When the Sony hacks went down late last year, sources pointed to a disgruntled employee who might have opened a back door to let the hackers (Guardians of Peace) in. The actual cause was later found out to be a malware software program that was installed on Sony’s computer infrastructure to erase data from the servers. With that in mind, here are some prominent mechanisms used by hackers today.
1. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
DDoS attacks render a network unavailable to its users by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources. Attackers build a network of ‘botnets’, which are infected computers that spread malicious software through emails and websites that allow these machines to be remotely controlled.
The 3 common forms of DDoS attacks are Smurfs, Teardrops and Pings of Death. Smurf attacks broadcast the victim’s spoofed source IP to a computer network causing devices on it to send a wave of replies and flood the victim’s computer with traffic. Teardrop attacks send mangled IP fragments with over-sized payloads to crash operating systems. Pings of Death send malicious ping packets of a size great enough to crash target computers.
A recent example would be the case of a DDoS attack on Sony’s PlayStation’s network that caused it to go down (Dec, 2014).
Backdoors are infrastructures that bypass normal authentication, securing unauthorized remote access to a computer while remaining undetected. Backdoors often take the form of an installed program or default passwords that are not changed by the user.
A recent spate of password leaks point to the use of hacking through the use of backdoors in the form of third-party apps. Snapchat hackers obtained 100 000 private photos while Dropbox hackers obtained 7 million usernames and passwords. These were all obtained by exploiting third-party apps and websites with vulnerable security.
In the case of the website Insecam we see how default passwords provide backdoors to hackers. In November last year, Insecam displayed over 70,000 unsecured webcams from all around the world. The majority of them were CCTV and IP cameras that streamed on publicly accessible network ports using default passwords. This allowed hackers with web-crawling robots to gain admin access to the stream.
3. Man-in-the-middle (MITM) Attacks
MITM involves the hacker having the ability to both monitor and broadcast messages into a communication channel. For instance, a hacker within range of an unencrypted Wi-Fi access point can insert himself as the man-in-the-middle and intercept messages passing between two victims and inject new ones.
One recent case involves the use of the malware “Superfish” by Lenovo, which hijacks a user’s Internet connection and forces them to see ads approved by the company. This enables hackers to easily pose as trusted institutions (eg. Banks) to obtain sensitive information. In effect, hackers at a WiFi hotspot can intercept all connections from Superfish users.
With the proliferation of WiFi-enabled technological devices, hackers are now able to use devices to appear as that trusted WiFi network or even broadcast a fictitious network name. The danger lies in how accessible public WiFi is such that people are completely unaware how easily their information can be hacked. Decryption software on these hacking devices can easily work around security measures on WiFi networks.
With hacking being an ever present threat to personal and data security, government intervention leaves much to be desired in terms of enacting legislative laws that prohibit the use of hacking devices and provide stiffer penalties for cases of hacking. However the ultimate roadblock is how the nature of hacking transcends geographical boundaries and becomes increasingly harder to detect as technology rapidly advances.
As such, it would appear that solutions would be primarily user-centred at the moment. Straightforward solutions would be for users to use different passwords for different accounts; not to trust unverified websites and to minimize the transmission of sensitive information over unsecure networks where possible. The onus is largely on individuals to be responsible users and protect themselves from being vulnerable to hackers.
Cook, James. “Here’s Everything We Know About The Mysterious Hack Of Sony Pictures,” Business Insider Singapore, published 4 Dec 2014.
Digital Attack Map, “What is a DDos Attack?,” Last accessed 24 Feb 2015. http://www.digitalattackmap.com/understanding-ddos/
Biggs, John. “Insecam Displays Unsecured Webcams From Around The World,” Techcrunch, published 7 Nov 2014. http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/07/insecam-displays-insecure-webcams-from-around-the-world/
BBC News, “Xbox and PlayStation resuming service after attack,” published 27 Dec 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-30602609
Stone, Jeff. “Millions of Lenovo PCs Vulnerable To ‘Superfish’ Hack; How To See If You’re Affected,” International Business Times, published 19 Feb 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/millions-lenovo-pcs-vulnerable-superfish-hack-how-see-if-youre-affected-1821360
Martijn, Maurits. “Maybe Better If You Don’t Read This Story On Public WiFi,” Medium, published 14 Oct 2014. https://medium.com/matter/heres-why-public-wifi-is-a-public-health-hazard-dd5b8dcb55e6