Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

New Threat: Network Eavesdropping

Smart hackers can execute surprising exploits just by watching your traffic, experts say

LAS VEGAS -- Black Hat USA -- Attackers don't have to be able to read your data in order to hack your network, researchers said in a presentation here today.

A smart hacker can learn a great deal about your network and its vulnerabilities simply by analyzing its traffic patterns via the Internet, according to a quartet of researchers who presented their findings.

The presentation, entitled "Traffic Analysis: The Most Powerful and Least Understood Attack Method," was given by Jon Callas, CTO and CSO of PGP; Raven Alder, an independent security researcher; Riccardo Bettati, an associate professor in computer science at Texas A&M University; and Nick Mathewson, one of the developers of the Tor privacy network.

The researchers showed how detailed analysis of timestamps on packets can enable an attacker to identify how and what a particular user is typing. Attackers can also use traffic data to identify the operating system used on a particular server, or even what a password might be.

"It's even worse in wireless networks, where this sort of analysis can make it possible not only to find out who the sender is, but where the receiver might be," Callas said.

Some vendors and enterprises have tried to obfuscate their traffic patterns by embedding real traffic in a constant stream of dummy traffic. But this strategy, known as "link padding," is relatively easy to defeat, and it is possible for attackers to separate the real traffic from the fake stuff, the researchers said.

"The greatest problem with this sort of exploit is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to defend against," Callas said. The mathematics required to mask the patterns of a particular traffic stream is much more complex than the math required for attackers to analyze traffic in nefarious ways, the researchers said.

The good news is that traffic analysis can also be used by the good guys to root out botnets and other attacks, the researchers observed. "By looking at ping response times, it's possible to tell the difference between users and botnets," Callas said. And once a botnet node is identified, it is possible to use traffic analysis to track down the other nodes on a hop-by-hop basis, he said.

In the future, traffic analysis might be used to identify other types of attacks, such as spam or click fraud, the researchers said. "We're just bringing out the techniques and issues now -- we're hoping that others will apply these findings to other areas," Callas said.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • PGP Corp. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
    More Insights
  • Comments
    Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
    Edge-DRsplash-10-edge-articles
    7 Old IT Things Every New InfoSec Pro Should Know
    Joan Goodchild, Staff Editor,  4/20/2021
    News
    Cloud-Native Businesses Struggle With Security
    Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  5/6/2021
    Commentary
    Defending Against Web Scraping Attacks
    Rob Simon, Principal Security Consultant at TrustedSec,  5/7/2021
    Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
    White Papers
    Video
    Cartoon
    Current Issue
    2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
    We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
    Flash Poll
    How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
    How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
    Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
    Twitter Feed
    Dark Reading - Bug Report
    Bug Report
    Enterprise Vulnerabilities
    From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
    CVE-2020-23691
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-14
    YFCMF v2.3.1 has a Remote Command Execution (RCE) vulnerability in the index.php.
    CVE-2020-18166
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-14
    Unrestricted File Upload in LAOBANCMS v2.0 allows remote attackers to upload arbitrary files by attaching a file with a ".jpg.php" extension to the component "admin/wenjian.php?wj=../templets/pc".
    CVE-2020-18167
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-14
    Cross Site Scripting (XSS) in LAOBANCMS v2.0 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code by injecting commands into the "Homepage Introduction" field of component "admin/info.php?shuyu".
    CVE-2020-23689
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-14
    In YFCMF v2.3.1, there is a stored XSS vulnerability in the comments section of the news page.
    CVE-2021-25941
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-14
    Prototype pollution vulnerability in 'deep-override' versions 1.0.0 through 1.0.1 allows an attacker to cause a denial of service and may lead to remote code execution.