Powerful tool to scour document metadata updated

FOCA examines the metadata in documents, which reveals a wealth of information about networks and users

A Spanish company has released an upgraded version of a powerful software application that can be used to perform intelligence gathering on a company's Web site and network.

The application, called FOCA (Fingerprinting Organizations with Collected Archives), will download all documents that have been posted on a Web site and extract the metadata, or the information generated about the document itself. It often reveals who created the document, e-mail address, internal IP (Internet Protocol) addresses and much more.

It's possible to see the number of computers in an office, which ones are connected to printers and get a good idea for how a network is structured. FOCA is currently being used by government security agencies, penetration testers and even hackers, said Chema Alonso, a security researcher with Informatica64, a Spanish consultancy.

FOCA can also identify OS versions and application versions, making it possible to see if a particular computer or user has up-to-date patches. That information is of particular use to hackers, who could then do a spear phishing attack, where a specific user is targeted over e-mail with an attachment that contains malicious software.

The latest version of FOCA, release candidate 1, has new abilities to discover subdomains or other alternative domains within a company network. If FOCA discovers an internal domain name, FOCA will look for other servers that may be on the internal network, Alonso said.

"The idea is to dig and dig and dig in the metadata to obtain more information," he said.

FOCA has also been equipped to query Robtex, a Web site that offers services such as DNS (Domain Name System) lookups and IP information. FOCA will send an IP address to Robtex and then get a list of other servers on the network, Alonso said.

"That gives us more power to analyze the internal network," Alonso said.

Within the next couple months, Alonso said he expects to release another version of FOCA that will improve the application's ability to identify OSes based on the documents it analyzes. FOCA can do that somewhat now, but not for every kind of document on every kind of operating system.

FOCA is a free application but isn't open source. Alonso developed FOCA as part of his doctorate's degree work, and now Informatica64 manages the project.

The company sells a product called Metashield Protector, which clears the metadata from a document before it leaves the company network. Metashield Protector does this by modifying the document on the fly. The original metadata is preserved, though, on the company network, Alonso said.

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