Why is the SSL certificate important?

SSL certificate explained

An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is a digital certificate that authenticates a website’s identity.

Secure Sockets Layer is an information file that generates an encrypted connection browser-server cryptographically. Once they connect, the SSL certificate is validated. That is the way to achieve protected communication between them. So, as a result, only the user and the website could access the user’s info, such as email address, payment details, etc. 

Usually, users are able to recognize visually if a particular website has an SSL certificate. Therefore, there should be an additional “S” appearing after “HTTP.”

How does it work?

A user is visiting your website and connecting to it. In case you have installed an SSL certificate, your server will send it to the user’s device. Then the user’s browser will use the certificate’s public key and determine if it is authentic and produce a symmetric session key. The server, with its private key, can decrypt that symmetric session key. As a result, both parties trust each other. They can use the session key for any additional encryption and decryption. This process is also known as SSL Handshake.

Why is it important?

  • Verifies identity. Websites used for phishing are the way hackers could take advantage of your visitor. With an SSL certificate, the identity of your website is verified. To issue such type of certificate, you go through an official process and validate your identity. Now, your visitors can be sure that they are on a legit website.
  • Protects data. With the implemented encryption, the data transfer with the website is secure. If an attacker access the communication between the user and the server, he won’t be able to understand it. 
  • Protects money transfers. If you manage a business using sensitive data, such as IDs, credit card numbers, etc., the protection of your customers is a must. Hackers, taking your customers’ information can completely damage your company’s trustability and income. Therefore, the Payment Card Industry (PCI) counts it necessary for corporations to suggest powerful mechanisms for encrypting their information.
  • Reliability. Clients are more likely to trust your website if they know that they are protected. It makes a difference by increasing your traffic, success, and of course, sales.
  • Search engine ranking. The security interest is massive. So having or not an SSL certificate affects your visibility in the results.

SSL certificate types 

There are several types of SSL certificates out there. However, we can classify them into three main categories: 

  • DV (Domain validation). This is the most commonly used one. It serves to validate the owner of the domain. It checks the email applied for the registration of the domain. The CA is validating it, and the DV SSL certificate is ready. 
  • OV (Organization validation). In this case, the aim is to validate the organization. The CA is going to check if the organization exists for real. That usually happens by considering the name, address, phone number, and so on.
  • EV (Extended validation). This SSL certificate is on the highest level. Same as OV, the CA will examine the information about the company. It could ask for even more information and give the most reliable possible validation.

DNS Spoofing – What does it mean?

DNS Spoofing explained

You can find DNS Spoofing, also called DNS poisoning. Don’t get confused. It is the same thing. It is a technique applied by hackers which includes imitating a device or a user. That is applied as a cover, with which the disruption of the regular flow of traffic or reaching protected data is not such a difficult task. 

The attacker takes its time to remodel a Domain Name System (DNS) to one, which is spoofed. Therefore when a customer is trying to explore a particular website, it is going to be directed in a completely separate way. Users actually, in most cases, don’t even realize that they are exploring a fake website rather than the legitimate one they requested to visit. The reason for that is these fake sites are created the same as the original website. The differences are not major at all. 

Once the attack is initiated, the whole traffic is guided to the server, which is non-legit. In such a position, hackers are able to perform various malicious actions, such as stealing sensitive data or man-in-the-middle attacks. Furthermore, they can also install a virus on their victim’s device, even placing a worm to increase the harm to more machines.

The different tactics

To achieve their illegal purposes, attackers apply different tactics. Still, the intention is to direct the traffic to forged websites.

  • Tactic through spam. Ads, images, or URLs in spam e-mails can contain infected code. So when a user clicks the URL, the device gets spoofed. Afterward, the code guides the user to fabricated websites. 
  • Tactic through Man-in-the-middle method. The attacker is precisely between the DNS server and the user browser. The goal of this method is to poison the user’s computer and the server at the same time. The code is injected through software which makes the communication poisoned.
  • Tactic through hijacking a DNS server. The attackers access the server, using weak spots, editing the configuration, including a fake entry, and so on. So, as a result, every IP request made for a particular site is going to enter the forged one.

How to protect against cache poisoning (DNS spoofing)?

  • Encryption. Use encryption to keep DNS data, such as queries and responses safe. It is not possible to forge a copy of the security certificate from the original website. 
  • Detection. Softwares for examining the received data are a great solution for a prior step. 
  • DNSSEC. It helps for verifying the authenticity of data via DNS records, which are digitally signed. Thus, DNSSEC keeps the DNS lookup’s authenticity safe.

The main targets are the users of this criminal action. Thus they have to also take some precautions.

  • VPN (Virtual Private Network). Connecting to public networks comes with bigger risks. VPN serves to interact with servers safely and communicate with the domains.
  • Unfamiliar links. Don’t click blindly on suspicious URLs. Such links come from unknown senders, usually attached in spam messages or social media messages. By avoiding clicking on them, users can keep their data safe.
  • DNS cache. The DNS data of often visited sites stay saved for some time. So it could be only the user’s device spoofed and not the server anymore. So to avoid being directed by the browser to fake sites, it is a good idea to clean the DNS cache regularly.

​Virtual private network (VPN) explained

The virtual private network (VPN) is like an invisible protective cloak that you put on, and the origin of your request gets hidden away. For those of you that this comparison is not enough, let us explain to you in detail what a virtual private network (VPN) is. 

​Virtual private network (VPN)

A Virtual private network (VPN) service creates a private network for your public internet connection. When you use a VPN, your data gets encrypted for additional security. That way, it can guarantee your privacy and anonymity. The VPN service will mask your IP address and show another of one of its servers. It is like a tunnel that hides you. Most services offer you multiple servers that you can use to hide behind them. 

​Why do you need a Virtual private network (VPN)? 

Do you want your communications to be safe, even if you are working from a coffee shop in the middle of nowhere on some beach? Yes, it will secure your communication even on a shady Wi-Fi connection. 

Encrypted communication. Make all of your communication safe with the VPN’s encryption. If a hacker gets data packets from you, they will be just a hash they could not read—a random line of letters, symbols, and numbers. 

You can use public internet access points (Wi-Fi of coffee shops, hotels, bus stations, airports, train stations, etc.). Whether it is for personal communication, work, or just browsing the web, your traffic will be protected if you are using a VPN. 

Online banking. On your mobile phone or computer, you most probably have a banking application. Use it only on a secure network. If your router is not safe enough and you are not using an encryption method for the communication, your data could be easily stolen. 

Don’t allow others to track you. Your Internet provider, different websites, and programs could track you and even find your location. If you mask your traffic, you can hide behind an IP address that is on another continent. The cool part is that even if a site or app remembers this IP address, you can change it again, and you can be harder to trace.  

Consume international content. You can change your location (server in use) and pretend to be in many different locations. That way, you can evade geo-limitation and watch TV, digital videos, access country-limited sites, and more. Enjoy a broader scope of entertainment for the price of a VPN service. 

​How can I get a VPN for my devices? 

VPN client for computers and smartphones. 

The software that you need to use is called VPN client. It could be a computer program or a smartphone application. Using this software, you will need to put your credential and use a 2FA if you have enabled it. 

Browser extension

Another option is to use VPN directly from your browser. Some browsers, like the Opera browser, has it pre-built, and you don’t need to search for an extension. It allows you to quickly change your location, just before you go to a specific site. 

Router with a VPN. 

When you want more than a few devices to use VPN, it might be easier to get a router with a VPN. That way, you can set up just one device, and all of the rest will use it directly without the need to install anything extra. 

​Conclusion

VPN is a simple, cheap, and easy-to-use solution that secures your communications. It has many benefits and protects you and your data. Use it! It is worth a few dollars per month.

Smurf attack explained.

Cyber attacks are to be taken seriously. Even cute names can hide deadly poison. Today, let’s be aware of the smurf attack.

What is a Smurf attack?

A Smurf attack is a type of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. It took its name from the malware used to implement it, the Smurf malware. It targets computer networks to make them unavailable by exploiting vulnerabilities of the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP).

A Smurf attack floods a server with the use of ICMP data packets. Too many queries are sent with a forged IP address (the victim’s one) to one or multiple devices. When those devices respond to the server, the traffic attack gets amplified, and the victim falls down.

Which ICMP vulnerability does the Smurf attack exploit?

The ICMP allows devices of a network to detect communication problems. It diagnoses and reports bugs through messages (data packets) sent from the recipient to the source (sender) in case data don’t arrive properly. 

The Ping command is commonly used to test hardware connected to the network (routers, computers, printers, etc.). And Ping works through ICMP. With a ping, you can know if a hardware is reachable. A message is sent (echo request) to a specific device, and then an acknowledgment is received (echo reply). Ping also allows measuring the time that takes for a message to travel from a source to its destination and back.

The issue is, ICMP doesn’t handshake as a part of its process. Therefore, hardware can’t check if the requests they receive are legit.

How does Smurf malware works?

Smurf malware produces a network data packet with a spoofed source IP address. The data packet travels as an ICMP ping message that will order the devices on the network’s nodes to send an answer. This cycle will be repeated using constant requests. Through ICMP echoes, a non-stop loop will be produced to overwhelm the target. 

How does a Smurf attack work?

A Smurf attack starts with the activation of Smurf malware to create the echo request that will have a spoofed IP address changed to the victim’s one. 

The request is sent, and then an intermediate IP broadcast from the network will transmit it to every host on the network.

Since inside the data packet there’s an ICMP ping message, it will request every node in its way an acknowledgment (answer). The more ICMP requests are sent, the more ICMP answers will be received.

Consider that the number of hosts on the intermediate network (IP broadcast) defines the scale of the attack’s amplification. One thousand hosts in such a network will generate one thousand answers for every spoofed echo request.

How to prevent or mitigate a Smurf attack?

  1. Pay attention to indicators like bandwidth trouble, crashing of server or router. A Smurf attack could be right on the corner.
  2. Monitor exhaustively your traffic for inspecting uncommon volume, behavior, signature on data packets.
  3. Get sufficient bandwidth to handle traffic spikes.
  4. Look for redundancy and an efficient load balancing system to distribute traffic.
  5. Protect your DNS servers against DDoS. 
  6. Disable IP addresses broadcast on networks’ routers and firewalls.
  7. Block-directed broadcast traffic trying to access the network.
  8. Set up routers and hosts not to answer ICMP echo requests. 
  9. Set up your operating system to forbid IP broadcast requests (ICMP).
  10. Set up your firewall’s perimeter to block pings incoming from outside the network.

Conclusion.

A Smurf attack belongs to the most dangerous category of threats, DDoS attacks. Have a strategy for keeping your network safe. Don’t leave it for tomorrow!

5 Famous Cyber attacks.

Cyber crime never stops. The list of cyber attacks that have badly hit organizations worldwide is sadly long. Even during the hardest moments in this pandemic, the virus stopped the world, but not cyber crime.

Let’s take a look at 5 painfully famous cyber attacks.

Mirai botnet attack (2016). 

A DDoS attack hit Dyn’s servers, a big provider of DNS infrastructure for the Internet, strongly. It took down the Internet in wide regions of the USA and Europe. Twitter, CNN, Reddit, Netflix, and more known websites went down.

Attackers used a peculiar weapon, the Mirai botnet. The botnet army for attacking was not made up of infected computers but Internet of things (IoT) devices. Dyn calculated around 100 thousand malicious endpoints involved in the attack.

WannaCry attack (2017).

This ransomware hit over 200 thousand victims, Microsoft Windows operating system users, in around 150 countries. Attackers used the malicious software “Wanna Cry” to take data hostage until a ransom was paid, combined with a worm to spread it across entire networks. “WannaCry” encrypts victims’ files to block their access. It also can block users out of their devices. Criminals demanded between $300 and $600 worth of bitcoins. 

Microsoft Windows OS showed a vulnerability, and 2 months before the attack, a patch was available. The problem was the people don’t always update. That simple action could have protected users.

SolarWinds scandal (2020).

This cyber intrusion affected around 200 international organizations, including Microsoft, several agencies from the U.S. government, the U.K. government, NATO, the European Parliament, etc. 

Attackers created a back door on a SolarWinds’ software application (Orion). As soon as customers installed the application, attackers could access their systems. This is considered one of the most dangerous cyber attacks due to the high-profile targets it affected and its duration. The scandal exploded in December 2020 after different data breaches were confirmed. But attackers had access and operated for more than 8 months!

Colonial Pipeline’s attack (2021).

Attackers hit the biggest fuel pipeline in the U.S. The company, which moves around 2.5 million of fuel barrels daily from the Gulf Coast to the Eastern Seaboard, had to shut down its systems. Shortages all across the coast, chaos at gas stations, higher prices were the result. 

Attackers got access to the company’s networks through a valid VPN (virtual private network) account. The company employees use such accounts to get remote access. The account and its password seemed to be leaked into the Dark Web. The main hypothesis points that was the way, attackers got it. With a single compromised password, they took down a giant to demand ransom money in exchange.

Kaseya’s ransomware attack (2021).

The target was Kaseya, an IT solutions provider. Approximately 1,500 businesses (Kaseya’s clients) in the world were affected. Attackers demand $70 million to restore the affected data. 

It was a supply chain ransomware attack implemented through a weakness (authentication bypass) in one of the company’s IT tools, VSA. It’s a management and remote monitoring tool to handle networks and endpoints. 

This way, the attackers avoided authentication controls and got a valid session to upload malicious code. They also executed commands through SQL injection. The case is still on. We will see its final consequences soon.

Conclusion.

Such panorama is enough to understand we can’t relax. We all, users and online business owners, have to strengthen our security defenses as much as possible. History proves that cyber criminals can target all kinds of victims, from enterprises, governments to regular users. To underestimate cyber criminals could be really painful for your business and pocket!