Posts Tagged ‘William V. Burns’

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?


by William V. Burns

October 22, 2014

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet is a network – a group of objects connected by an electronic medium. The Internet you are familiar with consists of clients, such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones, that connect through cable modems, phone modems, wireless access points, or cellphone towers to a massive maze of switches, routers, backbones, and servers.

As mysterious and unknowable the Internet of today is to the average consumer, the upcoming Internet of Things will be much less familiar, and more pervasive.

…sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects—from roadways to pacemakers—are linked through wired and wireless networks… (McKinsey Quarterly – The Internet of Things)

The idea is for each important device and object to have its own presence on the Internet. Imagine your toaster, your refrigerator, your home security system, your car, your children’s toys, the doorknob on your front door, light bulbs… An endless list of network-enabled household items will be gradually purchased, installed.

The Internet of Things

How big is this going to get?

About 50 billion machines and devices could be linked by 2020 — Cisco Systems

IDC said the installed base of things connected will be 212 billion by the end of 2020, including 30.1 billion connected autonomous things — ZDNet

Estimates are disputed, but with all sorts of networking and Internet capabilities being built into consumer devices, including wearable connected devices, you can be sure that market penetration will be wide.

Is there a security threat to you, the consumer? Yes, but you can work to reduce the threat.

My fridge has been hacked?

Already in the emergent Internet of Things there have been scattered security breaches and attacks using the new infrastructure. The most infamous so far was recounted at Proofpoint:

The global attack campaign involved more than 750,000 malicious email communications coming from more than 100,000 everyday consumer gadgets such as home-networking routers, connected multi-media centers, televisions and at least one refrigerator that had been compromised and used as a platform to launch attacks.

There have been securirty camera hacks, baby monitors taken over, and social media accounts compromised. Mobile phones and other devices have been broken into and the photos stored on servers copied.

Hacking is the flashiest sort of attack, but a more likely assault on your own ‘things’ will be data theft, personal and financial information silently copied from network-attached devices you update yourself, or that your corporate ‘partners’ such as online merchants, banks, and even governments enhance with your data.

Some Fitbit users in the past have found statistics about their sexual activity posted online —Forbes

When are you away from home? Your security system knows. What is your medical history? Your smartphone fitness app knows. What medicines do you take? Your pill reminder knows. What do you buy? Amazon, and stuff you link it to, know. Who is your spouse? Who are you cheating on them with? Your personal calendar app knows. Who do you meet with? Where do you work? What is your bank account balance? What is your credit score? It’s all available, for good, or ill, in the Internet of Things.

Securing your ‘Internet of Things’

1) Find out what you have, be aware of what you buy, or your landlord installs.

Any powered-on item in your home, from power strips, light bulbs, thermostats, appliances, set-top boxes for cable, and personal items you connect to the Internet could potentially fall into this category.

Make an inventory.

  • If it’s older than 2012, and not wired to the Internet, or periodically dumped to your PC, leave it off the inventory.
  • If it is connected to the Internet and is not a PC of some sort, put it on the inventory.
  • If it is a ‘smart appliance’ – check the manual and specs to see if it is connected.
  • You need manufacturer, model name, date of manufacture, serial number.
  • Check on the Internet for technical specifications to see if the device is Internet-capable and what it does besides its major consumer duties. Your big screen TV might have a RJ-45 cable jack in the back, but if it’s not wireless, it’s not connected to the Internet.
  • Update the list of online devices whenever you buy or acquire something. Don’t forget gifts. That new BluRay player…
  • If you have a smartphone, you can download a network discovery app, change your connection on the phone to your wireless network, and then scan your network for connected devices. I use Fing.

2) Read the privacy agreement if they exist for these devices. You may find some surprising sharing of data with company ‘partners.’

3) Physically secure the devices. Get rid of any you don’t want or need. Make sure your hand-held and pocket and purse-held devices are password protected. If you can activate services where you can remotely disable them in the event of a theft, do so.

4) Register your purchases online to receive updates such as recalls or notices your data may have been compromised.

5) Situational awareness is key. Watch news and social media sources for information about current security vulnerabilities, hacks, and misuse of information. Don’t be an early adopter of new, untested technology or buy the latest shiny new gadget unless you’re technically adept enough to understand all its potential security issues.

6) Don’t volunteer or store potentially embarrassing or sensitive data on devices that connect to the Internet, if possible. Nude selfies, exercise information that includes frequency of sexual activities, banking info, passwords, pay level and retirement plans, etc.

7) Update your devices – security patches, anti-malware software, firmware updates – these are where your manufacturer fixes security issues as they find them.

The Internet of Things will bring many benefits: greater social interaction, better home security, easier access to medical and financial resources, and an interconnection that will enable social changes we cannot even forecast. With some precautions by the consumer, and increased security measures (already underway) by the manufacturers, this can be a positive development.



 WhatIs.Com — Internet of Things (IoT)

 Forbes — World’s Top Privacy Experts Worry about Internet of Things

 Austin Business Journal — Behmann: How the Internet of Things promotes collaborative innovation

 TechCrunch — Convergence In The Internet Of Things Is Priming The Tech World For A Major Cultural Shift

 Cisco — Internet of Things (IoT)

 The Internet of Things Council — What is the Internet of Things?

 InfoWorld — What the Internet of Things really means

TechoPedia — Internet of Things (IoT)

 McKinsey Quarterly —The Internet of Things

room5 – IoT Expertise

 Forbes – Security and the Internet of Things

eSecurity Planet – The Internet of Things is a potential security disaster

ComputerWeekly – The Internet of Things is set to change security priorities

 Proofpoint – Proofpoint Uncovers Internet of Things (IoT) Cyberattack

 ZDNet – Internet of things: $8.9 trillion market in 2020, 212 billion connected things

 BusinessWire – The Internet of Things Is Poised to Change Everything, says IDC

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