3 min read

The MacGyvers of Hacking

At Black Hat, researchers show amazing ability to take advantage of what's around them

1:30 PM -- LAS VEGAS -- Black Hat USA -- Remember the TV show MacGyver? Whenever he was confronted with a problem, ol' Mac would simply look around him, and then use his surprising brains to come up with a cunning solution, using only what was at hand. To this day, I always keep a can of aerosol deodorant in the bathroom, in case I ever have to kill a king cobra.

But what if MacGyver had been a hacker? This week at the Black Hat show here, I think we've gotten a pretty good idea of what ol' Mac might have come up with. While many of the researchers have developed new tools, it's even more amazing to see what these folks can do with what's already there in most computing environments.

Take, for example, the four researchers who have identified methods for hacking corporate environments -- and even stealing user passwords -- simply by analyzing their traffic patterns. It's no longer enough to hide your data -- now you have to hide the noise it makes when you send it. (See New Threat: Network Eavesdropping.)

Researchers at Errata Security are taking a different approach -- they're using the zero-day signatures found in intrusion prevention systems (IPS) to create new openings for penetration. Talk about using your defenses against you -- these guys have actually found a way to make the latest IPS updates work to the attacker's advantage. (See Black Hat: How to Hack IPS Signatures.)

And speaking of using your security defenses against you, how about the two Black Hat sessions on DNS pinning? Here's where creative researchers have taken an old security precaution -- the "pinning" of an IP address to a single domain -- and exploited it to create big openings for attack. David Byrne and Dan Kaminsky are showing security pros that such old dogs may not hunt in the wild woods of Web 2.0. (See Old Flaw Threatens Web 2.0 and Hack Sneaks Past Firewall to Intranet.)

Researchers at Watchfire offered a peek at their discovery of a means to hack a broad range of applications using a common programming error called a dangling pointer. Their discovery could be the first in a long line of exploits that take advantage of simple, existing programming flaws that have been overlooked because they didn't appear to have security implications. (See Pointing to Danger.)

And in true MacGyver style, HD Moore and Val Smith encouraged researchers to rely less on automated penetration testing tools and use their brains to analyze and break through computer defenses. In fact, Moore and Smith demonstrated powerful hacking techniques that neither exploit unpatched vulnerabilities nor zero-day bugs, allowing an attacker to penetrate fully-patched systems. (See Hacking Without Exploits.)

If you're smart enough, you can find all kinds of tools just lying around you. It worked for MacGyver -- and apparently, it's not a bad idea for hackers, either.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • Core Security Technologies
  • Watchfire Corp.