Pluralistic: 30 Mar 2022

Today's links

A padlocked barn door. The rusty padlock is emblazoned with a toy 'Junior Police' badge. Its hasp has been severed and a light-flare is shining through the severed portion. The barn door has been superimposed with a Matrix 'waterfall' effect.

Hackers' code-free exploit: pretend to be cops (permalink)

Back in 1994, Bill Clinton signed CALEA into law, mandating that all switches capable of carrying voice-traffic include a "lawful interception" backdoor that would let cops listen in on phone calls without having to actually physically access the switch itself.

CALEA came with three promises:

I. The backdoor would only be used by cops;

II. They would get a warrant first;

III. It would only apply to voice traffic, not the internet.

All of these promises were lies. Anyone who's ever watched a detective show where a PI says, "I have a cop who can run that license plate" knows that if you give cops oversight-free, unaudited access to a database, you're also giving access to anyone any cop owes (or sells) a favor to.

When CALEA passed, its opponents warned that a "voice capable" switch would soon be indistinguishable from an "internet" switch. Less than a decade later, the FBI successfully argued that all internet switches were now capable of carrying voice traffic, so they, too, must have CALEA backdoors.

That didn't just expose Americans to surveillance by cops, their friends, and anyone who gained access by pressuring or impersonating a cop. Vendors installed CALEA backdoors in all their switches, to ensure that they could access the US market. These backdoors made their way into countries without CALEA mandates, where they were abused.

Most notoriously: the Greek government and prime minister were wiretapped in 2004 in order to sabotage the Greek Olympics bid. Greece doesn't have CALEA on its law-books, but it did have CALEA-compliant switches in its telephone network.

Any time you mandate "extraordinary access" to an otherwise secure system, you create an opportunity for exploitation by criminals, spies, and snoops.

Take the "Emergency Data Request" (EDR), a US system that allows cops to demand warrantless access to your online account data. This is supposed to be used in white-hot emergencies, like kidnappings or Jack Bauer-style hypotheticals where there's a ticking bomb and only warrantless access will let you defuse it.

By their nature, EDRs are meant to be obeyed without a sanity-check or other verification. When a provider gets an EDR from a cop, they're supposed to hop to, because the alternative might abet a murder or other grave crime.

If a provider thinks an EDR is legit, they'll honor it. But with 18,000 US police agencies, there's no way to validate an EDR a priori, and if just one of those police agencies suffers a breach, anyone who can exploit it can issue their own EDRs.

Ever hear of LAPSUS$? That's the notorious hacker gang (which appears to have been helmed and operated primarily by teenagers) that has been on a planet-wide rampage, stealing and dumping sensitive data and blackmailing its targets, from governments to corporations to individuals.

LAPUS$'s methods have been a mystery, but now, Brian Krebs has shed some light on how the gang pulled off its data-heists: they pretended to be cops, and issued EDRs to service providers, who just handed over the data they needed to break into agencies, companies, and personal accounts.

In 2021, a criminal connected to LAPUS$ – a 14 year old who used the handle Everlynn – advertised that they could generate EDRs from a real law-enforcement agency, and sold this capability to would-be hackers for $150.

Everlynn understood something that the creators of EDRs did not. In their sales pitch, they wrote, "This is very illegal and you will get raided if you don’t use a vpn. You can also breach into the government systems for this, and find LOTS of more private data and sell it for way, way more."

Everlynn's identity was revealed by a dox attack allegedly launched by "White," a founder of LAPUS$; they were colleagues in an earlier hacking group called Recursion Team. White, in turn, was allegedly outed by the staff who worked under him at a site called Doxbin, who were upset that White's mismanagement exposed the site's user database. These children aren't criminal mastermind prodigies, in other words: they're normal, fallible people, who nevertheless gained access to EDR facilities that compromised governments, corporations and individuals around the world.

Everlynn isn't the only bad actor using EDRs to compromise accounts. One of Krebs's sources, who goes by KT, reports that this is a common tactic, and the go-to pretense is "Terroristic threats with a valid reason to believe somebody’s life is in danger."

Among the targets successfully compromised with this tactic is Discord, which was induced to reveal sensitive user information in less than 30 minutes. Discord admitted to Krebs that it had been fooled: "we later learned that [the law enforcement account that sent the EDR] had been compromised by a malicious actor."

How do bad actors gain access to police emails? The same way they gain access to any service: compromising the website and installing a reverse shell; guessing passwords; or recycling passwords breached from other services.

Krebs's expert sources are pessimistic about the possibility of fixing the EDR system. Former DoJ prosecutor Mark Rasch told him that "spotting unauthorized EDRs would require these companies to somehow know and validate the names of every police officer in the United States."

UC Berkeley's Nicholas Weaver told Krebs that securing EDRs is "a fundamentally unfixable problem without completely redoing how we think about identity on the Internet on a national scale."

This is a lesson as old as CALEA – if you create a backdoor that tens of thousands of people can access, then you create a backdoor that anyone can access, because it's impossible to prevent the impersonation, subordination, or corruption of that many people.

(Image: Paulo Valdivieso, CC BY-SA 2.0, modified)

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Bruce Sterling's short story using the 300 most common English words

#15yrsago Canada’s copyright czar’s boomerang tantrum at Museum Assoc meeting

#15yrsago TSA missed 90% of bombs at Denver airport

#10yrsago Canada to stop issuing pennies, businesses told to round off to nearest 5 cents, or “work it out for themselves”

#10yrsago Spiders made from TSA-confiscated scissors

#10yrsago Matt Stone on the corruption in the MPAA’s ratings board

#10yrsago User uploads to YouTube hit one hour per second

#10yrsago Paul Vixie’s firsthand account of the takedown of DNS Changer

#5yrsago How the EU’s imaginary “value gap” would kill user-generated content online

#5yrsago Stingray for criminals: spreading mobile malware with fake cellphone towers

#5yrsago 20 years ago, Ted Cruz published a law paper proving companies could always beat customers with terms of service

#5yrsago The “universal adversarial preturbation” undetectably alters images so AI can’t recognize them

#5yrsago The 265 Republican Congressjerks who just nuked your online privacy sold out for chump change

#5yrsago A rare class-action victory over Wells Fargo’s fake accounts proves binding arbitration sucks

#5yrsago The Army is using quack “battlefield acupuncture” based on junk science

#5yrsago How East Germany’s Stasi tried to drive activists insane, and how they resisted

#5yrsago Laurie Penny blazes: Brexit is just the latest alibi for austerity

#5yrsago Australia leads the world in selling housing to money-launderers

#5yrsago Prison sentence for Spanish woman who tweeted jokes about the assassination of Franco’s fascist successor

#5yrsago Hungary’s ultra-right government wants to shut down its storied, amazing Central European University

#1yrago America needs a high-fiber broadband diet

#1yrago Minimum wage vs Wall Street bonuses: The fight for $44

#1yrago Big Salmon's aquaturf: Cheaper for fish farms to smear scientists than to clean up their act

#1yrago Monopoly so fragile: Sharpening the contradictions in the Suez Canal

#1yrago Noble Lies: "Experts" aren't experts on when to lie

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Eva Galperin (

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