Tag: windows

basicsI admit it. I got a free eBook.  I signed up with O’Reilly Media as a reviewer. The terms and conditions of this position were that when I get an  eBook,  I agree to write a review of it.  Doesn’t matter if the review is good or bad (so I guess, technically, this is NOT log rolling).  I just need to write a review.  And if I post the review, I get to choose another eBook to review.  And so on. So, here it is.  The first in what will likely be an irregular series.  My review.

The book under review is “The Basics of Web Hacking” subtitled “Tools and Techniques to Attack the Web” by Josh Pauli. The book was published in June, 2013 so it is fairly recent.  Alas, recent in calendar time is actually not quite that recent in Internet time – but more on this later.

First, a quick overview. The book provides an survey of hacking tools of the sort that might be used for either the good of mankind (to test and detect security issues in a website and application installation) or for the destruction of man and the furtherance of evil (to identify and exploit security issues in a website and application installation).  The book includes a several page disclaimer advising against the latter behavior suggesting that the eventual outcomes of such a path may not be pleasant.  I would say that the disclaimer section is written thoughtfully with the expectation that readers would take seriously its warnings.

For the purposes of practice, the book introduces the Damn Vulnerable Web Application (DVWA).  This poorly-designed-on-purpose web application allows you to use available tools and techniques to see exactly how vulnerabilities are detected and exploits deployed. While the book describes utilizing an earlier version of the application, figuring out how to install and use the newer version that is now available is a helpful and none-too-difficult experience as well.

Using DVWA as a test bed, the book walks you through jargon and then techniques and then practical exercises in the world of hacking. Coverage of scanning, exploitation, vulnerability assessment and attacks suited to each vulnerability including a decent overview of the vast array of available tools to facilitate these actions.  The number of widely available very well built applications with easy-to-use interfaces is overwhelming and quite frankly quite scary.  Additionally, a plethora of web sites provide a repository of information regarding already known to be vulnerable web sites and how they are vulnerable (in many cases these sites remain vulnerable despite the fact that they have been notified)

The book covers usage of applications such as Burp Suite, Metasploit, nmap, nessus, nikto and The Social Engineer Toolkit. Of course, you could simply download these applications and try them out but the book marches through a variety of useful hands-on experiments that exhibit typical real-life usage scenarios. The book also describes how the various applications can be used in combination with each other which can make investigation and exploitation easier.

In the final chapter, the book describes design methods and application development rules that can either correct or minimize most vulnerabilities as well as providing a relatively complete list of “for further study” items that includes books, groups, conferences and web sites.

All in all, this book provides a valuable primer and introduction to detecting and correcting vulnerabilities in web applications.  Since the book is not that old, changes to applications are slight enough that figuring out what the changes are and how to do what the book is describing is a great learning experience rather than simply an exercise in frustration. These slight detours actually serve to increase your understanding of the application.

I say 4.5 stars out of 5 (docked a star because these subject areas tend to get out-of-date too quickly but if you read it NOW you are set to grow with the field)

See you at DEFCON!

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gate-with-no-fence-please-keep-locked-articleScott McNealy, the former CEO of the former Sun Microsystems, in the late 1990s, in an address to the Commonwealth Club said that the future of the Internet is in security. Indeed, it seems that there has been much effort and capital invested in addressing security matters. Encryption, authentication, secure transaction processing, secure processors, code scanners, code verifiers and host of other approaches to make your system and its software and hardware components into a veritable Fort Knox. And it’s all very expensive and quite time consuming (both in development and actual processing). And yet we still hear of routine security breeches, data and identity theft, on-line fraud and other crimes. Why is that? Is security impossible? Unlikely? Too expensive? Misused? Abused? A fiction?

Well, in my mind, there are two issues and they are the weak links in any security endeavour. The two actually have one common root. That common root, as Pogo might say, “is us”. The first one that has been in the press very much of late and always is the reliance on password. When you let the customers in and provide them security using passwords, they sign up using passwords like ‘12345’ or ‘welcome’ or ‘password’. That is usually combated through the introduction of password rules. Rules usually indicate that passwords must meet some minimum level of complexity. This would usually be something like requiring that each password must have a letter and a number and a punctuation mark and be at least 6 characters long. This might cause some customers to get so aggravated because they can’t use their favorite password that they don’t both signing up at all. Other end users get upset but change their passwords to “a12345!” or “passw0rd!” or “welc0me!”. And worst of all, they write the password down and put it in a sticky note on their computer.

Of course, ordinary users are not the only ones to blame, administrators are human, too, and equally as fallible. Even though they should know better, they are equally likely to have the root or administrator password left at the default “admin” or even nothing at all.

The second issue is directly the fault of the administrator – but it is wholly understandable. Getting a system, well a complete network of systems, working and functional is quite an achievement. It is not something to be toyed around with once things are set. When your OS supplier or application software provider delivers a security update, you will think many times over before risking system and network stability to apply it. The choice must be made. The administrator thinks: “Do I wreak havoc on the system – even theoretical havoc – to plug a security hole no matter how potentially damaging?” And considers that: “Maybe I can rely on my firewall…maybe I rely on the fact that our company isn’t much of a target…or I think it isn’t.” And rationalizes: “Then I can defer the application of the patch for now (and likely forever) in the name of stability.”

The bulk of hackers aren’t evil geniuses that stay up late at night doing forensic research and decompilation to find flaws, gaffes, leaks and holes in software and systems. No they are much more likely to be people who read a little about the latest flaws and the most popular passwords and spend their nights just trying stuff to see what they can see. A few of them even specialize in social engineering in which they simply guess or trick you into divulging your password – maybe by examining your online social media presence.

The notorious stuxnet malware worm may be a complex piece of software engineering but it would have done nothing were it not for the peril of human curiosity. The virus allegedly made its way into secure facilities on USB memory sticks. Those memory sticks were carried in human hands and inserted into the targeted computers by those same hands. How did they get into those human hands? A few USB sticks with the virus were probably sprinkled in the parking lot outside the facility. Studies have determined that people will pick up USB memory sticks they find and insert them in their PCs about 60% of the time. The interesting thing is that the likelihood of grabbing and using those USB devices goes up to over 90% if the device has a logo on it.

You can have all the firewalls and scanners and access badges and encryption and SecureIDs and retinal scans you want. In the end, one of your best and most talented employees grabbing a random USB stick and using it on his PC can be the root cause of devastation that could cost you staff years of time to undo.

So what do you do? Fire your employees? Institute policies so onerous that no work can be done at all? As is usual, the best thing to do is apply common sense. If you are not a prime target like a government, a security company or a repository of reams of valuable personal data – don’t go overboard. Keep your systems up-to-date. The time spent now will definitely pay off in the future. Use a firewall. A good one. Finally, be honest with your employees. Educate them helpfully. None of the scare tactics, no “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, just straight talk and a little humor to help guide and modify behavior over time.

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spaceIn the famous Aardman Animations short film “Creature Comforts“, a variety of zoo animals discuss their lives in the zoo.  A Brazilian Lion speaks at length about the virtue of the great outdoors (cf. a zoo) recalling that in Brazil “We have space“.  While space might be a great thing for Brazilian Lions, it turns out that space is a dangerous and difficult reality in path names for computer applications.

In a recent contract, one portion of the work involved running an existing Windows application under Cygwin. Cygwin, for the uninitiated, is an emulation of the bash shell and most standard Unix commands. It provides this functionality so you can experience Unix under Windows. The Windows application I was working on had been abandoned for several years and customer pressure finally reached a level at which maintenance and updates were required – nay, demanded. Cygwin support was required primarily for internal infrastructure reasons. The infrastructure was a testing framework – primarily comprising bash shell scripts – that ran successfully on Linux (for other applications). My job was to get the Windows application re-animated and running under the shell scripts on Cygwin.

It turns out that the Windows application had a variety of issues with spaces in path names. Actually, it had one big issue – it just didn’t work when the path names had spaces. The shell scripts had a variety of issues with spaces. Well, one big issue – they, too, just didn’t work when the path names had spaces. And it turns out that some applications and operations in Cygwin have issues with spaces, too. Well, that one big issue – they don’t like spaces.

Now by “like”, I mean that when the path name contains spaces then even using ‘\040’ (instead of the space) or quoting the name (e.g., “Documents and Settings”) does not resolve matters and instead merely yields unusual and unhelpful error messages. The behavior was completely unpredictable, as well. For instance, quoting might get you part way through a section of code but then the same quoted name failed when used to call stat. It would then turn out that stat didn’t like spaces in any form (quoted, escaped, whatever…).

Parenthetically, I would note that the space problem is widespread. I was doing some Android work and having an odd an unhelpful error displayed (“invalid command-line parameter”) when trying to run my application on the emulator under Eclipse. It turns out that a space in the path name to the Android SDK was the cause.  Once the space was removed, all was well.

The solution to my problem turned out to be manifold. It involved a mixture of quoting, clever use of cygpath and the Windows API calls GetLongPathName and GetShortPathName.

When assigning and passing variables around in shell scripts, quoting a space-laden path or a variable containing a space-laden path,  the solution was easy. Just remember to use quotes:


Passing command line options that include path names with spaces tended to be more problematic. The argc/argv parsers don’t like spaces.  They don’t like them quoted and don’t like them escaped.  Or maybe the parser likes them but the application doesn’t. In any event, the specific workaround that used was clever manipulation of the path using the cygpath command. The cygpath -w -s command will translate a path name to the Windows version (with the drive letter and a colon at the beginning) and then shortens the name to the old-style 8+3 limited format thereby removing the spaces. An additional trick is that then, if you need the cygwin style path – without spaces – you get the output of the cygpath -w -s and run it through cygpath -u. Then you get a /cygdrive/ style file name with no spaces. There is no other direct path to generating a cygwin Unix style file name without spaces.

These manipulations allow you to get the sort of input you need to the various Windows programs you are using. It is important to note, however, that a Windows GUI application built using standard file browser widgets and the like always passes fully instantiated, space-laden path names. The browser widgets can’t even correctly parse 8+3 names. Some of the system routines, however, don’t like spaces. Then the trick is how do you manipulate the names once within the sphere of the Windows application? Well, there are a number of things to keep in mind, the solutions I propose will not work with cygwin Unix-style names and they will not work with relative path names.

Basically, I used the 2 windows API calls GetLongPathName and GetShortPathName to manipulate the path. I used GetShortPathName to generate the old-style 8+3 format name that removes all the spaces. This ensured that all system calls worked without a hitch. Then, in order, to display messaging that the end-user would recognize, make sure that the long paths are restored by calling GetLongPathName for all externally shared information. I need to emphasize that these Windows API calls do not appear to work with relative path names. They return an empty string as a result. So you need to watch out for that.

Any combination of all these approaches (in whole or in part) may be helpful to you in resolving any space issues you encounter.

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