Data Security

SIM Swap Scam Warning

A recent investigation by BBC TV’s Watchdog Live revealed evidence that some mobile phone shop staff are not conducting proper ID checks for replacement SIM requests, thereby enabling some customers to become victims of SIM swap scams.

What is a SIM Swap Scam?

SIM swap scams are believed to have been in existence for the last four years in one form or another.  In its current form, the SIM swap scan happens when a fraudster goes into a mobile operator’s shop and claims a false identity i.e. the identity of one of that operator’s customers.  The fraudster knows that the person they are claiming to be is a customer of that operator because of personal details that have been stolen in previous malware or cyber-attacks, and those details have been posted or sold on the dark web.

In the shop, while pretending to be that customer, the fraudster claims that their phone has been lost or stolen and asks to be issued with a replacement SIM. Once the fraudster has the replacement SIM, the victim’s SIM no longer works, and the fraudster can then access any online service that requires security codes to be sent to the phone, as well as being able to access any other of the victim’s personal details that are stored on the SIM.

In the past (London 2016), a similar version of the scam worked when fraudsters used an intercepted bank statement from the victim (or information found on social media) to call the person’s mobile operator, pass security checks, and get a blank SIM card.  The fraudsters were then able to access the unique codes sent by the victim’s bank to log into their account and transfer funds.

What Should Happen When Someone Requests a Replacement SIM?

At the moment, mobile operators should conduct i.d. checks for replacement SIMs, but it is not compulsory.  Also, the Watchdog Live investigation revealed that checks for contract customers and Pay As You Go customers may differ.  For example, O2 said that it only asks for photo ID when replacing SIMs on monthly contracts, and that Pay As You Go customers will be sent an authorisation code if someone is trying to access the number.

What Happened in Reality?

In the investigation, which involved the secret filming of Watchdog Live’s own ‘King Con’ former fraudster in multiple EE, O2, Three and Vodafone stores, EE and Three staff conducted all the necessary checks, but Vodafone blamed rogue employees for not doing so.  Also, replacement SIMs were obtained from O2 stores and the authorisation codes that the company says it sends out were not received.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It appears that this relatively old fraud is still very much alive and is a reminder of how valuable our personal details can be to criminals. Bearing in mind how serious this fraud can be to the victims, it is shocking that photo ID checks for replacement SIMs are not made to be compulsory for all operators in all situations.  Mobile operators could help themselves and customers by introducing compulsory measures and by making sure through training and in-built systems that all staff conduct satisfactory checks.

It is also worrying that the investigation appears to have revealed a two-tiered security system, with Pay As You Go customers afforded less protection.

In the meantime, one way that we can help ourselves is to regularly check both our phone and bank statements, and if you have a contract with e.g. O2, contact them to confirm that no replacement SIMs have been issued in your name.

70% Increase In DDoS Cyber Attacks On Black Friday Prompts Christmas Warning

Cyber security experts are warning companies with online shops to have adequate protection against DDoS attacks in place after a 70% increase in that kind of cyber-attack was recorded on Black Friday.

What Is A DDoS Attack?

A denial-of-service attack is a cyber-attack on that is intended to make a computer or network unavailable to users, and a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) is one that uses multiple compromised systems, sometimes thousands, that are often infected with a Trojan virus to launch a single attack on one system. The sheer number of requests that the target receives (called a ‘flood’) typically overload the resources and memory and render the targeted computer or network unavailable.

Black Friday – 70% Increase!

According to DDoS protection provider Link11, DDoS attacks on e-commerce providers showed an increase of more than 70% compared with other days in November, and Cyber Monday attacks showed a massive increase of 109% compared with the November average.

Up To 100 Gbps

Gbps, which stands for billions of bits per second, is a measure of bandwidth on a digital data transmission, and is the level used to gauge the intensity of DDoS attacks. When you consider that Link 11 have reported that attacks of around 6 Gbps are more than enough to exceed the capacity of most websites, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday recordings of levels of up to 100 Gbps in some attacks were extremely high.

The Cost of DDoS Attacks

Bitkom research found that cyber-attacks can cost retailers an average of €185,000.  This total includes costs of IT repair, loss of sales revenue and reputational damage to the business.

Research from Corero, in April this year, found that (DDoS) attacks typically cost enterprises up to £35,000 per attack in lost business and productivity, as well as mitigation costs. The research revealed that 69% of respondents said their organisation experiences anywhere between 20 and 50 DDoS attack attempts a month – about one attack per day!  78% of respondents in the Corero research said that the loss of customer trust and confidence was the most damaging effect on business of DDoS attacks.

Christmas Warning

Based on the huge increase in DDoS attacks on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, cyber security professionals are warning businesses to prepare now in order to protect themselves against an expected high level of DDoS attacks over the Christmas shopping period.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses trying to simply expand their own infrastructure to absorb peak loads with their own resources may not have enough resources to stop determined attackers who may decide to deliver ever greater attacks to overwhelm services completely.

One of the best ways that businesses can prepare themselves for a possible increase in DDoS attacks is by investing in scalable, cloud-based protection solutions that can counteract the kind of targeted overloads caused by DDoS attacks.

Making sure that the business has an updated and workable Business Continuity Plan and Disaster Recovery Plan in place are also important elements of preparing for the possibility of the aftermath of a successful DDoS attack.

Liberty Wins Right To Judicial Review Into Investigatory Powers Act

The fact that Human rights group Liberty has won the right for a judicial review into the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 could mean a legal challenge in the high court as soon as next year.

The Investigatory Powers Act

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (also known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’) became law in the UK November 2016. It was designed to extend the reach of state surveillance and requires web and phone companies (by law) to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months and to give the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to that data. The Charter also means that security services, government agencies and police can hack into computers and phones and collect communications data in bulk, and that judges can sign off police requests to view journalists’ call and web records.

Long Time Coming

Liberty was given the general go-ahead by the UK High Court to make a legal challenge against the Investigatory Powers Act in July 2017 and was enabled to do so with the help of £50,000 of crowdfunding raised via CrowdJustice.

Also, Liberty’s challenge is thought to have been helped by the European Court of Justice (in a separate case, represented by Liberty lawyers back in 2016) ruling that the same powers in the old the UK state surveillance law the ‘Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act’ (DRIPA) were unlawful, and by a ruling by the court of appeal in January 2018 also finding the same thing.

The UK government was, therefore, given until July 2018 to amend or re-write powers to require phone and internet companies to retain data on the UK population.

Part 4 of the Act

The most recent High Court ruling on 29th November gives Liberty the right to a judicial review on part 4 of the Investigatory Powers Act.  This is the part which gives many government agencies powers to collect electronic communications and records of internet use, in bulk, without reason for suspicion.

Concerns About GCHQ’s Hacking

Human rights groups and even Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee have become particularly concerned about an apparent shift towards the use of hacking of computer systems, networks and mobile phones for information gathering by intelligence services such as GCHQ in projects such as the ‘Computer Network Scaling’ programme.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The UK’s ability to spot and foil potential plots is vital. Although the Investigatory Powers Act may include measures that could help with that, many people and businesses (communications companies, social media, web companies) are still uneasy with the extent of the legislation and what it forces companies to do, how necessary it is, and what effect it will have on businesses publicly known to be snooping on their customers on behalf of the state. The 200,000+ signatures on a petition calling for the repeal of the Investigatory Powers Act after it became law, and the £50,000 crowdfunding raised from the public in less than a week to challenge parts of the Act in the courts, both emphasise the fact that UK citizens value their privacy and take the issues of privacy and data security very seriously.

Liberty is essentially arguing for what it sees as a more proportionate surveillance regime that can better balance public safety with respect for privacy. The government initially believed that this level of surveillance was necessary to counter terrorist groups and threats posed to safety and democracy by other states, but successive legal challenges by Liberty have seen them give some ground. According to the Intelligence and Security Committee, GCHQ is running a project that aims to improve the way that it complies with the Act, and MI5 has also said that it trying to operate more compliantly.  As for any additional oversight of government orders to internet and phone companies, this is estimated to be running about a year behind schedule with IT problems being blamed for the delay.

Data Protection Trust Levels Still Low After GDPR

A report by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has shown that as 42% of consumers have received communications from businesses they had not given permission to contact them (since GDPR came into force), this could be a key reason why consumer trust in businesses is still at a low level.

Not Much Difference

The CIM report shows that only 24% of respondents believe that businesses treat people’s personal data in an honest and transparent way.  This is only slightly higher than the 18% who believed the same thing when GDPR took effect 6 months ago.

Young More Trusting

The report appears to indicate that although trust levels are generally low, younger people trust businesses more with their data.  For example, the report shows that 33% of 18-24 and 34% of 24-35 year olds trust businesses with their data, compared with only 17% of over 55s.

More Empowered But Lacking Knowledge About Rights

Consumers appear to feel more empowered by GDPR to act if they feel that organisations are not serving them with the right communications.  For example, the report showed that rather than just continuing to receive and ignoring communications from a company, 50% of those surveyed said that GDPR has motivated them to not consciously opt-in to begin with, or if opted in, make them more likely to subscribe.

This feeling of empowerment was also illustrated back in August in a report based on a study by business intelligence and data management firm SAS.  The SAS study showed that more than half of UK consumers (55%) looked likely to exercise their new GDPR rights within the first year of GDPR’s introduction.

Unfortunately, even though many people feel more empowered by GDPR, there still appears to be a lack of knowledge about exactly what rights GDPR has bestowed upon us. For example, the report shows that only 47% of respondents said they know their rights as a consumer in relation to data protection.  This figure has only increased by 5% (from 43%) since the run-up to GDPR.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The need to comply with the law and avoid stiff penalties, and the opportunity to put the data house in order meant that the vast majority of UK companies have taken their GDPR responsibilities seriously, and are likely to be well versed in the rights and responsibilities around it (and have an in-house ‘expert’). Unfortunately, there are always a few companies / organisations that ignore the law and continue contacting people.  The ICO has made clear examples e.g. back in October Manchester-based Oaklands Assist UK Ltd was fined £150,000 by the ICO for making approximately 64,000 nuisance direct marketing calls to people who had already opted out of automated marketing.  This is one example of a company being held accountable, but it is clear from the CIM’s research that many consumers still don’t trust businesses with their data, particularly when they hear about data breaches / data sharing on the news (e.g. Facebook), or continue to have their own experiences of unsolicited communications.

It may be, as identified by the CIM, that even though GDPR has empowered consumers to ask the right questions about their data use, marketers now need to answer these, and to prove to consumers how data collection can actually benefit them e.g. in helping to deliver relevant and personalised information.

The apparent lack of a major impact of GDPR on public trust could also indicate the need for an ongoing campaign to drive more awareness and understanding across all UK businesses.

£385,000 Data Protection Fine For Uber

Ride-hailing (and now bike and scooter-hiring) service Uber has been handed a £385,000 fine by the ICO for data protection failings during a cyber-attack back in 2016.

What Happened?

The original incident took place in October and November 2016 when hackers accessed a private GitHub coding site that was being used by Uber software engineers. Using the login details obtained via the GitHub, the attackers were able to go to the Amazon Web Services account that handled the company’s computing tasks and access an archive of rider and driver information. The result was the compromising (and theft) of data relating to 600,000 US drivers and 57 million user accounts.

The ICO’s investigation focuses on avoidable data security flaws, during the same hack, that led to the theft (using ‘credential stuffing’) of personal data, including full names, email addresses and phone numbers, of 2.7 million UK customers from the cloud-based storage system operated by Uber’s US parent company.

The ICO’s fine to Uber also relates to the record of nearly 82,000 UK-based drivers, including details of journeys made and how much they were paid.

Attackers Paid To Keep Breach Quiet

Another key failing of Uber was that not only did the company not inform affected drivers about the incident for more than a year, but Uber chose to pay the attackers $100,000 through its bug bounty programme (a deal offered by websites and software developers to offer recognition and payment to those who report software bugs), to delete the stolen data and keep quiet about the breach.

Before GDPR

Even though GDPR, which came into force on 25th May this year says that the ICO has the power to impose a fine on a data controller of up to £17m or 4% of global turnover, the Uber breach took place before GDPR.  This means that the ICO issued the £385,000 fine under the Data Protection Act 1998, which was in force before GDPR.

Other Payments and Fines

Uber also had to pay a $148m settlement agreement in a case in the US brought by 50 US states and the District of Columbia over the company’s attempt to cover up the data breach in 2016.

Also, for the same incident, Uber is facing a £533,000 fine from the data protection authority for the Netherlands, the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As noted by the ICO director of investigations, Steve Eckersley, as well as the data security failure, Uber’s behaviour in this case showed a total disregard for the customers and drivers whose personal information was stolen, as no steps were taken to inform anyone affected by the breach, or to offer help and support.

Sadly, Uber joins a line of well-known businesses that have made the news for all the wrong reasons where data handling is concerned e.g. Yahoo’s data breach of 500 million users’ accounts in 2014 followed by the discovery that it was the subject of the biggest data breach in history to that point back in 2013. Similar to the Uber episode is the Equifax hack where 143 million customer details were stolen (44 million possibly from UK customers), while the company waited 40 days before informing the public and three senior executives sold their shares worth almost £1.4m before the breach was publicly announced.

This story should remind businesses how important it is to invest in keeping security systems up to date and to maintain cyber resilience on all levels. This could involve keeping up to date with patching (9 out of 10 hacked businesses were compromised via un-patched vulnerabilities) and should extend to training employees in cyber-security practices, and adopting multi-layered defences that go beyond the traditional anti-virus and firewall perimeter.

Companies need to conduct security audits to make sure that no old, isolated data is stored on any old systems or platforms, thereby offering no easy access to cyber-criminals. Companies may now need to use tools that allow security devices to collect and share data and co-ordinate a unified response across the entire distributed network.

Even though the recent CIM study showed that less than one-quarter of consumers trust businesses with their data security, at least the ICO is currently sending some powerful messages to (mainly large) businesses about the consequences of not fulfilling their data protection responsibilities.  For example, as well as the big fine for Uber, back in October, the ICO fined a Manchester-based company £150,000 for making approximately 64,000 nuisance direct marketing calls to people who had opted out via the TPS, and earlier this month, a former employee of a vehicle accident repair centre who stole customer data passed it to a company that made nuisance phone calls was jailed for 6 months following an ICO investigation.

Free VPN Tools May Be Linked To China

A new investigation by Metric Labs of the top free VPN (Virtual Private Network) apps in Apple’s App Store and Google Play has revealed that more than half are run by companies with Chinese ownership.

What’s A VPN?

A ‘Virtual Private Network’ (VPN) is generally used to keep internet activity private, evade censorship / maintain net neutrality and use public Wi-Fi securely e.g. avoid threats such as man-in-the-middle attacks.  A VPN achieves this by diverting a user’s traffic via a remote server in order to replace their IP address while offering the user a secure, encrypted connection (like a secure tunnel) between the user’s device and the VPN service.

Popular Free Apps

VPNs (Forbes, 2017) are the most searched-for apps in the world, partly because people have become much more concerned with privacy and they have become more afraid of government surveillance of their digital activities.  For example, the UK government’s Investigatory Powers Bill), which was passed into 29th November 2016 as the Investigatory Powers Act (“Snooper’s charter”) means that a large list of UK agencies, including various police forces and government departments, can ask for any UK citizen’s stored browsing history (details of every website and instant messaging apps that you have visited or used in the past 12 months).

China Links To Free VPNs – Security & Privacy Concerns

Bearing in mind that the main reason for getting a VPN is to preserve your privacy and security, the problem with the results of the Metric Labs survey is that they show that over half of the top free VPN apps that people can find e.g. in the App Store and Play Store for UK and US, have Chinese ownership or are based in China.

The problem with being linked to (or based in) China, according to the report about the Metric Labs (top10vpn) survey, is that China tightly controls access to the Internet from within the country, has clamped down on VPN services, and many of the free VPN services with links to China offer little or no privacy protection and no user support.

How Bad Are They?

The investigation revealed that 17 of the 30 top free VPN apps available from simple online searches have links to China and 86% of those apps have security issues.  It was also discovered that 64% of apps have no dedicated website, and 86% of apps have unacceptable privacy policies with many being presented in an amateur fashion e.g. posted on a Free WordPress sites with ads.  Some of the privacy policies either give no information about the sharing of information with third parties, have no privacy policy at all, use a stock privacy policy not related to VPNs, or simply state that information will be shared with China.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When you bear in mind that the reason for downloading a VPN app is to preserve privacy, the results of this investigation indicate that simply trusting one of the free VPN apps available online, and without pausing to look at its privacy information or look too much into it could be a mistake.  If your privacy is valuable to you (and you’ve not already been provided with a trusted VPN), it may be worth seeking out a trusted paid-for service. There are many lists available online from Tech magazines that offer useful comparisons and information to help you choose a VPN that will give you the right levels of performance and security.

MFA Lockout For Microsoft & Azure Users Causes Business Disruption

The latest multi-factor authentication (MFA) issue left users of Azure and Microsoft Office 365 unable to login to their accounts on Monday 21st, causing widespread disruption to businesses in Europe, Asia, and some parts of the US.

What Happened?

According to reports by Azure, the root cause was a European-based database, reaching operation threshold with requests from MFA servers.  This led to latency and timeouts, and an attempt to re-route traffic through North America caused the extra traffic to block servers.

Finally Rectified

After lasting from 4.39 am to the evening in the UK, the problem was finally rectified.  According to Microsoft reports, services could be resumed after engineers removed the link between the backend service and the Azure Identity MFA service, thereby allowing the impacted servers to catch up with the existing authentication requests.

Happened Before

This was certainly not the first time that disruptive outages had occurred with Azure and Microsoft’s service.  For example, a global outage in September this year affected Azure and Office 365 users worldwide after one of Microsoft’s San Antonio-based servers was knocked offline by severe weather.  Also, in October, UK Office 365 users endured a 3-day-long outage and had the frustration of having more login prompts appearing after their user credentials had already been entered.
Price Rise Makes Outages More Annoying
In addition to the obvious costly business disruption, the spree of outages occurring around the time of announcements of new commercial prices i.e. an increase of 10% over previous on-premise pricing (4% increase for employees who are part of a volume discount agreement), the service failures caused even greater annoyance.

MFA

Multi-factor authentication, which works by requiring any two or more verification methods for a login / transaction, such as a randomly generated passcode, a phone call, a smart card (virtual or physical), or a biometric device, is designed to be beneficial to a user and their business because it should provide an extra layer of security for user sign-ins and transactions.  Unfortunately, in the case of this most recent outage, MFA cost users rather than helping them.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For some companies, the recent outages at Microsoft and Azure are likely to bring into focus the dangers of placing huge operational dependency on one environment i.e. Microsoft, and of trusting a single cloud supplier to keep connected and productive during unplanned (and planned) email outages, especially when you have no independent cyber resilience and continuity plan.  In recent months, many businesses will have been counting the productivity costs of sticking to a software-as-a-service monoculture with a company whose service has let them down on several occasions.  Unfortunately, the dominance of big tech companies with their familiar Operating Systems and environments, and the fact that most businesses are committed to them with few possible, practical alternatives to choose from, mean that most businesses may simply have to unhappily endure the outages and weigh them up against the benefits and reliability of the environment generally.

For Microsoft, these outages can be damaging to its reputation and can shake the trust of its prized business users.

Firefox Quantum Browser’s ‘Monitor 2.0’ Will Warn You About Security Breaches

Mozilla’s latest update for its Firefox Quantum browser includes the Firefox Monitor 2.0 security tool, which can tell you whether a site you’re visiting has suffered a security breach in the last 12 months and whether your details have been leaked online.

Developed in Partnership with HIBP

Back in June, the Mozilla blog detailed how it was testing the Firefox Monitor tool which was being developed in partnership with HaveIBeenPwned.com (HIBP), a service run by Troy Hunt, described by Mozilla as “one of the most renowned and respected security experts and bloggers in the world”.  At the time of testing, it was announced that Monitor, through its HIBP / Firefox partnership, would be able to check a user’s email address against the HIBP database in a private-by-design way.  Mozilla said that visitors to the Firefox Monitor website would be able to check (by entering an email address) to see if their accounts were included in any known data breaches, with details on sites and other sources of breaches and the types of personal data exposed in each breach. It was also announced that the Firefox site would offer recommendations on what to do in the case of a data breach, and how to help the user to secure their accounts.

Rolled Out

The Monitor 2.0 security tool that’s just been rolled out in the latest Firefox Quantum update can tell you if your details have been leaked online (if you visit monitor.firefox.com), provide a desktop notification /alert when you visit a website that’s been compromised in the last 12 months, and give extra security details such as how many accounts were affected by a breach and what happened in the breach.

You Can Turn Notifications Off

Mozilla has been quick to point out that the Monitor tool has been designed to help but not annoy users and as such, if you’ve already been told about the potential security issues, you can navigate back without being told again and you can disable the notifications altogether with a just few clicks, if you’d prefer not to see them.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Google Chrome dominates the browser market, but there is still a lot of competition among those fighting it out with a less than 10% share of the market – Apple’s Safari, Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer & Edge.  Adding this tool, that’s linked to a renowned security expert, to the Firefox browser could add some real value at a time when the news is full of major security breaches, but most of us may not know how to check whether our details have been stolen, and what to do next.

Businesses always need to be very security-conscious, particularly since the introduction of GDPR, and being able to see notifications about pages that have been breached may be another way that business users can help to protect themselves.

The tips and personal stories of those who have been affected by a data breach highlighted on the Firefox website for Quantum business users may also help raise awareness about online privacy and could help provide prompts and ideas to help keep improving data protection and cyber resilience in businesses.

Jail For Car Accident Data Thief

An employee at a vehicle accident repair centre who stole the data of customers and passed it to a company that made nuisance phone calls has been jailed for 6 months following an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Used Former Co-Worker’s Login To Company Computer

The employee of Nationwide Accident Repair Services, Mustafa Kasim, used a former co-workers’ login details to access software on the company computer system (Audatex) that was used to estimate repair costs.  The software also stored the personal data (names and phone numbers) of the owners of the vehicles, and it was the personal data of thousands of customers that Mr Kasim took without the company’s permission, and then passed on to a claims management company that made unsolicited phone calls to those people.

ICO Contacted

Mr Kasim was unmasked as the data thief after the Accident Repair Company noticed that several clients had made complaints that they were being targeted by nuisance calls, and this led to the decision to get the ICO involved.

During the investigation, it was discovered that Mr Kasim continued to take and pass on customer data even after he started a new job at a different car repair organisation which used the same Audatex software system.

First With A Prison Sentence

What makes this case so unusual is that it is the first prosecution to be brought by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) under legislation which carries a potential prison sentence.

Computer Misuse Act

Even though the ICO would normally prosecute in this kind of case under the Data Protection Act 1998 or 2018 with penalties of fines rather than prison sentences, in the case of Mr Kasim it was judged that the nature and extent of the criminal behaviour required making a wider range of penalties available to the court.  It was decided, therefore, that s.1 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 would be used in the prosecution, and it was the offences under this that resulted in the 6-month prison sentence that Mr Kasim received.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Since preparing for GDPR, many companies have become much more conscious about the value of personal data, the importance of protecting customer data, and the possible penalties and consequences of failing to do so.  In this case, the ICO acknowledged that reputational damage to affected companies whose data is stolen in this way can be immeasurable e.g. Nationwide Accident Repair Services and Audatex. The ICO also noted the anxiety and distress caused the accident repair company’s customers who received nuisance calls.

This case was also a way for the ICO to send a powerful message that obtaining and disclosing personal data without permission is something that will be taken very seriously, and that the ICO will push boundaries and be seen to use any tool at its disposal to protect the data protection rights of individuals. The case also serves as a reminder to businesses that looking at ways to provide the maximum protection of customer data and plug any loopholes is a worthwhile ongoing process, and that threats can come from within as well as from cyber criminals on the outside.

Fatal Security Flaws Discovered in Solid State Drives (SSDs)

Researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands have released a paper highlighting several security flaws that they’ve discovered in SSDs which mean that data from a flash disk can recovered in more than one way, even if it’s supposedly self-encrypted.

What Is An SSD?

An SSD is a solid-state storage device that uses integrated circuit assemblies (memory chips on a circuit board with and In/Out interface to feed power and transfer data) as memory to store data persistently. Even though it doesn’t actually contain a physical disk, it is sometimes called a called solid-state disk.

Hardware Encryption Not Better Than Software Encryption

Whereas the popular belief is that AES encryption should stop you from accessing data on a disc that isn’t plugged in to its home system (encryption with SSD through ATA security and TCG Opal encryption methods) and that hardware encryption is similar to or better than software encryption, the findings of the research appear to disprove this.

Not Just Cheap Drives Vulnerable

The research looked at top-of-the-range drives including models by Crucial and Samsung, and found that only the T3 and T5 (external) drives remained secure, whereas the others were found to have fatal vulnerabilities, some to non-cryptographic hacking. Even BitLocker, the Microsoft encryption with each copy of Windows was found to be vulnerable. According to the research, vulnerabilities are such, across the range of vendors, that determined attackers could access data in many so-called encrypted drives without any keys or passwords.

Vulnerable to a Range Attack Methods

Through the reverse-engineering of the firmware of a sample of SSDs, the researchers were able to discover a number of vulnerabilities in self-encrypting SSDs that can leave them open to a range of attacks and exploits. These could include attackers seizing full control of the CPU, corrupting memory, and cracking default passwords, thereby bypassing a custom password set by a user.

Example

The researchers provided a case study of how an attacker could try to breach a locked Crucial MX300 drive with encryption via TCG Opal. The case study outlines how an attacker could install modified firmware that includes read/write capabilities, and then, if encryption is performed via TCG Opal, write executable code to bypass several layers of security, and thereby access the precious data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The discovery by the researchers shows that hardware-based encryption is far less secure than businesses may have thought and that hardware-based full-disk encryption may not, in fact, be a more secure alternative to software-based methods. Also, it seems that the security flaws are in leading products across multiple vendors.

Businesses may, therefore, be best advised not to rely solely on hardware encryption as offered by SSDs for confidentiality. In fact, it may be better to also employ an open source, audited, software full-disk encryption solution.

As well as alerting businesses to the risks of relying solely on the apparently flawed hardware encryption offered by SSDs, this story should surely make vendors take another close look at their SSD products and how the security of them can be improved.