Infosec professionals: Accomplishing your day job without breaking the law

Infosec professionals: Accomplishing your day job without breaking the law
When it comes to information security, most of us will remember this year as the year when an
industry giant suffered a huge incident with extensive ramifications. Naturally, I'm talking about the
RSA breach back in March, when the company experienced privileged data loss.
We've seen privacy snafus, data breaches, a rise of mobile malware and financial fraud. What can
we expect next year? Unfortunately, probably more of the same. In any case, I wish you a
successful 2012. Stay safe!
Mirko Zorz
Editor in Chief
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Copyright (IN)SECURE Magazine 2011.
IT pros can't resist peeking at
privileged information
IT security staff will be some of the most
informed people at the office Christmas party
this year. A full 26 per cent of them admit to
using their privileged log in rights to look at
confidential information they should not have
had access to in the first place.
Lieberman Software’s recent password survey
found that IT professionals just cannot resist
peeking at information that is supposedly
barred to them. It has proved just too
tempting, and maybe just human nature, for
them to rifle through redundancy lists, payroll
information and other sensitive data including,
for example, other people’s Christmas bonus
• 42 percent of those surveyed said that in
their organizations' IT staff are sharing
passwords or access to systems or
• 26 percent said that they were aware of an
IT staff member abusing a privileged login to
illicitly access sensitive information
• 48 percent of respondents work at
companies that are still not changing their
privileged passwords within 90 days – a
violation of most major regulatory compliance
mandates and one of the major reasons why
hackers are still able to compromise the
security of large organizations.
Philip Lieberman, President and Chief
Executive Officer of Lieberman Software said:
“Our survey shows that senior management at
some of the largest organizations are still not
taking the management of privileged access
to their most sensitive information seriously."
Only U.S. customers targeted with
Carrier IQ?
phones destined for the European market
have not been preinstalled with it.
The claims seem to be confirmed by an
analysis performed by a group of researchers
from the University of Cambridge, who
developed an Android app that detects the
Carrier IQ software and asked people around
the world to download it, search for it and
report back with the results.
Carriers are yet to be affected greatly by the
revelations made by researcher Trevor
Even though most mobile phone
manufacturers have denied installing the
Carrier IQ software before delivering the
devices, HTC and Samsung - along with the
Carrier IQ company - have been hit with
lawsuits filed by private citizens who are
worried that the companies have been
monitoring their private communications and
have, thusly, violated the Federal Wiretap Act.
But, so far, it seems that most European
mobile operators haven't been using Carrier
IQ. According to Computerworld, Vodafone
and Orange have denied using the software,
and Samsung confirmed that their mobile
42% of disaster recovery strategies
dead or dormant
UK businesses are still illprepared to deal with downtime
and unexpected disruption to
operations, says ControlCircle.
A recent survey of 100 CIOs/
COOs/IT heads identified that
whilst 90% had a strategy in place,
only 46% had reviewed and tested their
business continuity procedures in the last
twelve months. 42% had either no strategy in
place or were unsure when it was last tested.
Over 50% of strategies were more than two
years old.
In addition, more than 50% of those surveyed
said it would take several hours for systems to
be restored in the event of a disaster or fault.
"We performed an analysis on our dataset of
5572 Android smartphones that volunteers
from all over the world helped us create. From
those 5572 devices, only 21 were found to be
running the software, all of them in the US and
Puerto Rico. The affected carriers we
observed were AT&T, Boost Mobile and
Sprint," they shared. "We found no evidence
of the Carrier IQ software running on Android
devices in any other country. However, given
the relatively small sample of 5572 devices,
we can not exclude this possibility for now."
And as a number of other researchers
question the conclusiveness of Eckhart's
results and the actual danger posed by the
existence of the Carrier IQ app, they do seem
to agree that the fact that it was installed
without the users' permission and that opting
out isn't an option is definitely a misstep.
Over one third of those surveyed admitted it
would take in excess of 24 hours to resume
normal business operations.
“As shocking as these results are, they are
consistent with our anecdotal conversations
and insight into many organizations today”,
said ControlCircle CEO Carmen Carey. “Most
organizations see disaster recovery as a
considerable expense to the business when in
reality, it’s the cost of downtime that is
immeasurable. Imagine how much damage
you can do to your brand with three days of
Companies should be reviewing minutes
versus hours as part of their strategy,
especially now so much of today’s business is
based online.”
Researchers explore how cyber
attackers think
"Our analysis demonstrates that computerfocused crimes are more frequent during
times of day that computer users are using
their networked computers to engage in their
daily working and studying routines," Maimon
"Users expose the network to attacks," Cukier
said. Simply by browsing sites on the Web,
Internet users make their computers' IP
addresses and ports visible to possible
attackers. So, "the users' behavior does
reflect on the entire organization's security."
Michel Cukier, associate professor of reliability
engineering at the A. James Clark School of
Engineering and Institute for Systems
Research, and David Maimon, assistant
professor of criminology and criminal justice in
the College of Behavioral and Social
Sciences, are studying cyberattacks from two
different angles – that of the user and that of
the attacker. Both are members of the
Maryland Cybersecurity Center.
Their work is the first look at the relationship
between computer-network activity patterns
and computer-focused crime trends.
Cyber security trends for financial
services in 2012
Maimon, a sociologist, takes the study a step
"Your computer network's social composition
will determine where your attacks come from,"
he said. In a similar vein, "the kinds of places
you go influence the types of attacks you get.
Our study demonstrates that, indeed, network
users are clearly linked to observed network
attacks and that efficient security solutions
should include the human element."
Cukier adds, "The study shows that the
human aspect needs to be included in security
studies, where humans are already referred
as the 'weakest link.'"
These threats have a trickle-down effect on
every part of a financial services organization,
with reputational and financial impacts that
can be a huge risk to any organization.
The following list was developed from
research by Booz Allen:
Increased cyber threats to senior executives,
the impact of organized crime and mobile
device security as among the top 10 financial
services cyber security trends that will make
2012 a pivotal year for banks and investment
firms as they try to stay ahead of the IT
security curve, says Booz Allen Hamilton.
1. The exponential growth of mobile devices
drives an exponential growth in security risks.
2. Increased C-suite targeting.
3. Growing use of social media will contribute
to personal cyber threats.
4. Your company is already infected, and you’ll
have to learn to live with it – under control.
5. Everything physical can be digital.
6. More firms will use cloud computing.
7. Global systemic risk will include cyber risk.
8. Zero-day malware (malicious software) and
organized attacks will continue to increase.
9. Insider threats are real.
10. Increased regulatory scrutiny.
Anonymous bloggers in danger of
being exposed
your sites to you is an easy-to-do task if you
haven't taken the aforementioned precautions
when setting them up and maintaining them.
The fact was discovered by tech entrepreneur
Andy Baio, who wanted to discover who was
behind a particular blog which was spewing
"spittle-flecked rage" at a number of Macoriented writers. He managed to do that
because the blogger used the same Google
Analytics ID for another blog he was keeping a blog on which he shared his name and
photo, information about his family and even
named his employer.
You're a blogger who, for whatever reason,
wishes to remain anonymous. You are careful
not to mention anything that could tie the blog
to you, and you have gone through the trouble
of hiding any personal information that might
show on the domain record and made sure
other sites (or blogs) you maintain all have
different IP addresses.
But if you use the same Google Analytics
account for following the statistics about your
sites' visitors, you're doomed - connecting all
ISPs can't be forced to filter filesharing traffic, says EU court
European ISPs will not be required to filter
electronic communications which use filesharing software in order to prevent file
sharing which infringes copyright, the
European Court of Justice decided.
According to it, "the protection of the
fundamental right to property, which includes
the rights linked to intellectual property, must
be balanced against the protection of other
fundamental rights."
As it turns out, the free online services who
offer reverse lookup of Google Analytics IDs
such as eWhois and Statsie provided simple
results that tied the two blogs to the same
person because of the shared unique ID.
Shocked a bit about how easy the task has
been, he tried the same tactics with 50
random anonymous blogs. Of the 50, 14 use
Google Analytics, and 7 share the same ID which the service requires to be put on every
page of the site - with other sites they
The rights it speaks of are that of Internet
users ("the right to protection of their personal
data and their freedom to receive or impart
information") and of the ISPs ("the freedom of
the ISP concerned to conduct its business
since it would require that ISP to install a
complicated, costly, permanent computer
system at its own expense").
"It is common ground, first, that the injunction
requiring installation of the contested filtering
system would involve a systematic analysis of
all content and the collection and identification
of users’ IP addresses from which unlawful
content on the network is sent. Those
addresses are protected personal data
because they allow those users to be
precisely identified," pointed out the court.
"Secondly, that injunction could potentially
undermine freedom of information since that
system might not distinguish adequately
between unlawful content and lawful content,
with the result that its introduction could lead
to the blocking of lawful communications."
The most vulnerable smartphones
HTC, Motorola and LG often launch new
phones with outdated software out of the box,
and they are slow to upgrade these phones to
the latest and most secure versions of
Android. In some cases, the phones are not
updated at all, as the manufacturers shift their
focus to newer models, leaving existing
customers stranded with insecure software.
The “Dirty Dozen” list includes:
Bit9 highlighted the most vulnerable popular
smartphones in use today. The devices on the
list pose the most serious security and privacy
risk to consumers and corporations.
Fifty six percent of Android phones in the
marketplace today are running out-of-date and
insecure versions of the Android operating
system software. The study found that
smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung,
38,000 emails from U.S. special
agent leaked by Anonymous
1. Samsung Galaxy Mini
2. HTC Desire
3. Sony Ericsson Xperia X10
4. Sanyo Zio
5. HTC Wildfire
6. Samsung Epic 4G
7. LG Optimus S
8. Samsung Galaxy S
9. Motorola Droid X
10. LG Optimus One
11. Motorola Droid 2
12. HTC Evo 4G
revealed information is the agent's home
address and phone numbers.
They claim to have hacked into and hijacked
two of his Gmail accounts, accessed several
dozen voicemails and SMS text message
logs, his Google web history, listened to
private voicemails and used his Google voice
account to notify his friends and family of "how
hard he was owned."
Law enforcement officers and white hats
working for the government or for private
companies contracted by the government are
among the favorite targets of hacking
collective Anonymous, and the latest one to
be targeted was Fred Baclagan, a Special
Agent Supervisor of the CA Department of
Justice in charge of computer crime
According to a Pastebin post, the group got
their hands on and are leaking "over 38,000
private emails which contain detailed
computer forensics techniques, investigation
protocols as well as highly embarrassing
personal information." Also, among the
"Possibly the most interesting content in his
emails are the internal email list
archives (2005-2011) which detail the
methods and tactics cybercrime units use to
gather electronic evidence, conduct
investigations and make arrests," said the
group, and invited anyone who has ever been
arrested for computer crimes to check the
archives for discussions about their case.
"There are discussions about using EnCase
forensic software, attempts to crack TrueCrypt
encrypted drives, sniffing wireless traffic in
mobile surveillance vehicles, how to best
prepare search warrants and subpoenas, and
a whole lot of clueless people asking
questions on how to use basic software like
Hiding messages in VoIP packets
A group of researchers from the Institute of
Telecommunications of the Warsaw University
of Technology have devised a relatively simple
way of hiding information within VoIP packets
exchanged during a phone conversation. They
called the method TranSteg, and they have
proved its effectiveness by creating a proof-ofconcept implementation that allowed them to
send 2.2MB (in each direction) during a 9minute call.
IP telephony allows users to make phone calls
through data networks that use an IP protocol.
The actual conversation consists of two audio
streams, and the Real-Time Transport
Protocol (RTP) is used to transport the voice
data required for the communication to
Apple OS X sandbox hole allows
bypassing of restrictions
Following Apple's
announcement that all
applications submitted for
inclusion in the App Store will
have to have sandboxing
implemented starting from
March 1, 2012, researchers
from Core Labs discovered a security flaw that
allows malicious individuals to "escape" the
"Several of the default pre-defined sandbox
profiles don't properly limit all the available
mechanisms and therefore allow exercising
part of the restricted functionality," explain the
researchers in an advisory. "Namely, sending
Apple events is possible within the no-network
sandbox (kSBXProfileNoNetwork). A
But, RTP can transport different kinds of data,
and the TranSteg method takes advantage of
this fact.
"Typically, in steganographic communication it
is advised for covert data to be compressed in
order to limit its size. In TranSteg it is the overt
data that is compressed to make space for the
steganogram," explain the researchers. "The
main innovation of TranSteg is to, for a
chosen voice stream, find a codec that will
result in a similar voice quality but smaller
voice payload size than the originally
In fact, this same approach can - in theory be successfully used with video streaming and
other services where is possible to compress
the overt data without making its quality suffer
much. To effect the undetected sending of the
data through VoIP communication, both the
machine that sends it and the one that
receives it must be previously configured to
know that data packets marked as carrying
payload encoded with one codec are actually
carrying data encoded with another one that
compresses the voice data more efficiently
and leaves space for the steganographic
compromised application hypothetically
restricted by the use of the no-network profile
may have access to network resources
through the use of Apple events to invoke the
execution of other applications not directly
restricted by the sandbox."
Apple has been notified of the issue back in
September. At first it replied to the researchers
that it does not see any actual security
implications, as the kSBXProfileNoNetwork
sandbox profile does not promise that Apple
Events will be blocked in the documentation.
The researchers replied by sending their
proof-of-concept code and pointed out that
Apple should modify its documentation to
explicitly say that the restrictions that these
particular sandbox profiles provide are limited
to the process in which the sandbox is
applied, to which Apple responded that it's
currently thinking about doing it.
Why do companies backup
Businesses are on average
backing up to tape once a
month, with one rather alarming
statistic from the same survey
showing 10 percent were only
backing up to tape once per year,
according to a survey by Vanson Bourne.
Although cloud backup solutions are
becoming more common, still the majority of
companies will do their backups in-house.
Sometimes they will have dedicated IT staff to
run them, but usually it's done in-house
because they have always done it like that,
and they have confidence in their own security
and safekeeping of data.
Given this fact that IT personal wouldn't risk a
cloud based back-up solution, it then seems a
little odd that backups are done as
infrequently as the survey reveals or even that
they are only done once per year by some
The likely reason for this infrequency is due to
the time factor involved. Many companies
would run their backups on Friday evenings,
in the hope for it to be completed by Monday
business start. But with such large data pools,
these backups might not complete in time,
and are therefore often postponed for larger
time frame windows.
Easy to use full-disk encryption
Mobility and increased data
production leads to data
breaches escalating. Through
media the general public are
increasingly made aware of
major breaches and the
severe consequences of
such data loss and theft.
Despite this raised awareness, protection of
endpoints and external storage media
continues to be neglected and ignored by endusers. It has become a well-known fact that
memory sticks are lost, that storage media are
Longer backup times
The I/O bottleneck caused by disk
fragmentation is a primary cause for latent
backup times. As data backup involves file
access, fragmentation of data files is
anticipated to have pronounced impact on the
length of time a backup procedure may take.
An entire data set needs to be read, and then
copied elsewhere.
This data set could be spread across one
volume or many. If a high number of additional
I/Os are required to read files before they are
transferred, backup speed is heavily
Additional I/Os are needed when files are split
into multiple pieces - fragments. It is not at all
uncommon to see a file fragmented into
thousands or even tens of thousands of
fragments. The impact on backups of files in
such a state is considerable.
It is common now especially with SANs to use
Snapshots and CDP, but any block level
changes would mean an increase in the
replication traffic or increase in the Snapshot
size - and larger snapshots would take longer
to backup. Having said this we still need to
defragment as fragmented volumes take
considerable time to backup. In such
situations, actually preventing fragmentation
before it can occur is the ideal solution.
stolen and computers subject to crime. Naive
and over-confident users daily cause data
breaches and anyone could end up becoming
an innocent victim.
[hiddn] ( offers a new
dimension to data protection with all data
protected by transparent and rigid AES256
encryption, where all keys are stored on an
external smart card.
The [hiddn] eSATA P&P encrypted external
disk storage unit exemplifies the concept
“Plug & Protect”; simply plug it to the PC’s
eSATA-port and authenticate for a bootable,
fully encrypted, external storage media.
Mitja Kolsek is the CEO of ACROS Security. In over 13 years of security addiction, Mitja has perforated an array of online banking systems, businesscritical products, computer networks and protocols, searching for atypical
vulnerabilities and effective ways of fixing them. His passion is security research, discovering new types of security problems (such as "session fixation"), new twists on the known ones (such as "binary planting"), and finding
unique security bugs in e-banking and e-commerce systems.
What are the fundamental differences in
searching for vulnerabilities when you
have the source code vs. when the code is
There are several benefits to having access to
the source code:
1. Certain types of vulnerabilities are easier to
find from the source code. An extremely trivial
example is finding the pattern
"<%=Request.QueryString" in ASP.NET code,
which almost inevitably represents a crosssite scripting vulnerability.
2. You can (hypothetically) review the entire
code of the product. I say "hypothetically" because there is almost never enough time to
cover the code in its entirety so you have to
limit yourself to the most critical parts. In addition, you rarely get the complete source code
because most products include 3rd party code
that is either closed or not easily available
(besides, your customer doesn't want to pay
for reviewing another company's code), or because collecting the entire source code
for a complex product developed by geographically dispersed teams is too daunting a
task for the customer and they have to optimize.
3. It is much easier to look for business logic
flaws in the source code. In online banking, for
example, one of the critical business logic
parts is making sure that a user can't transfer
more money from his account than he has at
It is optimal to be able to look at the exact
code that does this check and see if there is a
way to bypass it, compared to trying hundreds
of small interactive tests and still not being
4. It is much easier to find flaws in security
checks from the source code. For instance, a
black-box review of anti-cross site scripting
validation can only be done by sending various dangerous characters and patterns to the
server application and hoping to bypass validation, while reviewing the source code can
quickly tell you which attacks will certainly not
5. Once a vulnerability has been identified,
having the source code allows you to provide
better recommendations as you can understand the context of the vulnerable code. It's
really helpful for developers if you can recommend a specific code change, such as:
"Instead of memcpy(d,s,strlen(s)), use
However, a source code review should not be
considered superior to black-box testing, as
certain types of vulnerabilities are easier to
find and test by direct interaction with a live
product, be it a server or a desktop application. In fact, white-box (source code-based)
and black-box (interactive) security reviews
are complementary and should ideally both be
done whenever possible.
but there are many factors outside the source
code that can either introduce new vulnerabilities or block existing vulnerabilities in a product. Two typical examples are: loading a library that may exist on some O/S versions but
not on others (introducing a potential binary
planting vulnerability), and Apache web server
rewriting rules performing some basic sanitization of user-supplied data (blocking some
existing vulnerabilities in the code).
Whenever we find what seems to be a vulnerability in the source code, we always want to
test it on a live product to confirm its presence. One of the things customers hate most
are false positives - reports of vulnerabilities
which turn out to be false. They don't want
thick reports with hundreds or even thousands
of "issues", when in fact only a dozen of them
could really be considered vulnerabilities
worth addressing.
Because of this, finding vulnerabilities from
the source also comes with a potentially highly
time-consuming problem: once you have
found a vulnerability in the code, you have to
find the execution path to it to determine its
exploitability (i.e., in case of a server application, build a request that will get the execution
to your vulnerability and test it). But this is often not a trivial task, as the code may be hard
to read or follow through various functions and
modules, and it may even happen that the
vulnerability you have found is really not accessible at all.
Intuitively it may seem that all vulnerabilities
should be discoverable from the source code,
What types of tools do you use in your
daily work?
Our company has a reputation for finding socalled "high hanging fruit" vulnerabilities,
meaning that most customers come to us with
products that have already been thoroughly
scanned with all sorts of automated vulnerability scanners and reviewed by both internal
and external security experts. This does not
mean we don't start looking for flaws at the
bottom, where one can actually use
mated tools, as that is where vulnerabilities
have the highest likelihood of being discovered by potential attackers (i.e., anyone could
use the same tools and find them). But it has
always been our mission to extend our reach
as high as possible in this metaphorical vulnerability tree where, interestingly, some of
the most critical security defects are often hiding. What allows us to do this are our
research-oriented minds: we're most motivated by finding new ways of attacking a
product, new twists on known attacks,
and combining little-known features and properties into exploitable conditions.
Most of the tools we're using "higher in the
vulnerability tree" are therefore various monitoring and debugging tools that allow us to
observe the product's interaction with its environment (e.g., Process Monitor, Fiddler, Wireshark), their internal communication (e.g., WinObj) and the execution of their code (e.g.,
WinDbg or WinAPIOverride32). However, we
frequently have to write our own tools for specific tasks at hand.
What advice would you give to someone
interested in becoming a vulnerability researcher? What pre-requisites does one
need to have?
A strong desire to learn new technologies,
platforms, different programming languages,
new attack techniques and new types of vulnerabilities is an absolute requirement for
keeping up with continual developments in
security research. Once this is checked, you
will need to develop a gut feeling, a "something just doesn't seem right" intuition for detecting suspect code or behavior, which will
likely require a couple of years of hands-on
experience. So if you refuse to use your IT
knowledge to build software or hardware
products and instead insist on making a career of finding ways of breaking them, the safest path is probably to start with web applications and learn all about cross-site scripting,
cross-site request forgeries and SQL injection.
Read lots of white papers and hacking conference slides on these topics as you will not find
all the details neatly packaged in a single
place. Look for information about countermeasures and then look for information about
bypassing these countermeasures. Or, if
you're really researcher material, try to find
ways to bypass the countermeasures yourself.
What type of equipment would you recommend for someone considering vulnerability research on a serious level?
I'm sure many are wondering, what does a
typical day look like for a vulnerability researcher?
For software vulnerability research you mostly
won't need any expensive or unusual equipment: with a PC and free tools you can already do some decent research. It is highly
advisable to use some virtualization solution
(e.g., VMware) to be able to quickly move between various states in the product's execution and, for instance, to avoid lengthy O/S
restarts in case you're doing kernel security
research (crashing your machine every ten
Our days would probably look pretty unimpressive to a casual observer. You're sitting
behind a computer most of the day, thinking of
different ways to attack a product, writing tools
or scripts to mount these attacks, reading
white papers on the subject at hand, scratching your head when attacks fail and finally
(hopefully) cracking a satisfied smile with a
warm fuzzy feeling when you succeed. (Depending on how many days the product has
been successfully withstanding attacks, shouting out loud and dancing are also a possible
manifestation of one's emotions at that time.)
Hardware vulnerability research can be more
expensive and some of the most critical devices are usually out of reach for hobby researchers. However, hardware hacking
equipment tends to become more affordable
in time; for instance, it is now possible to get
equipment for GSM research for a few hundred dollars while only a couple of years back
similar equipment was prohibitively expensive.
These "gotcha" moments, whether it is about
executing your code on a server or transferring a million dollars from your empty bank
account, are the culmination of a security researcher's day.
What's your take on the closed source vs.
open source discussion? Based on your
experience, can one be deemed more secure than the other?
In an ideal situation where hordes of qualified
security researchers would be intensely reviewing both open source and closed source
products to equal extent, we could safely assume that fewer vulnerabilities would remain
undiscovered in open source products than in
closed source ones.
But the actual situation is nothing like that
and, if anything, our experience with both
types of products shows that the security of a
product depends much more on its development team and their awareness and attitude
towards security than on the open-ness or
close-ness of the source code.
What are your thoughts on vendors offering money for vulnerabilities?
As professional security researchers, we've
always been paid by our customers for finding
vulnerabilities in their products, so the "bug
bounty" programs several vendors are now
running are essentially an extension of that
business model.
In short term, bounties could even potentially
provide a higher cost-benefit to vendors compared to hiring a research team like ours, as
bounty researchers don't get paid for trying,
only for succeeding. However, after the initial
"low hanging fruits" are harvested, researchers will start finding the risks of not discovering any vulnerabilities too high compared to
the bounties offered, which will force vendors
to either increase the bounties or watch these
researchers leave.
But in any case, a bug bounty undoubtedly
increases a product's security at probably the
lowest possible cost for the vendor, so it certainly makes business sense and we're happy
to see vendors adopting this model.
Mirko Zorz is the Editor in Chief of (IN)SECURE Magazine and Help Net Security.
In recent years, web browsers have become an essential part of our everyday
lives. Most end-users, however, know very little about security and protection
of their personal data. At the same time, advertising networks and especially
phishing groups are very inventive when it comes to information sourcing,
and that is reason enough for us to have a closer look at the latest scientific
findings in the field of browser history detection.
In December 1996, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) introduced the initial version of
the Cascading Style Sheet mechanism. A core
feature of CSS 1 was the ability to format links
in different styles depending on whether they
have been visited or not. W3C defined a socalled “visited” pseudo-class to discern visited
hyperlinks from yet unvisited ones.
pseudo-class to learn about web sites an enduser accessed. Although the CSS Working
Group is aware of this problem, the “visited”
pseudo-class remained part of the standard
and is still present in the latest CSS Level 2
Revision 1 (CSS 2.1) and the Proposed Recommendation for Selectors Level 3 (part of
CSS 3).
The main goal of the W3C was to improve usability, but the mechanism also led to a decrease in user privacy. As we will see later on,
attackers can easily exploit the “visited”
As of June 2011, the CSS 2.1 specification at
least contains a section that discusses the potential for history stealing through the “visited”
Chapter 5.11.2 of the W3C recommendation
now explicitly allows browser vendors to omit
the mechanism for privacy reasons without the
fear of losing standard compliance. The main
idea behind CSS-based browser history detection is to determine private data through
Uniform Resource Locators (URL). Applying
rather simple techniques, hostile web sites
can use styled links to collect information
about unsuspecting visitors. In a hidden part
of the page, the attacker creates a link to the
target URL, and then uses the browser's DOM
interface to inspect the element with JavaScript.
Depending on how the link is displayed, a
simple method call can tell if the target address is in the user's browser history. This sort
of privacy research can range from general
tracking scenarios to full de-anonymization in
social networks. Furthermore, ad networks
have a growing interest in low-cost sources for
user-specific information.
Technical backgrounds
Attackers cannot fetch a user's browser history directly, but can check whether a particu-
lar URL has been visited by applying different
CSS styles to a link. This means that a list of
predefined URLs must be provided to gain information about the client's history.
There are two basic approaches to determine
the computed CSS style values on the clientside. One can either apply a JavaScript detection method or utilize a CSS-only solution. We
will examine both techniques in more detail.
JavaScript implementation
The JavaScript approach relies on a built-in
function called getComputedStyle(). A script
can use this method to query the computed
style of a link element, to detect if a particular
CSS style has been applied to it. The current
property on its part provides information about
whether the link was visited before.
Listing 1 shows a basic JavaScript implementation to check the visiting state of the address While this example focuses on
detecting the domain only, one can easily extend the script to check intra-domain resources as well.
Code listing 1.
JavaScript is a very flexible tool and allows
fine-grained control over the scanning process. By combining it with an AJAX back-end,
attackers could check myriads of addresses
without the user being aware of it. Scientific
research has shown that up to 30,000 links
can be scanned within a single second on
modern consumer-grade hardware
approach is less flexible. CSS code is accompanied by high syntactic overhead and produces more network load. In addition to that, it
also cannot be obfuscated or compressed as
effectively as JavaScript code. However, the
major disadvantage of the CSS-only approach
is that the URL list is static and attackers can,
therefore, optimize their detection methods
with greater difficulty.
Furthermore, JavaScript enables time-delayed
test runs and allows the execution of hijacking
code depending on the user's current activity
level. Last but not least, JavaScript compression and obfuscation help to reduce network
load and hide malicious code from HTML
source inspection.
Performance and optimization
CSS-only approach
The more links can be checked while a visitor
resides on a hostile web site, the bigger the
likelihood of making promising hits in the client's history.
In order to check whether an address has
been visited, the CSS-only approach issues
HTTP requests for background images on link
elements. This can either be done through the
“visited” pseudo-class discussed earlier or by
utilizing the closely related “link” selector. The
latter is antithetic to the “visited” pseudo-class
and only applies to an element if the corresponding link was not visited.
Code listing 2 demonstrates the use of the
“visited” CSS selector to identify visited links.
In contrast to this positive checking, the
source code in listing 3 shows how to determine links that are currently not stored in the
web browser's history.
Both the CSS method and the JavaScript solution are easy to implement, but the CSS-only
Browser history stealing is a non-destructive
process, as users usually fail to realize that
their browser history is being scanned. Nonetheless, it is worth optimizing the hijacking
scripts to speed up the whole procedure.
Performance strongly depends on the underlying browser software, but hardware aspects
and network load may also play a decisive
role. Vendor-specific optimizations can also
increase scanning speed. The internal representation of color values, for instance, differs
between Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera,
Chrome and Safari.
A universal link scanner would, therefore,
have to check various combinations of URL
and CSS color value (e.g. with
“purple”, “#800080”, “#080” and “rgb(128, 0,
Code listing 2.
Consequently, it is beneficial to identify the
browser first and then load an optimized link
scanning script. Experimental research has
shown that software-specific implementations
can be 3 to 6 times faster then general matching techniques.
“http://” or “http://www.” can be omitted to save
bandwidth. The same applies to enumerated
web resources with the same base address.
Reloading new link lists with AJAX can be significantly optimized if only the variable component of the second-level address is transmitted over the network.
Another aspect worth considering is how URL
lists are encoded. Common patterns like
Code listing 3.
Agony of choice
First- and second-level links
Technical aspects aside, proper link selection
can also play an important role in privacy research. While a certain list of links may be
suitable to identify U.S. citizens, it might not
help to spy on European or Asian Internet users.
Artur Janc and Lukasz Olejnik, two security
researchers who work on the feasibility and
real-world implications of web browser history
detection, distinguish between primary and
secondary links when testing a client's
browser history for predefined URLs
Demographic aspects like age, gender and
cultural background can also determine victory
or defeat when matching a list of hyperlinks
against a user's browser history.
If too much data is transferred to the user, it is
very likely that he will become suspicious and
leave the page. Large link lists also increase
test run-time and lead to an overall performance loss. Consequently, the test page should
be designed wisely and should be tailored to
the user's profile. For example, a general test
of popular web sites might help to determine
the visitor’s language or home country. Based
on this information, a JavaScript could trigger
further user-specific tests for a more accurate
overall picture of the victim.
According to their definition, primary links are
domain-level addresses like
Since the host name on its own does tell very
little about a user, multiple second-level links
can be assigned to each primary resource
(e.g. and
Second-level addresses can either be subdomains, web forms or independent documents on a web site as well as a number of
resources that share a common prefix but vary
on the suffix (e.g. user profile pages on bulletin boards or on social networks).
Range of detectability
Resource detectability goes beyond web sites
on the Internet. Although the HTTP protocol is
the one most commonly used today, most applications also support the “visited” CSS selector for HTTPS and FTP.
In addition, attackers can use the “file”
schema to query local files that have recently
been viewed in the web browser. The only exception in this respect is Google Chrome,
which does not mark local resources as visited
at all.
As a rule of thumb, almost all URLs that appear in the browser's address bar can be detected by hostile web sites. This is especially
troublesome if form parameters (e.g. search
terms or confidential data) are submitted using
In most cases, resource detection also applies
to frames and iframes in HTML documents.
Only embedded images and downloads are
usually not marked as visited in state-of-theart web browsers.
The threat is real
Even though browser history detection has
long been a strictly academic discipline, more
and more such attacks have recently been
observed in the wild. According to a research
report published by the University of California
in San Diego, roughly 50 popular web sites
from the news, sports, games and financial
sectors currently employ history-sniffing techniques (
Many web site operators, however, are not
aware of this fact. Only about 5 percent of the
webmasters included the scripts on their web
sites themselves. The remaining majority embeds third-party content from advertising service providers, who added the detection scripts.
The above-mentioned San Diego researchers
revealed that Interclick, MeaningTool and
Feedjit are the leading ad networks in this respect - their tracking scripts were deployed
uniformly across a number of examined sites.
It seems obvious that scanning visitors that
come across a web site in order to provide
them with custom-tailored ads pays off. After
having detected keywords in the users’
browser history, advertising sellers can present banner ads likely to pique the users’ attention or redirect them to web sites of the
same kind.
According to a report in Forbes magazine published in late 2010, web sites from the adult
entertainment sector apply similar techniques
to promote their services and maximize revenue (
But ad networks and e-business salesmen are
not the only ones interested in information
sourcing. CSS-based history scanning can
also be used for location detection, e.g. by
analyzing zip codes entered on a weather information web site.
In a worst-case scenario, history stealing can
even lead to a complete de-anonymization on
social networks.
Furthermore, domain-specific scanning scripts
can also help to prepare later attacks. Imagine
a phishing group that provides a list of wellknown financial service providers in order to
discover which online bank their potential victims use for day-to-day transactions.
Black-hats are not the only ones who utilize
browser history stealing techniques. Tel Avivbased Beencounter commercialized history
detection and offers a behavioral targeting and
tracking service ( For a
monthly fee, customers are provided with an
easy-to-use API to query the browser history
of their own web site's visitors in real-time.
Even though browser history detection has long been a
strictly academic discipline, more and more such attacks
have recently been observed in the wild.
Beencounter offers a free web service for firsttime users and a paid version via subscription.
Another service provider, Tealium Social Media, is known to have been using similar techniques for more than two years now in order to
practice brand and product marketing
But a very similar functionality is also available
for free, by using a local installation of a script
provided by interface designer and former
Mozilla Labs employee Aza Raskin. Raskin's
SocialHistory.js was originally intended to detect the social web sites a user visited
( However, modifying the
script to scan any custom set of hyperlinks requires very little effort.
Countermeasures against browser history detection are twofold and can be applied to both
the server-side and the client-side.
Only a small percentage of Internet users are
aware of the information gathering techniques
discussed in this article. For that reason, it
would be best to implement protection directly
on the server.
The best way web site operators can safeguard their customers from browser history
detection is to generate a random token and
append it to all delivered URLs.
selves against history stealing. Browser plugins such as Firefox' NoScript can enhance security, but they cannot thwart CSS-based detection methods. Disabling JavaScript merely
hinders attackers from applying sophisticated
optimizations to their scripts.
Promising results can, however, be archived
with the private surfing modes most recent
browsers are equipped with. Though they
cannot prevent hostile web sites from scanning the client's history, they keep local data
pooling in check and cover most of the tracks.
Clearing the browser history on a regular basis also increases security, but it also negatively impacts its usability.
Ultimately, the ability to detect links visited by
a user depends on the history expiration policies each browser maintains. The default period for invalidation of entries in the history
store varies between 20 and 90 days. Opera
keeps track of the last 1,000 pages viewed,
while Google Chrome does not expire any history entries by default.
Doubters should thus carefully check their
browser settings to prevent unnecessary disclosure of personal information. But to be
honest, how much fun is surfing without CSS
and JavaScript these days? Eventually, it is up
to the browser developers to provide reasonable solutions to the aforementioned problems.
This solution has long been neglected by most
online service providers, but at last some social networks accepted their duty for member
protection and provide tokenized or hashed
URLs. Among them are Facebook and VZ
Netzwerke Limited, an operating company in
charge of several German social Web 2.0 applications.
Business network sites LinkedIn and XING
also employ similar techniques to protect their
users against de-anonymization.
Users who do not want to rely on third parties
when it comes to their personal privacy can,
unfortunately, do very little to protect
History detection arose from an established
W3C standard and has become a common
tool in privacy research. In the last decade,
both web developers and cyber criminals have
employed the “visited” CSS selector to determine links that are stored in the user's browser
Today JavaScript performance makes browser
history stealing applicable in large-scale attacks, resulting in a huge impact on the privacy of Internet users. Attackers use hijacking
scripts with sophisticated optimizations to
learn about the private life and social environment of web site visitors.
The greater the number of links found in the
client's history, the more vulnerable the user is
to de-anonymization. You might want to visit and check for yourself what
the Internet knows about you.
First and foremost, there are ethical and legal
aspects that still need to be addressed.
Browser vendors can act and provide technical improvements, but a change of mind has
to take place.
Mozilla Foundation employees filed the discussed problem as the “visited history bug” in
2002, but failed to fix it in Firefox for almost
ten years ( Likewise, the
InPrivate browsing mode of Microsoft's Internet Explorer was introduced less than three
years ago. Apple Safari and Google Chrome the latest browsers based on the WebKit
HTML rendering engine - are said to be less
vulnerable to history hijacking. But even
though web browser security extensions have
improved privacy protection, a couple of open
questions remain.
The number one question is whether there is
anything wrong with webmasters being able to
see what other sites a visitor has been to. U.S.
lawmakers say yes, and propose the creation
of a do-not-track option for the Internet. But
financial penalties for companies that track
people who have opted out will hardly rectify
the situation.
A national draft law is neither an airtight solution nor a guarantee for user safety. Browser
history detection is a global issue.
Sascha Seidel graduated in computer science and works as a freelance developer in Germany. His research
interests are in the field of software engineering, distributed systems, web development and database technology. In his spare time he maintains a community web site for application, game and web developers
DataTraveler 6000 is Kingston's rugged secure USB drive that comes in four
different sizes - 2,4,8 and 16 GB. From the user's perspective, its functionality
is pretty common with this type of security products - it is a classic security
powered portable flash drive for storing sensitive data. But what is under the
hood is what really matters and the device excels in its security mechanisms.
At first glance, it looks like a regular USB
drive with a cap on, but once you hold it in
your hand you can definitely tell that it is
slightly heavier and more rugged than a typical USB drive.
The increased weight is due to its titaniumcoated stainless-steel casing, and the cap is
also tighter. In short - from a physical perspective, I couldn't be more satisfied.
In the product manual, DataTraveler 6000 is
described as rugged and waterproof, so I
spent some time testing these claims. Passing over it with my car didn't do any damage
at all, as well as soaking it up in a glass of water. Of course, if you are doing the water trick,
please make sure that the device is dry before
re-plugging it to your computer. According to
the manufacturer and Ingress Protection Rating standard IEC 60529 IPX8, the device
should work just fine if it is immersed into water up to four feet deep.
The drive works on both Microsoft Windows
and Mac OS X operating systems. Windows
users can run it on XP, Vista and 7, while Apple fans will need at least Leopard (Mac OS X
10.5.*). When plugged into the computer, it
automatically mounts as DT6000 and provides launchers for both operating systems.
On Windows it can operate with AutoRun both
enabled or disabled and enforces tamper free
AutoRun files.
When plugged in for the first time, all machines will run a configuration utility, where
the users will be asked to setup basic details password and optional contact details.
As expected of this type of a device, the
password policy urges you to setup your
password with at least three of four provided
characteristics - character, number, lowercase
and uppercase. Running MacLauncher, the
Mac variant of DT6000_Launcher.exe, will
start the application up in the X Window System.
It's also good to mention that once the password has been set up, ten incorrect logon attempts trigger the deletion of device's contents and of all critical security parameters.
After you successfully authenticate to the device, your secure file place holder will mount
and you will be able to use it as a regular
drive or folder. DataTraveler places its small
icon in the Windows taskbar or the Mac OS X
menu bar. By clicking on it, you will have the
opportunity to modify settings (change password and details), as well as browse, format
or shut down the device.
In my experience, the file transfers to and
from the device were very fast - the speeds
were around 11 MB/s read and 5 MB/s write.
While DataTraveler 6000 is Kingston's product, this memory expert worked on it with data
security and identity management provider
This FIPS 140-2 Level 3 validated device is
powered by highly efficient ECC P-384 plus
AES-256 Cryptography algorithms. According
to the specifications provided by SPYRUS,
the keys used within DataTraveler 6000 are
the equivalent of a 7680-bit RSA key, yet the
ECC operations are faster than RSA-2048,
and the used key is 64 times faster than an
RSA-7680 key would be. Encryption keys are
also protected with a 256-bit Master Key Encryption Key and the DataTraveler line of
products uses 100% hardware authentication.
When bought for larger organizations, DataTraveler 6000 can be fully customized - security policy, preloaded content and even custom casings. It is enterprise ready, but it
doesn't provide centralized management options. For this you'll need to take a look at two
other Kingston flash drives - DataTraveler
Vault Privacy and DataTraveler 4000.
DataTraveler 6000 is a rugged and powerful
security flash drive that is perfect for keeping
your data safe and secure while on the move.
Mark Woodstone is a security consultant that works for a large Internet Presence Provider (IPP) that
serves about 4000 clients from 30 countries worldwide.
Here are some of the Twitter feeds we follow closely and can recommend to anyone interested in
learning more about security, as well as engaging in interesting conversations on the subject.
If you want to suggest an account to be added to this list, send a message to @helpnetsecurity
on Twitter. Our favorites for this issue are:
Rafal Los - Enterprise & Cloud Security Strategist at HP Software.
Kent Lawson and Jillian Ryan on privacy and online security.
Ryan Russell - Director of Information Security at BigFix.
RSA Conference's 12th annual European event at the Hilton London Metropole saw information security professionals gathering from more than 50
countries to learn and share industry knowledge.
The event featured 11 tracks with more than
70 sessions covering a host of topical subjects including Hackers & Threats, Network &
Mobile Security, Hacktivism, Advanced Persistent Threats and Cyber Crime.
Overall attendance was at 1,225 with a 30%
increase in paid delegates compared to last
The Conference agenda included a high profile line-up of keynote speakers including:
Conference Central, the hub of RSA Conference Europe 2011, provided delegates with
demonstrations from some of the top names
in information security: Qualys, Microsoft,
RSA, Symantec, Cisco Systems, HOB, Arbor
Networks, Secunia and many more.
• Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World
Wide Web
• Stefano Grassi, VP Security and Safety,
Poste Italiane
• Hugh Thompson, Chief Security Strategist,
People Security.
Catherine Long, RSA Conference Europe
Manager said: “Increased attendance year on
year proves that organizations of all sizes realise the value of IT security education and
training - even in a tough economic climate.
The combination of our highly-rated content
tracks and excellent networking opportunities,
continue to ensure RSA Conference Europe is
the premier event in the European IT security
RSA Conference Europe 2012 will be held on 9th - 11th October in London, UK. The call for
speakers will open in February 2012.
In the last ten years, networks have exploded in size and complexity due to
the convergence to the Internet Protocol (IP) and an increase in mobility. Enterprise networks with a wireless offering, IP Telephony (IPT) and consultant
access are considered the norm by employees who now have the same facilities at home. Printers, IPT, smartphones, tablets, consumer routers, gaming
consoles, UPS, building maintenance systems, etc. are all about network
connectivity nowadays.
This is in addition to the traditional desktops
and laptops that demand more and more
bandwidth and network accesses of all sorts.
Fast, secure and reliable network access is
simply mandatory in today's communication
This growth has been somewhat organic and
some organizations simply do not understand
who or what is on their internal network anymore. Even worse, network administrators are
no longer sure how the whole thing holds together. This can lead to several security and
compliance problems without even touching
the network troubleshooting aspect.
PacketFence (and, to some extent, NAC solutions in general) tries to address some of
these problems:
• Only authorized devices and users can get
access to the network
• Ability to control that access in order to give
more or less rights depending on user's properties
• Ability to communicate instructions to users
through a Web browser (captive portal)
• Provide guest access with some form of
• Eliminate certain types of traffic or malware
at the edge of your network
• Find out what is on your LAN.
other way around. Customization is more
deeply covered later on.
Released under the GPL license, PacketFence is an enterprise-grade NAC software
mainly developed by Inverse Inc.
Before we start: if you've tried PacketFence
more than two years ago, you should give it
another shot, we've revamped the documentation, the captive portal and the whole wireless and 802.1X integration, just to name a
Tackling "enterprise grade" first, allow me to
explain what we mean. This software is meant
to scale. Radically scale. We have seen large
environments with 30 000 registered devices
on the same server. Of course, this comes at
a price. It is not your “drop here connect two
cables” type of NAC appliance you might be
familiar with. It is not for the faint of heart but
nothing this audience can't grasp.
Another enterprise feature is the customization because NAC needs to be adapted to
your existing networks and processes, not the
Finally, enterprise-grade also means supporting IPT (in Voice VLANs), integration into existing authentication sources and support for
routed environments - all things PacketFence
With that out of the way, let's get into the meat
of the matter: How does it work?
Out of band enforcement at the network edge
with port-security, MAC-Authentication or
The access enforcement is performed on the
edge (L2 or L3 switch, fat access point, wireless controller) and is completely out of band,
which allows the solution to scale geographically and be more resilient to failures. SNMP
Traps based techniques (we recommend portsecurity), MAC-Authentication and 802.1X are
all supported. The access separation is done
by assigning Virtual LANs (VLANs) and Access List (ACL) support is in the works.
Captive portal.
Captive portal
The captive portal is the Web-based interface
presented when the user tries to access any
website. Those familiar with Wi-Fi hotspots in
cafes know exactly what it is about.
We are able to present it to users because we
control the VLAN where they see the portal. In
this VLAN, DNS is black-holed to reply always
with PacketFence's IP (its IP in that VLAN)
No client side agent
One of the early design decisions for PacketFence was for it to be agent-less. That is, no
client-side piece of software required for its
operation. This makes the process more
transparent, less intrusive and supports
emerging devices.
and we perform a URL redirection trick so we
can be in full valid HTTPS.
Regarding user authentication, it supports
several authentication back-ends: LDAP, Active Directory (AD), Kerberos, RADIUS. It is
fully translatable. The captive portal also powers the remediation system where users are
presented with instructions for the particular
situation they are in, reducing costly help desk
can be used: malware, spyware, network attacks, policy, etc. Combined with the remediation portal it really takes Intrusion Prevention
System (IPS) to the next level.
Isolating devices
In order to perform device isolation, PacketFence supports several techniques. They vary
greatly in scope but put together it's quite a
comprehensive system.
Next, you can do OS or device type identification using DHCP signatures. This approach
turned out to be so successful that we unveiled a spin-off project focused on building
tools and maintaining the DHCP signature database called FingerBank (,
which we unveiled at the last Defcon in Las
First, we integrate with an Intrusion Detection
System (IDS), Snort, to allow any given rule to
generate an action on the system. Any ruleset
With this you can reliably identify IP phones,
printers or consumer routers hidden in a
Then, we enter the realm of client side policy
checking. Being agent-less, this is achievable
by Nessus (a non-free software) with the
proper credentials to access the local system
through the network. Something more integrated and less expensive is in the works but
you'll have to read on to know what. Optional
agent integration is also possible.
Other means of isolation are provided but we
won't cover here: Rogue DHCP Servers, MAC
Address Vendors and browser User-Agents.
The system supports the following actions on
the violations described above: isolation plus
remediation, auto-registration, email or log.
This flexible system leads to an unforeseen
use case.
A customer told us that they are using PacketFence and its MAC address violation to spot
thieves. Allow me to explain: A network user
reported the fact that his laptop was stolen.
The network administrators were able to find
the device with the user's username and they
then created a violation on both its wired and
wireless MAC. With this in place, the next time
the thief connects to the establishment with
the stolen property, an email with the exact
switch and port details will be sent to the network administrators. Now that's cool! I hope
they’ll catch him.
Web Administration interface
In addition to a full command line interface, a
Web-based interface exists for all management tasks. It supports different permission
levels for users and the authentication of users against LDAP or Microsoft Active Directory.
Web Administration interface.
Recently added features
In version 3.0, we've added support for in-line
enforcement. This is an in-band mode added
to support unmanageable devices such as
entry-level consumer switches or access
points. PacketFence becomes the gateway of
that in-line network and forwards the traffic
using firewall rules according to a device's
Being able to perform both in-line and VLAN
enforcement on the same server at the same
time is the real advantage: it allows organizations to maintain maximum security and scalability while they deploy new and more capable network hardware providing a clean migration path to VLAN enforcement. This means
one single PacketFence server can act as a
NAC/IPS for both wired and wireless networks
covering several access strategies and
handling both managed and unmanaged network hardware.
The integration with network hardware is
where things get tricky.
Starting with version 3.0 PacketFence supports guests out of the box. You configure
your network so that the guest VLAN only
goes out to the Internet and the registration
VLAN and the captive portal are the components used to explain to the guest how to register for access and how the access works.
This is usually branded by the organization
offering the access.
Adapting to your network
Several means of registering guests are possible:
First, go through the network device configuration guide and apply proper configuration
changes to your network hardware. Then you
need to decide what VLAN segmentation
strategy you want to adopt. The default one
has been designed out of experience and is
flexible enough for most network configurations. Your existing per-switch VLAN tags
where you want enforcement are assigned to
PacketFence's symbolic VLAN system. At this
level, users are assigned the “normalVlan” if
they are registered and have no violation.
• Manual registration of the guests (in advance, password of the day, in bulk, by import)
• Self-registration (with or without credentials)
• Guest access activated by email confirmation
• Guest access activated by mobile phone
confirmation (using SMS).
With every release since 3.0, guest management has been improved and new techniques
Installation options
We offer a pre-configured virtual-machine appliance for VMware (both ESX and Desktop
flavors). It's called PacketFence Zero Effort
NAC (ZEN) and it's ideal for trying it out but
also suitable as the basis for a virtual deployment. (
Also, a full installation can be performed on
top of a RedHat Enterprise (or CentOS) Linux
system using the built-in YUM package manager and our package repository. Detailed instructions covering the installation process are
present in the Administration guide freely
available on our website. (
One last thing about installation - we recommend building an active-passive cluster because of the critical nature of an access control solution. Instructions for doing so are
available in our documentation. That said, the
installation of the server component is certainly not the hardest part of deploying NAC.
In this section we assume that the access enforcement flavor used is the VLAN based device isolation. The in-line based approach is
not covered because it consists solely of a flat
network up to the PacketFence server.
Network configuration
This can be further extended with the node
category concept where a category can map
to such a symbolic VLAN. For example, a different VLAN can be assigned to your printers
(if categorized properly) based on what
equipment they are connected to. This implies
that you can easily have per-building and perdevice type VLANs. Users or printers will be
free to move around and will always be assigned the VLAN with the correct visibility
based on the switch they are plugged in. Your
VLAN topology can be kept as is and only two
new VLANs will need to be added throughout
your network: registration VLAN and isolation
Since we believe in adaptability we also created a VLAN assignment extension mechanism that allows you to return any VLAN tag
by writing only a couple of lines of Perl code.
This extension point has access to all the information about the network device connected
to, information about the device connecting or
the connection mechanism used. We've seen
admin bypass VLAN where a connecting administrator would get access to the management VLAN upon connection, per SSID
VLANs, per username VLANs, per computer
hostname VLANs, etc.
Captive portal
The second thing you are likely to adapt to
your needs is the captive portal. The portal is
a very convenient way to talk to your users
and making it easy to use and adapted to your
use case can save a great deal of angry users
and support calls. Of course, branding it is important and that's why it is built using a template engine that produces XHTML/CSS. By
changing only the CSS you can effectively
brand the portal to your organization's image.
If you need to change more, the templates
can be modified to provide more information
or alter the usual signup workflow. For example, a different portal layout only for mobile
devices can be built explaining additional risks
and responsibilities to these users.
Also, since the portal is over HTTPS you can
also take the opportunity to distribute clientside certificates or any other sensitive content
so that your users can secure themselves
even more.
One last aspect of the captive portal that you
might want to change are the remediation
pages which are presented to users with an
active violation. Each violation, be it triggered
by an IDS, policy check or banned OS, is as-
signed to a remediation template and the
template controls the exact content that is displayed to the user. This is another great way
to save costs by avoiding help desk calls. For
example, you can use these pages to distribute specific virus removal utilities, OS patches
or tell users to close their Peer-to-Peer (p2p)
software. More remediation templates can be
added and linked to new violation types making it easy to adapt to your needs.
Optionally, you might want to alter the workflow of the system. Let's say you want to avoid
the captive portal if users are strongly authenticating (through 802.1X / EAP-PEAP, EAPTLS, etc.). It is possible to do so without affecting core code.
Among other official extension points, there
• Captive portal authentication modules
• Captive portal back-end API
• In-line behavior
• RADIUS handler
Relying on extensions instead of changing
code (even if it's open source) is very important to make upgrades smoother.
PacketFence offers several deployment strategies to
make a migration as smooth as possible
Deployment strategies
Now that you've adapted the solution to your
reality, it's time to think about how to roll it out.
Due to the intrusive nature of NAC, it needs to
be carefully deployed if one wants to avoid
user frustration and loss of productivity. PacketFence acknowledges that and offers several
deployment strategies to make the migration
as smooth as possible.
First, everything can be done in steps meaning that you can enable PacketFence on individual network hardware components and
even individual access ports. But even before
that, you can install PacketFence and make it
listen to your DHCP traffic with a little IPHelpers forwarding change in your network.
With this low impact change you will see all
the devices connected to your network show
up and be identified - MAC addresses, hostnames and OS identification, all populated in
the database. So this is already a first step in
increasing your knowledge of your network.
For a truly smooth migration, one would ideally make sure that the devices already present and trusted would be handled automatically without requiring captive portal signup.
This is possible in several ways. For example,
if you have an existing detailed inventory of
your devices, you can import all the MAC addresses directly into PacketFence and mark
them as registered. Another technique would
be to put the switches in registration mode in
PacketFence's configuration and enable linkup SNMP traps on the access ports. For every
trap received, PacketFence will reach the
switch, query the MAC Address and add it as
registered to the database if it's a port it would
Then enable your chosen access control
mechanism on a per switch basis and optionally keep non-user facing ports (printers, etc.)
as exceptions for the first rollout. As you deploy, you'll get a sense of how well things go
and can increase the rollout speed.
The same level of control is also available on
the isolation features as well. At first, you can
only log on violation events. Then, as you feel
more familiar with who would be isolated and
validated against false-positive, you can enable the full VLAN isolation.
Taking the time to deploy properly is important
and with the above tips the experience can be
smooth for both administrators and users.
What's the catch?
You've read all this and wondering how can
Inverse run a business by giving away for free
what others sell at a fairly high price? No,
there are no proprietary paid-for components
for the software to integrate to your enterprise
infrastructure. There is no per IP, per device,
per feature license fee. The company is focused on offering professional services
around PacketFence including deployment
expertise, support services and custom development. Most of the customizations we do for
clients are directly integrated into PacketFence unless they are too specific to one customer.
The catch is that, being an open source project, we tend to release often, maybe a bit too
much for most enterprise customers but no
one is forcing anyone to update. Also, the solution is arguably harder to use and setup than
products from companies who have more resources. Internals of the solution tend to be
more exposed - especially all the classic open
source tools we build on top of: Linux,
Apache, FreeRADIUS, ISC's DHCP, Bind,
Net-SNMP. We like to call "this avoiding vendor lock-in" - instead of exposing a hard-totroubleshoot monolith, we give you the keys to
the components you are already familiar with.
Lastly, the project is managed like a true
community open source project. Development
is done in the open: code repository, bug
tracker, mailing lists, documentation, etc, and
everything is freely accessible to anyone.
Upcoming features
By the time you read this (or soon thereafter)
we will have a version of PacketFence released with Microsoft's Statement of Health
(SoH) support added.
SoH benefits greatly our client-side policy
compliance checks. SoH are indications encapsulated in 802.1X or DHCP that include
host information sent by Microsoft's operating
systems. Applied to PacketFence, this will allow an administrator, for example, to deny
network access to devices which do not have
an antivirus program installed, or do not have
the latest updates, and all this without requiring the presence of a client-side agent. Also,
SoH support on other operating systems is in
the works.
We also have a longer term goal to do an aggressive revamp of the Web Administration
interface. Several changes are undergoing to
make it even more responsive and powerful.
Follow us on Twitter - @packetfence.
Olivier Bilodeau is a system architect at Inverse. He spoke at Defcon 19 but also lectures on system security
at École de technologie supérieure University (ETS) in Montreal, Canada. His past experiences made him
travel into dusty Unix server rooms, obfuscated perl code and expensive enterprise networks. On his free time
he enjoys several Capture-the-Flags security competition a year with the (in)famous CISSP Groupies and
Amish Security teams, hacking perl, doing open source development and brewing beer. You can read his occasional blog posts at or follow him on Twitter @obilodeau.
Raj Samani is currently working as the VP, CTO for McAfee EMEA, having previously worked as the CISO for a large public sector organization in the UK.
He volunteers as the Cloud Security Alliance EMEA Strategy Advisor, and is
on the advisory council for Infosecurity Europe.
As we move forward and the industry
takes care of some threats, new ones
emerge on the radar almost instantly. Will
we ever be able to get ahead in this race?
Researching and developing new security
controls to meet the evolving threat is a continual process. As new controls are developed
new threats arise in an attempt to circumvent
these very controls, and so the process repeats itself.
When I was in an operational role, I alway felt
like the brave Dutch boy Hans Brinker. Legend has it that he prevented the flooding of
the city of Haarlem by plugging his finger in a
hole in a dike. Unfortunately, for us the holes
are many and we’re in a constant race to plug
With so many threats, so many connected
systems and so much information to protect, it
truly is a constant process.
I suppose that’s the biggest challenge, because the bad guys need only one mistake,
one small oversight, or one overly helpful employee and all of that hard work can be undone.
Every day we see a constant barrage of malicious activity designed to steal or disrupt
something, whether that be intellectual property, an identity, bandwidth, or anything else
for that matter. For every story about a breach
there are literally billions of attacks that have
been prevented. So what lies ahead? As we
can see, it’s not an easy question to answer!
With an incessant evolution of a rapidmoving threat landscape, can we expect
there to be a stronger artificial intelligence
(AI) component in future computer security
products? In what ways could such products complement and, ultimately, enhance
current information security defenses?
Well, you could argue that in many cases this
is already happening. Today’s technology
does allow us to exceed human limits, with
further developments happening all the time.
For example, I was recently invited to view an
advanced cyber intelligence operation that
would scan the web looking for specific pieces
of information. Traditionally, this would have
required considerable manual intervention to
fully understand the context of the information,
and any possible links to other streams of information.
What I saw, however, were automated systems undertaking a huge portion of the work,
to allow human analysts the opportunity to focus on manageable chunks of information.
These type of approaches will become more
prevalent and, quite frankly, absolutely necessary. Take for example the recent McAfee
Threat report - it reported approximately 12
million unique malware samples for the first
half of 2011 alone.
What this statistic clearly demonstrates is that
the sheer volume of threats has by far exceeded anything a human has the time to
manually sift through. The development of
smarter systems to analyze and flag up
anomalies is essential because we simply
cannot do it otherwise. This represents only
one use case, but there are of course many
other possibilities.
I would strongly encourage all security professionals to consider
memberships in professional associations, regularly attending security events, as well as staying on top of the latest trends and news.
Our digital lives are surrounded by a threat
landscape ruled by cybercriminals that
have, for all intents and purposes, endless
resources, while organizations need management approval for all their tools. What
steps can large organizations take in order
to start being one step in front of the bad
I don’t want this answer to come across as
simply churning out acronyms and text book
theory, but I am probably going to have to
here! Staying one step ahead is a continual
process, and I may have to put forward the
Plan – Do – Check – Act (PDCA) model.
It really is doing your due diligence by identifying your assets, and determining the level of
security you are likely to require in order to
protect these assets, implementing these controls (or of course you can accept the risk),
monitoring and putting in corrective measures
where required. Once done repeat the process again, and then again, and so on.
We should also recognize the need for appropriate information. Not only is this important
during the Plan phase, but also being fully
aware of the latest controls available that can
support the identification of appropriate controls.
I would strongly encourage all security professionals to consider memberships in professional associations, regularly attending security events, as well as staying on top of the
latest trends and news. This industry changes
so quickly, and being not only aware of it, but
also understanding the potential impact it can
have to your organization is imperative.
Just as important is the opportunity to meet
your peers, who may have faced some of the
challenges you might be facing today. Learning and sharing information (e.g. best practice) in a trusted fashion can help organizations stay one step in front of the bad guys.
This past decade has seen remarkable advances in information security technologies. However, the growing complexity of
managing a large security architecture
while keeping up with new attack vectors
sometimes takes a toll on patching procedures.
Based on your experience, are we ever going to approach a defensive infrastructure
that can quickly adapt to new security
challenges while still remaining small and
Without a doubt, the question and approach
when patching systems is one of the most
hotly debated questions amongst security professionals. It was only a few weeks ago when
this question was discussed at a recent roundtable event and the room was divided on
whether an organization should test all
patches and updates, or simply roll out these
updates without any formal testing. While the
former approach may seem reasonable, you
have to consider that in many cases malware
can appear almost as quickly as a patch becomes available.
One of the first papers I wrote discussed this
very issue in which early malware variants
were released months after the patches appeared (331 days in one particular case), but
in 2005 we saw examples where these figures
were drastically reduced (The Zotob worm
was released three working days after the
The simple question of testing becomes a
huge resource issue if it demands formal approval within 48 hours of a patch becoming
available (you still have to apply the patch). In
fact, consider the number of different platforms and hardware variants within most environments, and multiply this by the number of
updates being released. All of a sudden the
question of testing moves from not "should I?"
but rather "can I?"
Many organizations recognize these huge
burdens, and have begun to implement compensating controls that reduce the need to
patch so frequently. Without doubt we are
more than ever going to see this approach
gain wider popularity. Equally the number of
resources to maintain a wide scale and frequent patching cycle is only likely to decrease
as organizations review budgets, and security
threats demand attention in many other areas
of the enterprise. I would expect to see considerably more automation, the continued
adoption of white listing technologies, as well
as use the continued use of compensating
During the last few years, one of the main
trends in the business of information security has been large companies buying
small players and integrating their technologies into their product line. Do you
think fewer players with large security
portfolios can produce better security?
Why? Will this trend of mergers and acquisitions that consolidates a significant
number of products bring more innovation
or eventually slow down new development?
We are certainly seeing many acquisitions
within the information security industry, but on
the flip side we are in a period where we are
seeing an unprecedented number of technology startups that in many cases focus specifically on security solutions. The continuously
growing threat landscape, evolving regulatory
environment as well as new business requirements means that the industry cannot
slow down new development.
In fact, I would also argue that we are now
seeing greater innovation, not less; this is
driven by a real shift in the way we as a society use technology, but also because we see
more threats today than at any time in our history. These threats are not only growing in
volume, but also complexity which, in turn,
demands greater innovation.
The case can also be made that larger security companies themselves represent the
greatest opportunity to bring more innovative
solutions to industry. Firstly by being able to
assign greater resources should a particular
threat or trend demand greater attention. Second, by having a broader portfolio it does provide the opportunity to have a broader view of
particular threats making new solutions more
RSA Conference 2012
Moscone Center, San Francisco
27 February-2 March 2012.
InfoSec World Conference & Expo 2012
Disney's Contemporary Resort, Orlando
2-4 April 2012.
Infosecurity Europe 2012
Earls Court, London
24-26 April 2012.
HITBSecConf Amsterdam 2012
Okura Hotel, Amsterdam
24-26 April 2012.
Security is certainly a word that conjures up strong mental images. These images differ massively depending on one’s background, experiences and
points of reference. When people hear the word security, its meaning can
range from a security guard (or physical security), a password (or IT security)
or possibly for the more trained individual to a combination of all of these.
Throughout my career in security, the prevailing image that we all have to work hard to
shake is a negative one. Viewing security or
the security department as a hindrance to
business operations rather than as an enabler
continues to be a running theme in the minds
of many company employees. Increased security becomes a burden, makes it harder for
them to do their job and, thus, security gains a
bad reputation.
Compliance vs. risk
The days of rules that are either to be obeyed
to the letter or completely ignored should be
long gone. However, with the pressure that
compliance standards such as PCI DSS exert
on driving security programs, the corporate
appetite for risk-based security - in many
places at least - remains financially driven.
The ideal situation in which risk-based decisions are the result of the real experience of
security professionals seems far away.
Hopefully this shift will begin to gather momentum and will present a real opportunity for
good security professionals to demonstrate
their worth. It would also place a much greater
emphasis on the individual to make decisions
that not only have impact on the organization
but on the security profession as a whole. This
makes it all the more important for security to
be perceived as a business enabler and for
the security department to be trusted when it
comes to thinking about the operations of a
business and not just blindly increasing security measures in isolation.
Social networking
A very good example of the on-going struggle
between archaic security professionals and
the rapid rate of technological innovation is
presented by social networking.
In a previous role, I was horrified to discover
that employees had completely unfettered and
unrestricted access to Facebook throughout
the working day. Having come from a strict
defense environment where it was almost impossible to send a legitimate email without
jumping through numerous security controls,
this was a complete eye opener.
My initial reaction was to have the site blocked
and prevent the entire organization from having access to it. However, after an investigation, it became apparent that in the modern
world there were many legitimate reasons why
the organization - which utilized the power of
social media for PR and marketing – should
have continuous access to those sites.
ing your enemies closer” is certainly apt in this
case - the enemy, naturally, being the social
networking site.
This last example raises the issue of “reputational risk”, an area of knowledge sadly lacking within modern corporate security programs. In this day and age of instant communication it is the reputation of a company that
decides its future. We have recently witnessed
with Sony how publicized security breaches
can have a catastrophic effect on the reputation and ultimately the financial capacity of
large businesses, let alone that of SMEs.
Situations like that one present a definite opportunity for the modern security professional
to stop “fire-fighting” - as is the tendency
within any immature security function - and
begin creating the conditions to deal with the
future threat landscape through proactive and
enabling security.
Readdressing the balance
There are many other examples of how social
networking can be integrated well into a business with impressive and even relatively secure results.
How do we change this negative image of security and demonstrate that security really can
help and enable a business to succeed and
This was an early example of my security expertise and you will be glad to know it takes
much more to shock me now. But, it provides
a good example of the mindset of many security management professionals, even today.
The first and most important part of any security program is communication. Users are incredibly sensitive to all degrees of change.
Those in some organizations are more so
than others, but the theory remains the same:
no matter how susceptible to change a workforce is, we need to take a pragmatic approach to communication.
Social networking poses a significant threat to
the reputation of any organization when left
unchecked. In my experience, embracing
technological change whilst managing the risk
posed by it effectively is always going to be
the most efficient way of dealing with these
instances. We are all well aware of the psychological impact of telling someone they are
“not allowed” to do something - it simply
makes the end goal more attractive and encourages circumvention of security controls.
For example: the creation of a corporate
Facebook page that is well managed allows
an organization to monitor both positive and
negative feedback. Failing to use that option
could result in the company being completely
unaware of how its customers view its products and/or services. The old adage of “
Keeping the end-user informed is paramount
during any process of change, ensuring that
we effectively communicate why we are making changes, how it will affect them in their
daily work and, most importantly, establishing
a channel for feedback to demonstrate that we
do listen and are sympathetic to their needs.
The second most important tool for gaining
acceptance as a business function is closely
related to communication but not the same:
approachability. Many security professionals
maintain an almost dictator-like relationship
with a business refusing to accept that any
form of risk is acceptable.
This scarily familiar state of affairs is only being increased by the growing trend of choosing compliance over risk management.
Micro-management in security, where organizations, bodies or regulators enforce strict and
inflexible demands on companies, leads to a
move towards the “tick-box” mentality.
The need to satisfy an auditor with a single
instance of feigned compliance becomes the
goal. We need to replace this with a focus on
developing a fit-for-purpose security management function that is continually improving.
It may take a little longer to implement but the
rewards are obvious.
The newest phrase on the market appears to
be BYOD, or “Bring Your Own Device”. An example of the dictator-like approach to security
is evident when you mention this to many security professionals. An immediate barrier is
raised in their minds: “How could it be a viable
option to allow employees to utilize their own
devices? This can’t possibly be secure.”
These people will find it extremely difficult to
challenge the CEO however, given that their
argument will be pitted against massive annual savings, and this is another excellent example showing that their efforts should be focused on managing the real risk posed by this
development rather than fighting a losing battle.
Unfortunately, in this age of recession and tight budgets the
money is not always available for “gold plated” solutions
and we have to, therefore, find new and innovative ways
of addressing risk, and do so pragmatically.
Gold plated solutions
Unfortunately, in this age of recession and
tight budgets the money is not always available for “gold plated” solutions and we have
to, therefore, find new and innovative ways of
addressing risk, and do so pragmatically.
This demonstrates to the organization a willingness to overcome hurdles in a way that limits impact to the end user and drives operational effectiveness.
way in breaking down the barriers between
the security function and the business as a
whole. We can do this through good security
awareness training and ongoing education.
Simple but effective techniques are setting up
a centralized security inbox and encouraging
employees to ask questions about security,
which we then make the effort to answer, or
asking for ideas for security improvements
and responding in kind.
Having held the senior security role within
both large and small organizations, I find that
it is impossible for a single individual to do
everything. So, we need to use the third tool:
empower the employee’s within our organizations to do some of the work for us.
This allows employees to feel that they are
involved in the security effort and goes some
We can really make a big difference if we put
our minds to it. Be pragmatic and approachable; utilize your natural communication skills
to “sell” security. After all, proving yourself to
be an essential part of any business is certainly not going to damage your careers and who knows? - you might even enjoy it.
Craig Goodwin is the CSO at Benefex. Craig started his career with the Military where he gained his experience as an Intelligence and security Professional. Since then he has lead on security for a number of high
profile public and private organizations.
For several months I have been analyzing mostly Android and a few Windows
Phone 7 apps and it’s amazing how when it comes to development practices,
developers have gone back to the '90s.
Developing apps for smartphones is easy, fun
and in some cases can provide a fast ROI. All
this has started an avalanche of apps for the
major platforms, but that doesn’t mean we
should ignore the knowledge we acquired
from past experiences with standalone clients
and web apps, and start once again developing insecure apps. What about OWASP Top
plenty of literature on how to identify and protect against these issues exists. There is no
excuse for this lack of secure development
practices among mobile developers.
Through the course of my research, I was
able to identify well-known bugs on popular
apps (games, banking, finance, security,
communications and social apps) that should
not be there.
Now let’s move on by analyzing in greater detail some of these bugs with the hope they will
stop being introduced into mobile apps.
I’m sure there are many more bugs that I’m
not covering here, but Figure 1 on the following page provides some of the bugs I've seen
so far.
This bug is an old classic that occurs when
the developer does not care to protect some
sensitive information by using cryptography or
by other security means because he considers the underlying platform to be safe from
It is quite scary that some of these bugs are
still being found on brand new apps when
I agree it is not only developers’ (independent
software vendors’) fault but also the major
mobile houses’, but we will talk more about
that later.
Clear text secrets
Figure 1 - Common bugs on mobile apps.
An example of this type of bug is CVE-20111840, where the app does not encrypt the
master password and is stored in an .xml file
in clear text. Both Android and WP7 provide a
number of convenient and easy storage
mechanisms that the apps can use to store
persistent information. However, security must
be managed by the developer himself (see
Table 1 – Data storage providers).
Usually this bug on Android can be found by
examining the application directory as shown
in Code Box 1 on the following page.
Data Storage Providers
Data Storage
Shared Preferences
Store private primitive data in key-value pairs
Internal Storage
Store private data on the device memory
External Storage
SQLite Databases
Store public data on the shared external storage
Store structured data in a private database
Network Connection
Store data on the web with your own network server
Windows Phone 7
Data Storage
Isolated Storage
Isolated storage enables managed applications to create and maintain
local storage
Store data on the web
Network Connection
Table 1 – Data storage providers.
Code Box 1.
Insecure channels
sniff data, especially if you keep in mind that
many users use smartphones over Wi-Fi.
Many mobile apps communicate with systems
on the Internet, using web services to exchange information, updates and such. The
issue arises when the information in transit is
not secure because encryption is not used to
protect the channel.
An attacker can spy on the communication
between the smartphone and the server and
An example of this practice is when an app
creates a URL query using a HTTP GET
method with no encryption and includes sensitive information (see Code Box 2). Besides
the obvious issues, the developers forgot that
GET requests are often stored in logs (proxy,
web servers, etc.).
Code Box 2.
Debug code enabled
While developing an app, it is common practice to add debug routines to the code. The
issue arises when the developer forgets to
remove these debug routines and the app
ships with debugging enabled. Android apps
can be debugged using Dalvik Debug Monitor
Server (DDMS) but it also provides some
classes such as util. Log and Debug that can
be used inside an app. On Windows Phone 7
we can use Visual Studio 2010 for debugging.
Code Box 3 shows an Android app where the
developer encapsulated the debug classes
into a custom class but forgot to disable the
debug flag when the app was shipped.
Dynamic SQL
Everyone has heard about SQL Injections but
one can still find plenty of applications (mobile
and otherwise) that suffer from this type of
bug due to the use of Dynamic SQL and lack
of data validation.
Code Box 3.
I would imagine that when it comes to mobile
apps, developers are not that concerned
about SQL Injections since the databases are
very simplistic – Android uses SQLite to store
data, and Windows Phone 7 none natively; for
databases support on WP7 we need to use
externally services like SQL Azure.
As smartphones and tablets are entering into
corporate networks and companies are deploying Line of Business (LOB) apps, developers should take action to prevent these
types of bugs. We could argue they are hard
to exploit but worst things have happened in
the past.
Code Box 4 contains an example of an app
that stores information into the database
(SQLite) using Dynamic SQL and no data
validation, allowing an attacker controlling the
paramString value to perform SQL injection
Code Box 4.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
XSS is another old classic when it comes to
application security. XSS and SQL Injection
bugs are the most common type of bugs on
web apps (see OWASP Top 10). There is
plenty of literature and solutions against XSS
but it still pops up everywhere. SQL Injection
and XSS are hard to exploit but should not be
underestimated in the mobile space.
As this is old news and I will not spend too
much time on the subject, just be careful
when using WebView class on Android and
WebClient or HttpWebRequest classes on
Windows Phone 7.
PII compromise
Google and Apple have lately been accused
of gathering information about their users’ location. But if we analyze mobile apps we see
this pattern is quite common for both small
and big independent software vendors - they
gather a lot of information about their users.
Phone back home
When loading, many apps typically connect
back to servers to check for updates or other
types of information. By itself this should not
be a problem, however combined with other
issues such as PII compromise and insecure
channels, it could present a big problem.
Honestly, I am not sure what is worse - that
the big players gather information on my location or that companies I have never heard of
gather the same or even more information.
I have seen plenty of mobile apps that phone
back home to update information and in some
cases share too much information. While analyzing an app, watch out for how and what information is sent back to servers, since the
users usually have no control over it.
Code Box 5 is a good example of a mobile
app that gathers too much information (such
as the device name, OS version, model, etc.)
from the device. Being that this is a financial
app, one could argue about the vendor’s need
to collect all that. Sure, there are different OS
versions and screen sizes but I’m still not
convinced they need all that information.
Code Box 5.
Mixing social features
Today it’s all about being social; if you are not
on Facebook and Twitter, you don’t exist to
the online world. Again, this is not an issue by
itself but the risks arise when apps try to add
social capabilities by integrating services like
Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and similar
with insecure development practices.
During the research I discovered banking
apps that integrate Facebook (not sure why
you need your friends while you pay your
bills). Unfortunately, Facebook accounts were
not protected correctly by the application developer (clear text secrets).
Also, why should the bank get access to your
friends contact list (PII compromise)?
Being social is good but there is a limit and
developers should think about that when developing their apps. If an app needs to integrate social features it must be done securely,
following secure development practices.
In Code Box 6 we can see an example where
an app doesn’t perform any data validation on
the input provided by the user. The developer
assumes that all of the context is good and
trusts the user (they would never enter malicious code, right?).
Data validation
It is a fact that many bugs are related to a lack
of data validation and, unfortunately, mobile
apps are no exception. And they are plenty
and easy to find since developers don’t check
data for safe content, length, type, and such.
By examining the code we can also observe
that the data is saved to the platform log file,
which presents an additional problem. An attacker could, for example, try to fill the logs
with junk and trigger a DoS since mobile devices have limited disk space, or insert malicious code to logs and wait for some vulnerable tool to open the log.
Code Box 6.
This type of bug is still quite common on all
sorts of applications. There are plenty of
checklists and security tools to perform data
validation so there are no more excuses. See
Table 2 for some of these tools but keep in
mind these libraries are not focused on mobile
development. For better guides on data validation see OWASP Data Validation.
OWASP AntiSamy
OWASP AntiSamy
Microsoft Web Protection Library (WPL)
Table 2 - Data validation libraries.
Weak crypto algorithms
A developer should never try to develop his or
her own crypto algorithm, as this is just a recipe for failure. Instead, developers should take
advantage of proven libraries that use strong
algorithms like AES and such.
Both platforms offer strong cryptographic algorithms to choose from, but the issue arises
when the developer implements them ineffectively or chooses the incorrect solution like
using a hash algorithm with no salt to encrypt
sensitive information.
MS SDL Approved Cryptographic Algorithms
(ripped from Microsoft SDL) are a good recommendation on how to select and securely
use a cryptography algorithm for your app
Algorithm Type
Acceptable (algorithms
Banned (algorithms to be
acceptable for existing
replaced in existing code or
code, except sensitive
used only for decryption)
Recommended (algorithms for new code)
Symmetric Block
DES, DESX, RC2, SKIPJACK 3DES (2 or 3 key)
AES (>=128 bit)
Symmetric Stream
RC4 (>= 128bit)
None, block cipher is preferred
RSA (<2048 bit), DiffieHellman (<2048 bit)
RSA (>=2048bit), DiffieHellman (>=2048bit)
RSA (>=2048bit), DiffieHellman (>=2048bit), ECC
SHA-2 (includes: SHA-256,
SHA-384, SHA-512)
Hash (includes HMAC SHA-0 (SHA), SHA-1, MD2,
MD4, MD5
Table 3 - MS SDL approved cryptographic algorithms.
Code Box 7.
At this point, it should be clear that the security state of mobile applications must be improved and that mobile developers need to
understand the risks and follow secure development practices.
Likewise, mobile platform creators need to
come up with security tools and better
documentation/guides on security so that independent software vendors can use them to
develop secure apps.
Hopefully research can raise awareness
about mobile app security and we can start
fixing things.
Most security researchers focus on the platform itself but what’s the point of having a secure platform when you have thousands of
insecure apps running on top of it?
It is crucial that mobile app security becomes
important as many mobile devices (iPads,
Android tablets and possibly starting next year
Windows 8 tablets) are being introduced into
corporate networks, as well as an array of
smartphones from a variety of companies
breaking traditional security defenses. It goes
without saying that users need to raise concerns about the security and privacy of smartphones and apps - they have to demand better security. The security industry needs to
start raising the awareness of the dangers of
lousy mobile app security.
I will continue with the research, analyzing
more apps and other platforms to create a
better framework of mobile app bugs and how
to deal with them.
Here are a few recommendations for addressing the security of mobile apps:
Simon Roses Femerling (CISSP, CSSLP, CEH, Executive MBA) is an independent security researcher. He can
be reached via his blog ( or via Twitter (@simonroses).
This year's edition of the Virus Bulletin security conference was held at the
Hesperia Tower hotel in Barcelona at the beginning of October. This was my
first time at this particular conference, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but in
the end I was very glad that I attended.
The three-day-long event consisted of halfhour-long presentations divided into two
streams: corporate and technical.
Since the presentations were held in two auditoriums that were separated only by a flight of
stairs, it was easy to go from one to the other
during the 5 minute breaks in between and
catch each planned presentation from start to
To that end, I was extremely pleased with the
organizers as they made sure that the presenters kept to their time limits. In short - it
was a beautifully coordinated event.
I must say that it was tough choosing which
presentations to attend, as both streams were
equally interesting.
Even though one or two of the "corporate"
presentations ended up sharing few new and
helpful details, most of them offered intriguing
insight into specific topics.
Among the technical ones I attended, I enjoyed best the one by Fortinet's Axelle Apvrille
on how to make a cheap mobile malware jail
and ESET's Pierre-Marc Bureau's analysis of
the Kelihos malware.
The choice of having F-Secure's Mikko Hypponen deliver the opening keynote was inspired. Joined by Bob Burls of UK's Police
Central e-Crime Unit, the experienced presenter set the right tone for the conference by
sharing the difficulties and the rewards of
fighting the "good" fight.
An example of the latter were the ones given
by Eli Jellenc of VeriSign-iDefense on the
topic of malicious tools and techniques in a
politicized, militarized cyberspace; Kaspersky
Lab's Fabio Assolini's on the "crazy lives" of
the Brazilian cyber crooks; and's on mapping the activities of
The Virus Bulletin conference is the perfect
place for anti-malware specialists and other
experts in the computer security industry to
exchange knowledge.
With the expo part reduced to a dozen (or
even less) booths and a relatively small mingling area, this year's edition of the conference had a very cozy feel that promoted the
exchange of ideas and offered many networking opportunities.
Zeljka Zorz is the Managing Editor of (IN)SECURE Magazine and Help Net Security.
Photos courtesy of Pavel Baudis, Andreas Marx, Jeannette Jarvis and Filip Chytry.
New techniques for detecting
hardware Trojans
Ramesh Karri, NYU-Poly professor of
electrical and computer engineering.
Most Internet users know
about the existence of
software Trojans, but that
of hardware ones is less
known. They consist of
integrated circuits that
have been modified by
malicious individuals so
that when triggered, they try to disable or
bypass the system's security, or even destroy
the entire chip on which they are located.
Among those is the use of ring oscillators devices composed of and odd number of
inverting logic gates whose voltage output can
reveal whether the circuit has or has not been
tampered with - on circuits.
There are a number of techniques for
detecting hardware Trojans, but they are timeand effort-consuming. So a team of
researchers from the Polytechnic Institute of
New York University (NYU-Poly) and the
University of Connecticut have decided to
search for an easier solution, and came up
with the idea of "designing for trust."
"The 'design for trust' techniques build on
existing design and testing methods," explains
Non-tampered circuits would produce always
the same frequency, but altered ones would
"sound" different. Of course, sophisticated
criminals could find a way to modify the
circuits so that the output is the same, so the
researchers suggest creating a number of
variants of ring oscillator arrangements so that
hardware hackers can't keep track of them.
While the theory does sound good, the
researchers have encountered some difficulty
when it comes to testing it in the real world.
Companies and governments are disinclined
to share what hardware Trojan samples they
may have, since that would require sharing
actual modified hardware that could tip off the
researchers to their proprietary technology or
can endanger national security.
Trojan masquerading as PDF signed
with stolen government certificate
Secure researchers doesn't come as a great
Since the discovery of the
Stuxnet worm, and
especially after the recent
string of certification
authority compromises,
cyber attackers' practice of
using digital certificates to
sign malware and
impersonate popular websites has become
known to everybody in the security
This particular malware is a downloader
Trojan packaged into a PDF file signed with a
certificate belonging to - the
Agricultural Research and Development
Institute of the Government of Malaysia.
Whether these certificates are stolen or issued
fraudulently, the result is the same: the system
is fooled into thinking that thusly signed
applications and phishing websites are
legitimate and harmless.
Seeing that security professionals around the
world are slowly losing faith in the digital
identity certificate system, news that another
piece of malware signed with a stolen code
signing certificate has been discovered by F-
Block cipher encryption effectively
hides banking Trojan
According to the researchers, Malaysian
authorities confirmed the origin of the
certificate and said that it was stolen "quite
some time ago". The certificate is now expired
(it was valid up to September 29, 2011), and
F-Secure does not indicate how old the
malware in question is.
"The malware itself has been spread via
malicious PDF files that drop it after exploiting
Adobe Reader 8," the researchers shared.
"The malware downloads additional malicious
components from a server called Some of those
components are also signed, although this
time by an entity called"
files were actually bitmap image files and that
they contain malware and some other data
encrypted within.
"As far as I know, this is the first time [block
cipher encryption] has been used by malware
writers anywhere in Latin America," he
Brazilian malware peddlers have turned to
encrypting banking Trojans with block ciphers,
effectively bypassing most AV software.
Kaspersky Lab's Dmitry Bestuzhev says that
he noticed it when he stumbled upon a couple
of similarly structured files with a .jpeg
Given the effectiveness of this technique, it's a
wonder they haven't thought about using it
sooner. Not only does it sometimes cause AVs
to turn up inaccurate results, but files such as
these are also difficult to spot for site
administrators, increasing the likelihood of
them being hosted on a compromised site for
a long time.
Bestuzhev expects the encryption algorithm to
change following this discovery and his post,
as the malware authors behind this particular
attack change mirror sites hosting the
malware and the actual malicious payload
every 2-3 days.
He initially thought that steganography was
used, but further analysis revealed that the
Backdoor Trojan pushed via
versatile Facebook campaign
Thanks to its social nature,
Facebook is one of the
preferred tools of cyber
crooks looking to scam
users and peddle malware.
Microsoft recently spotted a
considerably versatile social
engineering campaign used to trick Facebook
users into installing a particularly nasty
backdoor Trojan with keylogging capabilities.
The messages used to lure in users vary, but
they all lead to fake YouTube pages.
Once there, the user is urged to download a
new version of "Video Embed ActiveX Object"
in order to play the video file.
Unfortunately, the offered setup.exe file is the
Caphaw Trojan, which bypasses firewalls,
Significant drop in FakeAV
installs an FTP and a proxy server and a
keylogger on the affected machine.
"It also has built-in remote desktop
functionality based on the open source VNC
project," says Microsoft's Mihai Calota. "We
received a report that a user found this in his
computer and also discovered that money had
been transferred from his bank account by an
unknown party. The keylogging component,
coupled with the remote desktop functionality,
makes it entirely possible for this to have
He advises all users to update their AV
software and scan their computers, and to
change the passwords on all their sensitive
accounts. In case they have noticed a similar
campaign taking advantage of a friend's
account, the should warn him personally and
Facebook by using the "report/mark message
as spam" option.
to-house looking for open windows and
unlocked doors.
However, three of the most notorious malware
families familiar to consumers and businesses
have in fact had significant reductions in the
malware attacks so far this year.
Researchers found that FakeAV dropped from
approximately 45,000 attacks in June to less
than 5,000 in August.
Similarly, Zbot, also known as Zeus, became
less of a threat from nearly 20,000 incidents in
January to nearly negligible levels in
September. Malware cousin SpyEye stayed
under 2,000 incidents throughout the year.
The trend in malicious software and attempted
cyber crime is up but some of the most
popular and visible malware is trending down.
According to lab results from Norman,
researchers in September analyzed and found
more than two million malicious files, or more
than 72,000 files of malware per day pulsing
through the internet like burglars going house-
"The statistics we have compiled can change
quickly if a malware mass-producer starts up
or quits," said Chrisophe Birkeland, Norman
CTO. "But the effects of file-infecting viruses
can be substantial in any case since even one
file infector can create millions of malicious
files even if they are coming from only one
source of malware. Our labs see millions of
files per year, so these trends are quite valid."
Cybercriminals offer complex
infection services
Trusteer Research came across a new group
that besides offering infection services (for
prices between 0.5 and 4.5 cents for each
upload, depending on geography) also
provides polymorphic encryption and AV
checkers. This new one-stop-shop approach
for malicious services is a natural evolution of
the market – if the customers need to infect,
then they also need to evade AV. Why not sell
the whole package?
For Polymorphic encryption of malware
instances they charge from $25 to $50 and for
prevention of malware detection by anti-virus
systems (AV checking) they charge $20 for
one week and $100 for one month of service.
Android officially the primary target
for new mobile malware
It’s a buyer market. Researchers also came
across advertisements published by
prospective buyers of infection services. The
ad basically presets the buying price, how it is
charged and the scope of the service:
• The advertiser pays only for unique uploads
• The calculations will be conducted according
to the advertiser's own Black Hole (exploit kit)
stats module
• The advertiser will pay in advance to the
sellers with recommendations, i.e. those that
have 1-10 "fresh" forum messages.
Otherwise, the sellers will get paid afterwards
• The domains are checked via a malware
scan service website (scan4you) during the
day. If the domain is recognized as blacklisted
on anti-virus databases, the advertiser will
automatically replace it with another.
• The final paid price depends on percentage
of infections:
$4.5 for 1,000 of traffic with 3% of infections
$6 for 1,000 of traffic with 4% of infections
$30 for 1,000 of traffic with more than 20% of
In an attempt to stay competitive we came
across an ad by an Encryption Service
provider that sold its service for 20$ per file,
and offered a money back guarantee if it fails
an AV checker.
The amount of malware targeted at Android
devices jumped nearly 37 percent since last
quarter, and puts 2011 on track to be the
busiest in mobile and general malware history.
Malware authors are capitalizing on the
popularity of Android devices, as
demonstrated by the fact that the Android
platform was the only mobile operating system
for all new mobile malware in Q3.
The Android mobile operating system
solidified its lead as the primary target for new
mobile malware, according to McAfee.
One of the most popular forms of trickery in
Q3 was SMS-sending Trojans that collect
personal information and steal money.
Another new method of stealing user
information is malware that records phone
conversations and forwards them to the
Information security professionals are tasked with protecting their organizations’ critical data to enable the continuation of business operations. However, by doing just that, security administrators can easily and unknowingly
violate local, state, national and international laws associated with privacy,
copyrights, licensing and more.
Here I will outline a scenario that many
Infosec professionals may find themselves in,
identify the laws that may have been broken
by following security best practices, and then
discuss what needs to be changed to protect
infosec professionals from wrongful charges
associated with their well-intended actions.
It turned out that an email exchange from the
CEO to the CTO led to the attack.
The first message simply said:
At the last board meeting it was suggested we
look into this technology. Please review and let
me know what you think.
The second message said:
A seasoned security professional (let’s call him
Bob to make things easy) had over the years
performed the usual plethora of functions, i.e.
threat analysis, security architecture design,
and occasionally reverse engineering code to
help in support or dissection of a threat.
One day, Bob experienced an attack within his
company and after further investigation (monitoring and analysis) he concluded that the attack was targeted.
Forgot the link:
The CTO clicked on the link and a screen
came up that said “loading presentation – click
here to continue”. After a few minutes, the system hung, and that was when Bob’s 96 hours
of fun began. Unfortunately for Bob, computer
laws are not made to protect the security of an
organization, but the interests of society.
As a result, there are often laws that can impede or have other consequences for security
pros that engage in a typical attack response,
and impact what they can do as part of their
Infosec activities of legal concern
Below I have outlined typical actions performed by infosec professionals in the event of
a breach and identified potential legal conActivity
cerns associated with normal threat response
You will note that I have also provided recommendations to avoid getting yourself into trouble, but please do note that I am not a lawyer,
and nothing I am about to say should be taken
as legal advice. I am not debating nuances of
laws, rather I am highlighting the laws and
leave it up to you to talk with your legal department. In order of events:
You throw together a system If you don’t have licenses for the soft(with o/s and tools) to use in ware you are installing, or the software
your analysis.
license doesn’t allow it to be transferred
between machines, you may be violating Copyright Law.
You perform computer foren- Numerous states require licensing for
computer forensics experts.
Have a fully licensed system, and software that can be brought up and reinstalled or reset at will. (A VM may work
well for this).
Will you need to take your findings to
court? If so, you may need a forensicslicensed individual to gather the evidence.
You discover a modified file The binary file may be a copyrighted
Preparing a system in advance will help
and ask a friend to send you a material this might violate the Copyright with the need to ‘get’ copies of files.
clean copy of a modified bi- Law.
nary file.
You disassemble the susThere have been a number of laws pro- Check with your legal department to see
pected program/malware.
posed in the past that cover disassem- if reversing is allowable, or whether there
bly, but none have passed yet.
are any new laws that might prevent this.
You provide a copy of the
Depending on the location of your friend When you have a suspicious file (potenmalware to a friend for a
(and where you send the malware), you tially malware), you should not provide
second opinion.
may violate US Federal laws (Can
copies of it to anyone without prior conSPAM Act) and various state laws.
sent by your legal department. Most
This action can also violate your friend’s companies that are authorized to receive
company policies if the file is sent to a malware have mechanisms for handling it
place of work. The biggest concern is
what happens if the malware becomes
active on your friend’s side.
When analyzing the malware By accessing the intermediary machine, After talking with your legal counsel, you
you discover it is sending data regardless of the credentials you found may want to contact the owner of the mato a remote system, which
on your system, you might be violating chine that is being used and/or report the
you discover is a forwarder
the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
incident to CERT or to law enforcement.
(intermediary) system.
(FCAA). Additionally, there are a number
of states that have laws explicitly prohibiting the use of credentials for accessing
a system for which you are not explicitly
You identify the machine that This has the same issues as above,
After talking with your legal counsel you
the attack came from, or you even though this is the source for the
may want to report the incident to law
locate the system set to re- bad guy. Additionally, you may not want enforcement.
ceive the data from the mal- to access the machine as it may ruin
any evidence that can be collected by
law enforcement.
You discover materials from This may violate numerous intellectual If you have reason to believe files on the
other companies on the
property protection laws.
hacker’s machine belong to another comhacker’s machine.
pany, you should inform your legal department. They can then decide how to
handle informing the other company or
law enforcement.
You discover third party per- This may violate numerous privacy pro- You should inform the legal department
sonal information on the
tection laws.
and ask them to inform law enforcement.
hacker’s machine.
In theory, the legal department will decide if
they want to bring charges against an attacker, assuming the culprit could be found.
They will also determine what level of due
care is needed and how far their security professionals should go as far as their own investigation and mitigation.
It is important to note that if the legal department is planning on filing any charges, you
should have law enforcement involved in any
analysis and follow up as soon as possible.
It’s a lot to keep in mind if you have not considered the potential legal ramifications of a
typical attack analysis.
One general rule of thumb that I keep in mind
is to always reach out to the legal department
before starting any forensic analysis. Though it
may not be necessary or always applicable, it
is better to be safe than sorry.
Michael F. Angelo is the Chief Security Architect at NetIQ.
If you happen to have a blog, then it is more than likely that it is one of the 62
million installations of WordPress on the Internet. With such a massive user
base, WordPress has become a prime target for “blackhat” hackers. This article assesses the WordPress vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious users and also provides an introduction to WPScan, a free scanning
tool that I developed for WordPress blog administrators and penetration testers.
WPScan, also known as WordPress Security
Scanner, is a multifunctional tool that will carry
out a variety of security checks against an individual WordPress blog.
The project started when Veronica Valero
posted an advisory on the Full Disclosure
mailing list outlining two methods to remotely
enumerate WordPress usernames. Concerned about the security of my own blog, I
decided to investigate Veronica's findings,
which ultimately led me to the creation of
WPScan can carry out web form password
dictionary attacks, username enumeration,
version enumeration, vulnerability enumeration, plugin enumeration, plugin vulnerability
enumeration, and carries out miscellaneous
checks on a variety of information disclosures.
WPScan version 1.1 can currently be found
pre-installed within BackTrack R1 within the
/pentest/web/wpscan/ directory or it can be
downloaded directly from our subversion repository hosted by Google Code
Username enumeration
WordPress associates every username with
an incremental unique identifier starting with
the number 1. This is a normal design decision in most applications when dealing with
multiuser systems. Reported to the WordPress bug tracking system in 2007, ticket
#5388, it was found that by sending a GET
request with a valid user id to the “author” parameter, it was possible to enumerate usernames. This is what Veronica Valero had rediscovered and reported to the Full Disclosure
mailing list.
For example, that can be achieved by sending
the following request:
We find that the username, in this case “gevans”, appears 3 times in the resulting response body (sometimes it appears in the redirect “Location” header, too). If we iterate incrementally over the author parameter value,
we can extract all of the blog's registered usernames. We can also check to see if our
enumerated usernames are not false positives
by attempting to login to WordPress via the
‘wp-login.php' page. If our username is not
valid WordPress will kindly inform us of this in
an error message.
Plugin enumeration
WordPress itself is quite secure as it has had
years to get things right - very rarely is a severe vulnerability found within the core
Press code. WordPress plugins, on the other
hand, are very insecure, with severe flaws
such as SQL Injection and Remote File Inclusion (RFI) vulnerabilities being reported on a
daily basis. I have never developed or submitted a WordPress plugin, but I assume that
WordPress carries out minimal security
checks against plugins - if any. However, a
vulnerability within a popular WordPress
plugin can affect hundreds of thousands of
WordPress gives every plugin a unique name.
For example, the most popular plugin at the
time of writing this article is called “Google
XML Sitemaps”. The unique name given to
this plugin is “google-sitemap-generator”. If
you were to install this plugin it would be installed to the following directory on your blog:
The easiest way to tell if the plugin is installed
is by sending a request to a valid file within
the plugins directory. For this we need to generate a list of unique plugin names, as well as
a valid plugin file. WPScan does this and
saves the results to data/plugins.txt. Excerpt
of data/plugins.txt:
To generate the plugins.txt file we first need to
extract the unique plugin names from WordPress's own “most popular” plugin list on the
homepage. Once we have the plugin names,
we send a second request to the plugin subversion repository directory to parse for a valid
file name.
All we have to do now is send a HTTP request, for example:
If the HTTP response code is 200 we have
successfully enumerated an installed plugin.
Version enumeration
WPScan uses two methods to enumerate the
WordPress version: using the generator meta
tag and/or “advanced fingerprinting”. (NOTE:
these methods do not enumerate the plugin
The easiest way to extract the version of a
WordPress blog is to simply look at the index
pages' HTML response, specifically the generator meta tag.
Example: <meta name="generator" content="WordPress 3.2.1" />
This information leakage is widely known and
some blogs actively remove the tag. In my experience, though, I would say the number of
blogs that remove it is quite low. If the generator meta tag does not exist, WPScan will
automatically move onto “advanced fingerprinting”.
Advanced fingerprinting
The advanced fingerprinting method is a little
bit more complicated than simply parsing the
HTML response of the index page.
The first thing I did was to install every version
of WordPress ever released (except BETA
and MU releases). This was mostly an automated process, however it did entail lots of
manual repetition and so it was later released
as a VirtualBox image, available for download.
Once I had every version of WordPress installed I began taking MD5 hashes of all of the
client side files, this included, .txt, .js, .html
and .css files. With a list of MD5 hashes I was
able to see how many times each hash (file)
was present across all versions. If the hash
was only present once it signified that the file
it related to was unique to one version of
WordPress alone. This information is formatted and stored in data/wp_versions.xml.
Excerpt of data/wp_versions.xml:
<hash md5="3e63c08553696a1dedb24b22ef6783c3">
With the above information it is trivial to find
out the exact version of a WordPress installation - as long as the unique file in question has
not been tampered with by the user.
WPScan sends a request to
ss</file>. If that file has an MD5 hash of
<hash md5="3e63c08553696a1dedb24b22ef6783c3">, we have a match. If the
score is <score>1</score>, we know the file
only appears once across all versions of
WordPress and belongs to
At the time of writing, WPScan only fingerprints 23 scores of 1, however there are plans
to expand this to higher scores. With each increment of the fingerprint score, the result will
be less accurate. The method used for advanced fingerprinting is not unique and has
been documented many times before.
Metasploit integration
The latest and most exciting feature we have
been working on is Metasploit integration. The
idea is to find out whether all of the enumerated data could be used for automated exploitation of a blog. To accomplish this we used
Metasploit’s XMLRPC deamon for communication. We have since found out that Metasploit’s XMLRPC deamon will be replaced with
MessagePack in the near future, so we will rewrite our integration code once XMLRPC deamon is replaced.
Once we have enumerated the plugins, we
use the plugin's name to cross reference a
database of vulnerabilities located in
data/plugin_vulns.xml, which needs constant
Metasploit subversion repository. From a
plugin vulnerability to a RFI vulnerability,
WPScan is able to spawn a Meterpreter shell
on the blog's server with the help of Metasploit.
Excerpt of data/plugin_vulns.xml:
<plugin name="zingiri-web-shop">
<title>Wordpress Zingiri Web Shop Plugin
2.2.0 Remote File Inclusion</title>
At the time of writing, Metasploit integration
only works with Remote File Inclusion (RFI)
vulnerabilities. We send Metasploit the necessary data over XMLRPC; just the uri with the
“XXpathXX” keyword if it is a GET method or
the uri and post data with the “XXpathXX”
keyword if it is a POST method.
The Metasploit module used is the php_include module, which we pre-populate with the
relevant options, including the Meterpreter
payload. The php_include module was updated to accommodate for RFIs in POST
methods, this has now been committed to the
WordPress at its core is quite secure, with few
severe vulnerabilities found over its lifetime
when compared to other similar open source
applications. However, WordPress leaks a lot
of sensitive information, usernames, full paths
disclosures (FPDs), version information and
more. All of this information is valuable to a
potential attacker and all of this information
leakage could be trivially fixed by WordPress.
Aside from the information leakage, WordPress needs to ensure that plugins submitted
by developers have been tested for at least
the most severe types of vulnerabilities. The
best way to protect your WordPress installations is by keeping plugins to a minimum and
keeping both WordPress and the plugins up to
WPScan is still a very young project. However, it is stable and feature-rich thanks to
everyone who has left feedback, reported
bugs, given suggestions and contributed
code. WPScan still has lots of features that
could be implemented and contributions are
most welcome.
Ryan Dewhurst is a final year undergraduate studying Computer Security at a British University. During his spare time while undertaking his first year at university Ryan developed the popular ‘Damn
Vulnerable Web Application' (DVWA) used to teach developers the basics of web application security.
Ryan worked for RandomStorm as part of the Web Application Security Team during his placement
year and continues to work for the company on a part time basis, contributing security and penetration testing applications to the RandomStorm Open Source Initiative. Ryan can be found on Twitter
under the pseudonym @ethicalhack3r, as well as on his blog
In 2006, 84 percent of companies participating in PricewaterhouseCooper’s
Global State of Information Security Survey said they were confident in the effectiveness of their organization’s information security activities. In 2011’s
survey, that number had dropped to 72 percent. That’s quite a drop in a short
period of time. But it makes sense when you think about what’s happened in
the last five years: enterprise IT departments today are facing a never-ending,
always-increasing global onslaught of threats at a time their budgets have either been frozen or slashed.
It’s like an army being told to guard a fortress
against a superior force and oh, by the way,
do it with one-third fewer troops than you had
a few years ago. It’s no wonder IT departments feel as if they’re under siege.
Adding to the challenge, today’s IT departments are under increasing pressure to become more flexible and adaptable, which often
means replacing established technologies with
lower-cost systems such as those found in the
While those systems may be a good choice
for front-line workers, they generally carry
higher security and regulatory compliance
concerns than traditional enterprise applications. And IT departments need to do all of this
while also leveraging a flexible and cost-
effective approach to business continuity and
disaster recovery.
That makes the complexity of today’s enterprise IT environment more challenging than
ever for your IT department to master. In the
past, physical barriers such as the corporate
firewall were enough to keep marauding invaders at bay. In today’s virtualized world, it’s
more challenging to get between two systems
that are communicating through the cloud, because many more doors, windows and other
points of entry – not to mention the ether in
between – need to be guarded.
Your IT department is no doubt acutely aware
of the risks. Years of responding to new business needs and challenges with evolving security, network, server and storage technologies have led to an ever more complex
infrastructure that is often over-provisioned,
underutilized and difficult to manage. Yet just
when IT organizations could use more resources to help them dig out from underneath
it all, they have fewer.
What that means in practical terms is Fortune
1000 companies that still rely solely on internal IT resources for their security needs are
finding that the effort required to maintain security at acceptable (not even optimum) levels
is affecting their effectiveness in other areas.
Simply put, it is taking more time, creating
more risk, and costing more to deliver IT projects that add value and enhance the business.
With all of this going on, internal IT resources
too often come to be seen as a cost center,
instead of a strategic asset that can help
maintain and enhance competitive advantage
and respond more quickly to the dynamic
changes in today’s global business environment. Instead of focusing on the business
value that technology can provide, IT departments are struggling just to keep the lights on
– especially when it comes to security.
One way to get beyond this siege mentality
and get IT refocused on adding value is by using managed security services. These services can help by taking the burden of deploying prevention, detection and web-based
technologies off of internal IT departments so
they can use their knowledge of the business
to add value. Managed security services is
one area we are seeing companies willing to
make an investment in, even though the past
four years have seen a significant reduction in
other IT investments.
Fortune 1000 companies that still rely solely on internal IT resources for their
security needs are finding that the effort required to maintain security at acceptable (not even optimum) levels is affecting their effectiveness in other areas.
Why is this? According to the 2012 Global
State of Information Security Survey, a persistent reluctance to fund enterprise IT security
during the economic downturn has led to a
degradation in core security capabilities, including identity management, business continuity, disaster recovery, employee Internet
monitoring, and data protection. Enterprises
are coming to the realization they are living on
borrowed time in terms of security, and are
anxious to rectify the situation before a disaster occurs.
Adding to the urgency, mobile devices and social media – two afterthoughts to enterprise IT
just a couple of years ago – now present significant threats from outside the firewall. Today, according to a Check Point survey, nearly
half of all enterprises are victims of social engineering, having experienced 25 or more attacks in the past two years. That costs businesses anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000
per security incident. And McAfee reports that
attacks on smartphones and other mobile devices rose by 46 percent in 2010.
In addition, the Global State of Information
Security Survey found that few organizations
believe they are equipped to deal with the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks that
have increasingly targeted global enterprise IT
organizations over the past two years.
Now throw in the challenges associated with
managing third-party security risk issues related to partners, vendors and suppliers tapping into the enterprise IT infrastructure, and
you can see that the risks IT departments face
on all fronts are overwhelming for even the
best-funded IT organization. And these days,
most IT organizations don’t view themselves
as being well-funded.
The speed with which the security threats
change in today’s globally connected and converging business world is the biggest barrier to
an enterprise IT organization being able to
mitigate risk so they can focus on their core
business. Fortune 1000 companies are finding
that managed security service providers are a
smart option to help their IT departments ensure they have the critical IT services they
need to meet these security challenges. There
are three key areas in which a managed security service can make a big difference – speed,
cost and risk.
Speed – A managed security service provider
can help a company stay up to speed with IT
security technology. But speed goes beyond
keeping up with the changing threats outside
the firewall.
Inside the firewall, it is also critical to keep
staff trained, keep the latest versions installed
and supported, and have best practices in
place that can help detect and respond to security threats in a timely manner.
For managed security services, rather than
security being a part of their overall job, it’s
their entire focus. They have the time, resources and – most important – the incentive
to remain current.
Cost – When companies consider the cost of
IT security, they often overlook the costs associated with keeping training and certifications up-to-date, the need to upgrade infrastructure, and even the costs of a ticketing or
reporting system.
A managed security services provider helps
alleviate some of these budget pressures on
managing the day-to-day operational security
issues so the company can focus its internal
resources on driving the business. This can be
done by “operationalizing” the cost, or making
it predictable within the operating budget, instead of having to adjust capital budget resources on the fly to address unforeseen security challenges.
Risk – Managing risk is an enterprise-wide
issue, with more responsibility faced by the
executive suite and data center than ever before. Every organization knows that it has to
mitigate risk to ensure the IT environment isn’t
compromised and competitive and customer
data are protected. High-profile breaches of
security have led governments to take a larger
role in protecting data, ensuring privacy and
requiring visibility through compliance reporting, all of which rely on IT.
A managed security services provider doesn’t
replace the internal IT team. Instead, it augments the existing team by providing the expertise, threat modeling and other compliance
and protection services needed to mitigate risk
in line with regulatory obligations and business
In these uncertain economic times, remaining
secure by proactively managing security is
more important than ever. Every day brings
new risks to enterprise information, systems
and ultimately their business, making it more
and more challenging to identify vulnerabilities, minimize exposure, and prepare to respond quickly to any contingency.
It is much harder to bounce back from business interruptions or unexpected losses
caused by IT security gaps. The smart businesses today know that the cost of avoiding
such threats is typically much less than the
cost of recovering from them.
Siobhan Byron is the President of Forsythe Technology Canada, Dragana Vranic is Director of Managed Services at Forsythe Technology Canada (
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