Picking Computer Case Locks

Recently, I found the (legitimate) need to pick a computer case lock on a PC tower in a situation where the hard drive resided in a hot swap bay, but the key was not included. Computer keys are most commonly found as a short, tube-shape piece with a stubby handle and a small bump to put torque on the lock. Upon initial inspection, nothing looks to be unique about case lock keys. I actually tried two “homeless” keys, but with no avail. Shortly thereafter, I noticed that there were four small cuts in the outer edge of the key tube, sliced at different heights. Comparing one key to another, I found that they were indeed different, and were quite similar to the bumps on a household key. The locks work the same way, but the pins are simply in a circular arrangement instead of linear. With every pin exposed instead of hidden deeper and deeper into the lock, it should be far easier to pick than a household lock. I just had to try.

With a pair of thin needlenose pliers clamped on to apply tension to the lock’s center tumbler, I pressed a straightened paperclip into each pin location. After a few gentle presses, the lock turned just slightly. The first set of pins was then picked. Without removing pressure with the pliers, I moved on to the next three sets of pins, doing the same procedure to each. Upon pressing in the fourth pin, the lock tumbler turned completely, and the drive was freed. Not terribly secure, but I’m guessing they’re not meant to be.

Picking Computer Case Locks

Sony Rootkit Roundup

BoingBoing has a great timeline of the Sony “rootkit” fiasco that’s recently made news around the world. I’ll leave the details up to them. For a great audio summary, download the related Security Now! podcast. The EFF has also posted an open letter, asking Sony to make good. Here’s hoping that Sony receives legal action as a result of their spyware-like tactics. Lastly, Wired magazine is calling for consumers to boycott Sony copy-protected CDs until they come clean and recall all the infected discs.

Sony Rootkit Roundup

Comcast Setup

Here’s a scary article detailing the unsafe security practices of Comcast’s cable modem setup software. Definitely worth a read if you have or plan to set up cable internet through Comcast. I’m glad I’ve always insisted on just calling them up after receiving the cable modem and simply reading off the serial number and MAC address off the bottom of the modem.

Setting up an internet connection really shouldn’t require anything complicated, much less software that poses a significant security threat to your computer. If Macs do eventually end up with viruses and trojans and all that mess, it will be because of serious oversights like this on the part of other companies, not bugs within OS itself. That said, I’ve been quite happy with the speed of Comcast’s service, that’s for sure.

Comcast Setup

Secure Communication

An interesting article describes how scientists are using a single beam of photons to create a “secure” data line, as opposed to lasers, which emit many streams. How having a single beam helps make it more secure, I’m not quite certain. I would guess that if you could intercept one beam of photons from a laser, it would be possible to intercept the single one as well.

The security of information depends on the properties of light that is used to transmit data. Laser beams which are used at the moment send billions of photons, making it easy for hackers to steal some of them and break the code, said Rabeau.

Despite their efforts, this won’t stop people from writing their passwords down beside the sending or receiving computer at either end. The weakest link of the chain is often the people involved, not the technology. That’s not to say it isn’t susceptible to attack, but unfortunately all the advanced technology in the world can’t stop the power of a Post-It. [via digg]

Secure Communication

Uncrackable

While I’d like to keep this a Mac-oriented site, I can’t help but chuckle at how fast technology gets cracked. Case in point: Several days ago, Microsoft launched their Windows Genuine Advantage program which ensures that only real, licensed copies of Windows can receive updates. Pirated copies of Windows will only be able to get patches up to the launch of the WGA program, but will be left behind from future updates. Not anymore.

It’s always a bad idea to tout your product as uncrackable. Doing so is nothing more than a big, blinking, neon sign attracting talented individuals to try their best to break it. I can’t think of a piece of technology yet that hasn’t been cracked in some way. Xbox, PSP, TiVo, and software activation of all sorts have been cracked…

Uncrackable

One Less Phishing Website

I take back what I said about hacking not being the best way to get rid of phishing/scam websites — it’s a great way! Why the sudden change? Here’s my experience…

Earlier today, I got a standard PayPal phishing email with the subject “Your account will be suspended!”, claiming that my account would be removed shortly if I didn’t fill in my PayPal information. This is an extremely common ploy, and PayPal frequently reminds you never to follow through with these kinds of emails. Out of curiousity, I copied the link they so desperately wanted me to click, and pasted it into my browser. I examined it closely to make sure my email address wasn’t encoded into the URL in some way, and hit Return to load the page. While the address started out with a valid-looking domain, it was actually an eBay banner link which was modified to redirect me to a fake server further down the link (and out of view in a standard browser window). A page loaded which looked exactly like the PayPal homepage, but you can be sure it wasn’t.

Judging by the “/~test/” in the address in my browser, I could see that the scam site was located on a server under a user’s account. To see what else was there, I removed the PayPal scam directories from the address, and went to the user’s folder. I couldn’t believe what I stumbled upon.

Before my eyes was a page labeled “PHP Shell 1.7,” with a command line, execute button, and output area. Knowing full well what this was — a PHP script which executed the given instruction at the command line of the server it resided on — I typed “ls” and hit Execute Command. The contents of the user’s folder were displayed in the text field below the command, just as if I were sitting at a keyboard connected to that machine. I knew what was next. I took another look at the scam address from the email, and used the PHP Shell to change directory to the actual folder where the scam files were located. Using a simple ‘tar’ command, I gathered all the files into one, and grabbed the whole lot (for further investigation, as well as a backup…just in case). After that, I did a simple “rm -r PayPal” to delete the entire scam website. Revisiting the link in the phishing email returned a 404 Not Found. I tried to remove the single PHP Shell script itself, so other users of the site aren’t at any possible risk, however it had permissions which denied my removal attempt.

While my efforts were hardly what I’d consider hacking, if what I did helped save one person from having their information stolen, I feel it was it was worth it. That’s just one phishing site among thousands, though. The real solution is to educate people about the malicious intent of scammers, and to give them the knowledge to simply ignore fraudulent emails.

One Less Phishing Website

Hackers Take On Scam Websites

Angered by the growing number of Internet scams, online “vigilantes” have started to take justice into their own hands by hacking into suspected fraud sites and defacing them.

These hackers have targeted fake websites set up to resemble the sites of banks or financial institutions in recent weeks, and have inserted new pages or messages. Some say “Warning – This was a Scam Site” or “This Bank Was Fraudulent and Is Now Removed.”

While I can’t say that hacking is the best way to go about shutting down phishing sites, it’s probably the quickest way to stop them from gathering unsuspecting users’ information. It’s nice to know there are some people out there willing to do something about it, even if it means breaking in. Read the rest. [via]

Hackers Take On Scam Websites

Widget Security

Yesterday, an article on Slashdot about Dashboard widgets got my attention. It has been discovered that widgets pose a possible threat to users’ systems, as they are automatically run when downloaded. A specially crafted web page can direct your browser to download a widget, and Safari’s default behavior is to decompress the .zip archive. The Finder recognizes the .wdgt extension of the newly unzipped file, and launches the widget. In most cases, this makes for a very user-friendly Dashboard experience. However, user-friendliness almost always comes at a cost. Any code contained within the widget gets run, and that’s where the threat comes in. Some code gets run on the target system without any action on the user’s part, other than loading a web page in Safari.

Widgets do have a security layer provided by Apple, and it is built into the Info.plist files within each widget. A standard widget has no access to the internet, the command-line, files outside the widget bundle, Java applets, browser plugins, or widget plugins. In short, without your permission, a widget is effectively in its own sandbox and can do nothing harmful. When a widget needs access to one or more of these resources, it asks for your permission upon launch. When you click “Accept”, the widget can do whatever it needs.

From a security-oriented point of view, I think the main problem with the widget security layer is that the would-be “attacker,” a widget with bad intentions, defines its own security limitations. Mentioned above, each widget’s security is controlled by the Info.plist file written by it’s author and stored inside the widget bundle. A better solution might be to present the user with a dialog that details what resources the widget is requesting, allowing the user to decide what the widget should be allowed to do. This problem is made worse by an overly simple security interface. Different levels of security controlled by one “Accept” button. If the widget is going to define it’s own security limitations and the user will only see one button for any or all of them, why have more than one level of security? A single “AllowFullAccess” key in the Info.plist file would suffice. Future versions of Dashboard may see a security preference where users can control the level of access they would like widgets to have. This may be a bit of a problem, though, because not all users are aware of what a widget needs to do it’s job, and they really shouldn’t have to know. A solution lies somewhere between what the user knows about the inner workings of a widget and what security allowances are necessary for the widget to function. At best, the user needs to be able to easily control what a widget can do without knowing how it works. This is the type of situation in which Apple’s wizards excel, and I look forward to an elegant yet effective solution.

So what can you do to protect yourself right now? The front line for stopping harmful widgets from automatically installing themselves is to change your Safari download settings, as Safari expands widget archives upon download. In Safari’s “General” preferences tab, uncheck “Open ‘Safe’ files after downloading.” With this unchecked, all widgets and files that download and would normally be auto-opened are simply saved to your default download location in their respective format. While you can still “infect” yourself by opening the archive and running the widget, nothing happens automatically without your permission. Turning off the opening of “safe” files may cause you to go through one more step after downloading something, but your computer’s security is worth the time it takes to switch out of Safari and examine a file before you run it.

The second thing you can do to help protect yourself is learn where widgets are stored in Mac OS X. While widgets can be run from any location via a double-click, they aren’t listed in the Widget Bar (which is activated by clicking the plus symbol in the lower-left of Dashboard). Widgets listed there are kept in the main Library folder inside the Widgets folder, at /Library/Widgets/ inside your boot drive. Optionally, widgets can be kept in separate folders for each user, under your Home folder, then following the same structure above. You can add or remove widgets from either folder, and the Widget Bar will be updated. Stephan.com, the origin of the widget security threat report, claims that “the Dashboard bar is not very good about updating when a widget is removed, but eventually it figures things out.” From my own testing, though, I find that the Widget Bar gets updated as soon as you add or remove widgets and activate it again. Alternatively, you could use Widget Manager to control all the widgets you use.

Finally, you can also learn how to stop an active widget in its tracks. By opening Activity Monitor, in the /Applications/Utilities/ folder, you can see all current processes running on your machine. If you type “dashboard” into the “Filter” search field at the top, you will filter the process list to only dashboard widgets (and whatever else may happen to have “dashboard” in its title). Using the list of widgets, you can click on one and click the red “Quit Process” button, then “Force Quit,” and that widget will be stopped, regardless of what it was doing. While not the best solution, it’s a fairly simple way to end an annoying widget that just won’t quit.

Dashboard widgets are a great addition to Mac OS X, and I would hate to see them become a source of spyware-type problems for users, but the fact remains that they are a rather large opening for such a thing to happen. Widgets allow anyone to write custom Javascript, Cocoa, or shell scripts to do almost anything they want on your computer. While most will use it to create slick-looking and useful widgets, the possiblity for creating harmful ones is there, and your best defense is being aware of the situation and acting in accordance.

Update: Several other sites commented on the widget problem:

Widget Security