The Stages of Attack or Penetration Testing

  1.    Network reconnaissance :

This is the first phase involved in penetrating a system. This is the stage during which information is gathered about the target in order to facilitate the attack. It can feature “Active” methods, such as actual social engineering in person, or “Passive” methods using searches of public records and even material from “Shodan”.

  1. Host port scanning and banner grabbing

This phase involves using port scanners to look for all open and closed ports. This is carried out using port scanners such as “Nmap”, “Superscan”, and “Angry IP Scanner”. Packet Sniffers like Ethercap and Wireshark can help capture information traversing a site or network.

  1. Vulnerability identification and Exploitation

Using tools like Metasploit or Sqlmap, this phase looks for any vulnerabilities which can be exploited to establish access to a system or network.  Control can be gained at the level of  the OS, system or network. This can proceed into privilege escalation via the cracking of passwords and Dos or DDos attacks. Vulnerability scanners such as Nessus and Nipper help determine how vulnerable a system is.

  1. Rootkit installation

If possible, the installation of a rootkit is an excellent way to maintain control over a system or network while also avoiding detection. Rootkits can disguise themselves and are difficult to detect. The installation of the Rootkit generally occurs after an attacker has successfully exploited a vulnerability in a system or network. The term “Root” refers to what the administrator or privileged account on Unix-like systems was/is called. Rootkits are able to modify at the level of the “kernel”, and removal of firmware Rootkits is often difficult to impossible.

  1.  Hiding tracks

One of the final phases, “Daisy Chaining” or “Exfiltration” aims to leave as little evidence as possible that the attacker penetrated a system. The more skilled the hacker, the less evidence he will leave. This is a critical phase to avoid being caught and to ensure that any modifications or malware installed stay in place as long as possible. Hiding tracks well closes out the attack and ultimately determines the overall success of the attack.

Source: Author


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PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) and LDAPv2

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is the set of standards and methods required to manage the process of generating digital certificates and creating cryptographic methods of communication between parties. PKI allows for information to be securely moved through networks and is used in a vast array of network based activities. Essentially, a public key is provided by some entity or party (held on a server) to be verified against the private key, which is specific to an individual.

Fundamentally, PKI is about cryptography. An example of this type of infrastructure in use is during the process of a cryptomalware ransomware attack. In this case, the threat actor (who has encrypted the files of the victim) holds the private key. He makes available the public key, and upon payment of the ransom, hopefully he releases the private key to the victim for decryption.

PKI is also used in industries such as banking and generally in situations where a password would be insufficient to confirm the identity of the parties involved.


RFC and Internet Draft

 Internet Drafts (I-D) are essentially technical documents which are published by the IETF. They contain research related to networking and sometimes are intended to end up as an RFC (Request For Comments). This RFC, developed by computer scientists and network experts will then be submitted for peer review. Some RFCs will be adopted by the IETF as standards, though some are purely research or experimental in nature.


Here we will take a look at one particular standard, LDAPv2. LDAP is an acronym for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. LDAPv2 was developed as a vendor-neutral protocol for accessing X.500 directory standards, but being as it was developed in 1995, a number of vulnerabilities have emerged over timeAccording to the document, LDAPv2 does not support modern authentication mechanisms” such as as Kerberos V.

One of its core features is its ability to maintain central storage of passwords and usernames, however in the document provided at, LDAPv2 is being recommended for retirement, due in part to the fact that it fails to “provide any mechanism for data integrity or confidentiality”. The text goes on to talk about LDAPv3 and its support for stronger authentication and confidentiality, thereby more adequately fulfilling the “CIA” model of information security. The author recommends moving LDAPv2 to “Historic” status, meaning that developers should no longer use it and therefore consider it obsolete and vulnerable to exploitation.


The Pros and Cons of PKI

There is an argument to be made that in some cases, PKI can simply be unnecessary, especially when it is easier to implement two-factor authentication such as OTP (One Time Password) tokens or smart cards. Maintaining a PKI infrastructure can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive, and thus some organizations choose to outsource the job. However, the primary advantage of using PKI through SSH (Secure Shell) is its high degree of security. So long as the private-key is kept secret, a threat actor would not be able to execute a dictionary (brute-force) attack to crack a user’s password.


To sum up, the Advantages of PKI lie in the fact that it is vastly more secure than a simple password system, as a threat actor must obtain not only the cleartext or hashed password, but also the private key in order to impersonate a user.

The Disadvantages are primarily related to the lack of scalability, especially in larger environments. Furthermore, in some situations, the use of PKI could simply be considered overkill, and two-factor, OTP, or CAC may be the superior option.



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Ransomware: Present and Future

Modern ransomware is a form of cryptomalware which encrypts the contents of the target hard drive and potentially all storage media on a network and then demands payment for decryption. This is accomplished through traditional threat vectors to lead a user to execute the malware and begin encryption.

After infection and execution of any number of encryption attacks using typical protocols (RSA, SHA-256), the malware will lock down the infected machine and/or network and demand payment, generally in the form of cryptocurrencies, which may or may not actually result in the decryption of the affected files. If the victim complies and sends payment, the threat actor (ideally) releases to them the private key of the public and private key-pair that was used to encrypt their drives.

These attacks have a proven track record for attackers and have resulted in some big payouts, perhaps most notably and well known being the cryptomalware attack against the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, and other hospitals. Because these attacks almost always come with a time limit after which if payment has not been made to the attacker the private key will forever be lost and all files rendered uselessly scrambled and locked, it is not uncommon for institutions to actually pay up. Because the ransom is generally within a “reasonable” range for the targeted institution considering what is at risk of being lost, it is understandable that stress and urgency would drive such a decision. Of course, U.S. Intelligence sources never suggest cooperating with demands.

According to the FBI, ransomware takes in over $1 billion annually just in payments, with a much larger sum devoted to the costs of remediation. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but because security and convenience relate to each other inversely, we will never be able to fully implement the level of prophylactic security care necessary to stop these kinds of threats from reaching our terminals and workstations entirely.

So what are the options once infection has occurred?

1. If you have a recent backup, and the infection is local enough and not spread over an entire network, you can simply purge and re-image the affected machine. If not…

2. Lose your data, or pay up and hope for the best.

Sad as it sounds, those really are the only options available at that point. If you choose to go the route of paying the ransom and hoping for honesty from your attacker, the process generally plays out as follows.

– When the ransomware encrypted your files, it generated a secret key file (private key) and stored it somewhere on your machine.

-Therefore, you must locate and upload this file or data string to the attacker along with the demanded payment in cryptocurrency.

-If they are “honorable” thieves, they process the result and send you a decryption key.

I can only imagine this to be a greatly disheartening process. Incredibly, some cryptomalware platforms even offer a discount on your decryption if you will “infect a friend”.

Moving into the future, we should expect to see ransomware being written to no longer have the need for direct human interaction during the key exchange and payment process. So-called autonomous ransomware eliminates this risky element of one-to-one communication with infected targets where the attacker exposes himself to higher risk.

There is so much more to say about this topic, but the essentials of what an enterprise needs to know have mostly been summed up here. As these cryptomalware attacks generally target the enterprise over the individual in search of the biggest payout possible, organizations need to be aware that threat actors have them in their sights, eagerly awaiting you to slip up and allow them to take hostage your files, machines, and networks.


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Cryptojacking Attack Infects Thousands of ISP-Grade Routers

Cryptomining attack scripts, sometimes referred to as cryptojacking, are a subtle form of malware designed to harness the power of your CPU to mine cryptocurrency for those who develop them. These malware can be spread through infected files and the usual vectors of transmission. Cryptomining can also take place with our without your tacet consent on websites, especially those associated with torrenting and distribution of copywrited materials.

In this case however, a more sophisticated approach has been taken in an effort to spread the reach of the mining campaign through compromising industrial, ISP-grade routers. A hacking campaign has compromised “tens of thousands of MikroTik routers to embed Coinhive cryptomining scripts in websites using a known vulnerability.” ( reports that over 170,000 active Mikrotik devices were infected with the CoinHive site-key ( a single site-key was found across all infections, which indicates a single entity to be behind the attacks). Although the campaign appeared to originally target Brazil, infections are still growing internationally. A search on Shodan (a search engine for security researchers) shows growing tens of thousands of compromised routers outside of Brazil.

MikroTik routers are employed by large enterprises and ISPs in order to serve web pages to multiple thousands or more users each day. This means that each instance of compromise could pay out big for the threat actor.

This is a warning call and reminder to everyone who has a MikroTik device to patch as soon as possible,” Trustwave researcher Simon Kenin wrote. “This attack may currently be prevalent in Brazil, but during the final stages of writing this blog, I also noticed other geo-locations being affected as well, so I believe this attack is intended to be on a global scale.”

We’re … talking about potentially millions of daily pages for the attacker,” Kenin wrote. “The attacker wisely thought that instead of infecting small sites with few visitors, or finding sophisticated ways to run malware on end-user computers, they would go straight to the source: carrier-grade router devices.”


Known Vulnerabilities 

Because the attack capitalizes on a known vulnerability, it is a prime example of what enterprises of all sizes risk when they delay or prevent installation of developer patches. The attack takes advantage of a vulnerability that was actually fixed by MikroTik in a previous patch.

Whoever is behind the attack, it appears they have an intimate understanding of the functionality of this particular router.

Initial investigation indicates that instead of running a malicious executable on the router itself, which is how the exploit was being used when it was first discovered, the attacker used the device’s functionality in order to inject the CoinHive script into every web page that a user visited,” explained Kenin.

Any MikroTik router users should make sure that their RouterOS is current with security patches, lest they fall prey to this latest cryptojacking campaign. 

The end user still has a few options as well, as cryptojacking can be halted in the web browser itself using (MinerBlock extension) or at the local firewall (CoinBlockerLists). Because the CoinHive script is injected into HTTP traffic, it can generally be avoided by forcing requests to be made over the secure version, HTTPS, depending of course on whether or not the site being accessed supports it.


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