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Mon, 30 Dec 2013

Goodbye to 2013, hello to 2014

With 2013 coming to a close, I thought it pertinent to look back at the year we've had and also forward to what's promising to be an incredibly exciting 2014 for us.

2013 for SensePost, was a year of transition. With a new leadership structure in myself, Shane and Dominic, we had a chance to stamp our style and vision and also learn from Charl and Jaco. One of the first leadership choices was to expand our reach and open our first office in London, aptly in a borough called Hackney. Here, we grew our family and welcomed some amazing people into the plak. After a few short months, we had outgrown the office and needed to look for bigger premises, this time in another aptly named area: Whitechapel (think Jack the Ripper).

Back in South Africa, after moving to bigger premises down the road, we finally got a chance to make it feel like home. These two new offices have allowed us to continue to grow at a steady pace, whilst still keeping the SensePost vision and vibe alive.

On a technical level, as this is what we are really about, we've had an amazing year. As part of this new vision, we made some key appointments:

Craig Swan, who originally was part of the assessments team and left, returned home to assume the role of Training Manager. On a training front, we've had one of the busiest years to date. From Blackhat in Las Vegas, Brasil and Seattle, to 44Con in London, for our friends in the US and our courses held in Southern Africa, we've trained hundreds of students in the art of offensive security. We've also created two new courses for the Hacking by Numbers series, one concentrating on mobile assessments and the other on malware reverse engineering. However, we are not resting on our laurels and with Craig on-board, 2014 is looking like being an amazing year for education at SensePost.

Victor Tadden, an experienced technical Project Manager, joined the assessment team to help us be more efficient with our delivery of projects. He brings with him a wealth of software dev experience and has already made a significant impact in the way we work, especially managing to wrangle pen testers together daily for scrum meetings, a feat many will tell you is akin to herding cats.

Tiago Rosado joined us from Portugal to head up our Managed Vulnerability Service, a key service line that many of our clients rely on for a more holistic view of their security posture. Our MVS service line is being revamped for 2014 and Tiago will help us achieve this.

Marc Peiser became our IT Manager and with him, brought a wealth of UNIX experience, having worked for a massive global bank. Marc's aim for 2014 is to ensure that our internal networks are not only robust but also allow us to do what we do. Surprisingly enough, we are frequently attacked and having defense in depth approach to IT is as important to us as it is to our clients.

Internally, we've welcomed some new family members, said goodbye to some.We value those who choose to work here very highly, we want work to be a creative environment where people can have fun, grow and most importantly enjoy coming to work. Nothing makes me more proud than seeing a plakker accepting new challenges, often defining the way the security industry works, or helping others with their security needs. As the penetration industry matures, one of my main goals for 2014 is to ensure that our proven hacker ethos remains.

2013 saw us presenting at conferences throughout the year and for the first time in our history, in a total of eight different countries over five continents. Our research included vulnerabilities in the Internet of things, distributed surveillance frameworks, security analysis of the Trustzone OS and Mobicore and finally using Spatial Statistics to detect Fast-Flux botnet Command and Control (C2) domains.

Technical prowess is still at the very heart of what we do at SensePost. We love to pwn and 2014 will see us continuing to write new tools, approach old problems with a new way of thinking and just being, well, us.

In November, after months of negotiations, came the news that we were to be acquired by SecureData Europe. This new chapter for us will usher in a new era of growth and development for us at SensePost and we are truly excited to be part of the SecureData Europe family.

Overall it was a fantastic year, especially for us, the new EXCO. I am extremely proud to stand alongside some incredibly talented people and call them colleagues and look forward to 2014 and what it brings.

From everyone at SensePost, we wish you a Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.

Fri, 6 Sep 2013

Offence oriented defence

We recently gave a talk at the ITWeb Security Summit entitled "Offense Oriented Defence". The talk was targeted at defenders and auditors, rather then hackers (the con is oriented that way), although it's odd that I feel the need to apologise for that ;)

The talks primary point, was that by understanding how attackers attack, more innovative defences can be imagined. The corollary was that common defences, in the form of "best practise" introduce commonality that is more easily exploited, or at least degrade over time as attackers adapt. Finally, many of these "security basics" are honestly hard, and we can't place the reliance on them we'd hoped. But our approach doesn't seem to want to acknowledge the problem, and much like an AA meeting, it's time we recognise the problem.

If you had to look at the average security strategy or budget items, you often end up with a list containing a couple of these:

  • Compliance/GRC - building policies, auditing against them, responding to audits

  • Risk Management - enumerating and ranking all the info sec risks, prioritising them, and justifying spend to mitigate

  • Best Practises - strengthening passwords, pushing patches, configuration management, etc.

  • Technology - cue buzzwords - UTM, WAF, DLP, DAM, SIEM, IPS, AV

  • Staff - everyone needed to get the above stuff done: compliance specialists, risk specialist, security managers, device ops managers

But, the truth is many of these items don't actually block attacks, or the few that do, don't really counter the common bypassed used to side-step them. For example:

  • It's really hard to link risk-based priorities to meaningful technical priorities.

  • Compliance drives a "teach the test" approach with little incentive to create contradictory measurements.

  • Then how can we have a bunch of things called "best practise" when we can't honestly say we know how to defend. Even then, some BPs are practically impossible to achieve in anything but a point in time. And the main point of this talk; common practises have common bypasses.

The current place we seem to be in is akin to having everyone build a wall. Attackers get to evaluate the wall, figure out how to get over it, and add to their capability (i.e. get a longer rope). But once they have a longer rope, they can use it over and over again, and against more than one wall. So attackers, who are quite good at sharing, get to keep building their tool chain, while all defenders can do it to keep building a higher wall, and maintaining the increasingly untenable structure. By understanding how attackers attack, we can break out of this and try more innovative approaches.

The talk is illustrated with four broad examples: Passwords, Patches, Anti-Virus and DMZs. For each, the belief around specific configurations is discussed, and how those don't stand up to how attackers actually attack. For example, the way AV's believed to work doesn't seem to correspond with how easy they are to bypass, or the common configuration of standard password controls such as lockout, don't seem to take into account horizontal brute-force attacks.

The point I want to make here is somewhat subtle; if you walk away thinking I've described new attacks, then you've missed it, if you think I'm recommending "the basics" then you've missed it. Truthfully, maybe it's just that I didn't make it very well ... decide for yourself, here are the slides:

Thu, 5 Sep 2013

44CON 2013

In one week, it's 44CON time again! One of our favourite UK hacker cons. In keeping with our desire to make more hackers, we're giving several sets of training courses as well as a talk this year.

Training: Hacking by Numbers - Mobile Edition

If you're in a rush, you can book here.

We launched it at Blackhat USA, and nobody threw anything rotting, in-fact some said it went pretty well; our latest addition to the Hacking by Numbers training.

We created the course to share our experience testing mobile applications and platforms, and well, because lots of people asked us to. The course shows you how to test mobile platforms and installed applications for vulnerabilities. HBN Mobile provides a pretty complete and practical overview into the methods used when attacking mobile platforms and presents you with a methodology that can be applied across platforms (although we focus on iOS and Android). This course is mostly for existing penetration testers who are new to the mobile area looking to learn how to understand, analyse and audit applications on various mobile platforms.

For more information about the course, and to book a place, head over here.

Workshop: Malware Reverse Engineering

If we were marketing to hipsters, we'd use words like “bespoke” and “handcrafted” to describe this workshop. While it's not made out of yams, it was put together especially for 44con.

Inaki and Siavosh's workshop will cut through the black-magic often associated with reverse engineering and malware. Advanced attacks usually have some form of malware involved, and learning to pull these apart to understand the kill chain is an increasingly vital skill.

Using real malware used in attacks against large corporates, students will look at both behavioural analysis and code analysis, to determine what the malware does.

If you're keen to attend, speak to the 44con crew at the front desk on arrival.

Talk: 'Honey, I'm Home' - Hacking Zwave Home Automation Systems

Behrang and Sahand will be presenting the results of their research into smart homes on day two at 09:30am.

“Smart homes” employing a variety of home automation systems are becoming increasingly common. Heating, ventilation, security and entertainment systems are centrally controlled with a mixture of wired and wireless networking. In 2011 the UK market for home automation products was estimated at GBP 65 million, an increase of 12% on the previous year, with the US market exceeding $3 billion. Zigbee and Z-Wave wireless protocols underpin most home automation systems. Z-Wave is growing in popularity as it does not conflict with existing 2.4GHz WiFi and Bluetooth systems.

Their talk describes the Z-Wave protocol and a number of weaknesses, including how to build a low-cost attack kit to perform packet capture and injection, along with potential attacks on the AES crypto implementation. Bottom line: they can walk up to a house, disable security sensors, then open the front door. LIKE A BOSS

Mon, 19 Aug 2013

BlackHat Conference: Z-Wave Security

We are publishing the research paper and tool for our BlackHat 2013 USA talk on the Z-Wave proprietary wireless protocol security. The paper introduces our Z-Wave packet interception and injection toolkit (Z-Force) that was used to analyze the security layer of Z-Wave protocol stack and discover the implementation details of the frame encryption, data origin authentication and key establishment process. We developed the Z-Force module to perform security tests against the implementation of the Z-Wave security layer in encrypted home automation devices such as a door locks. The paper describes the details of a critical vulnerability discovered in a Z-Wave door lock that could enable an attacker to remotely take full control of the target device without knowledge of the network encryption key. The Z-Force download archive contains the GUI program and two radio firmware files for the receiver and transmitter TI CC1110 boards.
This research will also be presented at 44Con 2013 in London next month, followed by the release of Z-Force source code and US frequency support (908.4 MHz) in the firmware.

Link to conference page and paper:
Link to Z-Force project and download page:

Sat, 1 Jun 2013

Honey, I’m home!! - Hacking Z-Wave & other Black Hat news

You've probably never thought of this, but the home automation market in the US was worth approximately $3.2 billion in 2010 and is expected to exceed $5.5 billion in 2016.

Under the hood, the Zigbee and Z-wave wireless communication protocols are the most common used RF technology in home automation systems. Zigbee is based on an open specification (IEEE 802.15.4) and has been the subject of several academic and practical security researches. Z-wave is a proprietary wireless protocol that works in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical radio band (ISM). It transmits on the 868.42 MHz (Europe) and 908.42MHz (United States) frequencies designed for low-bandwidth data communications in embedded devices such as security sensors, alarms and home automation control panels.

Unlike Zigbee, almost no public security research has been done on the Z-Wave protocol except once during a DefCon 2011 talk when the presenter pointed to the possibility of capturing the AES key exchange ... until now. Our Black Hat USA 2013 talk explores the question of Z-Wave protocol security and show how the Z-Wave protocol can be subjected to attacks.

The talk is being presented by Behrang Fouladi a Principal Security Researcher at SensePost, with some help on the hardware side from our friend Sahand Ghanoun. Behrang is one of our most senior and most respected analysts. He loves poetry, movies with Owen Wilson, snowboarding and long walks on the beach. Wait - no - that's me. Behrang's the guy who lives in London and has a Masters from Royal Holloway. He's also the guy who figured how to clone the SecureID software token.

Amazingly, this is the 11th time we've presented at Black Hat Las Vegas. We try and keep track of our talks and papers at conferences on our research services site, but for your reading convenience, here's a summary of our Black Hat talks over the last decade:

2002: Setiri : Advances in trojan technology (Roelof Temmingh)

Setiri was the first publicized trojan to implement the concept of using a web browser to communicate with its controller and caused a stir when we presented it in 2002. We were also very pleased when it got referenced by in a 2004 book by Ed Skoudis.

2003: Putting the tea back into cyber terrorism (Charl van der Walt, Roelof Temmingh and Haroon Meer)

A paper about targeted, effective, automated attacks that could be used in countrywide cyber terrorism. A worm that targets internal networks was also discussed as an example of such an attack. In some ways, the thinking in this talk eventually lead to the creation of Maltego.

2004: When the tables turn (Charl van der Walt, Roelof Temmingh and Haroon Meer)

This paper presented some of the earliest ideas on offensive strike-back as a network defence methodology, which later found their way into Neil Wyler's 2005 book "Aggressive Network Self-Defence".

2005: Assessment automation (Roelof Temmingh)

Our thinking around pentest automation, and in particular footprinting and link analyses was further expanded upon. Here we also released the first version of our automated footprinting tool - "Bidiblah".

2006: A tail of two proxies (Roelof Temmingh and Haroon Meer)

In this talk we literally did introduce two proxy tools. The first was "Suru', our HTTP MITM proxy and a then-contender to the @stake Web Proxy. Although Suru has long since been bypassed by excellent tools like "Burp Proxy" it introduced a number of exciting new concepts, including trivial fuzzing, token correlation and background directory brute-forcing. Further improvements included timing analysis and indexable directory checks. These were not available in other commercial proxies at the time, hence our need to write our own.

Another pioneering MITM proxy - WebScarab from OWASP - also shifted thinking at the time. It was originally written by Rogan Dawes, our very own pentest team leader.

The second proxy we introduced operated at the TCP layer, leveraging off the very excellent Scappy packet manipulation program. We never took that any further, however.

2007: It's all about timing (Haroon Meer and Marco Slaviero)

This was one of my favourite SensePost talks. It kicked off a series of research projects concentrating on timing-based inference attacks against all kinds of technologies and introduced a weaponized timing-based data exfiltration attack in the form of our Squeeza SQL Injection exploitation tool (you probably have to be South African to get the joke). This was also the first talk in which we Invented Our Own Acronym.

2008: Pushing a camel through the eye of a needle (Haroon Meer, Marco Slaviero & Glenn Wilkinson)

In this talk we expanded on our ideas of using timing as a vector for data extraction in so-called 'hostile' environments. We also introduced our 'reDuh' TCP-over-HTTP tunnelling tool. reDuh is a tool that can be used to create a TCP circuit through validly formed HTTP requests. Essentially this means that if we can upload a JSP/PHP/ASP page onto a compromised server, we can connect to hosts behind that server trivially. We also demonstrated how reDuh could be implemented under OLE right inside a compromised SQL 2005 server, even without 'sa' privileges.

2009: Clobbering the cloud (Haroon Meer, Marco Slaviero and Nicholas Arvanitis)

Yup, we did cloud before cloud was cool. This was a presentation about security in the cloud. Cloud security issues such as privacy, monoculture and vendor lock-in are discussed. The cloud offerings from Amazon, Salesforce and Apple as well as their security were examined. We got an email from Steve "Woz" Wozniak, we quoted Dan Geer and we had a photo of Dino Daizovi. We built an HTTP brute-forcer on and (best of all) we hacked Apple using an iPhone.

2010: Cache on delivery (Marco Slaviero)

This was a presentation about mining information from memcached. We introduced go-derper.rb, a tool we developed for hacking memcached servers and gave a few examples, including a sexy hack of It seemed like people weren't getting our point at first, but later the penny dropped and we've to-date had almost 50,000 hits on the presentation on Slideshare.

2011: Sour pickles (Marco Slaviero)

Python's Pickle module provides a known capability for running arbitrary Python functions and, by extension, permitting remote code execution; however there is no public Pickle exploitation guide and published exploits are simple examples only. In this paper we described the Pickle environment, outline hurdles facing a shellcoder and provide guidelines for writing Pickle shellcode. A brief survey of public Python code was undertaken to establish the prevalence of the vulnerability, and a shellcode generator and Pickle mangler were written. Output from the paper included helpful guidelines and templates for shellcode writing, tools for Pickle hacking and a shellcode library.We also wrote a very fancy paper about it all...

We never presented at Black Hat USA in 2012, although we did do some very cool work in that year.

For this year's show we'll back on the podium with Behrang's talk, as well an entire suite of excellent training courses. To meet the likes of Behrang and the rest of our team please consider one of our courses. We need all the support we can get and we're pretty convinced you won't be disappointed.

See you in Vegas!