When we talk about computer security, a lot of the focus is on the software and networks that we use – but never, ever, do we think about our hardware, or hardware that can be used for hacking. We take all these steps to ensure that the programs we use are safe, everything comes from a trusted source and that our data is always being stored properly, but what precautions do we really need to take to ensure our hardware is just as secure as our software?
Let’s start with the most basic: the keylogger. A very simple device that logs every single key stroke that a user makes on their keyboard and can either be software (usually installed unsuspectingly) or as hardware, which we’re going to talk about. Some more advanced keyloggers can also take screenshots to keep a record of what’s going on – a very handy feature should you want to steal someone’s password, username or even their credit card information. Occasionally, in the programming world, there’s a bit of competition. Because of this, it has been known for people to use keyloggers to steal code that someone else has written.
Hardware variants are usually no bigger than a USB drive. To make them work, all you need to do is simply plug the USB into the PC and then connect the keyboard to the USB slot that’s hosting the keylogger. This version of the keylogger can’t usually take screenshots – a slight advantage, I guess? But, they are considered to be rather stealthy due to their size and unassuming appearance – especially when you consider how messy and cluttered the back of an office PC can get! Certain, more technologically advanced, keyloggers come with the added feature of transmitting all the data that it logs wirelessly to a payload receiver, so you don’t need to put yourself at risk attempting to retrieve the data. Variants of this have also been manufactured for computer mice, as well as legacy PS/2 inputs, just in case your target is using a PC from 2005.
It doesn’t end with the keyboard and mouse though. The website keelog.com has a multitude of hardware loggers that can be attached to anything, from monitors to ethernet cables, in order to exfiltrate data. They also sell serial loggers that can take multiple inputs, have large memory and can wirelessly transmit the data to an access point or even over the internet to an email address. All the devices discussed can also be obtained as a raw circuit board to be fully integrated into either a keyboard or mouse for the ultimate adversarial attack.
Wireless networks – another interesting area to dabble in… By using the correct hardware it can be relatively straightforward to get someone’s mobile device to connect to a fake or rogue access point set up by virtually anyone. Once an unsuspecting individual has connected to said access point, the attacker is then in a position where they are practically able to sniff the data going to and from the device. This means they potentially have access to, and the ability to gain, both sensitive and personal information.
The most popular weapon of choice? The WiFi Pineapple. There are a few different versions available, but they’ve all been built for the same purpose – the only difference being different form factors for different applications. WiFi Pineapples are essentially wireless access points that can be tailored to fit the malicious need(s) of the user. The simplest example would be to set up a fake access point and bait users to connect to it, possibly by posing as the popular WiFi hotspot “_theCloud”. Upon connecting, the adversary in control of the Pineapple can now carry out a multitude of attacks in an attempt to exfiltrate from the unsuspecting victim.
If you know what to look out for, it should be quite easy to spot something like an additional USB-like device marrying your keyboard cable and the PC, or a bulky serial connector attached to the monitor cable. No matter what, remain vigilant. You never know who or what is out there, or what their next move may be!