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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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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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