Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

New Spectre Variant Hits the Network

A new proof of concept is a reminder that complex systems can be vulnerable at the most basic level.

Spectre is back, and this time in a variant that adds something truly new: remote access to cached data. The good news is that access comes at a snail's pace.

In a research paper published last week, four researchers from Graz University of Technology detailed NetSpectre, "a generic remote Spectre variant 1 attack."

"In theory, it's a big deal, and they made it sound like a big deal" says Chris Morales, head of security analytics at Vectra. "It's a proof of concept showing it's feasible to leak information over the network, but it's so slow it's unusable."

Just how slow is NetSpectre? In the original proof of concept, the researchers at Graz were able to exfiltrate 15 bits per hour using a "bit-leak gadget" that they developed for use over a network. They were able to push data transfer up to 60 bits per hour when they employed a "novel high-performance AVX-based covert channel."

Obviously, no actor is going to attempt to steal a database of millions of credentials through an exploit with this performance. "These Spectre attacks are designed to extract data from memory, which would include user passwords and small bits of personal information," Morales said. "This is a reconnaissance technique, not a data exfiltration technique."

Major Actors
In a real-world scenario, the data transfer would likely be even slower than the proof of concept indicates. "If you're a remote attacker, you're talking three to six bits per hour, but it's a really low number of bits you can extract in a day," says Mounir Hahad, head of threat research at Juniper Networks. "And since you're blind to the memory layout of the target machine, it's going to take a long time."

The nature of NetSpectre limits its real interest to a small handful of players, he adds. "This is beyond the capability of cybercrime. This is for well-funded state actors who can afford to have teams go out and find the economical applications of the technique," Hahad explains.

In fact, Hahad predicts, "Five to 10 years from now, we'll have a leak that says people have been using [Spectre vulnerabilities] for several years."

Even so, both Morales and Hahad say that their researchers look at NetSpectre and see an interesting proof of concept that has little practical use. The reason is that other, simpler exploits are far more productive and economical. Spear-phishing, for example, remains the researchers' weapon of choice when it comes to extracting user credentials from an organization. But NetSpectre is "low-level, close to the hardware, and very complex," Hahad says. Spear-phishing is none of those.

Warnings And Precautions
According to Morales, NetSpectre includes one obvious spot for more development: "The bit-leak gadget is the key here," he says. "I'm sure there's going to be more work. The first step was proving that it was feasible."

Hahad agrees, saying that more useful gadgets may be closer than we think. "The gadgets are out there, and the bad guys are going to find them," he says.

In the meantime, organizations should perform the basic security steps necessary to protect their systems from all the Spectre variants. "Make sure the patches for Spectre are in place," Morales says. "Next, evaluate whether you have any systems where the patch can't be deployed."

Other security professionals echo Morales' advice. "By now, organizations should have already taken the necessary steps to reduce the risk of this vulnerability by patching susceptible systems, limiting network access, and protecting privileged access to critical systems that are still exploitable," says Joseph Carson, chief security scientist at Thycotic.

As with many other exploits, a primary worry is systems that can't be patched or updated because they're part of embedded process control or dedicated application environments.

Intel- or ARM-based control systems that could remain unpatched do have one saving grace, according to experts: They're not likely to be host to mountains of sensitive information. Still, NetSpectre, like the Spectres that have come before it, is a reminder that complex systems can be vulnerable at the most basic level, and that legions of researchers are out there eager to demonstrate just where those vulnerabilities lie.

Related Content:

 

 

 

Black Hat USA returns to Las Vegas with hands-on technical Trainings, cutting-edge Briefings, Arsenal open-source tool demonstrations, top-tier security solutions and service providers in the Business Hall. Click for information on the conference and to register.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Exploits Released for As-Yet Unpatched Critical Citrix Flaw
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/13/2020
Microsoft to Officially End Support for Windows 7, Server 2008
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/13/2020
Active Directory Needs an Update: Here's Why
Raz Rafaeli, CEO and Co-Founder at Secret Double Octopus,  1/16/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-15625
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A memory usage vulnerability exists in Trend Micro Password Manager 3.8 that could allow an attacker with access and permissions to the victim's memory processes to extract sensitive information.
CVE-2019-19696
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A RootCA vulnerability found in Trend Micro Password Manager for Windows and macOS exists where the localhost.key of RootCA.crt might be improperly accessed by an unauthorized party and could be used to create malicious self-signed SSL certificates, allowing an attacker to misdirect a user to phishi...
CVE-2019-19697
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
An arbitrary code execution vulnerability exists in the Trend Micro Security 2019 (v15) consumer family of products which could allow an attacker to gain elevated privileges and tamper with protected services by disabling or otherwise preventing them to start. An attacker must already have administr...
CVE-2019-20357
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A Persistent Arbitrary Code Execution vulnerability exists in the Trend Micro Security 2020 (v160 and 2019 (v15) consumer familiy of products which could potentially allow an attacker the ability to create a malicious program to escalate privileges and attain persistence on a vulnerable system.
CVE-2020-7222
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
An issue was discovered in Amcrest Web Server 2.520.AC00.18.R 2017-06-29 WEB 3.2.1.453504. The login page responds with JavaScript when one tries to authenticate. An attacker who changes the result parameter (to true) in this JavaScript code can bypass authentication and achieve limited privileges (...