say the SEC ruling could impact the future of ICOs, although it remains unclear how the regulator is pursuing this market. The SEC’s July 25 press release cautions investors about ICOs in general.

ETH/USD (Bitfinex)


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