The six most dangerous infosec attacks

Powered by SC Magazine

And what's coming next.

The most popular track session of RSA San Francisco for the past five years was again packed to the rafters.

Hundreds of delegates poured in to see the vivacious Ed Skoudis and Joannes Ullrich discuss the six most dangerous IT security threats of 2011 and to hear what to expect in the year ahead.

Skoudis, founder of Counter Hack Challenges and an incident responder for large organisations, kicked off the session at the 2012 RSA conference last week with three of the top security threats and how to defend against them.

DNS as command-and-control

Malware that used DNS as a command-and-control channel was responsible for two large breaches last year in which hundreds of millions of accounts were stolen. 

Many delegates couldn't fit in

“We've been talking about this for years,” Skoudis said. “But now there are tools that make this easy, and I've seen them used in truly high-scale breaches.”

The method was more difficult to detect and was not often considered a vector by which malware could bypass security structures to steal data. “As long as the internal machine can resolve names through a name server with recursive look-ups on the internet, then it can reach the attacker," he said.

Logging every DNS query to detect the attack is too resource intensive to be considered a means of defence, Skoudis said.

He recommended security professionals try DNSCAT and employ periodic sniffing; and search for anomalous DNS requests characterised by excessively length, for responses with strange names, and for traffic sent to domains pertaining to countries in which the organisation does not normally do business.

SSL slapped down

The digital certificate model “is a problem”, Skoudis told attendees. The troubled system was in the headlines last year with attacks on certificate and registration authorities (CAs, RAs) DigiNotar and Comodo, and was criticised by respected security researchers including Moxie Marlinspike who proposed an alterative model dubbed Convergence.

Authorities were systematically dropped from major web browser certficate lists, raising further questions about how the decision to trust and un-trust authorities is made.

"Take your favourite browser and look at the certificate revocation list,” Skoudis said. “There were a few [revoked certificates] a year ago, but then there were a few more, and more, and more, and more.”

He illustrated several viable attacks that could bypass web browser SSL warning messages that alert users when certificates are untrusted or unsigned.

These included hacking authorities and using them to issue fraudulent certificates, or simply tricking them into doing so.

Attackers could also create fake certificates that have a MD5 hash collision with a trusted certificate, target SSL or Transport Layer Security (TLS) flaws demonstrated by the 2011 BEAST attack, or use web browser validation vulnerabilities.

“Why compromise a CA when there are much easier ways? I think we'll see a proliferation of this in 2012,” Skoudis said, adding that end users can be convinced to disregard web browser SSL warnings and accept cheap unsigned certificates.

Over the next 12 months, Skoudis predicts that more malware will carry certificates and install them on end-user machines in an attempt to evade detection.

“It is the most widely-deployed security protocol in the world, and it secures trillions of dollars in transactions, but sometimes it feels like we are trying to apply bandages to a very leaky dam,” Skoudis said, speaking of the SSL model.

To reduce risk, organisations should upgrade to the latest version of TLS and revise web browser certificate lists. The SANS Internet Storm Centre will this year release a tool capable of automating that process, which will give insight into what certificates are added or dumped by web browsers.

Mobile malware as a network infection vector

The anarchistic Android marketplace had Skoudis worried - not just because individuals were at risk from downloading backdoored counterfeit applications, but because compromised devices posed a significant risk to enterprise networks.

“If I can get you to install a backdoor app, and you join the wireless enterprise network, I can ride in,” Skoudis said. “Many of the VIPs in your organisations may have demanded this kind of access.”

The first step professionals should take to defend against the threat was to develop policy for mobile devices. Lee Neely, a security architect at the US Government's Lawrence Livermore National Labs, last month released an extensive policy document checklist for mobiles and networks which Skoudis recommeded.

“Establish a process for evaluating and approving specific applications for use in mobile environments and analyse the application in a sandbox on the network,” Skoudis said. “And build a secure wireless network that is separate from your internal network.”

Hacktivism is back

Hacktivism was not new, but for Ullrich, the chief research officer at the SANS Institute, it was a serious threat. “What they do is not that skilled, but they are seeking out security vulnerabilities that we all know how to fix,” Ullrich said.

Hacking collectives such as Anonymous and the Anti-Security movement continued to attack organisations using simple exploits that take advantage of “basic mistakes” made by victim organisations.

He said defending against hacktivists required basic security improvements to inventory control, software security, authentication, and monitoring.

“Do you know all the devices you have? Because the one that you forget is the one they will attack. It's not exciting, it's not exciting, but you have to get it done.

“Simple things will significantly improve your security.”

SCADA at home

The popularity of home automation systems is exploding but the technology lacks security. Potential hacks could impact a range of wireless technologies from physical locks on buildings to energy smart meters, and it has Ullrich concerned.

“The technologies focus on cost, not security. [Breaching] home automation means things like opening the front door and turning off the alarms,” he said.

Ullrich points out that home networking equipment often connects to cloud services for functions such as temperature checks without proper authentication. 

ZigBee wardriving

He said that wardriving using the ZigBee specification popular with the home automation systems would become more popular over the next 12 months.

Researcher Travis Goodspeed developed a portable wardriving ZigBee kit which he used to map sprinker systems in the US, and plans to release the software for the package this year.

Cloud security

Whether it's Amazon, Dropbox, or Google, cloud computing is surging in populairty. But to Ullrich, it represents a security threat. “We saw some real cloud exploits last year,” Ullrich said, citing security incidents at Dropbox and Amazon.

He said that shared hosting environments are becoming “harder to isolate from each other”, a risk that is exacerbated by the trend to put larger quantities of more sensitive data into the cloud.

Bonus trends:

IPv6: Ullrich points out that he has seen more “accidental” IPv6 deployments where systems were rolled out without being secured. He notes that handheld smartphones and tablets are IPv6 devices.

Oldies: “Just because something is old, doesn't mean it isn't important”, Skoudis said. “Most of you in this room who will get popped this year will be victims to phishing.

Social networking: Criminals realise this is a golden age for social engineering and Skoudis expects them to increasingly plunder networks, pre-empting moves to improve security and privacy.

Malware: The industry needs to move away from an anti-malware and blacklisting model towards whitelisting. “Whitelisting is the soluton in the end,” Ullrich said.

DNSSEC: The Domain Name System Security Extensions will help repair trust, but will not hinder advanced malicious command and control systems.

Copyright © SC Magazine, Australia

The six most dangerous infosec attacks
Top Stories
Frugality as a service: the Amazon story
Behind the scenes, Amazon Web Services is one lean machine.
Negotiating with the cloud email megavendors
[Blog post] Lessons from Woolworths’ mammoth migration.
Qld govt to move up to 149k staff onto Office 365
Australia's largest deployment, outside of the universities.
Sign up to receive iTnews email bulletins

Latest VideosSee all videos »

The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
Scott Noteboom, CEO of LitBit speaking at The Australian Data Centre Strategy Summit 2014 in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Scott Noteboom is a data centre engineer who led builds for Apple and Yahoo in the earliest days of the cloud, and who now eyes Asia as the next big opportunity. Read more:,how-do-we-serve-three-billion-new-internet-users.aspx#ixzz2yNLmMG5C
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
To COTS or not to COTS? iTnews asks Karl Maftoum, CIO of the ACMA, at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
AEMO chief information officer Susan Sly calls for more collaboration among Australia's technology leaders at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Credit Union Australia's David Gee awarded Finance CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards.
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Damon Rees named Retail CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Woolworths.
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Acting Foxtel CIO David Marks accepts an iTnews Benchmark Award on behalf of Robyn Elliott.
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Sanjay Mehta named Industrial CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at ConocoPhillips.
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Greg Wells named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at NSW Health.
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
William Confalonieri named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Deakin University.
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
David Johnson named Government CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at the Queensland Police Service.
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott discuss the Coalition's broadband policy with the press.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
The Australian Federal Police have arrested a Sydney-based IT security professional for hacking a government website.
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO Chrissy Burns talks data.
New UTS Building: the IT within
New UTS Building: the IT within
The IT behind tomorrow's universities.
iTnews' NBN Panel
iTnews' NBN Panel
Is your enterprise NBN-ready?
Introducing iTnews Labs
Introducing iTnews Labs
See a timelapse of the iTnews labs being unboxed, set up and switched on! iTnews will produce independent testing of the latest enterprise software to hit the market after installing a purpose-built test lab in Sydney. Watch the installation of two DL380p servers, two HP StoreVirtual 4330 storage arrays and two HP ProCurve 2920 switches.
The True Cost of BYOD
The True Cost of BYOD
iTnews' Brett Winterford gives attendees of the first 'Touch Tomorrow' event in Brisbane a brief look at his research into enterprise mobility. What are the use cases and how can they be quantified? What price should you expect to pay for securing mobile access to corporate applications? What's coming around the corner?
Ghost clouds
Ghost clouds
ACMA chair Chris Chapman says there is uncertainty over whether certain classes of cloud service providers are caught by regulations.
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Privacy experts David Vaile (UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre) and Craig Scroggie (CEO, NextDC) claim they were not surprised by the Snowden leaks about the NSA's PRISM program.
Latest Comments
Which bank is most likely to suffer an RBS-style meltdown?

   |   View results
National Australia Bank