Black Hat Shows Off More Advanced Threats

The information security industry descends on Las Vegas each summer to attend the U.S. installment of the Black Hat conference. Black Hat consists of both vendor training sessions and briefings. The schedule of both has long been expansive enough to prevent individuals from seeing everything they find interesting. As the scope of advanced threats grows, the amount of material to cover at Black Hat grows along with it.

Here is a quick look at the briefings and themes that look interesting to me. The Black Hat USA website contains a full list of briefings for you to explore.

Hand in the Honeypot

Right off the bat, two specific presentations specifically caught my eye because their juxtaposition reminded me of the old MTV show “Celebrity Death Match.” If you don’t remember it, the show presented claymation versions of well-known celebrities fighting in a boxing ring to the gory death, with clay and folding chairs flying everywhere. While it may not be on TV anymore, a few Black Hat briefings present competing ideas that could lead to a similar-style smackdown.

First, I saw Haroon Meer and Marco Slaviero’s “Bring Back the Honeypots,” which argues that honeypots can still be useful InfoSec tools but that they have to change to fit current demands. A moment later, I encountered “Breaking Honeypots for Fun and Profit,” by Dean Sysman, Gadi Evron and Itamar Sher. They discuss common implementation weaknesses in honeypots and ways to leverage those weaknesses to not just bypass the honeypot without detection, but to actually leverage the systems in the honeypot to the attacker’s advantage.

Old Tools, New Attacks

I next noticed that researchers have apparently been dogging the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to find new attack methods. In “Internet Plumbing for Security Professionals: The State of BGP Security,” Wim Remes surveys the current BGP security posture and common countermeasures for defenders.

Dan Hubbard and Andree Toonk will also present “BGP Stream” to discuss the monitoring of the BGP system and methods to identify nefarious activities within the noise of legitimate updates to the route tables. At the security conference, they will introduce their BGP Stream platform to aggregate notices of potentially malicious routing changes. Further illustrating the potential for mischief, Artyom Gavrichenkov brings you “Breaking HTTPS With BGP Hijacking.” This briefing discusses the modern reality of BGP hijacking and how it can be accomplished, subverting the HTTPS infrastructure along the way.

Another area of research focus involves advanced threats using firmware and hardware to sabotage system security. In “Attacking Hypervisors using Firmware and Hardware,” Yuriy Bulygin, Alexander Matrosov, Mikhail Gorobets and Oleksandr Bazhaniuk explore ways to attack virtual machine hypervisors through the hardware and firmware of the host computer and the hardware emulation of the hypervisor. They present new attacks on hypervisors using system firmware vulnerabilities with a variety of troubling outcomes.

Intersecting with Industrial Control Systems (ICSS) and the Internet of Things (IoT), researchers Johannes Klick, Stephan Lau, Daniel Marzin, Jan-Ole Malchow and Volker Roth use their presentation “Internet-Facing PLCs — A New Back Orifice” to examine attacks on and with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and other components of ICSs. They cover novel tools and techniques to exploit PLCs as a pathway into industrial control system networks and demonstrate attacks using the tools.

Focusing closer to home for many attendees, in “The Memory Sinkhole — Unleashing an x86 Design Flaw Allowing Universal Privilege Escalation, Christopher Domas explores life above Ring 0 in the x86 processors’ protection model and demonstrates a proof-of-concept exploit to escalate privileges into that all-powerful but little-understood realm.

Advanced Threats Spawn New Talks

After last year’s rash of advanced threats to infrastructure components like OpenSSL, concern grew across the industry regarding vulnerabilities in components outside the system developer’s control. Those threats included the Heartbleed, Shellshock, POODLE and FREAK vulnerabilities and more. Jake Kouns presents “Stranger Danger! What is the Risk from 3rd Party Libraries?” to examine and analyze these sorts of infrastructure risks and share case studies of companies mitigating risks.

Looking at a specific case directly impacting cryptography, Ralf-Philipp Weinmann presents “Assessing and Exploiting BigNum Vulnerabilities.” In the title, BigNum refers to a library that implements arithmetic for integers larger than typical processors can represent, like the 2,048-bit (and larger) keys used in some forms of public key cryptography. Weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the BigNum library could spell trouble for multiple implementations of common cryptographic operations.

Paying Attention to People

It also appears that the industry may finally be trying better to come to grips with the riskiest participants in any secured system: the people. In “How Vulnerable Are We to Scams?” Markus Jakobsson and Ting-Fang Yen relate their own experiments on scam messages’ ability to penetrate automated protection systems such as spam filters, as well as the likelihood that a recipient of such a message will consider it harmless.

In “Automated Human Vulnerability Scanning with AVA,” Laura Bell addresses protecting those people from their own gullibility. Bell describes the existing situation and then introduces AVA, billed as “the first automated human vulnerability scanner,” to aid in security risk and countermeasures assessments. In a related vein, “Hidden Risks of Biometric Identifiers and How to Avoid Them” by Thomas Keenan gives a survey of state-of-the-art biometric technologies paired with a framework for evaluating their efficacy on a variety of fronts, from reliability to abuse potential to creepiness.

One Last Note

I want to give a quick shout out to my X-Force Advanced Research colleague Mark Yason, who will present “Understanding the Attack Surface and Attack Resilience of Project Spartan’s New EdgeHTML Rendering Engine.” Mark will cover the attack surface EdgeHTML presents and discuss the exploit mitigations included in EdgeHTML and applicability of known bypass techniques.

As you can see from this quick overview, this year’s Black Hat USA covers a broad scope of topics, and it’s almost impossible to do justice to the selection. On my first pass through the list of briefings, I found about 40 that I want to attend and had to whittle the list down severely to fit both the scope of this article and my ability to actually attend them during the conference. With so many exciting possibilities, Black Hat USA 2015 promises to be even busier and more informative than previous incarnations.


Doug Franklin

Research Technologist, IBM Security X-Force

Doug Franklin is a Research Technologist at IBM Security Systems X-Force. Doug looks at the broad spectrum of threats,...