In the current age, even the most secure software and the best security practices might not be enough to prevent someone from being spied upon. Researchers continue to find novel and inventive ways to gather more data on everyday computer users, and the latest research from Israel’s Ben Gurion University is exceptional in this regard.
Using software alone, Mordechai Guri, Yosef Solewicz, Andrey Daidakulov, and Yuval Elovici were able to convert a given pair of headphones or speakers into Orwellian microphones beyond the user’s control or ability to patch. Their method [PDF] exploits a flaw in RealTek hardware chips, which are one of the most widely used chips in motherboards around the world. Companies like Dell, HP, and Compaq regularly utilize RealTek’s industry standard audio chips in their products. Beyond that, motherboards sold to consumers wishing to build their own systems often also include the hardware.
A simple patch or firmware upgrade will not fix this flaw, making the exploit particularly delightful to intelligence agencies, profit-motivated hackers (think boardroom conference calls), and others. Basically, anywhere a computer has an audio output, which in the case of laptops is everywhere, audio can now be intercepted and then relayed with roughly the same quality as if a microphone itself had been compromised. The images of people like Mark Zuckerberg covering up their webcam and microphone with electrical tape now seem trivial.
Jack re-tasking – the process of converting an output jack to either an input or a two-way port – has long been a possibility, but few developers make use of it. Most laptops and desktops will have separate ports for each, while smartphones and the like often require hardware that can do both. But the innovation on the part of Ben Gurion’s researchers involves making any regular output hardware capable of doing as much with only software. They write:
The fact that headphones and earphones are physically built like microphones, coupled with the fact that an audio port’s role in the PC can be altered programmatically from output to input, creates a vulnerability which can be abused by hackers.
The researchers noticed that the design of most audio input and output hardware was basically identical at the metal, drawing the following illustration for clarification:
One saving grace is that the audio output device must be “passive,” or unpowered. This means that if your speakers require power to work, they are not currently able to use these to listen to you. However, the vast majority of laptop speakers and earbuds are, by nature and necessity, passive. The researchers note that while they focused on RealTek codec hardware because of their popularity, other manufacturers also have the ability to retask jacks, which is the heart of the exploit.
While this may seem scary at first, it should be noted that, like anything else on your computer, audio input and output are data. They can therefore be encrypted with keys that are local to the machine, and it would seem that this new exploit opens up a new avenue of research for cryptographic researchers to institute audio encryption in the same way that full-disk encryption has become normalized.
Here is a demonstration of the method in action:
The Pirate Bay is Hijacking PCs to Stealth-Mine Cryptocurrency
For the second time in as many months, The Pirate Bay has been caught mining cryptocurrency on your computer without consent. The torrent platform was actually test-driving cryptocurrency mining in your browser – no doubt a lucrative revenue stream.
The Pirates Are At It Again
The news was later confirmed by Bleeping Computer, which reported that,”The Pirate Bay, the internet’s largest torrent portal, is back at running a cryptocurrency miner after it previously ran a short test in mid-September.”
Estimates indicate that the scheme has earned the pirates a total of $43,000 over a three-week period.
Users had no way to opt their computers out of being test-driven by the torrent network. Back in September, The Pirate Bay got away by telling people it was just a test. The site’s owners cannot use the same excuse this time around.
CoinHive advises websites to let their visitors know their browser is being used to mine cryptocurrency.
“We’re a bit saddened to see that some of our customers integrate CoinHive into their pages without disclosing to their users what’s going on, let alone asking for their permission,” the company said.
The good news is most ad-blockers and antivirus programs will block CoinHive, given its recent abuses. That means not all visitors of The Pirate Pay were being used as a conduit for mining Monero.
Monero Joins Global Crypto Rally
The value of Monero (XMR) shot up nearly 8% on Friday, and was last seen trading at $94.17. With more than 15.2 million XMR tokens in circulation, the total market cap for Monero is $1.4 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. That’s enough for ninth on the global cryptocurrency list.
Twelve cryptos have now crossed the $1 billion valuation mark. A handful of others have made their way north of $500 million.
Ethereum Notches Two-Month High as Bitcoin Offspring Triggers Volatility
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.
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.
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.
Spotting a Well-Made Investment Scam
For every reasonably safe investment, there are 1000 scams and 10,000 reasonably toxic investments. Self-served advertising via social media and search engines exacerbates the problem – people sometimes click ads they think were search results, or, as humans are intended to, simply consumes the content on the screen instead of paying attention to where they’re being redirected to.
In this article we will review a recent example of a well-executed investment scam.
The intended victim, who did not actually get scammed but alerted this author to the hustle, was led to believe that the above image was redirecting to a CNN news article. This is the actual URL the link went to:
Now if you visit com-cat.press, all you see is a directory listing. This site’s entire purpose is to make people believe they are visiting legitimate .com websites, when in fact they are visiting others. It doesn’t always have to be a scam, sometimes it is simple an advertisement, but often enough it is a definite funnel to a scam. In this case, here’s where you wind up, at a place that looks an awful lot like CNN Money:
Again, this is not a real article on CNN. This is promotion for 10Markets.eu.
10Markets.eu is extremely professional looking. The platform looks to capture your details even just for demo trading. Most traders expect hurdles, so one can imagine tons of phone numbers and e-mail addresses entered:
The demo trading screen never loaded for this analyst, but the phone number is fake anyway. Took it from a coffee shop in Germany. Funnily, it appears the German exchange code is 030 in the first place, but you can’t edit that part. They also don’t allow you to visit the site at all if you’re in North America.
The tipster was clever enough to find out if 10Markets.eu was a registered broker or not. They’re not. According to ForexBrokerz.com:
10Markets is a forex and CFD broker that is headquartered in Scotland [sic] and supports the popular MetaTrader 4 platform. It is not licensed by any authority and there is not much information about the trading conditions on its website. What is worse, this broker is present in the warning lists of UK’s FCA, Australia’s ASIC and Cyprus’ CySEC, so we don’t recommend doing business with 10Markets.
There are review websites which help. Regarding 10Markets, we came up with this one.
The tipster happens to have been our own Jonas Borchgrevink. He is equipped with years of experience in website publishing, and this is why he quickly noticed that he was not reading a CNN article. The sad fact is that a high percentage of people who read that article believe it to be real, and a percentage of those people end up getting scammed. As such, here is a checklist for new trading outfits that you haven’t used or heard about before:
- Always try to get phone support right away. Before creating an account. If no one answers or there is anything suspicious, this is a scam.
- Always search for “[EXCHANGE NAME]” + “scam,” and read carefully any results that come up. Most scams could stop at one person if others listened to that one.
- In the US, you can use FINRA to check the legitimacy of an exchange or broker. In the UK, you have FCA. Many countries have sites like these, and it’s important to check the one from the country where the broker does business.
- Use ad blockers at least when legitimately searching for financial solutions.
- Check the URL! For every legitimate exchange website, there are a few fake ones designed to steal your account information.
In The Event That You Spot A Scam
Tattle! Spread the word far and wide, not just so others don’t get scammed, but also to give authorities the jump on the thieves. Otherwise, they may exit and get away with all the money before anyone stops them.
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- ICO Update: Polkadot October 20, 2017
- Daily Analysis: Stocks Shoot for the Moon as Senate Passes Budget October 20, 2017
- Cryptocurrency Analysis: Bitcoin Tests $6000 as Market Settles Down October 20, 2017
- Trade Recommendation: Ethereum October 20, 2017
- Bitcoin Cash Consolidates as Markets Search for Direction October 20, 2017
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