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WhatsApp users face attack

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Check Point security recently discovered a vulnerability in the WhatsApp Web application that allows hackers to take control of a users computer by sending them a file that looks like a vCard.

Check Point security researchers have recently discovered various vulnerabilities in the WhatsApp Web application. Hackers would exploit a user’s computer by sending them a vCard, but the vCard is actually an executable file and opens up a PC to malware and phishing attacks.

WhatsApp Web – a web-based extension of the WhatsApp application on a phone mirrors all messages sent and received, and fully synchronizes your phone and your desktop computer so that users can see all messages on both devices.

WhatsApp Web is available for most WhatsApp supported platforms, including Android, iPhone (iOS), Windows Phone 8.x, BlackBerry, BB10 and Nokia smartphones. In September 2015, WhatsApp announced they had reached 900 million active users a month. At least 200M are estimated to use the WhatsApp Web interface, considering publicly available web traffic statistics.

Executive Summary

Check Point security researcher Kasif Dekel recently discovered significant vulnerabilities which exploit the WhatsApp Web logic and allow attackers to trick victims into executing arbitrary code on their machines in a new and sophisticated way. All an attacker needed to do to exploit the vulnerability was to send a user a seemingly innocent vCard containing malicious code. Once opened, the alleged contact is revealed to be an executable file, further compromising computers by distributing bots, ransomware, RATs, and other malwares.

To target an individual, all an attacker needs is the phone number associated with the account.

WhatsApp verified and acknowledged the security issue and have deployed the fix in web clients world-wide. To make sure you are protected, update your WhatsApp Web right now.

Check Point shared its discovery to WhatsApp on August 21, 2015. On August 27, WhatsApp rolled out the initial fix (in all versions greater than 0.1.4481) and blocked that particular feature.

Technical Details

WhatsApp Web allows users to view any type of media or attachment that can be sent or viewed by the mobile platform/application. This includes images, videos, audio files, locations and contact cards.

The vulnerability lies in improper filtering of contact cards, sent utilising the popular ‘vCard’ format.

This is a screenshot for a possible contact vCard sent by a malicious user:

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As you can see, this message (contact card) appears legitimate, like any other contact card; most users would click it immediately without giving it a second thought.

The implication of this innocent action is downloading a file which can run arbitrary code on the victim’s machine:

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An Initial Hole

During Kasif’s research, he found that by manually intercepting and crafting XMPP requests to the WhatsApp servers, it was possible to control the file extension of the contact card file.

He first changed the file extension to .BAT, which indicates a Windows batch (executable script) file:

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This means, once the victim clicks the downloaded file (which he assumes is a contact card), the code inside the batch file runs on his computer.

Let’s see what’s inside the downloaded file (i.e. the batch file):

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This is a standard vCard format. To run malicious code, Kasif found out an attacker could simply inject a command to the name attribute of the vCard file, separated by the ‘&’ character. When executed, Windows will attempt to run all lines in the files, including our controlled injection line.

Further research showed that no XMPP interception of crafting is needed for this attack, since any user can create such a contact with an injected payload on their phones, no hacking tools necessary:

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Once such a contact is created, all an attacker has to do is share it via the normal WhatsApp client.

But can we take it to the next level? Could we possibly discover a way to share malicious PE (.exe) files through WhatsApp’s default sharing features (no external links)?

To answer that, we have to examine WhatsApp’s communication protocols; WhatsApp uses a customised version of the open standard Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP).

This is how vCard messages appear over-the-wire (with some reconstruction) when sent using WhatsApp’s protocol:

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NUMBER/GROUPID: the victim’s number or group ID

·         ID: the message ID

·         TIMESTAMP:  the timestamp of the sender device

·         FILENAME: the VCARD file name, <something>.exe

·         FILEDATA: the raw data of the file

We were surprised to find that WhatsApp fails to perform any validation on the vCard format or the contents of the file, and indeed when we crafted an exe file into this request, the WhatsApp web client happily let us download the PE file in all its glory:

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But wait, there’s more! Clever attackers can exploit this in more devious scenarios, using the displayed icon to enrich the scam:

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This simple trick opened up a vast world of opportunity for cybercriminals and scammers, in effect allowing easy “WhatsApp Phishing”. Massive exploitation of this vulnerability could have affected millions of users, failing to realise the malicious nature of the attachment.

Disclosure Timeline

·         August 21, 2015 – Vulnerability disclosed to the WhatsApp security team.

·         August 23, 2015 – First response received.

·         August 27, 2015 – WhatsApp rolls out fixed web clients (v0.1.4481)

·         September 8, 2015 – Public disclosure

Conclusions

“Thankfully, WhatsApp responded quickly and responsibly to deploy an initial mitigation against exploitation of this issue in all web clients, pending an update of the WhatsApp client” said Oded Vanunu, Security Research Group Manager at Check Point. We applaud WhatsApp for such proper responses, and wish more vendors would handle security issues in this professional manner. Software vendors and service providers should be secured and act in accordance with security best practices.

Check Point continues to be on the lookout for vulnerabilities in common software and Internet platforms, disclosing issues as they are discovered, protecting consumers and customers against tomorrow’s threats.”

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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