Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Benefits and dangers of digital roads

The expression "all roads lead to Rome" comes from the time of the Roman Empire, which managed to build more than 400 routes to communicate its capital, Rome, with outlying provinces. That world which did not have a global communication infrastructure could enjoy one in a few decades, forever changing the future of society.


Centuries later, we are living a similar situation regarding new technologies. Roads are digital now, but they converge at each of us, for better or for worse. Those legions would be represented now by those algorithms and systems that allow us to find at the right time what we are looking for. One example is Android’s new version, Android Lollipop, which has improved in terms of security.

Security standards keep barbarians away from our possession. Another example are Critical Security Controls (CSC), which have a crucial role on the design of cyber defense plans in the widest possible cases.

Tools like HTTP Traceroute, developed in Ruby, make it easier for pentesters when facing the first stage of their work called fingerprint. It is basically a collection of all the information that can be obtained from the system to be audited.

These digital highways allow us to communicate and, of course, also become victims of an attack. Pavement is not always uniform, just any little bump on the road can be used by a malicious player to trick you. In fact, Google and Facebook tools performing GET requests redirected from their own domains could be used to obfuscate a specific APT and filter sensitive information. Of course, these attacks follow very specific targets and require hardly automatable techniques.

Due to cases like this, sometimes the best you can do is to run away from those roads and hide in the woods. A server running locally may not need an Internet connection. This drastically would reduce its chances of being attacked. But it remains vulnerable, as recently shown by a group of researchers from Israel. They used the graphics card from an infected (and disconnected) server to send electromagnetic signals through its monitor cable, which works as antenna. Thus they obtain a signal that can be decipherable by some other connected device, or by the attackers’ own system if placed a few meters from the server.

This technique would be used most with the most careful people. Social engineering may be sufficient to trick most legionaries. For instance, managing to forward victim’s SMS text from his device to another number. This way attackers could bypass two factor authentication. Too farfetched? Well, an Instagram user called Grant Blackerman can tell you his story. His only "error" was to have a desirable two characters (gb) username.

Roman roads linked a great amount of places "of the Known World" forever, as Internet is doing today. People at the time experienced its benefits and its drawbacks. Just as we have to do now.

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