unCaptcha: A Low-Resource Defeat of reCaptcha’s Audio Challenge

CAPTCHA is almost ubiquitous in today’s web applications and an extremely popular CAPTCHA implementation is Google’s, namely reCaptcha. reCaptcha provides an audio version for visually-impaired users. Researchers manage to make use of free speech-to-text services to defeat audio reCaptcha.

unCaptcha: Talk is cheap in defeating reCaptcha

Source: unCaptcha: A Low-Resource Defeat of reCaptcha’s Audio Challenge

In the New Fight for Online Privacy and Security, Australia Falls:

In a move that has sent shock waves through the cybersecurity and software community, Australia passes new law that could potentially devastate its software industry, by compelling tech companies to help law enforcement break into user’s encrypted data.

Both countries now claim the right to secretly compel tech companies and individual technologists, including network administrators, sysadmins, and open source developers – to re-engineer software and hardware under their control, so that it can be used to spy on their users. Engineers can be penalized for refusing to comply with fines and prison; in Australia, even counseling a technologist to oppose these orders is a crime.

Source: In the New Fight for Online Privacy and Security, Australia Falls:

  1. Response from 1Password
  2. Response from Protonmail

New form of Google banking scam

A novel way of scamming. Make your phone number appear in Google Maps by claiming it. People who clicks on the result of Google Maps gets directed to you. Profit!

When you see any information listed on a website, your first reaction isn’t to immediately question whether or not that information is accurate. It is to blindly trust the technology that has helped you unfailingly countless times in the past. That is precisely why this scam is so potent.

Source: New form of Google banking scam

Story of a failed pentest (threader.app)

Great story based on a true hacking attempt.

Except for the last bit which was dramatized, the author gave a fairly good first-person account of an internal pentesting being carried out. It involves everything from impersonation, social engineering, physical theft, wits and a good amount of luck.

“Good afternoon, Pam. I’m Josh from IT. We’re about to migrate your Citrix instance to a new server. I’m going to send you a 6 digit number. I’ll need you to read that off to me. As a reminder, IT will never ask for your password.”

I already had her password.

She gave a hesitant, “Okay…”

I clicked on the “Click for MFA token” button and stated, “Alright, I’ve sent you the number. You should get a text. Please read it to me.”

She said, “Umm, alright. Got it. It’s 9-0-5-2-1-2.”

Source: A thread written by @TinkerSec

YouTube Down According to Reports Worldwide & Twitter Reacts

Woops. YouTube is down at the moment.

It’s interesting that Google chooses to display an encrypted message (presumably containing details of the error) on the client browser. This is certainly a novel way for users to report the problem without exposing potentially sensitive details (eg. file paths) to them.

YouTube is down and reports are coming in worldwide about the service being unavailable.

Source: YouTube Down According to Reports Worldwide & Twitter Reacts

Update: Service is up after about 2 hours

The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies – Bloomberg

Bloomberg’s big story on alleged China hacking through server hardware implants. If true, it would be an absolutely incredible feat, equivalent in terms of impressiveness to the Stuxnet worm.

The attack by Chinese spies reached almost 30 U.S. companies by compromising America’s technology supply chain.

Source: The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies – Bloomberg

At the moment, Bloomberg seems to double-down on its story with the following statement:

“Bloomberg Businessweek’s investigation is the result of more than a year of reporting, during which we conducted more than 100 interviews,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in response to a series of questions. “Seventeen individual sources, including government officials and insiders at the companies, confirmed the manipulation of hardware and other elements of the attacks. We also published three companies’ full statements, as well as a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We stand by our story and are confident in our reporting and sources.”

It’ll be interesting to see who’s telling the truth as the story develops. Meanwhile, governments and companies around the world should be in panic mode, as they try to figure out if they are using Supermicro servers, and if so, whether they are affected by the so-called hacking.

(2018-Oct-04) Apple and Amazon both issued strong denials to the claims of the article.

(2018-Oct-04) Separately, Apple and Amazon both issued even stronger statements on their website to set the record straight on the matter.

(2018-Oct-05) Buzzfeed’s coverage of the story also seem to indicate that even senior staff in Apple doesn’t know about the alleged hacks.

(2018-Oct-20) Apple CEO Tim Cook Is Calling For Bloomberg To Retract Its Chinese Spy Chip Story

(2018-Oct-23) Amazon cloud chief Jassy follows Apple in calling for retraction of Chinese spy chip story

On SGQR, Singapore’s unified QR code payment system

What is it?

The so-called unified QR code is finally out.

SGQR code is purportedly Singapore’s effort in “unifying” the fragmented e-payment market – what with DBS PayLah!, Singtel Dash, Grab Pay, LiquidPay, AliPay etc coming into the fray.

MAS says:

For consumers

Your current payment app probably works with SGQR already. All you need to do at the merchant checkout is:

• PICK and launch your preferred payment app
• SCAN the SGQR and check the merchant name
• PAY the correct amount

In other words, ideally a consumer can use his/her preferred payment app to make payment to a merchant through SGQR.

How well has it achieved its goals?

There are some upsides and some downsides. On the upside, consumer will only see one QR code per merchant. So it is less confusing compared to now where the payer have to carefully match the array of QR codes being shown to the right app.

On the downside, while the SGQR specification can enable multiple e-payment providers, merchants are unlikely to sign up with ALL of them (up to 27 payment schemes). So you can end up in a situation where you see a SGQR code but are unable to use your preferred payment app (say Grab Pay) to make payment. The payer have to look at the row of icons below the QR code to know which e-payment solution is accepted.

Technical Details

Very little technical information is publicly available about this SGQR code. After some research, I found on MAS website that it’s based on EMVCo QR code. EMVCo is made up of members from American Express, Discover, JCB, Mastercard, UnionPay, and Visa, and is the body that creates standards for secure payment.

Let’s try and see what the QR code contains. Fortunately the QR code in the article is clear enough to be decoded:

To parse the content of the QR code, one can refer to the EMVCo QR code specifications which is available on the EMVCo website.

After a bit of parsing,

It’s clear that this QR code contains meta-data for only some payment providers.


We are still in the early days of SGQR. It remains to be seen how widely adopted businesses and consumers will take to this form of payment.

For now, the only thing it probably saves is real-estate for display QR codes.

Update (2018-09-21): Yeah! This article made it onto the front page of Hacker News! See the comments on HN here.