From the deep-web to encryption we decode more cybersecurity buzzwords, plus we cover security updates for Squid, Vim, the Linux kernel, curl and more.
16 unique CVEs addressed
Hello listener! Welcome to part 2 of our cyber security buzzword series! Last episode we talked about ransomwares, botnets and phishing attacks! Let’s keep the bees happy and continue on in this buzzing journey of better understanding what is the meaning behind the word and turning the “bzzzzzzzzzz” into an “aaaaah, I see” instead! 039 If you haven’t listened to the last episode I highly recommend you do it before you proceed with this one, but hey, that is your choice. I don’t want to take too long with this introduction, so, for those who are already in for this ride, without further ado, let’s jump in! Our first word of today and the fourth overall…we’ve talked about it before, and we are talking about it now once again… buzzword #4 is the one and only firewall! If you listened to the episodes involving the Ubuntu hardening topic, you already know that our dearest friend firewall is one way to keep your network safe because it allows you to filter and possibly block incoming and outgoing traffic in your network. Through use of a firewall you can define that users in your network can’t access a specific website, or you can keep connections coming from a specific IP address from ever being established with these same users. It’s an important job the one done by a firewall, however, it is not 100% hacker proof. A firewall does what it needs to do well, but it won’t save you from yourself, for example, if you decide to become the victim of every phishing campaign happening out there. So…do you see that buzzword right there: “phishing”? That is why I recommended you listen to the last episode, because I explain what is phishing THERE. Moving on, if e-mail service is allowed by the firewall, a hacker can try to get to the network through it, and in that case, my friend, you are the weakest link, as said hacker is expecting you to make the mistake that will allow them passage when the firewall will not do so through other ports or services in the network. Don’t expect a wall to protect your network if your staff is handing out keys to the building’s backdoor to anyone that mentions that they work there!!! I am adding firewalls here on this list because ever since the dawn of time…or at least the dawn of my time…I see the word firewall being thrown around in television shows, in presentations that want to nudge cyber security a little bit, and even on the thoughts of people who are wondering “How did I get infected with malware, I have a firewall!!!”. So…yeah. Unfortunately the buzzword became a universal term used to describe all software and defensive techniques, even if they are not all the same. To make an analogy, a firewall is one fruit amongst the huge selection of different fruits that exist in this beautiful world, but people insist on calling all fruits ‘firewalls’. I am sure you can imagine a situation where I give you a lime and call it an apple, and I am sure that in your imagination you are not too pleased about the result once you bite into that fruit expecting one thing and instead getting another. You might feel a little ‘sour’ should I decide to do such a thing. Haha, get it? Bad jokes aside, it’s important to understand what a firewall really is and what it can actually do for you in terms of protecting your network. Not all attacks are the same, so not all attacks will be stopped by a firewall. If you go beyond the buzzword and beyond the beautiful wall and fire icon - which at this point could be called a buzzicon - you start to actually build a defense strategy that makes sense and is efficient for your network, one that will include a firewall, BUT will not expect it to defend the network, cook and wash your clothes all at the same time. Therefore, the next time your hear someone in a show mentioning that they have breached 50% of the firewall, remember your training, remember what a firewall actually is, and remember that if you are able to bypass the firewall, you either did it 100% or you simply didn’t, and then relax and laugh a little, because you used your knowledge to actually build a defense strategy that even if an attacker bypasses the firewall by 100%, you are able to prevent an attack from actually being successful with the help of your other layers of defense. You fought valiantly firewall friend, but not all threats are avoidable by you, and we know that now. We also know now that movie security in movie networks are probably awful, because they seem to only use a firewall to defend very important data, and the firewall is most likely broken, being only 50% bypassed and all…geez, get a grip, hollywood, or hacking might become TOO easy for those imaginary hackers.
Buzzword #5: encryption…encrypting…encrypted…encrypt. This buzzword is also one that I think can be considered a long-living buzzword. Data encryption suffers from the same problem as firewalls in the sense that people see it as a solution to all of their problems. Oh…and movies also like to use the word a lot. “If my data is encrypted it is completely safe”. Right? Wrong. What is encryption then, and what purpose does it serve? When you encrypt your data, you are actually just encoding it. Transforming it in such a way that whatever information is actually imbued within it cannot be extracted because the data no longer represents something that can be understood by a potential snooper of that data. One encrypted character a day keeps the snooper away, or at least that is the goal anyway. The main purpose of encryption is to maintain data confidentiality, or, in other words, to prevent an unauthorized party from getting access to the data that is going to be encrypted. Therefore, encryption is a technique that will serve the purpose of encoding data in such a way that it loses its meaning to whoever is not authorized to know it. Who are the ones authorized? Those that have the decryption key…and if that key is stolen or shared with someone it shouldn’t be…well then you can say goodbye to your expected confidentiality, as this new someone can now decode the data and interpret it as you would. I guess what annoys me a little bit about this buzzword is the fact that it is used to make people feel completely safe even when the situation does not necessarily guarantee this. The most simple example I can think of is VPNs. I see advertisements for those all the time, and in these advertisements people mention how VPNs will help you stay safe from hackers when you are browsing online…and that is not completely true. It depends on what the hacker is doing. If a hacker is trying to track you and figure out what you are doing in the internet, that is, they are trying to snoop on your browsing activities, then yes, a VPN, which will help you mask your tracks by adding a layer of encryption to your traffic and acting as a middle man in your communication with your destination, will indeed protect you. Think of it as sending an encrypted letter to an intermediary courier. Only you and the courier know the decryption key and so anyone that tries to intercept the letter and does not have this key will be unable to do anything about it. They don’t know who is the actual destination of the letter nor do they know what is the purpose of the letter, all they know is that the courier will receive it and send it to the actual destination. Encryption keeps your communication confidential. Once it gets to the courier, the courier decrypts it and then sends it to the actual destination and your snooper can’t know it is from you because the courier is also sending and receiving data from a bunch of people, and that courier has promised secrecy to you, meaning, it promised it won’t tell others which is your letter. Anyway, now think about the situation where you willingly decide to access a malicious website through a VPN. There is no encryption that will save you from your bad choices here. An encrypted conversation with an attacker is still a conversation with an attacker, and an encrypted malware sent to you through your VPN tunnel will still execute in your machine should you tell it to. So once again I tell you, use encryption but know its purpose! It is not because a website is HTTPS, or, in other words, it is not because a website has that little lock in the top left corner, that you are protected from all evil lurking on the internet. All it means is that data you send to that website’s server will be sent to it encrypted. This in turn means that your login credentials won’t be out in the open, being sent in clear text through the network, free to be accessed by anyone that chooses to sniff the data in any point of the path from source to destination. They will be encrypted, and whoever comes across this data in transit won’t be able to know the true contents unless they have the decryption key, which is shared between you and the server only. However, you can decide to send encrypted credentials to an attacker as well. Malicious websites can be HTTPS. In fact, attackers take advantage of the fact that people blindly trust HTTPS websites because they are “encrypted” and make fake HTTPS bank pages in order to steal credentials. Phishing attacks, remember those? So here we have a situation where the buzz in the word is being harmful for those that don’t actually try to understand the meaning behind it. When you want to make sure a website is safe, not only check for the tiny lock in the top-left corner of the browser, also do check if the website’s certificate actually identifies that page as being authentic, as being owned and provided by the entity that you believe it to be. So…yeah. I guess final thoughts on this once again are: encryption is fine when you don’t forget to combine….it with other security measures. I wanted to make a cool rhyme, but that didn’t work out. Oh well…onto the next buzzword!
Buzzword #6: the deep web. Ooooh, spooky! Once again we are in “buzzword because of the movies” territory. Hacker, firewall, encrypted data, network breach, deep web. Oh, and a guy wearing a black hoodie. The cliché buzzword we see getting thrown around every time someone wants to talk about cyber security and sound mysterious while doing it. I mean…I can’t really blame them, as it is human nature to enjoy mysteries and to want to solve them. So, I guess if you are in the entertainment industry, throwing out the word “deep web” around is indeed one of the ways to go. However, if you are an IT professional, blindly trusting that what you see in movies is how things actually work is definitely not. Does the deep web contain mysterious websites and crazy mind bending information? Yes. Is it a blackhole where only the most courageous may enter and the most bizarre may stay? No. No! A bunch of the websites you have in the surface web also exist in the deep web! If you want, you can do your regular browsing but using the roads - let’s call them that for now - of the deep web instead. All you have to do is download the software tool that will allow you to access it. The most well known tool to do so is the Tor browser, which will give you access to the Tor network, where lot’s of deep web websites are hosted. So let’s talk a little bit about the Tor network and try to understand what is the oh-so-mysterious deep web and why you can’t access it by simply typing “Take me to the deep web” on a search engine in your regular browser. Think about the Internet as being the entire planet. Earth as you know it. Everyone and everything we know and can access is inside the planet…and for the smarty pants that will try to say “but what about space travel???”, don’t be a downer and destroy my analogy. Use your imagination and PRETEND like all we know is inside the planet only, which is the ONLY thing we have access to. The planet is like the entire Internet. Now imagine all of the roads on the planet. You can drive through them and go anywhere you want, the same way your data can flow through the Internet and reach several destinations which will provide you with services such as web browsing and e-mail sending. Consider now, however, that a group of servers, or, to stick to the analogy, a group of destinations for road trips, decide to bundle together and create their own underground secret routes and make themselves and their services accessible only to travelers which use those secret routes. The regular roads that would lead you to them are destroyed and there are now a few single regular roads that lead to the entry-points of the underground tunnels. Anyone can enter the underground tunnels if they wish to and use the tunnels to reach those “secret” destinations, as can anyone download a Tor browser and find websites which are deb web or even darknet services. However, if you want to reach your destination you must use the tunnel, and you can no longer use maps to reach this destination, since in the underground tunnels they provide you with no maps as they do in the surface roads. No maps so that the destinations remain well hidden within this secret underground road network, and so that they can “change their location” or “stop existing” whenever they wish to do so. No records means no tracking. When entering the underground tunnels you set up three intermediate tunnel only destinations that will help you reach your desired end point, let’s consider those toll booths. The first one is where you will always stop at the beginning of your journey, the second one will connect you to the last one, which in turn will be the one that will finally tell you which road to follow to access the destination which will provide you with the service you wish to access. Think now that these intermediate points recognize you by your car color. A very specific color you and each toll booth attendant have previously decided on, the moment you knew they would be your intermediate stops. So the first point recognizes a red car, the second a blue car, and the last a green car. I am using simple colors here, but to amuse your own imagination, you can think of it as a very specific shade of red that cannot be replicated by anyone else, meaning it will identify you uniquely to that specific toll booth. Same goes to the blue and to the green. Before passing through your underground toll booths you paint your car green, then blue and then red. When you get to the first mark, the toll booth guard recognizes the red hue of your car and identifies you as a valid passenger. It removes the red hue and you tell it your next toll booth stop. It forwards you in that direction, meaning it shows you the way to the blue toll booth. You go to the blue tollbooth and the same thing happens. It recognizes the blue hue, removes it and sees that you are going to the green toll booth, and it directs you there. Finally, when you reach green they do the same, but they finally send you to your final destination. Notice that this allows you to stay anonymous because you got in in a red car and got to your destination in a green colored car. The red toll booth does not know your final tollbooth was green, knowing only you went to blue, and the green does not know your starting point was red, knowing only you came from blue. Blue does not know your starting point nor you final destination, knowing only that you came from red and left for green. Going back to that final destination: your final destination can be outside of the underground tunnels and back on the main roads. You used the underground tunnels just so that people who see you get in through the tunnels in a red car don’t follow you and don’t know where you got out. Your final destination, however, can also be inside the tunnel network. If that is the case, you will never go to the actual destination, because underground tunnel services establish an intermediate rendezvous point for communication and service offering instead of letting you reach them at their actual location. Knowing the secret name of the service, you are able to obtain information on what places are set as these rendezvous points. So…leaving the analogy for a little bit…this is basically what the Tor network is and what at least part of the deep web is. The Tor network is an established network inside the internet. The secret underground roads inside of the planet’s entire road network. It still uses roads, meaning, it still uses IP addresses and establishes communication between devices using regular means in layers under the application layer itself. However, it defines a private communication method within the public internet. Anyone can download a Tor browser and access Tor websites, which would be part of the deep web websites, however, to do so, you need to know the website’s address in the format that will be recognized in the Tor network. Unlike the surface web where you register the mapping of your website name and the IP address of the server that will host that website in order for people to be able to find it without having to memorize a complex number to do so - thank you DNS -, in the Tor network what you will know is the name of the onion service and the location where this service meets clients wishing to access it. Tor nodes, our toll booths, can then route you to this destination, where you can introduce yourself to the server and then set a rendezvous point which is where the rest of the communication between you will actually happen. In the Tor network, it is not as simple as the definition of an explicit mapping that says “oh, you want to get to this place? Here is the address!”. Nope. Here, everything is done covertly and secretly. You have a meeting place to define the definitive meeting place. So maybe it is a little bit mysterious after all. I’ll give the movies that. Of course you can use the Tor network, our secret underground tunnels, to access a regular surface web website if you want to. It is not necessary, but a lot of people do it because it allows for anonymous browsing. Our underground tunnels won’t allow for identification of who sent a message that is reaching a specific destination, remember the whole car painting process and the colorful toll booths? Well, in technical terms, Tor uses layers of encryption and intermediate proxy nodes in order to stop someone snooping from knowing who is the original sender of a message arriving at a certain destination. ENCRYPTION being used to assist in keeping anonymity and to maintain confidentiality of the data that is being transferred by whoever is using the Tor network. So yeah…kind of a long explanation, but demystifying it, this is what the deep web is: encryption, intermediary nodes, regular websites, creepy websites, and lots of bureaucracy to get you to your final destination. Oh, wait…that’s just part of it, since Tor is only one of the many underground tunnel networks that exists out there. There are others with different rules, different entry regulations and different functionalities and purposes in general. I decided to tell you about how the most famous one of these secret networks within the network works so that you can get the genral iceberg idea of it. However, lady Internet is a vast place, filled with opportunity to create and embed, so secret networks which can not have their services accessed through the regular WWW URL are plenty out there, all you need is the will and the knowledge of the way to explore it! Oh, and the permission as well. I am not condoning you committing a crime here.
Anyway, I think that is enough of me talking for one episode. Tune in for next time where we will talk about our last three buzzwords for this series, which I might add, are three giants…all of them suggested by my Ubuntu Security Team peers of course! Feel free to share your thoughts on today’s episode and buzzwords in any of our social media channels, I would love to hear what you have to say about it! For now, I bid you all farewell and until next time! Bye!