Regulate Facial Recognition Says Microsoft

Steganography Attack / Facial ID’s Scrutinized / Baltimore Back In Business / Broadband Politics / MSO’s Give Up On TV

Pierluigi Paganini: Platinum APT leverages steganography to hide Command and Control communications

Steganography is a way to hide communications within images. Inside an image file, one can hide other images, movies, or documents. But the hackers of Platinum APT have found another use for this technique.

Experts from Kaspersky have linked the Platinum APT group with cyber attacks involving an elaborate, and new steganographic technique used to hide communications with C2 servers. The APT group was discovered by Microsoft in 2016, it targeted organizations in South and Southeast [Asia]. According to Microsoft, the Platinum has been active since at least 2009, it was responsible for spear phishing attacks on ISPs, government organizations, intelligence agencies, and defense institutes.

The hackers use a multi-stage approach to get into networks and machines involving PowerShell, DropBox, encryption, and networking DLL’s. Later an infected computer will download html from a website with encrypted commands and a key. Two steganography techniques are used within html tags to hide the command and control components.

The backdoor supports several commands, it could upload, download and execute files, handle requests for lists of processes and directories, upgrade and uninstall itself, and change the configuration file.

The analysis also revealed another tool used as a configuration manager that allows creating configuration and command files for the backdoors. The utility is able to configure more than 150 options.

Hacker groups like Platinum APT are working around the clock to think of ever more clever ways to infiltrate networks. Novel methods like steganography are raising the bar as hacker groups compete for fame and fortune in this time of cyberwar.

Read more about these techniques at SecurityAffairs blog.

Rachel England: Microsoft discreetly wiped its massive facial recognition database

Microsoft has been vocal about its desire to properly regulate facial recognition technology. The company’s president, Brad Smith, appealed directly to Congress last year to take steps to manage the tech, which he says has “broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse.” Such are the company’s concerns that it even blocked the sales of the tech to California police forces. Now, Microsoft is continuing its crusade by quietly deleting its MS Celeb database, which contains more than 10 million images of some 100,000 people.

The database was originally published in 2016, described by Microsoft as the largest publicly available facial recognition data set in the world, and used to train facial recognition systems by global tech firms and military researchers. The people whose photos appear in the set were not asked for consent, but as the individuals were considered celebrities (hence the set’s name), the images were pulled from the internet under a Creative Commons license.

While Microsoft lobbies for facial recognition to be regulated, the company continues to push for password-less systems that use the face. If Microsoft truly believed that such technology was dangerous, wouldn’t it eliminate facial scanning as a login on Windows Hello?

You can read more about Microsoft’s moves to squelch this facial database that got away over at Engadget and upcoming news about Android Q’s face unlocking software to compete with Apple’s Face ID over at The Verge today.

Sean Gallagher: Baltimore’s bill for ransomware: Over $18 million, so far

It has been a month since the City of Baltimore’s networks were brought to a standstill by ransomware. On Tuesday, Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young and his cabinet briefed press on the status of the cleanup, which the city’s director of finance has estimated will cost Baltimore $10 million — not including $8 million lost because of deferred or lost revenue while the city was unable to process payments. The recovery remains in its early stages, with less than a third of city employees issued new log-in credentials thus far and many city business functions restricted to paper-based workarounds.

…There’s been no further word on whether the city or Maryland Governor Larry Hogan have officially requested the federal government to provide disaster assistance to help pay for the ransomware cleanup. Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott, who will chair a committee reviewing the ransomware incident, published a statement last week calling for the governor to declare a disaster and request funding.

Read the details of how Baltimore is handling this attack over at Ars Technica.

Broadband availability has become a political talking point. Democrat presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill four weeks ago out of the Senate Broadband Caucus directing a study of coverage in the United States. The study will be carried out by the Bureau of Economic Analysis with input from the Commerce Department and seems to broadside Ajit Pai’s FCC as unable to provide good data.

“Every family in America should have access to broadband internet connection, no matter their zip code” Klobuchar said. “The purpose of this legislation is to use accurate and reliable data to prove how critical broadband deployment is to our economy. I look forward to this bill being signed into law soon and getting one step closer to bridging the digital divide.”

The legislation appears to have support from both parties as it passed out of the Senate as the Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act.

Read more about this story from Multichannel News.

And finally…

AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson said his company, which owns the satellite provider DirecTV, is “cleaning up the customer base” by letting go of subscribers who insist on keeping promotional prices when their contracts expire.

There is an interesting article over at Bloomberg that talks about how big cable companies are done haggling with customers over pricing to bundle TV. Customers who’ve grown accustomed to threatening to leave to get introductory pricing over and over will be shown the door. The truth is, most consumers really don’t have a choice as most are served by a singular broadband provider that can achieve good service, while the rest flounder. These companies know it and are closing the price negotiation tactic down and going so far as to eliminate their own TV packages, focus on broadband delivery, and point customers to over-the-top video entertainment.

As customers drop pay TV, cable companies will actually see their profit margins widen…because much of their pay-TV revenue goes right to channel owners, like Walt Disney Co. and its ESPN network, in the form of subscriber fees. Fueled by expensive sports rights, those fees are even rising faster than cable TV bills, hurting profits for companies like DirecTV and Comcast. Selling high-speed internet is far more profitable.

The article is chock full of information and you can find the link paywalled here.

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Weyman Holton

author of “The Dirty Deeds Playbook” out now in paperback and on Amazon Kindle.