Facebook and Cambridge Analytica – What's Happened So Far
25.3.2018 securityweek Social
Top Story— Facebook has just lost over $60 billion in market value over the past two days—that's more than Tesla's entire market capitalisation and almost three times that of Snapchat.
Facebook shares plunge over revelations that personal data of 50 million users was obtained and misused by British data analytics firm 'Cambridge Analytica,' who reportedly helped Donald Trump win the US presidency in 2016.
The privacy scandal that rocked the social media giant was revealed earlier this week when Chris Wylie, the 28-year-old data scientist who worked with a Cambridge University academic, turned into a whistleblower and leaked to the newspapers how poorly Facebook handles people's private information.
Wylie claims Cambridge Analytica created "Steve Bannon's psychological warfare mindf**k tool" that profiles citizens to predict their voting patterns based on the personal information gathered from a variety of sources and then helps political parties target voters with tailored advertisements and messages.
Since lots of things have happened since last week, we have compiled this brief article to explain what has happened so far in "Facebook and Cambridge Analytica" saga and how it keeps growing.
How Cambridge Analytica Collected 50 Million Facebook Users' Data
The story started four years ago when Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan approached researcher Michal Kosinski to get Facebook users data, which he had collected using a simple ‘online personality quiz’ app that requires users to log in using Facebook to participate.
While Kosinski refused to provide any data his app was used to collect, Cambridge paid Kogan over $800,000 to create a similar quiz app for him with an aim to collect Facebook users’ profile data, including the list of pages they have "liked."
Kogan's personality quiz app, dubbed “thisisyourdigitallife,” was a hit. Although it attracted 270,000 Facebook users to take part, Facebook's APIs at the time let the app also collect a wide range of information about each authorized user's friends.
Since an average Facebook user has hundreds of friends in his/her friend-list, Kogan was able to leverage his user base of 270,000 people to collect data for about 50 million Facebook users for use in its ad-targeting work.
Stop Third-Party Apps From Using Your Facebook Data
Not only Cambridge Analytica's quiz app, there are other thousands of other apps that you might have encountered on your Facebook timeline—such as "how you’ll look in your 80s," "which celebrity you look like," "who’ll be your Valentine this year"—that work on the same model.
All Facebook apps offer access using their Facebook account and ask you to grant the app’s developer a range of information from your Facebook profile, like your name, location, email, and friends list.
Besides this, ‘Login with Facebook’ option that you might have seen on hundreds of thousands of websites works similarly by allowing site admins to offer one-click login/signup for easy to verify your identity.
It would be a good time now to revisit those third-party apps you have granted permission to access your Facebook data and completely revoke them if you don't want them to use your data and limit an app's permissions without entirely revoking it.
To disable such apps from accessing your data, you can follow these steps:
On the desktop computer, click the downward arrow in the top-right corner and select Settings and Apps from the menu. Here you’ll see all the apps where you have logged into Facebook.
On mobile devices, open the menu(bottom-right for iOS, top-right for Android), and then select Settings → Account Settings → Apps → Logged in with Facebook.
For entirely revoking any app, just tap on the remove button (cross icon) next to that app. You can also limit any app's permission by clicking the edit button (pencil icon), next to the cross icon, to view each app’s settings.
From here, you can revoke specific permissions by de-selecting the checkmark next to each data point.
Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes For the Cambridge Analytica Scandal
Today in an interview with CNN’s Laurie Segall, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the social media giant’s failure to prevent privacy of its users.
"This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry this happened," Zuckerberg told Laurie.
While addressing the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg acknowledged that it was a huge mistake to allow third-party developers to access users’ data and blindly trust that Cambridge Analytica and other companies involved in data harvesting would actually delete that data just because Facebook has asked them to.
"That ... is probably the biggest mistake that we made here,"
Zuckerberg pledged to solve all the problems and safeguard users’ privacy, explaining how the company has already changed its policies after 2014 to prevent abuse of Facebook's APIs.
"Our responsibility now is to make sure this doesn’t happen again," Zuck assured its customers and shareholders across the world who are furious after knowing about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
During the interview, Zuckerberg promised to conduct a "full forensic audit" of the platform very soon to find which 3rd-party apps may have gained access to user data without their full consent and would notify everyone whose data was improperly used.
Mark Zuckerberg Says It's Time to Regulate Tech Firms
Some analysts believe that stricter government regulations are required to protect consumers’ privacy over social media companies.
Since social media is playing an essential role in the world, Zuckerberg says he believes it's time to impose more regulations on technology companies, but he also recommends Artificial Intelligence as a better tool to regulate such a rapidly growing community of 2 billion people all over the world
Besides this, Facebook has also planned to have more than 20,000 employees to closely monitor security and privacy operations by the end of this year.
Facebook Faces International Investigation Over Personal Data Use
Facebook is in trouble with governments across the world after this whole Cambridge Analytica mess.
Following reports of the transfer of personal information of over 50 million users from Facebook to data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook is facing probes by some countries including the United States, European Union, UK, Israel, India, and Canada.
The United States’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has started investigating whether or not the use of personal data from over 50 million users by Cambridge Analytica violated a consent decree Facebook signed with the agency in 2011.
The European Commission has also asked data protection authorities to investigate Facebook's data leak to Cambridge Analytica, and if the commission finds Facebook in breach of data protection laws, it could levy fines on the company.
The social networking site is also facing a separate probe by the U.K. government, who is pursuing a warrant to conduct its on-site investigation to determine whether Cambridge Analytica still has the information, which the company said has been deleted.
Israeli Justice Ministry has also informed Facebook that it is opening an "administrative investigation" into Facebook "and the possibility of additional violations of Israelis’ personal information," the ministry said Thursday.
Cambridge Analytica CEO Suspended After Undercover Recordings Released
Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO from the research firm’s board of directors on Tuesday following an undercover video was aired which showed him discussing the use of bribes and prostitutes to sway political elections.
The board said that Alexander Nix would be suspended pending a "full, independent investigation," adding that "In the view of the Board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation."
In an uncover video published by Channel 4 News in London on Monday, Nix found discussing how his firm is engaged in dirty tricks for political clients, like recording videos of operatives offering their opponents bribes.
Nix also told a journalist, who posed as a potential Sri Lankan client, that his firm could also send "some girls around to the candidate’s house" to put the candidate in a compromising position.
However, Cambridge has denied engaging in any of such tactics Nix described in the video.
Cambridge Analytica mess has become one of the biggest scandals in tech right now, and it is becoming messier with each passing day, which could have enormous implications not only for Facebook but for every other online company out there that sells user data for a living.
Facebook shares continued falling and dropped today by 2.66% to $164.89 as of the time of this writing.
The City of San Diego is suing the Experian credit agency for 2013 security breach
25.3.2018 securityaffairs BigBrothers
According to the lawsuit filed by San Diego city attorney Mara Elliott the Experian credit agency never notified the 2013 security breach to the affected consumers as required under California law.
The City of San Diego, California is suing the Experian credit agency for the security breach that the company suffered in 2013.
“San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott has filed a lawsuit against consumer credit giant Experian, contending the company suffered a massive data breach that affected 250,000 people in San Diego and millions more — but never told customers about it.” states a blog post published on The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Elliott’s office cited the Internal Revenue Service in saying hackers filed more than 13,000 false returns using the hacked information, obtaining $65 million in fraudulent tax refunds.”
According to the lawsuit filed by San Diego city attorney Mara Elliott, the security breach that was first reported by the popular expert Brian Krebs, lasted for nine months ending in 2013. The company never notified it to the affected consumers as required under California law.
According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, the city attorney argued that data belonging to some 30 million consumers could have been stolen, including information for 250,000 people in San Diego.
According to Krebs, the Vietnamese man Hieu Minh Ngo ran an identity theft service (Superget[dot]info and Findget[dot]me) and gained access to sensitive consumer information by posing himself as a licensed private investigator in the United States.
The Identity theft service supergetinfo was based on data from consumer databases maintained by a company that Experian purchased in 2012.
The man was paying Experian thousands of dollars in cash each month for access to 200 million consumer records, then he was reselling them to more than 1,300 users of his ID theft service.
The man was arrested by US authorities and pleaded guilty to identity fraud charges, he was sentenced in July 2014 to 13 years in jail.
In December 2013, an executive from Experian told Congress that the company was not aware of any consumers that were a victim of a scam-related to the stolen data.
The court order is asking the company to formally notify consumers whose personal information was involved in the security theft and to pay costs for identity protection services for those people.
“The law carries penalties up to $2,500 for each violation, meaning the company could be facing potentially millions in fines.” The San Diego Union-Tribune added.
Thousands of etcd installs leak 750MB worth of passwords and keys
25.3.2018 securityaffairs Incindent
Thousands of etcd installations are currently leaking 750MB worth of passwords, keys, and sensitive data.
Thousands of servers belonging to private businesses and organizations are leaking credentials and potentially sensitive data.
It is quite easy for hackers to use the credentials to access the servers and steal sensitive data or use the machines to power cyber attacks.
According to the researcher Giovanni Collazo, querying the popular Shodan search engine he found almost 2,300 servers exposed online that were running etcd, which is a distributed key value store that provides a reliable way to store data across a cluster of machines.
This kind of database is usually used to store and distribute passwords and configuration settings among various servers and applications.
etcd implements a programming interface that could be queried and that by default return administrative login credentials without authentication.
Collazo wrote a simple script that ran through the 2,284 etcd servers he found open online by querying Shodan search engine and obtained all credentials stored on the servers.
“I did a simple search on shodan and came up with 2,284 etcd servers on the open internet. So I clicked a few and on the third try I saw what I was hoping not to see. CREDENTIALS, a lot of CREDENTIALS. Credentials for things like cms_admin, mysql_root, postgres, etc.” reads the post published by Collazo.
“In order to try to get a sense of the issue I downloaded the full shodan report and wrote a very simple script that basically called the etcd API and requested all keys. That’s basically equivalent to doing a database dump but over their very nice REST API.
GET http://<ip address>:2379/v2/keys/?recursive=true
This will return all the keys stored on the servers in JSON format.”
The expert stopped the script after it collected about 750 megabytes of data from 1,485 IPs. In the following table are reported the data retrieved by the researchers:
Collazo did not test the credentials but it is likely that many of them work and could be used to hack into the systems.
“Anyone with just a few minutes to spare could end up with a list of hundreds of database credentials which can be used to steal data, or perform ransomware attacks.” Collazo wrote.
In order to keep etcd installs secure it is necessary to enable authentication and get them offline if not required. Another mitigation consists of setting a firewall rule to avoid unauthorized people querying etcd server.
A new massive cryptomining campaign target Linux servers exploiting old flaw
25.3.2018 securityaffairs Cryptocurrency
Trend Micro uncovered a new crypto mining campaign targeting Linux servers that exploit the CVE-2013-2618 flaw in Cacti’s Network Weathermap plug-in, which system administrators use to visualize network activity.
Security firm Trend Micro uncovered new crypto mining campaign, a cybercriminal gang has made nearly $75,000 by installing a Monero miner on vulnerable Linux servers.
The hackers are exploiting a five-year-old vulnerability in the Cacti “Network Weathermap” plugin and according to Trend Micro this campaign is linked to a previous cryptocurrency-mining campaign that used the JenkinsMiner malware.
In this last campaign that is targeting Linux servers, hackers exploited the CVE-2013-2618 vulnerability in Cacti plugin which is an open-source network monitoring and graphing tool.
“This campaign’s operators were exploiting CVE-2013-2618, a dated vulnerability in Cacti’s Network Weathermap plug-in, which system administrators use to visualize network activity.” reads the analysis pulished by Trend Micro.
“As to why they’re exploiting an old security flaw: Network Weathermap only has two publicly reportedvulnerabilities so far, both from June 2014. It’s possible these attackers are taking advantage not only of a security flaw for which an exploit is readily available but also of patch lag that occurs in organizations that use the open-source tool.”
The flaw could be exploited by attackers to execute arbitrary code on vulnerable systems, in this case, hackers downloaded and installed a customized version of XMRig, a legitimate Monero mining software (dada.x86_64 as of 01/28/2018, earlier named as xig or nkrb). XMRig supports both 32-bit and 64-bit Windows and Linux operating systems.
To gain persistence, hackers modified the local cron jobs to trigger a “watchd0g” Bash script every three minutes, the script checked if the Monero miner was still active and restarted it in case it was down.
“Code is written in /etc/rc.local, which means that each time a system is restarted, watchd0g.sh is executed. The modification of /etc/crontab results in watchd0g.sh being run every three minutes. It then modifies the Linux kernel parameter vm.nr_hugepages to the recommended value for mining Monero (XMR). It also ensures that the watchd0g.sh process runs or re-downloads and executes the file if it terminates.” continues the analysis.
The researchers analyzed five malware samples that led them to two unique login usernames, matching the Monero wallets where the mining pool payments are sent.
According to Trend Micro, hackers made approximately 320 XMR (roughly $75,000), most of the Linux servers were located in Japan (12%), China (10%), Taiwan (10%), and the US (9%).
weathermap cryptominer Linux servers
Trend Micro recommends keeping internal to the environment data from Cacti and also keeping systems updated with the latest patches.
“While this allows systems or network administrators to conveniently monitor their environments (with just a browser bookmark, for instance), it also does the same for threat actors.” concluded Trend Micro.
UK Regulators Search Cambridge Analytica Offices
24.3.2018 securityweek Social
British regulators on Friday began searching the London offices of Cambridge Analytica (CA), the scandal-hit communications firm at the heart of the Facebook data scandal, shortly after a judge approved a search warrant.
Around 18 enforcement agents from the office of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham entered the company's London headquarters at around 8:00pm (2000 GMT) to execute the warrant.
The High Court granted the raid request less than an hour earlier, as Denham investigates claims that Cambridge Analytica may have illegally harvested Facebook data for political ends.
A full explanation of the legal ruling by Judge Anthony James Leonard will be issued on Tuesday, according to the court.
"We're pleased with the decision of the judge," Denham's office said on Twitter.
"This is just one part of a larger investigation into the use of personal data and analytics for political purposes," it added in a statement.
"As you will expect, we will now need to collect, assess and consider the evidence before coming to any conclusions."
The data watchdog's probe comes amid whistleblower accusations that CA, hired by Donald Trump during his primary campaign, illegally mined tens of millions of users' Facebook data and then used it to target potential voters.
Fresh allegations also emerged Friday night about the firm's involvement in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign.
Brittany Kaiser, CA's business development director until two weeks ago, revealed it conducted data research for Leave.EU, one of the leading campaign groups, via the UK Independence Party (UKIP), according to The Guardian.
'I was lying'
Kaiser, 30, told the newspaper she felt the company's repeated public denials it ever worked on the poll misled British lawmakers and the public.
"In my opinion, I was lying," she said. "In my opinion I felt like we should say, 'this is exactly what we did.'"
CA's suspended chief executive Alexander Nix told MPs last month: "We did not work for Leave.EU. We have not undertaken any paid or unpaid work for them, OK?"
Nix was suspended this week following the Facebook revelations and a further media sting in which he boasts about entrapping politicians and secretly operating in elections around the world through shadowy front companies.
He has already been called to reappear before British lawmakers to explain "inconsistencies" in past testimony about the firm's use of the data.
Meanwhile Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been forced to issue a statement outlining his firm's role in the scandal and apologised Wednesday to its billions of users for the breach.
The company has seen its stock market value plunge by around $75 million amid the crisis, as shares closed the week down 13 percent -- their worst seven days since July 2012.
Cambridge Analytica denies any wrongdoing, and said Friday it was undertaking an independent third-party audit to verify that it no longer holds any of the mined data.
"As anyone who is familiar with our staff and work can testify, we in no way resemble the politically-motivated and unethical company that some have sought to portray," acting CEO Alexander Tayler said in a statement.
He apologised for the firm's involvement, but said it had licensed the data from a research company, led by an academic, that "had not received consent from most respondents".
"The company (CA) believed that the data had been obtained in line with Facebook's terms of service and data protection laws," Tayler said.
Aleksandr Kogan, a University of Cambridge psychologist, created a personality prediction app that harvested the data of 270,000 people who downloaded it -- as well as scooping up the information of their friends.
That was possible under Facebook's rules at the time, and Kogan this week claimed he was being unfairly blamed.
"I'm being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica," he said in interviews Wednesday.
"We were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the terms of service" of Facebook, he added.
However, Cambridge University announced Friday it was "undertaking a wide-ranging review" of the episode and had written to Facebook "to request all relevant evidence in their possession".
"Should anything emerge from this review, or from our request to Facebook, the University will take any action necessary in accordance with our policies and procedures," it said in a statement.
US imposes sanctions on nine Iranian hackers involved in a massive state-sponsored hacking scheme
24.3.2018 securityaffairs BigBrothers
The US DoJ and Department of the Treasury on Friday announced charges against nine Iranian hackers for alleged involvement in state-sponsored hacking activities.
The US Department of Justice and Department of the Treasury on Friday announced charges against nine Iranians for alleged involvement in a massive state-sponsored hacking scheme, the hackers hit more than 300 universities and tens of companies in the US and abroad and stole “valuable intellectual property and data.”
According to the Treasury Department, since 2013, the Mabna Institute hit 144 US universities and 176 universities in 21 foreign countries.
The hackers also targeted the US Department of Labor, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and many private and non-governmental organizations.
The sanctions also hit the Mabna Institute, an Iran-based company, that had a critical role in coordinating the attacks on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The nine defendants are Gholamreza Rafatnejad, 38; Ehsan Mohammadi, 37; Abdollah Karima, aka Vahid Karima, 39; Mostafa Sadeghi, 28; Seyed Ali Mirkarimi, 34; Mohammed Reza Sabahi, 26; Roozbeh Sabahi, 24; Abuzar Gohari Moqadam, 37; and Sajjad Tahmasebi, 30, they are all residents of Iran.
Gholamreza Rafatnejad (38) and Ehsan Mohammadi (37) are the two founders of the Mabna Institute.
“The indictment alleges that the defendants worked on behalf of the Iranian government, specifically the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in prepared remarks illustrated at a press conference on Friday.
“They hacked the computer systems of approximately 320 universities in 22 countries. One-hundred forty-four of the victims are American universities. The defendants stole research that cost the universities approximately $3.4bn to procure and maintain.”
The US indictment revealed a coordinated effort from 2013 through the end of 2017 involving online cyber espionage on academics with the intent to discover their research interests.
Iranians hackers launched spear phishing attack using messages that would appear to be sent from another professor. The messages usually embedded a malicious link to a bogus domain using to steal victim’s login credentials.
Mabna Institute employees “engaged in the theft of valuable intellectual property and data from hundreds of US and third-country universities… for private financial gain.” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“For many of these intrusions, the defendants acted at the behest of the Iranian government and, specifically, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps,”
Geoffrey Berman, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York revealed that the spear phishing campaign targeted more than 100,000 university professors worldwide and about 8,000 accounts were compromised.
The Iranian hackers exfiltrated 31 terabytes, roughly 15 billion pages of academic projects were stolen.
The stolen data included “research, and other academic data and documents, including, among other things, academic journals, theses, dissertations, and electronic books.”
One of the 10 Iranians subject to sanctions, Behzad Mesri was already known to the US authorities. In November 2017, the United States charged the Iranian computer expert Behzad Mesri of ‘Games of Thrones‘ HBO hack, the man was charged with stealing scripts and plot summaries for ‘Games of Thrones’.
The Manhattan US attorney Joon Kim said Mesri is “had previously hacked computer systems for the Iranian military”. The man threatened to release stolen data unless HBO paid a $6 million ransom in Bitcoin.
Prosecutors confirmed that the Iranian man was a member of the Iranian-based Turk Black Hat Security hacking group that targeted hundreds of websites in the United States and around the world.
Experts discovered that Masri and Charming Kitten were linked through the member of Turk Black Hat group “ArYaIeIrAN.” another member of Turk Black Hat.
Back to the present, the Justice Department said that besides targeting university professors in the United States, the hackers also compromised accounts in Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom.