V3.co.uk entered the world of hacking yesterday by participating in a 'Hack the Lab' session arranged by network security firm Stonesoft.
A fictitious web site was created especially for participants to hack into and the results were interesting and a little frightening.
Using tools such as Nmap (port scanner), Netcat (multi-purpose tool), Metasploit (command line tool) and John the Ripper (password cracker), which are all freely available on the internet, we had a crack.
We successfully managed to hack into the fabricated web site and obtained not only admin login details, but credit card details of the owners and customers in under just under half an hour.
This was done using a Virtual Network Computing (VNC) tool, which we installed on the fictitious admin machine to gain remote desktop access.
Alan Cottom, technical engineering specialist at Stonesoft, was on hand to explain the principles.
There are usually five steps that an attacker goes through when looking to carry out a hack:
1. Selecting the target: There are mainly two types of hackers. Those who focus on an individual or organisation for financial/political gain and those who are opportunistic, who scan ports looking to find vulnerable systems.
2. Gathering information: Once a target has been selected, the hacker embarks on the most important process which is the research phase. Attackers aim to gather as much information as possible, including business/domain/contact names, web site addresses, phone numbers and emails. These are all primary pieces of information that a hacker is eager to acquire. The more information an attacker has, the easier it is to gain access into a system.
Individuals must be careful about posting computer details on forums as hackers commonly browse these to pick up information about potential targets.
Hackers are always on the look out for mergers and acquisitions as these are seen as 'soft targets' because businesses usually want to link IT systems quickly and may sacrifice security, Cottom said.
3. Exploiting vulnerabilities: Hackers do not waste their time breaking into firewalls, they look to exploit vulnerable areas of a system i.e. through a web server that may not have been patched properly or a test machine that has remained connected.
4. Leaving a back door: After access has been found, a hacker always leaves a back door to regain entry, by planting a root kit or a remote shell. Some may even modify access rules.
5. Covering tracks: The best attackers will look to disable auditing processes and delete event logs.
The first thing a good administrator will do if he/she suspects there has been an attack is check the logs, so hackers will want to cover their tracks by disabling these, Cottom said.
There have been several high profile hacks recently including the infiltration of Google's Gaia password system in January. This occurred when an employee clicked on an MMS link and had their machine infiltrated, which was used to gain access to the firm's admin system.
However, Twitter experienced one of the most embarrassingly simple hacks last year when a user used a brute force password cracker to gain admin access. Passwords were changed, private information was viewed, and tweets were sent out from users such as Britney Spears.
Twitter could have avoided this by simple employing a lockout of accounts after three-password attempts.
Essential Security Tips from Stonesoft
- Use alphanumeric passwords, but not ones that are so complicated that you need to write them down.
- Keep anti-virus software and patches up-to-date.
- Do not click on suspicious links in emails or instant messages.
- Turn office hardware off at night.
- Take a look at some Intrusion Prevention Software.
V3.co.uk will post a video demo of Alan Cottom explaining the stages of hacking soon.
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