Tag Archives: Computer security

Do as I say, not as I do. RSA, Bit9, Adobe, and others…

So you thought you had everything nailed down. You might have even gone past the “best practice” (which would have driven you to compliance, and your security to the gutter), and focused on protecting your assets by applying the right controls in a risk-focused way.

You had your processes, technologies, and logs all figured out.

But you still got owned. Want to know why? Because you are still a little naïve.

You put your trust in big name vendors that preached for you to get your stuff together. You listened to them, were convinced by their pitch, and you might have even put their products through rigorous testing to make sure they deliver. But you forgot one thing. Big ticket vendors are no much different from a zealot church.

They will preach, and guide you through to the righteous passage. But when you look behind the curtain, well, you know what I mean…

The latest Bit9 compromise isn’t that surprising. Bit9’s customers are obviously very security aware as they opted to use a whitelisting product to protect their computing assets. As such, these customers are most probably high value targets to adversaries. It also means that with such an awareness to security, these customers probably have more measures and practices to mitigate and protect themselves from attackers. That means, that if I were to scope such a target for an attack, I would have focused on supply chain elements that were weaker than the target itself (much like the way we teach at out Red-Team Testing classes…).

RSA was such a target. Adobe is a similar one. Bit9 just was for some of its customers.

Color me surprised.

And yes – if you are a vendor that gloats over the latest compromise – please don’t. If you haven’t gone through a similar threat model your products are either not good enough (hence your customers aren’t high value targets. How does that make you feel now?), or your own security isn’t up to speed and you haven’t realized you have been breached yet. Now go clean your own mess.

If you are a security consumer (hence – care a bit more for your information than just getting compliant and tabling it), make sure not to make any assumptions about your providers. Especially about your providers. They aren’t the target. You are. As such, they are the vehicle, and they have a more generalized security practice than yours. Account for it in your security strategy, and never fully trust anything outside of your control span. It is your responsibility to hold them to at least their own standard, and demand oversight and proof that they do so.

Security Awareness and Security Context – Aitel and Krypt3ia are both wrong?

It was pretty obvious that after an Information Security persona such as Dave Aitel has posted his “Why you shouldn’t train employees for security awareness” article, there would be a lot of flak from the industry. A lot has been said about training employees to be somewhat more savvy users when dealing with corporate equipment and data (i.e. “stop clicking shit”). And even one of my favorite and outspoken Information Security personal had a great rebuttal on the matter – Krypt3ia’s “Throwing out the baby with the bathwater: Dave Aitel’s approach to INFOSEC“.

While I really appreciate both opinions, and while Dave’s might have been a little self-serving (aren’t all of our statements online?), I find myself in a very “Zen” place – saying, yes – you are both right, and wrong at the same time.

Krypt3ia points out that dismissing the human factor is going to lead to failures beyond what we can imagine as an industry. The reason here lies back in the fact that when we approach “Information Security” we focus too much on the “Information” part, and less on the more holistic meaning of the “Security” part. Trying to solve infosec issues through technological means is a guaranteed recipe for failure. No one, no technology, or software can account for every threat scenario possible, and this is exactly why we layer our defenses. And layering shouldn’t just be done from a network or software perspective – security layers also include access control, monitoring, tracking, analysis, and yes – human awareness. Without the human factor you are doomed. And that’s a personal promise from someone who’s been abusing the lack of layering and dismissal of such human factor for quite some time now running red-team engagements with high-profile, high-security clients (see – I can be self-serving too!).

On the other hand, Dave is also right – you can’t just throw everything on the employee and expect them to magically turn into “APT detectors” just because they clicked through some CBT program for a few minutes (or hours for that matter). You have to get the basics first, and Dave’s list is just as good as anyone else’s:

  • Audit periphery
  • Perimeter defense and monitoring
  • Isolate & protect critical data
  • Network segmentation
  • Access creep
  • Incident response
  • Strong security leadership

In no particular order, one should establish a consistent and solid implementation of all of these aspects for their organization.

Having said that, saying that employee awareness should be out of this list is where Dave went a little too far. Strong security leadership, access creep, and data protection are not technical feats by themselves. These are exactly the areas where employee awareness turns what could be useless (but very expensive) pieces of software or appliances to something that would actually work under an attack on your information assets. The point is not to _divert_ the spending on awareness, but to _combine_ them into your security strategy.

Which brings me back to my first (and only) point – stop thinking of information security as an industry of blinkenlights and snazzy software solutions. It’s about hacking, and hacking as we all know never stops at gadgets and code. Think of information security like an ATTACKER. Think about _their_ scope, and realize how your organization looks from that perspective. Now, take your budget and spend it on the areas where attackers could have compromised your informational integrity (HEY! Don’t touch that Nessus scan result! I told you to THINK goddamnit!).

And with that, I’ll leave you to your wonderful weekend before Vegas (one last self-serving statement – go check out “Sexy Defense” if you are really interested in an effective defensive strategy that goes beyond blogging and writing articles 🙂 ).

Happy hacking!


So you thought you were protected: How hackers can break into your business

This is a translation of the original article published in Calcalist on May 20th 2012.


A group of professional hackers, employed by the most sensitive organizations to detect security breaches, are showing how to gain access to critical information, or take down the power for a whole city – and what is needed in order to protect from such attacks.

If you believe hollywood, breaking into computers or networks is the easiest thing in the world. The hacker just sits in front of the keyboard, types in a few commands, and immediately finds itself in a top-secret database. In reality, it is naturally a more complicated affair: the hacker can’t break into a secure network in a couple of minutes, and not always without leaving the keyboard. He needs to gather intelligence, plan, go out and talk to people. A real hacker is essentiality a detective, a spy, and a bit of an actor.

In this article, in cooperation with experts from Security Art, among which Yoram Golandsky the CEO, and Iftach Ian Amit the Vice President of Consulting, we present the true work of hackers, and detail how a real breach into a secure computer network is performed. Security Art’s employees are hackers for hire – computer security professionals, who get hired by companies in order to break into their own networks and expose their security flaws.

The scenarios that we built here are based on actual attacks performed by Security Art (all client names have been dropped for confidentiality reasons). Others are probability scenarios – such that are based on the knowledge of Security Art’s experts about computer networks, the protections used in them, and their proven ability to manipulate and circumvent them.

The information brought here is not considered secret or as a mean to provide hackers with tools. It has already been published publicly in conferences, and is considered domain knowledge among security experts and hackers, and in any case is not detailed enough to be used maliciously. One thing this guide does show: with enough knowledge, determination and sophistication, there is no computer network or database that is fully protected from computer attackers. Not even a biometric database in which millions of shekels have been invested.

The Phish

The target: infiltrating into an internal communication network of a company.

  1. Intelligence gathering: For weeks, the attacker gathers relevant information on the company and its employees. Identifying employees through social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook, building detailed profiles on them (from email addresses to hobbies). From such information the attacker identifies that in the near future a trade conference will be attended by some of the company’s employees.
  2. The bait: The attacker builds a site similar to the one used by the conference. The domain used for the fake site is very similar to the real one (for example – aclc.com instead of adc.com). An email from the fake domain is sent to the employees that have been identified as relevant to the conference, inviting them to visit the conference website for updates (while using the phishing domain).
  3. The catch: A few minutes after the email is sent, one of the employees clicks on the link provided in it, and browses to the phishing site. In the fake site, embedded attack code runs, and scans the employees computer for vulnerabilities.
  4. The infiltration: The attack code identified a vulnerability in the employee’s browser, exploits it, and run a trojan application on it. This provides the attacker full control over the PC, without the employee ever taking note.
  5. Data exfiltration: The attacker can track every activity performed on the PC – from keystrokes, through full access to any resource the user has privilege to on the network. The information includes contracts, development plans, strategic documents, confidential business communications with customers, and even encryption keys that provide access to encrypted data.
  6. Expanding the breach: The attacker enjoys the same privileges of the employee’s compromised PC – financial systems, internal operational systems, file servers. Even when the employee has limited access, the attacker can leverage the initial privileges in order to get to restricted resources – by compromising the company’s main server.

How to prevent the breach: The company must equip itself with more advanced (adequate) technical means to filter content and separate the internal resources; educating and training the employees about safe browsing and use of the Internet; self tracking of the organization’s intelligence profile on the Internet.


Smartphone spying

The target: Abusing the capabilities of smartphones, or when the company’s network is well protected.

  1. Intelligence gathering: First, the brand and model of the smartphones used by the company is identified, as well as which employees use them with their business email. Then, a traveling employee is located and targeted using his business email – which will be opened on the smartphone.
  2. The trap: A malicious email containing an infected PDF file is sent to the employee. The PDF will install a trojan on the smartphone once opened. The trojan runs persistently on the phone, while mapping all the networks the phone is connected to (WiFi, 3/4G, etc). Additionally, it provides full access to all the information stored on the smartphone, as well as to the interesting features of it such as location services, opening up the microphone and camera in order to stream audio and video back to the attacker.
  3. The spying: The location services feature enables the attacker to pinpoint the user to a specific location, and turn on the microphone and camera when inside the company offices. The calendar is used to identify important meetings, in which the microphone and camera will be turned on again. The result: access to classified information, which includes personal and professional conversations, which may not even exist on the company network.
  4. Everybody’s network: If the employee connects the smartphone to the company’s WiFi, such a connection can enable the attacker to infiltrate it, while easily bypassing most protections that exist towards the official Internet perimeter. Even if the internal network is separate from the WiFi network, such access is still valuable, as other company PCs are connected to it, and can be targeted and breached (for example – during meetings in which employees bring their laptops to and connect to the WiFi in the meeting room). Even more dangerous: when an employee visits other companies (clients) and connects to their wireless networks, while exposing them to further attacks.

How to prevent the breach: Employees can be supplied with company issues phones, which have been hardened and secured. Alternatively, advanced security modules can be installed on employee owned phones. Furthermore, a proactive approach is required in monitoring and mapping the internal network for anomalies.


Installing spy software using a flash drive

The target: A defense contractor’s internal network, which is physically separate from the external networks.

  1. Intelligence gathering: Much like the first phase of the first scenario. In this case the target is to understand in which internal network the interesting information resides.
    For establishing a baseline of how the organization works, full mapping of both personnel as well as physical locations of the organization is performed. Based on the professional background of specific employees published in sites such as LinkedIn, employees can be mapped to which products they work on, and in which divisions. Location services such as FourSquare enable associating physical locations to the employee’s profile – thus revealing the actual office in which the secure network operates in.
    In a specific attack which Security Art’s employees performed, a call was made to the office that was targeted. In order to verify the targeted employee’s details, the attacker impersonated another company employee (“it’s easiest to claim you are from marketing, then you have a good enough excuse for your ignorance…”), talked to the development team lead, and corroborated the information gathered so far. Additionally, the attacker managed to identify that there was an internal voice over IP network in use – which could be leveraged later to exfiltrate the sensitive data.
  2. The con: The attacker arrives at the targeted office, bearing a branded USB thumb drive. He hands it over to the receptionist, claiming: “I just found this outside, I think someone from this office dropped it, let’s plug it in and see who’s is it!”. The unsuspecting receptionist plugs the thumb drive into the PC and opens up the files on it. Another alternative for the drop is to leave the thumb drive at the cafeteria, or to hand it over to an employee that’s about to enter the building.
  3. The infection: Once the drive is plugged in, a malicious code runs and installs a trojan. The trojan maps the internal network, locates the relevant data, and encodes it into audio signals.
  4. The call: The trojan maps the voice over IP network and impersonates a handset to initiate a call to the attacker’s voicemail outside the organization. It then “plays” the encoded audio signals from the previous phase. Now the attacker can download the voicemail, decode the audio signals back into binary data, and access the sensitive information.
  5. Command and control: The attacker can further furnish the trojan to call into a conference call number and stay connected to it. In such a scenario, the attacker can join into the conference call anytime, and send simple instructions to the trojans connected to it using the DTMF tones generated by the phone handset.

Hot to prevent the breach: The company should block the option to connect external devices to the organization PCs. Additionally, monitoring of the VoIP network is critical in order to find suspicious activities.


Powering off a city

The target: attacking the power supply infrastructure of vast regions by taking over smart meters that use cellular communications.

  1. Intelligence gathering: Smart meters are in a pilot phase in Israel. Several suppliers participate in this pilot. The attacker gathers intelligence on the suppliers, and tries to identify vulnerabilities in the produce that are being tested.
  2. Stealing the data: The attacker uses specialized equipment to set up a cell tower, which impersonates a legitimate cell provider’s tower. It then causes the smart meter to “trust” it, and communicate through it. Now the attacker has full access to the data gathered from the smart meters, and change it before passing it along to the electric company monitoring and operations center.
  3. The hit: Using the information gathered, the attacker can damage the production systems: by falsely reporting a higher or lower utilization than the actual one, the production rate will be modified, causing rolling blackouts through extensive regions.

How to prevent the breach: monitoring critical points in the smart meter system, and having dual checks and controls over any information that is related to production and usage.

7 Steps to consider when running a Vulnerability Assessment

Today I’m proud to give this stage to some friends from GFI (have some good friends from the former Sunbelt guys that were acquired by GFI last year). Vanessa is our guest blogger, and she’s got a great post on how to run a more effective Vulnerability Assessment process in your organization.


Do you know how your server measures up to potential threats? If you haven’t performed a vulnerability assessment on your servers yet, you may not be aware of issues that may leave you exposed to hackers and web-based attacks. A vulnerability assessment is the process of inventorying systems to check for possible security problems, and is an important part of system management and administration.

Vulnerabilities are weaknesses within a server or network that can be exploited in order to gain unauthorized access to a system, usually with the intention of performing malicious activities. The most common way to address many software-related vulnerabilities is through patches, which will usually be provided by the software manufacturer to correct security weaknesses or other bugs within an program. However, there may be times when a patch is not available to address a possible security hole, and not all vulnerabilities are software-related for which a patch would be offered. This is where the concept of vulnerability assessment comes into play. Minimizing the attack surface and the effect that a potential hacking attempt could have on your system is a proactive way of effectively managing a server network.

While there is no 100% way to protect your servers against vulnerabilities, in performing a vulnerability assessment there are some steps you can take to minimize your risk:

  1. Close unused ports
    Ideally, your server network setup should include at least a network firewall and a server-level firewall to block undesired traffic. Undesired traffic would include traffic to ports that are unused or that correspond with services that shouldn’t be publicly-available. These ports should be blocked in your firewall(s).
  2. Don’t over-share
    If servers on your network are set up to share files with others, or to access network shares (such as file servers and other resources), make sure that those shares are configured to only allow access as appropriate. Hosts that don’t participate in sharing resources should have that capability turned off completely.
  3. Stop unnecessary service
    The more services you have on your server, especially those that listen on network ports, the more avenues a hacker has to get into your system. This is especially true if you have services running that aren’t being monitored or used, and therefore are unmaintained. Stop services that are not in use or necessary, and restrict access to others that are not intended for public access.
  4. Remove unnecessary applications
    Many operating systems come with a wide set of programs that may not be necessary for normal server operations. Find out what software is installed on your system, and then determine which of those applications are not necessary and remove them.
  5. Change your passwords
    Using default vendor passwords is more common than you may think – but since those passwords are usually publicly-known, they are often the first ones used during hacking attempts. Secure passwords should always be used in favor of the vendor defaults, and industry experts recommend changing them every 30-60 days.
  6. Do some research
    When software or new applications are installed, users often neglect to take the time required to review their settings to ensure that everything is up to par with modern security standards. Take some time to research what you are installing and any security implications that it may have, including what features may be enabled that could introduce security problems, and what settings need to be adjusted.
  7. Encrypt when possible
    Many services and network hardware have the capability of encrypting traffic, which decreases the likelihood of information being “sniffed” out of your network. When transmitting sensitive data, such as passwords, always use an encrypted connection.

Regular vulnerability assessment is a vital part of maintaining system security. Not only will it help diminish the success or possible effects of malicious activity against your servers, but it’s also a requirement for many compliance standards such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOX, GLB/GLBA, among others.

This guest post was provided by Vanessa Vasile on behalf of GFI Software Ltd. GFI is a leading software developer that provides a single source for network administrators to address their network security, content security and messaging needs. More information on vulnerability assessment

All product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.


How great perimeter defenses are hurting you

I have looked for a good example for a real-world security practice that is misconceived and that also applies to information security. Recently I have had a chance to read an opinion article that talks about physical security measures that are put in to protect small populations (read army bases, gated communities, etc…) and how many of the “traditional” security thinking is actually hurting them.
The example that was cited, talked specifically about building fences around such facilities, and their actual and perceived effect.
The real effect of such a “security” fence is very low. These fences can be easily bypassed with very basic skills and tools.
However, the perceived effect of such fences is incredible. On one hand, the protected population sees that there is a fence that goes around the entire perimeter, and immediately think “cool! we are well protected”. They can SEE the perimeter, and it has an immediate effect on how the area is perceived (especially in gated communities).
On the other hand, a much more worrisome element is how such fences affect the way that the security personnel behave. One would think that security professionals understand that fences are no more than a slight delay for an attacker that looks to break into the protected area. Nevertheless, the article talks about how security personnel are actually putting their guard down when assigned to work in fenced areas. It talks about how the perimeter (again – being highly visible and seemingly intimidating) provides some comfort to the guards, and makes them prone to focus on the gates and openings. Whereas guards that were put in duty to protect non-fenced compounds were much more vigilant in identifying tactical areas that would be used to watch the compound, and to attack it. They have been more active in their movements across the protected area, paying attention not only to the access paths used daily, but to all aspects of the area.

Now think about everything that I have discussed above in information security terms. We have been having firewalls blinding our CIOs, IT personnel and purchasing managers. The ability to market a product that specifically opens access paths into the organization so successfully have actually degraded the security posture of most organizations. Think about it – one of the things that come up very early in a conversation about an organization’s security protections will usually be a firewall.
The more problematic aspect here – much like in the physical fence example, is that firewalls make security personnel put their guards down. They fail to be vigilant in identifying access paths, data patterns, and potential pitfalls in the way that the organization keeps, processes and uses its information.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a huge “de-perimeterization” fan, but we do need to take note from this way of thinking about security. Everyone is preaching about “layered security”, but keep putting a lot of focus on the perimeter defenses while leaving the internal layers mostly unprotected.

In summary – when you think about how your organization is protected for security breaches, remember the “fence effect”. Remember how people that live in gated communities have a wrong sense of protection, and how guards stationed at checkpoints and gates are usually focused on the opening rather than the fence around them.