Black Hat promises new exploit techniques, Stuxnet insight

The well-known security conference kicks off on Monday in Abu Dhabi

The Black Hat security conference will kick off in Abu Dhabi on Monday with new information revealed about the Stuxnet malicious software program along with other cutting-edge research.

Tom Parker, director of security consulting services at Securicon, will be among the speakers at the conference, located for the first time in the United Arab Emirates. Parker has taken a deep look at Stuxnet, a piece of malicious software that caused widespread concern because it targeted Siemens SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems.

Stuxnet has generated a lot of hype and speculation, including whether it was created by some country's intelligence services as well as varying opinions on its sophistication, Parker said. Much of that speculation, Parker said, has been spawned by a problem facing the computer security community: How can certain malware be attributed to a specific person or group?

The methods used to analyze malware, such as sandboxes to test it in a controlled environment and reverse engineering tools, aren't great for figuring out who actually created the code. Attribution is important, as then it would allow a country being targeted to make more informed decisions on how to counteract the attack.

"We don't have that level of scientific research yet in the cybersecurity domain and that's what we really need to start building consensus around," Parker said.

At Black Hat, Parker plans to release an open-source tool called "Blackaxon" that analyzes the programming styles of code. Just as authors of books have their own distinct styles and patterns, the same goes for malware authors. His analysis shows that probably at least five different people wrote parts of Stuxnet.

In the long term, there's a need for a way to automate the analysis of malware and match patterns of code to "start building a profile of malware we know is attributable to crimeware or a certain author and later on being able to spot that," Parker said. "There is way too much speculation going on these days."

Parker also plans to put forth some theories on why Stuxnet has some very sophisticated programming but also parts that could be considered quite amateurish. "There are some impressive components in it, but there's this other side that I don't think people are looking at as closely," Parker said.

In another briefing, security researcher Dan Kaminsky will release code that he says allows systems administrators to implement an authentication system into their applications that uses DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC). The system uses public key cryptography to digitally "sign" the DNS records for websites and is being increasingly deployed to fortify Web security.

"This is code you can integrate into networks and applications that will make entire classes of security problems go away," said Kaminsky, who gained fame two years ago for finding a major flaw in the DNS (Domain Name System).

Unlike PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) systems, leveraging DNSSEC as a broader security mechanism has great benefits: It scales, and it is much cheaper to implement than other authentication systems such as passwords, Kaminsky said. Administrators will be able to deploy DNSSEC into applications in as little as two minutes with no configuration, he said. He is releasing most of the code free.

Other speakers include Felix Lindner, who will give a talk on simple but effective approaches to securing Flash content from Adobe Systems; Lukas Grunwald, who will speak about insecure RFID implementations in passports and government ID cards; and Robert Hansen, who will show new exploitation techniques for content transmitted using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption.

Black Hat Abu Dhabi runs through Thursday.

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