Friday October 19, 2018
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Attention! Now viewing an image online could hack into your computer

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

Who would have thought that an innocent looking image file might prove to be a disastrous intruder in your personal computer?

In the new age digital world, inventions and discoveries have to be scrutinized in and out to find out their hidden attributes. One can’t be sure if a discovery is ever entirely beneficial or not.

As reported by motherboard.vice.com, Saumil Shah, a security researcher from India has devised a technique called “Stegosploit”    through which a hacker could hide malicious code inside the picture’s pixels. The technique that he has put to use is known  as ‘steganography’. It consists of stashing secret text or images in a different text or images.

Shah calls it the “magic sauce” behind Stegosploit. In this case, the malicious code or exploit is encoded inside the picture’s pixels, and it’s then decoded using an HTML 5 element called Canvas, which allows for dynamic rendering of images.

“I don’t need to host a blog, I don’t need to host a website at all. I don’t even need to register a domain,” Shah told Motherboard, during the demo last week. “I can take an image, upload it somewhere and if I just point you toward that image, and you load this image in a browser, it will detonate.”

 

The malicious code, which Shah calls “IMAJS,” is a mix of image code and javascript hidden into a JPG or PNG file. Shah hides the code within the picture’s pixels, and from the outside, unless you zoom a lot into it, the picture looks just fine.

Admitting that the technique might not work everywhere, Shah adds that he, himself hasn’t fully tested his technique on known image sharing sites such as Imgur or Dropbox,. The malicious file has to be uploaded without an extension for the browser to be tricked into rendering it, and some sites, such as Dropbox, don’t allow that. Moreover sites like Facebook reprocess the images when they are uploaded, causing the loss of the malicious code, according to Shah.

Still, Shah believes it’s just a matter of time and that “these techniques are coming, sooner or later.”

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U.S. Government Warns People Against China-Linked Hacking Group

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Cloudhopper
Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of the cybersecurity firm FireEye, gestures during a presentation about the APT33 hacking group, which his firm suspects are Iranian government-aligned hackers, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. VOA

The U.S. government warned Wednesday that a hacking group widely known as cloudhopper, which Western cybersecurity firms have linked to the Chinese government, has launched attacks on technology service providers in a campaign to steal data from their clients.

The Department of Homeland issued a technical alert for cloudhopper, which it said was engaged in cyber espionage and theft of intellectual property, after experts with two prominent U.S. cybersecurity companies warned earlier this week that Chinese hacking activity has surged amid the escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly denied claims by Western cybersecurity firms that it supports hacking.

cloudhopper
Russia, North Korea and Iran are the most active in hacking financial institutions, while China is the most active in cyber espionage. Wikimedia Commons

Homeland Security

Homeland Security released the information to support U.S. companies in responding to attacks by the group, which is targeting information technology, energy, health care, communications and manufacturing firms.

“These cyber threat actors are still active and we strongly encourage our partners in government and industry to work together to defend against this threat,” DHS official Christopher Krebs said in a statement.

The reported increase in Chinese hacking follows what cybersecurity firms have described as a lull in such attacks prompted by a 2015 agreement between Chinese President Xi Jinping and former U.S. President Barrack Obama to curb cyber-enabled economic theft.

“I can tell you now unfortunately the Chinese are back,” Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer of U.S. cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, said Tuesday at a security conference in Washington.

cloudhopper
A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture. VOA

“We’ve seen a huge pickup in activity over the past year and a half. Nowadays they are the most predominant threat actors we see threatening institutions all over this country and Western Europe,” he said.

Analysts with FireEye, another U.S. cybersecurity firm, said that some of the Chinese hacking groups it tracks have become more active in recent months.

Advice to US firms

Wednesday’s alert provided advice on how U.S. firms can prevent, identify and remediate attacks by cloudhopper, which is also known as Red Leaves and APT10.

Cloudhopper
The picture shows a warning sign for “cyber threats ahead”.

The hacking group has largely targeted firms known as managed service providers, which supply telecommunications, technology and other services to business around the globe.

Also Read: Pakistan Fears Economic Turmoil, Re-thinks ‘Silk Road’ Project with China

Managed service providers, or MSPs, are attractive targets because their networks provide routes for hackers to access sensitive systems of their many clients, said Ben Read, a senior intelligence manager with FireEye.

“We’ve seen this group route malware through an MSP network to other targets,” Read said. (VOA)