And in a story that should surprise no one, Target’s attack was unsophisticated

I found a story today stating that the attackers who stole millions of credit cards from Target didn’t have to try very hard to hide. I wish I could say I was surprised.

My boss says it this way: Amateurs hit as hard as they can. Professionals hit as hard as they have to.

Why? Because if they only hit as hard as they have to, they can save the hard hit for another day. And it really boils down to simple economics. If I can buy off-the-shelf malware for $1,000 and use it to steal millions of dollars, then use the same malware again somewhere else and steal another few million, why not do that? The alternative is to buy a sophisticated attack that costs five or six figures. Then what happens? I use it, get my money, and then the victim can’t figure it out, so the victim calls in Mandiant. Mandiant discovers the zero-day attack, then tells the world about it. Mandiant looks good because they discovered something nobody else has ever seen before. The victim looks a lot better too, because they got mowed down by something that was unstoppable. But then the vendor moves heaven and earth to release an emergency out-of-band patch as quickly as possible, closing down a very brief window of opportunity to use it.

Cyber criminals may be crooked and unethical, but they aren’t stupid. And that’s why this is an uphill battle: A cheap attack can go up against defenses that cost an order of magnitude more, and still win. Read more

Identifying what processes are talking on your Windows box

If you’re curious whether a particular piece of software might be spyware, or you have some other reason to believe your computer might have been compromised and might be talking to something it shouldn’t be, there’s a quick and easy way to find out besides using the standard netstat -an command.

Windows XP and 2003 (and, presumably, Vista) have the netstat -o command, which tells you what IP addresses your computer is talking to and on what ports, plus it adds the process IDs that have those ports open. There’s a hotfix to add that functionality to Windows 2000, but it appears you have to demonstrate a need for it in order for Microsoft to provide it.

Regardless, I like the Sysinternals tool TCPview better. The most important thing it does is give you the names of the application, instead of the process ID, using each port. That saves you from having to run task manager and figure it out yourself. It puts everything in a GUI window, making it a little bit easier to scroll around, and it also tries to resolve the IP addresses, which can be nice. So if all you have open is a web browser pointing at Google and you see processes talking to web addresses you’ve never heard of, you have reason to be suspicious.

The next time someone complains to me that a computer is running slow, once I think I’ve cleaned off the spyware I think I’ll run this utility just to see if there might be anything left.

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