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  1. The PR disaster for geo-unblocking software Hola has deepened with a report from cybersecurity firm Vectra. In addition to revealing a console within the software that allows an attacker to "accomplish almost anything", Vectra has discovered that Hola had already been exploited by "bad guys" before reports surfaced against the company last week. After a flurry of reports, last week the people behind geo-unblocking software Hola were forced to concede that their users’ bandwidth is being sold elsewhere for commercial purposes. But for the Israel-based company, that was the tip of the iceberg. Following an initial unproofed report that the software operates as a botnet, this weekend researchers published an advisory confirming serious problems with the tool. “The Hola Unblocker Windows client, Firefox addon, Chrome extension and Android application contain multiple vulnerabilities which allow a remote or local attacker to gain code execution and potentially escalate privileges on a user’s system,†the advisory reads. Yesterday and after several days of intense pressure, Hola published a response in which it quoted Steve Jobs and admitted that mistakes had been made. Hola said that it would now be making it “completely clear†to its users that their resources are being used elsewhere in exchange for a free product. Hola also confirmed that two vulnerabilities found by the researchers at Adios-Hola had now been fixed, but the researchers quickly fired back. “We know this to be false,†they wrote in an update. “The vulnerabilities are *still* there, they just broke our vulnerability checker and exploit demonstration. Not only that; there weren’t two vulnerabilities, there were six.†With Hola saying it now intends to put things right (it says it has committed to an external audit with “one of the big 4 auditing companiesâ€) the company stood by its claims that its software does not turn users’ computers into a botnet. Today, however, an analysis by cybersecurity firm Vectra is painting Hola in an even more unfavorable light. In its report Vectra not only insists that Hola behaves like a botnet, but it’s possible it has malicious features by design. “While analyzing Hola, Vectra Threat Labs researchers found that in addition to behaving like a botnet, Hola contains a variety of capabilities that almost appear to be designed to enable a targeted, human-driven cyber attack on the network in which an Hola user’s machine resides,†the company writes. “First, the Hola software can download and install any additional software without the user’s knowledge. This is because in addition to being signed with a valid code-signing certificate, once Hola has been installed, the software installs its own code-signing certificate on the user’s system.†If the implications of that aren’t entirely clear, Vectra assists on that front too. On Windows machines, the certificate is added to the Trusted Publishers Certificate Store which allows *any code* to be installed and run with no notification given to the user. That is frightening. Furthermore, Vectra found that Hola contains a built-in console (“zconsoleâ€) that is not only constantly active but also has powerful functions including the ability to kill running processes, download a file and run it whilst bypassing anti-virus software, plus read and write content to any IP address or device. “These capabilities enable a competent attacker to accomplish almost anything. This shifts the discussion away from a leaky and unscrupulous anonymity network, and instead forces us to acknowledge the possibility that an attacker could easily use Hola as a platform to launch a targeted attack within any network containing the Hola software,†Vectra says. Finally, Vectra says that while analyzing the protocol used by Hola, its researchers found five different malware samples on VirusTotal that contain the Hola protocol. Worryingly, they existed before the recent bad press. “Unsurprisingly, this means that bad guys had realized the potential of Hola before the recent flurry of public reports by the good guys,†the company adds. For now, Hola is making a big show of the updates being made to its FAQ as part of its efforts to be more transparent. However, items in the FAQ are still phrased in a manner that portrays criticized elements of the service as positive features, something that is likely to mislead non-tech oriented users. “Since [Hola] uses real peers to route your traffic and not proxy servers, it makes you more anonymous and more secure than regular VPN services,†one item reads. How Hola will respond to Vectra’s latest analysis remains to be seen, but at this point there appears little that the company can say or do to pacify much of the hardcore tech community. That being said, if Joe Public still can’t see the harm in a free “community†VPN operating a commercial division with full access to his computer, Hola might settle for that. https://torrentfreak.com/hola-vpn-already-exploited-by-bad-guys-security-firm-says-150602/
  2. The operator of 8chan says the bandwidth of millions of Hola users is being sold for reuse, with some of it even being used to attack his site. Speaking with TorrentFreak, Hola founder Ofer Vilenski says that users' idle resources are indeed utilized for commercial sale, but that has been the agreement all along. Faced with increasing local website censorship and Internet services that restrict access depending on where a user is based, more and more people are turning to specialist services designed to overcome such limitations. With prices plummeting to just a few dollars a month in recent years, VPNs are now within the budgets of most people. However, there are always those who prefer to get such services for free, without giving much consideration to how that might be economically viable. One of the most popular free VPN/geo-unblocking solutions on the planet is operated by Israel-based Hola. It can be added to most popular browsers in seconds and has an impressive seven million users on Chrome alone. Overall the company boasts 46 million users of its service. Now, however, the company is facing accusations from 8chan message board operator Fredrick Brennan. He claims that Hola users’ computers were used to attack his website without their knowledge, and that was made possible by the way Hola is setup. “When a user installs Hola, he becomes a VPN endpoint, and other users of the Hola network may exit through his internet connection and take on his IP. This is what makes it free: Hola does not pay for the bandwidth that its VPN uses at all, and there is no user opt out for this,†Brennan says. This means that rather than having their IP addresses cloaked behind a private server, free Hola users are regularly exposing their IP addresses to the world but associated with other people’s traffic – no matter what that might contain. While this will come as a surprise to many, Hola says it has never tried to hide the methods it employs to offer a free service. Speaking with TorrentFreak, Hola founder Ofer Vilenski says that his company offers two tiers of service – the free option (which sees traffic routed between Hola users) and a premium service, which operates like a traditional VPN. However, Brennan says that Hola goes a step further, by selling Hola users’ bandwidth to another company. “Hola has gotten greedy. They recently (late 2014) realized that they basically have a 9 million IP strong botnet on their hands, and they began selling access to this botnet (right now, for HTTP requests only) at 8chan owner says. TorrentFreak asked Vilenski about Brennan’s claims. Again, there was no denial. “We have always made it clear that Hola is built for the user and with the user in mind. We’ve explained the technical aspects of it in our FAQ and have always advertised in our FAQ the ability to pay for non-commercial use,†Vilenski says. And this is how it works. Hola generates revenue by selling a premium service to customers through its Luminati brand. The resources and bandwidth for the Luminati product are provided by Hola users’ computers when they are sitting idle. In basic terms, Hola users get their service for free as long as they’re prepared to let Hola hand their resources to Luminati for resale. Any users who don’t want this to happen can buy Hola for $5 per month. Fair enough perhaps – but how does Luminati feature in Brennan’s problems? It appears his interest in the service was piqued after 8chan was hit by multiple denial of service attacks this week which originated from the Luminati / Hola network. “An attacker used the Luminati network to send thousands of legitimate-looking POST requests to 8chan’s post.php in 30 seconds, representing a 100x spike over peak traffic and crashing PHP-FPM,†Brennan says. Again, TorrentFreak asked Vilenski for his input. Again, there was no denial. “8chan was hit with an attack from a hacker with the handle of BUI. This person then wrote about how he used the Luminati commercial VPN network to hack 8chan. He could have used any commercial VPN network, but chose to do so with ours,†Vilenski explains. “If 8chan was harmed, then a reasonable course of action would be to obtain a court order for information and we can release the contact information of this user so that they can further pursue the damages with him.†Vilenski says that Hola screens users of its “commercial network†(Luminati) prior to them being allowed to use it but in this case “BUI†slipped through the net. “Adjustments†have been made, Hola’s founder says. “We have communicated directly with the founder of 8Chan to make sure that once we terminated BUI’s account they’ve had no further problems, and it seems that this is the case,†Vilenski says. It is likely the majority of Hola’s users have no idea how the company’s business model operates, even though it is made fairly clear in its extensive FAQ/ToS. Installing a browser extension takes seconds and if it works as advertised, most people will be happy. Whether this episode will affect Hola’s business moving forward is open to question but for those with a few dollars to spend there are plenty of options in the market. Until then, however, those looking for free options should read the small print before clicking install. https://torrentfreak.com/hola-vpn-sells-users-bandwidth-150528/