Vulnerabilities / Threats
10/30/2013
03:59 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Social Engineers Pwn The 'Human Network' In Major Firms

Apple, General Motors, Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson, Chevron, Boeing, and other major corporations easily fall to social engineers in recent contest, new report shows

To provide some perspective on just how poorly corporate America is able to combat social engineering attacks today, consider this: Famously secretive Apple fared the worst in a recent social engineering contest.

Organizers of the annual Social Engineering Capture The Flag (SETF) contest at DEF CON have released the final report on the competition, held in August in Las Vegas, and the findings don't bode well for enterprises: Social engineering exploits are as easy as ever to pull off successfully, with contestants able to glean valuable company information online and from employees answering phones at Apple, General Motors, Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson, Chevron, Boeing, Walt Disney, Exxon, General Dynamics, and General Electric.

The fifth annual SETF, which is held to raise awareness about social engineering threats, included 10 men and 10 women contestants who each initially conducted online research (no hacking or direct contact allowed) on their assigned target company for the contest. They then placed live telephone calls to their target in a soundproof booth at DEF CON in front of an audience of attendees and contest organizers. Each was scored based on the "flags," or specific checklist items, they were able to obtain from their targets, such as the caller's browser, operating system, or getting them to visit a rigged URL.

"The bottom line is [the target corporations] did really poorly," says Michele Fincher, chief influencing agent for Social-Engineer, Inc., the firm that runs the event each year at DEF CON. "The companies who happened to do well did so accidentally or out of ignorance in they either couldn't answer the question or didn't know how, so the call shut down. Very few [employees] said, 'I am not allowed to give out this information.'"

One male contestant in the online-research portion of the contest prior to the live event was able to access a document on his assigned target company's public website that provided him the credentials to log into the company's intranet. "He didn't do any hacking on the corporate website, [which is against the rules]. But he found a document to help new employees log in that literally showed a real badge with login information that actually worked. Using that credential, he got into the employee intranet," Fincher says.

Fincher, who wouldn't name the targeted firm, says that finding highlighted just how easy it is to gather valuable information on a targeted organization via the Internet using open-source intelligence, a.k.a. OSINT, or information gathered from publicly available sources such as websites, social media, and other online resources. "There has not been a lot of activity on the part of corporations to improve this sort of exposure and data leakage," she says.

The bulk of the intel gathered by the contestants this year came from OSINT. "Most of the points were actually obtained" online this way, Fincher says. The contestants actually earned two times the amount of points via OSINT than they did in their live calls to the targets -- and the OSINT flags were worth half of the points as the ones captured during the live portion of the contest, she says.

"What that really means is that it doesn't take a skilled social engineer to dig through the Net and find information," Fincher says.

While the contestant assigned to Apple was able to garner the most total points from the target, 1,200, and the contestant assigned to GE, the lowest with less than 300, that doesn't mean one company is necessarily a weaker link than another. "Here's the thing: You can't really make hard-core assumptions that Apple is bad and GE is good," Fincher says. Other factors include the caller's expertise, the respondent's naivete -- plus the amount of information the contestant was able to research and gather online prior to the event to help his or her mission to extract information.

The top flags captured by the contestants, in order, were Internet browser type; operating system information; information on corporate wireless access; confirmation of a corporate VPN; and the presence of an on-site cafeteria. Browser and OS intel could aid an attacker in crafting a targeted phishing email, for instance.

[Postmortem details released on high-profile contest that targeted Walmart, Target, AT&T, Verizon, HP, Cisco, Mobil, Shell, FedEx, and UPS. See Retail Fail: Walmart, Target Fared Worst In Def Con Social Engineering Contest.]

Why the cafeteria flag? Service workers in food and janitorial services often fly under the radar with physical access to all types of possible information leaks, including trash cans or documents, according to Fincher.

"One of the key findings are across the board there is way too much information to be gathered through open source. The training being provided is not adequate to cover this," Fincher says. "There's a lot of focus on technology: It's a lot easier to put up a firewall. But a conversation can be way more damaging than malware."

It takes more customized, repetitive training to teach employees to be careful in what they share online or in conversation, she says. "I would like to see people put as much effort in keeping their human network safe" as they do their computer networks, she says.

The full report on this year's SECTF is available here for download.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
Partner Perspectives
What's This?
In a digital world inundated with advanced security threats, Intel Security seeks to transform how we live and work to keep our information secure. Through hardware and software development, Intel Security delivers robust solutions that integrate security into every layer of every digital device. In combining the security expertise of McAfee with the innovation, performance, and trust of Intel, this vision becomes a reality.

As we rely on technology to enhance our everyday and business life, we must too consider the security of the intellectual property and confidential data that is housed on these devices. As we increase the number of devices we use, we increase the number of gateways and opportunity for security threats. Intel Security takes the “security connected” approach to ensure that every device is secure, and that all security solutions are seamlessly integrated.
Featured Writers
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading's October Tech Digest
Fast data analysis can stymie attacks and strengthen enterprise security. Does your team have the data smarts?
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2013-4594
Published: 2014-10-25
The Payment for Webform module 7.x-1.x before 7.x-1.5 for Drupal does not restrict access by anonymous users, which allows remote anonymous users to use the payment of other anonymous users when submitting a form that requires payment.

CVE-2014-0476
Published: 2014-10-25
The slapper function in chkrootkit before 0.50 does not properly quote file paths, which allows local users to execute arbitrary code via a Trojan horse executable. NOTE: this is only a vulnerability when /tmp is not mounted with the noexec option.

CVE-2014-1927
Published: 2014-10-25
The shell_quote function in python-gnupg 0.3.5 does not properly quote strings, which allows context-dependent attackers to execute arbitrary code via shell metacharacters in unspecified vectors, as demonstrated using "$(" command-substitution sequences, a different vulnerability than CVE-2014-1928....

CVE-2014-1928
Published: 2014-10-25
The shell_quote function in python-gnupg 0.3.5 does not properly escape characters, which allows context-dependent attackers to execute arbitrary code via shell metacharacters in unspecified vectors, as demonstrated using "\" (backslash) characters to form multi-command sequences, a different vulner...

CVE-2014-1929
Published: 2014-10-25
python-gnupg 0.3.5 and 0.3.6 allows context-dependent attackers to have an unspecified impact via vectors related to "option injection through positional arguments." NOTE: this vulnerability exists because of an incomplete fix for CVE-2013-7323.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Follow Dark Reading editors into the field as they talk with noted experts from the security world.