To avoid getting hacked, youve got to think like a hacker—and that means knowing the tools and tricks of the hacking trade.
IT managers must understand the types of hacking tools available—including the vulnerabilities they target and the damage they can cause—to keep business data private, prevent information theft and maintain data availability while enabling a high level of business productivity.
Its tempting to rely on commercial vulnerability assessment tools and patch management systems to keep network infrastructure devices, servers and desktop systems in top defensive form. However, IT organizations should not depend on these products and services as the sole source of expertise in combating attacks on enterprise resources.
Hacking tools most often originate in the realm of advanced coders. And recent news stories have tied these coders to underworld backers.
Many of these hacking tools are a few clicks away on the Internet, but some tools can be difficult to find unless you move in certain circles. In the frequent case that a hacking tool cannot be accessed directly, there are several resources on the Web that will provide the kind of information IT managers need to assess network security tools ability to thwart it.
Before doing any kind of assessment of hacking tools, IT administrators should first perform a risk analysis to see which of their organizations IT resources are most vulnerable to attack and what kinds of attacks theyre most liable to suffer. Administrators should then attempt to download, test and become proficient with at least one of the hacking tools that are most threatening to the organizations vital IT assets.
One hack that should be high on IT organizations most-wanted list comes by way of root kits.
In fact, based on detailed information provided to eWEEK Labs and verified in our testing, Windows shops should immediately take steps to understand root kits, a type of hack that is widely known in the Unix community but that now appears to be headed straight for Windows desktop and server systems.
Although root kits may be a new problem—to the Windows world, anyway—the overarching concern should be variations on hacks known to exist in every operating system in use in the network today.
One of the most commonly exploited vulnerabilities is the buffer overflow. Buffer overflows occur when too much information can be written to a predefined memory buffer, causing a program to fail.
There are many tools that let hackers exploit this vulnerability, and knowing them will help you learn how to prevent their successful use on your systems.
One such tool is Digital Monkeys Buffer Syringe, a relatively simple, minimally documented tool that lets hackers exploit buffer overflows. In fact, Buffer Syringe includes several usage examples that make implementation of the tool a snap.
Understanding how Buffer Syringe and tools like it work should give IT managers much more confidence when evaluating, for example, a Windows vulnerability assessment tool or patch management system because it will reveal the ins and outs of how the buffer overflow is constructed.
With this information, IT managers can then exact much more specific and telling information from vendors of commercial vulnerability assessment tools as to how their tools detect such weaknesses. Thus armed, it will be much easier to evaluate, select, implement and use such tools over time.
A format-string vulnerability occurs when user-supplied data is handled incorrectly—usually in the C language—and is passed by a program directly as a format string. A talented attacker can then craft a string that overwrites memory locations with the attackers input.
Most IT managers likely will not have time to practice with this hack because it requires extensive tinkering to work correctly. If thats the case, a good way to get familiar with the hack is to use eWEEK Labs favorite open-source vulnerability assessment tool—used by people wearing both white and black hats—Nessus (nessus.org).
As with all the categories of hacking tools described in this article (and as with many esoteric hacking tools that are not discussed here), the Nessus tool has several plug-ins that can reveal format-string and other vulnerabilities. By becoming familiar with Nessus format-string plug-in, IT managers can get a very good feel for how a format-string attack will look and act.
In fact, its well worth any IT managers time to poke around at the Nessus site, paying close attention to the plug-in library. We recommend installing Nessus in the organizations test network and subscribing to the Nessus plug-in feed, which can be the only way to get the latest additions to the Nessus tool.
Spending even a short amount of time reading about the purpose and use of a Nessus plug-in will provide valuable insight into the operation of many hacking tools—and certainly the vulnerabilities that these tools seek to exploit.
This is also a good way to understand directory traversal hacks, which, like buffer overflows and format-string attacks, use custom code to cause a program malfunction to gain escalated user privilege.
Defaults, back doors and misconfiguration
There is a whole class of hacking “tools” that are nothing more than expert knowledge of a particular application or operating system combined with poor security practices by the IT implementer.
Early in the methodical stalking of an IT resource, hackers will enumerate and identify systems in a network, looking for something of interest. After identifying an interesting target, smart hackers will gently test to see if any part of a system was left in a default configuration. Such a configuration provides easy back-door entry into what might look from the front like an impregnable fortress.
To avoid leaving these back doors open, or even ajar, eWEEK Labs recommends that IT managers add a section to any RFP (request for proposal) that requires vendors to supply instructions and tools for hardening their respective products.
Vendors that are unable to provide this kind of assistance—at no extra cost or at a nominal fee for custom work—should be passed over in favor of suppliers that can help IT lock out hacking tools.
We also recommend training users early and often about how to avoid social hacks such as e-mail phishing and the dreaded Post-It Note attack.
Web resources: Hacking tools
- For Windows systems, start with sysinternals.com, where youll find a host of useful no-cost and commercial diagnostic tools.
- Go to nessus.org to become familiar with one of the most widely used vulnerability assessment tools available. Nessus can probe a wide range of server and desktop operating systems and is frequently updated.
- Wikipedia provides useful information about root kits, with pointers to articles about other hacking tools.
Source: eWEEK Labs
Labs Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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