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Vulnerabilities / Threats

12/31/2013
12:47 PM
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Windows Crash Reports Open To Hijacking

Attackers -- and the NSA -- can glean valuable intel from unencrypted transmissions

Microsoft's handy automated Windows error report feature "Dr. Watson" mostly transmits crash log data in the clear, leaving organizations that use the function vulnerable to targeted attacks, researchers say.

Websense Security Labs found in a study of risks posed by some popular applications and services that Microsoft Windows Error Reporting, which automatically sends to the software giant details of a system crash, does so without encrypting the information. The sensitive information in these reports, which includes the make and model of the machine, BIOS version, ID, and applications, can help bad guys and even the National Security Agency profile potential targeted machines and networks.

Word that the NSA was likely doing just that came among other new revelations in a report over the weekend by German publication Der Spiegel , which pulled back the curtain on an elite team of NSA hackers called the Tailored Access Operations (TAO) Group. According to the report, TAO appears to use NSA's XKeyscore spy tool to grab Windows crash reports from Internet traffic it captures, and the intelligence can be used to profile a machine and exploit its vulnerabilities.

Windows Error Reporting/Dr. Watson is a default feature in the operating system and is used by some 80 percent of all networked PCs, or more than 1 billion machines around the world, according to Websense. And any crash data could expose a new zero-day flaw, for instance.

"Applications that report this information without encrypting data risk leaking information at multiple points. This includes any upstream proxies, firewalls, and ISPs that are in between the corporate network and the destination as well as the application developer and their partner organizations," Websense said in a post on the research yesterday.

Any services reporting application telemetry and information about network infrastructure and security should at the least be encrypted with SSL (TLS 1.2), Websense says. Organizations can protect themselves from Microsoft Error Reporting leaks by forcing encryption via group policies and regularly auditing their networks for accidental leakage of potentially sensitive information about the infrastructure.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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