In this article, we look at how attackers obtain Stealth as well as the tricks used to negatively impact detection and forensic technologies. An example of this concept is a robber kicking in a door verses picking a lock when breaking into a house. Both methods will accomplish the same goal of gaining access to the property. The difference is that kicking in a door will be louder and leave a mess behind that will quickly attract attention, whereas picking a lock is slower but leaves little evidence and is much quieter, which is why it is the more common choice for a robbery.


Another example would be the robber picking the lock and setting off the alarm system every few days before actually attempting to enter the property. The idea is that the people monitoring the system will assume the attempt following multiple false alarms is another false alarm, thus giving the attacker access without concern for the alarm attracting attention to his or her actions. This ignoring the alarm behavior can be seen in some neighborhoods with car alarms that continually go off on their own.







A very simple definition of encryption is “to hide or encode something so the content is protected from unwanted parties.” The content could be network traffic, such as a virtual private network (VPN) between two systems encrypting traffic to prevent eavesdropping on a conversation.


Encryption could also mean rendering a file unreadable unless the user is able to decrypt the file. Although encryption might sound like something very positive, attackers can use it to hide data when leaving a victim’s network after successfully breaching it or to mask an attack from a security defense tool. For example, encrypting an attack would hide it from many signature-based detection technologies such as an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS).


Starting with protecting data in transit, the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) is a common method for providing security for network traffic. A VPN can exist between two or more locations; this is known as a site-to-site VPN. Its purpose is to connect two or more locations in a secure manner over an unsecure medium.


An example is an organization having two locations in different countries. A site-to-site VPN could be set up so that someone at location A could plug in his or her laptop and access resources at location B without any network changes. This means that communication between sites A and B travels over an encrypted tunnel. Any unwanted parties who attempt to capture and view the traffic would be unable to decipher it because they don’t have the ability to decrypt the traffic.


Secure Shell (SSH) encrypts traffic between a client and an SSH server. SSH was developed as a secure alternative to Telnet, because Telnet is vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks due to its lack of encryption. The most common use of SSH is protecting traffic between an administrator remotely accessing and administrating network device command-line terminals.


Attackers can use SSH to hide traffic, such as creating a reverse SSH tunnel from a breached system back to an external SSH server, hiding sensitive data as the traffic leaves the network.


Another encryption concept is hiding the actual data. There are many techniques for doing this, such as enterprise file encryption technologies that encrypt files and control access to opening them.


Many attackers abuse encryption concepts such as file and protocol encryption to hide malicious code. An example would be an attack happening from a web server over SSL encryption to hide the attack from network intrusion detection technologies. This works because a network intrusion detection tool uses signatures to identify a threat, which is useless if the traffic being evaluated is encrypted.







Resource exhaustion is a type of denial-of-service attack; however, it can also be used to evade detection by security defenses. A simple definition of resource exhaustion is “consuming the resources necessary to perform an action.” For example, a service can be a website, such as www.example.com.


The server hosting this website can only provide services to a certain number of systems using digital communication, meaning the server will fail if too many systems access a specific resource at the same time.


One denial-of-service attack tool that can exhaust the available resources of the server hosting such a website is called Slowloris, which can be found at http://chers.org/slowloris. This tool holds connections by sending partial HTTP requests to the website. The tool continues sending several hundred subsequent headers at regular intervals to keep sockets from closing, thus overwhelming the target’s resources. This causes the website to be caught up with existing requests, thus delaying responses to legitimate traffic.


When it comes to bypassing access-control security, resource exhaustion attacks can consume all processes to force a system to fail open, meaning to permit access to unauthorized systems and networks. This attack can be effective against access-control technologies that administrators typically configure to fail open if a service failure is detected.







Network technologies expect traffic to move in a certain way. This is known as the TCP/IP suite. Understanding how this works can help you identify when something is operating in an unusual manner.


Fragmenting traffic is a method of avoiding detection by breaking up a single Internet Protocol (IP) datagram into multiple, smaller-size packets. The goal is to abuse the fragmentation protocol within IP by creating a situation where the attacker’s intended traffic is ignored or let through as trusted traffic. The good news is that most modern intrusion detection systems (IDSs) and intrusion prevention systems (IPSs) are aware of this attack and can prevent it. Best practice is to verify that your version of IDS/IPS has traffic fragmentation detection capabilities.







A protocol is a set of rules or data structures that governs how computers or other network devices exchange information over a network. Protocols can be manipulated to confuse security devices from properly evaluating traffic since many devices and applications expect network communication to follow the industry-defined rules when a protocol is used.


The key is understanding how the protocol should work and attempting to see if the developer of the receiving system defined defenses such as limitations on what is accepted, a method to validate what is received, and so on. The second key piece is identifying what happens when a receiving system encounters something it doesn’t understand (meaning seeing the outcome of a failure).


A security device misinterpreting the end-to-end meaning of network protocols could cause traffic to be ignored, dropped, or delayed, all of which could be used to an attacker’s advantage.


Like with IP fragmentation attacks, the good news is that many security solutions are aware of this form of attack and have methods to validate and handle protocol manipulation. Best practice is to verify with your security solution providers whether their products are aware of protocol-level misinterpretation attacks.







Although cyber-attacks can vary in nature, one common step in the attack process, according to the “kill chain” concept first introduced by Lockheed Martin, is the idea of establishing a foothold in the target network and attempting to pivot to a more trusted area of the network.


Establishing a foothold means breaching the network through exploiting a vulnerability and creating access points into the compromised network. The challenge for the attacker is the level of access granted with the exploit. For example, breaching a guest system on a network would typically mean gaining access to a guest network that is granted very limited access to network resources.


An attacker would want to pivot from the guest network to another network with more access rights, such as the employee network. In regards to the kill chain, a pivot would be an action taken to start the sequence over once the attacker reached the “action” point.


As illustrated in the figure below, the attacker would first perform reconnaissance on other systems on the same network as the compromised system, weaponize an attack, and eventually move through the attack kill chain with the goal of gaining command and control abilities on other systems with greater network access rights.







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