Security Corner

April 2, 2010  3:00 PM

Twitter is Under Attack Again

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Panda Security’s PR firm just informed me of a deep dive analysis that Sean-Paul Correll has performed on the current Twitter attack that has been ongoing since 22 February. The attack is being propagated through Twitter by capitalizing on trending topics and key phrases to spread via Twitter accounts. Coupled with the most widely referenced terms on Twitter, like “free,” “teen” and “sex,” hundreds of malicious tweets are being distributed and directed to a fake codec infection site which installs the Adware/SecurityTool rogueware.

We were alerted of a new trending topic attack today on Twitter by a fellow threat researcher.  Like the past Twitter trending topic attacks, this one was heavily targeting recent news breaking items such as the suicide bombings in Moscow, as well as many other hot topics on the Internet today.

Correll unearthed some rather alarming statistics:

  • 1,888 Twitter accounts (and growing) have been used to spread the attack URL
  • 2,560 malicious tweets have been sent out
  • The malicious links were clicked on 25,854 times
  • 78% of victims came from the United States, 12% from Korea, and 8% from Germany

The high click-rate was in part due to sites like The Huffington Post inadvertently helping promote the malware campaign on the Internet by an embedded Twitter stream on its site.

More detail of Sean-Paul’s analysis can be found at the PandaLabs blog:

March 31, 2010  7:20 PM

Forensics: SANS Investigative Forensic Toolkit (SIFT) Workstation

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

This is so significant, that I’m not going to elaborate on it. If you’re an IT Security professional, you probably already know about it. If you don’t, then check it out here: SANS Investigative Forensic Toolkit (SIFT) Workstation: Version 2.0.

Faculty Fellow Rob Lee created the SANS Investigative Forensic Toolkit(SIFT) Workstation featured in the Computer Forensic Investigations and Incident Response course (FOR 508) in order to show that advanced investigations and investigating hackers can be accomplished using freely available open-source tools.

The SANS SIFT Workstation is a VMware Appliance that is pre-configured with all the necessary tools to perform a detailed digital forensic examination. It is compatible with Expert Witness Format (E01), Advanced Forensic Format (AFF), and raw (dd) evidence formats. The brand new version has been completely rebuilt on an Ubuntu base with many additional tools and capabilities that can match any modern forensic tool suite.

You know what an Open Source advocate I am and this just proves the value of that even more.

March 30, 2010  12:37 PM

Security Humor: Internet Explorer Security Settings

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

If you’ve ever wondered what all those security levels in Internet Explorer really mean, then this one-minute animation on John Haller’s site will clear things up for you. If you’re not rolling on the floor laughing after you see this, you’re either unconscious or dead. Check it out:

March 29, 2010  11:27 PM

Out-of-cycle Patch for IE Coming Tomorrow

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Tomorrow, Microsoft will issue an out-of-cycle patch for a vulnerability in Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7. Internet Explorer 8, is not affected. The vulnerability allows remote code execution on the affected browsers.

According to Microsoft, in Microsoft Security Advisory (981374), “The vulnerability exists due to an invalid pointer reference being used within Internet Explorer. It is possible under certain conditions for the invalid pointer to be accessed after an object is deleted. In a specially-crafted attack, in attempting to access a freed object, Internet Explorer can be caused to allow remote code execution.”

When the advisory was issued, Microsoft was aware of targeted attacks attempting to use this vulnerability. Today, the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) issued this statement:

Today we issued our Advanced Notification Service (ANS) to advise customers that we will be releasing security update MS10-018 tomorrow, March 30, 2010, at approximately10:00 a.m. PDT (UTC-8). MS10-018 resolves Security Advisory 981374, addressing a publicly disclosed vulnerability in Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7. Internet Explorer 8 is unaffected by the vulnerability addressed in the advisory and we continue to encourage all customers to upgrade to this version to benefit from the improved security protection it offers.

Be sure to apply the update if you are running IE 6 or IE 7. Better yet, just upgrade to IE 8 . Even better still, dump IE and use Firefox or Chrome.

March 29, 2010  1:57 AM

Technospeak: Fundamentally Vulnerable Structure

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

I’m weary. Very weary. There is just so much to keep up with in the way of patches and fixes for security vulnerabilities across so many applications and in nearly every OS that I no longer even bother trying to stay on top of it all. My main concern, of course, is Windows/Microsoft and the applications that run on that platform. But I do have to keep up with some Unix/Linux and legacy apps.

We’re losing the race, you know. The bad guys are winning and if we don’t make some major changes to our Fundamentally Vulnerable Structure, computing as we know it is doomed. Let me defer to my favorite tech guru, Steve Gibson, again:

…the architecture, the fundamental design of our machines are not secure. I mean, the fundamental architecture, the design, evolved from a time when there was absolutely no, and I mean no, concern about security…. But there was, once upon a time, no concern for security. It just wasn’t…on the map at all. And it began, of course, in the mainframe era, where you started to have multi-user systems where they said, okay, well, we need some sort of authentication…. So that sort of, that notion of some concern for security began to happen.

And then of course the Internet sort of grew organically from an experiment in, gee, could this notion of autonomous packet routing work on, be a scalable solution so that we’re able to connect things? And I remember when I first began hearing about this notion of a global network. It’s like, okay, well, that’s ridiculous. You’re not going to have that. Well, whoops. We do.

But no one foresaw what’s happening now–or if they did, they didn’t prepare for it.  It all just kind of happened. Hell, I remember when when I first got on BBS’s back in the 80’s using a terminal that printed out the “session” on thermal paper. Years later, the “internet” was just starting and I had to dial up to some long distance phone number in New York City just to download a few messages–which took a long time at the incredible speed of 2400 bps. And you know what? I can still dial up an ISP with a modem and access the Internet.

In those “good ole days,” I wasn’t connected to the global network every time I turned on my computer; I had to specifically request a connection. And that connection was terminated as soon as I did my business. The rest of my work was done off-line. I read my email, composed my replies as necessary, then uploaded them as a batch to be sent by the mail server. Simple. Pretty secure, too. I never got a virus from a pure text file.

Sure, we had viruses back then; they spread by floppy disk. Most of them were nothing more than practical jokes and did little damage, so no one paid much attention. We should have. In 1995, I was hit with a boot sector virus that destroyed the data on my hard drive. That incident completely wiped out the only electronic copy of a how-to book I was selling. I had a hard copy, but it took me a month to reenter all the text.

A week later, my boss’s son was hit by the the same virus and almost lost all of his thesis for graduate school. Fortunately, for him, I had found a way to remove the infection and restore the master boot record so he lost nothing. That was my very first success as a security professional and one that I’ll never forget. But I didn’t foresee how bad it would get; I just kept fixing the problems as they occurred.

Just like everyone else did.

And now we have the cat-and-mouse game of security as it exists today.

It’s time to hit the “reset” button on all of this and completely rethink our computing model.

March 28, 2010  2:24 AM

My Bank is Vigilant-Thank You, Bank!

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

I love it when people look out for my interests instead of it being the other way around all the time. My bank is serious about preventing online banking fraud and banking fraud in general with it’s customers. I received this letter in the mail today:

Important Information About Your [bank name] Account

Dear [My Name],

One of the most important ways we can help our customers manage their money in a safe and secure environment is by providing detailed account information on a timely basis.

Because your account referenced above is classified as dormant–no deposits or withdrawals for 36 months–we are letting you know that there has recently been activity on the account. If you are aware of this activity, no action is required.

We suggest that you first check with other signers on the account to verify whether they have accessed the account. However, if they have not and you believe the activity to be unauthorized, please contact us immediately at [800 phone number], so that we may investigate this activity and take appropriate action.

Below is a summary of the activity:

[details of the transaction]

If you have questions or need additional information [etc., etc., etc.]

This was for a DEPOSIT!

I have a warm, fuzzy feeling now.

March 27, 2010  2:01 AM

Software for Secure Computing: Spam Assassin

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Spam Assassin has to be the #1 Open Source anti-spam application. My experience with its influence is in my Aweber account. Aweber is an auto-response email marketing program that enforces strict policies about making sure subscribers have specifically opted in to your newsletter, blog, or whatever. When I compose a message to send to my list, Aweber uses a Spam Assassin score to tell me how likely it is that my message will end up in a junk folder.

SpamAssassin is a mail filter to identify spam. It is an intelligent email filter which uses a diverse range of tests to identify unsolicited bulk email, more commonly known as Spam. These tests are applied to email headers and content to classify email using advanced statistical methods. In addition, SpamAssassin has a modular architecture that allows other technologies to be quickly wielded against spam and is designed for easy integration into virtually any email system.

It works, and I trust it. If my Spam Assassin score exceeds 5 on any message I plan to send, I modify it. I want people to read my messages, not have them dumped in the bit bucket with the obvious junk we all get.

March 26, 2010  3:20 AM

20-year Sentence in TJX Credit Card Case

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

In the lengthiest sentence yet handed down in an identity or hacking prosecution, confessed TJX hacker Albert Gonzalez was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for orchestrating one of the largest theft of payment card numbers in history.

IDG News Service – BOSTON — As his parents and sister silently wept, hacker mastermind Albert Gonzalez was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court to two concurrent 20-year stints in prison for his role in what prosecutors called the “unparalleled” theft of millions of credit and debit card numbers from major U.S. retailers.

“I stand before you humbled by these past 24 months,” Gonzalez said. “I’m guilty not only of exploiting complicated networks, but also of exploiting personal relationships.”

SANS Institute editor Stephen Northcutt had this to say in a recent issue of SANS NewsBites (Vol. 12 Num. 23):

It seems sensible to me to make stealing 45 million identities a more serious crime than selling marijuana, not that I support either. When you steal identities you hurt so many innocent people. When you sell Marijuana, the damage, if any, occurs in the lungs and brains of the people that willingly used the drug. Yet…it appears to me that in the past people received stiffer sentences marijuana sales than for identity theft. I believe both should be illegal, but that identity theft is the more harmful crime. Nothing against Mr. Gonzalez, but if he is sentenced to a serious number of years, it could send a signal to the criminals of the world there is a downside to identity theft.

Well, the signal has been sent. Personally, I don’t believe that any non-violent crime should be subject to lengthy terms of incarceration, but that’s a subject for a different post at a different blog at another time.

The cyber-criminals in the huge international crime rings who run most of the major botnets and steal most of the money won’t even blink at this.

March 25, 2010  12:45 AM

Whither Security?

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

No reports about it, but with all of the nation’s attention diverted and focused on the Health Care law fiasco, what are the cybercriminals doing to exploit the lapse of attention in other areas?

Let me point out that a very effective security subversion tactic is  the creation of a diversion. The diversion does not have to be intentional; it can just as easily be inadvertent, as in the case of focusing on possible cyber attacks related to the passage of the controversial health care reform law.

I’m sure that we’ll hear about cyber attacks related to this recent regulation, probably in the form of attempted web site defacings and/or DDOS attacks against relevant websites. Many people are up in arms about provisions in the law, so certainly, there are going to be attacks. In my life I’ve seen unrest through the 1960’s and 1970’s, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it quite as bad as today.

It behooves us to be even more vigilant than usual in these times of political upheaval and unrest. If I have you focused on target A, then I can easily attack target B.

And I believe we’ll see that happening.

March 23, 2010  1:08 AM

Technospeak: Advanced Persistent Threat

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Just what we need – another coined phrase and acronym. This time, it’s Advanced Persistent Threat: APT for short. This new one was popularized at the RSA conference a couple of weeks ago. What is it? Let me explain; rather, let’s let Steve Gibson of the Security Now! podcast explain. This is from episode #240, Listener Feedback #88:

So this notion of an Advanced Persistent Threat is that some way in is found, and then the bad guys set up a persistent presence inside the network and attempt to stay undetected and connected in the network, present essentially, for as long as possible, for doing whatever they’re doing – surveillance, collecting files, sending them offsite, out of that local country zone, wherever.

Very bad. And the worst part about it is that it only takes one un-patched hole to leave a network open. The biggest problem with security is that it must be absolutely perfect. Here’s Steve again:

And remember, this is the big problem with security is it has to be perfect. Meaning it only takes one mistake somewhere, one thing missed, one vulnerability not patched, one port left open, one unsafe application running. I mean, literally, the barrier is so high to be absolutely secure because it just takes one hole for some guy to get in. And so if there’s tremendous pressure against the security perimeter, any leak will allow someone in.

This should be enough to get your attention and put in that IDS that you’ve been putting off for so long.

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