Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mindset - Professional Hackers

*** NOTE: URL's cited (but not linked to) in this article may contain malware that could harm your computer or encourage you to give money away for nothing in return. Please be cautious when browsing to any address not explicitly linked to!

I would like to take a few minutes to review an in-depth article by The Register (Anatomy of a Hack). Specifically I want to focus on the areas that were well executed and areas that create vulnerabilities to the hacker's objectives.

As always, we'll be applying the General Theory of Laziness as a filter through which we look at the hacker's actions.

Fake Google Site:
* The use of is immediately suspicious. It would have been far less suspicious to use a generic domain name. Here the objective of the hacker is to appear legitimate. In-so-far as this attempt is made it backfires. Picking this domain name as your "cover" is LAZY. There are many better options out there, ie: seriously legitimate sounding domains.

GUI Specifics: XP GUI elements observed from a Windows Vista System
* In Figure 1 of the article we see what appears to be a pop-up window over the browser reporting to be a WARNING!!! from "Quick System Scan Results". On any computer other than Windows XP we would immediately identify this window as part of the hack and not an actual system message. Only rendering only one window style is LAZY, but it probably achieved the objective - target a large user base (All Windows XP users).

Exciting Words
* "WARNING!!!", "Spyware.IEMonster.b", "CRITICAL", and "strongly recommended" are all sales tactics. You see the equivalent in real estate that you should have no interest in! Specifically, using a malware name like "Spyware.IEMonstser.b" is LAZY, it plays on the fear of IE users with an obviously fake threat name - when is the last time you saw a threat name and it made actual sense to you?

Spelling, Grammar
* Figure 5 and Figure 7 (others?) contain blatant punctuation and/or grammatical errors. While some professional, REAL software does contain such errors, generally you see these errors in deeper parts of the application. The "client's" first experience with software is set by the installer and other components (such as the company web site). Errors such as these at this point should be a big warning. The hackers were LAZY and did not have someone accurately check grammar, spelling and/or punctuation.

* Eventually this article discusses how the end-point of the hack, getting money out of the whole deal, all points in the same direction. One of the hardest problems of hiding, even online, is money. For money to have value it has to end up in someone or some organization's hands - eventually the investigator identifies a variety of malware that all pay the same person/organization.

My colleague, Dave Gilbert, warns me that "follow the money" has become a cliche phrase, but I will hazard it's use here.

I contend, that in a world that is increasingly digitized, we will see the oldest of investigative techniques to become more and more important. In this case, following the money trail, the way that these hackers get money out of the "hack," leads us back to the actual attackers.

Any thoughts?

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