With a Digital Sneeze I got a Wireless Virus!

In 2009 and in 2012 the Australian Science organisation CSIRO won landmark court case’s on the invention of Wi Fi technology. From its introduction Wi Fi security has been an issue ignored in the wake of the convenience of its features and potential. In early 2000 I recall reading that Queensland University students proved that Wi Fi could never be made totally secure. A gene out of its bottle is rarely put back in and in the case of technology it’s the risk reward ratio that kept the Wi Fi gene out of the bottle as it made device based mobile computing possible and now indispensable.

In Wi Fi’s earliest days I would observe many a poor uni student hunkered down in a shopping mall with a laptop, piggy backing the shopping malls Wi Fi to do their research for free. Now that’s just taken for granted and we expect open access Wi Fi wherever we go as a no charge customer service.
Some time ago a student showed me a device he bought at an electronics store.
“It scans for Wi Fi networks.” He said.
“Why do you need it?”
“I might want to see if I can get online from the wood shed down the bottom of my back yard.”
“Right …….. So how many unsecured Wi Fi networks did you find down your street then?”
Wi Fi security is now under a new threat. A digital influenza is now possible. ‘Chameleon’ a codenamed virus designed by researchers at the University of Liverpool have developed an airborne Wi Fi virus.
Piggy backing Wi Fi waves this coded common cold spreads faster than Bali Belly from network to network. The denser the networks the faster it spreads.
It was assumed, however, that it wasn’t possible to develop a virus that could attack Wi Fi networks,” computer security expert Professor Alan Marshall said. “But we demonstrated that this is possible and that it can spread quickly.
So those places offering open access networks, the shopping malls, the coffee shops, free hotspots and my TAFE campus could be dangerous places easily infiltrated.
Straining the distinction between research and Ukrainian hackers the team designed and simulated attacks that spread quickly between home and business avoiding detection and also finding and remembering unprotected networks. In a laboratory setting which must make it alright, they simulated successful attacks on Belfast and London. The team reported that “Chameleon” behaved just like a real airborne virus.


When “Chameleon” attacked an AP (Access Point) it didn’t affect how it worked, but was able to collect and report the credentials of all other Wi Fi users who connected to it. The virus then sought out other Wi Fi APs that it could connect to and infect.”
Alan Marshall, Professor of Network Security


Shopping malls could become areas of high digital pestilence, with the majority of AP’s in close proximity mostly within a 10-50 metre radius; a Wi Fi virus like “Chameleon” will propagate like the plague.
It slips past virus protection because virus protection software only looks at viruses on our devices not within the Wi Fi network itself. You might beat it with your home and business secured AP only to find yourself “nailed” at your favorite coffee shop or conference.


Wi Fi connections are increasingly a target for computer hackers because of well-documented security vulnerabilities, which make it difficult to detect and defend against a virus. It was assumed, however, that it wasn’t possible to develop a virus that could attack Wi Fi networks but we demonstrated that this is possible and that it can spread quickly. We are now able to use the data generated from this study to develop a new technique to identify when an attack is likely.” Professor Marshall


Well thanks for that but, what about copy cats. I think the first computer virus was let loose by some early computer genius having a random academic moment wondering if he could give networked computers a form of digital cancer, contemplated some likely code and hit the enter key forgetting he was on a huge university network and thus gave birth to the first computer virus. He owned up and apologized but that gene was out of its bottle.

I really do wonder sometimes why we keep a laboratory sample of a virus or bacteria causing a horrific disease that took hundreds of years to eradicate just in case we might need it in the future. It’s a trust us scenario because we are scientists and you are just people who don’t know any better and you should leave it to us.
Are they going to do a perpetual computerized quarantine of “Chameleon” while they protect us from others that might invent a “Chameleon” knock off but who are not them? I would either look to putting virus protection on my smart phone or try going to a coffee shop to just have a cup of coffee with a friend and talk, a device free time. It’s fast becoming one of those life crisis issues requiring professional help and mental health coverage on your medical insurance plan.


Related Articles:
How CSIRO’s stars won the WiFi battle
Detection and analysis of the Chameleon WiFi access point virus
Adelaide CBD wi-fi network


Spy RATter’s

A Google search of the word RATters reveals either people with a passion for little dogs chasing rats and mice or perverted men using remote access software (RAT) to take control of young girls webcams, take compromising pictures of them to display and swap on slaver forums. The pervert spying came to light in early 2013 in a comprehensive article in Ars Technica. The article claimed that one of the ‘slave forums’ had 23 million total posts.

The technology is not new so it begs the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Were government surveillance agencies already using it and young perverts adapting it later, or were young perverts leading the way for government agencies to emulate? A recent article in the Washington Post has claimed that the FBI has been spying on its “persons of interest” via their webcams for several years already, without triggering the webcam indicator light.


At least one judge in a rare case of protecting individual privacy rejected an FBI request for remotely activating video feeds in a bank fraud case in Houston, Texas, in December last year. The judge ruled that the risk of accidentally obtaining information of innocent people was too great.

FBI surveillance teams use the same technique as ratters, by infecting the computer with a malicious software (malware – through phishing). By sending an email with a link, which could be to a website, an image or a video, the user is tricked into downloading a small piece of software onto their machine. Once installed, the malware allows the FBI to take control of the computer and the webcam at any time, working similarly to the system large corporations use to update software and fix IT problems.

“We have transitioned into a world where law enforcement is hacking into people’s computers, and we have never had public debate. Judges are having to make up these powers as they go along.”
Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union.

It is not only governments that are employing RAT techniques but activist and political groups are using it as a protest and spying tool against their rivals. Hackers have been discovered using a tampered-with version of a legitimate remote access tool (RAT) to target activists, industrial, research and diplomatic targets. Hungary-based security firm CrySys Lab discovered an attack on diplomatic targets in Hungary which installs legitimate software first, but then remotely alters the program to enable it spy on victims. This had been going on since 2008.
“The attackers control the victim’s computers remotely by using [a] legal remote administration tool. This application is signed with legitimate digital certificates and is used by more than 100 million users around the world. To avoid alerting the user that somebody is spying on him, the attackers dynamically patch [the program] in memory to remove all signs of its presence.” – Kaspersky Lab

High profile targets ranging from a high-profile victim in Hungary, multiple victims in Iran, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan and attacks on Belarusian pro-democracy activists last year. The malware searches for multiple document formats, disk images and file names that suggest they contain passwords or encryption keys.
The leaked Snowdon files suggest that spy teams around the world have been using these techniques since 2004. Their usage of remote administration tools (RATs) comes to light as the world’s most powerful technology firms call on Barack Obama to curb government spying on internet users.

Related Articles:
FBI’s search for ‘Mo,’ suspect in bomb threats, highlights use of malware for surveillance
Hackers use legit remote IT support tool in spy attack

Only one on-line slip up

Back in the last share boom before the GFC (Great Financial Crisis) everyone thought they were a red hot trader. Mums were spending their day in a trading pod checking the websites spruiking todays penny dreadfuls. I recall one scam. Young Australian guy spam mailed all these hot trade tip web sites with a fake report on a penny dreadful, taking a big position before hand of course. The sheep got on board in the first hour of the day and he sold into it making about $21,000 for the mornings work. Only problem was he did it from home and got done. Caught and charged. I remember thinking at the time why didn’t he get one of those dodgy promotional CD’s with 10 hours free internet time from one the undercutting ISP companies who never answered the phone, had non-existent support and an address that turned out to be a car park. Take the CD into an internet cafe and our “perp” would have been away clean.

Those days are gone. The arrest on the 1st October of “Silk Roads” Ross William Ulbricht illustrates the point. The online drug and dodgy deeds site had apparently turned over more than $1 billion from hundreds of thousands of customers. From fake ID’s to top grade heroin the site had cleverly covered itself using complex server configurations, anonymity software and Bitcoin money, Silk Road had become a major player in the “Dark Net.” Until Ross made one stupid, rookie blunder that bought it all undone.

Strutting his stuff on a forum Ross used a user profile called “altoid” and said he was looking for an expert in Bitcoin and stupidly gave the address to send applications to as rossulbricht @gmail.com. In itself innocent enough but the FBI tracing the user name “altoid” found two earlier posts  about Tor being a kind of “anonymous amazon.com” Both posts referenced  “silkroad420.wordpress.com.” Duh!!
Did this make Ulbricht a person of interest to the FBI? It sure did. Further footprints followed.  A Google+ profile of rossubicht@gmail.com included video links that enabled the FBI to cross link Ross with his Silk Road handle “Dread Pirate Roberts.” Both Ross and the Dread Pirate seemed to both be believers in the Austrian Economic Theory on which Silk Roads market model was based.
The final bread crumb was a post by Ross on a forum on “How can I connect to a Tor hidden service using curl in php?” Later forensic analysis on a Silk Road hard drive found exactly the same code.

Even if the “Dread Pirate Roberts” initial slip up didn’t require the powerful surveillance capability of the NSA it is suspected that while chasing child pornographers the FBI agents exploited a vulnerability in the Firefox browser to unmask Tor users and may have used this to expose the Silk Roads kingpin.

Many people concerned over Snowden’s NSA revelations have started to use software like Tor recommended by the Cryptoparty to stay anonymous. If it’s just to keep pesky profile marketing away and otherwise having nothing to hide, all well and good. However with something to hide it becomes a bigger challenge everyday as any investigator need only to wait and stay vigilant and they will get lucky with that one slip up.

Related Articles:
Silk Road mastermind couldn’t even keep himself anonymous online

The Complete Hackers Handbook

A study just conducted by Google reveals we are no better with passwords now than we were 30 years ago.
In 1985 I was running an Apple Training Centre for a Computerland franchise. Back then we had Thursday “Latenight Shopping”. Instead of closing at 5 o’clock like every other day, retailers were allowed to stay open until 9 o’clock at night every Thursday. You have to remember that this was when nothing was allowed to open on Sunday. I’m not kidding, nothing except a designated Chemist shop in case you were dying, otherwise the main street of your town was a transactional dead zone. No body to take your money. It’s had to believe now I know.

I advertised a kid’s computer class hoping to capitalise on the fact that Mum didn’t want the kids under her feet while she did her late night shopping. I charged $10 and we mostly played educational games like “Rockys Boots.” This is still pre internet times but personal computer to computer connections had just become possible with software like “PC Anywhere” an ancient piece of code not to be confused with today’s Symantec software, and a pre modem contraption called an acoustic coupler. It had a couple of suction caps for your phone and was used to connect to Bulletin boards. I had one way down in the back corner of my training centre classroom.

Early one morning before school some of the smarter kids came in and asked if they could try something and went up to that back corner, consulted a book and messed with the acoustic coupler. They came back in the afternoon back up to the back corner to engage in recognisable suspicious activity. Teachers develop a sixth sense for mischief, either a quick glimpse over a shoulder, a slinking body language movement or whispering with quicksilver eyes. My Grandfather would clip me under the ear whenever I walked past him and in answer to my indignant adolescent “What was that for?” outrage he would say: “Son you are either just going into trouble or just coming out of it.”

In the morning they had loaded software that would ring every telephone number within our area code and before a flag fall charge, interrogate the number to see if it was attached to a computer and if so record that number. Now back in the afternoon with the “Complete Hackers Handbook” open they were attempting to access the three or four phone numbers uncovered. Remember this was 1985. Momentarily confiscating the Handbook it revealed adults are dumb with passwords. It will be written down and hidden in the immediate vicinity of the PC. A “stickit” note on the computer, under the blotter or stuck to the bottom of the desk drawer. It will be something they can remember. It will not be their car registration number. An adult it said can own a car for twenty years and still not remember the registration number. The handbook went on to identify the most likely passwords a person will use.

It is now 28 years later and the Google study has revealed the list to be exactly the same:

  •     Pet’s name
  •     Significant dates (like a wedding anniversary)
  •     Date of birth of a close relative
  •     Child’s name
  •     Other family member’s name
  •     Place of birth
  •     Favorite holiday
  •     Something related to favorite football team
  •     Current partner’s name
  •     The word “password”

If hackers crack into a database with your password stored, there is nothing you can do, you are hacked, you are owned. A password shouldn’t be a recognisable word in the dictionary. Password cracking programs use dictionary checking. I used to train sheepdogs. I loved it and was good at it. I was speaking to a student who had trained guard dogs for the military. He loaned me the training manual. The command word for attack was incomprehensible. I asked about this. He said: You can’t have a recognisable word otherwise that word might come up and your dog will tear your friends throat out during casual conversation. I felt a fool for asking. Of course it’s obvious.

First, don’t make it easy on hackers by choosing a common password. Splashdata uses security breaches to gather ‘most popular passwords’ lists each year. The word ‘password’, number sequences, and other simplistic phrases or numbers fill the top spots. Also, don’t use your name, a password related to another one you might have on a different site, or a login name.” – Kerry Davis

Experts recommend using at least 15 characters, upper-case letters, nonsensical words with special characters and numbers inside them, known as alphanumerics.
74% of Internet users use the same password across multiple websites, so if a hacker gets your password, they now have access to all your accounts. Reusing passwords for email, banking, and social media accounts can lead to identity theft and financial loss.” McAfee’s Robert Siciliano

The older you get the more likely you are to write your passwords down in a book. My suggestion is fake it. Make it look like a badly kept diary you know no one will ever read. Just like the old spies make it a code.
anuary 15th, I made out with Julie Jones in the car park after the year 10 farewell dance 1987. Using the first character we have: J1ImowJJitcpaty1fd1987
Let’s see how it rates on Intel’s Password Grader.

The result: CONGRATULATIONS! It would take about 376697693540 years to crack your password.
The other great thing about this method is you never forget what a fantastic night you had with Julie.
Damn now I have to change my password.
Damn I will have to hide my diary.

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