Someone checked and, yup, you can still hijack Gmail, Bitcoin wallets etc via dirty SS7 tricks

Two-factor authentication by SMS? More like SOS


Once again, it's been demonstrated that vulnerabilities in cellphone networks can be exploited to intercept one-time two-factor authentication tokens in text messages.

Specifically, the security shortcomings lie in the Signaling System 7 (SS7) protocol, which is used to by networks worldwide to talk to each other to route calls, and so on.

There are little or no safeguards in place on SS7 once you have access to a cell network operator's infrastructure. If you can reach the SS7 equipment – either as a corrupt insider or a hacker breaking in from the outside – you can reroute messages and calls as you please. Someone working for, or who has compromised, a telco in Morocco, for instance, can quietly hijack and receive texts destined for subscribers in America.

Infosec outfit Positive Technologies, based in Massachusetts, USA, obtained access to a telco's SS7 platform, with permission for research purposes, to this month demonstrate how to commandeer a victim's Bitcoin wallet. First, they obtained their would-be mark's Gmail address and cellphone number. They then requested a password reset for the webmail account, which involved sending a token to the cellphone number. Positive's team abused SS7 within the telco to intercept the authentication token and gain access to the Gmail inbox. From there, they were able to reset the password to the user's Coinbase wallet, log into that, and empty it of crypto-cash.

Minimum personal information about a victim – just their first name, last name, and phone number – was enough to get their email address from Google's find-a-person service and hack a test wallet in Coinbase.

Earlier this year, crooks exploited these aforementioned weaknesses in SS7 to log into victims' online bank accounts in Germany and drain them of funds. The cyber-robbers intercepted texts with login authentication codes sent to customers of Telefonica Germany before using the stolen information to carry out unauthorized transactions, as we previously reported.

Wyden

Why are creepy SS7 cellphone spying flaws still unfixed after years, ask Congresscritters

READ MORE

"Exploiting SS7-specific features is one of several existing ways to intercept SMS," said Dmitry Kurbatov, head of the telecommunications security department at Positive Technologies.

"Unfortunately, it is still impossible to opt out of using SMS for sending one-time passwords. It is the most universal and convenient two-factor authentication technology. All telecom operators should analyze vulnerabilities and systematically improve the subscriber security level."

Banks try to strike a balance between usability and security. Tokens in text messages are easy to receive and type in. For sensitive accounts, using a phone for authentication will be risky if SS7 hijacks increase. However, if the choice is phone authentication or no two-factor authentication at all, it's a good idea to use the phone for security reasons – or, even better, find a service that offers second-factor authentication from an app, key fob or other gizmo.

Ultimately, login token stealing, via SS7, is still rare. Most headaches with SMS tokens are caused by people getting locked out of their stuff, rather than having it all stolen.

"We should stop using SMS for 2FA, but also worth noting: for providers the biggest problem with 2FA is account lockouts, not bypasses," said Martijn Grooten, a security researcher and editor of industry journal Virus Bulletin. ®

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022