I’ve been spending more and more time talking to blackhats lately. Frankly, I think they’re fascinating people, and have a lot to teach the rest of us. With the solemn promise that I won’t try to put them in jail, we can have free flowing conversations which aid us all in thinking about the problem space. I’ve certainly learned a lot. Anyway, I got into a conversation with one of them about how he believes that a lot of the security put in place is actually doing a pretty good job.
The basic premise of the problem, from his perspective, is that hacking directly just isn’t as easy as it used to be, if you are like him. He’s not the type to hack randomly, he’s only interested in targeted attacks with big payouts. Sure, if you really work at it for days or weeks you’ll get in, almost always, but it’s not like it used to be where you’d just run a handful of basic tests and you were guaranteed to break in. The risk is that now when he sends his mules to go cash out, there’s a chance they’ll get nailed. Well, the more I thought about it the more I thought that this is a very solvable problem for bad guys. There are already other types of bad guys who do things like spam, steal credentials and DDoS. For that to work they need a botnet with thousands or millions of machines. The chances of a million machine botnet having compromised at least one machine within a target of interest is relatively high.
So let’s say I’m badguy1 who wants to break into one or more companies of interest. Sure, I could work for days or weeks and maybe get into one or both of them, but at the risk of tipping my hand to the companies and there’s always a chance I’ll fail entirely. Or I could work with badguy2 who has a botnet. I could simply give a list of IPs, domains or email addresses of known targets to the bot herder and say that instead of paying a few cents to rent some arbitrary machine for a day, I’ll pay thousands of dollars to get a bot within the company I’m actually interested in.
This tactic reminds me a little of the movie Wall Street. You have a failing company (in this case a botnet that will probably only last a year or two). If the company continues on it’s course it’ll make a pretty good amount of money, but nowhere near as much as if the owners break up the company into pieces and sell them off one by one to the interested parties. Kind of an interesting/scary thought, but it could easily be used to avoid the cost and danger of individual exploitation against a company for a hacker interested in target attacks. Rather, a brokerage for commodities (bots that come from interesting IPs/domains) could be created and used to sell off the individual nodes. Using the existing backdoor into the company greatly reduces the risks involved for badguy1, because it’s guaranteed to be successful, without all the noise of a targeted attack.
If you were a blackhat, how much would you pay to have access to a machine inside of an organization that will lead to the big payout?