Beware of hackers targeting storage systems

Ameritrade security guru warns that NAS poses large target for cybercrooks

Corporate storage systems and networks are an attractive target for hackers looking to steal sensitive data or launch computer attacks, Alan Lustiger, security architect at TD Ameritrade, told an audience at Computerworld's Storage Networking World user conference in the US this week.

In particular, he warned IT executives that network-attached storage (NAS) systems are a most attractive entry point for hackers. "The easiest storage technology to hack is clearly NAS," Lustiger said. "NAS is virtually indistinguishable to a file system from a hacker perspective; this is a well-developed and well-known means of attack."

According to Lustiger, NAS carries the largest bulls-eye for hackers because of its reliance on well-known protocols. The clearly defined protocols can be easily studied to uncover weak spots, he said.

For example, a hacker could penetrate a NAS to discover and peek into file systems available for mounting, the process of adding a file system into an existing directory structure, he said.

The typical NAS system could also allow a hacker to use software clients to create spoof permissions to access data, Lustiger said. Such a compromise could allow a hacker to create bogus users with unique IDs, he added.

Hackers penetrating NAS systems can also build sniffing and password hashes; perform protocol downgrade attacks on Windows NT Lan Manager and LAN Manager authentication; and spy on clear text sent over Common Internet File System and Network File System protocols to "sniff" valuable data.

To help protect NAS and storage environments from prying eyes, Lustiger said IT storage personnel must regularly update server operating system security features to incorporate secure builds, patch processes and the latest malware definitions.

Unfortunately, he noted that storage administrators are often left out of IT security planning and implementation processes. "[Usually] the storage team doesn't have the same relationship with the security group as the network guys do," remarked Lustiger. "Very often, security is not involved with [storage] and that's the problem."

He said a common mistake made by storage administrators is to use nonsecurity storage devices as if they were security devices to help protect their storage infrastructure. As an example, Lustiger pointed out that Cisco System's virtual LAN technology is often mistakenly deployed in this manner.

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