No/Low/High-Tech Hacking: It All Matters

Sunday Oct 12th 2008 by Sean Michael Kerner

Don't point the finger at hackers for all security woes. Point hacker tools at yourself to see what's wrong with your stuff, instead.

COMMENTARY: I spent a few days this week at the SecTor conference in Toronto, an event that isn't quite the Black Hat of the North (though maybe we could call it the Black Toque of the North). What made this event interesting for me is the mix of technology approaches discussed, ranging from no-tech hacking to the super-powerful, software-based methods.

Listening in to the various presentations, I came to a conclusion that may well be obvious, but still needs to repeated. Whether no-, low- or high-tech, all methods of hacking need to be part of enterprise security efforts. Furthermore, it's unacceptable to simply think that hacking is just an offensive approach to security. As the old adage goes, the best defense is a good offense.

At the no-tech end of the scale, there is Johnny Long, who not coincidentally is the author of a book titled "No-Tech Hacking." At InfoSec, Long repeated a presentation he gave in 2007 at Black Hat Las Vegas, humorously detailing how, using the power of observation and the naiveté of others, he could profile people and gain access to supposedly secure buildings.

"We have a tendency to get so into the technology of the industry, that's all we can see," Long told the SecTor audience. "Solutions can be complex, but hackers need to be clever and they don't need to have tech. Bad guys can break your stuff without using technology."

It's an important lesson that Long preaches, from protecting your laptop from prying eyes (a technique Long referred to as "shoulder surfing") to ensuring that personally identifiable information is kept out of sight. Sure, it sounds like good, simple common sense, and it is -- so don't let it slide in your own organization.

In terms of low-tech hacking, the basic tool of perimeter security for most of recorded human history has been some form of lock (door lock, padlock or otherwise). In a standing-room only session at SecTor, security researcher Deviant Ollam (yes, he goes by that name) explained to the delight of the audience how easy it was to pick many common locks with simple tools.

Ollam noted that in the U.S., lock manufacturers have their own self-regulated rating system for the quality of locks, while in Europe, the rating system is regulated by police authorities. The difference, in Ollam's view, is that in Europe, there is great transparency about the security quality of a lock.

The point of the discussion was not so much a how-to on lock-picking, but rather, a wake up call about physical security. You can have safer and better locks that are more difficult for an attacker to penetrate. It's all a matter of awareness and choice.

From a purely IT perspective, remember that if your servers are behind a locked door and that door lock gets picked, well, those servers could be at risk from a low-tech hacker.

Physical and low-tech security approaches aside, there are high-tech approaches to hacking that are a real threat, too. The Metasploit Framework is an intricate technology approach to hacking that attempts to gain access from the packet level and upwards.

With the upcoming Metasploit 3.2 release that security researcher H. D. Moore discussed at SecTor, automating complex attacks against browsers, applications and wireless access points will actually become even more efficient.

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