Feeds

Hacking human gullibility with social penetration

We don't need no stinking exploits

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Security penetration testers Mike Bailey and Mike Murray rely plenty on attacks that exploit weaknesses in websites and servers, but their approach is better summed up by the famous phrase "There's a sucker born every minute".

That's because so-called social penetration techniques are more reliable and easier to use in identifying chinks in client fortresses, the principals of Mad Security said Wednesday. That's true even for organizations that place a high premium on security and train their employees to resist the most common attempts to trick them into letting down their guard.

"I like finding those elite little exploits where they'll bounce things off eight different websites through cross-site request forgery and cross-site scripting attacks," Bailey said Wednesday at the BSides security conference in San Francisco. "I've never actually needed it in a pentest, because all you have to do is send them a malicious link" or crafty email.

Bailey said he regularly sends client employees emails informing them the strength of their login passwords is being tested through a new website. They are then instructed to follow a link and enter their credentials. The success rate: as high as 50 per cent.

The vulnerability stems from humans' inherent tendency to trust one another. Survival over the millennia largely depended on their ability to work in groups. When one person saw that a group of his peers ate a particular berry and didn't die, he ate the same fruit - and survived as a result. Hackers who understand this trait can exploit it to access companies' most precious assets.

"The social part of our industry, we are never going to patch," Murray said. "We need to have our whole industry understand this. This is what all social attacks are about."

During their hour-long talk, the pair described the most common social penetration methods, which can be found in everything from 419 email scams to trojan attacks that succeed only when a victim clicks on a malicious link.

The come-ons often invoke a sense of urgency, such as an opportunity to make money only if the mark moves quickly. Scammers often try to form perceived bonds with their victims by thanking them for their attention or apologizing for an interruption. The ruses amount to hacks that suspend the marks' critical faculties just long enough to get them to make a critical mistake.

Bailey employed a similar trick last year, when he and two other ethical hackers claimed a $10,000 prize for breaking into the email account of StrongWebMail CEO Darren Berkovitz.

The XSS, or cross-site scripting, vulnerability they identified could only be exploited if the victim clicked on a link while logged in to his account. The solution: They sent him an email with the subject line "we think we've already won this contest," with the attack link in the body. Berkovitz took the bait, and they won the prize.

The technique works even on firms and individuals that regard themselves as especially security savvy, although the tricks often must be tailored to them, Murray warned.

"They spend all this time talking about security," he explained. "If I send them an email saying 'Do the right thing for security,' they say OK, and we own them. The things that normally work in most organizations don't work on them, but if you figure out what works on them, they're as easy to own as anybody else, no matter how intense their preparation is." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
'Kim Kardashian snaps naked selfies with a BLACKBERRY'. *Twitterati gasps*
More alleged private, nude celeb pics appear online
Home Depot ignored staff warnings of security fail laundry list
'Just use cash', former security staffer warns friends
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Snowden, Dotcom, throw bombs into NZ election campaign
Claim of tapped undersea cable refuted by Kiwi PM as Kim claims extradition plot
Freenode IRC users told to change passwords after securo-breach
Miscreants probably got in, you guys know the drill by now
THREE QUARTERS of Android mobes open to web page spy bug
Metasploit module gobbles KitKat SOP slop
BitTorrent's peer-to-peer chat app Bleep goes live as public alpha
A good day for privacy as invisble.im also reveals its approach to untraceable chats
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
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.