By Shane MacDougall, senior security engineer, Mosaic451
The other day I was asked what is the biggest information security threat facing any company in 2019. Is it ransomware? Some AI powered malware? Overpowering DDOS attacks? I didn’t hesitate – the answer is the same as it has been since I was first asked the question over two decades ago. The biggest threat to our infrastructure remains our users.
Social engineering, an attack where hackers extract information and access, not from traditional hacking attacks, but rather by interacting with a person in conversation, remains a devastatingly effective method of gaining unauthorized information or access to a network. It’s an attack vector that rarely fails. Unlike logical attacks, social engineering leaves no log entries to trip IDS or alert security admins. As organizations invest more dollars into security appliances and next-gen blinky boxes designed to harden their perimeter, attackers are increasingly opting to target the weakest link – the end user.
Recently, I was in Canada at the Hackfest hacker conference in Quebec, as host and organizer of the second installation of its social engineering “capture the flag” competition. The three part competition had the competitors first spend a week searching for specific pieces of information (flags) about their target company, from a list of items provided by Hackfest. The flags range from information that can be used for an onsite attack (who does your document disposal, what is the pickup schedule), those that can be used for a logical attack (type of operating system, service pack level, browser and email client information), networking information which gives the attacker information about the infrastructure (wifi info, VPN access, security devices), and finally information about the employee and the work environment, which could be used to help the attacker pose as an insider.
The second portion of the competition had the contestants hop into a sound proof booth, and were given 25 minutes to call their target company in front of an audience, and to gather as many flags as possible based on their dossier information. The third and final segment had competitors randomly draw a target, then each contestant had 30 minutes to use the audience members to search the web for flags or phone numbers to create a workable dossier. Each competitor was then put back into the booth to make another 25 minutes worth of calls in hunt of flags.
The results of this year’s contest were eye opening, but sadly reminiscent of last year’s event. Of the eight companies targeted, all gave out information that would give an attacker an advantage for a remote attack, on-site attack, or both. Specific breakdowns of results include:
- 75 percent visited a URL provided by their attacker
- 100 percent gave information about what version operating system/service pack version they were running
- 88 percent gave detailed information on what internet browser they were using
- 75 percent divulged information about Wi-Fi within their network
- 63 percent divulged information about secure document shredding, including their provider and the schedule for disposal
- 63 percent divulged detailed information about their email client
- 75 percent gave detailed information about the internal computer network
- 75 percent shared personal information about themselves and their work history