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
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Malicious USB Drive Hides Behind Gift Card Lure
Dark Reading Staff 3/27/2020
How Attackers Could Use Azure Apps to Sneak into Microsoft 365
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  3/24/2020
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
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
Data breaches and regulations have forced organizations to pay closer attention to the security incident response function. However, security leaders may be overestimating their ability to detect and respond to security incidents. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-10940
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
Local Privilege Escalation can occur in PHOENIX CONTACT PORTICO SERVER through 3.0.7 when installed to run as a service.
CVE-2020-10939
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
Insecure, default path permissions in PHOENIX CONTACT PC WORX SRT through 1.14 allow for local privilege escalation.
CVE-2020-6095
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
An exploitable denial of service vulnerability exists in the GstRTSPAuth functionality of GStreamer/gst-rtsp-server 1.14.5. A specially crafted RTSP setup request can cause a null pointer deference resulting in denial-of-service. An attacker can send a malicious packet to trigger this vulnerability.
CVE-2020-10817
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
The custom-searchable-data-entry-system (aka Custom Searchable Data Entry System) plugin through 1.7.1 for WordPress allows SQL Injection. NOTE: this product is discontinued.
CVE-2020-10952
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
GitLab EE/CE 8.11 through 12.9.1 allows blocked users to pull/push docker images.