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Backpage and Bitcoin: Uncovering Human Traffickers

August 17, 2017

Rebecca S. Portnoff, Danny Yuxing Huang, Periwinkle Doerfler, Sadia Afroz and Damon McCoy

Sites for online classified ads selling sex are widely used by human traffickers to support their pernicious business. The sheer quantity of ads makes manual exploration and analysis unscalable. In addition, discerning whether an ad is advertising a trafficked victim or a independent sex worker is a very difficult task. Very little concrete ground truth (i.e., ads definitively known to be posted by a trafficker) exists in this space. In this work, we develop tools and techniques that can be used separately and in conjunction to group sex ads by their true owner (and not the claimed author in the ad). Specifically, we develop a machine learning classifier that uses stylometry to distinguish between ads posted by the same vs. different authors with 96% accuracy. We also design a linking technique that takes advantage of leakages from the Bitcoin mempool, blockchain and sex ad site, to link a subset of sex ads to Bitcoin public wallets and transactions. Finally, we demonstrate via a 4-week proof of concept using Backpage as the sex ad site, how an analyst can use these automated approaches to potentially find human traffickers.

A First Legislative Step in the IoT Security Battle

August 4, 2017


Randal Milch, Distinguished Fellow at the Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law and the NYU Center for Cybersecurity, comments on the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvements Act of 2017:

The bill seeks to use the federal government’s purchasing power to drive much-needed cybersecurity improvements in internet-connected devices. In addition, the bill would amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to encourage research on device vulnerabilities. These are important first steps in combating a large and growing menace from billions of poorly secured devices.

Large-Scale 3D Chips: Challenges and Solutions for Design Automation, Testing, and Trustworthy Integration

August 2, 2017

Johann Knechtel, Ozgur Sinanoglu, Ibrahim (Abe) M. Elfadel, Jens Lienig and Cliff C. N. Sze

Three-dimensional (3D) integration of electronic chips has been advocated by both industry and academia for many years. It is acknowledged as one of the most promising approaches to meet ever-increasing demands on performance, functionality, and power consumption. Furthermore, 3D integration has been shown to be most effective and efficient once large-scale integration is targeted for. However, a multitude of challenges has thus far obstructed the mainstream transition from “classical 2D chips” to such large-scale 3D chips. In this paper, we survey all popular 3D integration options available and advocate that using an interposer as system-level integration backbone would be the most practical for large-scale industrial applications and design reuse. We review major design (automation) challenges and related promising solutions for interposer-based 3D chips in particular, among the other 3D options. Thereby we outline ( i ) the need for a unified workflow, especially once full-custom design is considered, (ii) the current design-automation solutions and future prospects for both classical (digital) and advanced (heterogeneous) interposer stacks, (iii) the state-of-art and open challenges for testing of 3D chips, and (iv) the challenges of securing hardware in general and the prospects for large-scale and trustworthy 3D chips in particular.

Adaptive and Resilient Revenue Maximizing Resource Allocation and Pricing in Cloud Computing Environments

July 27, 2017

Muhammad Junaid Farooq, Quanyan Zhu

Cloud computing is becoming an essential component of modern computer and communication systems. The available resources at the cloud such as computing nodes, storage, databases, etc. are often packaged in the form of virtual machines (VMs) to be used by remotely located client applications for computational tasks. However, the cloud has a limited number of VMs available, which have to be efficiently utilized to generate higher productivity and subsequently generate maximum revenue. Client applications generate requests with computational tasks at random times with random complexity to be processed by the cloud. The cloud service provider (CSP) has to decide whether to allocate a VM to a task at hand or to wait for a higher complexity task in the future. We propose a threshold-based mechanism to optimally decide the allocation and pricing of VMs to sequentially arriving requests in order to maximize the revenue of the CSP over a finite time horizon. Moreover, we develop an adaptive and resilient framework based that can counter the effect of realtime changes in the number of available VMs at the cloud server, the frequency and nature of arriving tasks on the revenue of the CSP.

Optimal Timing in Dynamic and Robust Attacker Engagement During Advanced Persistent Threats

July 25, 2017

Jeffrey Pawlick, Thi Thu Hang Nguyen, Quanyan Zhu

Advanced persistent threats (APTs) are stealthy attacks which make use of social engineering and deception to give adversaries insider access to networked systems. Against APTs, active defense technologies aim to create and exploit information asymmetry for defenders. In this paper, we study a scenario in which a powerful defender uses honeypots for active defense in order to observe an attacker who has penetrated the network. Rather than immediately eject the attacker, the defender may elect to gather information. We introduce a Markov decision process on a continuous state space in order to model the defender’s problem. We find a threshold of information that the defender should gather about the attacker before ejecting him. Then we study the robustness of this policy using a Stackelberg game. Our results provide a quantitative foundation for studying optimal timing for attacker engagement in network defense.

Quantitative Models of Imperfect Deception in Network Security using Signaling Games with Evidence

July 25, 2017

Jeffrey Pawlick and Quanyan Zhu

Deception plays a critical role in many interactions in communication and network security. Game-theoretic models called “cheap talk signaling games” capture the dynamic and information asymmetric nature of deceptive interactions. But signaling games inherently model undetectable deception. In this paper, we investigate a model of signaling games in which the receiver can detect deception with some probability. This model nests traditional signaling games and complete information Stack- elberg games as special cases. We present the pure strategy perfect Bayesian Nash equilibria of the game. Then we illustrate these analytical results with an application to active network defense. The presence of evidence forces majority-truthful behavior and eliminates some pure strategy equilibria. It always benefits the deceived player, but surprisingly sometimes also benefits the deceiving player.



July 24, 2017

Hamza Anwar and Quanyan Zhu

Sensing in complex systems requires large-scale information exchange and on-the-go communications over heterogeneous networks and integrated processing platforms. Many networked cyber-physical systems exhibit hierarchical infrastructures of information flows, which naturally leads to a multi-level tree-like information structure in which each level corresponds to a particular scale of representation. This work focuses on the multiscale fusion of data collected at multiple levels of the system. We propose a multiscale state-space model to represent multi-resolution data over the hierarchical information system and formulate a multi-stage dynamic zero-sum game to design a multi-scale H robust filter. We present numerical experiments for one and two-dimensional signals and provide a comparative analysis of the minimax filter with the standard Kalman filter to show the improvement in signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).

A Dynamic Game Analysis and Design of Infrastructure Network Protection and Recovery

July 21, 2017

Juntao Chen, Corinne Touati, Quanyan Zhu

Infrastructure networks are vulnerable to both cyber and physical attacks. Building a secure and resilient networked system is essential for providing reliable and dependable services. To this end, we establish a two-player three-stage game framework to capture the dynamics in the infrastructure protection and recovery phases. Specifically, the goal of the infrastructure network designer is to keep the network connected before and after the attack, while the adversary aims to disconnect the network by compromising a set of links. With costs for creating and removing links, the two players aim to maximize their utilities while minimizing the costs. In this paper, we use the concept of subgame perfect equilibrium (SPE) to characterize the optimal strategies of the network defender and attacker. We derive the SPE explicitly in terms of system parameters. Finally, we use a case study of UAV-enabled communication networks for disaster recovery to corroborate the obtained analytical results.

Optimal Secure Multi-Layer IoT Network Design

July 21, 2017

Juntao Chen, Corinne Touati, Quanyan Zhu
With the remarkable growth of the Internet and communication technologies over the past few decades, Internet of Things (IoTs) is enabling the ubiquitous connectivity of heterogeneous physical devices with software, sensors, and actuators. IoT networks are naturally multi-layer with the cloud and cellular networks coexisting with the underlaid device-to-device (D2D) communications. The connectivity of IoTs plays an important role in information dissemination for mission-critical and civilian applications. However, IoT communication networks are vulnerable to cyber attacks including the denial-of-service (DoS) and jamming attacks, resulting in link removals in IoT network. Therefore, it is important to maintain the connectivity of IoT networks and make them secure and resistant to malicious attacks. In this work, we present a heterogeneous IoT network design problem in which a network designer can add links to provide additional communication paths between two nodes or secure links against failures by investing resources. We characterize the optimal strategy of the secure network design problem by first providing a lower bound on the number of links a secure network requires for a given budget of protected links, and then developing a method to construct networks that satisfy the heterogeneous network design specifications. Case studies on the Internet of Battlefield Things (IoBT) are used to corroborate our results.


How Biometric Authentication Poses New Challenges to Our Security and Privacy

July 20, 2017

Nasir Memon

The use of biometric data—an individual’s measurable physical and behavioral characteristics—isn’t new. Government and law enforcement agencies have long used it. … Using biometric data to access our personal devices is increasing as a way to get around the limitations of the commonly used password-based mechanism: it’s easier, more convenient, and (theoretically) more secure. But biometric data can also be stolen and used in malicious ways.

Lock-in-Pop: Securing Privileged Operating System Kernels by Keeping on the Beaten Path

July 17, 2017

Yiwen Li, Brendan Dolan-Gavitt, Sam Weber, and Justin Cappos

Virtual machines (VMs) that try to isolate untrusted code are widely used in practice. However, it is often possible to trigger zero-day flaws in the host Operating System (OS) from inside of such virtualized systems. In this paper, we propose a new security metric showing strong correlation between “popular paths” and kernel vulnerabilities. We verify that the OS kernel paths accessed by popular applications in everyday use contain significantly fewer security bugs than less-used paths. We then demonstrate that this observation is useful in practice by building a prototype system which locks an application into using only popular OS kernel paths. By doing so, we demonstrate that we can prevent the triggering of zero-day kernel bugs significantly better than three other competing approaches, and argue that this is a practical approach to secure system design.

Smartwatches Locking Methods: A Comparative Study

July 14, 2017

Toan Nguyen and Nasir Memon

Smartwatches are rapidly emerging to be the next generation of personal devices from the smartphone era due to their novel form factor and broad applications. However, their emergence also poses new challenges to securing user information. An important challenge is preventing unauthorized access to private information stored on the watch, for which a locking method is typically used. Due to smartwatches’ limited display, the performance of locking methods offered on smartwatches may su er from the fat- finger problem and is currently unknown. In this paper, we present the first study to evaluate different locking methods for smartwatches. We contribute to the ongoing research trend in authentication for smartwatches with a reference benchmark and interesting insights for future work.

New Me: Understanding Expert and Non-Expert Perceptions and Usage of the Tor Anonymity Network

July 14, 2017

Kevin Gallagher, Sameer Patil, Nasir Memon

Proper use of an anonymity system requires adequate understanding of how it functions. Yet, there is surprisingly little research that looks into user understanding and usage of anonymity software. Improper use stemming from a lack of sufficient knowledge of the system has the potential to lead to deanonymization, which may hold severe personal consequences for the user. We report on the understanding and the use of the Tor anonymity system. Via semistructured interviews with 17 individuals (6 experts and 11 non-experts) we found that experts and non-experts view, understand, and use Tor in notably different ways. Moreover, both groups exhibit behavior as well as gaps in understanding that could potentially compromise anonymity. Based on these findings, we provide several suggestions for improving the user experience of Tor to facilitate better user understanding of its operation, threat model, and limitations.

Mercury: Bandwidth-Effective Prevention of Rollback Attacks Against Community Repositories

July 14, 2017

Trishank Karthik Kuppusamy, Vladimir Diaz and Justin Cappos

A popular community repository such as Docker Hub, PyPI, or RubyGems distributes tens of thousands of software projects to millions of users. The large number of projects and users make these repositories attractive targets for exploitation. After a repository compromise, a malicious party can launch a number of attacks on unsuspecting users, including rollback attacks that revert projects to obsolete and vulnerable versions. Unfortunately, due to the rapid rate at which packages are updated, existing techniques that protect against rollback attacks would cause each user to download 2–3 times the size of an average package in metadata each month, making them impractical to deploy.

In this work, we develop a system called Mercury that uses a novel technique to compactly disseminate version information while still protecting against rollback attacks. Due to a different technique for dealing with key revocation, users are protected from rollback attacks, even if the software repository is compromised. This technique is bandwidth-efficient, especially when delta compression is used to transmit only the differences between previous and current lists of version information. An analysis we performed for the Python community shows that once Mercury is deployed on PyPI, each user will only download metadata each month that is about 3.5% the size of an average package. Our work has been incorporated into the latest versions of TUF, which is being integrated by Haskell, OCaml, RubyGems, Python, and CoreOS, and is being used in production by LEAP, Flynn, and Docker.

Optimal impulse control of bi-virus SIR epidemics with application to heterogeneous Internet of Things

July 13, 2017

Vladislav Taynitskiy, Elena Gubar and Quanyan Zhu

With the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, malware spreading over increasingly connected networks becomes a new security concern. To capture the heterogeneous nature of the IoT networks, we propose a continuous-time Susceptible-Infected-Recovered (SIR) epidemic model with two types of malware for heterogeneous populations over a large network of devices. The malware control mechanism is to patch an optimal fraction of the infected nodes at discrete points in time, which leads to an impulse controller. We use the Pontryagin’s minimum principle for impulsive systems to obtain an optimal structure of the controller and use numerical experiments to demonstrate the computation of the optimal control and the controlled dynamics.

Strategic Trust in Cloud-Enabled Cyber-Physical Systems with an Application to Glucose Control

July 11, 2017

Jeffrey Pawlick and Quanyan Zhu

Advances in computation, sensing, and networking have led to interest in the Internet of things (IoT) and cyberphysical systems (CPS). Developments concerning the IoT and CPS will improve critical infrastructure, vehicle networks, and personal health products. Unfortunately, these systems are vulnerable to attack. Advanced persistent threats (APTs) are a class of long-term attacks in which well-resourced adversaries infiltrate a network and use obfuscation to remain undetected. In a CPS under APTs, each device must decide whether to trust other components that may be compromised. In this paper, we propose a concept of trust (strategic trust) that uses game theory to capture the adversarial and strategic nature of CPS security. Specifically, we model an interaction between the administrator of a cloud service, an attacker, and a device that decides whether to trust signals from the vulnerable cloud. Our framework consists of a simultaneous signaling game and the FlipIt game. The equilibrium outcome in the signaling game determines the incentives in the FlipIt game. In turn, the equilibrium outcome in the FlipIt game determines the prior probabilities in the signaling game. The Gestalt Nash equilibrium (GNE) characterizes the steady state of the overall macro-game. The novel contributions of this paper include proofs of the existence, uniqueness, and stability of the GNE. We also apply GNEs to strategically design a trust mechanism for a cloud-assisted insulin pump. Without requiring the use of historical data, the GNE obtains a risk threshold beyond which the pump should not trust messages from the cloud. Our framework contributes to a modeling paradigm called games-of-games.

How Biometric Authentication Poses New Challenges to Our Security and Privacy

July 11, 2017

Nasir Memon

Discusses the challenges that face biometric authentication in the areas of privacy and network security. The use of biometric data — an individual’s measurable physical and behavioral characteristics — isn’t new. Government and law enforcement agencies have long used it. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been building a biometric recognition database; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is sharing its iris and facial recognition of foreigners with the FBI. But the use of biometric data by consumer goods manufacturers for authentication purposes has skyrocketed in recent years. For example, Apple’s iPhone allows users to scan their fingerprints to unlock the device, secure mobile bill records, and authenticate payments. Lenovo and Dell are companies that leverage fingerprints to enable users to sign onto their computers with just a swipe. Using biometric data to access our personal devices is increasing as a way to get around the limitations of the commonly used password-based mechanism: it’s easier, more convenient, and (theoretically) more secure. But biometric data can also be stolen and used in malicious ways. Capturing fingerprints at scale isn’t as easy as lifting a credit card or Social Security number, but experience and history tells us that once something is used extensively, criminals will figure out how to misuse and monetize it.

IllusionPIN: Shoulder-Surfing Resistant Authentication Using Hybrid Images

July 11, 2017

Athanasios Papadopoulos, Toan Nguyen, Emre Durmus and Nasir Memon.

We address the problem of shoulder-surfing attacks on authentication schemes by proposing IllusionPIN (IPIN), a PIN-based authentication method that operates on touchscreen devices. IPIN uses the technique of hybrid images to blend two keypads with different digit orderings in such a way, that the user who is close to the device is seeing one keypad to enter her PIN, while the attacker who is looking at the device from a bigger distance is seeing only the other keypad. The user’s keypad is shuffled in every authentication attempt since the attacker may memorize the spatial arrangement of the pressed digits. To reason about the security of IllusionPIN, we developed an algorithm which is based on human visual perception and estimates the minimum distance from which an observer is unable to interpret the keypad of the user.We tested our estimations with 84 simulated shoulder-surfing attacks from 21 different people. None of the attacks was successful against our estimations. In addition, we estimated the minimum distance from which a camera is unable to capture the visual information from the keypad of the user. Based on our analysis, it seems practically almost impossible for a surveillance camera to capture the PIN of a smartphone user when IPIN is in use.