IBM researcher: Hackers camouflage 100 per cent of Web attacks

Hackers are making it difficult for standard intrusion detection and intrusion prevention technologies to identify the attack code

Hackers now mask virtually every Web browser exploit as part of their normal procedure to evade detection by security software, said IBM's X-Force research team Tuesday.

By the end of last year, according to Kris Lamb, director of IBM Internet Security Systems' X-Force, nearly 100 per cent of all Web exploits were either self-encrypted or relied on obfuscation techniques to make it difficult for standard intrusion detection and intrusion prevention technologies to identify the attack code.

"In 2006, we saw about 50 per cent of Web exploits obfuscated or encoded," said Lamb, adding that, on average, 80 per cent were camouflaged throughout 2007. "But that jumped to almost 100 per cent by the end of the year."

The reason for the cover-up boost is straightforward, said Lamb. "They're not dumb. They only do what they're forced to do," he explained. "For them to continue to get a high rate of return, they had to understand the protection technologies that were being used. And [security] vendors were doing a pretty good job.

"A lot of network security technologies were doing a good job in 2006, when they shifted from e-mail to Web browser as an [exploit] entry point. Vendors have been keeping up with that trend and building new types of [security] technologies to keep up with technologies extending the browser, like Flash and JavaScript," Lamb continued.

That pressured attackers into hiding more of their browser exploits, and doing a better job of concealing their work -- largely by focusing on JavaScript. "More than any other technology, JavaScript is used to obfuscate and self-encrypt," Lamb said.

JavaScript is ubiquitous -- it is cross-platform and cross-browser -- and its inherent complexity lends it perfectly to hacker use, argued Lamb. "Attackers can do very advantageous things, like encode it so when it goes over the wire, all the recipient sees is a data blob," he noted.

And getting rid of JavaScript is not an option for most users. "Even I'd be hard-pressed to disable JavaScript entirely," acknowledged Lamb. "So much of my experience and my productivity experience depends on JavaScript, or another scripting language, like VBScript or Adobescript."

This year, he predicted, the camouflaging will continue, with hackers increasingly adding secondary scripting languages to their obfuscation and encryption portfolios. "They'll start using other browsing scripting frameworks more -- more vendor-tied scripts, like Adobescript," Lamb said. Also known as JavaScript for Acrobat, Adobescript allows customizing of PDF files using scripting.

Hackers have already put Adobescript to work -- very recently, in fact. Monday, McAfee's Vinoo Thomas was one of several researchers who noted that attacks are under way that use at least one of the still-unnumbered vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader disclosed last week. Thomas, however, pegged the exploit to Adobe JavaScript.

"The current vulnerability can be embedded in a PDF file and manipulated through Adobe JavaScript," he said in a warning posted to the Avert Labs' blog on Monday.

The masking and encryption, however, is just one facet of the ongoing trend toward attacks aimed first and foremost at browsers, said Lamb. "Whether through drive-by downloads or compromising legitimate sites, or a combination of advanced, targeted phishing, the browser is involved in some way," he said. "It's the main frontier of exploit right now.

"We used to call the operating system the 'keys of the castle,' but as exploits moved up the application stack and as the browser became the new OS, it's now the keys to castle," he added.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?