Banking on Security

Banking on Security
Banking on Security 

By Steve Stasiukonis 
NOVEMBER 29, 2006

We were recently hired by a regional bank to assess its security. When 
negotiating the services agreement with the bank president we agreed to 
perform the standard network security penetration testing, but he 
insisted we also test the security awareness of the bank staff.

What he really wanted to discover was whether employees have become 
complacent in verifying credentials of the customers, but more 
importantly checking out the people who service the bank's needs. The 
bank had recently outsourced its IT functions, and although they were 
promised a dedicated technician by the outsourcing firm, the revolving 
door of technicians coming and going had become the standard.

After signing some legal boilerplate and "get out of jail free" 
paperwork, here's what we agreed to: Pose as a vendor, enter the 
facility, plug into the network, sniff traffic, look for login and 
passwords, then try to become domain administrator of the network.

Our first step was to select a vendor to impersonate. To keep the 
suspicion level down, it needed to be someone who'd use a computer or 
laptop once inside. To find out more, I sent a colleague into the bank 
to inquire about a checking account. While in the bank she took notice 
of the various pieces of office equipment, specifically the printers, 
faxes, and copiers. While discussing the possibilities of becoming a 
customer, our spy also inquired about the manager of the bank and the 
availability of that person in the event a question or problem arose. 
Days, times, and even a cellphone number was provided to our insider.

After reviewing the list of office equipment she retrieved, we decided 
the best person to enter the facility was a copier technician. The bank 
used digital multifunction devices so each copier worked as a local 
printer on the network. From there we looked into our cache of vendor 
clothing. We were fortunate to have a brand new denim shirt embroidered 
with the copier company logo. Being close to Halloween we thought it 
would be entertaining to throw on a fake beard or mustache but scrapped 
the idea when saw how bad it really looked. We then put together an 
assortment of tools and credentials.

Our office at Secure Network Technologies utilizes a proximity card 
access system, which also serves as an employee identification badge. 
Conveniently, we have the machine that prints these things. After a few 
minutes in the device's editing program, we used a digital photo to 
create an identification card that looked official enough to be from the 
copier company.

Using our past experience with copier folks, we put together a giant 
silver briefcase on wheels, a mini-vacuum cleaner, and a few reams of 
paper. Inside the briefcase was our laptop, loaded with all the software 
tools needed to poke and probe their network.

On the day we planned to go in, I called the bank and indicated I was 
new to the copier company and wanted to get familiar with the machine to 
properly service the equipment. I indicated we could perform a 
preventive maintenance call at no charge to insure the quality of the 
prints and copies. The person at the bank agreed and thought it was a 
good idea. I requested her name in the event we needed to validate who 
we spoke to when we attempted to go in. Later that afternoon I stopped 
in at the bank with my new denim work shirt and a rolling briefcase full 
of gear in tow.

I entered the bank lobby and was immediately greeted by a woman in a 
small glass-paneled workspace. I mentioned we called earlier, dropped 
the contact's name, and indicated I was here to service the 
copier/printer. Without hesitation I was escorted to the machine and 
left unattended. To make it appear as if I were working on the device, I 
opened every panel on the machine, pulled all the trays out, and placed 
my laptop on the glass surface of the copier/printer.

I was approached by a few people who needed to make copies, I apologized 
for the inconvenience and said the machine might be down for 30-40 
minutes. I then disconnected the network cable from the copier/printer 
and attached my laptop. As soon as my laptop booted up, DHCP provided a 
network address and I was on the internal network. I started a few of 
our utilities and started sniffing the traffic on the network.

Within seconds I had a variety of logins and passwords, access to 
numerous shared folders, data, and administrative accounts. We usually 
single out a few of the key employees that might be considered 
important, i.e. bank president, vice president, and operations manager, 
and make a note of their logins and passwords. When I determined I had 
enough data I decided to snap a few digital images to throw into the 
report. I took a six or seven pictures, even utilized the flash with 
nobody questioning or asking why I was doing this.

In the event they asked, I figured I'd tell them we do this to document 
the cleanliness of the machine after we service it, primarily of 
complaints about the machine being covered and smudged in black toner.

Before departing scenes like these, we try to document the effort and 
provide proof of our success. I usually leave something behind and then 
contact the person who hired me and direct them to the mark. In this 
case I wrote his password on a ream of paper and tucked it under the 

When I returned to my office I immediately called my contact and 
explained what we did and that we were successful. After retrieving the 
ream of paper with his password, I could hear the concern in his voice 
since our job confirmed his worst fears. I explained to him this type of 
problem can be fixed by sharing the results with his employees, and that 
no one person should be targeted as a single point of failure.

Our effort required us to talk and interact with several people. At no 
time did anybody question who we are or call the vendor to confirm our 

Over the years and after doing several security assessments using social 
engineering techniques, nine times out of 10 we usually get caught when 
that one person says "I need to call someone about what you're doing." 
That call to confirm, usually raises enough suspicion to stop us from 
proceeding. And after that person realizes what they did, word travels 
real fast throughout the organization that they caught the "bad guy."

Combine catching the bad guy and letting an organization know this type 
of theft and criminal behavior really exists, and you get one of the 
best tools in educating employees about vigilance and how to be 
proactive in security.

* Steve Stasiukonis is VP and founder of Secure Network Technologies 
  Inc. Special to Dark Reading

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