Connect with us

Technology

Apple Watch’s ‘Walkie Talkie’ Feature Disabled Following Privacy Vulnerability

There are no reports that the bug has been exploited; thanks to Apple’s quick actions.

Published

on

Photo: William Hook | Flickr.com | CC BY-SA 2.0

Apple immediately disabled its Walkie Talkie app for its Apple Watch when it discovered a vulnerability that allows a user to listen in to another user’s iPhone. 

The function of the Walkie Talkie app on the Apple Watch is for users to receive audio chats without having to call one another. It is routed through the FaceTime audio and uses a “push-to-talk” interface. The feature was introduced in Apple’s watchOS5

Apple sent a statement to TechCrunch on Thursday to discuss the vulnerability. It reads: “We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible.” 

Apple did not disclose how the vulnerability has affected the Walkie Talkie function. Speculating on Apple’s statement, the breach could possibly be that when two users are connected to the Walkie Talkie chat, any FaceTime calls in can be accessed by one or the other, even if it’s not meant for either one of them.

The tech giant made quick actions to reiterate to users that privacy is one of its top priorities. Apple also wanted to ensure its user’s data security is not breached. They reported that there were no signs of the actual breach when they first learned about the vulnerability.

Apple wrote: “Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent. We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.”

The company learned about the bug through a report from their “Report a security or privacy vulnerability” portal. Once Apple receives a report, it does an investigation. Only when the investigation is done, and necessary updates are ready will the company disclose it to the general public. 

The feature is still installed on the Apple Watches. However, until Apple has fixed the bug, users won’t be able to use it. 

Recent security issues with Apple products

This is not the first time, this year, that Apple has disabled a feature due to possible security and privacy issues. 

Last January, Apple also disabled its Group FaceTime function in both its iOS and macOS, following reports of a privacy vulnerability. 

A user reported that a bug in the FaceTime video calling feature lets anyone listen in to anyone before the recipient picks it up. The mix-up is that FaceTime is tricked into thinking that a group call is already on-going. If a group call is on-going, FaceTime activates the phone or laptop’s microphone. The caller can listen in to anyone’s conversation even without the recipient answering the call. 

Another tricky part of the bug is that if the recipient presses the volume down button or the power button to dismiss the call, the phone’s camera turns on and the caller can spy through it. 

The bug was running on iOS 12.1.2 and was fixed in iOS 12.1.4 in February. 
Similar to the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie bug, the Group FaceTime bug was reported through the portal. Grant Thompson, a 14-year-old student, reported the bug early in January before Apple took actions about it in towards the end of the month.

Thompson enlisted the help of his mother so that he could report the bug. Mrs. Thompson sent several emails to Apple but did not get a response immediately. 

Because of Thompson’s efforts in reporting the bug, Apple has credited him for it in official updates and press releases. The company also gave reward money through Apple’s bug bounty program. 

Mrs. Thompson told CNBC that a high-level Apple executive met with Grant in their hometown in Tucson, Arizona. The executive thanked the Thompsons and informed them of the bug bounty reward. The Apple executive also asked for feedback on how to improve their vulnerability reporting process. 

Thompson’s reward will be saved to secure his college funding. The whole experience also encouraged the young man to continue pursuing his interest in technology. “If he got some kind of bug bounty for what he found, we’d certainly put it to good use for his college because I think he’s going to go far, hopefully. This is actually a field he was interested in before and even more so now,” Mrs. Thompson said. 

The teen discovered the bug while discussing strategy for the game Fortnite with his friends via the FaceTime group call. 

Since this incident, Apple has improved its response time when it comes to investigation and responding to vulnerability reports. 

Hi! I'm a contributing writer who loves tech, pop culture, and food. I'm also an ESL Teacher and a Photography Enthusiast.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Technology

Facebook May Be Tracking Your Online Photos Too

While no active hacking is happening, security experts believe that the discovery carries heavy implications.

Published

on

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

It appears that Facebook is not only tracking people’s porn-watching behavior online but also the photos they download. A researcher has found Facebook trackers in several images that he downloaded that could potentially point out to one thing: Facebook is tracking everyone.

But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Facebook isn’t necessarily the supreme authority in data safety and cybersecurity. But the discovery made by Edin Jusupovic proves that Facebook’s tracking mission does not end in its platform.

On Twitter, Jusupovic said that Facebook has embedded “hidden tracking codes” in photos that people download. He noticed a structural abnormality when looking at a hex dump of an image file from an unknown origin only to discover it contained a special IPTC instruction.

IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) is an organization that sets publishing standards, including image metadata.

According to the researcher, what he found, where facebook secretly embeds tracking codes in photos only, was ““shocking level of tracking,” adding that “the take from this is that they can potentially track photos outside of their own platform with a disturbing level of precision about who originally uploaded the photo (and probably so much more).”

Yesterday, Z6Mag published a report that a group of researchers has found hidden tracking codes in different porn sites online that can be traced back to Facebook, Google, and Oracle. Researchers from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Pennsylvania scanned 22,484 porn sites and found that 93% of the sade porn sites include hidden codes from the three tech giants.

Related: Study Finds Google And Facebook Trackers In Porn Sites

“Our analysis of 22,484 pornography websites indicated that 93% leak user data to a third party. Tracking on these sites are highly concentrated by a handful of major companies, which we identify. We successfully extracted privacy policies for 3,856 sites, 17% of the total. The policies were written such that one might need a two-year college education to understand them. Our content analysis of the sample’s domains indicated 44.97% of them expose or suggest a specific gender/sexual identity or interest likely to be linked to the user,” the study’s abstract stated.

Jusopovic’s finding “IPTC special instructions” simply refers to a special kind of coded watermark that Facebook adds to tag the image in its own coding. These are where the “tracking” comes into the picture – those tags can be read later. Meaning, Facebook will now how the data of people who had downloaded the image, reuploaded it, and all other information that can be linked to the movement of the image across the internet.

What does it imply?

Adding coded watermarks to images is not new tho. It can be used by the company in arbitrating copyrights claims, or providing better user service, and even in targeting the right target market for advertising. However, as Jusopovic states, what he found was a “shocking level of tracking.”

According to one analyst, the metadata has been added since 2016 and “contains an IPTC block with an ‘Original Transmission Reference’ field that contains some kind of text-encoded sequence. This coding method lets Facebook “know it has seen the image before when it gets uploaded again,” explained a user on Reddit. “It is yet another way to learn associations between people. Person 1 uploaded a bunch of the same photos Person 2 uploaded, let’s show them both all the same advertisements!”

But it needs to be clarified that there is no active tracking that it is happening. With “tracking,” Jusopovic means that Facebook and other people with the right tools can access all the metadata in a photo including the crumbles it picks up as it moves from one platform to another. However, this too carries a lot of security of implications.

“Hidden data can be predictably transmitted through social network images with high-fidelity – and AI can hide that data in plain sight, at large-scale, and beyond human visual discernment, making steganalysis and other countermeasures difficult,” Zack Allen from ZeroFOX.

Nonetheless, the discovery of Jusopovic is proof that Facebook is yet to make do with its promises to protect people’s data as well as make sure that people are aware of what happens to their data. This promise follows the high-profile case involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, where the social media giant was slapped with a five-billion fine by the FTC.

Continue Reading

Technology

Educational Institutions And Services Are Targets Of Recent Data Breaches

Two separate data breach have affected 62 US colleges and more than 7 million users of the K12.com, with vulnerabilites already exploited by hackers.

Published

on

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Education institutions have been victims of two separate data breaches and hacker attacks that have exposed millions of student data to the prying eyes in the wild.

For one of the exposure, more than 62 US colleges have been breached by a hacker that has exploited a vulnerability in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) web app; the U.S. Education Department confirmed this week.

Ellucian Banner Web Tailor, a module of the Ellucian Banner ERP, which allows universities to customize and design their hope-page websites and online applications, has had a vulnerability that was exploited by a hacker who made fake user profiles that are “almost immediately for criminal activity.”

Banner Web Tailor is a web tool, made for higher education institutions, that provides registration, curriculum management, advising, administration, and reporting functionality. Students can access and change their registration, graduation, and financial aid information. It is also used by professors and teachers to input grades which the students can then view online. It is used by hundreds of institutions, many of which have opted to use the Single Sign-on Manager to participate in CAS- and SAML-based single sign-on services.

Joshua Mulliken, a cybersecurity researcher discovered a vulnerability in the authentication mechanism used by the two modules earlier this year. This vulnerability allowed a hacker to hijack students’ web-sessions and take over their accounts. Ellucian fixed the vulnerability in May, and public disclosure was published, by both the researcher and NIST.

“An improper authentication vulnerability (CWE-287) was identified in Banner Web Tailor and Banner Enterprise Identity Services. This vulnerability is produced when SSO Manager is used as the authentication mechanism for Web Tailor, where this could lead to information disclosure and loss of data integrity for the impacted user(s). The vendor has verified the vulnerability and produced a patch that is now available. For more information, see the postings on Ellucian Communities,” reads the public disclosure of the vulnerability.

According to the announcement made by the US Education Department, hackers have already started exploiting the said vulnerability. “The Department has identified 62 colleges or universities that have been affected by the exploitation of this vulnerability,” officials said.

We have also recently received information that indicates criminal elements have been actively scanning the internet looking for institutions to victimize through this vulnerability and developing lists of institutions for targeting with this exploitation.”

The attackers, as said by the officials for the Education Department, “leverage scripts in the admissions or enrollment section of the affected Banner system to create multiple student accounts.” One victim reported that the attackers created thousands of fake accounts over days, with around 600 accounts created within 24 hours.

K12.com exposes users’ data

Meanwhile, a recent data breach involving K12.com has compromised more than seven million students’ data who use one of the company’s programs, leaving the data accessible to anyone online.

In June 25, 2019, Comparitech and security researcher Bob Diachenko uncovered the exposure when they found an unprotected MongoDB out in the open as they scan for unsecured databases.

The exposure affected K12.com’s A+nyWhere Learning System (A+LS), which is used by more than 1,100 school districts. The database has 6,988,504 records containing students’ data. The information held within each file included:

  • Primary personal email address
  • Full name
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Birthdate
  • School name
  • Authentication keys for accessing ALS accounts and presentations
  • Other internal data

“In this instance, an old version of MongoDB (2.6.4) was being utilized. This version of the database hasn’t been supported since October 2016. What’s more, the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) was enabled but not secured. As a result, the database was indexed by both the Shodan and BinaryEdge search engines. This means the records contained in the database were visible to the public,” said the researchers.

The researchers were able to reach out to K12.com, and a representative from the company said: “K12 takes data security very seriously. Whenever we are advised of a potential security issue, we investigate the problem immediately and take the appropriate actions to remedy the situation.”

While the danger that comes from the exposed data was not as huge as the first data breach involving the world’s educational system, the researchers said that it carries with it some implications.

“While the leak of this information isn’t as bad as, for example, the exposure of financial data or Social Security numbers, it does have its implications. These pieces of information can be used to target individual students in spear phishing and account takeover fraud. Having their school name made public could potentially put students at risk of physical harm,” they said.

Continue Reading

Technology

Morpheus Chip Is Almost Impossible To Hack Says Researchers

Much like the Greek god, Morpheus chip is a hacker’s nightmare.

Published

on

"Memory Chip - Intel, 1702A-6, 1970s" by Matilda Vaughan is licensed under CC BY 4.0

As cyber criminals up their game in terms of deriving different sophisticated techniques to compromise systems, steal funds, and take over identities, a group of researchers has developed what some media outlets called unhackable chip that is designed to confuse hackers and prevent them from infiltrating systems at the microprocessor level.

Researchers from the University of Michigan call it “Morpheus,” and it said to be “vulnerability tolerant” as it blocks potential attacks by confusing hackers and making it difficult for them to hack at the chip level.

Morpheus is backed by the famous US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and is a new chip architecture that bridges the gap between program and machine-level semantics making a system’s firewall impenetrable.

“Attacks often succeed by abusing the gap between program and machine-level semantics– for example, by locating a sensitive pointer, exploiting a bug to overwrite this sensitive data, and hijacking the victim program’s execution,” reads the study’s abstract.

Most common attacks today use malware to trick systems into misusing basic programming possibilities such as permissions and code injection, or into manipulating unusual states.

“In this work, we take secure system design on the offensive by continuously obfuscating information that attackers need, but normal programs do not use, such as [the] representation of code and pointers or the exact location of code and data,” the researchers added.

Just like the Greek god, Morpheus can manipulate program values

According to the developers of the Morpheus, the new chip architecture combines two powerful protections: ensembles of moving target defenses and churn.

The first layer of protection which is ensembling moving target defenses, the chip architecture randomizes key program values (e.g., relocating pointers and encrypting code and pointers) “which forces attackers to probe the system before an attack extensively.”

This means that much like Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep, the chip architecture can make fundamental program values (dreams) to shapeshift to make it harder for future hackers to distinguish them and exploit their vulnerabilities.

The second layer of protection brought by the new chip architecture is the churn, which transparently re-randomizes program values running underneath the system. “With frequent churn, systems quickly become impractically difficult to penetrate,” they said.

Furthermore, Morpheus is also designed to perform both the protection processes, re-randomizing program values every 50 milliseconds, which is faster than any hacker can catch up with, making it highly difficult to locate.

“Each moving target defense in Morpheus uses hardware support to individually offer more randomness at a lower cost than previous techniques. When ensembled with churn, Morpheus defenses offer strong protection against control-flow attacks, with our security testing and performance studies revealing:

  • high-coverage protection for a broad array of control-flow attacks, including protections for advanced attacks and an attack disclosed after the design of Morpheus, and
  • negligible performance impacts (1%) with churn periods up to 50 ms, which our study estimates to be at least 5000x faster than the time necessary to possibly penetrate Morpheus,” they wrote in their study.

One of the proponents of the study explained how the Morpheus chip works using analogies he derived from solving the Rubik’s cube puzzle.

“Imagine trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube that rearranges itself every time you blink. That’s what hackers are up against with Morpheus. It makes the computer an unsolvable puzzle,” University of Michigan’s Todd Austin explains to journalists.

The researchers said that another way of understanding how Morpheus works is that it is a low-level version of a standard protection technique called Address Space Layout Randomisation (ASLR).

Nonetheless, the researchers said that Morpheus chip architecture is not “unhackable.” Other techniques could fight off its protective mechanisms as it does not address all forms of attack. However, the innovation will reduce the attack surface at the very least.

“Looking ahead, we see great potential for EMTD technologies,” the researchers said. “Beyond control-flow attacks, we envision that a similar approach could be adopted to protect against side-channel attacks, timing attacks, Rowhammer attacks, and even cache attacks. To address each of these additional challenges, we will explore what assets the attacker needs and then develop efficient mechanisms to boost uncertainty and stifle attacks,” they added.

Continue Reading

Trending