November 02, 2009

Security Book Review: Chained Exploits

Chained Exploits: Advanced Hacking Attacks from Start to Finish
Author: A. Whitaker, K. Evans, J. B. Voth
Editorial: Addison-Wesley Professional
Publication date: March 9, 2009
ISBN-10: 032149881X
ISBN-13: 978-0321498816

Summary: A multi-scenario hacking adventure novel focused on combined real-world attacks.

Score: 5/5

The penetration testing (and criminal) field has focused during the last years on increasing the foothold on compromised systems, proving advanced pivoting and post-exploitation techniques that might help to expand the compromise to other systems or critical resources. This book is a novel that describes these reality by telling hacking stories where multiple
techniques, tools and vulnerable input vectors are exploited in order to accomplish a variety of clearly defined attacks and goals.

Each chapter is a well structured story describing multiple attack scenarios. From credit card theft, to insider threat, going through corporate espionage focused on stealing confidential intellectual property, the launch of a DoS attack in a key point in time, the risk and exploitation of inter-corporation network connections, physical access to healthcare records, up to social networking and wireless break-ins.

The book is a modern fictional narrative with technical touches, covering attacks from start-to-finish in elaborated stories (my score evaluates the book from this perspective). However, by reading the book description, you might expect a deeply technical book that will teach you how to perform those attacks, and... it is not.

Every attack story is introduced by setting the stage and the overall attacker approach. Besides that, it is surrounded by a few final defensive tidbits and conclusions, describing
countermeasures to mitigate the various attacks covered. This book may act as an excellent eye opener for managers and top level positions (see recommended audience below) in order to understand how small security investments and tweaks can definitely help to increase the overall protection of a target environment substantially.

Unfortunately, from a technical perspective, some of the technical details have not been thoroughly reviewed, such as the output of nmap (order of ports), the unexplained switching of target systems from Vista to XP, the targeting of RDP while not on the port scan (chapter 4) , or the coverage of some tools. Some attacks are a bit outdated, such as the silent winpcap installation to capture traffic from a target box. However, I must admit this book inspired some of the components of a recent "Prison Break" hacking challenge I released this summer (2009).

Specific portions of the book and, overall, the story plot, is well written from a novel perspective, and as
particular attacks are progressing, it made me feel the common excitement we get when we are involved in a real penetration test and successfully progressing through the targets, getting the adrenalin going.

This book is highly recommended for people entering in the security field, and for experienced technical security pros in two ways. On the one hand, it's an enjoyable and entertaining novel for a weekend or vacation period. On the other hand, it is a very good reference to give to managers and CxO positions so that they can get a feeling of how real-world attacks look like nowadays and the kind of targeted threats they may face.

UPDATE: Amazon review.

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