Researchers have shown how simple it is to monitor and record Bluetooth low energy signals transmitted by phones and wearable devices, allowing the user to be easily identified and tracked.
Researchers at Context Information Security have demonstrated how easy it is to monitor and record Bluetooth Low Energy signals transmitted by many mobile phones, wearable devices and iBeacons, including the iPhone and leading fitness monitors, raising concerns about privacy and confidentiality. The researchers have even developed an Android app that scans, detects and logs wearable devices.
The app can be downloaded along with a detailed blog explaining the research at: www.contextis.co.uk/resources/blog/emergence-bluetooth-low-energy
The Context findings follow recent reports that soldiers in the People’s Liberation Army of China have been warned against using wearables to restrict the possibility of cyber-security loopholes. “Many people wearing fitness devices don’t realise that they are broadcasting constantly and that these broadcasts can often be attributed to a unique device,” said Scott Lester, a senior researcher at Context. “Using cheap hardware or a smartphone, it could be possible to identify and locate a particular device – that may belong to a celebrity, politician or senior business executive – within 100 metres in the open air. This information could be used for social engineering as part of a planned cyber attack or for physical crime by knowing peoples’ movements.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) was released in 2010 specifically for a range of new applications that rely on constantly transmitting signals without draining the battery. Like other network protocols it relies on identifying devices by their MAC addresses: but while most BLE devices have a random MAC address, Context researchers found that in most cases the MAC address doesn’t change. “My own fitness tracker has had the same MAC address since we started the investigation, even though it’s completely run out of battery once,” said Lester. Sometimes the transmitted packets also contain the device name, which may be unique, such as the ‚ÄòGarmin Vivosmart #12345678′, or even give the name of the user, such as ‚ÄòScott’s Watch’.
BLE is also increasingly used in mobile phones and is supported by iOS 5 and later, Windows Phone 8.1, Windows 8, Android 4.3 and later, as well as the BlackBerry 10. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has predicted that, “By 2018, more than 90 percent of Bluetooth enabled smartphones are expected to be Smart Ready devices,” supporting BLE: while the number of Bluetooth enabled passengers cars is also predicted to grow over to 50 million by 2016.
iBeacons, which also transmit BLE packets in order to identify a location, are already used in Apple Stores to tailor notifications to visiting customers, while BA and Virgin use iBeacons with their boarding pass apps to welcome passengers walking into the lounge with the WiFi password. House of Fraser is also trialling iBeacons on manikins to allow customers to look at the clothes and their prices on their phones. The current model for iBeacons is that they should not be invasive: you have to be running the application already, for it to detect and respond to a beacon. But the researchers have concerns: “It doesn’t take much imagination to think of a phone manufacturer providing handsets with an iBeacon application already installed, so your phone alerts you with sales notifications when you walk past certain shops,” said Lester.
The current version 4.2 of the Bluetooth Core Specification makes it possible for BLE to implement public key encryption and keep packet sizes down, while also supporting different authentication schemes. “Many BLE devices simply can’t support authentication and many of the products we have looked at don’t implement encryption, as this would significantly reduce battery life and increase the complexity of the application,” said Lester.
“It is clear that BLE is a powerful technology, which is increasingly being put to a wide range of uses,” concludes Context’s Lester. “While the ability to detect and track devices may not present a serious risk in itself, it certainly has the potential to compromise privacy and could be part of a wider social engineering threat. It is also yet another demonstration of the lack of thought that goes into security when companies are in a rush to get new technology products to market.
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Prepare for deepfake impact
Is the world as we know it ready for the real impact of deepfake? CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, CEO at ESET SA, digs deeper
Deepfake technology is rapidly becoming easier and quicker to create and it’s opening a door into a new form of cybercrime. Although it’s still mostly seen as relatively harmful or even humorous, this craze could take a more sinister turn in the future and be at the heart of political scandals, cybercrime, or even unimaginable concepts involving fake videos. And it won’t be just public figures that bear the brunt.
A deepfake is the technique of human-image synthesis based on artificial intelligence to create fake content either from scratch or using existing video designed to replicate the look and sound of a real human. Such videos can look incredibly real and currently many of these videos involve celebrities or public figures saying something outrageous or untrue.
New research shows a huge increase in the creation of deepfake videos, with the number online almost doubling in the last nine months alone. Deepfakes are increasing in quality at a swift rate, too. This video showing Bill Hader morphing effortlessly between Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan is just one example of how authentic these videos are looking, as well as sounding. If you search YouTube for the term ‘deepfake’ it will make you realise we are viewing the tip of the iceberg as to what is to come.
In fact, we have already seen deepfake technology used for fraud, where a deepfaked voice was reportedly used to scam a CEO out of a large sum of cash. It is believed the CEO of an unnamed UK firm thought he was on the phone to his boss and followed the orders to immediately transfer €220,000 (roughly US$244,000) to a Hungarian supplier’s bank account. If it was this easy to influence someone by just asking them to do it over the phone, then surely we will need better security in place to mitigate this threat.
Fooling the naked eye
We have also seen apps making DeepNudes where apps were able to turn any clothed person into a topless photo in seconds. Although, luckily, this particular app has now been taken offline, what if this comes back in another form with a vengeance and is able to create convincingly authentic-looking video?
There is also evidence that the production of these videos is becoming a lucrative business especially in the pornography industry. The BBC says “96% of these videos are of female celebrities having their likenesses swapped into sexually explicit videos – without their knowledge or consent”.
A recent Californian bill has taken a leap of faith and made it illegal to create a pornographic deepfake of someone without their consent with a penalty of up to $150,000. But chances are that no legislation will be enough to deter some people from fabricating the videos.
To be sure, an article from The Economist discusses that in order to make a convincing enough deepfake you would need a serious amount of video footage and/or voice recordings in order to make even a short deepfake clip.
Having said that, In the not-too-distant future, it may be entirely possible to take just a few short Instagram stories to create a deepfake that is believed by the majority of their followers online or by anyone else who knows them. We may see some unimaginable videos appearing of people closer to home – the boss, our colleagues, our peers, our family. Additionally, deepfakes may also be used for bullying in schools, the office or even further afield.
Furthermore, cybercriminals will definitely use such technology to spearphish victims. Deepfakes keep getting cheaper to create and become near-impossible to detect with the human eye alone. As a result, alt that fakery could very easily muddy the water between fact and fiction, which in turn could force us to not trust anything – even when presented with what our senses are telling us to believe.
Heading off the very real threat
So, what can be done to prepare us for this threat? First, we need to better educate people that deepfakes exist, how they work and the potential damage they can cause. We will all need to learn to treat even the most realistic videos we see that they could be a total fabrication.
Secondly, technology desperately needs to develop better detection of deepfakes. There is already research going into it, but it’s nowhere near where it should be yet. Although machine learning is at the heart of creating them in the first place, there needs to be something in place that acts as the antidote being able to detect them without relying on human eyes alone.
Finally, social media platforms need to realize there is a huge potential threat with the impact of deepfakes because when you mix a shocking video with social media, the outcome tends to spread very rapidly and potentially could have a detrimental impact on society.
A career in data science – or your money back
The Explore Data Science Academy is offering high demand skills courses – and guarantees employment for trainees
The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced several new courses in 2020 that it says will radically change the shape of data science education in South Africa.
Comprising Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, each six-month course provides vital digital skills that are in high demand in the market place. The full time, fully immersive courses each cost R60 000 including VAT.
The courses are differentiated from any other available by the fact that EDSA has introduced a money back promise if it cannot place the candidate in a job within six months of graduation and at a minimum annual starting salary of R240 000.
“For South Africans with drive and aptitude, this is the perfect opportunity to launch a career in what has been called the sexiest career of the 21stcentury,” says Explore founder Shaun Dippnall.
Dippnall and his team are betting on the explosive demand for data science skills locally and globally.
“There is a massive supply-demand gap in the area of data science and our universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth and changing nature of specific digital skills being demanded by companies.
“We are offering specifically a work ready opportunity in a highly skills deficient sector, and one which guarantees employment thereafter.”
The latter is particularly pertinent to young South Africans – a segment which currently faces a 30 percent unemployment rate.
“If you have skills in either Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics or Machine Learning, you will find work locally, even globally. We’re confident of that,” says Dippnall.
EDSA is part of the larger Explore organisation and has for the past two years offered young people an opportunity to be trained as data scientists and embark on careers in a fast-growing sector of the economy.
In its first year of operation, EDSA trained 100 learners as data scientists in a fully sponsored, full-time 12-month course. In year two, this number increased to 400.
“Because we are connected with hundreds of employers and have an excellent understanding of the skills they need, our current placement rate is over 90 percent of the students we’ve taught,” Dippnall says. “These learners can earn an average of R360 000 annually, hence our offer of your money back if there is no employment at a minimum annual salary of R240k within six months.
“With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – recently announced as a national emergency by the President – it is important that institutions teach skills that are in demand and where learners can earn a healthy living afterwards.”
There are qualifying criteria, however. Candidates need to live in close proximity (within one hour commuting distance), or be prepared to live, in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and need to be between the ages of 18 and 55.
“Our application process is very tough. We’ll test for aptitude and attitude using the qualifying framework we’ve built over the years. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be accepted,” says Dippnall.
To find out more, visit http://www.explore-datascience.net.