If you’re interested in online security, you’ve probably heard about HBGary.

If you haven’t, here’s a brief rundown with a few links:
A security firm, HBGary (or, more accurately, HBGary’s subsidiary HBGary Federal) announced that they had discovered the names of some of the supposed ringleaders of the “hacktivist” organization Anonymous.
This “angered the hive” and – rather than the generally low-risk and unsophisticated DDOS attacks for which Anonymous is better known – Anonymous used a combination of social engineering, SQL Exploits, and password cracking to compromise one of HBGary’s servers. They leveraged that to get into multiple servers, ultimately gaining access to HBGary’s email and no few internal documents – including business plans and proposals to potential clients.
Anonymous then published the information they found – all of it. This embarrassed and scared off most, if all, of HBGary’s potential clients, ruined ongoing negotiations, and exposed activities which indicated questionable ethics and which might be illegal.
HBGary’s actions after this compromise might charitably be called “unfocussed” or possibly “unplanned”. “Foolish” or “Crazy” would possibly be more accurate. The HBGary CEO even engaged with some Anonymous members via IRC, to dubious results. Perhaps the best testament to this incident is the current state of HBGary Federal’s website.

Remarkably, there aren’t any new lessons to be learned here.
HBGary Federal’s first mistake was in taunting Anonymous: no matter how secure you think you are, you’re better off WITHOUT people trying to break down the gates.

The second mistake was in underestimating the enemy. Although Anonymous as a group has mostly engaged in DDOS attacks, they did so using a modified version of a professional load-testing tool: clearly some of their members have always had access to such tools and the ability to modify them. In other words, at least some of Anonymous are clearly highly capable.

The third mistake – or rather, set of mistakes – was likely the most common. HBGary’s infrastructure wasn’t properly secured. They were vulnerable to social engineering, and an important server could be compromised with an SQL injection exploit, and – worst of all – the attackers were able to use that one compromise to access nearly everything else. This is not a very good security posture, especially for a security firm.

Lastly, they didn’t have a recovery strategy. While this sort of compromise is one of the worst-case scenarios, it clearly behooves a company to plan for it, at least in a general fashion, and respond in an organized fashion which helps rebuild client trust and reduce the damage.

While these aren’t new lessons, it’s still worthwhile to look them over again: don’t encourage attacks, maintain a realistic awareness of the attackers you’re facing, harden your infrastructure, and have a recovery plan. Remember that it CAN happen to you, and act accordingly.

One thought on “Nothing to see here, but don’t move along just yet.

  1. Kevin C. says:

    I followed this story with equal parts of incredulity and voyeurism. I think you summarized the major failings quite well. What amazes me most is that the principal player, who seemed to have the right credentials, brought this on himself, his company, and the parent company.

    If you’re going to publish “research” (quotes intentional) that purports to include names of prominent vandals based on recent sales of spray paint in particular neighborhoods, then you ought to make sure that your house and car are graffiti-proof. At the least.

    Better yet, keep your public mouth shut.


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