[ISN] Attack on Feds: It Came From Within

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Fri Sep 27 2002 - 00:19:45 PDT

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    SEPTEMBER 23, 2002
    My security team was recently asked to help reduce costs by
    consolidating after-hours security and IT support services. We had
    been charging a nightly fee for round-the-clock on-call support, but
    the company reasons that it's cheaper to consolidate all first-line
    support to the on-call IT team that supports our applications.  I
    trained the on-call team, covering the most common problems and what
    to do if there's a situation they can't handle. My security team now
    offers second-line support.
    The alerting system is well tuned, and we don't get many after-hours
    alarms, so I doubted we'd be called often. I was wrong.
    At 3 a.m. on the first night the IT team took over, I received a call
    from a rather worried on-call guy who had been paged with an "ISS"  
    alert. He didn't know that ISS just stands for Internet Security
    Systems Inc., the Atlanta-based vendor of our intrusion-detection
    One of the many things we can detect is probes sent from ISS's
    Internet Scanner software. The scanner lets administrators check their
    networks for vulnerabilities, but attackers can also misuse it to map
    our networks and identify weaknesses. ISS tries to prevent this by
    using a complicated licensing process that limits the IP addresses
    each tool can attack. It also sends some special packets at the
    beginning of each scan, including the license key, the user name, and
    the host and domain of the scanning machine. That way, if someone uses
    the tool to scan a network they don't own, the product will announce
    who they are.
    We monitor for these packets in case somebody finds a way, using
    network address translation perhaps, to trick the scanner into
    thinking it's probing a local machine when in fact it's scanning us.
    More worrisome is that, as with other digital rights management
    systems, hackers claim to have broken ISS's license key system. In
    fact, key-generation software can be found on the Web to make keys for
    any network.
    The fake license keys these tools generate typically have an ID of
    1234. So even if the special packets contain the hacked ID, you have
    very little to go on. We could also expect the attacker's IP address
    to be faked.
    The normal response to an ISS alert, we told the new support team, is
    to trace down the source of the attack via the America Registry for
    Internet Numbers (ARIN) Web site at www.arin.net and notify the
    attacker's Internet service provider. We even have standard forms for
    those submissions. We don't really expect the ISP to do anything, but
    at least we try.
    Internal Attack
    But the detail that worried the front-line support chap, and that made
    me snap awake at that awful hour, was the source of the attack: It
    came from within our own network.
    Maybe someone we'd hired was a bit of a hacker. Or maybe the system
    had it wrong and the attacker was actually the target.
    I asked the support technician for the target address of the probes.  
    It was the IP address, which seemed rather odd. The address
    range 10.x.x.x is reserved so companies can use it internally, as we
    do. So perhaps this was a typo? Who was 11.x.x.x? After a quick check
    of ARIN, my blood ran cold. The results read:
    DOD Intel Information Systems (NET-DODIIS)
    Defense Intelligence Agency
    Washington, D.C.
    We had detected an attack against the DIA, the heart of the U.S.  
    intelligence services, that came from our own network - and I doubted
    that we were the only people to spot this. No doubt somewhere in
    Washington someone was also being woken to respond.
    Whoops. We had to work out what was going on before men in trench
    coats and dark glasses arrived. I took control of the call and began
    searching for the internal machine.
    I traced the machine to one of our Unix server clusters. It seemed to
    be the one running our enterprise monitoring system (EMS). That didn't
    make sense - ISS stopped making Unix versions of Internet Scanner a
    long time ago. If a hacker could get hold of a license generator, why
    would he make keys for an old version? The Unix version of Internet
    Scanner was five years old, so the problems it might look for would
    have been fixed by now, making it useless.
    The Mix-up
    Then a few pieces fell into place. The EMS pings every interface on
    every router we have to make sure each is responding correctly, and
    the ISS special packets use the same protocol as ping. Perhaps there
    had been some kind of mix-up? Could the EMS, by chance, have sent an
    ISS alarm packet?
    I woke the network team and got them to check the configuration. Aha!  
    We were monitoring the address. It seems someone had mistyped
    what should have been a 10.x.x.x address.
    So our EMS was accidentally trying to manage the DIA's network
    devices. But was it also the unwitting host of a hacked version of
    Internet Scanner? We could find no evidence of any such tools on the
    machine. It seemed much more likely that the "attack" was just an odd
    packet. But with no record of the packet from our intrusion-detection
    system, we faced a choice: We could either ask the DIA if they had a
    copy, or we could keep our heads down.
    We're keeping our heads down. I've updated the firewall to block any
    attempts for the EMS to talk outward, and hopefully that's the end of
    it. That is, unless the feds come knocking.
    What do you think?
    This week's journal is written by a real security manager, "Vince
    Tuesday," whose name and employer have been disguised for obvious
    reasons. Contact him at vince.tuesdayat_private, or join the
    discussion in our forum:
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