Security B-Sides Vegas 2011 Review: Are There Still Wolves Among Us?

Conference: B-Sides
Title: Are There Still Wolves Among Us?
Speaker: Val Smith from AttackResearch

This post is part of our series where we are summarizing some of our favorite talks from Black Hat, B-Sides and Defcon this year. For those of you who weren’t able to make it to Vegas this year, we hope you find these useful.
This talk was about blackhats – what they are, who they are and what motivates them. Blackhats, like Anonymous and Lulzsec, are usually people who hack to be destructive as opposed to their whitehat counterparts, ethical hackers who test corporate and government IT assets to aid in security efforts.

Val Smith’s outlined the following as the motivators for these destructive hackers motivations.1. Media-whoring is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a person who has a psychological need to get into TV, Film, Radio or Print.”

2. Skill-less hackers or security professionals – Another thing that drives blackhats crazy is when certain hackers or security professionals claim to be experts, but really aren’t experts at all.

3. Lack meaningful contribution – Another thing that drives hackers crazy is when organizations claim to make a meaningful contribution, but in reality really aren’t doing anyone any favors. In these instances, hackers see themselves as hacktivists – practicing hacktivism to espouse their political views, speak their mind, promote free speech, etc.

4. For profit – And while hackers used to be very smart kids in their basements looking for fame and notoriety, today, there are organized groups committing organized crimes.

Smith also described some interesting attacks during his talk – he focused on the kinds of attacks that would surprise even the most seasoned hackers. One of the most interesting of these, was airgap jumping. This attack method uses wireless or internet connectivity through power lines to compromise a machine. Of course, one might say, why come up with an impressive sounding term for hacking wireless rather than simply call it another specific variation on connectivity.

The connotation of the talk with regard to that was of non-trivial use of these things, i.e. methods that would surprise even seasoned hackers.

You probably read about some of the excitement at Defcon where people were seen wearing Anonymous masks. An interesting post at The Guardian, “The irony of the Anonymous Mask,” includes a picture of their masks and gives a bit more insights into how they operate.

For whitehats, security professionals and developers, it is illuminating to know some things about these shadowy hackers. Of course while the Blackhat conference bears the name of the bad guys, the atmosphere of the conference is implicitly one of, “white-hattedness”, so to speak. That is, with the exception of one talk at Defcon (Jon McCoy’s Hacking .NET), most of these talks are about how to be a “good guy” and defend against “bad guys.” There was some technical information but no specific software ideas emerge from this talk. It is another one that is useful for cultivating the security mindset that will improve all vulnerability assessment design.

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