‘Dorks’ Help Automate Hacking

Thursday, August 18, 2011 @ 03:08 PM gHale

Google is a very nice search engine – even for hackers.

That is because hackers, with a modicum of web smarts, can not only can find a vulnerability over a period of time, they are also learning to automate the search in an effort to speed up the process.

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Attackers are now using botnets and Google “dorks” — clearly defined search parameters — to speed the process of finding exploitable flaws on the Internet, according to a new report by researchers at Imperva.

“What the hackers are doing is building an army of zombies to perform automated cyber-reconnaissance,” said Noa Bar Yosef, senior security strategist at Imperva. “This makes the Google search much more efficient, and it also makes it harder to detect, because each zombie only issues two to four queries per minute, which is not enough to raise a red flag.”

“Search engines can be directed to return results that are focused on specific potential targets by using a specific set of query operators,” the Imperva report said. “For example, the attacker may focus on all potential victims in a specified geographic location. In this case, the query includes a ‘location’ search operator.

“In another scenario, an attacker may want to target all vulnerabilities in a specific website, and achieves this by issuing different queries containing the ‘site’ search operator,” the report continues. “These particular search queries are commonly referred to as ‘Google dorks,’ or simply ‘dorks.’

“Automating the query and result parsing enables the attacker to issue a large number of queries, examine all the returned results, and get a filtered list of potentially exploitable sites in a very short time and with minimal effort.”

In some cases, the Dork might focus on a particular application known to be vulnerable, Bar Yosef said.

“One thing we need to do is to call upon Google and the other search engines to help,” Bar Yosef said. “The search engines may be able to detect this type of activity on their sites and blacklist those who are doing it, or they may be able to tell users when their computers have been compromised, as they have done already in some cases.”

In the near term, however, it’s likely the botnet-based search methods will continue to evolve and proliferate. “Attackers are using botnets now to abuse search engines, just as they used them to distribute spam,” Bar Yosef said. “What that says is that hackers could go after smaller companies as well as larger enterprises. Everyone could be a target.”

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