Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2016/08/eqgrp-tools-are-post-exploitation.html
A recent leak exposed hackings tools from the “Equation Group”, a group likely related to the NSA TAO (the NSA/DoD hacking group). I thought I’d write up some comments.
Despite the existence of 0days, these tools seem to be overwhelmingly post-exploitation. They aren’t the sorts of tools you use to break into a network — but the sorts of tools you use afterwards.
The focus of the tools appear to be about hacking into network equipment, installing implants, achievement permanence, and using the equipment to sniff network traffic.
Different pentesters have different ways of doing things once they’ve gotten inside a network, and this is reflected in their toolkits. Some focus on Windows and getting domain admin control, and have tools like mimikatz. Other’s focus on webapps, and how to install hostile PHP scripts. In this case, these tools reflect a methodology that goes after network equipment.
It’s a good strategy. Finding equipment is easy, and undetectable, just do a traceroute. As long as network equipment isn’t causing problems, sysadmins ignore it, so your implants are unlikely to be detected. Internal network equipment is rarely patched, so old exploits are still likely to work. Some tools appear to target bugs in equipment that are likely older than Equation Group itself.
In particular, because network equipment is at the network center instead of the edges, you can reach out and sniff packets through the equipment. Half the time it’s a feature of the network equipment, so no special implant is needed. Conversely, when on the edge of the network, switches often prevent you from sniffing packets, and even if you exploit the switch (e.g. ARP flood), all you get are nearby machines. Getting critical machines from across the network requires remotely hacking network devices.
So you see a group of pentest-type people (TAO hackers) with a consistent methodology, and toolmakers who develop and refine tools for them. Tool development is a rare thing amount pentesters — they use tools, they don’t develop them. Having programmers on staff dramatically changes the nature of pentesting.
Consider the program xml2pcap. I don’t know what it does, but it looks like similar tools I’ve written in my own pentests. Various network devices will allow you to sniff packets, but produce output in custom formats. Therefore, you need to write a quick-and-dirty tool that converts from that weird format back into the standard pcap format for use with tools like Wireshark. More than once I’ve had to convert HTML/XML output to pcap. Setting port filters for 21 (FTP) and Telnet (23) produces low-bandwidth traffic with high return (admin passwords) within networks — all you need is a script that can convert the packets into standard format to exploit this.
Also consider the tftpd tool in the dump. Many network devices support that protocol for updating firmware and configuration. That’s pretty much all it’s used for. This points to a defensive security strategy for your organization: log all TFTP traffic.
Same applies to SNMP. By the way, SNMP vulnerabilities in network equipment is still low hanging fruit. SNMP stores thousands of configuration parameters and statistics in a big tree, meaning that it has an enormous attack surface. Anything value that’s a settable, variable-length value (OCTECT STRING, OBJECT IDENTIFIER) is something you can play with for buffer-overflows and format string bugs. The Cisco 0day in the toolkit was one example.
Some have pointed out that the code in the tools is crappy, and they make obvious crypto errors (such as using the same initialization vectors). This is nonsense. It’s largely pentesters, not software developers, creating these tools. And they have limited threat models — encryption is to avoid easy detection that they are exfiltrating data, not to prevent somebody from looking at the data.
From that perspective, then, this is fine code, with some effort spent at quality for tools that don’t particularly need it. I’m a professional coder, and my little scripts often suck worse than the code I see here.
Lastly, I don’t think it’s a hack of the NSA themselves. Those people are over-the-top paranoid about opsec. But 95% of the US cyber-industrial-complex is made of up companies, who are much more lax about security than the NSA itself. It’s probably one of those companies that got popped — such as an employee who went to DEFCON and accidentally left his notebook computer open on the hotel WiFi.
Despite the 0days, these appear to be post-exploitation tools. They look like the sort of tools pentesters might develop over years, where each time they pop a target, they do a little development based on the devices they find inside that new network in order to compromise more machines/data.