Kaspersky Lab researchers have examined publicly available hardware and software tools for covert password interception and discovered that a hacking tool can be created for as little as $20.
In an experiment professionals used a DIY Raspberry Pi based USB-device, configured in a specific way, and carrying no malicious software. Armed with this device, they were able to covertly collect user authentication data from a corporate network at a rate of 50 password hashes per hour.
The research started with a real story: in another investigation that Kaspersky Lab experts participated in, an insider (the employee of a cleaning company) used a USB-stick to infect a workstation inside a targeted organisation with malware. Upon hearing the story, Kaspersky Lab security enthusiasts became curious about what else could be used by insiders to compromise a targeted network? And, would it be possible to compromise a network without any malware at all?
They took a Raspberry-Pi microcomputer, configured it as an Ethernet adapter, made some additional configuration changes in the OS running on the microcomputer, and installed a few publicly available tools for packet sniffing, data collection and processing. Finally, the researchers set up a server to collect intercepted data. After that, the device was connected to the targeted machine and started to automatically feed the server with stolen credential data.
The reason why this happened was that the OS on the attacked computer identified the connected Raspberry-Pi device as a wired LAN adapter, and automatically assigned it a higher priority than other available network connections and – more importantly – gave it access to data exchange in the network. The experimental network was a simulation of a segment of a real corporate network. As a result, researchers were able to collect authentication data sent by the attacked PC and its applications, as they tried to authenticate domain and remote servers. In addition, researchers were also able to collect this data from other computers in the network segment.
Moreover, as the specifics of the attack allowed for intercepted data to be sent through the network in real time, the longer the device was connected to the PC, the more data it was able to collect and transfer to a remote server. After just half an hour of the experiment researchers were able to collect nearly 30 password hashes, transferred through the attacked network, so it is easy to imagine how much data could be collected in just one day. In the worst-case scenario, the domain administrator’s authentication data could also be intercepted should they log into their account while the device is plugged-in into one of the PCs inside the domain.
The potential attack surface for this method of data interception is big: the experiment was successfully reproduced on both locked and unlocked computers running on Windows and Mac OS. However, researchers were not able to reproduce the attack on Linux based devices.
“There are two major things that we are worried about as a result of this experiment: firstly – the fact that we didn’t really have to develop the software – we used tools freely available on the Internet. Secondly – we are worried about how easy it was to prepare the proof of concept for our hacking device. This means that potentially anyone, who is familiar with the Internet and has basic programming skills, could reproduce this experiment. And it is easy to predict what could happen if this was done with malicious intent. The latter is the main reason why we decided to draw public attention to this problem. Users and corporate administrators should be prepared for this type of attack”, said Sergey Lurye, a security enthusiast and co-author of the research at Kaspersky Lab.
Although the attack allows for the interception of password hashes (a cipher-alphabetic interpretation of a plaintext password after it has been processed by a specific obfuscation algorithm), the hashes could be deciphered into passwords, since the algorithms are known or used in pass-the-hash attacks.
In order to protect your computer or network from attacks with help of similar DIY devices, Kaspersky Lab security experts recommend the following advice:
For regular users:
- On returning to your computer, check if there are any extra USB devices sticking out of your ports.
- Avoid accepting flash drives from untrusted sources. This drive could in fact be a password interceptor.
- Make a habit of ending sessions on sites that require authentication. Usually, this means clicking on a “log out” button.
- Change passwords regularly – both on your PC and the websites you use frequently. Remember that not all of your favourite websites will use mechanisms to protect against cookie data substitution. You can use specialised password management software for the easy management of strong and secure passwords, such as the free Kaspersky Password Manager.
- Enable two-factor authentication, for example, by requesting login confirmation or use of a hardware token.
- Install and regularly update a security solution from a proven and trusted vendor.
For system administrators
- If the network topology allows it, we suggest using solely Kerberos protocol for authenticating domain users.
- Restrict privileged domain users from logging into the legacy systems, especially domain administrators.
- Domain user passwords should be changed regularly. If, for whatever reason, the organisation’s policy does not involve regular password changes, be sure to change this policy.
- All of the computers within a corporate network have to be protected with security solutions and regular updates should be ensured.
- In order to prevent the connection of unauthorised USB devices, a Device Control feature, such as that available in the Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business suite, can be useful.
- If you own the web resource, we recommend activating the HSTS (HTTP strict transport security) which prevents switching from HTTPS to HTTP protocol and spoofing the credentials from a stolen cookie.
- If possible, disable the listening mode and activate the Client (AP) isolation setting in Wi-Fi routers and switches, disabling them from listening to other workstation traffic.
- Activate the DHCP Snooping setting to protect corporate network users from capturing their DHCP requests by fake DHCP servers.
Besides intercepting the authentication data from a corporate network the experimental device can be used for collecting cookies from browsers on the attacked machines.
Meet the ambassador to the future
Tilly Lockey, 14, lost her hands as a toddler, but sees it as a massive opportunity to embrace technology. She chatted with ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK about the human of tomorrow.
It is a description that defines 14-year-old Tilly Lockey: She lost her hands at the age of 15 months, and now uses bionic hands to show the world how to overcome disability.
That could easily read as an advertisement for a prosthetics company, but Tilly refuses to be defined by marketing messages. She has not only embraced what is supposed to be a disability, but wants to become nothing less than an ambassador to the future.
That is in effect what she is achieving by pushing the boundaries of what is possible with artificial hands. It means that, eventually, she will have more capabilities built into her body than most able-bodied humans can imagine. She collaborates closely with Open Bionics, a start-up that is using 3D printing to create low-cost prosthetics with high-tech capabilities.
“I have very high hopes for the future,” she said during a chat on the sidelines of the SingularityU Summit at Kyalami north of Johannesburg. From Newcastle-on-Tyne in the United Kingdom, she was at the Summit as a guest speaker, chaperoned by her father Adam and sister Tia.
“When I started working with Open Bionics, I wanted it to include lighting, music, Bluetooth, a projector in my palm, all over-optimistic things. But then I feel that is not too far away, and then a disability would turn into and enhancement of normal human hands. I’m really excited about it.
“I know there’s a couple of things they are working on right now, like trying to get the built-in battery thinner, because it’s hard to get overcoats and jackets over it, so they are trying to get the hands slimmer. They’re working on haptic feedback, to give a sense of touch of vibration, which tells me of I have a good grip on something. It could be coming soon. These hands I’m using now were made in the past five years. In another five years, I think we’ll have all of it.”
The hands in question are called Hero Arms, which its creators, Open Bionics, say is “the world’s first clinically approved 3D-printed bionic arm, with multi-grip functionality and empowering aesthetics”.
Click here to read more about the development of Open Bionics’s Hero Arms.
How Tilly Lockey became a Hero
Part 2 of ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK’s interview with Tilly Lockey explores her amazing career.
This is the second part of this series of articles. To start from the beginning, click here.
Tilly Lockey was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicaemia Strain B when she was 15 months old.
Her mother spotted the tell-tale signs one day in 2007: a fast-spreading skin rash that looks like pinpricks, along with symptoms like lethargy and bruising. She was rushed to hospital, but the bacterial poisoning spread so aggressively, doctors gave Tilley no chance of survival. They had to make a quick decision to amputate her hands to save her life.
Twelve years later, her future truly came into focus: “I was surprised with really cool Alita: Battle Angel bionic Hero Arms and went on the blue carpet at the world premiere of the movie with Rosa Salazar and director James Cameron.”
That pivotal moment in her life would not have been possible without the intensive efforts of her mother, Sara, to raise funds to buy something better than the metal prosthetics issued by the National Health Service in the UK. She increased Tilley’s profile with a campaign to “Give Tilley a Hand”, and today works as a fundraiser and events organiser for the Meningitis Now support group. Her involvement in an event meant she was unable to join Tilley on her trip to South Africa last week, when she spoke at the SingularityU Summit. After coming off stage, Tilley told us that Sara was her biggest inspiration in her life, and the closest to a role model.
“I’m usually a speaker at her events. I tell everyone my story and what I’m doing now and give these kids inspiration, because they often feel they can’t do anything because of what Meningitis did to them.
“I am home schooled now, which is pretty cool, because I’m able to have a career and get educated at the same time. I feel I can do a lot of things that friends can’t do. I can take a whole class on an aeroplane. I have a great time traveling and meeting so many inspiring people who are making a difference in the world.”
The form of Mengingitis that attacked her leaves hidden scars and issues that only become apparent years later. She is almost absurdly cheerful about the challenges that have faced her.
“I personally figured out that my left leg had stopped growing. I’m still finding out things it has caused, but you survive. At least I’m here and I’m alive.”
It does help that she’s comfortable in the spotlight, happy to give interviews, and eager to show what she can do with her bionic hands.
“I want to go into public speaking a lot more, and it could be an option as career. I want it to continue because it’s a lot of fun, and I feel I’ve got a story to share. If I can inspire people to change the world, I will. “
Her travels this year will still take her to Barcelona, Jakarta and New York. In the Big Apple, she will accept a humanitarian award, and intends “to give a funky speech”.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, she will take part in a fashion catwalk and do a makeup tutorial live. She learned to do makeup with one of her bionic hands when she fractured her right elbow in a fall at school
“I got makeup for Christmas and wanted to play with it, and got the idea of doing it with an open hand. It took a lot of perseverance and patience, but after studying how to do it, I was able to recreate a full makeup routine using one hand. It wasn’t a great situation at the time, but now I’m happy it happened because it got me into doing what I do now.”
What she is doing with makeup is remarkable in its own right. She gives tutorials on YouTube, where she says she is “kinda new”, as she has “only around 16,000 followers”. That may well soon expand into cooking videos.
In other words, everything is an opportunity: “I could be sad, just sit on my bed and cry, or I can live my life and realise what I’ve got: these amazing bionic Hero Arms.
“All I want to do is help give people confidence in themselves, accept who they are, accept their scars and everything about them. That they don’t have to impress everybody and just be themselves.”
Read more in the third article of the series about how family remains at the centre of Tilly’s life.