Category Archives: Security

U.S. Navy Bans TikTok from Government-Issued Mobile Devices



Reuters reported that the United States Navy banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices because the app represented a “cybersecurity threat”.

A bulletin issued by the Navy on Tuesday showed up on a Facebook page serving military members, saying users of government=issued mobile devices who had TikTok and did not remove the app would be blocked from the Navy Marine Corps Intranet.

Reuters reported that the Navy would not provide details on what dangers TikTok presents. Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Uriah Orland said in a statement that the order was part of an effort to “address existing and emerging threats.”

This comes after two senior members of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked U.S. intelligence officials to determine whether TikTok posed “national security risks”. The two Senators sent a letter to Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maquire, questioning TikTok’s data collection practices and whether the app could be used by the Chinese-owned social-networking app to limit what U.S. users could see.

Reuters reported that last month U.S. Army cadets were instructed not to use TikTok, after Senators Schumer and Cotton raised security concerns about the Army using TikTok in their recruiting.

I find this interesting because, at a glance, TikTok appears to be an app designed to encourage creativity. People make short videos that are intended to be humorous. Many people find the videos to be amusing, and they pass them around on social media.

Now, it seems that TikTok could actually be a security threat, and a strong enough one where various branches of the U.S. military are banning it from government-issued mobile devices. There appears to be concern about TikTok’s data collection practices. It is troubling that an app that appears to be lighthearted could potentially be dangerous.


Facebook and Twitter Removed Accounts Engaging in Inauthentic Behavior



Both Facebook and Twitter have announced that they have removed networks of accounts that were engaging in inauthentic behavior. The New York Times reported that the accounts used fake profile photos that were generated with artificial intelligence. The use of AI generated fake photos appears to be a new tactic.

Facebook announced that they removed two unconnected networks of accounts, Pages and groups for engaging in foreign and government interference. The first operation originated in the country of Georgia and targeted domestic audiences. Facebook removed 39 Facebook accounts, 344 Pages, 13 Groups and 22 Instagram accounts that were part of this group.

The second operation originated in Vietnam and the US and focused mainly on the US and some on Vietnam and Spanish and Chinese-speaking audiences globally. Facebook removed 610 accounts, 89 Facebook Pages, 156 Groups and 72 Instagram accounts that originated in Vietnam and the US and focused primarily on the US and some on Vietnam, Spanish and Chinese-speaking audiences globally.

Some of these accounts used profile photos generated by artificial intelligence and masqueraded as Americans to join Groups and post the BL content. To evade our enforcement, they used a combination of fake and inauthentic accounts of local individuals in the US to manage Pages and Groups. The page admins and account owners typically posted memes and other content about US political news and issues including impeachment, conservative ideology, political candidates, elections, trade, family values, and freedom of religion.

Facebook said its investigation linked this coordinated group to Epoch Media Group. The New York Times reported that Epoch Media Group is the parent company of the Falun Gong-related publication and conservative news outlet The Epoch Times. The Epoch Media Group has denied that it is linked to the network.

Twitter announced it removed 5,929 accounts for violating Twitter’s platform manipulation policies. Their investigation attributed these accounts to “a significant state-backed information operation” originating in Saudi Arabia.

The accounts represent the core portion of a larger network of more than 88,000 accounts engaged in spammy behavior across a wide range of topics. Twitter’s investigations traced the source of the coordinated activity to Smaat, a social media marketing and management company based in Saudi Arabia.

It is very important to realize that you cannot believe everything you see on social media. An account that appears to have a realistic photo could actually be one that was generated by AI. Do some fact checking before sharing things posted by accounts that are run by people you don’t know.


Wawa had a Data Breach that Affected All 700 Stores



Wawa revealed to its customers that a data security breach has impacted all of their store locations. The post was written by CEO Chris Gheysens, who apologized to customers and reassured them that the customers will not be responsible for any fraudulent charges on their payment cards.

Based on our investigation to date, we understand that at different points in time after March 4, 2019, malware began running on in-store payment processing systems at potentially all Wawa locations. Although the dates may vary and some Wawa locations may not have been affected at all, this malware was present in most store systems by approximately April 22, 2019. Our information security team identified this malware on December 10, 2019, and by December 12, 2019, they had blocked and contained this malware.

The data breach included credit cards and debit card numbers, expiration dates, and cardholder names on payment cards used at potentially all Wawa in-store payment terminals and fuel dispensers at different points in time after March 4, 2019, and ending on December 12, 2019.

CEO Chris Gheysens says that no other personal information was affected by this malware. Debit card PIN numbers, credit card CW2 numbers, other PIN numbers, and driver’s license information used to verify age-restricted purchases were not affected by this malware.

As is typical after a company realizes a data breach has occurred, Wawa has information in its website for those who have been affected by the breach. It includes the usual advice one would expect. Wawa is offering free credit monitoring and identify theft protection to customers affected by the breach.

The Verge notes that CEO Chris Gheysens “doesn’t begin to suggest how the malware got there or who might have been trying to get customers’ payment information.”

It is too bad that Wawa failed to notice the malware until very recently. The unfortunate result is that Wawa customers now have to worry about whether their credit card information is secure while trying to finish buying gifts for loved ones during the holiday season.


New Orleans City Hall Hit by Ransomware



It is always worrying when a city government is hit by a ransomware attack. That appears to be what happened to the New Orleans City Hall on December 13, 2019. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, workers were told a cyberattack had struck the city government.

The workers were told to turn off and unplug their computers. City websites were down. In addition, the New Orleans Police Department was also told to shut down their computer equipment and remove everything from the network. This is not the first time Louisiana has had this problem.

State government was hit by a ransomware attack last month, though it was able to restore its system without giving in to demands. Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency, and the state Office of Motor Vehicles was hit especially hard, with many of its offices forced to close for several days.

In a press conference, Chief Information Officer Kim LaGrue said there was evidence of both phishing attempts and ransomware. No city employees reported providing login information in response to the emails, thanks to cybersecurity training that started in the fall of this year. It was unclear if ransomware had been installed or had begun to encrypt any city systems.

The odd thing about this situation is that, according to Mayor LaToya Cantrell, no requests for money had been made as a result of the ransomware attack.

Typically, thieves who use ransomware demand a specific amount of money, in a certain currency, to be delivered to them before a deadline. If the attacker wasn’t after money – what were they looking for?


Network Solutions had a Data Breach



Network Solutions determined on October 16, 2019, that a third-party gained unauthorized access to a limited number of their computer systems in late August of 2019. For whatever reason Network Solutions did not let its customers know about this data breach until November 5, 2019.

Our investigation indicates that account information for current and former Network Solutions customers may have been accessed. This information includes contact details such as name, address, phone numbers, email address and information about the services we offer to a given account holder. We encrypt credit card numbers and no credit card data was compromised as a result of this incident.

Network Solutions says that after discovering the intrusion, they took immediate steps and engaged a leading independent cybersecurity firm to investigate and determine the scope of the incident. They also notified the proper authorities and began working with federal law enforcement. In addition, they say they are “committed to protecting our customers against misuse of their information and have invested heavily in cybersecurity.”

All of that sounds like they are doing something about the data breach. And yet, to me it seems like they are being rather hesitant to share specific details that might make customers feel a bit better. They mention that they “engaged a leading independent cybersecurity firm to investigate”, but fail to clarify which one they are working with.

If you are a customer of Network Solutions, you may have received a notification from them about this data breach through email and also through their website. The company is also requiring all users – not only the ones who were affected by the data breach – to reset their account passwords. Network Solutions points out that it is good security practice to change your password often and use a unique password for each service.


Two Senators Think TikTok Poses National Security Risk



You may have seen some brief, funny, videos from TikTok posted on social media. It functions similarly to how Vine used to. While most of us don’t give much consideration to what TikTok may be doing other than providing a moment of amusement, two U.S. Senators are questioning if TikTok may be dangerous.

The Washington Post reported that two senior members of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Shumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have asked U.S. intelligence officials to determine whether the Chinese-owned social-networking app TikTok poses “national security risks”.

The two senators sent a letter to Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire about TikTok. They questioned TikTok’s data-collection practices and whether the app could be used by the Chinese-owned social-networking app to limit what U.S. users could see. The Senators ask the Intelligence Community to conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the U.S. and brief congress on these findings.

In response, TikTok posted a statement in which they attempt to “set the record straight on some specific issues.” Here are some key points from TikTok’s statement:

We store all TikTok US user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore. Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law. Further, we have a dedicated technical team focused on adhering to robust cybersecurity policies, and data privacy and security practices.

TikTok states that it does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China. TikTok says it has never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and that they would not do so if asked. Their U.S. moderation team, which is led out of California, review content adherence to U.S. policies. TikTok states: We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government.

It is up to individual people whether or not they trust TikTok’s statement. The fact that two U.S. Senators, (one Democratic and one Republican) think something may be up makes me feel very unsure about TikTok.


Equifax Will Pay $575 Million as Part of Settlement With FTC



The Federal Trade Commission announced that Equifax Inc. has agreed to pay at least $575 million, and potentially up to $700 million, as part of a global settlement with the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and 50 states and territories, which alleged that the credit reporting company’s failure to take reasonable steps to secure its network led to a data breach in 2017 that affected approximately 147 million people.

As you may recall, Equifax discovered a data breach on July 29, 2017, but did not announce it until September of 2017. Hackers were able to access files that included personal information including dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses, and credit card numbers.

This is a nightmare scenario for not only a credit bureau, but also all the people who trusted Equifax to keep their personal information safe and secure. The FTC alleges that Equifax failed to patch its network after being alerted in March 2017 to a critical security vulnerability affecting its ACIS database. That is the database which handles inquires from consumers about their personal credit data.

The proposed settlement:

  • Equifax will pay $300 million to a fund that will provide affected consumers with credit monitoring services. The fund will also compensate consumers who bought credit or identity monitoring services from Equifax and paid other out-of-pocket expenses as a result of the 2017 data breach.
  • Equifax will add up to $125 million to the fund if the initial payment are not enough.
  • Beginning in January of 2020, Equifax will provide all U.S. consumers with six free credit reports each year for seven years – in addition to the one free annual credit report that all credit bureaus offer.
  • Equifax will pay $174 million to 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, as well as $100 million to CFPB in penalties.
  • The settlement also requires Equifax to obtain third-party assessments of its information security program every two years.