An attack by Anonymous on security firm HBGary used a combination of software vulnerabilities and social engineering to pull off a highly sophisticated hack, it has emerged.
A SQL injection weakness in a third-party content management product used to post content on HBGary's website allowed a cadre of hackers from Anonymous to steal hashed versions of passwords used to update its website.
A brute force dictionary-based attack on these passwords allowed the miscreants to work out the login credentials used by HBGary Federal employees, including chief exec Aaron Barr and COO Ted Vera. Barr and Vera made the mistake of using the same passwords for their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.
Crucially the same password was also used to administer a corporate email account, a failing seized upon by Anonymous to extract a cache of corporate emails which were subsequently posted as a torrent, exposing confidential emails. The emails, in turn, revealed who had access to the rootkit.com research site maintained by HBGary, and the probable root access password of the machine hosting the site.
Using this information Anonymous was able to hoodwink an associate of HBGary into dropping firewall defences and allowing remote access to the site under the pretext that the message came from Barr, who was supposedly on the road at a security conference at the time. The credentials were handed over, allowing Anonymous to deface the website.
A detailed analysis of the hack by Ars Technica, based on interviews with members of Anonymous and other research, can be found here.
HBGary had intended to reveal its research into the senior members of Anonymous at the BSides San Francisco conference, which runs parallel to this week's RSA Conference. In the wake of the hack (and "numerous threats of violence") HBGary withdrew from the RSA show, replacing their booth with a forlorn sign recorded in a blog post by Sophos here.
The leaked emails detail a supposed business proposal by HBGary to assist Bank of America's law firm, Hunton & Williams, in a dirty tricks campaign aimed at discrediting WikiLeaks in the run-up to the expected publication of confidential bank documents. The leaked documents detail supposed plans to dig up dirt and apply pressure to key WikiLeaks supporters as well as proposals to submit false documents in a bid to discredit the whistle-blowing website.
HBGary said the leaked documents might have been altered prior to publication. "Given that Anonymous has had these emails for days I would be highly suspect [sic] of them," the president of HBGary Penny Leavy told the BBC. ®