New Attacks on Old Vulnerabilities

Over the last few weeks we (Adrian Bryan and I, the authors and Bob Cromwell, the Technical Editor) have been revising Learning Tree Course 468, System and Network Security Introduction. That is a time-consuming process that Learning Tree authors perform at least once a year. One of the major tasks for 468 is to make sure the topics are current and the content is up-to-date.

As I worked on checking the content, I frequently noted new attacks that relied on old vulnerabilities: weak passwords, passwords stored insecurely, buffer overflows, and so forth. These vulnerabilities are not unfamiliar to those who’ve taken the course, nor to those who read this blog. The actual attack vectors may differ, and the products attacked may differ, too, but the ideas are generally similar.

It reminds me of taking creative writing classes. In those classes I learned that there were really a limited number of plots for stories – authors “just” manipulated those to create new stories. I’d never thought about it before, but indeed that is the case. It is also the case with system and network security.

A recent email focusing on cyber security news had a story about the success of a phishing email. Phishing is a form of the deception known as social engineering. Such deception is not new – it’s been happening since the early days of computers, or at least the early days of attacking computers. The idea of social engineering is to pretend to be entitled to some info, even though you are not.

I also read about some data floods and DDoS. One was from DNS and Bob Cromwell covered that in another post here. The Course also talks about these, of course and gives some historical perspective as well. DDoS attacks can be particularly difficult to defend against, and we discuss some of the issues in the Course.

And of course there were multiple articles on encryption. We spend a lot of time on that in 468 because it is so fundamental to so many countermeasures. We also discuss some of the weaknesses in encryption systems including various cracking methods (mostly as applied to passwords).

So, really, what’s old is new, again. By that I mean the old ways of attack are the new ones, just with different targets and different details.

In the comments below let us know what technologies or threats you’d like to see covered in the Course. I’ll collect those and add them to the possible list for the next revision.

John McDermott

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