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DNS redirection hack + forged digital certs = chaos

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Analysis Security watchers warn that hackers might be able to develop potent attacks that would be extremely hard to foil by combining DNS hacks of the kind that affected The Register and other high-profile websites over the weekend with DigiNotar-style forged digital certificates.

An attack on Domain Name System (DNS) service provider NetNames on Sunday affected scores of prominent websites, including those run by the Daily Telegraph, UPS, Acer, National Geographic, BetFair and Vodafone as well as El Reg. Surfers visiting the affected sites were redirected to a hacker holding page set up by Turkish hacker group Turkguvenligi.

Turkguvenligi pulled off the hack not by attacking the affected sites directly but by a SQL injection attack aimed at gaining access to NetNames systems. Once they had achieved access, the hackers placed counterfeit registry re-delegation orders through via NetNames' provisioning system. This meant that DNS records of affected sites were changed so that they pointed towards Turkguvenligi's page rather than at the legitimate sites.

The unauthorised changes were reversed and normality was restored over a matter of a few hours. NetNames disabled compromised accounts and bolstered the security of its systems to guard against future attacks.

Turkguvenligi launched a similar set of DNS redirection attacks against Korean websites and a Gary McKinnon support website back in August, as well as attacking vulnerability mitigation firm Secunia last year.

Ash Patel, country manager, UK & Ireland at security appliance firm Stonesoft, said that the DNS hack showed that organisations need to play close attention to the security policies of their suppliers. "It's not just the 'corporate' that needs to be concerned but all other businesses that serve such organisations," he said.

Mark James, technical manager at Eset, warned that although Turkguvenligi had only run the attacks to claim bragging rights, others might apply the same techniques to run cybercrime scams, such as particularly convincing phishing attacks.

"Whilst the attack seems to be 'harmless', the possible outcome could have been massively damaging if they had chosen to point to a 'look-a-like' site that requests user information," James said.

"SQL injection has been used for a long time and, in all honesty, shouldn’t be possible these days. The ability to direct unsuspecting users to fake websites could pave the way for massive amounts of abuse.

"These days, we expect to see phishing emails that 'look' like the real thing, but have masked addresses; however, if the end user types an address they know is correct, then they should be safe in the knowledge they are going to end up in the right place.”

Rik Ferguson, a security consultant at Trend Micro, warned that DNS redirection hacks might be combined with DigiNotar-style certificate breach to create especially sneaky attacks.

"Imagine a scenario where someone is able to modify DNS records for, say yourbank.com to a destination of their choice and at the same has got hold of fraudulent certificates to certify its identity," he explained. "Those two combined could spell real trouble and obviate the annoying need to get a 'man' in the middle."

The high-profile DNS attack last weekend coincides with the ongoing fallout from the DigiNotar breach. The two incidents collectively illustrate a worrying fragility in key systems that underpin the foundations of ecommerce transactions.

"Putting security solutions as add-ons to the infrastructure is not working," a security researcher at the Internet Storm Centre commented. "We need a fundamental rebuild of the security architecture we are using and we need it now." ®

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