Security Watch

Insecurity, in Black and White

Proper preventive measures can mitigate attacks on data storage.

Las Vegas — Two speakers at last week's Black Hat conference, Himanshu Dwivedi of @stake ( and Seth Fogie, vice president of Airscanner (, demonstrated how data storage, whether terabytes of dedicated corporate storage networks or a few megabytes on your personal Pocket PC, is at severe risk. And both were quick to emphasize that it's not that these devices can't be secured: It's just that, by default, they aren't.

Dwivedi performed a live attack against a data storage device. First, he demonstrated that the default shares on the device can be connected to anonymously. Then, after setting file system permissions on the device for Windows and Unix clients and showing that they prevented an unauthorized Windows or Unix user from accessing a file, he quickly gained access by using a Unix client on which he had root access to determine the user credentials of an authorized user, then assigned them to another. He was able to successfully obtain access to protected data because he was able to connect without credentials, a weakness of the default configuration of the storage device, and because of weaknesses in NFS, a network file system used by many Unix deployments. "There is mitigation," he noted. "Authentication can be required for connection to storage devices, and version 4 of NFS does not have these vulnerabilities."

Fogie demonstrated numerous attacks against a Pocket PC including attacks that performed hard reboots and wiped all data, to obtaining data access via wireless and wired network attacks. At the end of his presentation, he listed best practices that would have prevented these attacks from succeeding: data encryption, improved authentication packages, protected synchronization processes, and — along with frequent data backups — software that destroys all data on the PC either because of extended time between authorized logons or attacks against authentication mechanisms. Information on these types of products can be found in the online article "Protect your PDAs, PDQ" at

Although the attacks were interesting, you should focus on the facts. None of these attacks will be successful against your or anyone else's data storage devices or Pocket PCs if you implement appropriate security practices. The problem is, of course, that many of you, perhaps most of you, don't.

About the Author

Roberta Bragg, MCSE: Security, CISSP, Security+, and Microsoft MVP is a Redmond contributing editor and the owner of Have Computer Will Travel Inc., an independent firm specializing in information security and operating systems. She's series editor for Osborne/McGraw-Hill's Hardening series, books that instruct you on how to secure your networks before you are hacked, and author of the first book in the series, Hardening Windows Systems.


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