General Information About Cybersecurity
If your experience is at all like mine, you will find that you need to both educate and convince people — from the "on-the-front-lines" users to management.
Here's some help.
- AWST = Aviation Week and Space Technology
- WSJ = Wall Street Journal
- DOD = U.S. Department of Defense
Undersea Cable Losses —
These happen far more frequently than most people
See the interactive
Submarine Cable Map
for fascinating details about cables.
- 1929 — An earthquake in Newfoundland broke twelve trans-Atlantic cables by triggering a massive undersea avalanche.
- 2005 — A portion of the SEA-ME-WE 3 submarine cable (running from Germany, down the Atlantic coast and across the Mediterranean and Red Sea, to Arabia, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, then through Southeast and East Asia and to Australia) broke 35 kilometers south of Karachi. This disrupted almost all of Pakistan's communications with the rest of the world.
- 2006 — The SEA-ME-WE 3 submarine cable was severed 26 December by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake off the coast of Taiwan, causing a major disruption in Internet service to East Asia.
- 2007 — Pirates stole an 11 kilometer section of the T-V-H (Thailand - Vietnam - Hong Kong) cable in hopes of selling the 100 tons of cable as scrap. LIRNEasia has a story about this.
2008 events —
- 23 January — The FALCON cable was cut, disrupting service between Persian Gulf states and India.
- 30 January — The SEA-ME-WE 4 and FLAG telecom cables were almost simultaneously damaged several kilometers apart in the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria, Egypt. There has been speculation that both were damaged by a ship dragging its anchor, but port video footage shows no ship passing through the area where the damage occurred.
- 1 February — The FALCON cable was cut between Muscat, Oman and Dubai, UAE.
- 3 February — A cabled called DOHA-HALOUL connect Qatar to the UAE was damaged, between the Qatari island of Haloul and the UAE island of Das.
- 4 February — SEA-ME-WE 4 is cut at another location, near Penang, Malaysia.
- 19 December — FLAG telecom, SEA-ME-WE 3, and SEA-ME-WE 4 cabes are cut in the Mediterranean, disconnecting Sicily, Malta, and Alexandria, Egypt, and disrupting 75% of data and voice communication between the Middle East and Asia and the rest of the world. The GO-1 cable linking Sicily to Malta was also cut. The reason was unclear, France Telecom issued a press release saying they had been cut by either bad weather conditions or a ship's anchor.
- For a description of these outages, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_submarine_cable_disruption
2009 events —
In late July,
the SAT-3 cable
was damaged, causing Internet connectivity
problems or complete outages in multiple
west African countries including
Benin, Togo, Niger, and Nigeria.
Togo and Niger were completely offline,
while Benin maintained some connectivity only by
rerouting traffic through neighboring countries.
All three used alternative satellite links to
maintain some connectivity.
Nigeria had a 70% bandwidth loss, causing
problems in banking, government, and mobile
networks (and probably slowing down all those
offers allegedly from the Widow Abacha
$12 MILLION US DOLLARwith random e-mail recipients).
- 2010 events — The SEA-ME-WE 4 system crossing the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and landing at several points along the northern Indian Ocean, was cut in three places off Palermo, Italy.
- 2011 events — The Tōhoku earthquake in March 2011 damaged several undersea cables, including APCN-2 (a ring joining Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines), Pacific Crossing West and Pacific Crossing North, segments of the East Asia Crossing network, a segment of the Japan-U.S. Cable Network, and the PC-1 cable joining two points in Japan with two points on the U.S. west coast.
- 2012 events — TEAMS (The East African Marine Systems) cable was cut in February by the anchor of a ship waiting to enter Mombasa, see the BBC story. Three fibers in the Red Sea had been cut ten days before that per the WSJ on Feb 28th, Eassy or the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System, the Europe India Gateway (EIG), and the South East Asia Middle East Western Europe-3 (SMW-3). Renesys has an article describing these cuts and the impact on connectivity. TEAMS was cut again just 35 days after being repaired. Then in June, SMW-4 was cut near Singapore, largely disconnecting Bangladesh and severely degrading some providers' customers in Singapore, Pakistan, Kuwait and the UAE.
- 2013 events — Three Egyptian knuckleheads were arrested for trying to cut an undersea Internet cable in March. "According to Egyptian military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali, three men were discovered attempting to sabotage an undersea Internet cable from a fishing boat located approximately 820 yards from Alexandria. As a result, Internet users in Egypt have suffered reduced speeds [....]" This was the SEA-ME-WE 4 fibre joining France, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. It's the main Internet backbone link joining Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinents and South East Asia.
- 2007 — XM Satellite Radio was off the air for a day in May, see the Washington Post article for details. "The company blamed a software glitch for the interruption."
- 2007 — Dish Network was out 19 and 22 August for two hours and a half hour respectively: http://www.multichannel.com/blog/350000435/post/1710013571.html
- 2007 — Alaskan public television was out on 20 August due to some satellite problems. http://kakm.org/2007/08/20/satellite-outage-alert/
- 2006 — The Optus B1 satellite lost contact 30 March and among other things cut off some television service to New Zealand. http://www.geekzone.co.nz/forums.asp?forumid=48&topicid=7237 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optus_Fleet_of_Satellites#Failures
- 2004 — Intelsat Americas-7 (formerly Telstar 7, later Galaxy 27) experienced a several-day power failure on 29 November 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelsat
- 1998 — Galaxy IV failed in May and took out over 80% of North American pagers for several days. Wire news service including Reuters was effected. CBS and NPR had to use backup transmission links. The primary control processor had failed due to tin whisker growth. http://www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9805/22/satellite_security/index.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_IV
- 1998 — Galaxy VII failed 13 June and dropped several hours of several cable TV networks. Some other satellite failed 4 July 1998, dropping several hours of DirectTV. In both cases, a control processor failed, but they eventually could switch to a backup processor. WSJ, 9 Jul 1998, Reuters.
- 1997 — A $200,000,000 Telstar satellite (and thus all its comm links) was taken out by an unexpected solar flare on 11 January. I was teaching a course that week, and many students complained the next day that the pay-per-view movies no longer worked in their rooms.... Science, 31 January 1997, pg 623, and Science News, 1 February 1997, pg 68.
- 1995 — Intelsat 511 was disabled for a few hours by an electrostatic discharge event, taking out some Australia-USA links. The event fired a thruster and turned the satellite out of alignment for the links to Earth. http://www.ips.gov.au/Educational/1/3/11
- Former CIA analyst comments on vulnerability of civilian satellites (1995): http://www.fas.org/spp/eprint/civilsat.htm and GAO report (2002): http://www.fas.org/spp/eprint/civilsat.htm
Outages Caused by Routing Blunders
In February 2008, the Pakistani government
was worried that a video disrespectful toward
Muhammed had been uploaded to YouTube.
Government leaders directed Pakistan Telecom
to either force YouTube to remove the video
or else shut down YouTube.
Informed that neither of those was possible,
the government settled for making it so no one
using Pakistan Telecom could view anything on
You don't do that by filtering rules, as the edge routers can't keep up. You do it by black-holing the route(s) to the corresponding IP block(s).
The problem is that they then propagated those black-hole routes over BGP to PCCW, an ISP in Hong Kong, which in turn propagated those extremely attractive routes across the Internet. It made it look as though some corner of Pakistan was, by far, the most attractive route to YouTube. Everyone's attempted connected got routed that way.
The result for most of the world was that you lost access to YouTube for a few hours. Somehow society survived that episode. The result within Pakistan was all telecommunications were disrupted for several days, maybe a week. Mobile phone couldn't connect to the network, wired phones had no dial tone.
China suffered a country-wide Internet outage
for 45 minutes on 22 January 2014.
Chinese government spokesmen blamed the
outage on the DNS root servers.
But outsiders said that the Chinese
government's attempt to control their
citizens' Internet access involved a DNS
poisoning operation that spun out of control.
They wanted to block access to 220.127.116.11, belonging to Dynamic Internet Technology, which provides the FreeGate censorship-circomvention tool and also hosts a Falun Gong news portal mirror. They instead poisoned the DNS records by mapping all domain names in the world to that single IP address. This was a massive distributed denial of service attack against that company, as China is estimated to have more Internet users than any other country (other than India) has people. But none of those masses could see anything until the DNS caches got straightened out.
- 2008 — In February 2008, the Pakistani government was worried that a video disrespectful toward Muhammed had been uploaded to YouTube. Government leaders directed Pakistan Telecom to either force YouTube to remove the video or else shut down YouTube. Informed that neither of those was possible, the government settled for making it so no one using Pakistan Telecom could view anything on YouTube.
Target / Neiman Marcus hack of 2013
Major U.S. discount retailer Target suffered a security breach between Nov 27 and Dec 15, 2013. Up to 40 million consumer credit and debit cards may have been compromised, including customer names, card numbers, expiration dates, and CVV codes, making this the second-largest retail cyber attack to this point (after the 2007 TJX Companies compromised affecting 90 million). Debit card PIN data was also stolen, although it was encrypted with Triple-DES (nice use of 1998 technology...), and the names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of up to 70 million additional people was also been stolen.
The malware involved is called BlackPOS and Картоха. The second of those is spelled in the Cyrillic alphabet, maybe looking a little different in Italic, Картоха, and pronounced car-toe-kha and not cap-tock-sa.
News and details include:
- Brian Krebs' initial announcement 18 Dec 2013.
- Target's initial press release 19 Dec 2013.
- CNN Money story 27 Dec 2013.
- Brian Krebs wrote an initial report on how the memory-scraping malware works, with links to a Reuters story and an analysis by US-CERT.
- iSIGHT Partners released a report on Картоха/BlackPOS. 16 Jan 2014
- Wired ran a story on the iSIGHT Картоха/BlackPOS. report. 16 Jan 2014
- Wired ran a story pointing out that Target and others were victims of a large hack in 2005. 17 Jan 2014
- Time magazine said Sergey Tarasov, a 17-year-old Russian, did it, he denied it, then Rinat Shabayev claimed credit for Картоха/BlackPOS. 20-27 Jan 2014
- FBI says Картоха/BlackPOS was connected to twenty breaches. 24 Jan 2014
- Target announced that the intruder stole and used a vendor's credentials. 30 Jan 2014
- Brian Krebs announced that the intrusion was via an HVAC or heating, ventilation and air-conditioning subcontractor that worked at Target and other top retailers including Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Fazio Mechanical Services of Sharpsburg PA had remote access to Target networks for electronic billing, contract submission, and project management (not, as initially thought, to monitor energy consumption and temperatures in stores as often done by HVAC contractors). Target's network infrastructure did not separate the HVAC systems from the POS or point-of-sale terminals, allowing the compromised HVAC account to push malware onto the POS terminals. The first malicious access was on 15 Nov; from then through 28 Nov the attackers uploaded data-stealing malware to a small number of POS terminals and tested that it worked as designed. Just two days later, by the 30th, the malware had been installed on a majority of Target's POS terminals and were actively collecting consumer card data. It was uploaded to compromised "drop" systems and eventually uploaded to Russia and Eastern Europe where it immediately went on the black market. 14 Feb 2014
- Kreb elaborated that the breach seems to have started with malware delivered through email phishing to employees of the HVAC contractor. Sources close to the investigation say that the Citadel password-stealing malware was used. They also report that Fazio was relying on the free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. The free version is on-demand only, it does not do real-time protection (that's in the pro version), and its license explicitly prohibits corporate use. Sources close to the investigation say that the Citadel password-stealing malware was used. They also report that Fazio was relying on the free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. The free version is on-demand only, it does not do real-time protection (that's in the pro version), and its license explicitly prohibits corporate use. 14 Feb 2014
- Brian Krebs presented a detailed description of how Картоха/BlackPOS and similar memory-scraping POS malware works. 14 Feb 2014
- Businessweek article alleging that the FireEye security service notified Target's security team about the breach, but they did not act in time to prevent the theft, 13 March 2014.
Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus revealed a breach based on the same malware, running 16 July through 30 October 2014.. See a Reuters story of 12 Jan 2014 and an initial Dark Reading report of 13 Jan 2014; then a Neiman Marcus announcement updated 21 Feb 2014 and Ars Technica (24 Jan) and Dark Reading (23 Jan) analyses of a theft of 1.1 million customers' debit and credit cards. Also see the New York Times story of 23 Jan 2014.
Other Big-Money News
- See the collection of cost estimates at http://www.securitystats.com/sspend.html — a nice collection of many estimates.
This has been a big problem for several years and
it just grows.
As per Anderson Consulting, in 1997:
- Computer security breaches cost businesses US$ 10,000,000,000.
- 59% of businesses selling over the Internet reported security breaches.
- A London banking organization allegedly paid millions of pounds to stop a two-year series of attacks mixing logic bombs with electromagnetic pulse weapons: London Sunday Times, 2 June 1996, pg 1; 9 June 1996, pg 1. Note that this story is now widely thought to be overly hyped and possibly a complete fabrication, especially the part about the electromagnetic pulse weapons. Some self-proclaimed "infowar specialists" carry on endlessly about HERF guns and EMP devices. Caveat lector!
Chinese and Bulgarian factories,
in concert with companies
in countries that are close allies and trading partners
of the U.S.,
steal software and pirate it as fast as the CD-ROM
presses will run.
take bus #92 out to the big market at Kadaka Torg.
Sankt Peterburg, Russia,
the big bootleg market is diagonal from the
rear corner of the Gostinniy Dvor shopping arcade along
go to the weekend flea market on University Square,
just outside the entrance to the Grand Bazaar.
All offer CD-ROM's intended as master disks for OEM's.
Bulgaria has made a few "show raids" on companies like Unison,
with little real effect.
Digital watermarking, related to steganography
(hiding messages in data), has been around a long time:
- It was used by Demaratus, a Greek, to send a message to the Spartans in the war between the Greeks and the Persians in 480 B.C. [see "The Histories" by Herodotus, and "The Code Book" by Simon Singh]
- Much later than that (in 1500!), it was described by the Benedictine monk Johannes Trithemius in Steganographia. He described a method of hiding text in a prayer book.
- Playboy has used it it to watermark imagery sold in electronic form since 1997. See the Digimarc press release or Secure Computing, Aug 1997, pg 15.
It's been discussed in non-specialist
publications since the mid-1990s:
- Nature, 12 Dec 1996, pg 514
- AWST, 20 Oct 1997, pg 13, and 3 Nov 1997, pg 17
- Business Week, 1 Sep 97, pg 35
- New York Times, 17 Feb 1999.
- The U.S. Air Force Research Lab wants to transfer their work on the technology to the civilian sector.
For huge losses most people willingly ignore, see
Scientific American, July 1997, pp 82-89,
for a great article,
"Taking Computers to Task" by W. W. Gibbs.
- The average office worker spends 5.1 hours per week unnecessarily fiddling with their machine — adjusting windows, changing background "wallpaper," or playing with their screensavers. This doesn't even count playing games!
- Boeing removed all games from their systems, fighting Microsoft's attempt to lower U.S. productivity by bundling games into operating systems under the silly premise of "games teach people how to use a mouse."
- Sun Microsystems prohibited fancy presentations, as they found that people can quickly assemble quality technical information but they will waste lots of time trying to make slides look pretty.
Cyberwar — Military applications of network attack and defense
This section grew enough to get its own page addressing:
- How the meaning of "network-centric warfare" has changed, and associated skepticism and enthusiasm for it.
- Actual examples of international conflict carried out on the Internet, and what may or may not be additional cases.
- Offensive Information Warfare, also called Information Operations.
Click here for that page.
COMSEC (Communications Security) — attacking cellular/mobile & GSM telephony
To intercept both directions of a cellular telephony conversation,
the eavesdropper will need to listen somewhere near the handset.
(a GSM competitor once popular in North America, although
uses CAVE (Cellular Authentication, Voice Privacy and Encryption)
and CMEA (Cellular Message Encryption Algorithm).
These perform three main functions:
- Authenticate to the network that the unit requesting service is a legal subscriber.
- Generate codes to protect control channel data, including all digits dialed on the keypad (dialed numbers, plus later PIN's etc). Control channel data is encrypted with CMEA (Cellular Message Encryption Algorithm).
- Generate two keys to "mask" the digitized forward and reverse voice channels.
Targeted eavesdroppers can use a cell site emulator, which could be something
like the CCS Digital Data Interpreter.
These emulators use the non-voice data streams
to track frequency changes, cell hand-offs, etc., and capture all the call
information and content while tracking location.
These are expensive, but they really do the job!
The OKI 900 controlled by the right software running on a laptop is a
lower-budget cellular intercept platform that's still pretty capable.
Better yet, use what the FBI uses to intercept and track mobile phones. A Harris Corporation StingRay spoofs a legitimate cell tower, tricking all nearby mobile phones and other wireless communication devices including air cards for GSM Internet connectivity on laptops. The devices all connect to the StingRay instead of the legitimate carrier tower. By moving the StingRay around, authorities can pinpoint the device location down to a specific apartment in a building.
Cruder forms of this technology have been used by law enforcement for at least 20 years. An FBI agent in a case in Utah in 2009 described using a cell site emulator more than 300 times over a decade, and indicated that they were used daily by U.S. Marshals, U.S. Secret Service and "other federal agencies".
Harris' cell site emulator product in the mid 1990s was the Triggerfish. By 2013 Harris' current model of full-sized cell site emulator had been the StingRay for some years. The KingFish is a hand-held unit easily carried up and down hallways of apartment buildings and hotels.
Other companies including Verint, View Systems, Altron, NeoSoft, Cobham Surveillance (formerly MMI Research Products), Ability and Meganet make systems similar to the Harris StingRay, intercepting and tracking GSM/UMTS based communications. But the Harris StingRay and KingFish can also track CDMA2000, and iDEN, and can support three different communications modes simultaneously. The StingRay II supports four communications modes simultaneously. When the City of Miami was shopping for Harris wireless surveillance products in September 2008 and published the Harris price list on their web site, a StingRay II cost $148,000 plus $22,000 per supported mode. A KingFish was $27,800 for just UMTS plus $18,000 each for GSM, CDMA and iDen modes.
- For more details on GSM hacking, see the announcement of GSM cloning and how security-through-obscurity isn't security at all.
- Also see Privacy International and their study of the $5 billion per year global surveillance industry.
Late 1999 saw announcements of GSM cracking (which, for the U.S.A.,
effects "Digital PCS" as well).
Bruce Schneier's "Crypto-Gram" newsletter,
15 December 1999, the relevant algorithms at the time were:
- A3 is the authentication algorithm to prevent phone cloning.
- A5/1 is the stronger of the two voice-encryption algorithms.
- A5/2 is the weaker of the two voice-encryption algorithms.
- A5/3 has been added more recently for 3G communications.
- A8 is the voice-privacy key-generation algorithm.
- A3 and A8 — Can always be broken in 8 hours over the air (as above). All A8 implementations tested did not use COMP128, they used a weakened form! (April 1998)
- A5/2 — Can be broken in real-time without any trouble. (August 1999) Read "Instant Ciphertext-Only Cryptanalysis of GSM Encrypted Communication" by three researchers at Techion - Israel Institute of Technology.
- A5/1 — Given the first two minutes of the conversation, one PC with 128 MB of RAM and two 73 GB hard drives can find the A5/1 key in about one second. (May 1999)
- "Research May Hasten Death of Mobile Privacy Standard", Washington Post, Feb 2008
- Forbes magazine, 21 Feb 2008
- Govenment Computer News, 20 Feb 2008
- Information Week, 20 Feb 2008
The industry (predictably) claimed this was all impossible,
as it required unavailable hardware.
Well under US$ 10,000 should provide a high-quality intercept station.
For details of the analysis:
- Further GSM security and insecurity references:
August 2009 saw further reports on making A5/1 cracking more practical
and less academic:
- "Subverting the security base of GSM" by Karsten Hohl and Sascha Krissler, Hacking At Random conference, Aug 2009.
- darkreading.com article discussing the work.
December 2009 brought further A5/1 cracking results:
- An article from late December 2009 reported that a complete GSM intercept station could now be built for about $4000, and it can handle the random channel hopping. A 2TB Rainbow Table is used to rapidly find the encryption key. A low-end intercept station could be built around a PC with a medium-end graphics card, at least 2TB of disk storage, and two GNURadio USRP2 computer-controlled receivers. A few minutes of conversation will be required to gather enough information. More elaborate and expensive systems using FPGA devices could break the encryption "almost instantaneously".
In 2012, researchers at Ruhr University Bochum
broke the A5-GMR-1 and A5-GMR-2 algorithms
used on satellite phones.
They report a ciphertext-only attack on A5-GMR-1 with average complexity
232 steps, and a known-plaintext attack on A5-GMR-2 for which
"the encryption key for one session, i.e., one phone call, can be
recovered with approximately 50?65 bytes of key stream and a
moderate computational complexity."
the research group's report,
description in Network World.
If you want voice COMSEC on the cheap, check out
you use your
computer's audio interface and PGP software to encrypt and decrypt a
pair of audio streams.
Mobile networks have been hacked
by attacking the insecure GPRS backbone links used by most
mobile phone providers.
This was announced and demonstrated at the
Chaos Communication Camp 2001.
GPRS encryption has been broken, see articles in
MIT Technology Review.
To build your own GSM femtocell,
see the Vodafone - THC Wiki.
If you are more interested in GSM jamming and otherwise denying service
with decoy GSM cells:
From an article about the common use of cell phones by prisoners
despite its illegality, in
a trade magazine for public-service and emergency radio communications
("Arresting Developments", August 2010, pp 42-47):
- South Carolina's prison system found 3,024 cell phones among its population of 24,000 inmates, a 1:8 ratio, in the 2009 fiscal year.
- A Texas correctional facility was found to have 239 cell phones in use in one 400-inmate wing.
- CellAntenna makes cellular systems: in-building repeaters, signal boosters, antennas, etc. CJam Cellular Jamming Technology seems to be CellAntenna under another name, and they openly market cell phone jamming systems.
- Security Intelligence Technologies builds and sells GSM jammers.
- Bomb Jammer builds and sells GSM jammers, including their "VIP 200 Bomb Jammer". Many of these companies market their products as jammers just for the control links for improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
- Netline Communications Technologies, of Israel, sells a system called CellTrack. It has multiple covert devices that can detect a variety of GSM/cellular standards simultaneously, tied into a central computer doing the overall analysis.
- Armed Forces International provides information on a vendors of a range of military-related products.
- From an article about the common use of cell phones by prisoners despite its illegality, in Urgent Communications, a trade magazine for public-service and emergency radio communications ("Arresting Developments", August 2010, pp 42-47):
DNS (Domain Name System) Security Issues
DNS should work as follows:
The human user types
www.cromwell-intl.cominto a browser. The browser recognizes that this is not an IP address, and it makes a library call to the resolver. That creates a DNS query packet asking for an A record for the fully-qualified domain name (FQDN). This is a relatively simple UDP datagram.
- That DNS query is sent to the client's nameserver. If you are reading this at home, that means the DNS server specified by your ISP when your system used DHCP to get its IP configuration. If you are at work, then it would be your corporate DNS server. Either way, the DNS server is willing to do some work on behalf of the client and answer its questions because it's a client.
That nameserver (labeled "ISP nameserver" below)
doesn't know and it doesn't know who to ask.
So it asks a server authoritative for the entire
.comdomain, "Where is the nameserver for the cromwell-intl.com domain?", asking for an NS record. The root servers are authoritative for
.comand so its IP address is coded into the DNS server software.
.comserver answers the direct question and also passes along the answer to the obvious next question, "What are their IP addresses?". As it turns out, there are two. One question was asked, there were two answers and two additional pieces of useful information.
Your nameserver now picks one of those servers
and asks the original question,
"What is the IP address for
That nameserver responds that
www.cromwell-intl.comis really an alias. The canonical name is
cromwell-intl.comand its IP address is 18.104.22.168. This information should be good for a while, feel free to cache it for 3,600 seconds.
- Your ISP returns that information to your client, which receives it and passes the information along to the browser application. It makes a connection to TCP port 80 on that IP address, and this page loads.
- Meanwhile your nameserver is caching that information in case some client asks the question within the Time To Live value.
Below you see those numbered steps as ASCII art:
[1,2] client -----------------------> ISP nameserver DNS query: www.cromwell-intl.com A record  ISP nameserver --------------------> .com name server DNS query: cromwell-intl.com NS  ISP nameserver <-------------------- .com name server DNS answer: cromwell-intl.com NS = ns31.domaincontrol.com cromwell-intl.com NS = ns32.domaincontrol.com Additional resource record: ns31.domaincontrol.com A = 22.214.171.124 ns32.domaincontrol.com A = 126.96.36.199  ISP nameserver --------------------------------> ns31.domaincontrol.com DNS query: www.cromwell-intl.com A  ISP nameserver <-------------------------------- ns31.domaincontrol.com DNS answer: www.cromwell-intl.com CNAME = cromwell-intl.com Additional resource record: cromwell-intl.com A = 188.8.131.52 TTL = 3600 seconds [7,8] client <----------------------- ISP nameserver <---> cache DNS answer: www.cromwell-intl.com CNAME = cromwell-intl.com Additional resource record: cromwell-intl.com A = 184.108.40.206 TTL = 3600 seconds
What the attacker wants to do:
The attacker wants to fool many people into looking at the wrong web site. They build a bogus web site on some server. It looks like something people would trust, for example, a clone of the
citibank.com web site.
Of course, it is just going to steal information if
anyone visits it and believes it's really Citibank!
They will then try to fool as many DNS servers as possible
into beliving that the IP address for
citibank.com is whatever IP address they have
for their bogus site.
Note that they could have a digital certificate from Verisign or whoever, completely valid for their IP address and whatever their domain really is. Your browser would be happy to connect to that server via HTTPS and it would report no problem. You would have to examine the certificate details and see that it was issued to some organization in Russia instead of Citibank, and what is the probability of you doing that every time you use a banking site?
So how do the bad guys fool the world-wide DNS infrastructure?
Problem #1 — Stateless DNS
Early versions of the BIND DNS server did not keep track of which questions they had asked. If they got an answer, they assumed it was relevant and put it in the cache. So the bad guy does this:
Someone should run the reverse service,
providing PTR (or "pointer") records saying,
for example, that
220.127.116.11 corresponds to
cromwell-intl.com.Really this is done as a DNS PTR record:
18.104.22.168.in-addr.arpa IN PTR cromwell-intl.com
The bad guy takes responsibility for providing this service for his small block of IP addresses. Let's say he's at 22.214.171.124. That IP address belongs to a Romanian ISP from which I see a bunch of probes. Our theorized hacker has a DNS server responsible for at least this part of the reverse space under
126.96.36.199.in-addr.arpa IN PTR hackerpc.romtelecom.ro
or something like that....
The bad guy does some surveillance
to find name servers running old and vulnerable
- Find the IP addresses for a bunch of Internet Service providers.
For each of those IP addresses, run this
$ dig @IP version.bind chaos txt
That should just fail, but sloppily configured servers will answer. Some of those will report old versions, effectively announcing, "I am vulnerable!"
- For each vulnerable DNS server, each one of which represents an entire domain or organization about to be misled, the bad guy intentionally attempts a connection that will fail. A good example would be to connect to TCP port 23, the TELNET service, on the nameserver itself.
- That target nameserver is probably going to try to resolve the attacker's IP address back to a hostname, meaning that it will send a DNS query for the PTR record to the nameserver under the bad guys contol.
That nameserver responds with the requested answer:
188.8.131.52.in-addr.arpa IN PTR hackerpc.romtelecom.ro TTL=3600
However, it also sends some additional resource records in that DNS reply packet. These are unsolicited responses, answers to questions that were not asked:
www.citibank.com IN A 184.108.40.206 TTL=31536000
citibank.com IN A 220.127.116.11 TTL=31536000
www.bankofamerica.com IN A 18.104.22.168 TTL=31536000
bankofamerica.com IN A 22.214.171.124 TTL=31536000
and so on, trying to inject bogus information about the IP addresses of banking sites with a time to live of one year.
Now when any client of that vulnerable nameserver
resolves any of those hostnames to an IP
address, they are given the bogus answer
corresponding to the hacker's hostile site.
This was the technology behind the September 1997
"CIA web page hack" and many more attacks
This is called a cache poisoning attack.
Problem #2 — The Kaminsky DNS Vulnerability
Dan Kaminsky discovered a very serious problem in DNS and publicized it in the summer of 2008. Left out of the above explanation was the detail that DNS packets contain a field called the Query ID. This allows a DNS server to match answers to questions, and it allows newer DNS implementations with some sense of state to tell if a given answer corresponds to a question that they had asked.
The problem is that the Query ID is reasonably easy to guess in many DNS server implementations. The bad guy now:
Builds a DNS server claiming to be authoritative
for a sensitive domain like
citibank.com.However, it will always give the bad guy's IP address as the answer to any address queries!
- Surveils Internet DNS servers to find ones probably vulnerable to this attack.
- For each one, make some legitimate queries to estimate the state of the Query ID field.
Ask a question that will require the target
server to send a query to the
citibank.comnameserver. Ask for the IP address of a hostname known not to exist,
"What is the IP address of
Since the nameserver very likely will not answer questions for clients not within its domain, the bad guy simply forges the source IP address on the DNS query datagram. It will get to the server just fine as long as the bad guy's ISP does not do sanity checking, and the bad guy will have selected an ISP that does not do sanity checking in order to support this and many other attacks.
Using a network of compromised PCs under his control,
the bad guy launches a blizzard of bogus DNS
responses with various Query ID values.
His hope is that one of them will be correct.
Depending on the predicability of the Query ID field
and the number of compromised hosts under his control,
this may be very likely indeed.
Each of those packets uses Authority records to
delegate further questions about the
citibank.comdomain to the bad guy's bogus server.
"I don't know the answer, but you can find the answer by asking the nameserver
ns1.citibank.comand its IP address is 126.96.36.199."
However, that is the bad guy's hostile DNS server. Now every question about the
citibank.comdomain will be sent to the bad guy's DNS server — he effectively owns the
citibank.comdomain as far as that victim nameserver's domain is concerned.
This is also a cache poisoning attack, but it is far more powerful.
So, how do you avoid being a victim?
Update your DNS server.
Make sure your server is running up-to-date DNS server software! Patched DNS server software will randomize both the UDP port used for its queries and the Query ID field itself. Unfortunately, six or so months after Kaminsky's discovery was announced to great fanfare, mention in newspapers and so on, over 25% of the DNS servers on the Internet were found to still be running out of date and vulnerable software!
Configure your DNS server correctly.
Use the Team Cymru Secure BIND Template.
Open DNS Resolver Project.
You can query CIDR blocks of IP addresses to see if you have any open DNS resolvers.
The Measurement Factory.
It's similar to the Open DNS Resolver Project.
This is another web-based tool for testing DNS servers.
The djbdns DNS server by Daniel J Bernstein has correctly randomized both the source UDP port and Query ID since the beginning. Many people find his djbdns easier to configure than the much more commonly used BIND software from ISC.
Incidents and Anecdotes
"Security through obscurity" has known to be ineffectual
for well over a century.
Auguste Kerckhoffs (1835-1903) stated
that the security of a cryptosystem must not depend on
keeping its algorithm secret.
See his article "La cryptographie militaire",
in Journal des sciences militaries,
vol IX, pp 5-38, Jan 1883.
U.S. Government fear-mongering about
electrical power grid hacking:
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a very contrived video in September 2007 showing catastrophic failure of an electrical power generator. This got notoriety as the "Aurora Generator Test", conducted in March 2007. But it was largely interpreted as little more than an intentional scare story by DHS.
Then "CIA senior analyst Tom Donahue"
seems to have gone on a
one-man fright crusade:
- "A CIA analyst told attendees at a SANS Institute conference that hackers infiltrated an overseas power grid to knock out power. Senior analyst Tom Donahue did not say which cities were affected, or for how long power was cut. The warning came in the wake of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security video demonstrating a hacker taking over a power grid." SC Magazine, March 2008, pg 14
- "We have information, from multiple regions outside the United States, of cyber intrusions into utilities, followed by extortion demands," Donohue said at the SCADA 2008 Control System Security Summit in New Orleans [16 Jan 2008]. "We suspect, but cannot confirm, that some of these attackers had the benefit of inside knowledge," he said. "We have information that cyberattacks have been used to disrupt power equipment in several regions outside the United States. In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities. We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet." See a description in Governmnet Executive, 18 Jan 2008.
- June 2008 — "Last month the National Journal cited two computer security professionals, who in turn cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials, in reporting that China's People's Liberation Army may have cracked the computers controlling the U.S. power grid to trigger the cascading blackout that cut off electricity to 50 million people in eight states and a Canadian province [in August, 2003]" But cyber security consultant Paul Kurtz, who worked at the White House at the time of the blackout, said they're no truth to the claim and many others have backed him up.
- April 2009 — This same story appeared, again, in the Wall Street Journal this time (4 April 2009, article by Siobhan Gorman). The article is based on anonymous sources and "former national-security officials". It goes on to re-hash "CIA senior analyst Tom Donahue", making this just yet another cycle of the same old scare story.
- April 15, 2009 — Time magazine observes that there have been no instances of cyberattacks taking down national power grids.
- It has been observed in a Wired article that these scary stories are suspiciously correlated with US Government announcements of the need for increased surveillance.
- A more prominent threat is physical attacks. Some have taken place, see stories at the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal for reports on an April 2013 attack on the PG&E Metcalf substation near San Jose, California, when rifle shots damaged 17 transformers.
Russian Business Network (RBN)
- A 13 Oct 2007 Washington Post article "Shadowy Russian Firm Seen as Conduit for Cybercrime" reported, "An Internet business based in Saint Petersburg has become a world hub for Web sites devoted to child pornography, spamming and identity theft, according to computer security experts. They say Russian authorities have provided little help in efforts to shut down the company. The Russian Business Network sells Web site hosting to people engaged in criminal activity, the security experts say. Groups operating through the company's computers are thought to be responsible for about half of last year's incidents of "phishing" VeriSign said that the Rock Group phishers used RBN to steal about US$ 150 million over the preceding year. Symantec said that RBN was "responsible for hosting Web sites that carry out a major portion of the world's cybercrime and profiteering." RBN does not have its own web site, you must contact its operators via instant-messaging or obscure Russian-language online forums. You must also prove that you are not a law enforcement investigator by demonstrating active involvement in theft of consumers' financial and personal data.
Russky Newsweek described
"the world of Russian hackers" in
It mentions the apparently connections between
international conflict on the Internet
between Russia and Estonia and Georgia,
attacks against Citigroup, and massive identity
theft and spamming.
But it's still uncertain if RBN was really one
criminal vast organization or if it was a
host to multiple Internet based gangs.
Interesting anecdote in that article include:
- "Aleksandr Gostev, director of Kaspersky Labs, a global research and threat analysis center, believes that RBN's servers are located in Panama."
- "According to one study, the network comprised 406 addresses and 2090 domain names by the end of 2007."
- "The original RBN was behind the cyberattack on Estonia, Paget says, and, according to a study by the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit (US-CCU), one of its successors was behind the virtual assault on Georgia."
- "One of RBN's most prosperous businesses is Internet pharmacies, with the international organization Spamhaus naming Canadian Pharmacy as the main propagator of criminal cyberschemes." The bootleg medications are produced in India, and several dozen virtual pharmacies makes sales mostly to the U.S.
- "According to Dmitry Golubov, who describes himself as the leader of the Internet Party of Ukraine, a group of 20 to 25 people account for 70 percent of the world's spam. 'A database of active e-mails costs money,' says Golubov. 'For example, a million addresses of purchasers of access to porn resources costs $25,000 to $30,000.'"
U.S. military use of commercial telecommunication links:
- Early 1990s — "About 20% of satcom support for Operation Desert Storm came from commercial [satellite] fleets." AWST 19 Nov 2007 pp 52-53.
- 1995-1996 — 95% of military communication at least touches the public switched networks. DOD is primarily reactive with no uniform policy for assessing risks, protecting systems, responding to incidents, or assessing damage. Military and Aerospace Electronics, January 1997, pg 17; AWST, 13 Jul 1998, pp 67-70 (quoting Maj. Gen. John Casciano, USAF director of intelligence); Lt Gen Kenneth A Minihan, "Intelligence and Information System Security", Defense Intelligence Journal, vol 5 n 1 (Spring 1996), pg 20.
- 2007 — "Now about 80% of all satellite communications in Iraq and Afghanistan come from commercial spacecraft, which may in some cases simultaneously provide services to friendly forces, as well as adverseries. AWST 19 Nov 2007 pp 52-53.
- 2008 — "Roughly 85% of [U.S.] military satellite communications are processed by commercial entities, but those services are purchased in an ad hoc fashion." AWST Oct 13, 2008, pg 34.
USB storage devices and issues for the military
- "Colombia's struggling guerrila movement appears to have suffered yet another defeat because of technology. The names of more than 9,000 rebels have fallen into government hands. Two government officials said this week [26 Sep 2008] that soldiers raiding a rebel camp in February  found a memory stick that held the names, aliases and identity numbers of 9,387 rebels — and even included the photos of some of them." The group was FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia. New York Times 26 Sep 2008, pg A8.
- USB storage devices have been stolen from U.S. military bases in Afghanistan by local cleaning staff and sold in the local bazaars. Stories were carried by the BBC and the Los Angeles Times.
Attacks against infrastructure, many mentioned in
the article found here.
Meanwhile, do not be frightened by
apparently weak claims of hacker attacks on the U.S. power network,
elsewhere on this page.
- 1999 — Malicious hackers took control of a Gazprom gas pipeline in Russia for around 24 hours.
2000 — A disgruntled ex-employee accessed the industrial
control systems of a sewage treatment plant in Maroochy Shire,
Queensland, Australia, and released at least a million liters
of raw sewage into a river and onto the grounds of a hotel.
"Located in a tourist area on the east coast, the sewage system has 142 pumping stations connected by radio to monitoring computers.
The troubles began when the installation company, Hunter Watertech, finished installing the control system in December 1999 and the site supervisor for HWT, Vitek Boden, resigned 'under circumstances that are not exactly explained'. He applied to MSC for a position, but was rejected.
he following month, January 2000, strange things started to happen. Pumps were not running when needed, alarms were not being reported to the control centre, and there was a loss of communications between the control centre and the pumping stations.
The evidence began to point to outside agents interfering with the system. With data logging this became more apparent when engineers noticed a spoofed pump station ID. The system was receiving signals from a pumping station ID that wasn't where it should have been — and it wasn't sending the right sort of signals. After inspecting one particular pump station site and re-coding its ID, it became clear that they were receiving signals coming in from a station that didn't exist. Radio monitoring was also starting to detect these transmissions. After nearly two months of baffling problems, on 16 March they began to get some hard evidence of what was going on. They spotted radio transmissions controlling various pump stations from the fake ID.
By this time, in the middle of March, a lot of faults were occurring and it was obvious that the hacker wasn't just playing around with the control system. There were sewage leaks, caused by overflowing tanks when pumps were turned off. The golf course next to the Hyatt Hotel was flooded with a million litres of sewage. A major overflow into a residential area and tidal canal polluted an estuary; in the surrounding area on Australia's Sunshine Coast, creeks turned black and cost the government Au$100,000 to set up an environmental monitoring programme."
- 2003 — The "Slammer" worm disabled a safety monitoring system at Davis-Basse nuclear power plant in Ohio, USA. Of course, this was not the original intent of the attack.
- 2007 — A former employee for a federally-owned canal system in California was charged with installing software that damaged a computer used to divert water out of a local river, as described in The Register (UK). The Tehama Colusa Canal Authority operates two canals that move water out of the Sacramento River for use in irrigation and agriculture in Northern California. The perpetrator worked for the TCCA for more than 17 years before being fired on August 15, the date he is alleged to have installed the unauthorized software.
2007 — Lonnie Charles Denison was a SAIC contractor working as
a UNIX systems administrator at the California Independent System
Operator's data center controlling California's power grid.
He had a dispute with his boss at SAIC and learned on 15 April that
he had lost computer access privileges.
Minutes later he broke a glass cover and hit the emergency
power "off" button, shutting down the facility.
This cut California off from the wholesale electricity market
(although it did not cut off power to the state!).
Allegedly he e-mailed a bomb threat the next day to a California ISO
In December he pled guilty, and faced up to five years in prison
and $250,000 in fines.
The Register, 20 Apr 2007; Computerworld, 1 Jan 2008, pg 6; PC World and several other sources]
- 2010 — The Stuxnet worm was detected in June, 2010. In September, 2010, analysts announced that it seems to have been designed specifically to take control of a real-world industrial target, the SCADA software running chemical plants, factories, and electrical power generation and transmission systems. Its infections have been concentrated in Iran, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia, although systems have been infected world-wide. Some believe that it is targeted at a specific facility — Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant. The Christian Science Monitor had a good report on this story, with more technical details than typically found in newspapers. Dark Reading goes deeper into the technical details and the analysis.
good article about
"The Great Firewall of China", the national firewall in
People's Republic of China
from The Atlantic Monthly.
In May 1998 an internal review of DOE facilities found serious security
problems (classified info on open systems, ftp write
permission, readable password files, etc) on 1,400 of 64,000 systems.
Los Alamos had detected 15 security breaches in the preceding 6 months.
Brock Meeks, MSNBC, 29 May 1998, Stark Abstracting.
Hardware cryptographic attacks — The Electronic Frontier Foundation
developed and built a dedicated platform in 1998
for under US$ 250,000 that
breaks DES-encrypted messages in 72 hours, an order of magnitude faster
than the most recent distributed network attack.
Much of the cost was design and development — the next one with the
same performance would cost $50,000 or less.
Speed to break DES on this architecture drops linearly with dollars spent
on hardware, so forget all the U.S. government claims about hardware
solutions being impossible.
Also remember that this is cost for today's hardware,
and cost per performance falls fast over time.
Click here for the EFF article.
- Cyberstalking — Further proof that IRC and "chat rooms" are worse than useless, and Facebook has just made things worse..
Government Warnings and Reactions
Threats are under-reported:
- DISA estimates only 0.2% of attacks are reported. AWST, 27 Apr 1998, pg 27.
- Only one of 150 attacks against DOD computer systems is detected. AWST, 20 January 1997, pp 60-61.
- ARPA/NSA/DISA/DSS Memorandum of Agreement for coordinating Infosec research programs
For current research and development, see
Purdue's CERIAS group.
The classic Unix security paper is in
AT+T Bell Labs Technical Journal, October 1984.
the Trusted Product Evaluation Program frequently-asked-question list
on computer security
Disaster recovery is a whole field in itself.
Check out the
Disaster Recovery Journal.
For a light introduction,
IEEE Spectrum, December 1996, pg 49.
A very scholarly treatment of Internet congestion models is in
Science,, vol 277, 25 July 1997, pp 477, 535-537.
- Keep looking — here are some more WWW sites to check out.
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