Here’s the deal with the information security industry in the United States: our country doesn’t have nearly the number of information security professionals that it needs. According to an estimate from Cybersecurity Ventures, the shortage of US cyber security workers could reach 500,000 people in 2021. The other point worth noting is that the information security professionals we do have are overwhelmingly white and male.  ISC2 data show that just 24% of cybersecurity workers are women. Just 9% of workers self-identified as African American or Black, compared with 13%of the population at large. Just 4% identified as Hispanic, compared with 18% of the overall population. 

Camille Stewart is the Head of Security Policy for Google Play and Android at Google.
Camille Stewart is the Head of Security Policy for Google Play and Android at Google

We know that the shortage of infosec pros poses a cybersecurity risk. Companies across industries struggle to find and then retain information security professionals to staff security operations centers (SOCs) and manage the security of networks in sectors like government, healthcare and retail. 

Episode 148: Joseph Menn on Cult of the Dead Cow also Veracode CEO Sam King on InfoSec’s Leaky Talent Pipeline

But what about the lack of diversity? Do infosec’s racial and gender imbalances create their own kind of security risks? Does a homogenous population of security pros potentially blind the organizations they work for  – and our society – to cyber risks? Does it shut off exploration of potentially beneficial programs, solutions or avenues of inquiry that might help solve the epidemic of cyber security threats and attacks plaguing our society? 

You and your teams are not as effective and as able to address the threat without a diverse lens. 

Camille Stewart, Google

Episode 85: Supply Chain Attacks and Hacking Diversity with Leon Johnson

According to our guest this week: it just might. Camille Stewart is the Head of Security Policy for Google Play and Android at Google. She is also a Cyber Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Camille is the author of the essay “Systemic Racism is a Cybersecurity Threat” which ran on the Council of Foreign Relations website back in June of 2020.

In it, Camille argues that understanding how systemic racism influences cyber security is integral to protecting the American people and defending the country from cyber adversaries. 

In this conversation, Camille and I talk about her own journey to information security as a black woman and about the barriers that men and women of color face as they seek to enter information security.

We also discuss her theory on how the information security industry’s struggles to diversify might increase cyber security risks. Camille notes that the country’s history of systemic racism and the different lived experiences of black and white Americans bears on everything from the effectiveness of public information campaigns to hiring and recruiting within the field, to the U.S.’s efforts to foster international agreement on cybersecurity norms.

“We do a disservice to ourselves as practitioners to ignore race and gender,” Camille told me. “They are a direct impediment to the work we’re doing.”

A serious flaw in Zoom’s Keybase secure chat application left copies of images contained in secure communications on Keybase users’ computers after they were supposedly deleted.

The flaw in the encrypted messaging application (CVE-2021-23827) does not expose Keybase users to remote compromise. However, it could put their security, privacy and safety at risk, especially for users living under authoritarian regimes in which apps like Keybase and Signal are increasingly relied on as a way to conduct conversations out of earshot of law enforcement or security services.

The flaw was discovered by researchers from the group Sakura Samurai as part of a bug bounty program offered by Zoom, which acquired Keybase in May, 2020. Zoom said it has fixed the flaw in the latest versions of its software for Windows, macOS and Linux.

Deleted…but not gone

According to researcher John Jackson of Sakura Samurai, the Keybase flaw manifested itself in two ways. First: Jackson discovered that images that were copy and pasted into Keybase chats were not reliably deleted from a temporary folder, /uploadtemps, associated with the client application. “In general, when you would copy and paste in a Keybase chat, the folder would appear in (the uploadtemps) folder and then immediately get deleted,” Jackson told Security Ledger in a phone interview. “But occasionally that wouldn’t happen. Clearly there was some kind of software error – a collision of sorts – where the images were not getting cleared.”

Exploitable Flaw in NPM Private IP App Lurks Everywhere, Anywhere

Discovering that flaw put Sakura Samurai researchers on the hunt for more and they soon struck pay dirt again. Sakura Samurai members Aubrey Cottle (@kirtaner), Robert Willis (@rej_ex) and Jackson Henry (@JacksonHHax) discovered an unencrypted directory, /Cache, associated with the Keybase client that contained a comprehensive record of images from encrypted chat sessions. The application used a custom extension to name the files, but they were easily viewable directly or simply by changing the custom file extension to the PNG image format, Jackson said.

In a statement, a Zoom spokesman said that the company appreciates the work of the researchers and takes privacy and security “very seriously.”

“We addressed the issue identified by the Sakura Samurai researchers on our Keybase platform in version 5.6.0 for Windows and macOS and version 5.6.1 for Linux. Users can help keep themselves secure by applying current updates or downloading the latest Keybase software with all current security updates,” the spokesman said.

Podcast Episode 141: Massive Data Breaches Just Keep Happening. We Talk about Why.

In most cases, the failure to remove files from cache after they were deleted would count as a “low priority” security flaw. However, in the context of an end-to-end encrypted communications application like Keybase, the failure takes on added weight, Jackson wrote.

“An attacker that gains access to a victim machine can potentially obtain sensitive data through gathered photos, especially if the user utilizes Keybase frequently. A user, believing that they are sending photos that can be cleared later, may not realize that sent photos are not cleared from the cache and may send photos of PII or other sensitive data to friends or colleagues.”

Messaging app flaws take on new importance

The flaw takes on even more weight given the recent flight of millions of Internet users to end-to-end encrypted messaging applications like Keybase, Signal and Telegram. Those users were responding to onerous data sharing policies, such as those recently introduced on Facebook’s WhatsApp chat. In countries with oppressive, authoritarian governments, end to end encrypted messaging apps are a lifeline for political dissidents and human rights advocates.

As Cybercrooks Specialize, More Snooping, Less Smash and Grab

As a result of the flaw, however, adversaries who gained access to the laptop or desktop on which the Keybase application was installed could view any images contained in Keybase encrypted chats. The implications of that are clear enough. For example, recent reports say that North Korean state hackers have targeted security researchers via phishing attacks sent via Keybase, Signal and other encrypted applications.

The flaws in Keybase do not affect the Zoom application, Jackson said. Zoom acquired Keybase in May to strengthen the company’s video platform with end-to-end encryption. That acquisition followed reports about security flaws in the Zoom client, including in its in-meeting chat feature.

Jackson said that the Sakura Samurai researchers received a $1,000 bounty from Zoom for their research. He credited the company with being “very responsive” to the group’s vulnerability report.

The increased use of encrypted messaging applications has attracted the attention of security researchers, as well. Last week, for example, a researcher disclosed 13 vulnerabilities in the Telegram secure messaging application that could have allow a remote attacker to compromise any Telegram user. Those issues were patched in Telegram updates released in September and October, 2020.

In this episode of the Security Ledger Podcast (#202) we do a deep dive on President Biden’s cyber agenda with three experts on federal cyber policy and the challenges facing the new administration.


Well, it almost didn’t happen, but on January 20, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. More than any president since Franklin Roosevelt, Biden inherited a country in the throws of a crisis. By the time of his inauguration, the COVID virus had killed upwards of 400,000 U.S. residents and tanked the  national economy. As the incidents of January 6 indicated, right wing militant groups are stirring and threatening to topple democratic institutions.

Enter Solar Storm

And, as if that wasn’t enough, the weeks between the November Election and Biden’s January inauguration brought to light evidence of what is perhaps the biggest cyber intrusion by a foreign adversary into US government networks, the so called Solar Storm hack, which has been widely attributed to the government of Russia. 

Even before Solar Storm, Biden made clear as a candidate that a cyber security reset was needed and that cyber would be a top priority of his administration. The wide ranging hack of the US Treasury, Departments, of State, Justice, Defense and Homeland Security – among others – just added fuel to the roaring dumpster fire of Federal IT security. 

But what will that reset look like? To understand a bit better what might be in store in the months ahead we devoted this episode of the podcast to interviewing three experts on federal IT security and cyber defense. 

Rebuilding Blocks

But first, before you can do a reset you need to understand what went wrong the first time around. In the case of federal cyber security, that’s not a short list.

Spotlight Podcast: Taking a Risk-Based Approach to Election Security

In our fist segment, we’re joined by two experts on cyber policy about the US governments struggles to get cyber security right, culminating with the problems seen during the Trump administration.

Lauren Zabierek is the Executive Director of Cyber Project at Belfer Center For Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She’s joined by Paul Kolbe, the Director of the Intelligence Project at Belfer Center. The two joined me in the Security Ledger studios to talk about how the Biden Administration might rebuild the US government’s cyber function and who might populate key positions in the new administration. 

Spotlight Podcast: QOMPLX CISO Andy Jaquith on COVID, Ransomware and Resilience

To start off, I asked them what the biggest challenges are out of the gate for the new administration. 

The Byte Stops Here: What Cyber Leadership Looks Like

As Harry Truman famously said: the “Buck stops” at the President’s desk. That wasn’t a phrase that was heard much during the Trump years. But with a new President sworn in, what does real leadership look like on federal cyber security?

Mark Weatherford is the Chief Strategy Officer at the National Cyber Security Center.

To find out, we invited Mark Weatherford into the studio to talk. Mark is the Chief Strategy Officer at the national cyber security center. a former CISO for the State of California and Deputy Under Secretary for Cyber Security at the DHS. In this conversation, Mark and I talk about the importance of presidential leadership on cyber security and what – if anything – the Trump administration got right on cyber policy in its four years in power. 


As always,  you can check our full conversation in our latest Security Ledger podcast at Blubrry. You can also listen to it on iTunes and check us out on SoundCloudStitcherRadio Public and more. Also: if you enjoy this podcast, consider signing up to receive it in your email. Just point your web browser to securityledger.com/subscribe to get notified whenever a new podcast is posted. 

In the past 20 years, bug hunting has transformed from a hobby (or maybe even a felony) to a full-time profession for tens of thousands of talented software engineers around the globe. Thanks to the growth in private and public bug bounty programs, men and women with the talent can earn a good living by sniffing out flaws in the code for applications and – increasingly -physical devices that power the 21st century global economy. 

Asus ShadowHammer suggests Supply Chain Hacks are the New Normal

Bug Hunting Smart TVs To Supply Chain

What does that work look like and what platforms and technologies are drawing the attention of cutting edge vulnerability researchers? To find out we sat down with the independent researcher known as Sick Codes (@sickcodes). In recent months, he has gotten attention for a string of important discoveries. Among other things, he discovered flaws in Android smart television sets manufactured by the Chinese firm TCL and was part of the team, along with last week’s guest John Jackson, that worked to fix a serious server side request forgery flaw in a popular open source security module, NPM Private IP

Spotlight Podcast: How Machine Learning is revolutionizing Application Fuzzing

In this interview, Sick Codes and I talk about his path to becoming a vulnerability researcher, the paid and unpaid research he conducts looking for software flaws in common software and internet of things devices, some of the challenges and impediments that still exist in reporting vulnerabilities to corporations and what’s in the pipeline for 2021. 


As always,  you can check our full conversation in our latest Security Ledger podcast at Blubrry. You can also listen to it on iTunes and check us out on SoundCloudStitcherRadio Public and more. Also: if you enjoy this podcast, consider signing up to receive it in your email. Just point your web browser to securityledger.com/subscribe to get notified whenever a new podcast is posted. 

In this episode of the podcast (#200), sponsored by Digicert: John Jackson, founder of the group Sakura Samurai talks to us about his quest to make hacking groups cool again. Also: we talk with Avesta Hojjati of the firm Digicert about the challenge of managing a growing population of digital certificates and how  automation may be an answer.


Life for independent security researchers has changed a lot in the last 30 years. The modern information security industry grew out of pioneering work by groups like Boston-based L0pht Heavy Industries and the Cult of the Dead Cow, which began in Lubbock, Texas.

After operating for years in the shadows of the software industry and in legal limbo, by the turn of the millennium hackers were coming out of the shadows. And by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they were free to pursue full fledged careers as bug hunters, with some earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through bug bounty programs that have proliferated in the last decade.

Despite that, a stigma still hangs over “hacking” in the mind of the public, law enforcement and policy makers. And, despite the growth of bug bounty programs, red teaming and other “hacking for hire” activities, plenty of blurry lines still separate legal security research from illegal hacking. 

Hacks Both Daring…and Legal

Still, the need for innovative and ethical security work in the public interest has never been greater. The Solar Winds hack exposed the ways in which even sophisticated firms like Microsoft and Google are vulnerable to compromised software supply chain attacks. Consider also the tsunami of “smart” Internet connected devices like cameras, television sets and appliances are working their way into homes and workplaces by the millions. 

Podcast Episode 112: what it takes to be a top bug hunter

John Jackson is the co -founder of Sakura Samurai, an independent security research group. 

What does a 21st century hacking crew look like? Our first guest this week is trying to find out. John Jackson (@johnjhacking) is an independent security researcher and the co-founder of a new hacking group, Sakura Samurai, which includes a diverse array of security pros ranging from a 15 year old Australian teen to Aubrey Cottle, aka @kirtaner, the founder of the group Anonymous. Their goal: to energize the world of ethical hacking with daring and attention getting discoveries that stay on the right side of the double yellow line.

Update: DHS Looking Into Cyber Risk from TCL Smart TVs

In this interview, John and I talk about his recent research including vulnerabilities he helped discover in smart television sets by the Chinese firm TCL, the open source security module Private IP and the United Nations. 

Can PKI Automation Head Off Chaos?

One of the lesser reported sub plots in the recent Solar Winds hack is the use of stolen or compromised digital certificates to facilitate compromises of victim networks and accounts. Stolen certificates played a part in the recent hack of Mimecast, as well as in an attack on employees of a prominent think tank, according to reporting by Reuters and others. 

Avesta Hojjati is the head of Research & Development at Digicert.

How is it that compromised digital certificates are falling into the hands of nation state actors? One reason may be that companies are managing more digital certificates than ever, but using old systems and processes to do so. The result: it is becoming easier and easier for expired or compromised certificates to fly under the radar. 

Our final guest this week, Avesta Hojjati, the  Head of R&D at DigiCert, Inc. thinks we’ve only seen the beginning of this problem. As more and more connected “things” begin to populate our homes and workplaces, certificate management is going to become a critical task – one that few consumers are prepared to handle.

Episode 175: Campaign Security lags. Also: securing Digital Identities in the age of the DeepFake

What’s the solution? Hojjati thinks more and better use of automation is a good place to start. In this conversation, Avesta and I talk about how digital transformation and the growth of the Internet of Things are raising the stakes for proper certificate management and why companies need to be thinking hard about how to scale their current certificate management processes to meet the challenges of the next decade. 


(*) Disclosure: This podcast was sponsored by Digicert. For more information on how Security Ledger works with its sponsors and sponsored content on Security Ledger, check out our About Security Ledger page on sponsorships and sponsor relations.

As always,  you can check our full conversation in our latest Security Ledger podcast at Blubrry. You can also listen to it on iTunes and check us out on SoundCloudStitcherRadio Public and more. Also: if you enjoy this podcast, consider signing up to receive it in your email. Just point your web browser to securityledger.com/subscribe to get notified whenever a new podcast is posted. 

Independent security researchers testing the security of the United Nations were able to compromise public-facing servers and a cloud-based development account for the U.N. and lift data on more than 100,000 staff and employees, according to a report released Monday.

Researchers affiliated with Sakura Samurai, a newly formed collective of independent security experts, exploited an exposed Github repository belonging to the International Labour Organization and the U.N.’s Environment Programme (UNEP) to obtain “multiple sets of database and application credentials” for UNEP applications, according to a blog post by one of the Sakura Samurai researchers, John Jackson, explaining the group’s work.

Specifically, the group was able to obtain access to database backups for private UNEP projects that exposed a wealth of information on staff and operations. That includes a document with more than 1,000 U.N. employee names, emails; more than 100,000 employee travel records including destination, length of stay and employee ID numbers; more than 1,000 U.N. employee records and so on.

The researchers stopped their search once they were able to obtain personally identifying information. However, they speculated that more data was likely accessible.

Looking for Vulnerabilities

The researchers were scanning the U.N.’s network as part of the organization’s Vulnerability Disclosure Program. That program, started in 2016, has resulted in a number of vulnerabilities being reported to the U.N., many of them common cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection flaws in the U.N.’s main website, un.org.

You might also be interested in: Data Breach Exposes Records of 114 Million U.S. Citizens, Companies

For their work, Sakura Samurai took a different approach, according to Jackson, in an interview with The Security Ledger. The group started by enumerating UN subdomains and scanning them for exposed assets and data. One of those, an ILO.org Apache web server, was misconfigured and exposing files linked to a Github account. By downloading that file, the researchers were able to recover the credentials for a UN survey management panel, part of a little used, but public facing survey feature on the UN site. While the survey tool didn’t expose a tremendous amount of data, the researchers continued scanning the site and eventually discovered a subdomain that exposed a file containing the credentials for a UN Github account containing 10 more private GitHub repositories encompassing databases and database credentials, backups and files containing personally identifying information.

Much more to be found

Jackson said that the breach is extensive, but that much more was likely exposed prior to his group’s discovery.

“Honestly, there’s way more to be found. We were looking for big fish to fry.” Among other things, a Sakura Samurai researcher discovered APIs for the Twilio cloud platform exposed – those also could have been abused to extract data and personally identifying information from UN systems, he said.

In an email response to The Security Ledger, Farhan Haq, a Deputy Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General said that the U.N.’s “technical staff in Nairobi … acknowledged the threat and … took ‘immediate steps’ to remedy the problem.”

You might also be interested in: Veeam mishandles Own Data, exposes 440M Customer E-mails

“The flaw was remedied in less than a week, but whether or not someone accessed the database remains to be seen,” Haq said in the statement.

A disclosure notice from the U.N. on the matter is “still in the works,” Haq said. According to Jackson, data on EU residents was among the data exposed in the incident. Under the terms of the European Union’s Genderal Data Privacy Rule (GDPR), the U.N. has 72 hours to notify regulators about the incident.

Nation State Exposure?

Unfortunately, Jackson said that there is no way of knowing whether his group was the first to discover the exposed data. It is very possible, he said, that they were not.

“It’s likely that nation state threat actors already have this,” he said, noting that data like travel records could pose physical risks, while U.N. employee email and ID numbers could be useful in tracking and impersonating employees online and offline.

Another danger is that malicious actors with access to the source code of U.N. applications could plant back doors or otherwise manipulate the functioning of those applications to suit their needs. The recent compromise of software updates from the firm Solar Winds has been traced to attacks on hundreds of government agencies and private sector firms. That incident has been tied to hacking groups associated with the government of Russia.

Asked whether the U.N. had conducted an audit of the affected applications, Haq, the spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary General said that the agency was “still looking into the matter.”

A Spotty Record on Cybersecurity

This is not the first cybersecurity lapse at the U.N. In January, 2020 the website the New Humanitarian reported that the U.N. discovered but did not disclose a major hack into its IT systems in Europe in 2019 that involved the compromise of UN domains and the theft of administrator credentials.

In this episode of the podcast (#199), sponsored by LastPass, we’re joined by Barry McMahon, a Senior Global Product Marketing Manager at LogMeIn, to talk about data from that company that weighs the security impact of poor password policies and what a “passwordless” future might look like. In our first segment, we speak with Sareth Ben of Securonix about how massive layoffs that have resulted from the COVID pandemic put organizations at far greater risk of data theft.


The COVID Pandemic has done more than scramble our daily routines, school schedules and family vacations. It has also scrambled the security programs of organizations large and small, first by shifting work from corporate offices to thousands or tens of thousands of home offices, and then by transforming the workforce itself through layoffs and furloughs.

In this episode of the podcast, we did deep COVID’s lesser discussed legacy of enterprise insecurity.

Layoffs and Lost Data

We’ve read a lot about the cyber risks of Zoom (see our interview with Patrick Wardle) or remote offices. But one of the less-mentioned cyber risks engendered by COVID are the mass layoffs that have hit companies in sectors like retail, travel and hospitality, where business models have been upended by the pandemic. The Department of Labor said on Friday that employers eliminated 140,000 jobs in December alone. Since February 2020, employment in leisure and hospitality is down by some 3.9 million jobs, the Department estimates. If data compiled by our next guest is to be believed, many of those departing workers took company data and intellectual property out the door with them. 

Shareth Ben is the executive director of field engineering at Securonix. That company has assembled a report on insider threats that found that most employees take some data with them. Some of that is inadvertent – but much of it is not.

While data loss detection has long been a “thing” in the technology industry, Ben notes that evolving technologies like machine learning and AI are making it easier to spot patterns of behavior that correlate with data theft- for example: spotting employees who are preparing to leave a company and take sensitive information with them. In this discussion, Shareth and I talk about the Securonix study on data theft, how common the problem is and how COVID and the layoffs stemming from the pandemic have exacerbated the insider data theft problem. 

It’s Not The Passwords…But How We Use Them

Nobody likes passwords but getting rid of them is harder than it seems. Even in 2021, User names and passwords are part and parcel of establishing access to online services – cloud based or otherwise. But all those passwords pose major challenges for enterprise security. Data from LastPass suggest that the average organization IT department spends up to 5 person hours a week just to assist with password problems of users – almost a full day of work. 

Barry McMahon a senior global product marketing manager at LastPass and LogMeIn. McMahon says that, despite talk of a “password less” future, traditional passwords aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean that the current password regime of re-used passwords and sticky notes can’t be improved drastically – including by leveraging some of the advanced security features of smart phones and other consumer electronics. Passwords aren’t the problem, so much as how we’re using them, he said. 

To start off, I ask Barry about some of the research LastPass has conducted on the password problem in enterprises. Barry McMahon a senior global product marketing manager at LastPass and LogMeIn.


(*) Disclosure: This podcast was sponsored by LastPass, a LogMeIn brand. For more information on how Security Ledger works with its sponsors and sponsored content on Security Ledger, check out our About Security Ledger page on sponsorships and sponsor relations.

As always,  you can check our full conversation in our latest Security Ledger podcast at Blubrry. You can also listen to it on iTunes and check us out on SoundCloudStitcherRadio Public and more. Also: if you enjoy this podcast, consider signing up to receive it in your email. Just point your web browser to securityledger.com/subscribe to get notified whenever a new podcast is posted.

The acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the agency was assessing the cyber risk of smart TVs sold by the Chinese electronics giant TCL, following reports last month in The Security Ledger and elsewhere that the devices may give the company “back door” access to deployed sets.

Speaking at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said that DHS is “reviewing entities such as the Chinese manufacturer TCL.”

“This year it was discovered that TCL incorporated backdoors into all of its TV sets exposing users to cyber breaches and data exfiltration. TCL also receives CCP state support to compete in the global electronics market, which has propelled it to the third largest television manufacturer in the world,” Wolf said, according to a version of prepared remarks published by DHS. His talk was entitled “Homeland Security and the China Challenge.”

As reported by The Security Ledger last month, independent researchers John Jackson, (@johnjhacking) -an application security engineer for Shutter Stock – and a researcher using the handle Sick Codes (@sickcodes) identified and described two serious software security holes affecting TCL brand television sets. The first, CVE-2020-27403, would allow an unprivileged remote attacker on the adjacent network to download most system files from the TV set up to and including images, personal data and security tokens for connected applications. The flaw could lead to serious critical information disclosure, the researchers warned.

Episode 197: The Russia Hack Is A 5 Alarm Fire | Also: Shoppers Beware!

The second vulnerability, CVE-2020-28055, would have allowed a local unprivileged attacker to read from- and write to critical vendor resource directories within the TV’s Android file system, including the vendor upgrades folder.

Both flaws affect TCL Android Smart TV series V8-R851T02-LF1 V295 and below and V8-T658T01-LF1 V373 and below, according to the official CVE reports. In an interview with The Security Ledger, the researcher Sick Codes said that a TCL TV set he was monitoring was patched for the CVE-2020-27403 vulnerability without any notice from the company and no visible notification on the device itself.

In a statement to The Security Ledger, TCL disputed that account. By TCL’s account, the patched vulnerability was linked to a feature called “Magic Connect” and an Android APK by the name of T-Cast, which allows users to “stream user content from a mobile device.” T-Cast was never installed on televisions distributed in the USA or Canada, TCL said. For TCL smart TV sets outside of North America that did contain T-Cast, the APK was “updated to resolve this issue,” the company said. That application update may explain why the TCL TV set studied by the researchers suddenly stopped exhibiting the vulnerability.

DHS announces New Cybersecurity Strategy

While TCL denied having a back door into its smart TVs, the company did acknowledge the existence of remote “maintenance” features that could give its employees or others control over deployed television sets, including onboard cameras and microphones. Owners must authorize the company to access cameras and microphones, however, according to a company statement.

The company did not address in its public statements the question of whether prior notification of the update was given to TCL owners or whether TV set owners were given the option to approve the update before it was installed.

Sick Codes, in a phone interview with The Security Ledger, said the company’s ability to push and update code to its deployed sets without owner approval amounted to a back door that could give TCL access to audio and video streams from deployed sets, regardless of the wishes of owners.

“They can update the application and make authorization happen through that. They have full control,” he said.

Such concerns obviously raised alarms within the Department of Homeland Security as well, which has taken steps to ban technology from other Chinese firms from use on federal networks.

In his address on Monday, Acting Secretary Wolf said the warning about TCL will be part of a a broader “business advisory” cautioning against using data services and equipment from firms linked to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

This advisory will highlight “numerous examples of the PRC government leveraging PRC institutions like businesses, organizations, and citizens to covertly access and obtain the sensitive data of businesses to advance its economic and national security goals,” Wolf said.

“DHS flags instances where Chinese companies illicitly collect data on American consumers or steal intellectual property. CCP-aligned firms rake in tremendous profits as a result,” he said.

The statement is part of escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing. On Friday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced export controls on 77 Chinese companies including the country’s biggest chipmaker, SMIC, and drone maker DJI that restrict those firms’ access to US technology. The order cites those firms alleged ties to China’s military.

TCL did not respond to an email request for comment prior to publication of this story. We will update this story as more information becomes available.


Editor’s note: this story was updated to add reference to John Jackson, who helped discover the TCL vulnerabilities. – PFR 12/22/2020

In this episode of the podcast (#197), sponsored by LastPass, former U.S. CISO General Greg Touhill joins us to talk about news of a vast hack of U.S. government networks, purportedly by actors affiliated with Russia. In our second segment, with online crime and fraud surging, Katie Petrillo of LastPass joins us to talk about how holiday shoppers can protect themselves – and their data – from cyber criminals.


Every day this week has brought new revelations about the hack of U.S. Government networks by sophisticated cyber adversaries believed to be working for the Government of Russia. And each revelation, it seems, is worse than the one before – about a purported compromise of US government networks by Russian government hackers. As of Thursday, the U.S. Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency CISA was dispensing with niceties, warning that it had determined that the Russian hackers “poses a grave risk to the Federal Government and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as critical infrastructure entities and other private sector organizations”

The incident recalls another from the not-distant past: the devastating compromise of the Government’s Office of Personnel Management in 2014- an attack attributed to adversaries from China that exposed the government’s personnel records – some of its most sensitive data – to a foreign power. 

Do Cities deserve Federal Disaster Aid after Cyber Attacks?

Now this attack, which is so big it is hard to know what to call it. Unlike the 2014 incident it isn’t limited to a single federal agency. In fact, it isn’t even limited to the federal government: state, local and tribal governments have likely been affected, in addition to hundreds or thousands of private firms including Microsoft, which acknowledged Thursday that it had found instances of the software compromised by the Russians, the SolarWinds Orion product, in its environment. 

Former Brigadier General Greg Touhill is the President of Federal Group at the firm AppGate.

How did we get it so wrong? According to our guest this week, the failures were everywhere. Calls for change following OPM fell on deaf ears in Congress. But the government also failed to properly assess new risks – such as software supply chain attacks – as it deployed new applications and computing models. 

U.S. sanctions Russian companies, individuals over cyber attacks

Greg Touhill, is the President of the Federal Group of secure infrastructure company AppGate. he currently serves as a faculty member of Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. In a prior life, Greg was a Brigadier General Greg Touhill and  the first Federal Chief Information Security Officer of the United States government. 

U.S. Customs Data Breach Is Latest 3rd-Party Risk, Privacy Disaster

In this conversation, General Touhill and I talk about the hack of the US government that has come to light, which he calls a “five alarm fire.” We also discuss the failures of policy and practice that led up to it and what the government can do to set itself on a new path. The federal government has suffered “paralysis through analysis” as it wrestled with the need to change its approach to security from outdated notions of a “hardened perimeter” and keeping adversaries out. “We’ve got to change our approach,” Touhill said.

The malls may be mostly empty this holiday season, but the Amazon trucks come and go with a shocking regularity. In pandemic plagued America, e-commerce has quickly supplanted brick and mortar stores as the go-to for consumers wary of catching a potentially fatal virus. 

(*) Disclosure: This podcast was sponsored by LastPass, a LogMeIn brand. For more information on how Security Ledger works with its sponsors and sponsored content on Security Ledger, check out our About Security Ledger page on sponsorships and sponsor relations.

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The Department of Justice in October announced charges against six men believed to work for the Russian GRU and linked to some of the most sinister cyber attacks of the last decade including the NotPetya malware and attacks on the government of Ukraine. In this podcast we talk to two men who helped build the DOJ’s case: Cisco’s Matt Olney, the Director of Talos Threat Intelligence and Interdiction and Craig Williams, the Talos Director of Outreach about the case against the Russian actors and what companies can do to defend themselves.

The news this week was that FireEye, one of the U.S.’s most prominent cyber security firms, had itself become a victim of a cyber crime. The likely suspects: state-sponsored hackers working on behalf of the Government of Russia.

Now, according to reports, Russian hacking groups may have access to FireEye’s custom “red team” tools for testing client’s defenses or identifying malicious activity. That’s a possible bounty for Russian state-sponsored crews like so-called “Cozy Bear,” or APT 29, which are already among the most feared cyber adversaries in the world.

But just because Russian hacking groups act often act with impunity doesn’t mean they’re invisible – or even unknowable. In fact, it was just a few weeks ago – on October 15 – that the U.S. Justice Department named six officers of Russia’s GRU in connection with a string of high profile hacks and cyber attacks including the NotPetya malware and attacks on the government of Ukraine and on the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic games.

The men were believed to be part of state-sponsored hacking groups with names like “Sandworm Team,” “Telebots,” “Voodoo Bear,” and “Iron Viking,” according to a statement by the DOJ.

How did the U.S. Justice Department follow the tracks from those amorphous attacks to six, Russian men? Our guests this week were among those working behind the scenes to make sense of those attacks and help understand what happened and who was behind them.

Talos had a front row seat in a number of the incidents mentioned in the Department of Justice report, including the NotPetya outbreak , the attacks on Ukraine and the campaign against the 2018 olympics. Craig and Matt joined me in the Security Ledger studio to talk about the DOJ announcement and what goes into the project of identifying and charging foreign hacking groups. We also talk about what it takes to stop and even catch a Russian APT group, and what companies can do to protect themselves from the world’s most elite offensive hackers.