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Hacking tools for $20

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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:

  1. On returning to your computer, check if there are any extra USB devices sticking out of your ports.
  2. Avoid accepting flash drives from untrusted sources. This drive could in fact be a password interceptor.
  3. Make a habit of ending sessions on sites that require authentication. Usually, this means clicking on a “log out” button.
  4. 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.
  5. Enable two-factor authentication, for example, by requesting login confirmation or use of a hardware token.
  6. Install and regularly update a security solution from a proven and trusted vendor.

For system administrators

  1. If the network topology allows it, we suggest using solely Kerberos protocol for authenticating domain users.
  2. Restrict privileged domain users from logging into the legacy systems, especially domain administrators.
  3. 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.
  4. All of the computers within a corporate network have to be protected with security solutions and regular updates should be ensured.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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Download speeds ramp up in SA

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All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.

This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating. 

Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:

  • MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
  • All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
  • MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
  • MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.

A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.

But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.

In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.

MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.

This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.

While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.

MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.

The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.

In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.

Read more from Open Signal’s report here.

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