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How to ruin VoIP security

Posted by: Patrick Snyder

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Most recently, with our advancement in mobile technologies and IP networks, we have been able to expand our available communication channels to include many new technologies. Mobile email, mobile instant messenger, texting, and VoIP chat are rapidly replacing our more standard communication networks such as postal services and Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS). With these new technologies we have been able to introduce an advancement in security over previous mediums including networked encryption of communication channels, encrypted voice data, etc. But there was one thing we forgot when introducing these new technologies, they all must fall under the same communications laws and Privacy Acts we had for our older communication media. Compliance with these laws will very well unravel the entire security structure we have put in place.

I'll give you an example, one being Skype. Most recently since their $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype, Microsoft has patented a new technology add on that will assist the VoIP and video chat application in compliance with government mandated wiretapping and surveillance requirements. The new technology add on, deemed "Legal Intercept", will act as a middle man in Skype allowing silent recording of conversations.

The revamped software works by intercepting a Skype connection request and rerouting the connection through a recording channel, then routes the connection to the requested endpoint.

This type of monitoring is nothing new to communications technology however, it has yet to hit any of our newest IP technologies. An addition like this is likely to undo any and all security progress we've made in the VoIP world. The trusted connections, encrypted tunnels, and secure data we establish during a VoIP connection will now hold the ability to be altered so that it may be monitored, thus opening a backdoor for malicious attacks. We are taking a technology designed not to be intercepted and intercepting it on purpose, all to suite big brother. We must remember though that big brother will not be the only one capable of listening.

This should really by raising some questions. What security is in place to ensure these communication channels can only be intercepted by authorized government monitoring agencies? What security is being implemented on the recorded sessions once they are captured? What back doors are being used with our data to enable these recording channels? I am all for national security however, opening more back doors and vulnerable channels seems to outweigh the security introduced by this technology. For now this new technology really only seems to be introducing national insecurity.

Lulz Security, a seemingly innocent name you may actually confuse for a legitimate security company, has rapidly been boosting their hacking reputation since early 2011. They have managed daily hacks on dozens of websites all across the internet and even managed to set up call forwarding attacks on many customer support lines. Some of the most notable being hacks of Sony, the US Senate, the FBI, and the CIA. Many of their attacks have been simple perimeter breaches of security, things that many security professionals should have secured a long time ago.

These hacks highlight the waste of time many security managers spend attempting to secure only their outer defenses. True security should live directly around your most precious assets. The security method deployed by most sites hit by LulzSec have been primarily perimeter based security. This type of security is like building a wall around your home yet leaving your doors unlocked and expecting only the wall to keep people out. As we can now see, that methodology is unacceptable and simply is not enough.

Though this group has caused some major disruptions in many networks they do not seem to have a truly malevolent motive in these attacks. They do not seem to be out for financial or political gain. As their tweets and even their name 'Lulz' (a reference to 'laughs') suggests, they are doing this simply for the entertainment and the sport of it. They have even been operating what I like to call a hack-by-request system where anyone is free to contact them with a target to be hacked. The truly surprising fact is that they have actually been able to hack nearly every target they are given whether it be a simple gaming forum or a high level government website. They are breaking through what should be the most secure websites on the internet using simple DDoS and packet flooding attacks.

Beyond exposing a lack of perimeter defenses their hacks have also brought to our attention many other security issues that most of us are still ignoring. Their hack on Sony revealed not only inadequate security defenses on Sony's part but also an astonishing amount of password reuse by users, which we all know is one of the most prevalent security flaws that exists.

Lets face it, these attacks have been happening for years and organizations have simply been able to keep quiet while sweeping the mess under the rug. LulzSec's public hacking escapade has finally brought these attacks to the attention of the general public. They are exposing many organization's security systems for what they really are, weak. There is no more ignoring our simple mistakes. It is time we all step up our security to the level it needs to be at in this world of cyber threats. This should be a true eye opener for security professionals. It may be your only chance to get things right before your information is truly at risk of theft and misuse that will indeed result in financial loss and legal liability.

For those that don't know, tomorrow is world IPv6 day. A day when over 400 corporation, government, and university websites will switch their networking over to IPv6 protocol for a 24 hour period. The changeover will signify the start of a new generation of internet protocol and hopefully give credit to the IPv6 system, which has been driven into the market since 1999. With the now imminent depletion of all existing available IPv4 addresses, IPv6 day aims to push the remaining non-conformers over to the new system and bring much more attention to it as a necessary protocol. Though this will be a landmark day due to its introduction of the largest wide scale implementation of IPv6 to date, it could also be D-Day for the largest wide scale implementation of DDoS attacks. 

Though the trial changeover will only last from 8:00p.m. tonight  until 7:59p.m. tomorrow night, there is still the possibility for some major issues. One of the most probable being DDoS attacks. These attacks rely on jamming up network routers and devices with overwhelming amounts of traffic and thus causing the network to crash and deny all remaining requests. Since IPv6 header packets are four times the size of IPv4 header packets, they take four times as long to process by routers. In a digital world this takes only nanoseconds but multiply this by thousands of requests a minute or even per second combined with the increased processing time it takes to handle a larger IPv6 header and the system can potentially jam up very quickly.

Many large corporate websites on the IPv6 trial list, such as Google, Facebook, and Juniper, have seen their fair share of attempted attacks in the past. This vulnerable new system still in its infancy could be the perfect opportunity for hackers to finally break through to the information they want.

One advantage to being on this list of the 400 is that these corporations have done their homework on IPv6 and their systems have been built to handle this protocol. Another attack vector comes with those companies who have yet to make the switch to a dual stack implementation of their packet inspection network systems to handle both IPv4 and IPv6 traffic. These companies will be accepting uninspected IPv6 traffic through their devices thus holding the potential for a broad array of network attacks.

This trial period will be a major learning experience for all IPv6 amateurs. If your corporation has plans to implement increased network security, today would be the day to do so.  Be prepared to hear more about this all across the cyber world as the day goes on.

No more than a week after the Pentagon's military threats in the event of a cyber attack, the U.S. receives its first test of might.

Paul Sand, Vice President, IP3 Inc., offered this statement:
“Last week, IP3 assessed the Pentagon’s decision to consider a cyber attack as an act of war. We clearly determined that there was no strong strategic or tactical benefit for doing so. Apparently, a cyber attack on the Atlanta InfraGard Chapter was launched in retaliation for the Pentagon’s aggressive stance.  Taking action that raises your profile without any clear benefit is usually a bad move.”

I'm sure most of you have heard the ancient Japanese proverb, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." The U.S. government may have just targeted themselves as that very nail. By introducing such a strong statement, we have invited other less agreeable entities to test our claims of military force.

Another phrase that comes to mind is the African proverb "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Which was popularized by Theodore Roosevelt in his Big Stick ideology regarding peaceful negotiations backed by the threat of military force. So what happens when that threat of force is tested? Is it truly customary to take out the big stick and start swinging? This will be the true test of something I will call "cyberwar policy." 

Cyber policies will soon become a very hot topic in lieu of recent events. One event being the government controlled network outages that began in Egypt, which now seem to be trending seeing as the Nigerian government has done the same. This caused questioning in the U.S. which led to the introduction of "kill switch" litigation now being passed throughout Congress. A second event was the Pentagon's consideration of cyber attacks as acts of war. 

These recent events have begun to outline rules of cyberwar. There are many questions to be asked and much policy to be drawn up regarding these and future events. One thing is certain, our representatives had better get a handle on this policy soon before things get out of control.