The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Volume 27 Issue 76

Tuesday 25 February 2014


Lawmakers consider broad safety exemptions to bypass FDA regulation
Kevin Fu
Backup botchup in library saved by friendly fired folks
Richard A. O'Keefe
UMD security breach exposes personal info of students, faculty, staff
WJLA via Jeremy Epstein
`The Wild West of Privacy'
Joe Nocera via PGN
One of the Most Alarming Internet Proposals I've Ever Seen
Lauren Weinstein
Glenn Greenwald: JTRIG psyops
Kurt Albershardt
Apparent Theft at Mt. Gox Shakes Bitcoin World -
David Farber
iPhone's Critical Security Bug: a Single Bad `Goto'
Kevin Poulsen via Henry Baker
Apple's 'GotoFail' Security Mess Extends To Mail, Twitter, iMessage, Facetime And More
*Forbes* via Lauren Weinstein
On the Suspicious Timing of iOS's SSL Vulnerability
John Gruber via Henry Baker
LinkedIn agrees to obey Chinese masters' censorship demands
Lauren Weinstein
"Target contractor says it was victim of cyber attack"
Jeremy Kirk via Gene Wirchenko
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Lawmakers consider broad safety exemptions to bypass FDA regulation

Kevin Fu <>
Sun, 23 Feb 2014 14:11:38 -0500
US Lawmakers Seek Regulatory Exemptions for Some Mobile Medical Devices/Apps

If this description of the planned legislation is accurate, this would
create disturbing loopholes that would likely compromise software safety and
therefore patient safety.

Backup botchup in library saved by friendly fired folks

"Richard A. O'Keefe" <>
Tue, 25 Feb 2014 16:40:20 +1300
The Queenstown-Lakes District council manages a public library system with
fourteen branches.  Last year it made several of the staff redundant.
According to page 9 of today (15 Feb 2014)'s issue of the *Otago Daily
Times*, '"some files" were accidentally deleted from the Wanaka file server'
-- located in another district).  Surprise: 'the recovery process "didn't
work as expected"'.  Fortunately, some of the redundant staff had copies of
the lost files at home.  (What was that about "redundant"?)

The manager claimed that 'the back-up and recovery process had worked well
previously and was based on accepted practice.' (:-) She is quoted as saying
'"We have put an extra step in place for files created in Wanaka, to include
them in the Queenstown system back-up process as an additional safeguard."

UMD security breach exposes personal info of students, faculty, staff

Jeremy Epstein <>
Tue, 25 Feb 2014 14:52:58 -0500

Roz Plater,, 19 Feb 2014

The University of Maryland says it had just recently doubled its number of
IT security engineers, analysts, and security tools.  But still, hackers
somehow managed to carry out a sophisticated attack early Tuesday morning.

"It's scary," says student Ricky Bailey. "I just got the email about an hour
ago, and I don't think people realize how serious it is just yet." In a
letter sent on Wednesday evening, President Wallace Loh said that the
database that was breached contained more than 300,000 records of faculty,
staff, students, and affiliated personnel from the College Park and Shady
Grove campuses since 1998.

Those records include name, social security number, date of birth, and
university ID number. [...]

`The Wild West of Privacy' (Joe Nocera)

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Tue, 25 Feb 2014 10:15:49 PST
Joe Nocera's op-ed column in *The New York Times* today says he thinks
“it would be a useful exercise to call some privacy experts and ask them
what should be in such a bill''—relating to desired privacy legislation.
His top-level amplifies on these topics:

 * Regulate data brokers.
 * Give companies an incentive to prevent data breaches.
 * No more secrets.

Nocera concludes, “As much as the companies like Google and Facebook and
Acxiom would oppose privacy legislation, they need it—for their sake as
well as ours.  Sometimes government has to save business from itself.''

Marc Rotenberg (head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center) is
quoted: “You should have the right to know what information is being
collected about you, who has access to it, how it is being used, and to
limit that use.  And if companies violate those rights, there should be

The title of the column is attributed to Barry Steinhardt (founder of
Friends of Privacy USA): “The United States is basically the Wild West of

One of the Most Alarming Internet Proposals I've Ever Seen

Lauren Weinstein <>
Sat, 22 Feb 2014 21:05:11 -0800
            No, I Don't Trust You!—One of the Most Alarming
                    Internet Proposals I've Ever Seen

If you care about Internet security, especially what we call "end-to-end"
security free from easy snooping by ISPs, carriers, or other intermediaries,
heads up! You'll want to pay attention to this.

You'd think that with so many concerns these days about whether the likes of
AT&T, Verizon, and other telecom companies can be trusted not to turn our
data over to third parties whom we haven't authorized, that a plan to
formalize a mechanism for ISP and other "man-in-the-middle" snooping would
be laughed off the Net.

But apparently the authors of IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force)
Internet-Draft "Explicit Trusted Proxy in HTTP/2.0" (14 Feb 2014) haven't
gotten the message ( [IETF] ).

What they propose for the new HTTP/2.0 protocol is nothing short of
officially sanctioned snooping.

Of course, they don't phrase it exactly that way.

You see, one of the "problems" with SSL/TLS connections (e.g. https:) --
from the standpoint of the dominant carriers anyway—is that the
connections are, well, fairly secure from snooping in transit (assuming your
implementation is correct ... right?)

But some carriers would really like to be able to see that data in the clear
-- unencrypted. This would allow them to do fancy caching (essentially,
saving copies of data at intermediate points) and introduce other
"efficiencies" that they can't do when your data is encrypted from your
client to the desired servers (or from servers to client).

When data is unencrypted, "proxy servers" are a routine mechanism for
caching and passing on such data. But conventional proxy servers won't work
with data that has been encrypted end-to-end, say with SSL.

So this dandy proposal offers a dandy solution: "Trusted proxies"—or, to
be more straightforward in the terminology, "man-in-the-middle attack"
proxies. Oh what fun.

The technical details get very complicated very quickly, but what it all
amounts to is simple enough. The proposal expects Internet users to provide
"informed consent" that they "trust" intermediate sites (e.g. Verizon, AT&T,
etc.) to decode their encrypted data, process it in some manner for
"presumably" innocent purposes, re-encrypt it, then pass the re-encrypted
data along to its original destination.

Chomping at the bit to sign up for this baby? No? Good for you!

Ironically, in the early days of cell phone data, when full capability
mobile browsers weren't yet available, it was common practice to "proxy"
so-called "secure" connections in this manner. A great deal of effort went
into closing this security hole by enabling true end-to-end mobile crypto.

Now it appears to be full steam ahead back to even worse bad old days!

Of course, the authors of this proposal are not oblivious to the fact that
there might be a bit of resistance to this "Trust us" concept.  So, for
example, the proposal includes the assumption of mechanisms for users to
opt-in or opt-out of these "trusted proxy" schemes.

But it's easy to be extremely dubious about what this would mean in the real
world. Can we really be assured that a carrier going through all the trouble
of setting up these proxies would always be willing to serve users who
refuse to agree to the proxies being used, and allow those users to
completely bypass the proxies? Count me as skeptical.

And the assumption that users can even be expected to make truly informed
decisions about this seems highly problematic from the git-go. We might be
forgiven for suspecting that the carriers are banking on the vast majority
of users simply accepting the "Trust us—we're your friendly
man-in-the-middle" default, and not even thinking about the reality that
their data is being decrypted in transit by third parties.

In fact, the fallacies deeply entrenched in this proposal are encapsulated
within a paragraph tucked in near the draft's end:

"Users should be made aware that, different than end-to-end HTTPS, the
achievable security level is now also dependent on the security
features/capabilities of the proxy as to what cipher suites it supports,
which root CA certificates it trusts, how it checks certificate revocation
status, etc.  Users should also be made aware that the proxy has visibility
to the actual content they exchange with Web servers, including personal and
sensitive information."

Who are they kidding? It's been a long enough slog just to get to the point
where significant numbers of users check for basic SSL status before
conducting sensitive transactions. Now they're supposed to become
security/certificate experts as well?


I'm sorry gang, no matter how much lipstick you smear on this particular pig
-- it's still a pig.

The concept of "trusted proxies" as proposed is inherently untrustworthy,
especially in this post-Snowden era.

And that's a fact that you really can trust.

Glenn Greenwald: JTRIG psyops

Kurt Albershardt <>
February 25, 2014 at 9:54:28 AM EST
  [From Dave Farber's IP distribution]

“Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of
articles about `dirty trick' tactics used by GCHQ's previously secret
unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). These were based on
four classified GCHQ documents presented to the NSA and the other three
partners in the English-speaking `Five Eyes' alliance. Today, we at the
Intercept are publishing another new JTRIG document, in full, entitled The
Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.''

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some
of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the
targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse
`hacktivists' of using, the use of `honey traps' (luring people into
compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I
want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of
these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control,
infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are
compromising the integrity of the Internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to
inject all sorts of false material onto the Internet in order to destroy the
reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other
techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes
it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just
consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: `false flag
operations' (posting material to the Internet and falsely attributing it to
someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the
individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting `negative
information' on various forums. "

Apparent Theft at Mt. Gox Shakes Bitcoin World (Popper/Abrams)

David Farber <>
Tue, 25 Feb 2014 13:43:56 -0500
Nathaniel Popper and Rachel Abrams, *The New York Times*, 25 Feb 2014

The most prominent Bitcoin exchange appeared to be on the verge of collapse
late Monday, raising questions about the future of a volatile marketplace.

On Monday night, a number of leading Bitcoin companies jointly announced
that Mt. Gox, the largest exchange for most of Bitcoin's existence, was
planning to file for bankruptcy after months of technological problems and
what appeared to have been a major theft. A document circulating widely in
the Bitcoin world said the company had lost 744,000 Bitcoins in a theft that
had gone unnoticed for years. That would be about 6 percent of the 12.4
million Bitcoins in circulation.

While Mt. Gox did not respond to numerous requests for comments, and the
companies issuing the statement scrambled to determine the exact situation
at Mt. Gox, which is based in Japan, the news helped push the price of a
single Bitcoin below $500 for the first time since November, when it began a
spike that took it above $1,200. [...]

DealBook: Defending Bitcoin, Andreessen Says Mt. Gox Is Like MF Global

25 Feb 2014. But at the same time that the news about Mt. Gox was emerging,
a New York firm announced plans to create an exchange that could draw the
world's largest banks into the virtual currency market for the first time

  [Dave Jevans commented out of band to PGN:
    Let's see if the speculation matches what they eventually disclose.  If
    they really did lose 744,000 bitcoins, it more than doubles the
    worldwide total of 2013 bitcoin thefts, and we're only in February!]

iPhone's Critical Security Bug: a Single Bad `Goto' (Kevin Poulsen)

Henry Baker <>
Sun, 23 Feb 2014 14:05:46 -0800
FYI—But every computer scientist already knew that GOTO's are considered
harmful !

So why does anyone trust "closed source" systems anymore?

I smell an NSA rat_H_H_HANT.  I checked an older Mac Safari and an iPhone 3S
Safari, neither of which had this problem; I did find this problem on a
later iPad Safari browser, but not on the iPad Opera browser.  This problem
seems to be _precisely_ what NSA's "ANT" team was talking about when they
said that they had no trouble compromising iPhones.

Notice that Apple hasn't promised to fix _all_ their phones & computers
still in service, so the net effect to Apple will be increased profits due
to more upgrades of old phones & computers.  Somehow, Apple shouldn't be
allowed to profit from security screwups like this one.

Behind iPhone's Critical Security Bug, a Single Bad *Goto*
Kevin Poulsen, 22 Feb 2014

Like everything else on the iPhone, the critical crypto flaw announced in
iOS 7 yesterday turns out to be a study in simplicity and elegant design: a
single spurious *goto* in one part of Apple's authentication code that
accidentally bypasses the rest of it.

Apple released iOS 7.0.6 yesterday to patch the bug in its implementation of
SSL encryption --- the Internet's standard defense against eavesdropping
and web hijacking.  The bug essentially means that when you're e-mailing,
tweeting, using Facebook or checking your bank account from a shared
network, like a public WiFi or anything tapped by the NSA, an attacker could
be listening in, or even maliciously modifying what goes to your iPhone or

But the terse description in Apple's announcement yesterday had some of the
Internet's top crypto experts wondering aloud about the exact nature of the
bug.  Then, as they began learning the details privately, they retreated
into what might be described as stunned silence.  “Ok, I know what the
Apple bug is,'' tweeted Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns
Hopkins.  “And it is bad.  Really bad.''

By this morning, the details had surfaced on Hacker News, and Adam Langley,
a web encryption expert at Google, posted a detailed breakdown of the bug
based on his reading of Apple's published source code.

Some software bugs are infinitely subtle and complicated. Others are
comprehensible almost at a glance to anyone who dabbled in BASIC as a
kid. The iOS 7 bug is in the latter group.

static OSStatus

SSLVerifySignedServerKeyExchange(SSLContext *ctx, bool isRsa, SSLBuffer
  signedParams, uint8_t *signature, UInt16 signatureLen)

        OSStatus        err;
        if ((err = SSLHashSHA1.update(&hashCtx, &serverRandom)) != 0)
                goto fail;
        if ((err = SSLHashSHA1.update(&hashCtx, &signedParams)) != 0)
                goto fail;
                goto fail;  // ?????????????????????????????????????
        if ((err =, &hashOut)) != 0)
                goto fail;
        return err;

Did you see it? This function is called when a iPhone connects to an
encrypted site over SSL: it's meant to verify that the encryption key is
being vouched for --- digitally signed --- by the operator of the website.

But notice the two “goto fail'' lines, one after the other.  The first one
belongs there.  The second is a typo.  That extra, duplicative line diverts
the program's execution, like a bypass stent, right past a critical
authentication check.  The part where the digital signature is actually
checked is dead code, never reached.

The issue, Langley confirms, is indeed fixed in the new iOS 7.0.6 (which you
should install, if you're using iOS 7.)  An update to iOS 6 pushed yesterday
fixes the bug there as well.  Reportedly, OS X 10.9.1 is still affected by
the vulnerability.

Using “goto'' statements in any form has long been considered a poor
programming practice, though everyone does it anyway.

The breathtaking simplicity of what's already being called #gotofail is
spawning Snowden Era speculation that the bug was no accident at all.
Google's Langley is having none of that.

“I believe that it's just a mistake, he writes, “and I feel very bad for
whomever might have slipped in an editor and created it.''

You can test if you're vulnerable at

Kevin Poulsen is the investigations editor at Wired and author of Kingpin:
How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground (Crown,
2011). His PGP fingerprint is A4BB A435 2FE1 B4A8 46E1 7AF6 DA4B 5DFA FF09
4870.  SecureDrop: poulsenjzbufll63.onion

Apple's 'GotoFail' Security Mess Extends To Mail, Twitter, iMessage, Facetime And More

Lauren Weinstein <>
Sun, 23 Feb 2014 18:04:49 -0800  (*Forbes* via) NNSquad

  First, Apple revealed a critical bug in its implementation of encryption
  in iOS, requiring an emergency patch. Then researchers found the same bug
  is also included in Apple's desktop OSX operating system, a gaping Web
  security hole that leaves users of Safari at risk of having their traffic
  hijacked. Now one researcher has found evidence that the bug extends
  beyond Apple's browser to other applications including Mail, Twitter,
  Facetime, iMessage and even Apple's software update mechanism.  On Sunday,
  privacy researcher Ashkan Soltani posted a list of OSX applications on
  Twitter that he says he's determined use Apple's "secure transport"
  framework, the coding library that developers depend on to build programs
  that securely communicate online using the common encryption protocols TLS
  and SSL. The full list, which isn't comprehensive given that Soltani only
  analyzed the programs on his own PC, is shown below. (Soltani has
  underlined the vulnerable application names in red.) [...]

On the Suspicious Timing of iOS's SSL Vulnerability (John Gruber)

Henry Baker <>
Mon, 24 Feb 2014 14:50:25 -0800
FYI—This particular incident should be investigated by Congress to make
sure that any "cowboys" in the NSA get lassoed.

John Gruber

On the Timing of iOS's SSL Vulnerability and Apple's *Addition*
to the NSA's PRISM Program

Jeffrey Grossman, on Twitter, 22 Feb 2014

I have confirmed that the SSL vulnerability was introduced in iOS 6.0.  It
is not present in 5.1.1 and is in 6.0.

iOS 6.0 shipped on 24 September 2012.

According to slide 6 in the leaked PowerPoint deck on NSA's PRISM program,
Apple was *added* in October 2012.

These three facts prove nothing; it's purely circumstantial.  But the shoe

Sure would be interesting to know who added that spurious line of code to
the file.  Conspiratorially, one could suppose the NSA planted the bug,
through an employee mole, perhaps.  Innocuously, the Occam's Razor
explanation would be that this was an inadvertent error on the part of an
Apple engineer.  It looks like the sort of bug that could result from a
merge gone bad, duplicating the goto fail; line.

Once the bug was in place, the NSA wouldn't even have needed to find the bug
by manually reading the source code.  All they would need are automated
tests using spoofed certificates that they run against each new release of
every OS.  Apple releases iOS, the NSA's automated spoofed certificate
testing finds the vulnerability, and boom, Apple gets `added' to PRISM.
(Wasn't even necessarily a fast turnaround—the NSA could have discovered
the vulnerability over the summer, while iOS 6 was in developer program beta

Or, maybe nothing, and this is all a coincidence.

I see five levels of paranoia:

* Nothing.  The NSA was not aware of this vulnerability.
* The NSA knew about it, but never exploited it.
* The NSA knew about it, and exploited it.
* NSA itself planted it surreptitiously.
* Apple, complicit with the NSA, added it.

Me, I'll go as far as #3.  #1 In fact, I think that's actually the optimistic
scenario—because we know from the PRISM slides that the NSA claims some
ability to do what this vulnerability would allow.  So if this bug, now
closed, #2 is not what the NSA was exploiting, it means there might exist
some other vulnerability that remains open.

“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by
incompetence.''—Hanlon's Razor?

Closed on iOS, that is.  As of this writing, it remains open on Mac OS X
10.9.1.  I expect it to be closed there soon, though.

LinkedIn agrees to obey Chinese masters' censorship demands

Lauren Weinstein <>
Mon, 24 Feb 2014 19:33:01 -0800
"LinkedIn Expands in China With Local Site Limiting Content"  (*Businessweek* via NNSquad)

  "LinkedIn Corp. (LNKD:US) is establishing a Chinese-language website that
  will restrict some content to adhere to state censorship rules, moving to
  expand in a country where U.S.  technology companies have clashed with the
  government ... The new website puts LinkedIn deeper into a country where
  social-media peers such as Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. are blocked
  after they balked at government censorship rules. Facebook hasn't built up
  operations in China beyond hiring contractors to help advertisers reach
  people outside of the country, spokeswoman Debbie Frost has said. Google
  ran afoul of Chinese authorities in 2010 for refusing to abide by local
  censorship requirements, leading to the company shutting its unfiltered
  search tools there and redirecting users to pages in Hong Kong."

"Target contractor says it was victim of cyber attack" (Jeremy Kirk)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Wed, 12 Feb 2014 10:03:40 -0800
Jeremy Kirk, InfoWorld, 07 Feb 2014
Fazio Mechanical Services, which specializes in refrigeration, said
it maintained a 'data connection' with Target

A contractor for Target said Thursday it was also a victim of a cyber
attack, supporting the retailer's claim that hackers gained entry to its
network via a third party. [...]

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