20 November, 2008

Commodity malware versus custom exploits

In my post about e-card Trojans, I mentioned that I hoped to flesh out my thoughts on malware as compared to more customized exploits. As we all should know from numerous stories, commodity malware is big business. Malware is increasingly used to steal information to turn a profit, and is likely being used to target information that is valuable in other ways. So my question is, in a world where the U.S. military has to ban USB drives to combat malware, how much trouble are customized private exploits actually worth?

There are certainly advantages to customized private exploits, but when a spammer only needs one response for every 12.5 million emails sent to be profitable, it seems that the economics of the situation may favor the lower cost of slightly modifying malware to bypass anti-virus software and then blasting away with malicious emails, advertisements, and other links.

A customized exploit that is only being used by a small number of people should obviously be more difficult to detect. However, when anti-virus and traditional IDS rely so thoroughly on signatures of known activity, the question is really about how difficult the attacker needs detection to be. In many cases, it may not be worth using a skilled attacker to craft a specific exploit when said attacker could be increasing the efficiency of more voluminous attacks.

Of course, this is not really an 'either' 'or' situation. Both types of attacks can effectively be used, and when combined they are probably both more effective. Sow mass confusion and panic with widespread malware attacks while performing more targeted attacks for particularly desirable information. Those playing defense will likely be busy scurrying after the malware while the targeted attacks fly in under the radar, especially in these economic times where security operations may be suffering from budget cuts.

I also don't mean to downplay the skill it takes to enumerate network services and write a custom exploit for one or more of those services on the spot. Relatively few people can do that, I am certainly not one of them, and in many cases it is virtually undetectable. At the same time, I often feel that those talented exploit writers and penetration testers give too little credit to the effectiveness of common malware. It seems to me that commodity malware has become quite effective at generating revenue and stealing information.

17 November, 2008

'Tis the season for E-card Trojans

IP addresses and hostnames have been changed. Anyway, this is from a few days ago and it looks like the malware is no longer on the server. A user received an email with a link to a supposed holiday card...

Src IP:       (Unknown)
Dst IP: (Unknown)
Src Port: 1461
Dst Port: 80
OS Fingerprint: - Windows XP SP1+, 2000 SP3 (2)
OS Fingerprint: -> (distance 7, link: ethernet/modem)

SRC: GET /ecard.exe HTTP/1.0
SRC: Accept: */*
SRC: Accept-Language: en-us
SRC: User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; InfoPath.1; .NET CLR 1.
1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.30)
SRC: Host: fakeurl.info
SRC: Connection: Keep-Alive
DST: HTTP/1.1 200 OK
DST: Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2008 11:41:08 GMT
DST: Server: Apache/1.3.36 (Unix) mod_jk/1.2.14 mod_auth_passthrough/1.8 mod_log_bytes/1.2 mod_b
wlimited/1.4 PHP/4.3.9 FrontPage/ mod_ssl/2.8.27 OpenSSL/0.9.7a
DST: Last-Modified: Wed, 12 Nov 2008 10:14:10 GMT
DST: ETag: "944cd-8688-491aac72"
DST: Accept-Ranges: bytes
DST: Content-Length: 34440
DST: Content-Type: application/octet-stream
DST: Connection: Keep-Alive
DST: MZ..............@.......@........L.!........................@...PE..L...UB.I...............
..........p................@.......................... .........................................
The above is part of a Sguil transcript. I downloaded the file, took a brief look, then submitted it to VirusTotal.
$ cd malware
$ wget http://fakeurl.info/ecard.exe
$ strings -n 3 -a ecard.exe | less
This is pretty run-of-the-mill malware that will get detected by Emerging Threats SID 2006434 when the executable is downloaded, but I guess people still fall for it. As Shirkdog so eloquently stated:
Do not click on unsolicited URLs, including those received in email, instant messages, web forums, or internet relay chat (IRC) channels.

People will never get it through their skulls that they SHOULD NOT click links. It is the reason we are all employed, because the user will always be there.
It's always amazing how few anti-virus engines will catch known malware. A system compromised this way also brings to my mind a comparison between common malware and novel or custom exploits that are not widely available. I plan to flesh out thoughts comparing the two at a later date.

13 November, 2008

OpenLDAP Security

Since I have been doing a lot of system administration blogging lately and not much on security, I decided I should post something related to security even if it is still in reference to system configuration and administration. Despite being years old, many of the pages I found about LDAP and security were still pertinent, for example Security with LDAP. The OpenLDAP documentation has a whole section titled Security Considerations in addition to other sections throughout that address security.

The TLDR version of this post is that some of the defaults for OpenLDAP may not be secure, it is easy to make other configuration mistakes, and you should make sure to examine configurations, permissions, ACLs, and schemas with security in mind. Different distributions can have different defaults. If you are using LDAP for account information in particular, you need to be careful.

I will go over some specifics that I noticed, but I certainly won't cover everything. OpenLDAP can be configured to get a similar level of protection for account information compared to the standard Unix/Linux shadow files and actually makes some security-related tasks easier for an administrator, such as disabling accounts or enforcing password policies.

Encryption of Data and Authentication

The first and most obvious problem is that the default OpenLDAP configuration does not encrypt network activity. Whether you're using LDAP for account information or not, it is very likely that most people will not want their LDAP traffic going over the network unencrypted. OpenLDAP has support for TLS that makes it relatively easy to implement. Also important to note is that, though network activity is not protected by default, the minimum recommended authentication mechanism is SASL DIGEST-MD5.

The DIGEST-MD5 mechanism is the mandatory-to-implement authentication mechanism for LDAPv3. Though DIGEST-MD5 is not a strong authentication mechanism in comparison with trusted third party authentication systems (such as Kerberos or public key systems), it does offer significant protections against a number of attacks.
Another option, Kerberos, is also "highly recommended" for strong authentication services.


When using OpenLDAP with nss_ldap and centralized accounts, if you're storing passwords in LDAP they should be stored as hashes, not plain text. This seems obvious, but it's important to understand how to generate the hashes with the 'slappasswd' command and then use 'ldapadd', 'ldapmodify' or a GUI LDAP management tool to put the hashes into LDAP. This is done when creating or altering accounts. The 'passwd' command will hash passwords automatically when users change their own passwords.

Different distributions have different default ACLs, but RHEL for example allows anonymous reads of LDAP by default and allows authenticated users read access to everything in another sample ACL included in the openldap-servers package. If you're going to store account information and passwords with LDAP, the access controls need to be changed to prevent both anonymous and authenticated users from viewing password hashes. As we all should know, all it takes to crack a password hash is an appropriate tool and processing time. Depending on the attacker's computing power, the password hashing algorithm and the actual password, cracking passwords can be extremely fast or very slow.

OpenLDAP supports a number of hashing algorithms and the default is to use {SSHA}, which is SHA-1 with a seed.
-h scheme
If -h is specified, one of the following RFC 2307 schemes may be specified: {CRYPT}, {MD5}, {SMD5}, {SSHA}, and {SHA}. The default is {SSHA}.

Note that scheme names may need to be protected, due to { and }, from expansion by the user's command interpreter.

{SHA} and {SSHA} use the SHA-1 algorithm (FIPS 160-1), the latter with a seed.

{MD5} and {SMD5} use the MD5 algorithm (RFC 1321), the latter with a seed.

{CRYPT} uses the crypt(3).

{CLEARTEXT} indicates that the new password should be added to userPassword as clear text.

 This is fine when setting initial passwords, but you should note that the 'passwd' command on Linux systems will generally use MD5 or the 'crypt' function instead of SHA1, depending on system configuration.

ACL Problems

There can also be problems related to Access Control Lists for slapd. Red Hat's default configuration allows anonymous reads. Ubuntu's slapd.conf seems to have a much more secure default ACL. Below is RHEL5's default, which allows anonymous reads, user reads, but only the rootdn to write.
access to * by * read
The following is a sample configuration that is also included in the default slapd.conf on RHEL5, though it is commented out in favor of the above ACL. The danger with the following is that users still can read everything as well as write their own entries.
access to *
by self write
by users read
by anonymous auth
Allowing users 'self write' to change their own entries is obviously a big problem if you're using LDAP for account information. Any user can change his own uidNumber or gidNumber to become uid 0, gid 0, gid 10 (wheel), etc. Not good!

To authenticate with nss_ldap, OpenLDAP must allow some sort of read access. Without anonymous reads, users can't authenticate unless there is a proxy user with read access. The proxy user's binddn and password must be in /etc/ldap.conf and /etc/openldap/ldap.conf in plain text and the files are world readable. This is somewhat mitigated because the ldap.conf files can only be accessed by authenticated users logged into the system, so if an attacker already gained access to the system the proxyuser password is a fairly trivial concern in the big scheme of things.

Another file with a plain text password is /etc/ldap.secret. This file must contain the rootdn password in plain text, but is again somewhat mitigated with file permissions. The permissions for the file must be set to 600 so only root can read the file, so the obvious way an attacker will get the rootdn password from the file is if he already has root privileges on that particular system. However, with the rootdn password the attacker could wreak havoc on all the LDAP entries, including all the account information stored in LDAP.

To prevent users from viewing the password hashes of others, two things are required. First, change the ACL in slapd.conf. Something like this would allow users to change their own passwords, but not any other attributes and not view other users' hashes. You can hide additional attributes from authenticated users if needed.
access to attrs=userpassword
by anonymous auth
by self write
by * none

access to *
by self read
by users read
by anonymous auth
Another important thing to do is put users in the objectclass 'shadowAccount', which is in the NIS schema along with the objectclass 'posixAccount' that stores most account information. This will prevent password hashes from displaying when using 'getent passwd'. This is similar to shadow passwords on the local system, which move the password hashes from the world-readable /etc/passwd to /etc/shadow, which is only readable by root. The 'getent' commands will fetch both local and LDAP information.

Password Policy Overlay

The password policy overlay for OpenLDAP allows password policies to be enforced on OpenLDAP accounts. Quoting from the documentation:
The key abilities of the password policy overlay are as follows:
  • Enforce a minimum length for new passwords
  • Make sure passwords are not changed too frequently
  • Cause passwords to expire, provide warnings before they need to be changed, and allow a fixed number of 'grace' logins to allow them to be changed after they have expired
  • Maintain a history of passwords to prevent password re-use
  • Prevent password guessing by locking a password for a specified period of time after repeated authentication failures
  • Force a password to be changed at the next authentication
  • Set an administrative lock on an account
  • Support multiple password policies on a default or a per-object basis.
  • Perform arbitrary quality checks using an external loadable module. This is a non-standard extension of the draft RFC.
Particularly for people that have specific company requirements for password policies, this overlay will do just about everything except complexity checking. For complexity checking, it's fairly easy to enable and configure pam_cracklib on each client. As far as I know, since only the hash crosses the wire when authenticating or changing passwords, it is not possible to centrally enforce complexity requirements.

Personally, for password expiration I prefer not to allow any grace logins, thereby enforcing a lockout if the password expires. As long as the policy is set to provide ample warning, this shouldn't cause problems. Consider if you allow some number of 'grace' logins after the password expires and for some reason a user does not login for an extended period of time. The account could conceivably remain active for as long as it takes to brute force the password rather than being disabled once the password expires.

Another password policy overlay feature is temporary lockouts after failed authentication. For instance, you could set a lockout after x login attempts in y seconds. The lockout can be z seconds. I don't know what the maximum number of seconds the overlay or OpenLDAP will accept, but it can definitely be zero up to months in seconds if needed for some fields like pwdMaxAge.

When enabing 'pwdReset' to require an immediate password change, I eventually found that the following line must be uncommented in slapd.conf.
pam_lookup_policy yes
After doing this, you can set 'pwdReset: TRUE' when generating temporary passwords, then the user will be required to change passwords immediately when logging in.

From my testing, the password policy overlay is definitely superior to the shadow password options within the nis.schema that comes with OpenLDAP. The biggest problem with the password policy overlay is that some distributions may not include it in the distribution's package for the OpenLDAP server, requiring compiling with support for the overlay instead of a standard OpenLDAP package from your distribution of choice.

Post Script

I have two previous posts about OpenLDAP. I would love to get any comments on what could be added or any mistakes that could be corrected.

Setting up OpenLDAP for centralized accounts
OpenLDAP continued

01 November, 2008

Shmoocon 2009 tickets

Tickets for Shmoocon 2009 went on sale at noon EDT today. All the "Early Bird" tickets for $100 went quickly but there are still some "Open Registration" for $175 and "I Love Shmoocon" for $300.

I like the way Shmoocon sells their tickets using three different rounds with three different price points in each round. Here is their chart with dates of sales. Noon is always the start time. Shmoocon itself is February 6 - 8.

Date Tickets to be Sold Early Bird Open Registration I love ShmooCon
November 1, 2008 200 300 10
December 1, 2008 200 300 20
January 1, 2009 100 100 20

One really cool contest I noticed this year is Barcode Shmarcode. The Shmoocon ticket has always been simply a barcode they email to you after you purchase. This year, they want people to modify their barcodes to be unique and awesome while still scanning properly. They'll grade on originality, best use of theme, best use of materials, and most error free scan. I look forward to seeing the results.