It is quite ironical that a tool that’s suppose to save charging time now exposes users to hackers’ threat. A Tencent report revealed recently that a group of researchers discovered some safety defects in fast-charging products, a phenomenon called ‘BadPower’.
This implies that hackers can now hijack some products that support fast charging and access the powered device in order to cause physical damage due to excessively high voltage — either to cause a complete explosion, or destruction of an important hardware which renders the device useless.
This is possible because the malware introduced by the hackers into the product overrides its capacity to restrict more charges beyond the level of voltage permitted.
It will interest you to know that most new devices like phones, PC, tablets, notebooks all have the fast-charging technology. But then, BadPower has nothing to do with invading your privacy.Advertisement
According to the report, there’s usually a signal between the power-generating source and the power-receiving port and the firmware inside a normal-functioning fast-charging product. This is meant to ensure that only the required charge is absorbed.
But when corrupted, the firmware’s communication is altered, hence, nothing to regulate the voltage.
A trigger is needed from the phone/device
The report stated that a BadPower attack can happen in two ways: using a corrupted device to infiltrate a charger’s firmware first before connecting it to the targeted device(s), or exploiting the vulnerability of a charger through a malware installed on the powered device.
What is clear in either case is that a device has to be responsible to trigger the BadPower feature in the charger.
Touseef Gul, a Pakistani Penetration Tester, explains that this fault could have only resulted from a misconfiguration of these chargers, because it is impossible for a hacker to interact remotely with a flaw in a charger.
And this was also confirmed by the researchers involved in the report.
Unfortunately, a lot of misconfigured chargers with this defect are reportedly out in the market. Out of 34 tested chargers, 18 has such fault; and this includes 8 brands.
Likewise, it was discovered that the chip in some chargers activates this fault by default after the production process is complete.
“Xuanwu Lab investigated 34 fast-charging chip manufacturers and found that at least 18 chip manufacturers produce chips that can update firmware after finished products,” the report stated.
How to protect your devices
The report described how users can protect themselves by updating the device’s firmware which will also prevent other software vulnerabilities.
Also, it explicitly stated that users should not easily give their chargers, power banks, etc. to others.
At the same time, it recommended not to use Type-C to other USB interface cables which allows the fast charging device to supply power to powered devices that do not support fast charging.
While device manufacturers continue to devise means to help prolong phone usage time, there’s no telling that vulnerabilities like this will continue to put users at risk.
If this is anything like the introduction of longlasting lithium-sulfur batteries — which are reportedly at the risk of explosion — it is expected that manufacturers will get the BadPower concern under control before more users are put at risk of device explosion.
Warning Issued For Millions Of New iPhone Users
Despite some display concerns, early reports suggest Apple’s new iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are breaking sales records. But potential upgraders might now want to wait because serious cellular problems are now being reported by thousands of owners.
First spotted by 9to5Mac, over 500 iPhone 12 owners have posted to Apple’s Official Support Communities forum that their phones (seemingly all iPhone 12 models) are dropping both 5G and 4G reception, leaving them without connectivity even in areas with strong signal. Moreover, when I dug further into this issue, I found numerous similar threads with thousands of comments posted to Reddit threads for Verizon, AT&T and more as well as complaints about signal drops on international carriers.
Describing the problem, affected users (spread as widely as the US to Japan, India and the UAE) say reception strength on their new iPhones suddenly drops before disappearing. For some, the signal can return in under a minute but for others they have to restart their phone, toggle Airplane mode or remove and replace their sim to get it back.
“For me it’s almost like clockwork. If you’re actively using your phone for more than 20 minutes at a time, you’re bound to experience the dropped signal. I’ve tried endless workarounds to no avail.” – source
Interestingly, one affected Verizon store worker also confirmed customers are now coming into the store to complain about the issue. Switching between towers seems to be a common cause, regardless of network, for others their signal disappears even when standing still. Unfortunately, some very unlucky iPhone 12 owners are also being impacted by both problems:
“It’s particularly bad when moving (and switching between towers). Even when I’m stationary the signal randomly drops to zero multiple times a day. Only airplane mode/reboot can restore service, and I’ve erased network settings multiple times now. I’m using a new AT&T SIM provided by Apple.” – source
While there is some gallows humor about the issue, the problems are clearly impacting a significant number of iPhone 12 owners. They also add to a wider pattern of cellular issues with the iPhone 12 range. At launch, iPhone 12 owners were impacted by widespread SMS issues while the latest iOS 14 release (iOS 14.2.1) patches problems with iPhone 12 models not receiving MMS messages.
Apple head of security accused of offering iPads as bribes for concealed gun permits
A California grand jury has indicted Apple’s head of global security on charges that he tried to bribe Santa Clara County officials to procure firearms (CCW) licenses, according to a news release. Santa Clara district attorney Jeff Rosen alleges that Thomas Moyer offered 200 iPads — worth about $70,000 — to Capt. James Jensen and Undersheriff Rick Sung in the Santa Clara County sheriff’s office, in exchange for four concealed firearms licenses for Apple employees.
The charges came after a two-year investigation. “In the case of four CCW licenses withheld from Apple employees, Undersheriff Sung and Cpt. Jensen managed to extract from Thomas Moyer a promise that Apple would donate iPads to the Sheriff’s Office,” Rosen said in the news release. The iPads were never delivered, according to Rosen’s office, because Sung and Moyer became aware in 2019 that the district attorney was executing a search warrant for the sheriff department’s CCW records.
Moyer’s attorney, Ed Swanson, said in a statement emailed to The Verge that his client is innocent of the charges filed against him, adding he believed Moyer was “collateral damage” in a dispute between the Santa Clara sheriff and district attorneys’ offices. “He did nothing wrong and has acted with the highest integrity throughout his career,” Swanson said. “We have no doubt he will be acquitted at trial.”
“We expect all of our employees to conduct themselves with integrity,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement to Ars Technica. “After learning of the allegations, we conducted a thorough internal investigation and found no wrongdoing.”
According to Bloomberg News, Moyer has been at Apple for about 15 years and has been its head of global security since November 2018. He wrote a memo in 2018 warning Apple employees about the potential consequences of leaking information to the media, which he wrote “can become part of your personal and professional identity forever.”
Be Very Sparing in Allowing Site Notifications
An increasing number of websites are asking visitors to approve “notifications,” browser modifications that periodically display messages on the user’s mobile or desktop device. In many cases these notifications are benign, but several dodgy firms are paying site owners to install their notification scripts and then selling that communications pathway to scammers and online hucksters.
When a website you visit asks permission to send notifications and you approve the request, the resulting messages that pop up appear outside of the browser. For example, on Microsoft Windows systems they typically show up in the bottom right corner of the screen — just above the system clock. These so-called “push notifications” rely on an Internet standard designed to work similarly across different operating systems and web browsers.
But many users may not fully grasp what they are consenting to when they approve notifications, or how to tell the difference between a notification sent by a website and one made to appear like an alert from the operating system or another program that’s already installed on the device.
This is evident by the apparent scale of the infrastructure behind a relatively new company based in Montenegro called PushWelcome, which advertises the ability for site owners to monetize traffic from their visitors. The company’s site currently is ranked by Alexa.com as among the top 2,000 sites in terms of Internet traffic globally.
Website publishers who sign up with PushWelcome are asked to include a small script on their page which prompts visitors to approve notifications. In many cases, the notification approval requests themselves are deceptive — disguised as prompts to click “OK” to view video material, or as “CAPTCHA” requests designed to distinguish automated bot traffic from real visitors.
Approving notifications from a site that uses PushWelcome allows any of the company’s advertising partners to display whatever messages they choose, whenever they wish to, and in real-time. And almost invariably, those messages include misleading notifications about security risks on the user’s system, prompts to install other software, ads for dating sites, erectile disfunction medications, and dubious investment opportunities.
That’s according to a deep analysis of the PushWelcome network compiled by Indelible LLC, a cybersecurity firm based in Portland, Ore. Frank Angiolelli, vice president of security at Indelible, said rogue notifications can be abused for credential phishing, as well as foisting malware and other unwanted applications on users.
“This method is currently being used to deliver something akin to adware or click fraud type activity,” Angiolelli said. “The concerning aspect of this is that it is so very undetected by endpoint security programs, and there is a real risk this activity can be used for much more nefarious purposes.”
Angiolelli said the external Internet addresses, browser user agents and other telemetry tied to people who’ve accepted notifications is known to PushWelcome, which could give them the ability to target individual organizations and users with any number of fake system prompts.
Indelible also found browser modifications enabled by PushWelcome are poorly detected by antivirus and security products, although he noted Malwarebytes reliably flags as dangerous publisher sites that are associated with the notifications.
Indeed, Malwarebytes’ Pieter Arntz warned about malicious browser push notifications in a January 2019 blog post. That post includes detailed instructions on how to tell which sites you’ve allowed to send notifications, and how to remove them.
KrebsOnSecurity installed PushWelcome’s notifications on a brand new Windows test machine, and found that very soon after the system was peppered with alerts about malware threats supposedly found on the system. One notification was an ad for Norton antivirus; the other was for McAfee. Clicking either ultimately led to “buy now” pages at either Norton.com or McAfee.com.
It seems likely that PushWelcome and/or some of its advertisers are trying to generate commissions for referring customers to purchase antivirus products at these companies. McAfee has not yet responded to requests for comment. Norton issued the following statement:
“We do not believe this actor to be an affiliate of NortonLifeLock. We are continuing to investigate this matter. NortonLifeLock takes affiliate fraud and abuse seriously and monitors ongoing compliance. When an affiliate partner abuses its responsibilities and violates our agreements, we take necessary action to remove these affiliate partners from the program and swiftly terminate our relationships. Additionally, any potential commissions earned as a result of abuse are not paid. Furthermore, NortonLifeLock sends notification to all of our affiliate partner networks about the affiliate’s abuse to ensure the affiliate is not eligible to participate in any NortonLifeLock programs in the future.”
Requests for comment sent to PushWelcome via email were returned as undeliverable. Requests submitted through the contact form on the company’s website also failed to send.
While scammy notifications may not be the most urgent threat facing Internet users today, most people are probably unaware of how this communications pathway can be abused.
What’s more, dodgy notification networks could be used for less conspicuous and sneakier purposes, including spreading fake news and malware masquerading as update notices from the user’s operating system. I hope it’s clear that regardless of which browser, device or operating system you use, it’s a good idea to be judicious about which sites you allow to serve notifications.
If you’d like to prevent sites from ever presenting notification requests, check out this guide, which has instructions for disabling notification prompts in Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Doing this for any devices you manage on behalf of friends, colleagues or family members might end up saving everyone a lot of headache down the road.
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