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.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

7/11/2012
08:32 PM
50%
50%

Stealing Documents Through Social Media Image-Sharing

Innocent-looking vacation pictures on Facebook could conceivably traffic exfiltrated documents, Black Hat researchers warn

Security researchers will unveil at Black Hat USA a new method of hiding sensitive information in the encoding of seemingly safe images shared on social media sites to avoid security mechanisms. The method employed by a new tool they developed called SNScat can not only be used to exfiltrate data off networks without detection, but to also run covert botnets through the type of social media network traffic allowed by most businesses today.

Click here for more of Dark Reading's Black Hat articles.

Developed by Dan Gunter and Solomon Sonya, post-graduate students at University of Louisville and Western International University, respectively, SNScat and its underlying operational methods take advantage of the opacity of traffic running through third-party social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

"If you now get rid of the actual adversary's IP address, if you get rid of all his information from a network, and then you just have a third party or different medium that everyone is talking to, and then I am now taking to that same medium -- unless you have access to the third party, you can never determine where I'm actually sitting or where I'm coming from," Sonya says.

Couple that with steganography, and a whole world of attacks open up, Sonya says. At Black Hat he and Gunter will demonstrate how they were able to break up sensitive data files, scatter their bits and bytes in the coding of image files, transmit those images undetected through social media sites, and then reconstitute them outside of the test network.

"Any single file on your system is all composed of bits; it's all composed of bytes. If I can take away some bytes -- or just one bit -- randomly throughout an image file, the image is still going to be encoded the same," Sonya says, explaining that it might make the difference between one shade of blue or another if you took away a particular piece of encoding for color and replaced it with something else.

In the case of exfiltration, that something else could be any number of things, including the formula for whatever special sauce an organization produces.

"If I have that secret formula, I cannot just upload that formula into an email and send it out because I'm assuming that network security is in place that's looking for keywords in that formula file," Sonya says. "If now I take apart that entire file -- say it's the secret formula in a [100-byte] text file -- [and] fragment that text file into pieces five or six bytes each, it's all the same file, just now in 20 fragments. Now, if within each of the 20 fragments I convert all the bytes into bits and take those fragmented bits and scatter them into images and send those images up onto Twitter, all [an admin sees] is people uploading images."

But the attacker sees something very different. Once the attacker loads each of the 20 images, it is just a matter of composing all of the bits together to reconstitute the files.

"Now I've just created the original document extracted from a protected network without anyone ever knowing that I just sent a protect file off," he says.

The tool that Sonya and Gunter developed through their research not only can be used to exfiltrate data, but also to set up two-way communication between a network and a botnet command-and-control server through virtually undetectable social media traffic.

"They are in near real-time executing the commands that we give it and executing commands that we send to it easily -- just as you would have done with any other remote access tool or RAT -- but now you don't see anything different [on the network]," Sonya explains. "Using steganography, we're embedding our information into images [and] setting it onto the site. The implant downloads images, extracts the commands from it, executes the commands, and either does what you told it to or places messages back into images and back onto social networking sites."

Sonya says that by promoting SNScat, he and Gunter hope to give security researchers and white hats the tools needed to look into these types of social networking vulnerabilities, which has wide-ranging applicability not only through use of images, but also audio and video files.

"If we stop looking at files as 'this file is an image, this is a text file, this is a video,' we'll see that all files are bytes," he says. "That means the same algorithm we use to embed information and extract what's on any file applies not just to images."

While he did have reservations in offering a tool that could potentially be used as a new undetectable method of exfiltration in the wild, Sonya says he and his research partner believed that the release of SNScat was necessary to get the industry prepared for these type of potential attacks from malicious adversaries.

"We're working together on this project in our free time -- and we both work and go to school full-time," he says. "So now imagine the motivated attacker who is paid to do this eight or 10 hours a day. We can only imagine the already advanced tools that they've already developed. We're just bringing this attack method to light."

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.

 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/6/2020
Ripple20 Threatens Increasingly Connected Medical Devices
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  6/30/2020
DDoS Attacks Jump 542% from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020
Dark Reading Staff 6/30/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
How Cybersecurity Incident Response Programs Work (and Why Some Don't)
This Tech Digest takes a look at the vital role cybersecurity incident response (IR) plays in managing cyber-risk within organizations. Download the Tech Digest today to find out how well-planned IR programs can detect intrusions, contain breaches, and help an organization restore normal operations.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15570
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-06
The parse_report() function in whoopsie.c in Whoopsie through 0.2.69 mishandles memory allocation failures, which allows an attacker to cause a denial of service via a malformed crash file.
CVE-2020-15569
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-06
PlayerGeneric.cpp in MilkyTracker through 1.02.00 has a use-after-free in the PlayerGeneric destructor.
CVE-2020-7690
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-06
It's possible to inject JavaScript code via the html method.
CVE-2020-7691
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-06
It's possible to use <<script>script> in order to go over the filtering regex.
CVE-2020-15562
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-06
An issue was discovered in Roundcube Webmail before 1.2.11, 1.3.x before 1.3.14, and 1.4.x before 1.4.7. It allows XSS via a crafted HTML e-mail message, as demonstrated by a JavaScript payload in the xmlns (aka XML namespace) attribute of a HEAD element when an SVG element exists.