Archive for February, 2014

Windows users learned (the hard way) a long time ago that their PC could be infected with viruses, Trojan horses, worms and the like without their knowledge. Anti-virus vendors have made a mint off of capitalizing on the concerns that grew from that basic fact. Eventually, Microsoft decided it was in their best interest to make available free security tools that could help limit the threat and mitigate some of the PR hits their brand kept taking with each new outbreak of malware.

As discussed in this blog before, there is nothing about Linux, UNIX or OS X that makes those platforms inherently immune to virus attacks either, although, the sheer number of known malware instantiations is lower. Mobile devices, which are, after all, nothing more than miniaturized computers that also happen to have built-in cameras, MP3 players and telephony features are vulnerable as well. In fact, the first mobile malware was first spotted 10 years ago, if you can believe it. Clearly, none of this is a new problem.

Well, guess what? You know that WiFi access point you installed in your home a few years back or the ones you never see but freely use at the local coffee shop could be infected as well? How about the possibility that the wireless in your doctor’s office waiting area is as sick as the patients sitting next to you?

Yep, malware for WiFi is the latest unfortunate turn of the technological crank and, once again, we shouldn’t be surprised. Routers and access points are, after all, just special purpose computers and, in most cases, ones that have never been patched since the day they were installed.

One recent study found that:

Using the top 50 selling home routers for sale on Amazon, the firm detected software vulnerabilities in three quarters with a third of these having publically documented flaws open for any attacker to exploit. Common problems included vulnerable management interfaces and dodgy authentication.

So that’s 75% of the most popular devices are vulnerable. Great. But the hits just keep coming

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time that WiFi networks can be infected with a virus that can move through densely populated areas as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans. 

The team designed and simulated an attack by a , called “Chameleon”, and found that not only could it spread quickly between homes and businesses, but it was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.

So let’s review…

  • WiFi access points can be attacked
  • Most have never been patched
  • Most are vulnerable to exploitation
  • Some could be attacked by malware that spreads from access point to access point

I don’t know that WiFi access point anti-virus tools are waiting just around the corner.  However, I do know that it would be a good idea to take another look at the access points you can control and review the security settings and update the firmware. Don’t say I didn’t warn you …

Here’s a cool/creepy thing to keep in mind … when you post to social media or take photos with your phone, it is entirely possible that your laptop or mobile device is also adding location data to your work. This could be a very useful feature if where you are adds context to your posting, such as where you were when you took that awesome shot of the sunset over the ocean (which ocean?  which beach? what season?) or if  you just tweeted about a great slice of pizza others may want to know where so they can get one too.

On the other hand, if you weren’t aware that this information was being captured and made available for all to see, you might not think it was such a great idea. For instance, you could be passing time in a doctor’s waiting room tweeting about last night’s game and not realize that you’ve just told the world that you have a medical problem of a somewhat sensitive nature.

For a real world example of this, I used a tool at http://teachingprivacy.icsi.berkeley.edu:8080/#project to view the comings and goings of one of the giants of the IT world. I’ve redacting his actual Twitter handle out of respect for his privacy but what I found was publicly available information that anyone could easily obtain. The screenshots below reveal what I found with just a few clicks …

TwitterTrack1

 

As you can see our subject is quite the world traveler but he spends most of his time on the West Coast.

 

 

 

 

 

TwitterTrack2

 

 

Zooming in on the red “hot spot” from the previous image shows that he is probably based in Silicon Valley.

 

 

 

 

TwitterTrack3

 

 

Zooming in further still shows a Google map with one of the tweets coming from a urologist’s office.

 

 

 

 

Maybe he was just there to work on their computers but, still, it’s probably not what he had in mind to blast out to the Twitterverse when he wrote that tweet.

A similar bit of stalker magic is available from WeKnowYourHouse.com which correlates tweets using the words “home,” “house,” etc. with the geolocation from Twitter to assert, with reasonable confidence that you live at the following address …

WeKnowYourHouse

Pretty creepy, huh? Consider yourself forewarned and double-check those settings to make sure that you aren’t guilt of revealing TMI…