QUANTUM-type packet injection attacks [From NSA to Homework]

QUANTUM-type packet injection attacks

From the homework assignment:

CSE508: Network Security (PhD Section), Spring 2015

Homework 4: Man-on-the-Side Attacks

Part 1:

The MotS injector you are going to develop, named ‘quantuminject’, will capture the traffic from a network interface in promiscuous mode, and attempt to inject spoofed responses to selected client requests towards TCP services, in a way similar to the Airpwn tool.

Part 2:

The MotS attack detector you are going to develop, named ‘quantumdetect’, will capture the traffic from a network interface in promiscuous mode, and detect MotS attack attempts. Detection will be based on identifying duplicate packets towards the same destination that contain different TCP payloads, i.e., the observation of the attacker’s spoofed response followed by the server’s actual response. You should make every effort to avoid false positives, e.g., due to TCP retransmissions.

See the homework details for further requirements and resources.

If you need a starting point for “Man-on-the-Side Attacks,” I saw Bruce Schneier recommend: Our Government Has Weaponized the Internet. Here’s How They Did It by Nicholas Weaver.

You may also want to read: Attacking Tor: how the NSA targets users’ online anonymity by Bruce Schneier, but with caveats.

For example, Bruce says:

To trick targets into visiting a FoxAcid server, the NSA relies on its secret partnerships with US telecoms companies. As part of the Turmoil system, the NSA places secret servers, codenamed Quantum, at key places on the internet backbone. This placement ensures that they can react faster than other websites can. By exploiting that speed difference, these servers can impersonate a visited website to the target before the legitimate website can respond, thereby tricking the target’s browser to visit a Foxacid server.

In the academic literature, these are called “man-in-the-middle” attacks, and have been known to the commercial and academic security communities. More specifically, they are examples of “man-on-the-side” attacks.

They are hard for any organization other than the NSA to reliably execute, because they require the attacker to have a privileged position on the internet backbone, and exploit a “race condition” between the NSA server and the legitimate website. This top-secret NSA diagram, made public last month, shows a Quantum server impersonating Google in this type of attack.

Have you heard the story of the mountain hiker who explained he was wearing sneakers instead of boots in case he and his companion were chased by a bear? The companion pointed out that no one can outrun a bear, to which the mountain hiker replied, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.

A man-in-the-middle attack can be made from a privileged place on the Internet backbone, but that’s not a requirement. The only requirement is that my “FoxAcid” server has to respond more quickly than the website a user is attempting to contact. That hardly requires a presence on the Internet backbone. I just need to out run the packets from the responding site.

Assume I want to initiate a man-on-the-side attack against a user or organization at a local university. All I need do is obtain access to the university connection to the Internet, on the university side of the connection and by definition I am going to be faster than any site remote to the university.

So I would disagree with Bruce’s statement:

They are hard for any organization other than the NSA to reliably execute, because they require the attacker to have a privileged position on the internet backbone, and exploit a “race condition” between the NSA server and the legitimate website.

Anyone can do man-on-the-side attacks, the only requirement is being faster than the responding computer.

The NSA wanted to screw everyone on the Internet, hence the need to be on the backbone. If you are less ambitious, you can make do with far less expensive and rare resources.

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