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Intruders' Use of Software Tools

The tools available to launch an attack have become more effective, easier to use, and more accessible to people without an in-depth knowledge of computer systems. Often a sophisticated intruder embeds an attack procedure in a program and widely distributes it to the intruder community. Thus, people who have the desire but not the technical skill are able to break into systems. Indeed, there have been instances of intruders breaking into a UNIX system using a relatively sophisticated attack and then attempting to run DOS commands (commands that apply to an entirely different operating system).

Tools are available to examine programs for vulnerabilities even in the absence of source code. Though these tools can help system administrators identify problems, they also help intruders find new ways to break into systems.

As in many areas of computing, the tools used by intruders have become more automated, allowing intruders to gather information about thousands of Internet hosts quickly and with minimum effort. These tools can scan entire networks from a remote location and identify individual hosts with specific weaknesses. Intruders may catalog the information for later exploitation, share or trade with other intruders, or attack immediately. The increased availability and usability of scanning tools means that even technically naive, would-be intruders can find new sites and particular vulnerabilities.

Some tools automate multiphase attacks in which several small components are combined to achieve a particular end. For example, intruders can use a tool to mount a denial-of-service attack on a machine and spoof that machine's address to subvert the intended victim's machine. A second example is using a packet sniffer to get router or firewall passwords, logging in to the firewall to disable filters, then using a network file service to read data on an otherwise secure server.

The trend toward automation can be seen in the distribution of software packages containing a variety of tools to exploit vulnerabilities. These packages are often maintained by competent programmers and are distributed complete with version numbers and documentation.

A typical tool package might include the following:

  • network scanner
  • password cracking tool and large dictionaries
  • packet sniffer
  • variety of Trojan horse programs and libraries
  • tools for selectively modifying system log files
  • tools to conceal current activity
  • tools for automatically modifying system configuration files
  • tools for reporting bogus checksums
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