The Economist infected readers with malware. The vector? PageFair, a technology for web publishers for circumventing ad blockers. The payload was a remote access tool. Goodbye bank accounts!

This is outrageous. I install software on my computer to block ads, a clear statement of user preference. The Economist colludes with PageFair to ignore my choice, to run software on my computer that I explicitly don’t want. That software they run turns out to be installing malware.

The folks who write things like PageFair need to be sued into oblivion. Not just the company; stop the people who built this abusive technology from ever creating software again.

  2015-11-07 18:35 Z

The addition of ad blocking capability to iOS has brought on a lot of hand-wringing about whether it’s ethical to block ads in your web browser. Of course it is! Blocking ads is self preservation.

Ad networks act unethically. They inject huge amounts of garbage making pages load slowly and computers run poorly. They use aggressive display tricks to get between you and the content. Sometimes negligent ad networks serve outright malware. They violate your privacy without informed consent and have rejected a modest opt-out technology. Ad systems are so byzantine that content providers pay third parties to tell them what crap they’re embedding in their own websites.

Advertising itself can be unethical. Ads are mind viruses, tricking your brain into wanting a product or service you would not otherwise desire. Ads are often designed to work subconsciously, sometimes subliminally. Filtering ads out is one way to preserve clarity of thought.

I feel bad for publishers whose only revenue is ads. But they and the ad networks brought it on themselves by escalating ad serving with no thought for consumers. The solution is for the ad industry to rein itself way in, to set some industry standards limiting technologies and display techniques. Perhaps blockers should permit ethical ads, although that leads to conflicts of interest. Right now Internet advertisers are predators and we are the prey. We must do whatever we can to defend ourselves.

  2015-09-21 02:24 Z

The Apple Watch, that fancy new high-tech product, had a XXE vulnerability. That’s a security flaw in XML parsers that dates back to at least 2002. It keeps popping up in new products because apparently safe XML parsing is too hard for anyone to get right.

  2015-05-19 22:12 Z

I love the Internet service I get from Astound, but not so much their online account system. The billing login is pretty screwed up. Things to know:

  • The billing credentials are separate from your “Internet Account Manager” credentials.
  • Username and password will both be forced to lowercase.
  • The password recovery system will mail you your password in plaintext.
  • Parts of the online system ask for a registration password. That password is “astound”.
  • Astound formats account numbers in three fields, like 005 0123456 01. The form presents two boxes: try 005 012345601
  2015-01-20 18:25 Z

Riot’s hugely popular game League of Legends is still installing malware, some five months after saying they don't use it, players can delete it, and they planned to remove it.

The malware in question is Pando Media Booster. A few years ago this software was arguably useful, it allowed games like LoL to distribute patches via a peer-to-peer network. But Pando was discontinued in August 2013. Then in February 2014 someone used Pando to install malware on any suckers who still had the software. The software Riot is still distributing. And all of Riot’s customers who clicked “yes” on the update dialog had their browsers hijacked.

Riot has millions of users all over the world. I’m sympathetic to how hard it is to make software changes; they’re famously behind on a whole lot of development projects. But continuing to distribute malware to customers is unacceptable.

Update: a Riot employee said on Reddit that the problem was "the amount of work it takes to hand update new installers for every language" and offered the idea that the previous Pando owners might help them prevent the malware. That was five months ago.
  2014-08-02 18:03 Z

Interesting report of stolen Bitcoins, a phishing scam involving a Google ad. I just confirmed that the phishing ad is still running on Google on a search for blockchain.

The ad says the URL goes to The URL displayed on mouseover on the link is to a Google redirector, But when you click the link you go through a few redirectors and end up at, which is allegedly a phishing site. It sure looks suspicious; that page goes straight to a “type in your password” page, which the real site hides behind several clicks.

I don’t much care about the Bitcoin part of this, but Google should really not be selling ads with fake URLs on display.

  2014-06-07 15:45 Z

There are two terrible web properties out there that everyone hates, Scribd and Quora. Please don’t use them. Instead of Scribd just host a PDF anywhere, or upload text to pastebin or make a nice blog on WordPress or Medium or something. And instead of Quora use Ask MetaFilter or StackExchange.

Scribd’s business model is to host documents in formats that are unusable. For instance, here’s a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Or rather, the free preview; you have to download it to read the rest and a one-day guest pass costs $9. Here’s a copy of Elliot Rodger’s insane manifesto. It starts “This is the story of how I, Elliot Rodger, came to be.” Only I had to retype that phrase; if I copy-and-paste I get “]fjs js tfh stgry gl fgw J, Hccjgt Tgmahr, eknh tg dh” because Scribd uses some stupid DRM font. Easy enough for a pirate to reverse engineer but impossible for normal use. They also broke “Find”; there’s some Javascript thing overriding the browser that doesn’t seem to work.

Quora’s business model is to trick people into sharing information for free, then put it behind a login. It’s like Experts Exchange 2.0! For instance, on Quora you can read Who owns the copyright on content contributed to Quora? Only you can’t just read the text. Depending on your history with the site and the way you got there you may see a giant popup demanding you log in obscuring the page, or the first answer clear and then the rest blurred, or if you're lucky just the page. It appears nondeterministic.

Both businesses are deliberately trying to lock up text content to make it harder to access, to force users to pay or share advertising data or some such bullshit. The part that kills me is some engineer actually wrote code to deliberately break document sharing on the web. It’s terrible.

Update: the Quora CEO responded on Hacker News to correct me that Quora neither runs ads nor charges users. At the moment, they apparently have no revenue.
  2014-06-02 20:23 Z

Seven years ago I wrote about XML security problems, the XXE vulnerability. This flaw is the gift that keeps on giving: someone exploited Google with it this month.

XML is a ridiculously complicated data format. And XML parsers implement all the features, including the obviously dangerous and useless ones. And engineers keep forgetting to turn those features off. It’s just terrible.

  2014-04-11 18:29 Z

League of Legends has a serious security problem: denial of service attacks. Some of these attacks are against the game as a whole and bring down the whole system. Presumably Riot can eventually protect their servers from that. Worse are targeted DDoS attacks against single players; it’s not clear they can defend themselves

The motivation for attacking individual players is ugly. The game is very competitive at the highest levels of play, with prize money and pro careers on the line. Knocking an opponent offline or just lagging them is enough to get a win. Even if the game is thrown out as invalid a DDoS is still way for a losing game to be converted into a tie.

There are guides on how to avoid being a DDoS victim. They boil down to “don’t reveal your IP address”, which in practice means “don’t use Skype from your real IP”. VPNs, playing only from Internet cafes, etc are other options. But these are minimal solutions at best; hiding your location from the world is really difficult. There’s new rumors the whole IP identification part is entirely automated and foolproof.

I don’t really know how a normal Internet consumer can protect his ISP from being knocked offline with a DDoS. It’s an ugly situation.

  2014-03-11 21:35 Z

Apple totally screwed up SSL with a fundamental bug in their certificate checking implementation in both MacOS 10.9 and iOS 7. Every consumer iPhone, iPad, and Macintosh running recent versions of their OS is vulnerable. My understanding is SSL certificate checking basically does not work and any secure site can be spoofed with a man-in-the-middle attack. It’s about as deep a flaw as it goes. There’s a patch for iOS out but not yet for MacOS. You can test if a browser is vulnerable here.

The bug boils down to a simple typo in the code, the good ol’ C gotcha that indentation doesn’t match control flow. Bugs like that happen in C. What’s alarming is Apple didn’t catch the bug; not with a lint tool, not in code review, not in unit testing, not in integration testing. No aspect of Apple’s software development process caught this bug before releasing it to millions of users. That’s terrible engineering practice; in a critical security library it’s outright negligence.

At the moment MacOS users are entirely vulnerable and there’s no fix. In the past Apple has taken many weeks to fix critical bugs in things like Java, hopefully they’ll be faster here. Using Chrome instead of Safari will insulate you from malicious web servers, Chrome wisely has its own SSL implementation. But a whole lot of other Mac software is relying on the broken certificate library, presumably including Apple’s own software update system.

Nice of Apple to publish the exploit before the fix.

  2014-02-22 17:09 Z