New Threats Range From 'Dribbling Breached Data' to IoT and Toys

Researchers highlight some newer threats and security trends such as "dribbling breached data," which refers to the incremental release of hacked data.

new security threats

SAN FRANCISCO—The bad guys are evolving, and that means everyone—from consumers to IT security pros—needs to be on guard. That was one of the messages here at the RSA Conference in a session hosted by analysts from the SANS Institute.

Ed Skoudis , an instructor at the SANS Institute and CEO of Counter Hack Challenges, said there's a new twist in some of the recent large data breaches, notably the big Sony hack, that has put companies and IT on the defensive. Skoudis calls it "dribbling breached data." Typically, when there's a major breach, the hackers capture a massive trove of data and use it to extract valuable information or make it all public to embarrass or harm the company or institution.

But in the Sony case, Skoudis noted that the hackers released only some of the captured material, and then released more later that basically proved what Sony said in its initial response wasn't true. "I think we'll see a lot more of this kind of tactic going forward," said Skoudis. "When the data is coming out over time, it makes it hard to deal with because you don't know how the adversary is going to get you. The incremental release of data makes it harder for response teams and PR teams."

Another area likely to gain more of malicious hackers' attention is the so-called Internet of things (IoT). IoT is becoming an extension of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) to work phenomena, to include things like wireless access points, portable printers and smart watches, which all have wireless connectivity, Skoudis said. "How do you secure something if you don't know it's there," he asked, rhetorically. Even in the home, many devices use Z-Wave wireless technology that has a lot of vulnerabilities, he said.

"There are tool kits available that let you sniff and crack Z-Wave devices," he said.

Even something seemingly as benign as the new wave of wirelessly connected toys (what Skoudis called "the Internet of toys") poses a risk. Some of the newest dolls can record speech and talk back, leading to concerns the dolls will utter swear words or other inappropriate comments. But Skoudis is more concerned that a wireless hack could lead to the toys overheating and burn the child.

The other trend he covered is "the commoditization of malicious hardware." These are small, inexpensive devices designed to aid in the physical intrusion of desktop and portable computers. One example, the $40 USB Rubber Ducky, advertised by one vendor as "the most lethal duck ever to grace an unsuspecting port." While it looks like an ordinary USB flash drive, the Rubber Ducky is actually an integrated processor with a USB connector and an SD card. When connected, the computer recognizes it as an input device (a USB keyboard).

Android Exposed

In the case of Android, there's been a trend of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) not being turned on in mobile devices, said John Pescatore, director of the SANS Institute. SSL provides a secure connection between Internet browsers and Websites to let you more securely transmit private data online, and device builders sometimes don't turn on SSL because it can slow performance, he said.

"The device works faster when it's not encrypting bits on the disk," said Pescatore.

He pointed to a McAfee report that said 70 percent of mobile app users don't turn on SSL, and millions of app users can be exposed to SSL vulnerabilities. "The good news is that the big app stores like Google Play and the Apple Store, [deactivate] these apps quickly, but it doesn't take long for a lot of people to make money off of them" if they're published, he said.

Another area of concern is distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, though Pescatore noted the early large-scale DDoS attacks are getting fewer in number as enterprises and other large organizations beef up their defenses. "But now, we're seeing more targeted application attacks over port 80 and exploiting specific capabilities," he said.

"Intelligent DDoS" is likely coming soon that will aim to exploit unprotected mobile devices by making them the source or initiator of a DDoS attack, Pescatore added.

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...