Category Archives: InSecurity

Smart TVs Enable Creepy Ads That Follow You

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Since as early as 2013, the misleadingly-named, San Francisco-based Free Stream Media Corp. has touted smart TV software capable of detecting what you’re watching. Initially marketed as a social tool to drive viewer engagement, the software has morphed into an Orwellian advertising spy machine. Called “Samba TV” since its debut at CES in 2013, the software comes pre-installed on select Smart TV sets from a dozen manufacturers, including Sharp, Toshiba, Sony, and Philips. Claiming to provide consumers who opt in with “recommendations based on the content you love”, the software in fact monitors everything displayed on the TV to identify not only broadcast advertisements but also streaming services and even video games and internet videos.

This data is then distributed to advertisers in real time. The result: creepy targeted ads that know what you’re watching.

Christine DiLandro, a marketing director at Citi, joined Mr. Navin at an industry event at the end of 2015. In a video of the event, Ms. DiLandro described the ability to target people with digital ads after the company’s TV commercials aired as “a little magical.”

This accomplishment is a result of Samba’s “device map”, which appears to utilize a combination of local network exploration and mobile device fingerprinting to identify smartphones, tables, and other computers in the same household as an enabled Smart TV. This allows the company to target ads to other devices based on what’s on TV.

Presumably they’re also building a profile of your viewing habits to sell to advertisers as well. Yikes.

US Cell Phone Carriers Sell Your Location, Without Permission

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In May, the New York Times reported on a private company that purchased bulk user location data from US cellular carriers and then re-sold individual location data to law enforcement in a blatant violation of customer privacy and legal due process:

The service can find the whereabouts of almost any cellphone in the country within seconds. It does this by going through a system typically used by marketers and other companies to get location data from major cellphone carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, documents show.

US Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) took action the next day, calling on carriers to discontinue selling subscriber data to so-called “location aggregators”. So far AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile have responded, issuing statements of intent to cut ties with location middlemen. Whether they will continue to share subscriber location data without explicit and affirmative consent remains to be seen. Congressional Republicans show no interest in preventing them:

“Chairman Pai’s total abandonment of his responsibility to protect Americans’ security shows that he can’t be trusted to oversee an investigation into the shady companies that he used to represent,” Wyden said. “If your location information falls into the wrong hands, you—or your children—can be vulnerable to predators, thieves, and a whole host of people who would use that knowledge to malicious ends.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai represented Securus in 2012. More information from ArsTechnica, who report that Obama-era regulations were blocked by Congress that would have prevented this kind of behavior.

Tapplock Is Basically Worthless

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Recently-kickstarted Tapplock touts a Bluetooth-enabled smart lock that uses a fingerprint sensor. The company came under fire from tech-savvy commentators when popular YouTuber JerryRigEverything completely disassembled and defeated in a matter of minutes using a screwdriver and adhesive pad. This attack appears to be related to a quality control problem with the specific unit he used; a spring-loaded shear pin is supposed to prevent the back from rotating. It’s unclear whether that pin can be easily snapped or retracted, for example with a string magnet, but it turns out that doesn’t matter. UK-based security researchers PenTestPartners:

The only thing we need to unlock the lock is to know the BLE MAC address. The BLE MAC address that is broadcast by the lock.

The security credentials used to control the lock are derived from the device’s publicly broadcast identifier. This means that every single lock is vulnerable to an attack that can be carried out with a smartphone app:

I scripted the attack up to scan for Tapplocks and unlock them. You can just walk up to any Tapplock and unlock it in under 2s. It requires no skill or knowledge to do this.

Can it get worse? Yes, it can. Responding to the researcher’s security disclosure, Tapplock reportedly said:

“Thanks for your note. We are well aware of these notes.”

Be wary of Internet of Things (IoT) “smart” security devices. The are neither smart nor secure.

InSecurity: Panera Bread Co.

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This is the first installment of a new segment titled InSecurity, covering consumer-relevant business and government security practices with an emphasis on their failures.


Each new week, it seems, brings a new corporate or government data breach or operational security failure to out awareness. This week is no exception. The failure this time, however, is particularly egregious: ever the course of eight months, Panera Bread Co. knowingly failed to protect sensitive customer data from unauthorized access. This data included, according to security researcher Dylan Houlihan who originally discovered the vulnerability, at least one web API endpoint which revealed “the full name, home address, email address, food/dietary preferences, username, phone number, birthday and last four digits of a saved credit card to be accessed in bulk for any user that had ever signed up for an account“. Equivalent vulnerabilities were eventually discovered across multiple Panera web properties.

Houlihan first reported the issue in August of 2017, reaching out to Panera’s Information Security Director, none other than Mike Gustavison. No stranger to “managing” wildly insecure corporate systems, Gustavison worked as “ISO – Sr. Director of Security Operations” at Equifax from 2009–2013. After eight months of repeated attempts to convince Panera of the severity of their security hole, Houlihan reached out to security industry expert Brain Krebs, whose influence was able to extract mainstream media coverage and a formal PR statement from Panera. Incredibly, and despite public statements to the contrary, Panera failed to secure the vulnerable API endpoints.

For a full explanation of the vulnerability and a timeline of events, reference the primary link.