Attacker Profiles - Network Security Overview - Introduction To Network Security: Theory And Practice (2015)

Introduction To Network Security: Theory And Practice (2015)

Chapter 1. Network Security Overview

1.3 Attacker Profiles

Attackers are often characterized as black-hat hackers, script kiddies, cyber spies, employees, and cyber terrorists.

1.3.1 Hackers

Hackers are people with special knowledge of computer systems. They are interested in subtle details of software, algorithms, and system configurations. Hackers are an elite group of well-trained and highly motivated people. Depending on their motives, hackers are further characterized as black-hat hackers, white-hat hackers, and grey-hat hackers. Black-Hat Hackers

Black-hat hackers are people who hack computing systems for their own benefit. For example, they may hack into an online store's computer system and steal credit card numbers stored in it. They may then use the stolen credit card numbers to buy merchandise or sell them to other people. Black-hat hackers are the wicked doers in network security.

Note that, without the “black-hat” modifier, hacker is not a derogatory term. News media, however, have widely used hackers to denote black-hat hackers. To avoid confusions, several authors have suggested to use crackers to denote black-hat hackers. White-Hat Hackers

White-hat hackers are hackers who have high moral standards. They hack computing systems for the purpose of searching for security loopholes and developing solutions. They publish security problems and solutions at security conferences, on dedicated Websites, or through special mailing lists. White-hat hackers are the righteous doers in network security. Grey-Hat Hackers

Grey-hat hackers are hackers who wear a white hat most of the time but may also wear a black hat once in a while. For example, when they discover attacks, instead of reporting the incidents to law enforcements, grey-hat hackers may take the matter in their own hands and strike the attackers back themselves. Grey-hat hackers are the Robin Hood type people in the world of network security. Disclosures of Security Problems

When discovering security vulnerabilities in a software product, white-hat hackers and grey-hat hackers would often work directly with the vendors of products to help them fix the problems before they release the details of their discoveries. Whether a full disclosure of their findings should be allowed is an ongoing debate, in part due to the perceived view of the white-hat hackers and the grey-hat hackers that the vendors are not doing enough to fix security problems in a timely manner.

1.3.2 Script Kiddies

Script kiddies are people who use scripts and programs developed by black-hat hackers to attack other people's computers. Such scripts and programs are often referred to as hacking tools. Script kiddie is a derogatory term. It is used to indicate that script kiddies only know how to copy and use a hacking tool. They do not understand how it works, and they are not capable of writing any hacking tool themselves. Script kiddies like to crack any target they possibly can, so that they can say to others in the underground cracker community that “I am smarter.” Script kiddies may also attack targets with high profiles just to attract the attention of the media.

Although they do not know how to write hacking tools or understand how an existing hacking tool works, script kiddies are dangerous. Many of them are just teenagers who do not care about, or are not mature enough to know, the consequences of their actions. However, they are energetic, and they are everywhere. They launch attacks from unexpected places and at any time, which could inflict serious damages to other people.

1.3.3 Cyber Spies

Cyber espionage takes place at all levels. It could be an individual activity or an organizational effort. Cyber spies collect intelligence through intercepted network communications. They could be working for a good cause or just for money.

Governments run cyber intelligence units to intercept network communications and decipher encrypted messages. The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), for example, are the two largest intelligence agencies of the U.S. government. The NSA hires many first-class mathematicians and computer scientists to work for it. Many of them are professors at U.S. universities. They teach during school years and work for NSA during summers. They study encryption algorithms and develop cryptanalysis tools. This sort of work has helped win battles.

During World War II, for example, the intelligence department of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was able to partially decipher Japanese secret code, which helped Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, deduce the Japanese scheme of invading the Midway Atoll in the mid-Pacific. Nimitz seized the opportunity and ordered his two aircraft carriers to ambush the approaching Japanese invasion forces. With another barely restored carrier joining in the battle a few days later, American aviators sunk four Japanese carriers, with the cost of losing only one carrier. The battle of Midway became a turning point, from a defensive to an offensive campaign for American Pacific naval forces.

1.3.4 Vicious Employees

Vicious employees are people who intentionally breach security to harm their employers. They may plant logic bombs or open backdoors in programs they help develop. They may act as script kiddies to attack company computers to get the attentions of their employers. They may also act as cyber spies to collect and sell company secrets for money.

1.3.5 Cyber Terrorists

Terrorists are extremists who do not hesitate to use extreme means to destroy public property and take innocent life. Cyber terrorists are terrorists who use computer and network technologies to carry out their attacks and produce public fear. Attacks by cyber terrorist have not been reported yet. However, if they did attack, cyber terrorists would be extremely harmful.

1.3.6 Hypothetical Attackers

The hypothetical attackers this book deals with are black-hat hackers, script kiddies, greedy cyber spies who are willing to betray their countries or organizations for monetary benefits, and vicious employees. Attackers of these four kinds may be wicked, but they are not terrorists. Cyber terrorists, on the other hand, are the die-hard enemies, and so they may need to be dealt with using a different set of measures not addressed in this book.