02:54 PM

Lessons Learned From N.Y. Times Hack Attack

How could the Times have recovered faster after the Syrian Electronic Army attacked its DNS registry? Here are six considerations to help protect your business from similar harm.

4. Employ DNS Registry Locks

Twitter -- but not the Times -- also subscribed to a registry lock service, which resembles a credit card fraud alert: Whenever someone attempts to do something suspicious, such as change DNS settings, the website owner receives an email alert. Such services cost as little as $50 per year, and are available from VeriSign and NeuStar. While the cost to the Times from the advertising revenue it lost as a result of the disruptions can't be tallied in full until its site is fully restored, the cost is likely to be orders of magnitude more expensive than a registry lock service subscription.

Why don't more registrars offer locking as an always-on service, layered with even better security controls? "The domain name registrars are trying to get better at doing things like this," said Carl Herberger, VP of security solutions for Radware, speaking by phone. "A lot of times there are complications in the way that they can actually accomplish their business. If you change the configuration it may break something."

In addition, using registry locks requires more effort when it comes to renewing domain names. Furthermore, what's to prevent an attacker from hacking into the registry lock provider?

5. Beware Simple Solutions

There is no silver bullet for preventing opportunistic attacks, and every new defense, such as registry locks, might create a potential new weakness, or require more effort. "At the end of the day, this was an integrity-based attack, and what I mean by that is they reconfigured the domain servers so they did different things," said Herberger. "So, to ensure the integrity of those different things, you're [now] going to lock those," referring to registry locking services. But what if someone attacks those services directly, or finds a way to cause long-term outages that leave customers unable to unlock settings?

Herberger added: "Whenever you centralize all of your security around fewer gatekeepers, you have the opportunity of a denial of service. That's the irony of it."

6. Be Prepared To Not Stop Every Attack

If attackers devote enough time and energy to finding a weakness that they can exploit with relatively low cost and little effort, then it will be almost impossible to stop them. "There's not a whole lot The New York Times can do if their third party DNS provider was hacked," said Ken Pickering, director of engineering at penetration testing firm CORE Security, via email. "The system is only really failsafe if DNS providers are unhackable, which obviously isn't the case. And this is the resultant outcome: A story that the NYT was hacked with very little they could do aside from picking a better service provider."

Furthermore, it's important to remember that the SEA -- graduating from its long-running Twitter account takeover activities -- found a new vulnerability to exploit. "They exposed some world-class exposures in some world-class environments," said Herberger. "To take down The New York Times website? Pretty impressive. To expose some security problems in Twitter, even if the rest of the world didn't know they were there? Very impressive."

2 of 2
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/30/2013 | 1:23:15 PM
re: Lessons Learned From N.Y. Times Hack Attack
Is there something website operators can do to get visibility into all the subcontractor relationships between different organizations involved in the management and maintenance of DNS records? Seems like simplifying the chain of command might be one way to minimize the chance of problems like this.
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Five Emerging Security Threats - And What You Can Learn From Them
At Black Hat USA, researchers unveiled some nasty vulnerabilities. Is your organization ready?
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
Published: 2015-10-15
The Direct Rendering Manager (DRM) subsystem in the Linux kernel through 4.x mishandles requests for Graphics Execution Manager (GEM) objects, which allows context-dependent attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) via an application that processes graphics data, as demonstrated b...

Published: 2015-10-15
netstat in IBM AIX 5.3, 6.1, and 7.1 and VIOS 2.2.x, when a fibre channel adapter is used, allows local users to gain privileges via unspecified vectors.

Published: 2015-10-15
Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerability in eXtplorer before 2.1.8 allows remote attackers to hijack the authentication of arbitrary users for requests that execute PHP code.

Published: 2015-10-15
Directory traversal vulnerability in QNAP QTS before 4.1.4 build 0910 and 4.2.x before 4.2.0 RC2 build 0910, when AFP is enabled, allows remote attackers to read or write to arbitrary files by leveraging access to an OS X (1) user or (2) guest account.

Published: 2015-10-15
Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) 1.1j allows local users to gain privileges via vectors involving addition of an SSH key, aka Bug ID CSCuw46076.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
According to industry estimates, about a million new IT security jobs will be created in the next two years but there aren't enough skilled professionals to fill them. On top of that, there isn't necessarily a clear path to a career in security. Dark Reading Executive Editor Kelly Jackson Higgins hosts guests Carson Sweet, co-founder and CTO of CloudPassage, which published a shocking study of the security gap in top US undergrad computer science programs, and Rodney Petersen, head of NIST's new National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education.