Quantum internet breakthrough could help make hacking a thing of the past

September 02, 2020

The advent of mass working from home has made many people more aware of the security risks of sending sensitive information via the internet. The best we can do at the moment is make it difficult to intercept and hack your messages – but we can’t make it impossible.

What we need is a new type of internet: the quantum internet. In this version of the global network, data is secure, connections are private and your worries about information being intercepted are a thing of the past.

My colleagues and I have just made a breakthrough, published in Science Advances, that will make such a quantum internet possible by scaling up the concepts behind it using existing telecommunications infrastructure.

Our current way of protecting online data is to encrypt it using mathematical problems that are easy to solve if you have a digital “key” to unlock the encryption but hard to solve without it. However, hard does not mean impossible and, with enough time and computer power, today’s methods of encryption can be broken.

Quantum communication, on the other hand, creates keys using individual particles of light (photons) , which – according to the principles of quantum physics – are impossible to make an exact copy of. Any attempt to copy these keys will unavoidably cause errors that can be detected. This means a hacker, no matter how clever or powerful they are or what kind of supercomputer they possess, cannot replicate a quantum key or read the message it encrypts.

This concept has already been demonstrated in satellites and over fibre-optic cables, and used to send secure messages between different countries. So why are we not already using in everyday life? The problem is that it requires expensive, specialized technology that means it’s not currently scalable.

Planet Earth overlaid with network of connected lights
Quantum communication is now possible across the world but not yet scalable. Toria/Shutterstock

Previous quantum communication techniques were like pairs of children’s walkie talkies. You need one pair of handsets for every pair of users that want to securely communicate. So if three children want to talk to each other they will need three pairs of handsets (or six walkie talkies) and each child must have two of them. If eight children want to talk to each other they would need 56 walkie talkies.

Obviously it’s not practical for someone to have a separate device for every person or website they want to communicate with over the internet. So we figured out a way to securely connect every user with just one device each, more similar to phones than walkie talkies.

Each walkie talkie handset acts as both a transmitter and a receiver in order to share the quantum keys that make communication secure. In our model, users only need a receiver because they get the photons to generate their keys from a central transmitter.

This is possible because of another principle of quantum physics called “entanglement”. A photon can’t be exactly copied but it can be entangled with another photon so that they both behave in the same way when measured, no matter how far apart they are – what Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”.

Full network

When two users want to communicate, our transmitter sends them an entangled pair of photons – one particle for each user. The users’ devices then perform a series of measurements on these photons to create a shared secret quantum key. They can then encrypt their messages with this key and transfer them securely.

By using multiplexing, a common telecommunications technique of combining or splitting signals, we can effectively send these entangled photon pairs to multiple combinations of people at once.

We can also send many signals to each user in a way that they can all be simultaneously decoded. In this way we’ve effectively replaced pairs of walkie talkies with a system more similar to a video call with multiple participants, in which you can communicate with each user privately and independently as well as all at once.

We’ve so far tested this concept by connecting eight users across a single city. We are now working to improve the speed of our network and interconnect several such networks. Collaborators have already started using our quantum network as a test bed for several exciting applications beyond just quantum communication.

We also hope to develop even better quantum networks based on this technology with commercial partners in the next few years. With innovations like this, I hope to witness the beginning of the quantum internet in the next ten years.

Source: https://theconversation.com/our-quantum-internet-breakthrough-could-help-make-hacking-a-thing-of-the-past-145139

Author: Siddarth Koduru Joshi – Research Fellow in Quantum Communication, University of Bristol

Ransomware deploys virtual machines to hide itself from antivirus software

The operators of the RagnarLocker ransomware are installing the VirtualBox app and running virtual machines on computers they infect in order to run their ransomware in a “safe” environment, outside the reach of local antivirus software.

RagnarLocker
Background: https://news.sophos.com/en-us/2020/05/21/ragnar-locker-ransomware-deploys-virtual-machine-to-dodge-security/

This latest trick has been spotted and detailed today by UK cyber-security firm Sophos and shows the creativity and great lengths some ransomware gangs will go to avoid detection while attacking a victim.

WHAT’S RAGNARLOCKER?

Avoiding detection is crucial because RagnarLocker is not your typical ransomware gang. They’re a group that carefully selects targets, avoiding home consumers, and goes after corporate networks and government organizations only.

Sophos says the group has targeted victims in the past by abusing internet-exposed RDP endpoints and has compromised MSP (managed service provider) tools to breach companies and gain access to their internal networks.

On these networks, the RagnarLocker group deploys a version of their ransomware — customized per each victim — and then demands an astronomical decryption fee in the tune of tens and hundreds of thousands of US dollars.

Because each of these carefully planned intrusions represents a chance to earn large amounts of money, the RagnarLocker group has put a primer on stealth and has recently come up with a novel trick to avoid detection by antivirus software.

THE VIRTUAL MACHINE TRICK

The “trick” is actually pretty simple and clever when you think of it.

Instead of running the ransomware directly on the computer they want to encrypt, the RagnarLocker gang downloads and installs Oracle VirtualBox, a type of software that lets you run virtual machines.

The group then configures the virtual machine to give it full access to all local and shared drives, allowing the virtual machine to interact with files stored outside its own storage.

The next step is to boot up the virtual machine, running a stripped-down version of the Windows XP SP3 operating system, called MicroXP v0.82.

The final phase is to load the ransomware inside the virtual machine (VM) and run it. Because the ransomware runs inside the VM, the antivirus software won’t be able to detect the ransomware’s malicious process.

From the antivirus software’s point of view, files on the local system and shared drives will suddenly be replaced with their encrypted versions, and all the file modifications appear to come from a legitimate process — namely the VirtualBox app.

Mark Loman, director of engineering and threat mitigation at Sophos told ZDNet today that this is the first time he’s seen a ransomware gang abuse virtual machines during an attack.

“In the last few months, we’ve seen ransomware evolve in several ways. But, the Ragnar Locker adversaries are taking ransomware to a new level and thinking outside of the box,” he added.

An overview of the entire RagnarLocker ransomware, including its VM trick, is available in Sophos’ recent report here:

https://news.sophos.com/en-us/2020/05/21/ragnar-locker-ransomware-deploys-virtual-machine-to-dodge-security/

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/ransomware-deploys-virtual-machines-to-hide-itself-from-antivirus-software/

By: By Catalin Cimpanu for Zero Day

Coinhive Now Affecting 23% of the World’s Organizations

Crypto-mining malware has continued to grow globally, with 23% of organizations worldwide affected by the Coinhive variant during January.

That’s according to Check Point’s Global Threat Impact Index, which shows three different variants of crypto-mining code in its top 10 most-prevalent rankings. In addition to Coinhive impacting more than one in five organizations, JSEcoin (a JavaScript miner that can be embedded in websites) was in fifth place and Cryptoloot (which targets PCs) was in ninth.

Coinhive, January’s No. 1 most-prevalent malware, performs online mining of Monero cryptocurrency when a user visits a web page. Implanted JavaScript uses the computational resources of the end user’s machines to mine coins, impacting system performance. While it’s offered as a legitimate service for webmasters looking for a monetization alternative to advertising, criminals often embed it into websites without the site knowing, and unscrupulous websites use it without letting site visitors know.

“Over the past three months crypto-mining malware has steadily become an increasing threat to organizations, as criminals have found it to be a lucrative revenue stream,” said Maya Horowitz, threat intelligence group manager at Check Point. “It is particularly challenging to protect against, as it is often hidden in websites, enabling hackers to use unsuspecting victims to tap into the huge CPU resource that many enterprises have available. As such, it is critical that organizations have the solutions in place that protect against these stealthy cyber-attacks.”

In addition to crypto-miners, Check Point researchers also discovered that 21% of organizations have still failed to deal with machines infected with the malware. Fireball, which came in at No. 2 in the rankings, manipulates victims’ browsers and turns their default search engines and homepages into fake search engines, which simply redirect the queries to either yahoo.com or google.com to generate ad revenue. It also can be used as a full-functioning malware downloader capable of executing any code on victims’ machines. It was first discovered in May 2017 and severely impacted organizations during summer of 2017.

The Rig Exploit Kit came in third for January, impacting 17% of organizations. Rig delivers exploits for Flash, Java, Silverlight and Internet Explorer.

On the mobile front, Lokibot, an Android banking Trojan, was the most popular malware used to attack organizations’ mobile estates. The code steals information, but it can also turn into a ransomware that locks the phone.

Lokibot was followed by the Triada and Hiddad mobile malwares in January. Triada is a modular backdoor for Android, which grants superuser privileges to downloaded malware. Hiddad is also an Android malware, focused on trojanizing legitimate apps then releasing them to a third-party store.

Source: https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/news/coinhive-cryptominer-now-affecting/

By:  Tara Seals US/North America News Reporter, Infosecurity Magazine