A major coordinated disclosure this week called attention to the importance of prioritizing security in the design of graphics processing units (GPUs). Researchers published details about the “LeftoverLocals” vulnerability in multiple brands and models of mainstream GPUs—including Apple, Qualcomm, and AMD chips—that could be exploited to steal sensitive data, such as responses from AI systems. Meanwhile, new findings from the cryptocurrency tracing firm Chainalysis show how stablecoins that are tied to the value of the US dollar were instrumental in cryptocurrency-based scams and sanctions evasion last year.
The US Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement earlier this month with the data broker X-Mode (now Outlogic) over its sale of location data gathered from phone apps to the US government and other clients. While the action was hailed by some as a historic privacy win, it also illustrates the limitations of the FTC and the US government’s data privacy enforcement power and the ways in which many companies can avoid scrutiny and consequences for failing to protect consumers’ data.
The US internet provider Comcast Xfinity may gather data about customers’ personal lives for personalized ads, including information about their political beliefs, race, and sexual orientation. If you’re a customer, we’ve got advice for opting out—to the extent that’s possible. And if you need a good long read for the weekend, we have the story of how a 27-year-old cryptography graduate student systematically debunked the myth that bitcoin transactions are anonymous. The piece is an excerpt from WIRED writer Andy Greenberg’s nonfiction thriller Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency, out this week in paperback.
And there’s more. Each week, we round up the security and privacy news we didn’t break or cover in depth ourselves. Click the headlines to read the full stories, and stay safe out there.
On Friday, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an emergency directive requiring federal agencies to patch two vulnerabilities that are being actively exploited in the popular VPN appliances Ivanti Connect Secure and Policy Secure. CISA’s executive assistant director, Eric Goldstein, told reporters that CISA has notified every federal agency that is running a version of the products, amounting to “around” 15 agencies that have applied mitigations. “We are not assessing a significant risk to the federal enterprise, but we know that risk is not zero,” Goldstein said. He added that investigations are ongoing into whether any federal agencies have been compromised in the attackers’ mass exploitation spree.
Analysis indicates that multiple actors have been hunting for and exploiting vulnerable Ivanti devices to gain access to organizations’ networks around the world. The activity began in December 2023, but it has ramped up in recent days as word of the vulnerabilities and a proof of concept have emerged. Researchers from the security firm Volexity say that at least 1,700 Connect Secure devices have been compromised overall. Both Volexity and Mandiant see evidence that at least some of the exploitation activity is motivated by espionage. CISA’s Goldstein said on Friday that the US government has not yet attributed any of the exploitation activity to particular actors, but that “exploitation of these products would be consistent with what we have seen from PRC [People’s Republic of China] actors like Volt Typhoon in the past.”
Ivanti Connect Secure is a rebrand of the Ivanti product series known as Pulse Secure. Vulnerabilities in that VPN platform were notoriously exploited in a rash of high-profile digital breaches in 2021 carried out by Chinese state-backed hackers.
Microsoft said on Friday that it detected a system intrusion on January 12 that it is attributing to the Russian state-backed actor known as Midnight Blizzard or APT 29 Cozy Bear. The company says it has fully remediated the breach, which began in November 2023 and used “password spraying” attacks to compromise historic system test accounts that, in some cases, then allowed the attacker to infiltrate “a very small percentage of Microsoft corporate email accounts, including members of our senior leadership team and employees in our cybersecurity, legal, and other functions.” With this access, Cozy Bear hackers were then able to exfiltrate “some emails and attached documents.” Microsoft notes that the attackers appeared to be seeking information about Microsoft’s investigations into the group itself. “The attack was not the result of a vulnerability in Microsoft products or services,” the company wrote. “To date, there is no evidence that the threat actor had any access to customer environments, production systems, source code, or AI systems. We will notify customers if any action is required.”
Gift card scams in which attackers trick victims into purchasing gift cards for them are a long-standing issue, but new reporting from ProPublica shows how Walmart has been particularly remiss in addressing the problem. For a decade, the retailer has skirted pressure from both regulators and law enforcement to more closely scrutinize gift card sales and money transfers and expand employee training that could save customers from being tricked and exploited by bad actors. ProPublica conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed internal documents, court filings, and public records in its analysis.
“They were concerned about the bucks. That’s all,” Nick Alicea, a former fraud team leader for the US Postal Inspection Service, told ProPublica. Walmart defended its efforts, claiming that it has stopped more than $700 million in suspicious money transfers and refunded $4 million to victims of gift card fraud. “Walmart offers these financial services while working hard to keep our customers safe from third-party fraudsters,” the company said in a statement. “We have a robust anti-fraud program and other controls to help stop scammers and other criminals who may use the financial services we offer to harm our customers.”
As rebel groups in Myanmar violently oppose the country’s military government, the human trafficking and abuse fueling pig butchering scams is exacerbating the conflict. The scams have exploded in recent years, carried out not just by bad actors, but by a workforce of forced laborers who have often been kidnapped and are being held against their will. In one case this fall, a collection of rebel groups in Myanmar known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance took control of 100 military outposts in the country’s northern Shan state and seized several towns along the border with China, vowing to “eradicate telecom fraud, scam dens and their patrons nationwide, including in areas along the China-Myanmar border.”
The UN estimates that there may be as many as 100,000 people held in scam centers in Cambodia and 120,000 in Myanmar. “I’ve worked in this space for over 20 years and to be honest, we’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing now in Southeast Asia in terms of the sheer numbers of people,” Rebecca Miller, regional program director for human trafficking at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime told Vox.
In a new investigation, Consumer Reports and The Markup crowdsourced three years of archived Facebook data from 709 users of the social network to assess which data brokers and other organizations are tracking and monitoring them. In analyzing the data, reporters found that a total of 186,892 companies sent data about the 709 individuals to Facebook. On average, each of those users had information sent to Facebook about them by 2,230 companies. The number varied, though. Some users had less than the average while others had more than 7,000 companies tracking them and providing information to the social network.