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Comcast “not welcome” here: Customers protest sale of tiny cable company

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You can check out any time you’d like, but you can never… well, you know the song.

Aurich Lawson

Customers of a small cable company in Vermont are protesting the company’s pending sale to Comcast.

The sale of Southern Vermont Cable Co. (SVCC), which has about 2,450 subscribers and operates 123 miles of cable, is being reviewed by the Vermont Public Utility Commission. The commission has received 25 public comments, all of them either opposing the sale or expressing concerns that it will be bad for customers without appropriate consumer-protection measures.

Southern Vermont Cable owner and president Ernest Scialabba founded SVCC in 1988. He is selling the company and plans to retire after spending more than 40 years in the cable industry. Comcast already provides service in neighboring areas.

“I am confident that an organization like Comcast will provide SVCC’s subscribers with quality customer service and will continue to invest in SVCC’S systems,” Scialabba told the commission in testimony. He noted that “continued capital investment” is necessary and said that the sale “to Comcast will increase the technical, operational, and financial resources available to support the system.”

What customers are saying

While a sale of the company appears to be inevitable, customers who filed comments would prefer a buyer other than Comcast. Here’s a sampling of comments from nine Vermonters:

  • I have only praise for the good folks at SVCable, and nothing but contempt for Comcast. As a computer repair professional for 20 years, I’ve had many dealings with Comcast/Xfinity, nearly all of it bad. I’d rather have no Internet service than give one penny to Comcast.
  • SVCC provides exemplary service! They make quick repairs and deliver a great product for an affordable price. They truly care for and appreciate their customers. I’ve had Comcast in the past and it is not affordable, their call center is not local, they are not friendly and their company focus is making money. It’s a monopoly. Comcast is not for Vermont. If Comcast takes over SVCC we can all say goodbye to the personal, hardworking people, company and service we’ve all become accustomed to!
  • Comcast’s well-known poor customer service is not welcome in our area. Comcast has not demonstrated that they are able to deal with the many weather-related outages common here. It is clear that a company the size of Comcast will not be responsive to our service needs here Putney. A short search on the Internet shows how poor Comcast’s business practices and customer service are. Also, what will happen to our cost of service? Comcast and Xfinity are FAMOUS for jacking up prices!
  • As a long-time Southern Vermont Cable customer, I love the quality of the service I receive. I can stream anything I like, the Internet speed is excellent and the price is affordable. I am shocked at the possibility that the company could sell itself to Comcast, famous throughout the United States for its high prices and lousy service. Comcast is a mega-company with no regard for customer service. Fighting with them can become a full-time business. Please don’t allow this sale.
  • Our experience with Comcast has been negative and we would promptly seek alternative service if they assumed service for SVC.
  • What concerns me about this proposed merger is there has been nothing presented to customers about what type of service and costs will be offered by Comcast.
  • We are customers of SVCC and wish to express our total opposition to Comcast purchasing this company. Telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast already enjoy monopolies over the on-ramp to the Internet. They’ve hoovered up countless media companies and positioned themselves to dominate the media flowing over those connections. Keep our regional companies independent and strong!
  • If this goes through, we will have segued in a single step from a family-run local operation where the president of the firm (or his brother) often came by for service calls, to a gigantic international corporation who will pay us as much heed and respect as a bug caught under a shoe.
  • As a resident of Dummerston and a Southern Vermont Cable subscriber, I am opposed to the sale of SVC to Comcast. There is no competition for Comcast and they appear to be predatory and unaffordable to most people. Vermonters in this area need another option besides Comcast for cable, Internet and phone options.

“Safest option”

SVCC provides service in Putney, Dummerston, Newfane, Williamsville, Townshend, Jamaica, and Rawsonville. SVCC has four employees, according to a VTDigger article yesterday.

Scialabba told VTDigger that selling to Comcast is “the safest option.”

“A fair number of small start-ups are looking to buy, but a lot of them want to get in and out and make a quick buck,” he said. “The technology is changing so fast and everything is so much more expensive. In another 10 years, a lot of companies will be going away. Comcast is the safest option because it isn’t going anywhere.”

SVCC and Comcast urged the commission to approve the change in a joint petition. Comcast regional VP of government affairs Daniel Glanville told the commission that “Comcast will provide increased reliability and network capacity” to current SVCC customers. He continued:

Comcast plans to integrate the SVCC system into Comcast’s fiber backbone to provide redundancy and reliability. Comcast’s fiber network is closely monitored and maintained by area, regional, and divisional personnel. Fiber restoration, plant maintenance, and headend operations will be supported 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. By integrating the SVCC system into Comcast’s route-diverse and redundant fiber network, SVCC subscribers will enjoy a more reliable network with greater capacity.

A state lawmaker is urging the state commission to impose conditions on the sale. VTDigger wrote:

The Public Utility Commission is expected to rule on the proposed sale by spring. State Rep. Michael Mrowicki of Putney has asked that approval be tied to a “high standard of service” with defined benchmarks and continued expansion into areas without coverage.

“The reality that Ernie is getting out of the business,” Mrowicki says, “and there aren’t other options.”

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Cyberattack on Albanian government suggests new Iranian aggression

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Enlarge / Tirane, Albania.

Pawel Toczynski | Getty Images

In mid-July, a cyberattack on the Albanian government knocked out state websites and public services for hours. With Russia’s war raging in Ukraine, the Kremlin might seem like the likeliest suspect. But research published on Thursday by the threat intelligence firm Mandiant attributes the attack to Iran. And while Tehran’s espionage operations and digital meddling have shown up all over the world, Mandiant researchers say that a disruptive attack from Iran on a NATO member is a noteworthy escalation.

The digital attacks targeting Albania on July 17 came ahead of the “World Summit of Free Iran,” a conference scheduled to convene in the town of Manëz in western Albania on July 23 and 24. The summit was affiliated with the Iranian opposition group Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, or the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (often abbreviated MEK, PMOI, or MKO). The conference was postponed the day before it was set to begin because of reported, unspecified “terrorist” threats.

Mandiant researchers say that attackers deployed ransomware from the Roadsweep family and may have also utilized a previously unknown backdoor, dubbed Chimneysweep, as well as a new strain of the Zeroclear wiper. Past use of similar malware, the timing of the attacks, other clues from the Roadsweep ransomware note, and activity from actors claiming responsibility for the attacks on Telegram all point to Iran, Mandiant says.

“This is an aggressive escalatory step that we have to recognize,” says John Hultquist, Mandiant’s vice president of intelligence. “Iranian espionage happens all the time all over the world. The difference here is this isn’t espionage. These are disruptive attacks, which affect the lives of everyday Albanians who live within the NATO alliance. And it was essentially a coercive attack to force the hand of the government.”

Iran has conducted aggressive hacking campaigns in the Middle East and particularly in Israel, and its state-backed hackers have penetrated and probed manufacturing, supply, and critical infrastructure organizations. In November 2021, the US and Australian governments warned that Iranian hackers were actively working to gain access to an array of networks related to transportation, health care, and public health entities, among others. “These Iranian government-sponsored APT actors can leverage this access for follow-on operations, such as data exfiltration or encryption, ransomware, and extortion,” the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency wrote at the time.

Tehran has limited how far its attacks have gone, though, largely keeping to data exfiltration and reconnaissance on the global stage. The country has, however, participated in influence operations, disinformation campaigns, and efforts to meddle in foreign elections, including targeting the US.

“We’ve become used to seeing Iran being aggressive in the Middle East where that activity just has never stopped, but outside of the Middle East they’ve been far more restrained,” Hultquist says. “I’m concerned that they may be more willing to leverage their capability outside of the region. And they clearly have no qualms about targeting NATO states, which suggests to me that whatever deterrents we believe exist between us and them may not exist at all.”

With Iran claiming that it now has the ability to produce nuclear warheads, and representatives from the country meeting with US officials in Vienna about a possible revival of the 2015 nuclear deal between the countries, any signal about Iran’s possible intentions and risk tolerance when it comes to dealing with NATO are significant.

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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“Huge flaw” threatens US emergency alert system, DHS researcher warns

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Enlarge / Obstruction light with bokeh city background

The US Department of Homeland Security is warning of vulnerabilities in the nation’s emergency broadcast network that makes it possible for hackers to issue bogus warnings over radio and TV stations.

“We recently became aware of certain vulnerabilities in EAS encoder/decoder devices that, if not updated to most recent software versions, could allow an actor to issue EAS alerts over the host infrastructure (TV, radio, cable network),” the DHS’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned. “This exploit was successfully demonstrated by Ken Pyle, a security researcher at CYBIR.com, and may be presented as a proof of concept at the upcoming DEFCON 2022 conference in Las Vegas, August 11-14.”

Pyle told reporters at CNN and Bleeping Computer that the vulnerabilities reside in the Monroe Electronics R189 One-Net DASDEC EAS, an Emergency Alert System encoder and decoder. TV and radio stations use the equipment to transmit emergency alerts. The researcher told Bleeping Computer that “multiple vulnerabilities and issues (confirmed by other researchers) haven’t been patched for several years and snowballed into a huge flaw.”

“When asked what can be done after successful exploitation, Pyle said: ‘I can easily obtain access to the credentials, certs, devices, exploit the web server, send fake alerts via crafts message, have them valid / pre-empting signals at will. I can also lock legitimate users out when I do, neutralizing or disabling a response,’” Bleeping Computer added.

This isn’t the first time federal officials have warned of vulnerabilities in the emergency alert system.

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North Korea-backed hackers have a clever way to read your Gmail

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Getty Images

Researchers have unearthed never-before-seen malware that hackers from North Korea have been using to surreptitiously read and download email and attachments from infected users’ Gmail and AOL accounts.

The malware, dubbed SHARPEXT by researchers from security firm Volexity, uses clever means to install a browser extension for the Chrome and Edge browsers, Volexity reported in a blog post. The extension can’t be detected by the email services, and since the browser has already been authenticated using any multifactor authentication protections in place, this increasingly popular security measure plays no role in reining in the account compromise.

The malware has been in use for “well over a year,” Volexity said, and is the work of a hacking group the company tracks as SharpTongue. The group is sponsored by North Korea’s government and overlaps with a group tracked as Kimsuky by other researchers. SHARPEXT is targeting organizations in the US, Europe, and South Korea that work on nuclear weapons and other issues North Korea deems important to its national security.

Volexity President Steven Adair said in an email that the extension gets installed “by way of spear phishing and social engineering where the victim is fooled into opening a malicious document. Previously we have seen DPRK threat actors launch spear phishing attacks where the entire objective was to get the victim to install a browser extension vs it being a post exploitation mechanism for persistence and data theft.” In its current incarnation, the malware works only on Windows, but Adair said there’s no reason it couldn’t be broadened to infect browsers running on macOS or Linux, too.

The blog post added: “Volexity’s own visibility shows the extension has been quite successful, as logs obtained by Volexity show the attacker was able to successfully steal thousands of emails from multiple victims through the malware’s deployment.”

Installing a browser extension during a phishing operation without the end-user noticing isn’t easy. SHARPEXT developers have clearly paid attention to research like what’s published here, here, and here, which shows how a security mechanism in the Chromium browser engine prevents malware from making changes to sensitive user settings. Each time a legitimate change is made, the browser takes a cryptographic hash of some of the code. At startup, the browser verifies the hashes, and if any of them don’t match, the browser requests the old settings be restored.

For attackers to work around this protection, they must first extract the following from the computer they’re compromising:

  • A copy of the resources.pak file from the browser (which contains the HMAC seed used by Chrome)
  • The user’s S-ID value
  • The original Preferences and Secure Preferences files from the user’s system

After modifying the preference files, SHARPEXT automatically loads the extension and executes a PowerShell script that enables DevTools, a setting that allows the browser to run customized code and settings.

“The script runs in an infinite loop checking for processes associated with the targeted browsers,” Volexity explained. “If any targeted browsers are found running, the script checks the title of the tab for a specific keyword (for example’ 05101190,’ or ‘Tab+’ depending on the SHARPEXT version). The specific keyword is inserted into the title by the malicious extension when an active tab changes or when a page is loaded.”

Volexity

The post continued:

The keystrokes sent are equivalent to Control+Shift+J, the shortcut to enable the DevTools panel. Lastly, the PowerShell script hides the newly opened DevTools window by using the ShowWindow() API and the SW_HIDE flag. At the end of this process, DevTools is enabled on the active tab, but the window is hidden.

In addition, this script is used to hide any windows that could alert the victim. Microsoft Edge, for example, periodically displays a warning message to the user (Figure 5) if extensions are running in developer mode. The script constantly checks if this window appears and hides it by using the ShowWindow() and the SW_HIDE flag.

Volexity

Once installed, the extension can perform the following requests:

HTTP POST Data Description
mode=list List previously collected email from the victim to ensure duplicates are not uploaded. This list is continuously updated as SHARPEXT executes.
mode=domain List email domains with which the victim has previously communicated. This list is continuously updated as SHARPEXT executes.
mode=black Collect a blacklist of email senders that should be ignored when collecting email from the victim.
mode=newD&d=[data] Add a domain to the list of all domains viewed by the victim.
mode=attach&name=[data]&idx=[data]&body=[data] Upload a new attachment to the remote server.
mode=new&mid=[data]&mbody=[data] Upload Gmail data to the remote server.
mode=attlist Commented by the attacker; receive an attachments list to be exfiltrated.
mode=new_aol&mid=[data]&mbody=[data] Upload AOL data to the remote server.

SHARPEXT allows the hackers to create lists of email addresses to ignore and to keep track of email or attachments that have already been stolen.

Volexity created the following summary of the orchestration of the various SHARPEXT components it analyzed:

Volexity

The blog post provides images, file names, and other indicators that trained people can use to determine if they have been targeted or infected by this malware. The company warned that the threat it poses has grown over time and isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

“When Volexity first encountered SHARPEXT, it seemed to be a tool in early development containing numerous bugs, an indication the tool was immature,” the company said. “The latest updates and ongoing maintenance demonstrate the attacker is achieving its goals, finding value in continuing to refine it.”

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