Black Hat 2014 – Briefing Summary – Day 1

If you’ve never been to Black Hat, the week long security conference is separated into two parts; a four day (optional) period for technical training courses, followed by two days of security briefings, where researchers share their latest discoveries and vulnerabilities. While the trainings I’ve attended have been excellent, most of the week’s security headlines get generated from the new research shared at the Black Hat briefings (and from DEF CON, later in the week).

In hopes of giving you a virtual Black Hat experience, I’ll summarize the more interesting talks I attended over the past two days, giving you the highlights. Let’s start with briefing day one.

Cybersecurity as Realpolitk

Topic: General state of information security and the Internet

Speaker: Dan Geer

This talk began with a short introduction by Jeff Moss (@TheDarkTangent), the founder of Black Hat and DEF CON, who mostly commented on the disparity between security and complexity. We need to start simplifying overly complex systems if we have any hope of securing them.


Dan Geer is a well-known computer security expert, who has warned about potential computer and network dangers long before it was popular to do so. In this talk, Geer covered a wide-range of topics, sharing his thoughts on ten subjects relevant to information security. With so many topics to cover, I can’t summarize it all, but I can share some highlights:


  • Freedom, security, convenience… CHOOSE TWO.
  • The CDC is effective at stopping pandemics because they force mandatory disease reporting, have expert away teams, and analyze historical data. Infosec experts should do the same. Perhaps there should be mandatory breach reporting for big incidents, and voluntary, anonymous reporting for small hack incidents.
  • On Net Neutrality: ISPs should have only two choices. Either they can charge what they want for services, but be liable for the content on their wires, or they are protected from liability and don’t inspect content at all.
  • On strike back: Don’t do it (as much as I can understand the desire to).
  • Embedded systems require remote management, or an finite lifetime (because without updates their vulnerability grows over time)
  • US Gov. should pay 10x the price of anyone else to corner the 0day market, and then help vendors fix the issue to quickly decrease the amount of 0day that any attacker can use. I disagree with Geer a bit. While I think it’s a nice idea, I don’t have confidence the US Gov. would share the info with vendors, rather than sit on the exploits for use in their own operations.
  • On Privacy: We have the right to be forgotten.
  • Internet voting: Nope!


Geer covered many other topics, but that at least gives you a quick taste of his talk.


Cellular Exploitation on a Global Scale: The Rise and Fall of the Control Protocol

Topic: Attacking mobile phones using the Carriers management protocol

Speaker: Matthew Solnik & Marc Blanchou


This talk had a ton of potential, but fell flat due to execution issues. In a nutshell, the presentation highlighted the Over-the-Air (OTA) remote management tools that mobile carriers built into phones on their network, and how attackers could exploit these built-in tools to hijack your phone, launching man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, or even executing remote code on your phones.


The presentation included a ton of technical information, which was interesting to fellow researchers, but it was presented in a dry, hard to follow manner. Worse yet, the actual demo at the end, which could have saved the whole talk, failed before it even started. That said, it still covered a very interesting and relevant topic, and I hope phone carriers read Solnik and Blanchou’s slides and research.


A Survey of Remote Automotive Attack Surface

Topic: Which cars are the most vulnerable?

Speaker: Charlie Miller & Chris Valasek


Even knowing this talk wouldn’t include any new research, I attended it just because Miller & Valasak are such charismatic speakers—and they didn’t disappoint. Last year, this research pair made a splash by demonstrating hacks against a Toyota Prius and Ford Escape. Despite getting tons of media attention, their talk was turned down by Black Hat last year. This year, Black Hat seemed to be making up for that flub, but Miller and Valasek didn’t really have any new technical or hands-on research to present.


Rather, in this presentation the duo mostly explored the potential of a remote attack surface against cars, and also enumerated a bunch of different cars using online information, measuring how vulnerable they think various models are.


As far as the remote attack surface, Miller and Valasek didn’t uncover anything new, or do any real tests, but instead shared research from others, such as the UW’s attack on tire pressure sensors, etc… They also discussed how built-in Bluetooth, Radio data systems, cellular, Wi-Fi, and car apps all present remote attack service. However, they didn’t uncover or share any new vulnerability or prove one exists.

Next they described how they measured the vulnerability level of various cars from many manufacturers. Essentially, they got mechanic accounts to all these manufacturers and used the mechanical technical docs to figure out which systems a certain model car used. The more remote systems a car presents, and the closer those systems connections are to other mechanics on the car, and the more vulnerable it is. They also brought up the idea of “cyberphysical” systems, such as cars that have self-parking or proximity detection and response. These “drive-by-wire” cars allow digital systems to actually turn the wheel or brake, so obviously they present a lot of real-world risk.


In the end, the talk was a lot of fun to listen to, but didn’t add a whole lot new to the car hacking conversation. They did say they are releasing a big paper covering the most vulnerable cars they found sometime at the end of the week. So go check it out if you’re interested.


Government as Malware Authors: The Next Generation

Topic: Exploring evidence that governments are writing malware

Speaker: Mikko Hypponen


I’ve always liked Hypponen’s engaging presentation style, and recently had the pleasure to dine with and present along side him at WatchCom’s Paranoia conference in Norway. If you’ve seen his TED talk, you probably have heard his views on the Snowden NSA leaks and governments involvement in Stuxnet and other advanced attacks. This presentation was essentially more of the same, other than he also shared a little government hacking history from F-Secure’s perspective; showing and sharing some spear phishing attachment examples they’d collected as early as 2003. He also covered the some of the latest phishing attachment tricks like the right-to-left unicode trick I mentioned in one of my weekly videos. It was an interesting talk that I’d recommend to anyone, but one I’d essentially seen before.


Pulling the Curtain on Airport Security

Topic: Vulnerabilities in TSA scanning equipments

Speaker: Billy Rios


This was a great talk; one of the best I saw. Billy Rios is a soft-spoken, but wicked smart security researcher who’s found many flaws in embedded devices. This time he researched some of the scanning equipment used by the TSA in airports. First, here are some interesting TSA stats:


  • TSA employees around 50,000 people at 400 airports in the US.
  • They spend $7.39 billion a year.
  • They are REQUIRED to spend $250 million on new screening gear.
  • We (as taxed citizens) pay for all this, so should consider its efficacy and usefulness important.


In any case, Rios found and bought a bunch of scanning equipment on Ebay that the TSA uses. He then reversed it and found a lot of very basic, low-hanging vulnerabilities… Circa 1990 security flaws like hard-coded service credentials and the like. He tested devices like x-ray scanners, fingerprint time clocks, and itemizers (the systems that sniff for drugs). I won’t go into all the details, but he basically found pretty big, often remotely exploitable issues in all these embedded systems.


His take-aways? First, if you use embedded devices you should audit them for risks and vulnerabilities. Second, you should trust, but always verify.


Breaking the Security of Physical Devices.

Topic: Radio signal reversing, and embedded device security

Speaker: Dr. Silvio Cesare


At a high-level, this talk was very similar to the last one, in that Dr. Cesare targeted embedded devices. He gathered together various, common home automation systems consumers might get at Home Depot or Target. Things like an analog baby monitor, various types of home alarm systems, and even the keyless entry fobs we use to unlock our cars. Then he showed how to defeat all these systems by analyzing and reversing their radio signals. Once the signal was reverse, he could either eaves drop or launch various key replay attacks.


If you are into radio signal tech and security, this was a very interesting talk. He shared how you could use cheap software defined radio equipment to do the capture and analysis, and even shared how to get relatively cheap spectrum analyzers. He also shared how to demodulate various types of radio signals, whether AM or PWM, and covered details on how you might crack rolling key codes. It was very interesting stuff, but very technical, and mostly for those into radio frequency hacking.


So that’s it for day one. As you can see, Black Hat briefings cover a wide gamut of interesting infosec related topics. You always learn something new, and it’s great just to hang out around people who are as passionate about the topic as you. I’ll return tomorrow with my summary of the day two briefings.

— Corey Nachreiner, CISSP (@SecAdept)






About Corey Nachreiner

Corey Nachreiner has been with WatchGuard since 1999 and has since written more than a thousand concise security alerts and easily-understood educational articles for WatchGuard users. His security training videos have generated hundreds of letters of praise from thankful customers and accumulated more than 100,000 views on YouTube and Google Video. A Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Corey speaks internationally and is often quoted by other online sources, including C|NET, eWeek, and Slashdot. Corey enjoys "modding" any technical gizmo he can get his hands on, and considers himself a hacker in the old sense of the word.

One Response to “Black Hat 2014 – Briefing Summary – Day 1”

  1. At least it’s more educational than one of the
    reality TV stars, kim who? Joey what?

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