Researchers Catch Cyber-Espionage Groups After Hackers Infect Their Own Systems

A cyber-espionage group who is believed to be tied to the Iranian Government, and has targeted over 1,600 defense officials, diplomats, researchers, journalists and more, may have just landed themselves in their own hacking trap. The group known as “Rocket Kitten” has been going since 2014, and for quite some time, their attacks have been analyzed by security teams trying to not only track them down, but to also prevent further security breaches. However, a team of researchers at Check Point Software Technologies caught a lucky break when they obtained access to the attacker’s command-and-control server.

It’s reported that Rocket Kitten is not very sophisticated, but rather persistent with their attacks. Using social engineering and phishing attacks to infect targets with malware. Researchers say the team left a major weakness in their infrastructure, allowing them to extract messages between members of the hacking group, as well as a list of over 1,600 intended victims in Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Iran, the Netherlands and Israel, that were targeted between August 2014 and 2015.

“It seems that the attackers did not take into consideration the possible compromise of their own command-and-control server and have infected their own computers with their custom keylogger-type malware, most likely for testing purposes.” reported CIO

By infecting their own computers with the malware they’ve been using to attack others, researchers believe they have been able to identify an Iranian software engineer who developed the tools for Rocket Kitten.

“In this case, as in other previously reported cases, it can be assumed that an official body recruited local hackers and diverted them from defacing web sites to targeted espionage at the service of their country,” the Check Point researchers said. “Such inexperienced personnel with limited training often lack operational security awareness.” they added.

Well there you go. If you’re going to breaking computer security, learn how to apply it in the first place.

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Hackers Can Now Use Square Reader to Act as a Credit Card Skimmer

The Square Reader device has been a popular and cheap alternative to point of sale devices. However, as you know where everything is heading nowadays, what can be used to make transactions can also be used to hack your accounts too.

A few grad students seem to have managed to alter the Square Reader with everyday tools so it can be used to skim credit cards. They say that this was made possible due to the fact that Square Reader is made using cheap components and direct communication with smartphones. Of course, its developers wanted it to be cheap and effective, but in doing so, they opened up other unwanted doors too.

The mod consists of stripping away the encryption on the Reader, which makes all credit card information visible after swiping it through the device. Of course, once modified, the Reader becomes unusable with the official Reader app, but the student researched a way of making a custom app and adapting it to the hacker’s purpose. The app they made was so great that it automated the whole process, meaning that a hacker would have access to a target’s bank account as soon as he or she swipes the card through the tampered Reader.

So, the bottom line here is that the devices are not as safe as people thought. If you’ve paid a merchant through a Reader device, you should keep an eye on your bank statement. It is said that all models of the Reader are vulnerable and can be tampered with, so customers should take caution when completing transactions through a Reader device.

Thank you Motherboard for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of Mashable

Oculus Rift Team Working on New Face Tracking Technology

Virtual reality technology hasn’t even hit the market yet, but that won’t stop the Oculus Rift team from developing new technology it seems. Word is that the Facebook-owned company is now looking into a way to capture and display your facial expressions in real-time.

Oculus already provides a way for users to interact with a completely different reality, but this new technology may skyrocket the realism even further by adding a key feature to making the virtual environment more lifelike.

In other words, picture two avatars inside a virtual world, each with the ability to interact and express their emotions through facial expressions. It’s as cool as it is scary, isn’t it? This may even fully immerse you in the virtual world and make you forget you are actually there.

The Oculus team is working with a team of researchers from the University of California in order to develop this new technology. They apparently came up with two designs, one involving a foam padding that covers the forehead. The latter was able to capture brow and some eye muscle movement.

The second design is a bit weird, involving a short adjustable boom attached to the headset. Both designs are able to capture data and send it to be analyzed by the software, which in turn transforms it into facial expressions. Though the technology is currently used only for research purposes, it could in theory be modified to a consumer ready device. The question is, will users be interested in taking their facial expressions to the virtual world?

Thank you Phys.org for providing us with this information

Largest Ever Email Study Reveals That We All Are Very Predictable

Researchers from Yahoo labs are said to have examined more than two million users exchanging about 16 billion messages in search of patterns. In order to conduct the study, they are said to have tracked the identities of senders and recipients, the time of day emails were sent, email length, the number of attachments, the type of device used, as well as demographic factors, including age and gender.

The study concluded that younger people tend to send shorter and faster replies compared to older people and that men send shorter and faster replies than women. This might not seem as something unfamiliar to us all, but the study has been performed on an extremely wide range of users and with actual proof, meaning it gives a lot more credibility to it.

Researchers also have proved that we respond more promptly during weekdays and working hours and that we respond to only a small fraction of messages, with short replies, when our inboxes get filled with new items.

The information gathered here is not only valuable to us as, but it is also valuable to computer algorithms. Developers can then use this data to create better email management applications to help and stop us from experiencing “overload”, a scientific term used when we would rather do anything else than open our inbox.

Thank you Gizmodo for providing us with this information

Optical Nanotechnology Sensor Claimed to be as Good as a Dog’s Nose

Researchers for the Oregon State University have created a new technology by combining optical tech with nanocomposite thin-films to develop a new type of cheap sensor, which is said to be fast, highly sensitive and able to detect and analyse a wide range of gases.

The sensor is said to be suited to detect carbon dioxide and may find potential use in industrial applications or systems designed to store the gas underground.

However, there are many other applications for the sensor. The researchers have filed a patent on the invention and are working in collaborating with a variety of industries to perfect and help commercialize the product.

“Optical sensing is very effective in sensing and identifying trace-level gases, but often uses large laboratory devices that are terribly expensive and can’t be transported into the field,” said Alan Wang, a photonics expert and an assistant professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.”By contrast, we use optical approaches that can be small, portable and inexpensive,” Wang said. “This system used plasmonic nanocrystals that act somewhat like a tiny lens, to concentrate a light wave and increase sensitivity.”

The sensor works by having a metal-organic framework of thin films which can quickly absorb gases within material pores and be recycled by simple vacuum processes.

After the thin-film captures the gas molecules near the surface, the plasmonic materials act at a near-infrared range, help magnify the signal and precisely analyze the presence and amounts of different gases.

Detecting gas can also find its use in the explosive diffusion industry, with further applications seen in public places with high risk of terrorism and explosive use, such as airports or border security.

However, a lot of gases required to be monitored in the lab before the sensor can do its job in the field. Other fields that might find potential use for the technology include healthcare, automobile engines and prevention of natural gas leakage.

Thank you Phys.org for providing us with this information

Rose Petals Inspire New Generation of Stretchable Circuits

Researchers have always turned to nature in order to find solutions to the most complex problems. This time, they turn to rose petals in order to get inspiration for a new generation of stretchable circuitry.

The race to find a way to make circuits stretch as much as possible has been on the back of the mind of researchers all over the world. Imagine the possibilities of rollable tablets or smartphones that could bend in your pocket without having to worry about them breaking.

Though we have had screens which can bend for some time now, they are no good without the circuitry to go with it. Electronic circuits nowadays are made out of silicon substances, which break if bent beyond their limits. Numerous attempts of making the substance elastic have been made, but scientists were faced with headaches when creating the right circuitry to go with the elastic compound.

However, a team of researchers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University have taken a more ‘natural’ approach, having rose petals as inspiration for their work in this field. The team is said to have used the surface topology of the rose petal in order to create a material that allows standard printed circuits to flex without breaking.

“[W]hen conducting materials such as metal thin films are deposited on top, the sharp ridges can effectively stop the propagation of microcracks in the conducting layer formed under large strains. As a consequence, the electrical resistance of the conducting layer shows remarkable stability in large-strain deformation.”

It is said that the electrical properties of the material were consistent when stretched to lengths 40% greater than their original size and continued to function until reaching a value of 90%.

Thank you Gizmodo for providing us with this information

New ‘Super Black’ Material Developed By British Researchers

Hearing of a new material that can perform in ways that push the boundaries of what is actively known is typically heard from the heavily invested teams over at NASA, however a team from Surrey (not too far away from my home in the UK as it happens) known as Surrey NanoSystems have created a new material that is so black, it is supposed to be hard to see if it is actually there. Known as Vantablack, the material is made up of carbon nanotubes – a man-made hollow fibre which measures only 1 nanometre in diameter – hence the name ‘nanotube’. To create the Vantablack material, the team in Surrey build up the nanotubes on a layer of aluminium foil as seen above and as we can see, or not as the case may be, the material is so dark, we cannot tell that it is all crinkled up along with the foil.

The material is so absorbent to light that it has broken a world record, reflecting a mere 0.035% of light shone at it, with the possibility that it can absorb wave of light that sit outside of the range of ‘visible light’ that the naked eye can detect. The rest is the appearance of nothing being where the material is laid and thus giving a black hole effect. Furthermore, researchers state Vantablack is in the region of 10,000 times as strong as steel and it can also conduct heat very well with up to seven and half times the thermal conductivity of copper.

Having already met the requirements for their initial run of orders for this pioneering material, Vantablack has a number of projected uses in highly sensitive pieces of equipment such as space bound telescopes, where the use of current ‘dark’ materials still reflect a small amount of light, having the effect of adding noise to an image. Down here on earth the possible ability to absorb radio waves brings probable military uses in stealth planes and instrumentation, giving the military an advantage against detection.

The  new material will be getting its first public showing later on this week at the Farnborough International Airshow alongside many other bits of military hardware.

Source: Daily Mail