Yahoo teams up with Google on encrypted webmail

LAS VEGAS — Your webmail will be safer from prying eyes — at some point next year.

That’s the promise that Yahoo and Google are making to their mail service users, who together make up the vast majority of webmail users. More than 425 million people use Gmail, with Yahoo Mail usage estimated at 273 million.

Longtime security industry veteran Alex Stamos, who was named Yahoo’s new chief information security officer earlier this year, told attendees of the Black Hat hacker and security conference here on Thursday that at some point in 2015, Yahoo Mail would not only be encrypted end-to-end, but would be compatible with the end-to-end encryption that Google is working on for Gmail.

When that happens, it will create a secure way to email between the two services. The contents of an email protected by end-to-end encryption are hidden and much harder to tamper with. They can not be viewed by any intermediary, including the webmail provider itself.

Yahoo encrypted webmail at the data center level earlier this year, but encrypting emails sent between accounts has proven elusive so far.

Encryption in webmail is difficult to implement for a number of reasons. It’s currently extremely difficult for most people to use, and tech titans have concerns about losing customers if their services slow down because of encryption.

Similar to Google’s approach, Yahoo will be leveraging the security community to improve the encryption. Stamos said that Yahoo will release the encryption source code sometime this fall, “so that the open source community can help us refine the experience and hunt for bugs.”

“We don’t have any other providers to talk about yet, but the hope is that this is open and will be adopted by many others in the email ecosystem,” said a Yahoo spokeswoman.

How important is webmail encryption to Google and Yahoo? It’s a big enough brass ring that Stamos said they’re working together on the project.

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New Facebook Scam Fools Users Into Hacking Their Own Accounts

A new Facebook scam promising users the ability to hack anyone’s account is only a guide towards hacking your own account.

The scam lures users by providing a guaranteed access to anyone’s account in three easy steps. But following the steps make users hack their own page, via a method termed as Self-XXS, which makes anyone who attempts the guide vulnerable to new scam and phishing campaigns.

The scam pops up as a Facebook post on your Timeline or an email from a friend of a victim, promising to ‘hack any account following three steps’. It then asks you to open up your Facebook in a new browser and head over to the Facebook page of the individual you want to hack. Then right-clicking anywhere on the page brings up a pop-up menu where you are asked to select ‘Inspect Element’. This presents an HTML editor at the bottom of the web browser.

In the HTML editor, the scam guides readers to copy-paste a string of code. However, the code doesn’t fulfill its promise; but grants scammers access to your account.

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Hackers Can Control Your Phone Using a Tool That’s Already Built In

A lot of concern about the NSA’s seemingly omnipresent surveillance over the last year has focused on the agency’s efforts to install back doors in software and hardware. Those efforts are greatly aided, however, if the agency can piggyback on embedded software already on a system that can be exploited.

Two researchers have uncovered such built-in vulnerabilities in a large number of smartphones that would allow government spies and sophisticated hackers to install malicious code and take control of the device.

The attacks would require proximity to the phones, using a rogue base station or femtocell, and a high level of skill to pull off. But it took Mathew Solnik and Marc Blanchou, two research consultants with Accuvant Labs, just a few months to discover the vulnerabilities and exploit them.

The vulnerabilities lie within a device management tool carriers and manufacturers embed in handsets and tablets to remotely configure them. Though some design their own tool, most use a tool developed by a specific third-party vendor—which the researchers will not identify until they present their findings next week at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. The tool is used in some form in more than 2 billion phones worldwide, they say, including Android and BlackBerry devices and a small number of Apple iPhones used by Sprint customers. They haven’t looked at Windows Mobile devices yet.

The researchers say there’s no sign that anyone has exploited the vulnerabilities in the wild, and the company that makes the tool has issued a fix that solves the problem. But it’s now up to carriers to distribute it to users in a firmware update.

Carriers use the management tool to send over-the-air firmware upgrades, to remotely configure handsets for roaming or voice-over WiFi and to lock the devices to specific service providers. But each carrier and manufacturer has its own custom implementation of the client, and there are many that provide the carrier with an array of additional features.

To give carriers the ability to do these things, the management tool operates at the highest level of privilege on devices, which means an attacker who accesses and exploits the tool has the same abilities as the carriers.

The management tools are implemented using a core standard, developed by the Open Mobile Alliance, called OMA device management. From these guidelines, each carrier can choose a base set of features or request additional ones. Skolnik says they found that some phones have features for remotely wiping the device or conducting a factory reset, altering operating system settings and even remotely changing the PIN for the screen lock.

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Your personal information just isn’t safe

When Target lost data on some 110 million customers, it recommended them to credit bureau Experian for “identity theft protection,” offering to cover the cost for a year.

Think you’re in better hands? Think again.

Sometime before the Target (TGT) hack, Experian had its own data leak — via a subsidiary. That data leak got plugged before Target sent victims to Experian. But it shows that even those entrusted with our most sensitive data don’t know how to protect it.

Experian unknowingly sold the personal data of millions of Americans — including Social Security numbers — to a fraudster in Vietnam. That guy then sold the personal information to identity thieves around the globe.

It wasn’t until U.S. Secret Service agents alerted Experian that the company stopped.

Hieu Minh Ngo, now 25, was caught and admitted to posing as a private investigator in Singapore to get exclusive access to data via Court Ventures, an Experian subsidiary. Ngo then sold access to fellow criminals.

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FBI Cyber Expert Fights Real-world Crime

J. Keith Mularski’s world has expanded greatly since he stopped selling discount furniture to join the FBI in 1998. Especially since he transferred from Washington, D.C., in 2005 to fill a vacancy in the Pittsburgh field office’s cyber squad — which he now heads.

Since then, Supervisory Special Agent Mularski has been recognized as a foremost expert on cyber crime. His profile has risen even more since the Justice Department used Mularski’s sleuthing to bring two indictments with worldwide ramifications.

In May, five Chinese Army intelligence officers were charged with stealing trade secrets from major manufacturers including U.S. Steel, Alcoa and Westinghouse.

In June, a Russian man was charged with leading a ring that infected hundreds of thousands of computers with identity-thieving software, then using the stolen information to drain $100 million from bank accounts worldwide.

Mularski, 44, said in April during an oral history interview for the National Law Enforcement Museum that he became a furniture salesman out of college because jobs were hard to come by then. He spent about five years in the business before joining the FBI.

“I was in private industry beforehand. But I’ve kind of always liked computers,” Mularski told The Associated Press during a recent interview.

All 56 FBI field offices have cyber squads. Mularski chose Pittsburgh largely because of family considerations — he grew up in suburban White Oak, the son of a steelworker.

“It kind of looked like cyber was the wave of the future,” Mularski said. “The majority of all my computer training was just on-the-job training at the bureau.”

It has proved remarkably effective.

Even before the Chinese and Russian cases made worldwide headlines, Mularski was making cyber waves.

He made his reputation infiltrating Dark Market in 2006. The worldwide Internet forum allowed crooks to buy and sell stolen identity and credit card information.

Mularski infiltrated the network by pretending to be a notorious Polish computer hacker using the screen name “Master Splyntr” — a takeoff on the cartoon rat who guides the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Mularski was inspired while watching the cartoon character with his young son: “He’s a rat that lives underground. It was perfect,” he said.

Mularski befriended the criminal mastermind behind the site and persuaded him to let Mularski move the operation onto new computer servers. The servers happened to belong to the FBI, which led to more than 60 arrests worldwide.

Misha Glenny, a British journalist who specializes in cyber crime, wrote a book about the case called “Dark Market, How Hackers Became the New Mafia.”

“Keith Mularski is not without technical ability, but his real talent lies in convincing experienced cyber criminals that he is one of them and not a law enforcement officer,” Glenny told the AP.

His aw-shucks demeanor also makes him an ideal team player.

“He has an understanding of the whole grid, and then he develops relationships, whether it’s with victims, the private sector, and our international partners,” said David Hickton, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh.

Those partnerships are important because the United States doesn’t have extradition treaties to bring the Chinese and Russian suspects here for prosecution. Those defendants could be arrested if they travel into areas that cooperate with the U.S., but Hickton and Mularski said that’s not the only purpose served by those indictments.

“The best result is to be able to get cuffs on a guy,” Mularski said. “But you have to measure how you can impact each (criminal) organization.”

In the Russian case, Mularski got a federal judge in Pittsburgh to allow the Justice Department to monitor some 350,000 computers infected with malicious software, so the thievery could be stopped.

The Chinese indictment, meanwhile, was a “put up” to the Chinese government’s rumblings that the U.S. government should “shut up” about ongoing cyberspying allegations unless they could be proved, Mularski said.

Some cases produce a more tangible result.

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Chinese Hackers Pursue Data on U.S. Workers

WASHINGTON — Chinese hackers in March broke into the computer networks of the United States government agency that houses the personal information of all federal employees, according to senior American officials. They appeared to be targeting the files on tens of thousands of employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances.

The hackers gained access to some of the databases of the Office of Personnel Management before the federal authorities detected the threat and blocked them from the network, according to the officials. It is not yet clear how far the hackers penetrated the agency’s systems, in which applicants for security clearances list their foreign contacts, previous jobs and personal information like past drug use.

In response to questions about the matter, a senior Department of Homeland Security official confirmed that the attack had occurred but said that “at this time,” neither the personnel agency nor Homeland Security had “identified any loss of personally identifiable information.” The official said an emergency response team was assigned “to assess and mitigate any risks identified.”

One senior American official said that the attack was traced to China, though it was not clear if the hackers were part of the government. Its disclosure comes as a delegation of senior American officials, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, are in Beijing for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the leading forum for discussion between the United States and China on their commercial relationships and their wary efforts to work together on economic and defense issues.

Computer intrusions have been a major source of discussion and disagreement between the two countries, and the Chinese can point to evidence, revealed by Edward J. Snowden, that the National Security Agency went deep into the computer systems of Huawei, a major maker of computer network equipment, and ran many programs to intercept the conversations of Chinese leaders and the military.

American officials say the attack on the Office of Personnel Management was notable because while hackers try to breach United States government servers nearly every day, they rarely succeed. One of the last attacks the government acknowledged occurred last year at the Department of Energy. In that case, hackers successfully made off with employee and contractors’ personal data. The agency was forced to reveal the attack because state disclosure laws force entities to report breaches in cases where personally identifiable information is compromised. Government agencies do not have to disclose breaches in which sensitive government secrets, but no personally identifiable information, has been stolen.

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Comcast is turning your home router into a public Wi-Fi hotspot

If you’re a Comcast cable customer, your home’s private Wi-Fi router is being turned into a public hotspot.

It’s been one year since Comcast (CMCSA) started its monster project to blanket residential and commercial areas with continuous Wi-Fi coverage. Imagine waves of wireless Internet emitting from every home, business and public waiting area.

Comcast has been swapping out customers’ old routers with new ones capable of doubling as public hotspots. So far, the company has turned 3 million home devices into public ones. By year’s end it plans to activate that feature on the other 5 million already installed.

Anyone with an Xfinity account can register their devices (laptop, tablet, phone) and the public network will always keep them registered — at a friend’s home, coffee shop or bus stop. No more asking for your cousin’s Wi-Fi network password.

But what about privacy? It seems like Comcast did this the right way.t’s potentially creepy and annoying. But the upside is Internet everywhere.

Outsiders never get access to your private, password-protected home network. Each box has two separate antennae, Comcast explained. That means criminals can’t jump from the public channel into your network and spy on you.

And don’t expect every passing stranger to get access. The Wi-Fi signal is no stronger than it is now, so anyone camped in your front yard will have a difficult time tapping into the public network. This system was meant for guests at home, not on the street.

As for strangers tapping your router for illegal activity: Comcast said you’ll be guilt-free if the FBI comes knocking. Anyone hooking up to the “Xfinity Wi-Fi” public network must sign in with their own traceable, Comcast customer credentials.

Still, no system is foolproof, and this could be unnecessary exposure to potential harm. Craig Young, a computer security researcher at Tripwire, has tested the top 50 routers on the market right now. He found that two-thirds of them have serious weaknesses. If a hacker finds one in this Comcast box, all bets are off.

“If you’re opening up another access point, it increases the likelihood that someone can tamper with your router,” he said.

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Google Glass wearers can steal your password

But this time he’s wearing Google Glass — and he’s after your iPad PIN.

Cyber forensics experts at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell have developed a way to steal passwords entered on a smartphone or tablet using video from Google’s face-mounted gadget and other video-capturing devices. The thief can be nearly ten feet away and doesn’t even need to be able to read the screen — meaning glare is not an antidote.

The security researchers created software that maps the shadows from fingertips typing on a tablet or smartphone. Their algorithm then converts those touch points into the actual keys they were touching, enabling the researchers to crack the passcode.

They tested the algorithm on passwords entered on an Apple (AAPL, Tech30) iPad, Google’s (GOOGL, Tech30) Nexus 7 tablet, and an iPhone 5.

Why should you be worried?

“We could get your bank account password,” researcher Xinwen Fu said.

The software can be applied to video taken on a variety of devices: Fu and his team experimented with Google Glass, cell phone video, a webcam and a camcorder. The software worked on camcorder video taken at a distance of over 140 feet.

Of course, pointing a camcorder in a stranger’s face might yield some suspicion. The rise of wearable technology is what makes this approach actually viable. For example, a smartwatch could stealthily record a target typing on his phone at a coffee shop without drawing much attention.

Fu says Google Glass is a game-changer for this kind of vulnerability.

“The major thing here is the angle. To make this attack successful the attacker must be able to adjust the angle to take a better video … they see your finger, the password is stolen,” Fu said.

Google says that it designed Glass with privacy in mind, and it gives clear signals when it is being used to capture video.

“Unfortunately, stealing passwords by watching people as they type them into ATMs and laptops is nothing new,” said Google spokesman Chris Dale. “The fact that Glass is worn above the eyes and the screen lights up whenever it’s activated clearly signals it’s in use and makes it a fairly lousy surveillance device.”

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Bank not liable for customer’s $440,000 cybertheft

Computerworld – A Missouri escrow firm that lost $440,000 in a 2010 cyberheist cannot hold its bank responsible, an appeals court ruled this week.

The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit’s decision this month affirmed a lower court ruling in the case.

The appeals court also held that the escrow firm can be held responsible for the bank’s attorney fees in the case.

In a 25-page ruling, the appeals courts agreed with a Missouri district court ruling in March 2013 that blamed Choice Escrow and Title LLC for the loss because it failed to follow the bank’s recommended security precautions.

Choice Escrow filed the lawsuit against BancorpSouth Bank in November 2010 after unknown attackers stole the username and password to the company’s online bank account and used the credentials to transfer $440,000 to an account in Cyprus.

Choice Escrow claimed that the theft occurred because the bank failed to implement commercially reasonable security measures as defined in the Funds Transfer Act provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Choice Escrow maintained that BancorpSouth should have known the wire transfer request was fraudulent because it was initiated from outside the U.S — something that had never happened before with its account.

BancorpSouth countered by saying that the loss resulted from Choice Escrow’s failure to implement the bank’s recommended security precautions for wire transfers.

The bank pointed to several controls it had in place for wire transfers. The bank said it had urged Choice Escrow to use the controls. For instance, the bank said it requested that Choice Escrow adopt a dual-control process that would rquire two people to sign all wire transfer requests. BancorpSouth also asked officials at Choice Escrow to put an upper limit on wire transfers.

Choice Escrow chose not to follow either recommendation, the bank said.

BankcorpSouth noted that the fraudulent wire transfer was initiated by someone using Choice Escrow’s legitimate banking credentials and a computer that appeared to belong to the company. The bank claimed it had acted in good faith when it executed the wire transfer request because there was nothing to indicate it was fraudulent.

The Missouri district court agreed that BankcorpSouth had taken reasonable measures to protect against illegal wire transfers, and faulted Choice Escrow for not following the bank’s recommendations. The court ruled the fraud may not have occurred if the company had followed the instructions.

The appeals court’s ruling went one step further by holding that BancorpSouth can seek to recover it’s attorney’s fees from Choice Escrow.

Choice Escrow is one of numerous companies, municipal governments and school districts that have been victimized by similar online heists in recent years.

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Hackers locking iPhones, demand ransoms

(CNN) – A large number of people, mostly located in Australia, are reporting they have come under an unexplained attack that holds their iPhones and iPads hostage and demands they pay a $100 ransom.

The attack appears to work by compromising iCloud accounts associated with the disabled devices, according to an Apple support forum discussion that started Sunday morning and quickly accumulated several hundred posts.

Commandeered devices typically emit a loud tone that’s associated with a feature that helps users locate lost or stolen devices. iPhones and iPads also display the message: “Device hacked by Oleg Pliss. For unlock device, you need send voucher code by 100 usd/eur (Moneypack/Ukash/PaySafeCard) to for unlock.”

In some cases—specifically, when a user hasn’t assigned a strong passcode to a locked device—it can only be unlocked by performing a factory reset, which completely wipes all previously stored data and apps.

The mass compromise is a variation on so-called ransomware scams, which initially targeted Windows PC users and earlier this month were found targeting smartphone users running Google’s Android OS.

The forum accounts provide strong evidence that victims’ Apple IDs and passwords have been compromised so that attackers can remotely lock connected devices using Apple’s Find My iPhone service.

But so far it remains unclear exactly how the attackers are compromising the iCloud accounts.

While it’s possible the hijackers used phishing attacks or hacked password databases to obtain the credentials, those explanations are undermined by the observation that the vast majority of victims were located in Australia and reported using a variety of e-mail providers. Typically, phishing campaigns and database compromises involving multiple providers affect users from more geographic regions.

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