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HK govt rolls out new cybersecurity platform

The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) announced on 21 August 2020 that the Partnership Programme for Cyber Security Information Sharing, also known as Cybersec Infohub, will be formalised from 1 September 2020 onwards.

The OGCIO will partner with the Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation Limited (HKIRC) to administer the collaborative platform (Cybersechub.hk ) and encourage more public and private organisations to take part in the cross-sector sharing of cybersecurity information with a view to further enhancing the city’s overall defensive capability and resilience against cyber-attacks.

The OGCIO launched the two-year pilot programme in 2018. At present, it has 259 organisation members with over 850 registered representatives, covering a wide range of sectors including finance and insurance, public utilities, transport, healthcare, telecommunications, innovation and technology, information security and tertiary education institutions.

Participating members and industry stakeholders indicated in the interim review that the programme is effective in enhancing overall cybersecurity situational awareness, facilitating mutual notification of cybersecurity information among different sectors and improving the efficiency of information sharing, the OGCIO said.

The HKIRC, a non-profit-distributing organisation, will be in charge of the daily operation and financing of the formalised programme as a means of upholding the neutrality of the programme while the OGCIO will steer and monitor the operation.

Membership of all existing participating members will continue in the formalised programme.

The programme aims to enable the sharing of cybersecurity information, advice and professional insights among members and cybersecurity experts from different sectors.

It also facilitates collaboration among members, through their sharing of alerts on the latest cyber threats, to take more effective measures to guard against cyber-attacks.

Boosting Hong Kong’s cyber preparedness

In its latest Weekly IT Security News Bulletin, the Government Computer Emergency Response Team Hong Kong (GovCERT.HK) highlighted the importance of securing satellite broadband communications.

The reported noted that a researcher at the Black Hat 2020 hacking conference demonstrated how buyable devices costing only US$300 could be used to eavesdrop and intercept satellite broadband communications. The attack could be carried out far away from the victims without being detected.

To make a satellite broadband connection, a customer’s signals are transmitted up to a geostationary satellite and then relayed down to a distant receiving station before being further forwarded to the Internet. The responses follow the same path to return.

For cost minimisation, a huge volume of multiple customers’ traffic would be broadcasted in the downlink channel between the satellite and the receiving stations. With some common home-television equipment including a flat-panel satellite dish and a PCIe satellite tuner card, an attacker could capture the broadcasting signals from a satellite.

The Internet traffic could be distinguished from the TV feeds by looking for the string “HTTP”. The user traffic over the Internet would then risk being collected, intercepted and even manipulated.

Advice

  • End users should adopt encrypted communication channels such as HTTPS or virtual private networks over any open networks.
  • Vessels and aircrafts relying on satellite broadband communications should be enforced with security policies, including network encryption requirements to protect the communications.
  • Organisations or facilities utilising satellite broadband communications should log and regularly monitor the network traffic involved to check for suspicious activities.

The report also noted that email authentication could be compromised in eighteen ways.

Phishing attacks constitute a major threat to users and systems nowadays. Attackers to forge emails appearing to come from legitimate senders’ domains. To counter the threat, three email authentication mechanisms, including Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), and Domain-based Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) are commonly deployed to detect and stop the spoofing.

A research team found and presented eighteen ways to bypass the authentication mechanisms with spoofed sender domains, affecting ten publicly available email services and nineteen email client applications.

The involved vulnerabilities are due to how different email services and client applications implement the three mechanisms. Attackers could make use of inconsistencies between SPF, DKIM and DMARC in handling the email headers so that their controlled domain is verified while displaying another domain to email users.

The researchers suggested that the email authentication programs should check for suspicious formats in email headers and drop those non-compliant messages. They commented that the user interface of email client applications generally lacked security indicators to let users know the authenticity of emails. Email users were also advised not to blindly trust the displayed sender address.

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