Feeds

Department of Homeland Security website hacked!

Infected by massive attack sweeping the net

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

The sophisticated mass infection that's injecting attack code into hundreds of thousands of reputable web pages is growing and even infiltrated the website of the Department of Homeland Security.

While so-called SQL injections are nothing new, this latest attack, which we we reported earlier, is notable for its ability to infect huge numbers of pages using only a single string of text. At time of writing, Google searches here, here and here showed almost 520,000 pages containing the infection string, though the exact number changes almost constantly. As the screenshot below shows, even the DHS, which is responsible for protecting US infrastructure against cyber attacks, wasn't immune. Other hacked sites include those belonging to the United Nations and the UK Civil Service.

Screenshot of Google search showing DHS website

The attack causes infected sites to redirect visitors to destinations that attempt to install malware on vulnerable machines. At time of writing, the malicious payloads attacked vulnerabilities that already have been patched. And in any case all three of the redirection sites were down, possibly because they were unable to handle the demand. But should the attackers get their hands on a newer exploit - say, one targeting a zero-day vulnerability in QuickTime - it would be relatively easy for them to swap out the payload.

One reason the infection has spread so widely is the attackers have managed to find a single attack string that seems to work on tens of thousands of different sites. Most web applications are custom -built for a particular site, so attackers likewise have to custom design attack parameters to exploit weakness. Not so here.

"These guys look like they've found a methodology to get a successful SQL injection generically across [many] websites," said Jeremiah Grossman, CTO of WhiteHat Security, which helps companies secure web applications. "That right there is like a skeleton key."

The script is also notable for its ability to slip past web application defenses. The SQL query is mostly made up of HEX code, allowing it to obscure itself, at least to apps that use Microsoft SQL. MySQL and PostgreSQL are less easily fooled, according to researcher Ronald van den Heetkamp.

Sites are getting pwned because they fail to sanitize user supplied data. DHS security pros scrubbed the page clean the same day it got infected and took steps to make sure the same attack couldn't succeed against other parts of the DHS website, spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.

"We're well aware of the fact that intrusions happen all the time and that's why we are doing all that we are to secure the .gov domain," she said.

In a recent interview with The Register, Greg Garcia, the DHS's assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications said: "our networks really are only as strong as the weakest link and because we are so interconnected, if there are companies that are not doing what they need to do to protect their networks, that in turn may be jeopardizing the security of companies that very well may be doing the right thing." (For the full interview, click here.)

While the number of pages that have been infected is high, not all are able to launch an attack once a user visits them, according to Roger Thompson, chief research officer of anti-virus provider AVG.

"Very often they're on a page but the stuff doesn't actually fire when you get there," he said. "This is not a cunning, premeditated task; it's just a blast. They're just planting the stuff where they can and the result is a lot of pages [that] don't do anything."

But webmasters should not be complacent about removing the injected code from their sites and fixing buggy web apps to make sure more don't spring up.

"It's the cleanup effort that's just going to be monstrous," said Grossman, who said affected companies will have to either remove each overwritten table record one at a time, or revert to a recent backup. "Either way, it's going to take forever."

Security workers better get cracking. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Bladerunner sequel might actually be good. Harrison Ford is in it
Go ahead, you're all clear, kid... Sorry, wrong film
Musicians sue UK.gov over 'zero pay' copyright fix
Everyone else in Europe compensates us - why can't you?
Euro Parliament VOTES to BREAK UP GOOGLE. Er, OK then
It CANNA do it, captain.They DON'T have the POWER!
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Megaupload overlord Kim Dotcom: The US HAS RADICALISED ME!
Now my lawyers have bailed 'cos I'm 'OFFICIALLY' BROKE
Forget Hillary, HP's ex CARLY FIORINA 'wants to be next US Prez'
Former CEO has political ambitions again, according to Washington DC sources
prev story

Whitepapers

10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.