Posts Tagged ‘Business’

by William V. Burns

October 24, 2014

You are a juicy, delicious phish. Allow me to explain. I am not referring to the jam rock band, the ice cream flavor from Ben & Jerry’s, or the homophonic wiggly gilled denizens of watery environments.

No, to a select group of individuals, you are far more valuable. You are a trusting person with a mouse. You click on things.

More precisely, you follow links in emails.

Now, I can’t really blame you. You were taught that behavior. ‘Click here’ was the mantra of the early Internet. Email was one of the prominent ways to spread links around.

*sound effects*

“You’ve got mail! Click!”

 Those times are now in the past, and it’s time for you, Mr. or Ms. Phish, to put the mouse down for a moment and let me explain about Social Engineering and Phishing.


Phishing – Pic from betacontinua on flickr

Social Engineering is the practice of abusing the usual trust folks have for other people in order to gain some advantage. Simply put, there are jerks out there that will lie to you and take advantage of your habits and tendencies to trick you into handing over your money, or your information, or your money and information.

One set of jerks, commonly referred to as ‘hackers’ or cybercriminals, go setting traps for you through email. They coined the word ‘phishing’ to describe the practice.

One way or another, these criminals harvest some likely consumer emails, known to be active, and associated with a known company, preferably one that has a financial relationship with you, especially a bank or online payment service such as PayPal.

Their next step is to set up a server which can host a webpage which looks like that bank or payment service, with a logon page or credentials confirmation page. The cybercriminals will set up temporary or even stolen hosting in order to create this site, which will collect people’s account and login information.

Then they go ‘phishing.’ A batch of emails is sent out, often through compromised or open mail relay servers, to thousands of harvested consumer email addresses, and these emails have a clean background, a logo, contact information, and overall look just like they came from (for example) your bank. Often the email will have language suggesting a sense of urgency:

A purchase was made using your card which may have been a fraudulent use.

Please log on to our site and verify your identity, or we will cancel your account

within the next six hours. Click here to verify your identity: link

 Pro tip: don’t click that link. Victims follow the link, end up on the criminal site, try to ‘verify’ their information, and enter it into the web page, which collects it for the ‘hackers.’

Millions of people every year fall for this trick. And why not? It looks like your bank is protecting your account.

How to stay safe:

  • Don’t click links in emails. Go to your bank or institution’s already-known email address, or call them. Don’t use the information from the email.
  • Sign up on your real institution’s website for a smartphone app (so you know you’re getting the actual app). Get your alerts and information from there.
  • Be less trusting about your email. If several of you at work have received the same ‘phishing’ email attempt, contact your company’s security office.
  • Learn more, stay up to date. Read some of the linked articles below for much more information.

There is a more focused version of this, called ‘spearphishing,’ where the cybercriminals have collected specific information about your company and tailor the emails and the collection site so they seem even more legitimate. If you’re considered a top person in your organization, you might even be the only person to get the email. This last version is known as ‘whaling,’ and is the most focused of all.

Don’t click that email link!


TechRepublic – 12 steps to avoid Phishing scams

 Kaspersky – Simple Phishing Prevention Tips To Protect Your Identity and Wallet

 Biztech – 10 Tips for Phishing Prevention

 InfoWorld – How to stop your executives from being harpooned

 About Technology – What is Whaling?


How do you destroy or damage an oil refinery, a nuclear power plant, a municipal water system, a power grid, a natural gas pipeline, a sewage treatment plant or other vital infrastructure?

SCADA = Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition

This is a networked device used to monitor, control, and troubleshoot a piece of industrial equipment remotely. SCADA systems are a great money and time saver for large industrial plants. But right now they are also its weakest point.

SCADA Display for a Water Reclamation Station

SCADA Display – Water Reclamation Station

Attacking a SCADA installation may give a hacker partial or complete control over a valuable piece of infrastructure—the attacker can shut down devices, close or open valves, or issue commands that may damage or destroy assets controlled by the SCADA.

One attack dumped more than a quarter million gallons of sewage. Another hacker completely mapped out the South Houston water company’s SCADA vulnerabilities (including three-character passwords on devices).

The most famous SCADA attack is of course the Stuxnet worm, which slowed down the Iranian nuclear program, and which has infected more than 100,000 machines worldwide.

This video shows a 1 megawatt generator destroyed by a SCADA attack in a test by the Department of Homeland Security:

How do Hackers attack?

  • They research and exploit known vulnerabilites. Hackers develop ways to use vulnerabilities in SCADA software to add malicious code and take over the control system.
  • They achieve physical access. A suborned employee, a USB memory stick that’s been infected with Stuxnet, a quick hop over a chain link fence.
  • They get into the network. Wireless installations are notoriously easy to compromise. Many SCADA systems are hooked into the Internet with no firewall.
  • They use older vulnerabilities. Unpatched systems are particularly open.
  • If a hacker can’t use a vulnerability to gain control, sometimes they can use it to perform a ‘denial of service’ attack.
  • Malicious code can be injected into a system through its web-based interface. Directory traversal, SQL injection, even improper configuration of common server or workstation files, all these and more can serve a hacker’s purpose.

It is possible to reduce your risk from unauthorized incursions. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Document your SCADA installation thoroughly. Collect in a document (to be updated on a regular basis) important information on hardware components (servers, terminals, disk storage, applications vendor information, and versions), data stores (database names, schemas, and locations), network infrastructure (routers, switches, firewall configuration, network address schemes, connections to other networks).
  • Establish a change control management regimen. Make sure all patches and system changes are discussed before they are performed, that a risk analysis is present, and that changes are logged after being implemented. Keep current on system and software patches.
  • Control and manage access to the system. Create rules for access and how data is shared. Monitor, log, and periodically audit all access.
  • Build a perimeter. Disconnect from third party networks and the Internet. Discontinue use of wireless networks. Establish firewalls with strict rules between the SCADA systems and the intranet. Install software to monitor for malware and intrusions. ‘Harden’ your SCADA installation by turning off features such as remote maintenance. Consider the physical security of your systems as much as the electronic ones.
  • Prepare a recovery plan and accumulate whatever assets you need to rebuild your system quickly in a clean configuration in case of an attack.

SCADA allows the management of facilities that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s worth expending the time, money, and resources to protect them.

–William V. Burns


Intro to SCADA:

Here’s a site which explores how to find exposed devices:
It’s known as the “Google for Hackers”

SCADA Hacker
Vulnerabilities and their consequences:

Tech News World
Securing SCADA Systems: Where Do We Start?
Patrick Sweeney

Tofino Security Blog
Eric Byres

Network World
Lucian Constantin, IDG News Service