Feeds

How to case high-profile targets without really trying

Tool makes it a snap to match domains to MySpace accounts

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

We've been hearing for years that MySpace and other social networking sites can represent a gaping chink in an otherwise hardened corporate network. Now a London-based security consultant has created a tool that proves it.

Enter the PKI Book, created by Petko D. Petkov. Just type in the domain name of an organization you, er, want to get to know better. It will return the email addresses of employees along with their MySpace profile.

We entered HSBC.com into the PKI Book in the hopes we might find some employees who would agree to be added to our list of friends. Lo and behold, we found two employees of the banking giant. One of them even claims to be a computer programmer by occupation. The other, listed as 28 year-old from the Philippines, goes by the MySpace handle "bong."

"It is a big deal because users don't realize the ways attackers can take advantage of their online presence," says Petkov, who does security audits and ethical hacking for a living. "Once the attackers identify a potential target (socially active user) they will deploy a minefield around the perimeter. Once the target falls into the trap, attackers will be able to use them as a proxy an sneak in."

Availability of this nifty tool, which is also useful for outing FBI spooks and employees of Apple, comes just a few days after Sophos reported that more than 50 per cent of respondents in a recent survey said their employers blocked them from accessing Facebook on work computers.

Short for public key infrastructure, PKI is a mechanism for binding public encryption keys to the identities of those who own them, enabling users to securely and privately exchange messages.

PKI Book queries the Massachusetts Institute of Technology PKI databases at pgp.mit.edu and then uses a program known as Yahoo! Pipes to run all matches against MySpace users. Petko says he is considering modifying the tool so it correlates addresses against a database known as Wink, which searches virtually all social networks.

It took less than 30 seconds to discover that bong, the HSBC employee from the Philippines, had used his hsbc.com email address to register his account. We're thinking the 28-year-old is probably smart enough to resist falling prey to one of the many MySpace scams or hacks out there. But with a name like bong, we can't be sure.

The other HSBC employee was slightly more careful because he didn't use his work email address to register his MySpace account. The thing is, he associated his public key with both his hsbc.com address and a private address, and he then used that latter address to register his MySpace account.

We also came across an Apple employee who had a very active social profile.

Of course, just because someone is listed in PKI directory or MIT or any other organization doesn't mean the listing is legit. A quick search for keys belonging to people with Whitehouse.gov email addresses makes it abundantly clear any crank can add an entry.

But all a determined attacker needs is a big enough cache of identities linked to the organization being cased and a little time. Eventually, it will provide a way in, if not through social-networking opportunities, then by posting a nasty javascript on the users' comments page that exploits one of the many javascript-based vulnerabilities these sites are so famously susceptible to.

Not that any of this persuades Scott, the HSBC computer programmer, that any of this is even a teeny bit of a problem.

"It's not a big deal to me," he told us when we contacted him by phone. "Actually, it works in my favor sometimes, more for people finding me, like yourself." ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Black Hat anti-Tor talk smashed by lawyers' wrecking ball
Unmasking hidden users is too hot for Carnegie-Mellon
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.