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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.

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.

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.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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3.9 stars on average, based on 8 rated postsLester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.




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Crypto-Security Testnet Surpasses Key Milestones

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Security and has been combined with micro-compucomputing are a combination which ascended to greatly relevant, both economically and financially, since the early days of commercial internet technology, the John McAfee associated era of anti-virus software, and fears of ‘millennium-bug’ (‘Y2K’)-induced societal meltdowns.

As a market player, ‘cybersecurity‘ is hailed for its continuedvalue and growth, with recent implementations advancing in tandem with technological development. With ‘blockchain’ having become a key buzzword in recent years, it comes as little surprise that digital security providers have been attempting to identify and provide protection against cryptocurrency related scams.

Examples of these include ‘malware‘ AKA ‘malicious software’. They are often created with the aim of illicitly subvert the processing power of the victim’s device for use towards the mining of cryptocurrencies, or lock and potentially delete highly sensitive data (such as Ransomware’).

Cybersecurity and Blockchain

Crypto attacks can affect almost any person or institution: from private wallets and exchanges, to cryptocurrency operators, and even sometimes unsuspecting users of internet browsers with no relation to blockchain based services.

In an article published at CCN in August 2018, I wrote about the large prolificity and news coverage of cyber-attacks carried out against cryptocurrency organisations: with a majority of them involving the theft of high-value quantities of tokens or sensitive data.

Key points raised in the piece include the identification of wallets and exchanges as high-value targets for potential thieves, as well as a discussion surrounding a study of over 1000 participants in which none of the top exchanges were “lauded for security”.

As cybersecurity has been exposed as a fatal flaw in the unauthorised access / theft access of finances and data, it has also drawn a spotlight on the various methods employed by the companies which suffer these attacks.

Middleware, Wear and Tear

Some teams attempt to protect their data and finances through the creation and implementation of their own proprietary cybersecurity solutions whilst others seek the tender of others,

‘Middleware’ is nothing new and has long been utilised as a means of implementing third-party solutions as a means of shifting professional a legislative liability regarding essential functions of a brand technology.

It’s a creation by third party product / service providers that sits between external and internal code in order to facilitate functions or protections.

Decentralized Security Testnet

REMME is a project harnessing blockchain technology to create a distributed cybersecurity solution for enterprises.

Its now-released testnet has already demonstrated the efficacy of storing hashed Public Key Infrastructure certificates on the blockchain, and with 300 pilot program participants signed up, REMME isn’t short of applicants eager to trial its distributed identity and access management solution.

‘Distributed Identity and Access management’ (IAMd) and ‘Public Key Infrastructure’ requests (PKId) count amongst two of the primary features of the proprietary REMChain testchain network infrastructure. Both claims of which have come from CEO Alex Momot, who additionally praised “The interoperability of the public blockchain and sidechains”.

Additional features include the ‘REMchain block explorer’ – ‘node monitoring’ (connected to five nodes worldwide) – REMME WebAuth demo application.

While a pilot program reportedly attracting over 300 global enterprise applicants, REMME feels confident about the future of their long terms plans: which include full integration existing enterprise systems (ERP, CRM, Accounting software etc.).

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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MyEtherWallet Compromised in Security Breach; Users Urged to Move Tokens

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Popular cryptocurrency service MyEtherWallet (MEW) is urging users to move their tokens after the platform succumbed to its second cyber attack of the year. As the company reported earlier, hackers targeted MEW’s popular VPN service in an attempt to steal cryptocurrency.

Hola VPN Users Compromised

Rather than target MEW directly, hackers took control of the Hola VPN service, which claims nearly 50 million users. For the next five hours, MEW users who had the Hola chrome extension installed and running on their computer were exposed.

MEW took to Twitter to urge users to move their funds immediately.

“Urgent! If you have Hola chrome extension installed and used MEW within the last 24 hrs, please transfer your funds immediately to a brand new account!” the company said. It added the following message shortly thereafter:”We received a report that suggest Hola chrome extension was hacked for approximately 5 hrs and the attack was logging your activity on MEW.”

At the time of writing, MEW’s Twitter feed had no further updates.

MyEtherWallet is used to access cryptocurrency wallets, where users can send and receive tokens from other people.

The company reportedly told TechCrunch that the attack originated from a Russian-based IP address.

“The safety and security of MEW users is our priority. We’d like to remind our users that we do not hold their personal data, including passwords so they can be assured that the hackers would not get their hands on that information if they have not interacted with the Hola chrome extension in the past day,” MEW said, as quoted by TechCrunch.

It’s not yet clear how many users were compromised in the attack or how much, if any, was stolen from their wallets. MEW suffered a similar incident in February after a DNS attack wiped out $365,000 worth of cryptocurrency from users’ accounts.

Cyber Attacks on the Rise

The attack on MEW came less than 24 hours after Hacked reported another major cyber breach involving Bancor, a decentralized cryptocurrency exchange. The security breach compromised roughly $23.5 million worth of digital currency, including Ethereum, NPXS and BNT, Bancor’s native token.

Last month, a pair of South Korean exchanges fell prey to cyber criminals, prompting local regulators to expedite their approval of new cryptocurrency laws.

It has been estimated that a total of $761 million has been stolen from cryptocurrency exchanges in the first half of the year, up from $266 million in all of 2017. That figure is expected to rise to $1.5 billion this year.

CipherTrace, the company behind the estimates, told Reuters last week that stolen cryptocurrencies are mainly used to launder money and aid criminals in concealing their identities.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 649 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he leads content development for one of the world's foremost cryptocurrency resources. Over the past eight years Sam has authored more than 10,000 articles and over 40 whitepapers in the fields of labor market economics, emerging technologies, cryptocurrency and traditional finance. Sam's work has been featured in and cited by some of the world's leading newscasts, including Barron's, CBOE and Forbes. Contact: sam@hacked.com Twitter: @hsbourgi




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Mt. Gox vs. Bithumb: That Was Then, This Is Now

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Bithumb now shares something in common with the Tokyo-based shuttered bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox — both suffered a hack on about the same date, June 19. It’s a club that no exchange wants to belong to and that Bithumb happened on the seven-year anniversary of Mt. Gox’s maiden attack has to be more than an eerie coincidence.

It’s a stark reminder of the risks involved with keeping funds on an unregulated exchange, vulnerabilities that cost South Korea’s Bithumb some $36.6 million in digital cash and Mt. Gox $450 million in hacked bitcoin and its future. The Mt. Gox theft unfolded over a series of hacks that culminated in 2014. Though it’s still early on in the Bithumb hack, it appears the South Korean exchange will recover from the security breach. So what do we know now that we didn’t on June 19, 2011?

Then vs. Now

Former Coinbase official Nick Tomaino, who is also the founder of crypto fund 1 confirmation, reflected on the Mt. Gox hack in what proved to be a prescient tweet given the Bithumb attack that was about to surface.

The thing to note about Mt. Gox is that the Japan-based exchange in 2011 controlled most of the BTC trading volume, approximately three-quarters of it by average estimates — more if you ask Tomaino. Since bitcoin fever caught on in 2017, there are more than 500 cryptocurrency exchanges on which trading volume is shared. Binance boasts the highest trading volume and captures nearly 15% of bitcoin trading. It’s much less than Mt. Gox days but still a little high.

The other thing to note is that the Mt. Gox hack or actually hacks, as there were multiple attacks on the exchange over several years, was a mysterious event that was shrouded in controversy and mistrust of a key executive. Bithumb, on the other hand, confronted the hack seemingly right away on Twitter and has not let any grass grow under its feet in the interim, which is a key difference in the way Mt. Gox was handled.

Also, the bitcoin price didn’t tank in response to the Bithumb hack. It traded lower for a while, but less than 24 hours it was back in the green, which is a reflection of the fact that bitcoin trading is no longer dependent on a single exchange.

Charlie Lee, creator of Litecoin (LTC), the No. 6 cryptocurrency by market cap, was among the first to respond to the Bithumb hack. He tweeted:

Indeed, Bithumb does expect to be able to cover the losses via their reserves.

Crypto Security

It’s still early on in Bithumb’s security breach, and more details are sure to emerge in time. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to use the hack as an opportunity to examine the security of your cryptocurrency investment portfolio. There are several hardware wallet options out there for you to choose from — whether it’s Trezor or Ledger Nano S, to name a couple — and as Charlie Lee advised, “only keep on exchange coins that you are actively trading.”

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 69 rated postsGerelyn has been covering ICOs and the cryptocurrency market since mid-2017. She's also reported on fintech more broadly in addition to asset management, having previously specialized in institutional investing. She owns some BTC and ETH.




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