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The Starting Point of all Major Public Hacks: Footprinting

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By: ryan c

April 20, 2015

footprint-cybraryWant to Know How and Where All Major Data Breaches Begin?With all of the publicity major corporate data breaches receive, we often get caught up in the outcomes. What happened, how many people were impacted and in what ways, who was responsible, etc. In the 2014 Sony Pictures hack, personal data about employees and corporate IP was released to the public. In the Target hack, hackers made money selling the magstripe data of the victim’s credit cards on the black market. Media has traditionally placed emphasis on the victims of these attacks. However, equally as fascinating, is the how or why they occurred in the first place. What's likely the most alarming aspect of these attacks, is that the data breach almost always occurs through the fault of someone internally within the organization. All hacks or data breaches begin in the same place: with a process called Footprinting. This is, essentially, building a profile of a target in order to design the exploitation. In the case of Target’s hack, it's widely believed that a Point of Sale software platform was exploited with malware. In this case, the attackers identified an exploitable system, and a reachable system, within Target’s infrastructure. Then, they used a known vulnerability to attack the company and breach its database. The process of Footprinting is step one in any hack. It should, therefore, also be the first step in any security professional’s assessment of their organization’s security strategy. Yet, it seems to be often overlooked. This process involves a deep self-assessment or review of everything that makes up the organization’s security, as well as a look into all the information that is publicly available about the organization. It involves tactics such as Internal DNS lookups, information about private websites, dumpster diving, patents/trademarks, public databases, social networks, search engine results and WHOIS lookups. Perhaps, the most glaring hole in any organization is the end user. The end users often give away more data and information, often through lack of awareness, than any internet search or intelligence tools could. Social engineering, shoulder surfing, eavesdropping and operational missteps occur frequently in major data breaches. This underscores the importance of an organization’s approach to End User Security Awareness Training, and the fact that many companies still ignore this flaw, is surprising. The main point, though, is that major attacks and data breaches occur because of Footprinting. Attackers (or a security professionals) document a profile of an organization’s systems, platforms hardware and software with the purpose finding the most easily exploitable pieces of the puzzle. There's pretty much always a way in, even in the most highly secured environments. Where the attack or exploit is cut off is the job of the security professional. If you and your organization is not regularly performing a Footprinting self-assessment procedure, you're essentially inviting yourself to the public embarrassment party.
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