Google Hacking – Making Use of the All Seeing Eye

You don’t need me to tell you, that the Google search engine is a vast and powerful tool. Or that, Tor aside, it pretty much holds the whole of the Internet in the palm of its hand. What you may not know, is that the Google behemoth might have more information about your websites than you do (or at least, more than you would like it to).

But the good news is, using a technique known as Google Hacking, it’s quite simple to leverage Google’s extensive resources to your advantage. Effectively turning the search giant into a quick, cheap and easy tool to detect vulnerabilities, and alert you to malicious activity on your websites.

Blue eye

I Spy With My Little Eye
Credit: Fabio

Google Hacking – What is it?

Don’t be put off by the flamboyant name; Google Hacking is actually just making clever use of Google’s built in Advanced Operators, to search for telltale signs of abuse, vulnerabilities, or just information you’d prefer wasn’t publicly accessible.

Is it Legal?

Against domains for which you are the administrator, or are otherwise appropriately authorised, Google Hacking is definitely legal (in the UK at least). Beyond that, we would strongly discourage you from trying these techniques out on other websites. If in doubt, always ere on the side of caution.

One thing to note at this point; making repeated searches using advanced operators can appear suspicious, and is likely to trigger Google’s own security alerts. While experimenting, expect to solve a captcha (to prove you’re not a bot) every now and then.

Three robots

Google may think you’re a robot, try not to take it personally!
Credit: Jeff

How can I use it?

Google operators are added as part (or even the entirety) of a search query, and use the following syntax:


Different operators can be combined, possibly along with a keyword search, to create a very specific overall search.

An important step to start with, is to narrow your search to a specific domain. This is achieved by using the ‘site:’ operator, for example: exam

Will do a search for the word ‘exam’, but only on pages in the domain.

Replace the word ‘exam’ with the name of a common, branded pharmaceutical product, for instance; and you have a convenient way of checking whether any of your sites have been hacked and defaced with references to the aforementioned drug. Often, these defacements are done in such a way that they only become obvious when the site is accessed with the Google user agent, meaning you could visit the site normally via a browser every day and never find the problem.

The ‘inurl’ operator, predictably, searches for a term within the URL. This can be especially useful for turning up pages you’d rather weren’t Internet-facing. Because if Google can find it, so can anyone who might just fancy trying to brute force an inadequate password, such as in the example below: inurl:phpmyadmin/index.php

Another way to make use of Google hacking is to search for old (and vulnerable) web platforms. For example, the following could turn up webservers running IIS 5.0, based on their error messages: intext:”404 Object Not Found” Microsoft-IIS/5.0

This post only covers a few examples of what can be achieved, but hopefully it will give you enough to get started and begin to see some results!

Pills on a keyboard

Is your website being used to peddle pills?
Credit: Mattza

What else can I search for?

Apart from experimenting with your own searches, the Google Hacking Database is an excellent resource. Many of the examples in this post come, in whole or in part, from this website. Google searches are recorded here under useful and faintly entertaining categories, such as ‘Files containing passwords’ and ‘Sensitive Online Shopping Info’.

Posted in General Security | 1 Comment

5 Million Google Accounts Leaked

Details are emerging of a very recent large-scale leak of Google’s account database, centring around their flagship email service Gmail. Google’s official word on the subject can be read here.

CC Wikimedia Commons

CC Wikimedia Commons

The credentials were posted to a Russian BitCoin mining forum earlier this week. It is understood that the list of compromised accounts has been in circulation since at least September 8th, the exact date of the compromise is thought to be around this time but not precisely known.

Current estimates indicate that around 5 million Gmail credentials are involved in the current leak, although what proportion of them are currently active is unclear; Google themselves are estimating only 2% of the leaked credentials are current credentials. What is clear is that at least some users of Gmail will need to look into changing their passwords as soon as possible, and there is currently no way of knowing which credentials are ‘live’ and which are not.

What can I do?

OxCERT currently advise all users of Google services, including Android Market Services and Chromecast devices, to review their passwords and to take this opportunity to update them. Regular password updates are always good practice, and this recent incident is sound motivation to apply a new and strong password to your Google accounts.

Users concerned about their Gmail security can visit a webpage run by Microsoft-employed security tester Troy Hunt, which (securely) checks your email address against this recent and many other data breaches against major service providers in recent years. The colourfully-titled ‘Have I Been Pwned?‘ can be accessed from this link or by clicking the image below. This service checks your email address against the list of compromised accounts, and can indicate if you are at greater risk. Users are advised that this list is not perfectly accurate.

Well, have you?

Well, have you?

A very important concern is that for the sake of convenience, many users like to use the same passwords for many different services, for example Facebook, Gmail, and University email.

If you have used your current Gmail password for you University SSO credentials also, OxCERT would strongly advise you to update your University credentials to a unique password as soon as possible.

"Good Morning Vietnam!" is a great password. "Grandma64" isn't.

“Good Morning Vietnam!” is a great password. “Grandma64″ isn’t.

Sharing passwords across accounts is generally ill-advised, and this incident highlights how easily a breach of a third party could potentially lead to a further compromise of your University email account and any other systems with which a user is entrusted access.

Further Reading

Posted in Current Threats, General Security, Google | Comments Off

Kyle and Stan Malicious Advertising Network

OxCERT have been made aware of malicious adverts, placed on legitimate websites, which redirect to a network of sites that download malware. The malware served is bundled with legitimate applications, it varies based on the user agent and is known to target both Windows and Mac machines accordingly.

The adverts are understood to have first appeared in early May 2014, and have been displayed on several popular websites including and

To help protect yourself, please remember:

  • Be cautious, even when visiting a site you trust
  • If a download begins unexpectedly, do not open the received file
  • Ensure anti-virus is installed and up to date*

* Please note, the “Kyle and Stan” network serves a subtly unique package of software every time, this interferes with anti-virus detection – proving that while anti-virus programs are important, they are by no means a panacea for all ills.

For further information please see Cisco’s excellent blog post:

Beware unexpected diversions credit: Daniel Lobo

Beware of unexpected diversions
credit: Daniel Lobo

Posted in Current Threats | Comments Off

Scam Calls Claiming to be from IT Services

OxCERT have been made aware of scammers, calling from international numbers, claiming to be from “IT Services at 146 Banbury Road”. These calls seem to be in a similar vein to the “Microsoft” scam calls described here:

Please note, the IT Services helpdesk does not make unsolicited phone calls. If you receive a call claiming to be from a representative of IT Services please exercise caution, especially if any of the following points apply:

  • You are not a member (or previous member) of the University
  • The call is unsolicited
  • The call comes from a number outside of the UK

If in doubt; we suggest asking the caller for a contact number, if they refuse to supply one, or give a non-Oxford (01865) number, it is highly likely to be a scammer.

If you are a member of the University of Oxford, and believe you may have fallen for this scam, please contact:

Further details will be added to this post as they become available.

A new twist on an old scam. credit: Frédéric BISSON

A new twist on an old scam
credit: Frédéric BISSON

Posted in Current Threats | Comments Off

New e-Mail Malware Campaign, “Order Number…”

OxCERT have received a large number of reports regarding a large-scale malware distribution campaign currently targeting University staff and users.

This campaign operates by email, with the distinctive subject line ‘Order Number 86514719983′; the number seems to be random and many users are reporting many different numbers:

If you receive a mail like this, DELETE IT!

If you receive a mail like this, DELETE IT!

These emails universally offer a malicious attached .zip file with a string of random numbers in the name; the zip file contains a .dat and a .bat file, which contain strains of malicious software that are currently undetectable to most Anti Virus products.

To reiterate:    most antivirus packages are currently ineffective against this malware.

The only defence is common sense; do not download attachments from emails with the subject line similar to ‘Order Number: 86514719983′ unless you have absolute faith that it is an expected and legitimate attachment. We are submitting samples to Sophos who will begin to update their signature database in due course, but the VirusTotal scores for this malware are still very poor:


Only a minority of AV packages detect this malware

Do not download these attachments, delete them from your machine if you already have.

Becoming infected by this malware depends on several factors:

  • You are running a Windows-based machine; Linux, Mac and others are unaffected
  • You have received and downloaded the .zip attachment
  • You have unpacked the .zip attachment, and executed the .bat file

If you have not run the files as described, you are likely not affected. If any users are concerned that they may indeed have run the compressed attachment, it is important to contact OxCERT immediately as your personal files and University credentials may be at risk. Please inform colleagues as appropriate.

UPDATE: The malware in question seems to be the well-known ransomware package CryptoLocker . This malware encodes all of the documents on the infected machine and then demands payment from the user in order to unlock the files again. If you see a screen such as the one below, your machine is infected with CryptoLocker. It is essential that you contact local IT Support.


I wouldn’t pay them a penny, either

UPDATE 2: A new variant of this campaign is being widely reported by University users, in which the .zip file is instead replaced by an .arj file containing the malicious .exe . It is important to note that very few cloud-based antivirus engines scan .arj files as they are quite obscure and deprecated compared to the popular formats .zip, .gz and .rar. This format is currently affecting the personal email accounts of certain staff, particularly Google users as Gmail does not scan .arj files either.


Stay safe out there.

Further Reading:

Posted in Current Threats, Email, General Security | Comments Off

Scam Emails Offering Legal Practice Course Funding

We’ve just been made aware of scam emails having been received by students at other Universities who have completed their law degree.  The scam falsely states that True Personal Injury Solicitors is a government body that can assist students by partially funding their LPC course.

No reports of the scam being received by Oxford students as of yet but law students should keep an eye out.  For more details see the Solicitors Regulation Authority Alert.

Posted in Current Threats | 1 Comment

2014 FIRST Conference: Friday

Imperial Ballroom, Boston Park Plaza

Imperial Ballroom, Boston Park Plaza

The final day of the conference began with a keynote from Bruce Schneier of Co3 Systems, generous sponsors of the banquet on Wednesday. This was entitled “The Roles of People and Technology in Incident Response”. He discussed the types of attacks seen today, the contribution of network effects (and of vendor lock-in) in the IT market – arguably less of a problem in the security market, especially when it comes to incident response tools, but it is hard to identify the best products and they are generally not the most successful. He went on to discuss how humans can be bad at dealing with risks, especially when it comes to investing in mitigation against things that might not happen. Nevertheless, there is a growing realisation that security incidents are not a matter of “if” but “when”, and management are more willing to invest when they are scared. During questions Bruce touched on the subject of encryption, stating that while one-click email encryption with PGP exists, it is one click too many for most users.
Sailing on the Charles River

Sailing on the Charles River

For the final talks I attended, Mikko Karikytö of Ericsson gave a high-level overview of an incident involving telecommunications fraud through one of their partners. This was followed by Jake Kouns and Carsten Eiram on “Evidence Based Risk Management and Incident Response”. While we may often be critical of the time it takes major software vendors to patch vulnerabilities, the situation can be far worse with manufacturers of SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems, who are relatively new to the security concepts long learned by the major IT companies. In one case a delay of 451 days was observed between the reporting of a vulnerability and patches being released.

Prudential Tower and Quest Eternal

Prudential Tower and Quest Eternal

The conference closed with a summary of some of the activities during the conference, thanks to all involved in making it a success, and not least the raffle for numerous vendor prizes. As is traditional, Masato Tereda presented the final results of his attempts to meet all conference attendees, and described this in the manner of a spreading malware infection, complete with CVSS scores and data in the STIX format for exchange of threat information.

As usual the conference has been a great success, and has included a number of enlightening talks on a huge range of topics, as well as the opportunity to meet with people from a wide range of countries, organisations and perspectives. For me some the most interesting presentations have been regarding the non-technical aspects of incident response, in particular effective collaboration between multiple teams, and the importance of regular incident response drills covering a range of scenarios, so that the organisation can respond more effectively when a major incident is for real.

Posted in FIRST Conference | Comments Off

2014 FIRST Conference: Thursday

Downtown Boston from the Arnold Arboretum

Downtown Boston from the Arnold Arboretum

Day four of the conference started with a keynote from Intel’s Malcolm Harkins, “Business Control Vs. Business Velocity – Practical Considerations for Business Survivability in the Information Age”. This looked at the relationship between security teams and the needs of their businesses as a whole, with a philosophy of “protect to enable”. If security measures are seen by users as obstructive, they will work around them and potentially increase the overall business risk.

Johan Berggren of Google then spoke about digital forensics, in particular a tool named GRR (Google Rapid Response) devised to enable system forensics to be run across their systems, regardless of operating system or physical location, without the need for additional physical resources. Olivier Thonnard of Symantec followed this with a talk on the evolution of targetted attacks over the past three years. These themes then continued with Junghoon Oh of Ahnlab looking at forensic analysis of lateral movement of a targetted attack in a Windows environment, using some of the methods discussed earlier in the week.

Paul Revere: effective communicator

Paul Revere: effective communicator

Peter O’Dell of Swan Island Networks spoke on the theme of “Cyber Security for Board of Directors and Senior Management”, looking at how to ensure that appropriate attention is given to cybersecurity risks at the top level within an organisation, with clear and effective communication of the risks, and realistic cost-effective proactive measures that can reduce them.

The final talk of the day looked at pBot botnets, something of an unusual family in that they take control of webservers as opposed the desktop and laptop systems targetted by most botnets. Vulnerabilities in popular content management systems such as WordPress and Joomla are exploited using remote file inclusion attacks to take control of the systems, with a command and control infrastructure based upon IRC but generally running on ports more usually associated with other protocols.

USS Constitution

USS Constitution

Presentations concluded early for the day in order to make way for the FIRST Annual General Meeting. This is always an important part of the conference and the need for all teams to be represented, either in person or by proxy, is repeatedly stressed. As well as elections for the steering committee, this year’s saw the approval of a major change to the structure of the organisation. Reports were presented on all major aspects of FIRST’s activities. Of particular interest to me was a comment by Seth Hanford on Cisco regarding the well-known Common Vulnerability Scoring System. Back in April, the Heartbleed bug struck, prompting Bruce Schneier to comment “On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.”. The current version of CVSS (version 2) scored Heartbleed a mere 5.0 (out of 10), which served both to highlight the need for an updated system, but also to demonstrate that a single numeric score cannot always summarise the full risk and impact of a particular vulnerability.

Posted in FIRST Conference | Comments Off

2014 FIRST Conference: Wednesday

Charles River and city skyline

Charles River and city skyline

The third full day of the conference began with a keynote presentation by Andy Ozment of the Department of Homeland Security, entitled “The Role of DHS in Securing our Nation’s Cyberspace”, exploring the business of protecting US government, businesses and critical national infrastructure, and the challenges of outreach at board level – a question raised far too frequently is “why would anyone want to hack us?”.

Next for me was a talk on open-source security issues, followed by one on identification of the “root” cause of reported incidents. The aim of this project is to produce a simple taxonomy through which, with the aid of a flowchart, the underlying cause of a security incident can quickly be identified as belonging to a number of basic categories, including zero-day exploits and socially-engineered vulnerabilities. We already use a system of standard incident categories which are based on the consequences of incidents; such a taxonomy should help us to record at a basic level the cause of each incident too, although inevitably a substantial number are likely to be of unknown cause.

Faneuil Hall

Faneuil Hall

After lunch was a talk by Paul Vixie on the Operations Security Trust project, which aims to create a thriving community of trusted security colleagues through which sensitive and confidential information can be shared, without fear that the information may be used irresponsibly. I followed this with a talk by Pascal Arends of Fox-IT with the title “Investigator of Interest – Our Philosophy of Adaptive Incident Response to Turn
the Tables During an Investigation”. This considered how to respond effectively to a major intrusion while unsure as to the extent of the intrusion or to which the attackers are watching your response. Some tactics give far less away than others. For example, running tools such as tcpdump on a compromised server may be readily visible to the attackers; taking a copy of the traffic through a network tap is less noticeable but will require a temporary disconnection of the link; enabling a SPAN port on a switch will likely go unnoticed.

The penultimate talk of the day was one by Robert Pitcher from the Canadian Government regarding security exercises, and how to ensure that all those likely to be involved in response to a real-life incident can become familiar with their role through table-top exercises and incident simulations. This proved a most illuminating talk; it is evident that the University’s response to major incidents has at times been less than perfect and there is definite value in being better prepared so that when such incidents do strike, we can respond more quickly and effectively.

The concluding talk covered a malware analysis framework named Dorothy2. Malware analysis is a topic of particular interest to us, and while this may not be our chosen path as we develop our capabilities, it is interesting to hear about the alternatives available.

Not quite the Boston Symphony Orchestra...

Not quite the Boston Symphony Orchestra…

Traditionally, the Wednesday evening of the FIRST conference is the conference banquet, and previous years are hard acts to follow, not least after the elephants last year. This year’s chosen venue was the seemingly more sedate Boston Symphony Hall, from the hotel a gentle walk through the Back Bay area of the city. The dinner itself took place in the main auditorium, and while it was only natural that there be a musical theme to the after-dinner entertainment, few of us quite knew what to expect. We were treated to a performance by local band Decades by Dezyne, featuring a variety of popular soul and R&B numbers, several costume changes and one or two surprise “guest appearances” including James Brown. In all a most enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

Posted in FIRST Conference | Comments Off

2014 FIRST Conference: Tuesday

Massachusetts State House

Massachusetts State House

Day two of the conference began with a keynote from Gene Spafford, professor of computer science at Purdue University. Gene was a keynote speaker on FIRST’s previous visit to Boston for the 1994 conference, and compared the situation today with that of twenty years ago. Incident response teams are less the equivalent of the fire brigade and more that of janitors, always clearing up other people’s mess. He sees the security incident as applying layer upon layer of defences trying to address critical deficiencies in computer systems and in the previous layers of defences, with systems ultimately collapsing under the sheer weight of patches; there is too little incentive for software authors to produce secure systems in the first place.

I followed the keynote with a couple of technical talks, the first by Tim Slaybaugh of Northrop Grumman entitled “Pass-the-Hash: Gaining Root Access to Your Network”. This described means of obtaining and replaying password hashes on Windows systems, avoiding the need to crack the hashes in the first place, and how to detect where such tools have been used. The following talk, by Tomasz Bukowski of CERT Polska, looked at sinkholing domains as a means of subverting malware command and control channels, and identifying infected systems and examining their behaviour. OxCERT make frequent use of a basic form of sinkholing, as well as making use of data provided by other organisations maintaining sinkholes, but we could take the process significantly further.

Swan Boat, Public Garden

Swan Boat, Public Garden

After lunch, Mitsuaki Akiyama of NTT-CERT discussed “honeytokens”, taking the concept of “honeypot” systems further to use decoy credentials, database entries and documents to track malicious behaviour and to explore the links between attackers. This was followed by Peter Kruse talking on the Tinba banking trojan, its means of propagation and the intelligence that can be gained on the command and control infrastructure and on those behind it. While Tinba was new to me, we encounter similar malware on almost a daily basis. Finally, a group funded by the US Department of Energy discussed the challenges of data-sharing and the conversion of data between the many different formats in use by different teams.
"Make way for ducklings", Public Garden

“Make way for ducklings”, Public Garden

The final talks of the day were a sequence of “lightning” talks, run to a strict five-minute time-limit, offering a brief insight into a wide range of of topics, including the activities of several teams around the globe, the challenges of scaling vulnerability identifiers to cope with more than 10,000 vulnerabilities per year, and FIRST regular Masato Terada on his annual project to meet as many conference attendees as possible. This was followed with a vendor showcase reception, offering the opportunity to socialise and to speak to a wide range of security vendors, both familiar and new to us, about the wide range of products and services on offer.

Posted in FIRST Conference | Comments Off