Category: Cyber Security

Land register number allows access to personal data, Polish authorities confirm

23. March 2022

In a legal dispute that has been ongoing since 2020, the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights recently stated that the disclosure of land register numbers can lead to obtaining a large amount of personal data contained in the registers. In his opinion, general access to such detailed data harms and significantly restricts the informational autonomy of individuals.

The Commissioner’s view confirms the position of the Polish Data Protection Authority, which, in an administrative decision dated August 24th, 2020, ordered the Polish General Surveyor to cease making land register numbers available on the website “GEOPORTAL2”. He also imposed a fine of PLN 100,000 for violating the principle of lawfulness under Articles 5 para. 1 lit. a, 6 para. 1 GDPR, as there was no legal basis for the processing.

The decision was justified by the fact that land register numbers allow indirect identification of property owners and are therefore considered personal data. Moreover, the publication of these enables access to further data such as national ID number or property address. This may lead to a variety of dangers associated with the use of such data, in particular identity theft or impersonation for criminal purposes.

This opinion was also held by the Polish Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw, which on May 5th, 2021, dismissed the Surveyor’s complaint against the decision of the Polish Data Protection Authority.

Microsoft Teams now offers end-to-end encryption for one-to-one calls

16. December 2021

On December 14th, 2021, John Gruszczyk, a technical product manager at Microsoft (MS), announced, that end-to-end encryption (E2EE) is now generally available for MS Teams calls between two users. MS launched a public preview of E2EE for calls back in October, after announcing the option earlier in 2021.

IT administrators now have the option to enable and manage the feature for their organization once the update is implemented. However, E2EE will not be enabled by default at the user even then. Once IT administrators have configured MS Teams to be used with E2EE enabled, users will still need to enable E2EE themselves in their Teams settings. E2EE encrypts audio, video and screen sharing.

Certain futures will not be available when E2EE is turned on. These include recording of a call, live caption and transcription, transferring a call to another device, adding participants, parking calls, call transfer, and merging calls. If any of these features are required for a call, E2EE must be turned off for that call.

Currently, MS Teams encrypts data, including chat content, in transit and at rest by default, and allows authorized services to decrypt content. MS also uses SharePoint encryption to secure files at rest and OneNote encryption for notes stored in MS Teams. E2EE is particularly suitable for one-on-one calls in situations requiring increased confidentiality.

MS also published an in depth explanation of how this option can me turned on.

With this step, MS is following the example of Zoom, which launched E2EE in October and is making it available for larger group sessions (up to 200 participants).

Apple sues NSO Group over “Pegasus” spyware

30. November 2021

On November 25th, Apple announced in a press release that it has filed a lawsuit against NSO Group Technologies Ltd. (NSO Group) to hold them accountable for their spy software “Pegasus”.

NSO Group is a technology company that supplies surveillance software for governments and government agencies. Applications like Pegasus exploit vulnerabilities in software to infect the target’s devices with Trojans. Pegasus is a spyware that can be secretly installed on cell phones (and other devices) running most iOS and Android versions. Pegasus is not a single exploit, but a series of exploits that exploit many vulnerabilities in the system. Some of the exploits used by Pegasus are zero-click, which means that they can be executed without any interaction from the victim. It is reorted to be able to read text messages, track calls, collect passwords, track location, access the microphone and camera of the targeted device, extract contacts, photos, web browsing history, settings and collect information from apps.

NSO Group is accused of selling its software to authoritarian governments, which use it to monitor journalists and the opposition. Accusations that the company regularly denies. According to an investigation done by a global consortium of journalists of 17 media oganizations, Pegasus has been used to monitor female journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and high-ranking politicians. There are even reports suggesting it is even used by Mexican drug cartels to target and intimidate Mexican journalists. Among the more famous confirmed Pegasus victims are Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and murdered Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Kashoggi.

Apple wants to prevent “further abuse and harm” to Apple users. The lawsuit also demands unspecified compensation for spying on users.

In the press release Apple states:

NSO Group and its clients devote the immense resources and capabilities of nation-states to conduct highly targeted cyberattacks, allowing them to access the microphone, camera, and other sensitive data on Apple and Android devices. To deliver FORCEDENTRY to Apple devices, attackers created Apple IDs to send malicious data to a victim’s device — allowing NSO Group or its clients to deliver and install Pegasus spyware without a victim’s knowledge. Though misused to deliver FORCEDENTRY, Apple servers were not hacked or compromised in the attacks.

Ivan Krstić, head of Apple Security Engineering and Architecture is quoted:

In a free society, it is unacceptable to weaponize powerful state-sponsored spyware against those who seek to make the world a better place

Apple has announced the lawsuit contains new information about the so-called ForcedEntry exploit for a now-closed vulnerability that NSO Group used to “break into a victim’s Apple device and install the latest version of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware program,” according to Apple’s press release. The vulnerability was originally discovered by Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto. Apple says it will support organizations like Citizen Lab and Amnesty Tech in their work, and will donate $10 million and any compensation from the lawsuit to organizations involved in researching and protecting against cyber surveillance. The company will also support Citizen Lab with free technology and technical assistance.

Apple is the second major company to sue NSO Group after WhatsApp Inc. and its parent company Meta Platforms, Inc.(then Facebook, Inc.) filed a complaint against NSO Group in 2019. The allogation of that lawsuit is that NSO Group unlawfully exploited WhatsApp’s systems to monitor users.

In early November 2021, the US Department of Commerce placed NSO Group on its “Entity List”. The justification for this step states that Pegasus was used to monitor government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics and embassy staff. On the “Entity List,” the U.S. government lists companies, individuals or governments whose activities are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States. Trade with these companies is subject to strict restrictions and in some cases is only possible with an exemption from the Department.

US court unsuccessfully demanded extensive information about user of the messenger app Signal

16. November 2021

On October 27th, 2021 Signal published a search warrant for user data issued by a court in Santa Clara, California. The court ordered Signal to provide a variety of information, including a user’s name, address, correspondence, contacts, groups, and call records from the years 2019 and 2020. Signal was only able to provide two sets of data: the timestamp of when the account was created and the date of the last connection to the Signal server, as Signal does not store any other information about its users.

The warrant also included a confidentiality order that was extended four times. Signal stated:

Though the judge approved four consecutive non-disclosure orders, the court never acknowledged receipt of our motion to partially unseal, nor scheduled a hearing, and would not return counsel’s phone calls seeking to schedule a hearing.

A similar case was made public by Signal in 2016, when a court in Virginia requested the release of user data and ordered that the request not be made public. Signal fought the non-publication order in court and eventually won.

Signal is a messenger app that is highly regarded among privacy experts like Edward Snowden. That’s because Signal has used end-to-end encryption by default from the start, doesn’t ask its users for personal information or store personal data on its servers and is open source. The messenger is therefore considered particularly secure and trustworthy. Moreover, no security vulnerabilities have become known so far, which is definitely the case with numerous competing products.

Since 2018, Signal is beeing operated by the non-profit organization Signal Technology Foundation and the Signal Messenger LLC. At that time, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, among others, joined the company and invested $50 million. Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike is also still on board.

The EU commission is planning a legislative package to fight the spread of child abuse on the Internet. The law will also include automated searches of the content of private and encrypted communications, for example via messenger apps. This would undermine the core functions of Signal in Europe. Critics call this form of preventive mass surveillance a threat to privacy, IT security, freedom of expression and democracy.

New Android malware targeting with fake COVID-19 information

29. October 2021

Last month, TechRepublic reported a new and devious SMS malware called TangleBot that attempts to take control of mobile devices by sending notifications about COVID-19. Currently, it targets Android users in the USA and Canada and can lead to a variety of harmful activities, according to security firm Cloudmark.

TangleBot tries to deceive users into downloading the malware through fake messages about COVID-19, such as “New regulations about COVID-19 in your region. Read here…” or “You have received the appointment for the 3rd dose. For more information, visit…”.

The link contains a notice that the Adobe Flash Player on the affected device needs to be updated but leads to the installation of the malicious software instead. As a result, TangleBot gets permission to access and control a wide range of functions and content. It is assumed that for this reason, the malware was named TangleBot.

TangleBot has the ability to make and block phone calls as well as send, obtain and process text messages. It is used to message other devices in order to spread faster among others. The malware is also designed to spy on users through accessing the camera, screen or microphone and setting up additional methods to observe activity on the device. Of particular concern is the possibility to place overlay screens on the device covering legitimate apps, such as banking or financial apps, in an attempt to steal account credentials. Furthermore, the personal data stolen by the attacker usually moves to the dark web for sale, which poses a risk even if the victim manages to remove the malware.

Hank Schless, senior manager for security solutions at security firm Lookout, pointed out the dangers of cybercriminals exploiting the pandemic:

Social engineering that uses the pandemic as a lure continues to be a major issue globally. It’s advantageous for attackers to leverage socially uncertain situations in order to make their phishing campaigns more effective. People are more likely to let their guard down and interact with something online that promises information they need.

According to Schless, the risks exist not only for private individuals, but also for companies:

Mobile devices offer countless channels for attackers to deliver socially engineered phishing campaigns with the goal of swiping corporate login credentials or installing advanced malware that can exfiltrate sensitive data from the device. For organizations that allow employees to use personal devices for work in a BYOD model, the risk is even higher considering the number of personal apps people use. Attackers can deliver campaigns through SMS, social media, third-party messaging apps, gaming and even dating apps.

Additionally, Cloudmark advised that users should be vigilant in this regard and provided several tips to protect against SMS malware:

  • Look out for suspicious text messages,
  • Guard your mobile number,
  • Access any linked website directly,
  • Report SMS phishing and spam messages,
  • Be cautious when installing apps to your device,
  • Avoid responding to unsolicited texts,
  • Install apps only from legitimate app stores.

To keep ahead of the latest cybersecurity threats, companies should also take some precautions. These include especially the implementation of security across mobile devices, protection of cloud services and raising awareness among own employees.

UK Ministry of Defence Data Breaches put more than 300 Afghans in Danger

23. September 2021

On Monday, 20 September 2021 the UK Ministry of Defence launched an investigation into a recent data breach. The breach has affected more than 250 Afghan interpreters who have cooperated with Western forces in Afghanistan and who have applied for relocation to the UK. The Ministry sent an e-mail to these Afghan individuals who are still in Afghanistan and are reportedly eligible for relocation. The e-mail included all e-mail addresses, names, and some associated profile pictures in copy (“cc”) instead of blind copy (“bcc”), thus exposing the personal information to all recipients. It was reported that some Afghans have sent reply e-mails to all recipients in the mailing list, even sharing details about their current personal situation.

The following Tuesday, Britain’s Defence Minister Ben Wallace apologised for the data breach publicly in Parliament. He explained that he is aware of the compromise of safety of the Afghan interpreters and has suspended an official as a result of the breach. Upon discovery, the Ministry sent out another e-mail advising the affected individuals to delete the previous e-mail and to change their e-mail addresses. Additionally, the Ministry of Defence will offer extra support to those affected by the incident. The Minister also stated that correspondence processes have already been changed.

In the meantime, a second data breach by the Ministry of Defence was uncovered on Wednesday. This time, an e-mail was sent to 55 people requesting them to update their details after the UK officials were unable to contact them. At least one of the recipients is a member of the Afghan National Army. Again, the e-mail was sent with all recipients in “cc” and not in “bcc”.

Military experts and politicians have criticised the Ministry for the data breaches which unnecessarily endanger the safety of Afghans, many of whom are hiding from the Taliban. The investigation into data handling by the “Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy” team within the Ministry of Defence is still ongoing, a spokesperson of the Ministry has said.

Microsoft informs Azure customers about major vulnerability

31. August 2021

Microsoft notified several thousand customers of its Azure cloud service on Aug. 26, 2021, about a serious security vulnerability that allows unauthorized parties to gain full access to customers’ cloud databases. The vulnerability affects the multi-model NoSQL database CosmosDB, which is one of the cloud service’s key products. Microsoft says it has since closed the gap, but affected customers must take steps themselves to prevent unauthorized access.

As Reuters reports, a research team specializing in security from security firm Wiz discovered the vulnerability in the Azure security infrastructure, which allowed them to gain access to access keys, giving them full access to multiple companies’ databases. The vulnerability was discovered by the researchers on August 9th and reported to Microsoft on August 12th,2021. Wiz later published a blog post explaining the vulnerability. Primary read-write keys allow full access to customer databases. Through a feature called Jupyter Notebook, which was integrated into CosmosDB in 2019, it was possible to gain access to such keys from CosmosDB customers. This made it possible to read, modify and even delete all primary databases. CosmosDB is used by a number of Fortune 500 companies to manage massive amounts of data from around the world in near real-time.

According to Microsoft, the vulnerability was fixed immediately, and no evidence was found that anyone other than Wiz had accessed customer data. Still, Microsoft itself cannot change access keys, so affected customers were emailed on Aug. 26 to change their keys. However, the problem may have affected customers who were not notified. Microsoft has told Wiz that it will pay out $40,000 for reporting the vulnerability.

If you have received a notice from Microsoft and one of your databases is affected that contains personal data, you must assess whether you are required to report this incident to the relevant data protection supervisory authority within 72 hours in accordance with Article 33 of the GDPR. If you believe your organization may be impacted by ChaosDB, please follow the steps described by Wiz in this blog post for detailed instructions on how to protect your environment.

This incident marks the third major security incident involving Microsoft products within 12 months, following the so-called “SolarWinds” hack in December 2020 (please see our blog post) and a large-scale hack of Microsoft Exchange in March 2021 (please see our blog post).

Google Play Store apps soon obliged to provide privacy notices

20. August 2021

On the Android Developers Blog, Google has announced further details for the upcoming new safety section in its Play Store. It aims at presenting the security of the offered apps in a simple way to give users a deeper insight into privacy and security practices of the developers. This should allow users to see what data the app may be collecting and why, even before the installation. In order to achieve this, apps in the Google Play Store will be required to publish the corresponding information in the safety section.

The new summary will be displayed to users on an app’s store listing page. It is intended to highlight details such as:

  • What type of data is collected and shared, e.g. location, contacts, name, email address, financial information,
  • How the data will be used, e.g. for app functionality or personalization,
  • Whether the data collection is optional or mandatory for the use of an app,
  • Security practices, e.g. data encryption,
  • Compliance with the family policy,
  • Validation from an independent source against a global security standard.

To support the safety section, policy changes are being made which should lead to more transparency to users. Thus, all developers will be required to provide a privacy notice. Previously, only apps that collected personal and sensitive user data had to do so. The innovation applies to all apps published on Google Play, including Google’s own apps.

Developers will be able to submit information to the Google Play Console for review in October. However, by April 2022 at the latest, the safety section must be approved for their apps. The reason for this is that the new section is scheduled to be rolled out and visible to users in Q1 2022.

Aside from sharing additional information for developers on how to get prepared, Google has also assured that more guidance will be released over the next few months.

China intensifies data protection of companies

15. July 2021

The state leadership in Beijing is tightening its data protection rules. Chinese driving service provider Didi has now become the subject of far-reaching data protection regulatory measures. Other companies could soon be affected as well.

For months now, Chinese regulators and ministries in China have been issuing a slew of new regulations that not only affect tech companies, but are also directed at how companies handle data in general.

A prime example of China’s “new” data protection policy can be seen in Didi’s public launch on the New York Stock Exchange. The Uber rival only went public for a few days and was urged by the Chinese authorities to remove its app from the app store before the end of the week. The reason for this is reported to have been serious data protection violations by the company, which are now being investigated. The company is said to have processed the collection and use of personal data by the company in a privacy-hostile manner.

Didi was ordered to comply with legal requirements and adhere to national standards. It should also ensure that the security of its users’ personal data is effectively protected.

The announcement had sent shares of the stock market newcomer crashing by more than 5% as of Friday. The news also caused tech stocks to fall on Asian exchanges.

Didi is the nearly undisputed leader among ride-hailing services in China, with 493 million active users and a presence in 14 countries.

Beijing’s new data protection

The actions of Chinese authorities or the Chinese leadership against tech companies speak for a rethinking of the Chinese leadership in terms of data protection.

Initially, there is much to suggest that the state leadership wants to get companies more under control. This is also to prevent third countries from obtaining data from Chinese companies and to prevent Chinese companies from installing themselves abroad.

According to reports, a document from the State Council in Beijing indicates that stricter controls are planned for Chinese companies that are traded on stock exchanges abroad. Capital raised by emerging Chinese companies on foreign stock markets, such as in New York or Hong Kong, will also be subject to more stringent requirements. Especially in the area of “data security, cross-border data flow and management of confidential information”, new standards are to be expected.

However, the aim seems also to better protect the data of Chinese citizens from unauthorized access by criminals or excessive data collection by tech groups and companies.
This is supported by the fact that the Chinese leadership has introduced several rules in recent years and months that are intended to improve data protection. Although the state is not to cede its own rights here, citizens are to be given more rights, at least with respect to companies.

The introduction of the European General Data Protection Regulation also forced Chinese technology companies to meet global data protection standards in order to expand abroad.

China’s data protection policy thus seems to be a contradiction in terms. It is a step towards more protection of the data subjects and at the same time another step towards more control.

British Airways could reach a settlement over the 2018 data breach

7. July 2021

Back in 2018 British Airways was hit by a data breach affecting up to 500 000 data subjects – customers as well as British Airways staff.

Following the breach the UK’s Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has fined British Airways firstly in 2019 with a record fine of £183.000.000 (€ 205.000.000), due to the severe consequences of the breach. As reported beside inter alia e-mail addresses of the concerned data subjects also credit card information have been accessed by the hackers.

The initial record fine has been reduced by the ICO in 2020 after British Airways appealed against it. The ICO announced the final sanction in October 2020 –  £20.000.000 (€ 22.000.000). Reason for the reduction has been inter alia the current COVID-19 situation and it’s consequences for the Aviation industry.

Most recently it has been published that British Airways also came to a settlement in a UK breach class action with up to 16 000 claimants. The details of the settlement have been kept confidential, so that the settlement sum is not known, but the law firm, PGMBM, representing the claimants, as well as British Airways announced the settlement on July 6th.

PGMBM further explains, that the fine of the ICO “did not provide redress to those affected”, but that “the settlement now addresses” the consequences for the data subjects, as reported by the BBC.

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