11
Feb 10

Interview with a 419 Scammer

For those who haven’t seen it, scam-detectives.co.uk has a really interesting 3-part interview with a former Nigerian scammer.

Scam-Detective: A reader has asked me to talk to you about face to face scams. Were you ever involved in meeting a victim, or was all of your contact by email?

John: I never met a victim, but I was involved in a couple of Wash-Wash scams.

Scam-Detective: Wash Wash scams? What does that involve?

John: We would tell the victim that we had a trunk full of money, millions of dollars. One victim met some of my associates in a hotel in Amsterdam, where he was shown a box full of black paper. He was told that the money had been dyed black to get through customs, and that it could be cleaned with a special chemical that was very expensive. My associates showed him how this worked with a couple of $100 bills from the top of the box, which they rinsed with some liquid to remove the black dye. Of course the rest of the bills were only black paper, but the victim saw real money. He handed over $27,000 (about £17,000) to buy the chemicals and was told to return to the hotel later that day to pick up the cash. Of course when he came back, there was nobody there. He couldn’t report it to anybody because if it had been real it would have been illegal, so he would have gotten himself into trouble.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

We build tools in Firefox like stale-plugin warnings and malware blocking to help protect our users, to neuter the technological attacks they may encounter on the web. But we also try, and need to keep trying, to build tools that inform our users so that they can make better decisions. Our phishing warnings and certificate errors try to do this, but mostly by scaring users away from specific attack situations. I hope we’ll continue to build tools like Larry which try to give people some affirmative context as well, to lend some nuance to their sense of place online. I want us to help our users know when they’re on Main Street, and when they’re in an alley.

I know: People get conned in the real world, too, and certainly no browser UI is going to save you from an email-based scam. Stories like this, though, are just specific instances of what I believe to be a more universal principle:

the biggest security risk most people face is misplaced trust

John: Some of the blame has to go to the victims. They wanted the money too because they were greedy. Lots of times I would get emails telling me that they wanted more money than I was offering because of the money they were having to send. They could afford to lose the money.

Scam-Detective: John, I think you have been basically honest with me so far. Please don’t stop that now. You know as well as I do that not all of your victims were motivated by greed. I have seen plenty of scam emails that talk about dying widows who want to give their money to charity, or young people who are in refugee camps and need help to get out. You targetted vulnerable, charitable people as well as greedy businessmen, didn’t you? You didn’t care whether they could afford it or not, did you?

John: Ok, you are right. I am not proud of it but I had to feed my family.

If you have ideas for how we can help users place their trust online more deliberately and carefully: please comment here, or build an addon, or file a bug.


08
Dec 08

Firefox Malware?

A crappy thing happened last week – someone wrote some malware that infects Firefox. We obviously don’t like that very much at all, but I wanted to at least make it clear what is and isn’t happening, since there’s some confusion out there.

What is going on?

Basically for as long as there has been software, there have been nasty people out there who get you to download and install software which turns out to have hidden cargo.  Security folks use names like “virus,” “trojan,” “worm,” and “malware” to describe different types, but the point is that if a person can be tricked into running nasty programs, they can do nasty things.

In this case, rather than wiping your hard drive or turning all your icons upside down, this particular jerk has decided to mess with your Firefox. Once you run the program, it hooks into your Firefox and watches for you to visit certain sites, at which point it will steal your username and password.

How Can I Tell If I Have It?

You can open up your Firefox addons manager (Tools->Add-ons) and go to the “Plugins” section.  If you have a plugin called “Basic Example Plugin for Mozilla” you should disable it.


Original credit to TrustDefender Labs’ blog post on the subject

Does This Mean that Firefox is Insecure?

No, and here’s why:

  • This particular malware targets our program, but once you have malicious software running on your system, it can just as easily attack other programs, or harm your computer in other ways.
  • This isn’t contracted by just browsing around the web with Firefox 3. In fact, the Malware Protection features in Firefox 3 are designed specifically to prevent sites from being able to attack your computer.

The people getting infected here are either downloading enticing files that have the malware hiding inside (which is why Firefox 3 hands off all downloads to your computer’s virus scanner once downloaded) or, as some sites are reporting, people who have already been infected in the past having their computers forced to download this file as well.

Typical Firefox 3 users who avoid downloading software they don’t trust are unlikely to ever see this, and even the sites reporting it describe its incidence as “rare”.

What’s this I hear about GreaseMonkey?

There are some mentions of greasemonkey in a couple of the early reports based on some analysis of the code used by this malware, but I want to be clear that the (legitimate, and awesome) Greasemonkey Addon is not involved in this malware in any way. It is not involved in the installation or execution of the attack.

As always, the best defense is vigilance.  Use a browser with a solid security record and modern anti-malware defenses built in, and be very careful about downloading and running programs you find online.  If a bad guy is able to get you to run a program on your machine they will be able to do bad things, so we’ll keep trying to stop them and you keep trying to as well.

More details are also available on the official Mozilla security blog.


26
Jun 08

Security Screencast(s)

As Alix mentions, I recently put together a quick screencast of some of the new security features in Firefox 3. Of course, beltzner promptly scooped me with his own inimitable screencast, and what with the launch, it’s only now that I’m getting around to posting mine.

What’s interesting to me, though, is the difference between what I originally recorded, and what Alix published. I recorded the raw screencast using Jing, which is a simple, free screencasting tool for Mac and Windows. It caps you at 5 minutes, and records as flash, but it’s super easy to use, and screencast.com will host the resultant video for you. You can see what I recorded here:

But then I handed it off to Alix and David and Rainer, and they turned my 5 minutes of low production values into 2 minutes of edited, titled video, with helpful visuals! See if you notice the difference…


Firefox 3: Security from Mozilla Firefox on Vimeo.

As promised in my last post, I’ll soon be posting yet another video, this time an hour long talk I gave at FIRST. And then, I think, no more blatant self-promotion for a couple weeks, eh?

Have you installed Firefox 3 yet?


21
Jun 08

Firing Up Browser Security

Low Flying Dogs on FlickrWindow and I recently did a joint interview for Federico Biancuzzi at SecurityFocus about many of the security changes we’ve made in Firefox 3. It covers both front-end and back-end information, and mentions several changes that I haven’t had a chance to mention here in the past.

If you’re interested, check it out.

[PS - Full props to r80o on flickr - this is a pretty excellent photo for "caution", and CC too!]


21
May 08

Mal-what? Firefox 3 vs. Bad People

A lot of the things I write here are for geeks.  That’s unsurprising, given my own wonkish leanings, but I appreciate that it makes me a tough guy to love, much less read, at times.  Sorry about that, and thanks for sticking with me.

With Firefox 3 on the cusp of the precipice of the knife’s edge of release, though, I wanted to stop pretending that everyone reads the same articles I do and talk about one of the many, really concrete things we’re doing to keep our users, like you, safe.  There will be graphs.

Continue reading →


16
Apr 08

Security UI in Firefox 3plus1

We’ve made a lot of changes (and more importantly, a lot of positive progress) in security UI for Firefox 3.

We have built-in malware protection now, and better phishing protection.  We have a password manager that intelligently lets you see whether your login was successful before saving, instead of interrupting the page load.  We have gotten rid of several security dialogs that taught users to click OK automatically, unseeingly.  We have OCSP on by default.  We have a consistent place in the UI now where users can get information about the site they are visiting, including detailed secondary information about their history with the site; all of which are first steps in a long road towards equipping users with more sophisticated tools for browsing online, by taking advantage of habits they already have, and things we already know.  All the people who worked on this stuff know who they are, and I want to thank them, because it sure as hell wasn’t all me.

With Firefox 3 in full down-hunker for final release (and with conference silly season upon us) though, I’ve started to get serious about thinking through what comes next.

Here’s my initial list of the 3 things I care most about, what have I missed?

1. Key Continuity Management

Key continuity management is the name for an approach to SSL certificates that focuses more on “is this the same site I saw last time?” instead of “is this site presenting a cert from a trusted third party?”  Those approaches don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and shouldn’t in our case, but supporting some version of this would let us deal more intelligently with crypto environments that don’t use CA-issued certificates.

The exception mechanism in Firefox 3 is a very weak version of KCM, in that security exceptions, once manually added, do have “KCM-ish” properties (future visits are undisturbed, changes are detected).  But without the whole process being transparent to users, we miss the biggest advantage to this approach.

Why I care: KCM lets us eliminate the most-benign and most-frequently-occurring SSL error in Firefox 3.  Self-signed certs aren’t intrinsically dangerous, even if they do lack any identification information whatsoever.  The problem is that case-by-case, we don’t have a way to know if a given self-signed cert represents an attack in progress.  The probability of that event is low, but the risk is high, so we get in the way.  That’s not optimal, though.  When the risk is negligible, we should get out of the way, and save our warnings for the times when they can be most effective.

2. Secure Remote Passwords

Secure Remote Password protocol is a mechanism (have some math!) for allowing a username/password-style exchange to happen, without an actual password going out along the wire. Rob Sayre already has a patch.  That patch makes the technology available, but putting together a UI for it that resists spoofing (and is attractive enough that sites want to participate) will be interesting.

Why I care: SRP is not the solution to phishing, but it does make it harder to make use of stolen credentials, and that’s already a big deal.  It also has the happy side effect of authenticating the site to you while it’s authenticating you to the site.  I wouldn’t want this useful technology to get stuck in the chicken-egg quagmire of “you implement it first.”

3. Private Browsing Mode

This is the idea of a mode for Firefox which would protect their privacy more aggressively, and erase any trace of having been in that mode after the fact.  Ehsan Akhgari has done a bunch of work here, and in fact has a working patch.  While his version hooks into all the various places we might store personal data, I’ve also wondered about a mode where we just spawn a new profile on the spot (possibly with saved passwords intact) and then delete it once finished.

Why I care: Aside from awkward teenagers (and wandering fiancés), there are a lot of places in the world where the sites you choose to visit can be used as a weapon against you.  Private browsing mode is not some panacea for governmental oppression, but as the user’s agent, I think it is legitimately within our scope (and morally within our responsibility) to put users in control of their information.  We began this thinking with the “Clear Private Data” entry in the tools menu, but I think we can do better.

(And also…)

Outside of these 3, there are a couple things that I know will get some of my attention, but involve more work to understand before I can talk intelligently about how to solve them.

The first is for me to get a better understanding of user certificates. In North America (outside of the military, at least) client certificates are not a regular matter of course for most users, but in other parts of the world, they are becoming downright commonplace.  As I understand it, Belgium and Denmark already issue certs to their citizenry for government interaction, and I think Britain is considering its options as well.  We’ve fixed some bugs in that UI in Firefox 3, but I think it’s still a second-class UI in terms of the attention it has gotten, and making it awesome would probably help a lot of users in the countries that use them.  If you have experience and feedback here, I would welcome it.

The second is banging on the drum about our mixed content detection.  We have some very old bugs in the area, and mixed content has the ability to break all of our assumptions about secure connections.  I think it’s just a matter of getting the right people interested in the problem, so it may be that the best way for me to solve this is with bottles of single malt.  Whatever it takes.  If you can help here, name your price.

Obviously I’ve left out all the tactical fixup work on the UI we already have.  We all know that those things will need to happen, to be re-evaluated and evolved.  I wanted to get these bigger-topic thoughts out early, so that people like you can start thinking about whether they are interesting and relevant to the things you care about, and shouting angrily if they aren’t.


17
Mar 08

Should Malware Warnings have a Clickthrough?

In the latest nightly builds of FF3, and in the upcoming Beta 5, we let users choose to ignore our phishing warning, and click through to the site, just like they could in Firefox 2:

Ignore this Warning

But that same spot is empty in the malware case (unless you install my magic extension.)  Should it be?  It’s a harder question than it seems, on first blush.

Continue reading →


26
Feb 08

State of the Malware Nation

It’s a couple weeks old, I know, but for anyone who hasn’t seen it, Google’s Online Security Blog has linked to a draft article produced by some of their malware researchers about the trends they’ve observed in malware hosting and distribution.  Aside from a troubling pre-occupation with CDF graphs, it’s a really interesting look at the way malware networks are spread through the internet.

I found this snippet interesting:

We also examined the network location of the malware distribution servers and the landing sites linking to them. Figure 8 shows that the malware distribution sites are concentrated in a limited number of /8 prefixes. About 70% of the malware distribution sites have IP addresses within 58.* — 61.* and 209.* — 221.* network ranges.

Our results show that all the malware distribution sites’ IP addresses fall into only 500 ASes. Figure 9 shows the cumulative fraction of these sites across the 500 ASes hosting them (sorted in descending order by the number of sites in each AS).  The graph further shows the highly nonuniform concentration of the malware distribution sites— 95% of these sites map to only 210 ASes.

But I think this is the big takeaway:

Malware Landing Site Distribution

Because malware is being distributed via ad networks more and more, it’s no longer safe to assume that you’ll be okay if you just avoid the seedy parts of the net.  And because it’s no longer requiring user interaction in a lot of cases, the old-school “don’t run executables from random websites” best practice might not be enough either.  To stay on top of things, you are going to want to be running a browser that is as hardened as we can make it, and that also incorporates active checking of known malware sites.

And lookit, the Firefox 3 beta is right over here.