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QA Cyber Security Technical Consultant, Graeme Batsman, explains why poor physical security often leads to easier hostile reconnaissance or social engineering.

We often bang on about cyber security and its importance (rightly so!), but we should not overlook the importance of physical security. Would-be attackers will always look for weaknesses in the company or the supply chain, and that may/will include weaknesses in building security. This month I learnt this first-hand while teaching a large group of under 18s. Story below…

One of the exercises was ProRat. It is not brown or black as you may imagine – it is a Windows remote access trojan. The delegates install it and they can remotely control another Windows 10 PC. It has tonnes of functions which work assuming anti-malware is off and the TCP port is open. You simply download and run it, and the ‘attacker’ enters the local IP of the ‘defender’ and you hit connect.

A delegate’s laptop was under the control of another and the ‘defender’ asked me how do you stop it? I said press control-alt-delete and terminate the process. Still after terminating the process the ‘defender’s’ mouse was still moving. I said turn on Windows Defender and do an update of signatures – still the mouse is moving. Now for the ‘big guns’, put in a Windows firewall rule to outright block the TCP port (5110) on the laptop. No luck.

This is getting embarrassing now for me – 100% what I advised should have worked. Come on, how can someone vastly younger than me defeat someone with 14.5 years of strong defensive skills? A mouse! Me and the ‘defender’ were trying to stop the ‘attacker’ using the trackpad, yet the ‘attacker’ had a mouse plugged in and was to the right of us. No anti-malware or firewalling would stop the mouse which was plugged in the USB port!

Poor physical security often leads to easier hostile reconnaissance or social engineering, or for its more fashionable term, ‘red teaming’. Three examples below:

One - USB and CD/DVD security
This area does cross physical and logic security but, whatever the definition, it is a favourite trick of ‘red teamers’. Pen testers will rock up to a reception with a sweat and say “I have a job interview in 15mins and my CV has coffee on it.” They present a USB with a ‘PDF’ on which prints and in the background a RAT is installed.

  1. Go old school and use PS/2 for keyboards and mice if new motherboards even have them! Then hardware block USBs in the BIOS and slice internal cables & put glue in the USB ports. A bit paranoid and reduced usability maybe.
  2. Use Microsoft Group Policy and some other software control to block them, and perhaps only allow known hardware encrypted ones. A Rubber Ducky may still work though.
  3. Put the desktop (laptops?) in a cage so ports are not accessible.
  4. My least favourite – tell users not to use USBs in any case. What could go wrong?

Two – Externally-facing windows
On countless occasions I have spotted examples like the two below in Whitehall or in The Square Mile. These are not SMEs but companies with tens of thousands of staff or large well-known government departments.

  1. Don’t put open plan offices on the ground floor with clear windows.
  2. If the above does not work put frosted glass or a plastic film to above head height.

Three - Access control
Over the last 14+ years I have been inside various FTSE 100 firms and central government departments, and rarely do I see good access control. Problems include: no turnstiles or mantraps, no two-factor authentication, and obvious branded ID cards.

  1. Keep your ID card unique but generic (i.e. don’t put a company logo on and don’t put on a real return address). Have the return address be a general PO BOX and insert a hard-to-copy inbuilt hologram.
  2. Use two-factor authentication. At minimum, a PIN along with the ID card.
  3. Don’t use gates that allow tailgating. Use a man trap and/or employ a guard to watch users swipe in.