The Hacks Your Systems Face - dummies

By Kevin Beaver

It’s one thing to know generally that your systems are under fire from hackers around the world and malicious users around the office; it’s another to understand the specific attacks against your systems that are possible.

Many information security vulnerabilities aren’t critical by themselves. However, exploiting several vulnerabilities at the same time can take its toll on a system. For example, a default Windows OS configuration, a weak SQL Server administrator password, or a server hosted on a wireless network might not be major security concerns separately — but a hacker exploiting all three of these vulnerabilities at once could lead to sensitive information disclosure and more.

Remember: Complexity is the enemy of security.

The possible vulnerabilities and attacks have grown enormously in recent years because of social media and cloud computing. These two things alone have added immeasurable complexity to your IT environment.

Nontechnical attacks

Exploits that involve manipulating people — end users and even yourself — are the greatest vulnerability within any computer or network infrastructure. Humans are trusting by nature, which can lead to social engineering exploits. Social engineering is the exploitation of the trusting nature of human beings to gain information for malicious purposes.

Other common and effective attacks against information systems are physical. Hackers break into buildings, computer rooms, or other areas containing critical information or property to steal computers, servers, and other valuable equipment. Physical attacks can also include dumpster diving — rummaging through trash cans and dumpsters for intellectual property, passwords, network diagrams, and other information.

Network infrastructure attacks

Hacker attacks against network infrastructures can be easy to accomplish because many networks can be reached from anywhere in the world via the Internet. Some examples of network infrastructure attacks include the following:

  • Connecting to a network through an unsecured wireless access point attached behind a firewall

  • Exploiting weaknesses in network protocols, such as TCP/IP and NetBIOS

  • Flooding a network with too many requests, creating a denial of service (DoS) for legitimate requests

  • Installing a network analyzer on a network segment and capturing every packet that travels across it, revealing confidential information in clear text

OS attacks

Hacking an operating system (OS) is a preferred method of the bad guys. OS attacks make up a large portion of hacker attacks simply because every computer has an operating system and OSes are susceptible to many well-known exploits.

Occasionally, some operating systems that tend to be more secure out of the box — such as the old-but-still-out-there Novell NetWare and OpenBSD — are attacked, and vulnerabilities turn up. But hackers often prefer attacking Windows and Linux because they’re widely used and better known for their weaknesses.

Here are some examples of attacks on operating systems:

  • Exploiting missing patches

  • Attacking built-in authentication systems

  • Breaking file system security

  • Cracking passwords and weak encryption implementations

Application and other specialized attacks

Applications take a lot of hits by hackers. Programs (such as e-mail server software and web applications) are often beaten down:

  • Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) applications are frequently attacked because most firewalls and other security mechanisms are configured to allow full access to these services to and from the Internet.

  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) faces increasing attacks as it finds its way into more and more businesses.

  • Unsecured files containing sensitive information are scattered throughout workstation and server shares. Database systems also contain numerous vulnerabilities that malicious users can exploit.