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WinMX World :: Forum  |  Discussion  |  WinMx World News  |  NSA - coming to a port near you

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NSA - coming to a port near you
« on: August 23, 2014, 07:52:33 am »

Since the early days of TCP, port scanning has been used by computer saboteurs to locate vulnerable systems. In a new set of top secret documents seen by Heise, it is revealed that in 2009, the British spy agency GCHQ made port scans a "standard tool" to be applied against entire nations. Twenty-seven countries are listed as targets of the HACIENDA program in the presentation, which comes with a promotional offer: readers desiring to do reconnaissance against another country need simply send an e-mail...

...The documents do not spell out details for a review process or the need to justify such an action. It should also be noted that the ability to port-scan an entire country is hardly wild fantasy; in 2013, a port scanner called Zmap was implemented that can scan the entire IPv4 address space in less than one hour using a single PC. [3] The massive use of this technology can thus make any server anywhere, large or small, a target for criminal state computer saboteurs.

The list of targeted services includes ubiquitous public services such as HTTP and FTP, as well as common administrative protocols such as SSH (Secure SHell protocol – used for remote access to systems) and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol – used for network administration) (Figure 4). Given that in the meantime, port scanning tools like Zmap have been developed which allow anyone to do comprehensive scans, it is not the technology used that is shocking, but rather the gargantuan scale and pervasiveness of the operation...

...In addition to simple port scans, GCHQ also downloads so-called banners and other readily available information (Figure 4). A banner is text sent by some applications when connecting to an associated port; this often indicates system and application information, including version and other information useful when looking for vulnerable services. Doing reconnaissance at the massive scale revealed in the documents demonstrates that the goal is to perform active collection and map vulnerable services ubiquitiously, not to go after specific targets.

By preparing for attacks against services offered via SSH and SNMP, the spy agency targets critical infrastructure such as systems used for network operations. As shown in the past with the penetration of Belgacom and Stellar, when an employee's computer system or network credentials may be useful, those systems and people are targeted and attacked.

The database resulting from the scans is then shared with other spy agencies of the Five Eyes spying club, which includes the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. MAILORDER is described in the documents as a secure transport protocol used between the Five Eyes spy agencies to exchange collected data...

Knocking down the HACIENDA
« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2014, 07:58:41 am »
While defending against undisclosed vulnerabilities in public services is rather difficult, minimizing one's visible footprint and thus one's attack surface for administrative services is much easier. Port knocking is a well-known method for making TCP servers less visible on the Internet. The basic idea is to make a TCP server not respond (positively) to a TCP SYN request unless a particular "knock" packet has been received first. This can be helpful for security, as an attacker who cannot establish a TCP connection also cannot really attack the TCP server.

However, traditional port knocking techniques generally do not consider a modern nation-state adversary. Specifically, port scans are not the only method an attacker may use to learn about the existence of a service; if the service is accessed via a network where the adversary is able to sniff the traffic, the adversary may observe the connection and thereby deduce the existence of a service. A nation-state attacker may even be able to observe all traffic from the TCP client and perform man-in-the-middle attacks on traffic originating from the client. In particular, with compromised routers in the infrastructure, it is possible to execute a man-in-the-middle attack to take over a TCP connection just after the initial TCP handshake has been completed. An advanced attacker in control of routers may also try to identify the use of insufficiently stealthy port knocks by detecting unusual patterns in network traffic. However, it may still be safe to assume this adversary does not flag a standard TCP handshake as suspicious, as this is way too common.

TCP Stealth

TCP Stealth is an IETF draft (Julian Kirsch, Christian Grothoff, Jacob Appelbaum, and Holger Kenn: Tcp stealth, August 2014. IETF draft) which describes an easily-deployed and stealthy port knocking variant. TCP Stealth embeds the authorization token in the TCP ISN, and enables applications to add payload protections. As a result, TCP Stealth is hard to detect on the network as the traffic is indistinguishable from an ordinary 3-way TCP handshake, and man-in-the-middle attacks as well as replay attacks are mitigated by the payload protections. TCP Stealth works with IPv4 and IPv6.

TCP Stealth is useful for any service with a user group that is so small that it is practical to share a passphrase with all members. Examples include administrative SSH or FTP access to servers, Tor Bridges, personal POP3/IMAP(S) servers and friend-to-friend Peer-to-Peer overlay networks. The easiest way to use TCP Stealth is with operating system support. TCP Stealth is available for Linux systems using the Knock patch (siehe: Julian Kirsch. Knock, August 2014).. For kernels that include this patch, TCP Stealth support can be added to applications via a simple setsockopt() call, or by pre-loading the libnockify shared library and setting the respective environment variables.

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