NOVA: Network Antireconnaissance with Defensive Honeypots

7 06 2012

Knowledge is power, especially when regards to computer and information security. From the standpoint of a hacker, knowledge about the victim’s network is essential and the first step in any sort of attack is reconnaissance. Every little piece of seemingly innocent information can be gathered and combined to form a profile of the victim’s network, and each bit of information can help discover vulnerabilities that can be exploited to get in. What operating systems are being used? What services are running? What are the IP and MAC addresses of the machines on a network? How many machines are on the network? What firewalls and routers are in place? What’s the overall network architecture? What are the uptime statistics for the machines?

Since network reconnaissance is the first step in attacking, it follows that antireconnaissance should be the first line of defense against attacks. What can be done to prevent information gathering?

The first step in making the difficult to gather information is simply to not release it. This is the realm of authentication and firewalls, where data is restricted to subsets of authorized users and groups. This doesn’t stop the gathering of information that, by it’s nature, must be to some extent publicly available for things to function. Imagine the real life analogy of a license plate. The license plate number of the car you drive is a mostly harmless piece of information, but hiding it isn’t an option. It’s a unique identifier for your car who’s entire point is to be displayed to world. But how harmless is it really? Your license plate could be used for tracking your location: imagine a camera at a parking garage that keeps logs of all the cars that go in and out. What if someone makes a copy of your license plate for their car and uses it to get free parking at places you have authorized parking? What if someone copies the plate and uses it while speeding through red light cameras or committing other crimes? What if someone created a massive online database of every license plate they’ve ever seen, along with where they saw it and the car and driver’s information?

Although a piece of information may seem harmless by itself, it can be combined to get a more in depth picture of things and potentially be a source of exploitation.  Like a license plate, there any many things on a network that are required to be publicly accessible in order for the network to function. Since you can’t just block access to this information with a firewall, what’s the next step in preventing and slowing down reconnaissance? This is where NOVA comes in.

Since hiding information on a LAN isn’t an option, Datasoft’s NOVA (Network Obfuscation and Virtualized Anti-reconnaissance) instead tries to slow down and detect attackers by making them go threw huge amounts of fake information in the form of virtual honeypots (created with honeyd). Imagine an nmap scan on a typical corporate network. You might discover that there are 50 computers on the network, all running Windows XP and living on a single subnet. All of your attacks could then target Windows XP services and vulnerabilities. You might find a router and a printer on the network too, and spend a lot of time manually poking at them attempting to find a weakness. With NOVA and Honeyd running on the network, the same nmap scan could see hundreds of computers on the network with multiple operating systems, dozens of services running, and multiple routers. The attacker could spend hours or even days attempting to get into the decoy machines. Meanwhile, all of the traffic to these machines is being logged and analyzed by machine learning algorithms to determine if it appears hostile (matches hostile training data of past network scans, intrusion attempts, etc).

At the moment NOVA is still a bit rough around the edges, but it’s an open source C++ Linux project in a usable state that could really use some more users and contributors (shameless plug). There’s currently a QT GUI and a web interface (nodejs server with cvv8 to bind C++ to Javascript) that should provide rudimentary control of it. Given the lack of user input we’ve gotten, there are bound to be things that make perfect sense to us but are confusing to a new user, so if you download it feel free to jump on our IRC channel #nova on irc.oftc.net or post some issues on the github repository.

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