01
Sep 14

Fun With Funny Money

Readers or “fans” of this blog have sent some pretty crazy stuff to my front door over the past few years, including a gram of heroin, a giant bag of feces, an enormous cross-shaped funeral arrangement, and a heavily armed police force. Last week, someone sent me a far less menacing package: an envelope full of cash. Granted, all of the cash turned out to be counterfeit money, but hey it’s the thought that counts, right?

Counterfeit $100s and $50s

Counterfeit $100s and $50s

This latest “donation” to Krebs On Security arrived via USPS Priority Mail, just days after I’d written about counterfeit cash sold online by a shadowy figure known only as “MrMouse.” These counterfeits had previously been offered on “dark web” — sites only accessible using special software such as Tor — but I wrote about MrMouse’s funny money because he’d started selling it openly on Reddit, as well as on a half-dozen hacker forums that are quite reachable on the regular Internet.

Sure enough, the package contained the minimum order that MrMouse allows: $500, split up into four fake $100s and two phony $50 bills — all with different serial numbers. I have no idea who sent the bogus bills; perhaps it was MrMouse himself, hoping I’d write a review of his offering. After all, since my story about his service was picked up by multiple media outlets, he’s changed his sales thread on several crime forums to read, “As seen on KrebsOnSecurity, Business Insider and Ars Technica…”

Anyhow, it’s not every day that I get a firsthand look at counterfeit cash, so for better for worse, I decided it would be a shame not to write about it. Since I was preparing to turn the entire package over to the local cops, I was careful to handle the cash sparingly and only with gloves. At first glance, the cash does look and feel like the real thing. Closer inspection, however, reveals that these bills are fakes.

In the video below, I run the fake bills through two basic tests designed to determine the authenticity of U.S. currency: The counterfeit pen test, and ultraviolet light. As we’ll see in the video, the $50 bills shipped in this package sort of failed the pen test (the fake $100 more or less passed). However, both the $50s and $100s completely flopped on the ultraviolet test. It’s too bad more businesses don’t check bills with a cheapo ultraviolet light: the pen test apparently can be defeated easily (by using acid-free paper or by bleaching real bills and using them as a starting point).

Let’s check out the bogus Benjamins. In the image below, we can see a pretty big difference in the watermarks on both bills. The legitimate $100 bill — shown at the bottom of the picture — has a very defined image of Benjamin Franklin as a watermark. In contrast, the fake $100 up top has a much less detailed watermark. Still, without comparing the fake and the real $100 side by side, this deficiency probably would be difficult to spot for the untrained eye.

The fake $100 (above) has a much less defined Ben Franklin as a watermark.

The fake $100 (top) has a much less defined Ben Franklin for a watermark. The color difference between these two bills is negligible, but the legitimate $100 appears darker here because it was closer to  the light source behind the bills when this photo was taken.

Continue reading →


26
Aug 14

DQ Breach? HQ Says No, But Would it Know?

Sources in the financial industry say they’re seeing signs that Dairy Queen may be the latest retail chain to be victimized by cybercrooks bent on stealing credit and debit card data. Dairy Queen says it has no indication of a card breach at any of its thousands of locations, but the company also acknowledges that nearly all stores are franchises and that there is no established company process or requirement that franchisees communicate security issues or card breaches to Dairy Queen headquarters.

Update, Aug. 28, 12:08 p.m. ET: A spokesman for Dairy Queen has confirmed that the company recently heard from the U.S. Secret Service about “suspicious activity” related to a strain of card-stealing malware found in hundreds of other retail intrusions. Dairy Queen says it is still investigating and working with authorities, and does not yet know how many stores may be impacted.

Original story:

dqI first began hearing reports of a possible card breach at Dairy Queen at least two weeks ago, but could find no corroborating signs of it — either by lurking in shadowy online “card shops” or from talking with sources in the banking industry. Over the past few days, however, I’ve heard from multiple financial institutions that say they’re dealing with a pattern of fraud on cards that were all recently used at various Dairy Queen locations in several states. There are also indications that these same cards are being sold in the cybercrime underground.

The latest report in the trenches came from a credit union in the Midwestern United States. The person in charge of fraud prevention at this credit union reached out wanting to know if I’d heard of a breach at Dairy Queen, stating that the financial institution had detected fraud on cards that had all been recently used at a half-dozen Dairy Queen locations in and around its home state.

According to the credit union, more than 50 customers had been victimized by a blizzard of card fraud just in the past few days alone after using their credit and debit cards at Dairy Queen locations — some as far away as Florida — and the pattern of fraud suggests the DQ stores were compromised at least as far back as early June 2014.

“We’re getting slammed today,” the fraud manager said Tuesday morning of fraud activity tracing back to member cards used at various Dairy Queen locations in the past three weeks. “We’re just getting all kinds of fraud cases coming in from members having counterfeit copies of their cards being used at dollar stores and grocery stores.”

Other financial institutions contacted by this reporter have seen recent fraud on cards that were all used at Dairy Queen locations in Florida and several other states, including Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.

On Friday, Aug. 22, KrebsOnSecurity spoke with Dean Peters, director of communications for the Minneapolis-based fast food chain. Peters said the company had heard no reports of card fraud at individual DQ locations, but he stressed that nearly all of Dairy Queen stores were independently owned and operated. When asked whether DQ had any sort of requirement that its franchisees notify the company in the event of a security breach or problem with their card processing systems, Peters said no.

“At this time, there is no such policy,” Peters said. “We would assist them if [any franchisees] reached out to us about a breach, but so far we have not heard from any of our franchisees that they have had any kind of breach.”

Julie Conroy, research director at the advisory firm Aite Group, said nationwide companies like Dairy Queen should absolutely have breach notification policies in place for franchisees, if for no other reason than to protect the integrity of the company’s brand and public image.

“Without question this is a brand protection issue,” Conroy said. “This goes back to the eternal challenge with all small merchants. Even with companies like Dairy Queen, where the mother ship is huge, each of the individual establishments are essentially mom-and-pop stores, and a lot of these stores still don’t think they’re a target for this type of fraud. By extension, the mother ship is focused on herding a bunch of cats in the form of thousands of franchisees, and they’re not thinking that all of these stores are targets for cybercriminals and that they should have some sort of company-wide policy about it. In fact, franchised brands that have that sort of policy in place are far more the exception than the rule.”

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN?

The situation apparently developing with Dairy Queen is reminiscent of similar reports last month from multiple banks about card fraud traced back to dozens of locations of Jimmy John’s, a nationwide sandwich shop chain that also is almost entirely franchisee-owned. Jimmy John’s has said it is investigating the breach claims, but so far it has not confirmed reports of card breaches at any of its 1,900+ stores nationwide.

The DHS/Secret Service advisory.

The DHS/Secret Service advisory.

Rumblings of a card breach involving at least some fraction of Dairy Queen’s 4,500 domestic, independently-run stores come amid increasingly vocal warnings from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service, which last week said that more than 1,000 American businesses had been hit by malicious software designed to steal credit card data from cash register systems.

In that alert, the agencies warned that hackers have been scanning networks for point-of-sale systems with remote access capabilities (think LogMeIn and pcAnywhere), and then installing malware on POS devices protected by weak and easily guessed passwords.  The alert noted that at least seven point-of-sale vendors/providers confirmed they have had multiple clients affected.

Around the time that the Secret Service alert went out, UPS Stores, a subsidiary of the United Parcel Service, said that it scanned its systems for signs of the malware described in the alert and found security breaches that may have led to the theft of customer credit and debit data at 51 UPS franchises across the United States (about 1 percent of its 4,470 franchised center locations throughout the United States). Incidentally, the way UPS handled that breach disclosure — clearly calling out the individual stores affected — should stand as a model for other companies struggling with similar breaches. Continue reading →


21
Aug 14

Stealthy, Razor Thin ATM Insert Skimmers

An increasing number of ATM skimmers targeting banks and consumers appear to be of the razor-thin insert variety. These card-skimming devices are made to fit snugly and invisibly inside the throat of the card acceptance slot. Here’s a look at a stealthy new model of insert skimmer pulled from a cash machine in southern Europe just this past week.

The bank that shared these photos asked to remain anonymous, noting that the incident is still under investigation. But according to an executive at this financial institution, the skimmer below was discovered inside the ATM’s card slot by a bank technician after the ATM’s “fatal error” alarm was set off, warning that someone was likely tampering with the cash machine.

A side view of the stainless steel insert skimmer pulled from a European ATM.

A side view of the stainless steel insert skimmer pulled from a European ATM.

“It was discovered in the ATM’s card slot and the fraudsters didn’t manage to withdraw it,” the bank employee said. “We didn’t capture any hidden camera [because] they probably took it. There were definitely no PIN pad [overlays]. In all skimming cases lately we see through the videos that fraudsters capture the PIN through [hidden] cameras.”

Here’s a closer look at the electronics inside this badboy, which appears to be powered by a simple $3 Energizer Lithium Coin battery (CR2012):

The backside of the insert skimmer reveals a tiny battery and a small data storage device (far left).

The backside of the insert skimmer reveals a small battery (top) and a tiny data storage device (far left).

Flip the device around and we get another look at the battery and the data storage component. The small area circled in red on the left in the image below appears to be the component that’s made to read the data from the magnetic stripe of cards inserted into the compromised ATM.

insert-frontside

Virtually all European banks issue chip-and-PIN cards (also called Europay, Mastercard and Visa or EMV), which make it far more expensive for thieves to duplicate and profit from counterfeit cards. Even still, ATM skimming remains a problem for European banks mainly because several parts of the world — most notably the United States and countries in Asia and South America — have not yet adopted this standard. Continue reading →


20
Aug 14

Counterfeit U.S. Cash Floods Crime Forums

One can find almost anything for sale online, particularly in some of the darker corners of the Web and on the myriad cybercrime forums. These sites sell everything from stolen credit cards and identities to hot merchandise, but until very recently one illicit good I had never seen for sale on the forums was counterfeit U.S. currency.

Counterfeit Series 1996 $100 bill.

Counterfeit Series 1996 $100 bill.

That changed in the past month with the appearance on several top crime boards of a new fraudster who goes by the hacker alias “MrMouse.” This individual sells counterfeit $20s, $50s and $100s, and claims that his funny money will pass most of the tests that merchants use to tell bogus bills from the real thing.

MrMouse markets his fake funds as “Disney Dollars,” and in addition to blanketing some of the top crime forums with Flash-based ads for his service he has boldly paid for a Reddit stickied post  in the official Disney Market Place.

Judging from images of his bogus bills, the fake $100 is a copy of the Series 1996 version of the note — not the most recent $100 design released by the U.S. Treasury Department in October 2013. Customers who’ve purchased his goods say the $20 notes feel a bit waxy, but that the $50s and $100s are quite good fakes.

MrMouse says his single-ply bills do not have magnetic ink, and so they won’t pass machines designed to look for the presence of this feature. However, this fraudster claims his $100 bill includes most of the other security features that store clerks and cashiers will look for to detect funny money, including the watermark, the pen test, and the security strip.

MrMouse's ads for counterfeit $20s, $50s and $100s now blanket many crime forums.

MrMouse’s ads for counterfeit $20s, $50s and $100s now blanket many crime forums.

In addition, MrMouse says his notes include “microprinting,” tiny lettering that can only be seen under magnification (“USA 100″ is repeated within the number 100 in the lower left corner, and “The United States of America” appears as a line in the left lapel of Franklin’s coat). The sourdough vendor also claims his hundreds sport “color-shifting ink,” an advanced feature that gives the money an appearance of changing color when held at different angles.

I checked with the U.S. Secret Service and with counterfeiting experts, none of whom had previously seen serious counterfeit currency marketed and sold on Internet crime forums.

“That’s a first for me, but I guess they can sell anything online these days,” said Jason Kersten, author of The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter, a true crime story about a counterfeiter who made millions before his capture by the Secret Service.

Kersten said that outside of so-called “supernote” counterfeits made by criminals within North Korea, it is rare to find vendors advertising features that MrMouse is claiming on his C-notes, including Intaglio (pronounced “in-tal-ee-oh”) and offset printing. Both features help give U.S. currency a certain tactile feel, and it is rare to find that level of quality in fake bills, he said.

Continue reading →


18
Aug 14

Lorem Ipsum: Of Good & Evil, Google & China

Imagine discovering a secret language spoken only online by a knowledgeable and learned few. Over a period of weeks, as you begin to tease out the meaning of this curious tongue and ponder its purpose, the language appears to shift in subtle but fantastic ways, remaking itself daily before your eyes. And just when you are poised to share your findings with the rest of the world, the entire thing vanishes.

loremipsumThis fairly describes my roller coaster experience of curiosity, wonder and disappointment over the past few weeks, as I’ve worked alongside security researchers in an effort to understand how “lorem ipsum” — common placeholder text on countless Web sites — could be transformed into so many apparently geopolitical and startlingly modern phrases when translated from Latin to English using Google Translate. (If you have no idea what “lorem ipsum” is, skip ahead to a brief primer here).

Admittedly, this blog post would make more sense if readers could fully replicate the results described below using Google Translate. However, as I’ll explain later, something important changed in Google’s translation system late last week that currently makes the examples I’ll describe impossible to reproduce.

CHINA, NATO, SEXY, SEXY

It all started a few months back when I received a note from Lance James, head of cyber intelligence at Deloitte. James pinged me to share something discovered by FireEye researcher Michael Shoukry and another researcher who wished to be identified only as “Kraeh3n.” They noticed a bizarre pattern in Google Translate: When one typed “lorem ipsum” into Google Translate, the default results (with the system auto-detecting Latin as the language) returned a single word: “China.”

Capitalizing the first letter of each word changed the output to “NATO” — the acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Reversing the words in both lower- and uppercase produced “The Internet” and “The Company” (the “Company” with a capital “C” has long been a code word for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency). Repeating and rearranging the word pair with a mix of capitalization generated even stranger results. For example, “lorem ipsum ipsum ipsum Lorem” generated the phrase “China is very very sexy.”

Until very recently, the words on the left were transformed to the words on the right using Google Translate.

Until very recently, the words on the left were transformed to the words on the right using Google Translate.

Kraeh3n said she discovered the strange behavior while proofreading a document for a colleague, a document that had the standard lorem ipsum placeholder text. When she began typing “l-o-r..e..” and saw “China” as the result, she knew something was strange.

“I saw words like Internet, China, government, police, and freedom and was curious as to how this was happening,” Kraeh3n said. “I immediately contacted Michael Shoukry and we began looking into it further.”

And so the duo started testing the limits of these two words using a mix of capitalization and repetition. Below is just one of many pages of screenshots taken from their results:

ipsumlorem

The researchers wondered: What was going on here? Has someone outside of Google figured out how to map certain words to different meanings in Google Translate? Was it a secret or covert communications channel? Perhaps a form of communication meant to bypass the censorship erected by the Chinese government with the Great Firewall of China? Or was this all just some coincidental glitch in the Matrix?

For his part, Shoukry checked in with contacts in the U.S. intelligence industry, quietly inquiring if divulging his findings might in any way jeopardize important secrets. Weeks went by and his sources heard no objection. One thing was for sure, the results were subtly changing from day to day, and it wasn’t clear how long these two common but obscure words would continue to produce the same results.

“While Google translate may be incorrect in the translations of these words, it’s puzzling why these words would be translated to things such as ‘China,’ ‘NATO,’ and ‘The Free Internet,’” Shoukry said. “Could this be a glitch? Is this intentional? Is this a way for people to communicate? What is it?”

When I met Shoukry at the Black Hat security convention in Las Vegas earlier this month, he’d already alerted Google to his findings. Clearly, it was time for some intense testing, and the clock was already ticking: I was convinced (and unfortunately, correct) that much of it would disappear at any moment. Continue reading →


15
Aug 14

Why So Many Card Breaches? A Q&A

The news wires today are buzzing with stories about another potentially major credit/debit card breach at yet another retail chain: This time, the apparent victim is AB Acquisition, which operates Albertsons stores under a number of brands, including ACME Markets, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s and Star Markets. Today’s post includes no special insight into this particular retail breach, but rather seeks to offer answers to some common questions regarding why we keep hearing about them.

QWhy do we keep hearing about breaches involving bricks-and-mortar stores?

Credit and debit cards stolen from bricks-and-mortar stores (called “dumps”) usually sell for at least ten times the price of cards stolen from online merchants (referred to in the underground as “CVVs” or just “credit cards”). As a result, dumps are highly prized by today’s cyber crooks, and there are dozens of underground “card shops” online that will happily buy the cards from hackers and resell them on the open market. For a closer look at how these shops work (and how, for example, the people responsible for these retail break-ins very often also are actually running the card shops themselves) see Peek Inside a Carding Shop.

Okay, I’ll bite: Why are dumps so much more expensive and valuable to attackers?

A big part of the price difference has to do with the number of steps it takes for the people buying these stolen cards (a.k.a. “carders”) to “cash out” or gain value from the stolen cards. For example, which of these processes is likely to be more successful, hassle-free and lucrative for the bad guy?

1. Armed with a stack of dumps, a carder walks into a big box store and walks out with high-priced electronics or gift cards that he can easily turn into cash.

2. Armed with a list of CVVs, a carder searches online for stores that will ship to an address that is different from the one on the card. Assuming the transaction is approved, he has the goods shipped to a guy he knows at another address who will take a cut of the action. That is, *if* the fraudulently purchased goods don’t get stopped or intercepted along the way by the merchant or shipping company when someone complains about a fraudulent transaction.

If you guessed #1, you’re already thinking like a carder!

Snap! But it seems like these breaches are becoming more common. Is that true?

It’s always hard to say whether something is becoming more common, or if we’re just becoming more aware of the thing in question. I think it’s safe to say that more people are looking for patterns that reveal these retail breaches (including yours truly, but somehow this one caught me– and just about everyone I’ve asked — unawares).

Certainly, banks — which shoulder much of the immediate cost from such breaches — are out for blood and seem more willing than ever to dig deep into their own fraud data for patterns that would reveal which merchants got hacked. Visa and MasterCard each have systems in place for the banks to recover at least a portion of the costs associated with retail credit and debit card fraud (such as the cost of re-issuing compromised cards), but the banks still need to be able to tie specific compromised cards to specific merchant breaches. Continue reading →


15
Aug 14

How Secure is Your Security Badge?

Security conferences are a great place to learn about the latest hacking tricks, tools and exploits, but they also remind us of important stuff that was shown to be hackable in previous years yet never really got fixed. Perhaps the best example of this at last week’s annual DefCon security conference in Las Vegas came from hackers who built on research first released in 2010 to show just how trivial it still is to read, modify and clone most HID cards — the rectangular white plastic “smart” cards that organizations worldwide distribute to employees for security badges.

HID iClass proximity card.

HID iClass proximity card.

Nearly four years ago, researchers at the Chaos Communication Congress (CCC), a security conference in Berlin, released a paper (PDF) demonstrating a serious vulnerability in smart cards made by Austin, Texas-based HID Global, by far the largest manufacturer of these devices. The CCC researchers showed that the card reader device that HID sells to validate the data stored on its then-new line of iClass proximity cards includes the master encryption key needed to read data on those cards.

More importantly, the researchers proved that anyone with physical access to one of these readers could extract the encryption key and use it to read, clone, and modify data stored on any HID cards made to work with those readers.

At the time, HID responded by modifying future models of card readers so that the firmware stored inside them could not be so easily dumped or read (i.e., the company removed the external serial interface on new readers). But according to researchers, HID never changed the master encryption key for its readers, likely because doing so would require customers using the product to modify or replace all of their readers and cards — a costly proposition by any measure given HID’s huge market share.

Unfortunately, this means that anyone with a modicum of hardware hacking skills, an eBay account, and a budget of less than $500 can grab a copy of the master encryption key and create a portable system for reading and cloning HID cards. At least, that was the gist of the DefCon talk given last week by the co-founders of Lares Consulting, a company that gets hired to test clients’ physical and network security.

Lares’ Joshua Perrymon and Eric Smith demonstrated how an HID parking garage reader capable of reading cards up to three feet away was purchased off of eBay and modified to fit inside of a common backpack. Wearing this backpack, an attacker looking to gain access to a building protected by HID’s iClass cards could obtain that access simply by walking up to a employee of the targeted organization and asking for directions, a light of a cigarette, or some other pretext.

Card cloning gear fits in a briefcase. Image: Lares Consulting.

Card cloning gear fits in a briefcase. Image: Lares Consulting.

Continue reading →


13
Aug 14

Tenn. Firm Sues Bank Over $327K Cyberheist

An industrial maintenance and construction firm in Tennessee that was hit by a $327,000 cyberheist is suing its financial institution to recover the stolen funds, charging the bank with negligence and breach of contract. Court-watchers say the lawsuit — if it proceeds to trial — could make it easier and cheaper for cyberheist victims to recover losses.

teciIn May, 2012, Kingsport, Tenn.-based Tennessee Electric Company Inc. (now TEC Industrial) was the target of a corporate account takeover that saw cyber thieves use a network of more than four dozen money mules to siphon $327,804 out of the company’s accounts at TriSummit Bank.

TriSummit was able to claw back roughly $135,000 of those unauthorized transfers, leaving Tennessee Electric with a loss of $192,656. Earlier this month, the company sued TriSummit in state court, alleging negligence, breach of contract, gross negligence and fraudulent concealment.

Both companies declined to comment for this story. But as Tennessee Electric’s complaint (PDF) notes (albeit by misspelling my name), I called Tennessee Electric on May 10, 2012 to alert the company about a possible cyberheist targeting its accounts. I’d contacted the company after speaking with a money mule who’d acknowledged receiving thousands of dollars pulled from the firm’s accounts at TriSummit.

According to the complaint, the attackers first struck on May 8, after Tennessee Electric’s controller tried, unsuccessfully, to log into the bank’s site and upload that week’s payroll batch (typically from $200,000 to $240,000 per week). When the controller called TriSummit to inquire about the site problems, the bank said the site was probably undergoing maintenance and that the controller was welcome to visit the local bank branch and upload the file there. The controller did just that, uploading four payroll batches worth $202,664.47.

[SIDE NOTE: When I spoke with Tennessee Electric's controller back in 2012, the controller for the company told me she was asked for and supplied the output of a one-time token upon login. This would make sense given the controller's apparent problems accessing the bank's Web site. Cyber thieves involved in these heists typically use password-stealing malware to control what the victim sees in his or her browser; when a victim logs in at a bank that requires a one-time token, the malware will intercept that token and then redirect the victim's browser to an error page or a "down for maintenance" message -- all the while allowing the thieves to use the one-time token and the victim's credentials to log in as the legitimate user.]

On May 9, Tennessee Electric alleges, TriSummit Bank called to confirm the $202,664.47 payroll batch — as per an agreement the bank and the utility had which called for the bank to verbally verify all payment orders by phone. But according to Tennessee Electric, the bank for some reason had already approved a payroll draft of $327,804 to be sent to 55 different accounts across the United States — even though the bank allegedly never called to get verification of that payment order.

Tennessee Electric alleges that the bank only called to seek approval for the fraudulent batch on May 10, more than a day after having approved it and after I contacted Tennessee Electric to let them know they’d been robbed by the Russian cyber mob.

ANALYSIS

This lawsuit, if it heads to trial, could help set a more certain and even standard for figuring out who’s at fault when businesses are hit by cyberheists (for better or worse, most such legal challenges are overwhelmingly weighted toward banks and quietly settled for a fraction of the loss).

Consumers who bank online are protected by Regulation E, which dramatically limits the liability for consumers who lose money from unauthorized account activity online (provided the victim notifies their financial institution of the fraudulent activity within 60 days of receiving a disputed account statement).

Businesses, however, do not enjoy such protections. States across the country have adopted the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which holds that a payment order received by the [bank] is “effective as the order of the customer, whether or not authorized, if the security procedure is a commercially reasonable method of providing security against unauthorized payment orders, and the bank proves that it accepted the payment order in good faith and in compliance with the security procedure and any written agreement or instruction of the customer restricting acceptance of payment orders issued in the name of the customer.”

Under state interpretations of the UCC, the most that a business hit with a cyberheist can hope to recover is the amount that was stolen. That means that it’s generally not in the business’s best interests to sue their bank unless the amount of theft was quite high, because the litigation fees required to win a court battle can quickly equal or surpass the amount stolen. Continue reading →


12
Aug 14

Adobe, Microsoft Push Critical Security Fixes

Adobe and Microsoft today each independently released security updates to fix critical problems with their products. Adobe issued patches for Adobe Reader/Acrobat, Flash Player and AIR, while Microsoft pushed nine security updates to address at least 37 security holes in Windows and related software.

Microsoft's recommended patch deployment priority for enterprises, Aug. 2014.

Microsoft’s recommended patch deployment priority for enterprises, Aug. 2014.

Two of the nine update bundles Microsoft released today earned the company’s most-dire “critical” label, meaning the vulnerabilities fixed in the updates can be exploited by bad guys or malware without any help from users. A critical update for Internet Explorer accounts for the bulk of flaws addressed this month, including one that was actively being exploited by attackers prior to today, and another that was already publicly disclosed, according to Microsoft.

Other Microsoft products fixed in today’s release include Windows Media Center, One Note, SQL Server and SharePoint. Check out the Technet roundup here and the Microsoft Bulletin Summary Web page at this link.

There are a couple other important changes from Microsoft this month: The company announced that it will soon begin blocking out-of-date ActiveX controls for Internet Explorer users, and that it will support only the most recent versions of the .NET Framework and IE for each supported operating system (.NET is a programming platform required by a great many third-party Windows applications and is therefore broadly installed).

These changes are both worth mentioning because this month’s patch batch also includes Flash fixes (an ActiveX plugin on IE) and another .NET update. I’ve had difficulties installing large Patch Tuesday packages along with .NET updates, so I try to update them separately. To avoid any complications, I would recommend that Windows users install all other available recommended patches except for the .NET bundle; after installing those updates, restart Windows and then install any pending .NET fixes).

Finally, I should note that Microsoft released a major new version (version 5) of its Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET), a set of tools designed to protect Windows systems even before new and undiscovered threats against the operating system and third-party software are formally addressed by security updates and antimalware software. I’ll have more on EMET 5.0 in an upcoming blog post (my review of EMET 4 is here) but this is a great tool that can definitely help harden Windows systems from attacks. If you already have EMET installed, you’ll want to remove the previous version and reboot before upgrading to 5.0. Continue reading →


11
Aug 14

Personalize Your Copy of Spam Nation

Good news for fans of this blog who have not yet pre-ordered a copy of my upcoming book, Spam Nation. Politics & Prose, a literary landmark in the District of Columbia, will be helping me launch a six-city book tour, and is offering a personalized message from this author for anyone who pre-orders a copy of Spam Nation through the D.C. store’s Web site.

Politics&ProseLogoUse this link to purchase from Politics & Prose and receive a signed and personalized print copy of Spam Nation. The offer is good through November 18. Please send your proof-of-purchase to spamnation@sourcebookspr.com. Buyers have the option of picking the book up in the store, or having it shipped.

Other cities that we will visit on the book tour include Austin, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Stay tuned for more information about those events.

And as always, thank you for your readership!