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German eID card system vulnerable to online identity spoofing

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Image: Bund.de

Security researchers have found a vulnerability in the backbone of the electronic ID (eID) cards system used by the German state. The vulnerability, when exploited, allows an attacker to trick an online website and spoof the identity of another German citizen when using the eID authentication option.

There are some hurdles that an attacker needs to pass before abusing this vulnerability, but the researchers who found it say their eID spoofing hack is more than doable.

The vulnerability doesn’t reside in the radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip embedded in German eID cards, but in the software kit implemented by websites that want to support eID authentication.

The vulnerable component is named the Governikus Autent SDK and is one of the SDKs that German websites, including government portals, have used to add support for eID-based login and registration procedures.

SEC Consult, the German cyber-security firm who discovered the flaw in this SDK, says it already reported the issue to CERT-Bund, (Germany’s Computer Emergency Response Team), who coordinated with Governikus, the vendor, to release a patch –Autent SDK v3.8.1.2– in August this year.

All websites who use the Autent SDK 3.8.1 and earlier are vulnerable to the vulnerability they’ve discovered, SEC Consult said today in a report, advising website owners to update their Autent SDK to the latest version, if they haven’t done so already.

How the vulnerability works

According to the company’s report, the vulnerability resides in the process of how websites deal with the responses they receive from users trying to authenticate via the eID system.

Under normal circumstances, this authentication procedure goes through the following steps:

  • A website sees a user initiating an eID card authentication process and requests a special response from the user.
  • User inserts his eID card into a card reader or places the eID card near a capable mobile phone. User enters his card’s PIN code in the eID client app installed on his PC or smartphone.
  • The eID client app connects to one of the many authorized eID servers to verify the login request and produce a cryptographic verification signature for a response it intends to forward back to the website.
  • The eID client app sends an eID response (the signature and the user’s personal data) to the initial website to complete the eID-based authentication procedure.
  • The website logs the user in or creates a new account if the user is using his electronic card to register on a site.
german-eid-auth-process.png

Image: Bund.de

According to SEC Consult experts, websites using older versions of the Autent SDK accept eID client responses that contain one cryptographic signature, but multiple SAML parameters containing the user’s data.

“The signature is verified against the last occurrence of the parameter, while the SAML response that is processed further, will be taken from the first occurrence,” SEC Consult experts explained.

“To exploit this vulnerability, an attacker requires at least one valid query string signed by the authentication server. It does not matter for which citizen or at which time the signature for the query string has been issued,” they added.

This sounds as an unsurmountable issue… but it actually isn’t. SEC Consult says that multiple eID servers expose logs online [1, 2], and an attacker could just grab an old signed response and insert their spoofed eID data in the middle, like so:

[signature][data of fake user][real user data for signature check]

SEC Consult has published a YouTube video to showcase how an attack exploiting this vulnerability works.

But SEC Consult says this vulnerability doesn’t work against all websites that support eID authentication. Experts say that online portals that have chosen to implement “pseudonyms” (instead of sending the actual user data with each authentication requests) aren’t vulnerable.

Pseudonyms are randomly-looking strings that are used similarly to usernames, stored on both the website and inside the eID card’s RFID chip. Unless attackers are able to guess pseudonyms in a consistent manner, they wouldn’t be able to use this vulnerability to spoof the identity of other users.

Furthermore, because all eID authentication responses are logged, websites can review logs and detect when and if an attacker has ever exploited this vulnerability (by looking at eID responses with multiple repeating parameters). This also means attacks could be detected in real-time, blocking attackers trying to spoof their identity before they log in.

The good news is that SEC Consult privately disclosed this flaw over the summer, and only revealed it to the public today, giving German sites a three months head start to update the vulnerable –and very popular– Autent SDK.

The bad news is that the Autent SDK was used in a demo app that many German websites might have downloaded and used as an example to build their own eID authentication systems, meaning the issue could be quite widespread in the German online space.

Earlier today, ZDNet has put a formal request for comment with the eID group at the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and have inquired if German government portals –the vast majority of the sites using the eID authentication system– have applied the SDK patch, and if there have been any concerted efforts to review the logs of government-managed websites for attacks that might have exploited the above vulnerability.

The issue discovered by SEC Consult is nowhere as problematic as the cryptographic issue discovered in over 750,000 Estonian eID cards in 2017. The Estonian government was forced to replace all affected cards to prevent fraudulent operations on government sites. Some eID cards in Slovakia were also affected but to a lesser degree. Estonia sued Gemalto, the eID card maker, this fall.

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions

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Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.

Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.

“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”

As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.

Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.

“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.

So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:

“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”

Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.

“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”

Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast

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Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications

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Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.

Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection

“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”

In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.

A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.

Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.

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When Is a DevSecOps Vendor Not a DevSecOps Vendor?

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DevOps’ general aim is to enable a more efficient process for producing software and technology solutions and bringing stakeholders together to speed up delivery. But we know from experience that this inherently creative, outcome-driven approach often forgets about one thing until too late in the process—security. Too often, security is brought into the timeline just before deployment, risking last minute headaches and major delays. The security team is pushed into being the Greek chorus of the process, “ruining everyone’s fun” by demanding changes and slowing things down.

But as we know, in the complex, multi-cloud and containerized environment we find ourselves in, security is becoming more important and challenging than ever. And the costs of security failure are not only measured in slower deployment, but in compliance breaches and reputational damage.

The term “DevSecOps” has been coined to characterize how security needs to be at the heart of the DevOps process. This is in part principle and part tools. As a principle, DevSecOps fits with the concept of “shifting left,” that is, ensuring that security is treated as early as possible in the development process. So far, so simple.

From a tooling perspective, however, things get more complicated, not least because the market has seen a number of platforms marketing themselves as DevSecOps. As we have been writing our Key Criteria report on the subject, we have learned that not all DevSecOps vendors are necessarily DevSecOps vendors. Specifically, we have learned to distinguish capabilities that directly enable the goals of DevSecOps from a process perspective, from those designed to support DevSecOps practices. We could define them as: “Those that do, and those that help.”

This is how to tell the two types of vendor apart and how to use them.

Vendors Enabling DevSecOps: “Tools That Do”

A number of tools work to facilitate the DevSecOps process -– let’s bite the bullet and call them DevSecOps tools. They help teams set out each stage of software development, bringing siloed teams together behind a unified vision that allows fast, high-quality development, with security considerations at its core. DevSecOps tools work across the development process, for example:

  • Create: Help to set and implement policy
  • Develop: Apply guidance to the process and aid its implementation
  • Test: Facilitate and guide security testing procedures
  • Deploy: Provide reports to assure confidence to deploy the application

The key element that sets these tool sets apart is the ability to automate and reduce friction within the development process. They will prompt action, stop a team from moving from one stage to another if the process has not adequately addressed security concerns, and guide the roadmap for the development from start to finish.

Supporting DevSecOps: “Tools That Help”

In this category we place those tools which aid the execution, and monitoring, of good DevSecOps principles. Security scanning and application/infrastructure hardening tools are a key element of these processes: Software composition analysis (SCA) forms a part of the development stage, static/dynamic application security testing (SAST/DAST) is integral to the test stage and runtime app protection (RASP) is a key to the Deploy stage.

Tools like this are a vital part of the security layer of security tooling, especially just before deployment – and they often come with APIs so they can be plugged into the CI/CD process. However, while these capabilities are very important to DevSecOps, they can be seen in more of a supporting role, rather than being DevSecOps tools per se.

DevSecOps-washing is not a good idea for the enterprise

While one might argue that security should never have been shifted right, DevSecOps exists to ensure that security best practices take place across the development lifecycle. A corollary exists to the idea of “tools that help,” namely that organizations implementing these tools are not “doing DevSecOps,” any more than vendors providing these tools are DevSecOps vendors.

The only way to “do” DevSecOps is to fully embrace security at a process management and governance level: This means assessing risk, defining policy, setting review gates, and disallowing progress for insecure deliverables. Organizations that embrace DevSecOps can get help from what we are calling DevSecOps tools, as well as from scanning and hardening tools that help support its goals.

At the end of the day, all security and governance boils down to risk: If you buy a scanning tool so you can check a box that says “DevSecOps,” you are potentially adding to your risk posture, rather than mitigating it. So, get your DevSecOps strategy fixed first, then consider how you can add automation, visibility, and control using “tools that do,” as well as benefit from “tools that help.”

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