The week in security: Who’s really behind the wheel?

Thinking of hopping in your car to head out to the country for a break from the ever-present flood of new malware? Think again: recent security demonstrations show even our four-wheeled homes are vulnerable to attack. Dutch researchers railed against a court ban on revealing details of a flaw they discovered in a car’s locking system, while a UK academic was similarly banned from publishing a paper that reveals the codes used to start luxury cars (he subsequently agreed to present at the USENIX Security Symposium).

Similar US government-funded work was being taken as a sign that increasingly computer-dependent cars are being seen as a safety threat – something confirmed during a Black Hat conference presentation where researchers explained how they took over control of a car’s steering, acceleration, brakes and more.

Even home security and home automation systems are coming under the spotlight, with some arguing they are full of security holes. Ditto D-Link network video recorders, which are apparently vulnerable to remote spying. Such vulnerabilities have some vendors looking for ways to pick out and protect key personal information from an outgoing data stream, while a crowdsourced security service from AlienVault promises to notify you if any of your public IP addresses or domains turn up on hacker forums.

Meanwhile, researchers have shown how to circumvent Apple iOS security using nothing more than a charger; perhaps it’s time to reconsider before you plug your device into a public charger and visiting a fake Facebook page.

Other presenters highlighted a way to build botnets easily using cheap online ads. Others were targeting industrial control systems. Then there were the researchers who highlighted their ability to bypass Windows 8 Secure Boot, while yet others figured out a way to use a man-in-the-middle attack to hijack a PC’s IPv6 capability and intercept all Web traffic on a target network.

Critics were sceptical of a proposed voluntary code of practice for mobile data collection, while others were sceptical of the ability of Web browser privacy settings to actually protect online privacy. Similar criticism was being pointed at many US universities, which are risking students’ and parents’ personal and financial information by transmitting it as open-text. And, on similar lines, US university MIT said it had never sought to prosecute a programmer who stole millions of academic papers from an MIT online archive; online critics didn’t believe its claims.

No wonder UK ministers were claiming that country is losing its war on cybercrime, with some arguing that the government is too focused on top-down defences while ignoring basic best-practices and others considering the implications of the US government’s £100m “investment” in UK intelligence gathering. With even industry-standard RSA encryption set to become easily crackable within five years, they may not have long to change before they are overrun.

Cyberdefences won’t be the major issue during Australia’s upcoming election, but the Pirate Party Australia is nonetheless ramping up the rhetoric around the Australian government’s role in the US government’s online spying. Their concerns won’t be assuaged by Twitter figures showing Australia’s government is punching well above its weight when it comes to lodging requests for Twitter users’ personal information – making us the third most-investigated country in the world.

Symantec echoed industry sentiment by calling out the steady stream of questionable applicationsflowing into the Google Play app store, while efforts to develop a Ubuntu-based smartphone seemed to be struggling. An IT-executive survey had some wondering whether bring your own device (BYOD) practices weren’t being rushed, even as an iPhone fingerprint scanner is mooted and signs suggest there may be more Android ‘master keys’ to enable corruption of existing apps.

Meanwhile, the adoption of the hybrid cloud is driving changes to traditional firewall-security models. Indeed, a Gartner report warned that the language of software-as-a-service (SaaS) contracts isn’t adequately addressing cloud-security concerns. Adding fuel to the fire, hackers were said to be planting malware within cloud services.

More botnets were discovered to be hiding within the TOR anonymity network, while DDoS fighter Arbor Networks reported that average DDoS attack sizes have passed 2Gbpsfor the first time. They’re getting shorter, however, if the activities of one hacking group are any indication.

A prize-winning Google security staffer was advocating the elimination of the US National Security Agency on the ground that it will damage prospects for US Internet companies. That may be unlikely, but that doesn’t mean opponents of the agency’s surveillance program are giving up any time soon.

After all, a US appeals court upheld the warrantless collection of phone location data, reflecting the continued belief in the importance of surveillance activities (on a related note, researchers exploited flaws in mobile carriers’ femtocell technology to harvest phone calls, text messages and other data). However, there was a slight victory as US senators pushed for changes in the NSA’s data collection.

Even as two former NSA analysts set up a company, called Synack, to manage bug-bounty experts, the head of the NSA went on a charm offensive at the Black Hat hacker conference, with controls keeping the NSA’s spying program legal, but he was heckled by an audience that was less than ready to accept his claims – even after he asked them for their guidance on building a similar system without the same civil-liberties infringements.

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