Archive for August 25, 2009

Hard-drive encryption is a technology that encrypts the data stored on a hard drive using sophisticated mathematical functions. Data on an encrypted hard drive cannot be read by anyone who does not have access to the appropriate key or password. This can help prevent access to data by unauthorized persons and provides a layer of security againsthackers and other online threats.

The concept of hard-drive encryption is simple enough. When a file is written to the drive, it is automatically encrypted by specialized software. When a file is read from the drive, the software automatically decrypts it while leaving all other data on the drive encrypted. The encryption and decryption processes are transparent to all common applications such as word processors, databases,spreadsheets or imaging programs. A computer equipped with hard-drive encryption appears, from the user’s point of view, to function as any other computer would.

Windows Vista Enterprise and Ultimate editions offer a hard-drive encryption program called BitLocker that employs two-factor authentication.

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E-Mail Spoofing

Posted: August 25, 2009 in Networking, Security
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Email “Spamming” and Email “Spoofing”

Two terms to be familiar with in these days of increased communication via electronic mail: email “spamming” and email “spoofing”.

Email “spamming” refers to sending email to thousands and thousands of users – similar to a chain letter. Spamming is often done deliberately to use network resources. Email spamming may be combined with email spoofing, so that it is very difficult to determine the actual originating email address of the sender. Some email systems, including our Microsoft Exchange, have the ability to block incoming mail from a specific address. However, because these individuals change their email address frequently, it is difficult to prevent some spam from reaching your email inbox.

Email spoofing refers to email that appears to have been originated from one source when it was actually sent from another source. Individuals, who are sending “junk” email or “SPAM”, typically want the email to appear to be from an email address that may not exist. This way the email cannot be traced back to the originator.

Malicious Spoofing

There are many possible reasons why people send out emails spoofing the return address: sometimes it is simply to cause confusion, but more often it is to discredit the person whose email address has been spoofed: using their name to send a vile or insulting message.

Sometimes email spoofing is used for what is known as “social engineering”, which aims to trick the recipient into revealing passwords or other information. For example, you get an email from what appears to be the LSE’s email administrator, or from your ISP, asking you to go to a Web page and enter your password, or change it to one of their choosing. Alternatively, you might receive an email asking for detailed information about a project. The From field suggests that the message comes from the LSE, but instead it is from a competitor.

Dealing with a Spoofed Email

There is really no way to prevent receiving a spoofed email. If you get a message that is outrageously insulting, asks for something highly confidential, or just plain doesn’t make any sense, then you may want to find out if it is really from the person it says it’s from. You can look at the Internet Headers information to see where the email actually originated.

Remember that although your email address may have been spoofed this does not mean that the spoofer has gained access to your mailbox.

Displaying Internet Headers Information

An email collects information from each of the computers it passes through on the way to the recipient, and this is stored in the email’s Internet Headers.

1. With the Outlook Inbox displayed, right-click on the message and click on the Optionscommand to display the Message Options dialog box.

2. Scroll to the bottom of the information in the Internet Headers box, then scroll slowly upwards to read the information about the email’s origin. The most important information follows the “Return-path:” and the “Reply-to:” fields. If these are different, the email is not who it says it’s from.

Virus spoofing

Email-distributed viruses that use spoofing, such the Klez or Sobig virus, take a random name from somewhere on the infected person’s hard disk and mail themselves out as if they were from that randomly chosen address. Recipients of these viruses are therefore misled as to the address from which they were sent, and may end up complaining to, or alerting the wrong person. As a result, users of uninfected computers may be wrongly informed that they have, and have been distributing a virus.

If you receive an alert that you’re sending infected emails, first run a virus scan using Antivirus . If you are uninfected, then you may want to reply to the infection alert with this information:

“Your virus may have appeared to have been sent by me, but I have scanned my system and I am not infected. A number of email-distributed viruses fake, or spoof, the ‘From’ address using a random address taken from the Outlook contacts list or from Web files stored on the hard drive.”

But keep in mind that a virus alert message is quite often auto generated and sent via an anti-virus server and so replying to the original email may not elicit a response.

Alternatively, if you receive an email-distributed virus, look at the Internet Headers information to see where the email actually originated from, before firing off a complaint or virus alert to the person you assume sent it.

DNS Poisioning

Posted: August 25, 2009 in Networking
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Cache poisoning, also called domain name system (DNS) poisoning or DNS cache poisoning, is the corruption of an Internet server’sdomain name system table by replacing an Internet address with that of another, rogue address. When a Web user seeks the page with that address, the request is redirected by the rogue entry in the table to a different address. At that point, a worm, spyware, Web browser hijackingprogram, or other malware can be downloaded to the user’s computer from the rogue location.

Cache poisoning can be transmitted in a variety of ways, increasing the rate at which rogue programs are spread. One tactic is the placement of compromised URLs within spam e-mail messages having subject lines that tempt users to open the message (for example, “Serious error in your tax return”). Images and banner ads within e-mail messages can also be vehicles by which users are directed to servers that have been compromised by cache poisoning. Once an end user’s computer has been infected with the nefarious code, all future requests by that user’s computer for the compromised URL will be redirected to the bad IP address — even if the “victim” server resolves the problem at its site. Cache poisoning is particularly dangerous when the targets are well-known and trusted sites, such as those to which browsers are pointed when automatic virus-definition updates are performed.

Cache poisoning differs from another form of DNS poisoning, in which the attacker spoofs valid e-mail accounts and floods the inboxes of administrative and technical contacts. Cache poisoning is related to URL poisoning. In URL poisoning, also known as location poisoning, Internet user behavior is tracked by adding an identification (ID) number to the location line of the browser that can be recorded as the user visits successive pages on the site.


On the Internet, a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is one in which a multitude of compromised systems attack a single target, thereby causing denial of service for users of the targeted system. The flood of incoming messages to the target system essentially forces it to shut down, thereby denying service to the system to legitimate users.

A hacker (or, if you prefer, cracker) begins a DDoS attack by exploiting a vulnerability in one computer system and making it the DDoS “master.” It is from the master system that the intruder identifies and communicates with other systems that can be compromised. The intruder loads cracking tools available on the Internet on multiple — sometimes thousands of — compromised systems. With a single command, the intruder instructs the controlled machines to launch one of many flood attacks against a specified target. The inundation of packets to the target causes a denial of service.

While the press tends to focus on the target of DDoS attacks as the victim, in reality there are many victims in a DDoS attack — the final target and as well the systems controlled by the intruder.

Clipboard Hijack Attack

Posted: August 25, 2009 in Networking, Security
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What is a clipboard hijack attack?

A clipboard hijacking is an exploit in which the attacker gains control of the victim’s clipboard and replaces its contents with their own data, such as a link to a malicious Web site.

The attack makes it impossible for users to copy anything else to the clipboard until they either close the browser or reboot the machine. Aside from the nuisance factor, the danger is that a user might inadvertently paste the inserted content into their browser or into online content, exposing themselves or others to malicious code.

In August 2008, there were reports of clipboard hijack attacks conducted through Adobe Flash-based ads on many legitimate Web sites, including Digg, Newsweek and MSNBC.com. The coding is in Shockwave files and uses a method called System.setClipboard() that repeatedly flushes and replaces clipboard contents. If users follow the inserted link, they are taken to a fake security software site warning them that their systems are infested with malware. The purpose of the attack is to get users to download fraudulent software, putting personal information at risk in the process. All major operating systems and browsers are vulnerable to the attacks, as long as Flash is installed.

Adobe has since announced it will add a mechanism to the next version of Flash that allows users to grant or deny access when a Shockwave file tries to load data to the clipboard.

Directory traversal is a form of HTTP exploit in which a hacker uses the software on a Web server to access data in a directory other than the server’s root directory. If the attempt is successful, the hacker can view restricted files or even execute commands on the server. Directory traversal attacks are commonly performed using Web browsers. Any server in which input data from Web browsers is not validated is vulnerable to this type of attack.

Although some educated guesswork is involved in finding paths to restricted files on a Web server, a skilled hacker can easily carry out this type of attack on an inadequately protected server by searching through the directory tree. The risk of such attacks can be minimized by careful Web server programming, the installation of software updates and patches, filtering of input from browsers, and the use of vulnerability scanners.

Directory traversal is also known as directory climbing or backtracking.

Back Door in Networking

Posted: August 25, 2009 in Networking
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A back door is a means of access to a computer program that bypasses security mechanisms. A programmer may sometimes install a back door so that the program can be accessed for troubleshooting or other purposes. However, attackers often use back doors that they detect or install themselves, as part of an exploit. In some cases, a worm is designed to take advantage of a back door created by an earlier attack. For example,Nimda gained entrance through a back door left by Code Red.

Whether installed as an administrative tool or a means of attack, a back door is a security risk, because there are always crackers out there looking for any vulnerability to exploit. In her article “Who gets your trust?” security consultant Carole Fennelly uses an analogy to illustrate the situation: “Think of approaching a building with an elaborate security system that does bio scans, background checks, the works. Someone who doesn’t have time to go through all that might just rig up a back exit so they can step out for a smoke — and then hope no one finds out about it.”

When Microsoft introduced Windows Vista, one of its most anxiously anticipated features was its encryption capability called BitLocker. Many mistakenly refer to BitLocker as whole-disk encryption, but the more accurate description is full-volume encryption.

The distinction is important. A single physical disk can be partitioned into multiple volumes. Whole-disk encryption would encrypt all of the data on the entire physical disk drive, while full-volume encryption protects each volume or partition separately. BitLocker might be encrypting the volume designated as the C: drive, but the data on other volumes may still be unencrypted.

The initial release of BitLocker encrypted only the Windows Vista boot volume. Granted, that is better than nothing, but for larger hard drives with multiple volumes it also left a significant amount of data unprotected. With the release of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista SP1, Microsoft expanded the scope of BitLocker so that any of the volumes could be encrypted. The upcoming Windows 7 operating system broadens the reach of BitLocker even farther by including the ability to encrypt data on removable media such as USB flash drives.

How does Bitlocker work?

BitLocker requires that a small unencrypted partition be created which contains core operating system files that Windows needs to start the boot process. Microsoft created the BitLocker Drive Preparation tool to automate the creation of the second partition and the migration of the files necessary to create the split-load configuration that BitLocker relies on to boot the operating system.

Once the drive is properly partitioned and the data is encrypted with BitLocker, there is a process the system follows to boot the system and decrypt the data so you can use it. As with any encryption process, it relies on keys.

The sectors of data on the drive are encrypted using the FVEK (full-volume encryption key). However, the FVEK is stored locally in encrypted form and the user never interacts with or uses the FVEK directly. The key that users work with is the VMK (volume master key). The VMK is used to encrypt and decrypt the FVEK which, in turn, encrypts and decrypts the actual data sectors.

BitLocker relies on TPM to authenticate system hardware

By default, BitLocker relies on a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip. The TPM is a chip wired to the motherboard which can create a unique hash signature related to the hardware configuration of the system and securely store the encryption key. The TPM provides a virtually incorruptible method of authenticating the system hardware.

By itself, the TPM would not prevent an unauthorized user from accessing a BitLocker encrypted volume. In TPM-only mode, an attacker can still cold boot the system, and as long as the TPM could validate the hardware signature hash, BitLocker would decrypt the data and allow the system to boot. For that reason, an additional authentication factor should be used along with the TPM. The available options for BitLocker include:

  • TPM only
  • TPM plus a PIN
  • TPM plus a USB key
  • TPM plus a PIN and a USB key
  • USB key only

The last option, USB key only, is typically only used in situations where BitLocker is implemented on a system that is not equipped with a TPM chip. The option to enable BitLocker without a TPM has to be configured by modifying the security policy settings.

The USB key only and the TPM plus a PIN and USB key options have additional cost and administrative overhead in that USB keys must be provided and maintained. They are also easy to lose or misplace which could lead to an increase in support desk calls to retrieve lost encryption keys and gain access to BitLocker encrypted systems.

How to manage BitLocker keys

One of the most important aspects for enterprises to consider before encrypting data with BitLocker is how to store and manage recovery keys. In the event that a user forgets a PIN, loses a USB key or is unable to access their BitLocker-encrypted system for any reason, the support desk must have the ability to help them recover their data and gain access to their system.

Users can be supplied with a USB key containing the BitLocker recovery key to use as a backup when the need arises. For deployments that already use a USB key for BitLocker authentication, it would be an additional or backup USB key to use in the event of the primary USB key being lost or stolen. The downfall of this system is that the backup USB key would most likely be stored with the laptop and a thief that steals the laptop will also have the keys.

An alternate solution is to configure BitLocker to store a recovery key in Active Directory. An administrator can configure Group Policy to automatically generate a recovery key and store it in Active Directory when BitLocker is enabled. It is also possible to prevent BitLocker from encrypting any data until the recovery key is successfully backed up to Active Directory.

IP spoofing, also known as IP address forgery or a host file hijack, is a hijacking technique in which a cracker masquerades as a trusted host to conceal his identity, spoof a Web site, hijack browsers, or gain access to a network. Here’s how it works: The hijacker obtains the IP address of a legitimate host and alters packet headers so that the legitimate host appears to be the source.

When IP spoofing is used to hijack a browser, a visitor who types in the URL(Uniform Resource Locator) of a legitimate site is taken to a fraudulent Web page created by the hijacker. For example, if the hijacker spoofed the Library of Congress Web site, then any Internet user who typed in the URL http://www.loc.gov would see spoofed content created by the hijacker.

If a user interacts with dynamic content on a spoofed page, the highjacker can gain access to sensitive information or computer or network resources. He could steal or alter sensitive data, such as a credit card number or password, or install malware . The hijacker would also be able to take control of a compromised computer to use it as part of a zombie army in order to send out spam.

Web site administrators can minimize the danger that their IP addresses will be spoofed by implementing hierarchical or one-time passwords and dataencryption/decryption techniques. Users and administrators can protect themselves and their networks by installating and implementating firewalls that block outgoing packets with source addresses that differ from the IP address of the user’s computer or internal network.

Automating tasks or at least taking some of the hands-on effort out of the equation allows you to focus on other security issues in your Windows environment, like keeping up with all the patches Microsoft keeps releasing these days. Free tools can even allow you to do things you wouldn’t be able to justify otherwise. In turn, you end up with a more secure network and everyone wins. Now, whether they actually know or care is a different issue…

Since security and limited budgets are all the rage these days, here’s a set of free Windows server security tools you need to check out. While to think there’s life beyond the Sysinternals tools might seem unimaginable, there are indeed other tools available that can make your life a whole lot simpler,– and as with Sysinternals, they won’t cost you a dime.

Data backup, recovery, and destruction tools

  • Cobian Backup – backup software for those who have had it with Windows Backup and the commercial alternatives
  • Eraser – secure deletion for when the time comes to toss out those old drives
  • KillDisk – an alternative option for secure deletion
  • Recuva (Piriform) – data recovery for when you accidentally delete your Exchange Server Public folders

Malware protection tools

  • ClamWin – virus scanner so you can (finally) get some protection on your Windows servers

Monitoring, reporting and search tools

  • EventTracker Pulse (Prism Microsystems) – search engine for log data so you can gain insight into what’s happening on your Windows systems and other devices
  • OSSIM – security information management you can use for security anomaly detection, event correlation, and more (runs via VMware )
  • Paglo Crawler – search engine, monitoring, and reporting so you can gain insight into your IT assets such as network hosts and applications

Scanning and analysis tools

  • Angry IP Scanner – network scanner you can use to monitor your hosts and determine when rogue systems have joined the network and users are doing things they shouldn’t be doing
  • WireShark – the free network analyzer everyone loves – yet so many still haven’t heard of – that can be used to troubleshoot network and application problems

Testing tools

  • ReactOS – a binary-compatible OS to Windows based on XP and Server 2003 that can be used to test Windows applications, security tools, and so on
  • VirtualBox – virtual machine software you can use for testing new versions of Windows, patches, security tools, and more before you put them into production