Are you one of the allegedly 400 million users of Avast antivirus products? Then I have bad news for you: you are likely being spied upon. The culprit is the Avast Online Security extension that these products urge you to install in your browser for maximum protection.
But even if you didn’t install Avast Online Security yourself, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t affected. This isn’t obvious but Avast Secure Browser has Avast Online Security installed by default. It is hidden from the extension listing and cannot be uninstalled by regular means, its functionality apparently considered an integral part of the browser. Avast products promote this browser heavily, and it will also be used automatically in “Banking Mode.” Given that Avast bought AVG a few years ago, there is also a mostly identical AVG Secure Browser with the built-in AVG Online Security extension.
This is a guest post by Jane Doe, a security professional who was asked to do a security review of PfP: Pain-free Passwords. While publishing the results under her real name would have been preferable, Jane has good reasons to avoid producing content under her own name.
I reviewed the code of the Pain-free Passwords extension. It’s a stateless
password manager that generates new passwords based on your master password,
meaning that you don’t have to back your password database up (although, you
also can import your old passwords, which do need backing up). For this kind of
password managers, the most sensitive part is the password generation algorithm.
Other possibly vulnerable components include those common for all password
managers: autofill, storage and cloud sync.
All of you certainly know already that Google is guarding its Chrome Web Store vigilantly and making sure that no bad apples get in. So when you hit “Report abuse” your report will certainly be read carefully by another human being and acted upon ASAP. Well, eventually… maybe… when it hits the news. If it doesn’t, then it probably wasn’t important anyway and these extensions might stay up despite being taken down by Mozilla three months ago.
As to your legitimate extensions, these will be occasionally taken down as collateral damage in this fierce fight. Like my extension which was taken down due to missing a screenshot because of not having any user interface whatsoever. It’s not possible to give an advance warning either, like asking the developer to upload a screenshot within a week. This kind of lax policies would only encourage the bad guys to upload more malicious extensions without screenshots of course.
Roughly a decade ago I read an article that asked antivirus vendors to stop intercepting encrypted HTTPS connections, this practice actively hurting security and privacy. As you can certainly imagine, antivirus vendors agreed with the sensible argument and today no reasonable antivirus product would even consider intercepting HTTPS traffic. Just kidding… Of course they kept going, and so two years ago a study was published detailing the security issues introduced by interception of HTTPS connections. Google and Mozilla once again urged antivirus vendors to stop. Surely this time it worked?
Of course not. So when I decided to look into Kaspersky Internet Security in December last year, I found it breaking up HTTPS connections so that it would get between the server and your browser in order to “protect” you. Expecting some deeply technical details about HTTPS protocol misimplementations now? Don’t worry, I don’t know enough myself to inspect Kaspersky software on this level. The vulnerabilities I found were far more mundane.
I reported eight vulnerabilities to Kaspersky Lab between 2018-12-13 and 2018-12-21. This article will only describe three vulnerabilities which have been fixed in April this year. This includes two vulnerabilities that weren’t deemed a security risk by Kaspersky, it’s up to you to decide whether you agree with this assessment. The remaining five vulnerabilities have only been fixed in July, and I agreed to wait until November with the disclosure to give users enough time to upgrade.
Edit (2019-08-22): In order to disable this functionality you have to go into Settings, select “Additional” on the left side, then click “Network.” There you will see a section called “Encryption connection scanning” where you need to choose “Do not scan encrypted connections.”
If you want to use a password manager (as you probably should), there are literally hundreds of them to choose from. And there are lots of reviews, weighing in features, usability and all other relevant factors to help you make an informed decision. Actually, almost all of them, with one factor suspiciously absent: security. How do you know whether you can trust the application with data as sensitive as your passwords?
Unfortunately, it’s really hard to see security or lack thereof. In fact, even tech publications struggle with this. They will talk about two-factor authentication support, even when discussing a local password manager where it is of very limited use. Or worse yet, they will fire up a debugger to check whether they can see any passwords in memory, completely disregarding the fact that somebody with debug rights can also install a simple key logger (meaning: game over for any password manager).
Judging security of a password manager is a very complex task, something that only experts in the field are capable of. The trouble: these experts usually work for competing products and badmouthing competition would make a bad impression. Luckily, this still leaves me. Actually, I’m not quite an expert, I merely know more than most. And I also work on competition, a password manager called PfP: Pain-free Passwords which I develop as a hobby. But today we’ll just ignore this.
So I want to go with you through some basic flaws which you might encounter in a local password manager. That’s a password manager where all data is stored on your computer rather than being uploaded to some server, a rather convenient feature if you want to take a quick look. Some technical understanding is required, but hopefully you will be able to apply the tricks shown here, particularly if you plan to write about a password manager.
Our guinea pig is a password manager called Password Depot, produced by the German company AceBit GmbH. What’s so special about Password Depot? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that one of their users asked me for a favor. So I spent 30 minutes looking into it and noticed that they’ve done pretty much everything wrong that they could.
Note: The flaws discussed here have been reported to the company in February this year. The company assured that they take these very seriously but, to my knowledge, didn’t manage to address any of them so far.
Whenever I write about security issues in some password manager, people will ask what I’m thinking about their tool of choice. And occasionally I’ll take a closer look at the tool, which is what I did with the RememBear password manager in April. Technically, it is very similar to its competitor 1Password, to the point that the developers are being accused of plagiarism. Security-wise the tool doesn’t appear to be as advanced however, and I quickly found six issues (severity varies) which have all been fixed since. I also couldn’t fail noticing a bogus security mechanism, something that I already wrote about.
Nowadays it is common for locally installed applications to also offer installing browser extensions that will take care of browser integration. Securing the communication between extensions and the application is not entirely trivial, something that Logitech had to discover recently for example. I’ve also found a bunch of applications with security issues in this area. In this context, one has to appreciate RememBear password manager going to great lengths to secure this communication channel. Unfortunately, while their approach isn’t strictly wrong, it seems to be based on a wrong threat assessment and ends up investing far more effort into this than necessary.
After staying on Textpattern for more than ten years, time was right for a new blog engine. It’s not that Textpattern is bad, it’s actually pretty good and rather sturdy security-wise. But perfect is the enemy of good, and a blog where it’s only static files on the server side is perfect security – no attack surface whatsoever. No PHP and no database on the server means far fewer security updates. And I can easily see locally what any modifications to the site would look like, then push to a repository that doubles as backup – done, the changes are deployed. Finally, I got simply fed up with writing Textile when everywhere else the format of choice is Markdown.
So now this blog is generated by Hugo, it’s all static files and the server can get some rest.
As an added bonus, the concept of page bundles means that adding images or PDFs to individual posts no longer results in an unmanageable mess. Migrating content and layout from Textpattern was fairly straightforward, with the custom RSS template to allow full blog posts in the RSS feed being already the “challenging” part.
But there are two inherently dynamic parts of a blog: search and comments. Very often, statically generated blogs will use something like Google’s custom search and Disqus to implement these. I didn’t want to rely on third parties however, for privacy reasons already. In addition, with comments I’d much rather keep them in the repository along with all the other content instead of breaking the beautiful concept with a remote dynamically generated frame. So here is how I solved this.
Dear Mozilla, of course I learned about your new file sharing project from the news. But it seems that you wanted to be really certain, so today I got this email:
Do you still remember how I opted out of all your emails last year? Luckily, I know that email preferences of all your users are managed via Mozilla Basket and I also know how to retrieve raw data. So here it is:
I’ve written a number of blog posts on LastPass security issues already. The latest one so far looked into the way the LastPass data is encrypted before it is transmitted to the server. The thing is: when your password manager uploads all data to its server backend, you normally want to be very certain that the data visible to the server is useless both to attackers who manage to compromise the server and company employees running that server. Early last year I reported a number of issues that allowed subverting LastPass encryption with comparably little effort. The most severe issues have been addressed, so all should be good now?
Sadly, no. It is absolutely possible for a password manager to use a server for some functionality while not trusting it. However, LastPass has been designed in a way that makes taking this route very difficult. In particular, the decision to fall back to server-provided pages for parts of the LastPass browser extension functionality is highly problematic. For example, whenever you access Account Settings you leave the trusted browser extension and access a web interface presented to you by the LastPass server, something that the extension tries to hide from you. Some other extension functionality is implemented similarly.