Last week I wrote an article explaining virtual machines and containers, and the pros and cons of the two. Today I want to focus specifically on containers and container security. Because containers share resources with the host and other containers on the host, they offer security risks that are not seen with virtual machines.

Application containers run on the same kernel as their host, meaning if the kernel is accessed through the container, it will affect every other container on the host, as well as the host itself. Virtual machines do not have this problem, since every individual VM, as well as their hypervisor, all have distinct kernels from the host and each other. 

Containers Docker, the most commonly used container engine, does not have users be namespaced by default, meaning a process will act the same way inside a container as its host. The problem is that a user with, for example, root privileges in a container will have those same privileges on the host, meaning a harmful process may potentially be injected into a container, and then escape into the host to compromise the machine.

Containers do offer a security benefit that is not seen on VMs, which is that they usually have a smaller vulnerability surface. What I mean by that is this: when you’re running a VM, you’re essentially working on a completely different machine with potentially a different operating system and library/binary files. And as any computer, it’s going to have fluff that isn’t always useful; code that’s just sitting there, waiting to be taken advantage of maliciously. With containers, the only dependencies that are used are the ones that are given in the container’s Dockerfile, restricting the amount of possible points of entry that a hacker can use.

All-in-all, although container technology does have its share of vulnerabilities, it’s important to remember that the cons of container security are very much outweighed by the pros of container functionality, and it’s good to know that containers seem to be progressing in a way that will help bring the IT field to its fullest potential.

In most areas of computing, the programmer will, at one point, have to test out the code they made. For small, isolated programs that only affect a specific part of a computer or OS, this can be done relatively easily without any fear. However, if a program is very large or important, or if hundreds of programs need to be tested simultaneously, risks to the host OS or machine may arise. The way one circumvents a problem like this is by setting up a new test environment for the program to run in that is isolated from the rest of the software so that no irreversible harm can come to it. There are main options for setting up a test environment.

There are main options for setting up a test environment. The first is by creating a virtual machine. A virtual machine is an isolated environment that is essentially its own operating system. Usually one would use Linux to set one up, and it will run as almost another instance of your computer. Several virtual machines can be set up using organisers, or “hypervisors”, and each instance has its own binary and library files. Only some files are allocated to the process, allowing the process to run independently from the rest of the system.

The problem with virtual machines, however, is that each instance takes up a lot of resources, more than is usually needed for the task. Code tested in one virtual machine may also not always translate perfectly into another OS. That is why the most popular form of isolated environments is called a container. Containers don’t require their own OS, several containers will run on the same engine. This way, they still give all the perks of an isolated environment, without the resource load, making them perfect for running hundreds or thousands of programs simultaneously. The most popular form of containers right now is the Docker engine, which runs on Linux systems. If you ever need to create a space where you need to test a piece of software that may be volatile or you think may contain a virus, it’s always good to set up a docker container so that nothing becomes compromised.

A good security professional has a list of tools that they know they can always rely on and a list of strategies they know they can always follow. A good security professional also knows the common things to look for when tasked with ensuring that a computer or web app is secure. They can either spend years compiling data and common mistakes from trial-and-error experiences, or they can use a premade list, like DISA STIG.

The DISA STIG viewer (Defence Information Systems Agency Security Technical Implementation Guide) is a list of security vulnerabilities created by the US government agency DISA to help combat security threats. You can download the viewer hereand the correct STIG’s for your operating system here. You can use it to follow along with me, or just look at my screenshots.

First off, open the viewer.Empty DISA STIG Viewer

Not much to see right now, first, we have to load the STIG by clicking File and Import STIG.Import DISA STIG

Now your viewer will look something like this:Full DISA STIG Viewer

This page isn’t actually all that useful to us, so go ahead and click Checklist and then Create Checklist – Selected STIGDISA STIG Checklist

This may look a little daunting, but it’s actually really simple. Down the middle is the full list of every common vulnerability for the operating system you chose. They can be divided by how dangerous they are by clicking the CAT I, CAT II, CAT III tabs. CAT I is the most dangerous, CAT III the least. All you have to do is select an item, click the Check Content tab on the right side, and follow the instructions. If it turns out to be a “finding” also known as a vulnerability, click the “Open” radio button on the right side, next to Status, and write down some information in the Finding Details and Comments sections if you want. Now just go through each one (or download a program to do it for you), and start tackling each “Open” finding one by one.

And that’s about it, click around to find out some more administrative/bureaucratic stuff, and when you’re finished with the list, save or export it.

I recently wrote a post explaining in brief about the dangers of SQL injections. I ended the post explaining how it was possible to run commands through a search bar in order to access and control a web application’s database. I decided that it would be better if I went a little more in-depth and wrote out what a typical SQL injection attack can look like against an unprotected database.

So, as I wrote in the previous post, let’s pretend that I am a proud owner of a craft supplies store, for arts-and-crafts and fun little projects to do with the kids. My craft store uses PHP and MySQL to access its database of items. In my previous post, I explained the basic way SQL injections are run. Essentially, adding a comment in the right place will allow a hacker to secretly hide commands for PHP to carry out. If you aren’t sure how it works, the basics are all there.

I gave an example of a command to make the database wait a certain amount of seconds before giving a response, which sounds pretty useless. Why waste time making your own hacking process slower?  The reason behind it is there is a valid form of SQL injection called a “blind injection”, where one would use SQL injection commands without expecting to get any visible output. What I mean is, for example, to test what kind of RDBMS (relational database management systemsoftware the web app uses. MySQL has a sleep function called SLEEP(), another software may use something like waitForDelay(). By testing out the different functions between different software, a hacker can get a better understanding of what they’re dealing with. Another thing someone could do would be to ask to receive data from a table that they aren’t sure exists, along with a delay. If there is a delay but no output, the hacker will know that the table exists, but the output is hidden somehow.

Let’s say a hacker has happened on my website and wants to steal the passwords that I have stored on it. They can show those passwords by what is called a union. A union is the sandwiching of two tables one under the other, provided they have the same number of columns. The hacker assumes when they type in to search for “popsicle sticks” that the table outputted has three columns, one for the name, price, and quantity of the item. They can test this hypothesis by entering the SQL query
SELECT ? FROM ? WHERE ? LIKE ‘%popsicle stick%‘ UNION (SELECT 1,2,3 FROM dual);— %’;
where the UNION function should output the numbers 1, 2, and 3 as separate columns from the “dual” table. The “dual” table is a blank hypothetical table used for testing in MySQL, which the hacker knows is the software used thanks to the previous injection.

If the result is the numbers 1, 2, and 3 printed out successfully at the bottom of the table, the hacker’s in business. They now know that they can output data to the table, which is world-endingly bad for the creator of the website (me). MySQL has an information schema called information_schema.tables that contains information about the different tables in the program. The hacker can access this by making the SQL query
SELECT ? FROM ? WHERE ? LIKE ‘%popsicle stick%‘ UNION (SELECT TABLE_NAME, TABLE_SCHEMA, 3 FROM information_schema.tables);— %’;
which will output the table name, what kind of table it is, and the number 3, because the number of columns has to be the same always.

The hacker will scroll through the many different table names and find a table that I created called “users”, which is where I could keep all of my different user data, maybe, we’ll see (yes, of course, don’t you worry). The hacker doesn’t want to simply union this new table onto the current one because there may be a different number of columns than 3. They would instead write an SQL query of something like this
SELECT ? FROM ? WHERE ? LIKE ‘%popsicle stick%‘ UNION (SELECT COLUMN_NAME, 2, 3 FROM information_schema.columns WHERE TABLE_NAME = ‘users’);— %’;
which will output the different column names from that table.

From the columns, the hacker will find a column named “userPasswords”, which they can output with an SQL query, and then dump onto the internet.

This was just one way in which a hacker can use SQL injections to gain access to personal information on unprotected sites. It’s quite a bit like cracking a puzzle, and just like doing puzzles, along with most other intellectual things, a robot can most likely do it better. This is why, as a side note, always remember to have some sort of spam protection, so that your website isn’t bombarded with thousands of SQL hack attempts.

A while back, I made a post talking about a Linkedin password dump that let hackers gain access to Mark Zuckerberg’s twitter account. We don’t know how it is that hackers got their hands on the millions of Linkedin passwords, but it got me thinking of a certain type of attack that is much more common than it should be, and one that you should take care of avoiding if you run a web application. This attack is commonly known as an SQL injection (often pronounced “sequel injection”), and it uses something as harmless as your search bar to access the web application’s database. 

SQL stands for Structured Query Language and is essentially how most programs talk to databases. It was developed in the prehistoric era of web-computing of 1974 and is actually very good at its job despite its age. It’s a very simple language to use and works very well with different other languages, such as PHP. PHP is an incredibly powerful and intuitive programming language, but unfortunately not the safest. It is one of the most widely used programming languages for web application, with Facebook, Yahoo, and Wikipedia all being at one point coded in it, however, it does not come with any built-in security, and hackers can easily access web applications that are badly built to get information you definitely would not want them to have.

Here’s how it works. A typical SQL query looks something like this:
SELECT ? FROM ? WHERE ? LIKE ‘QUERY‘;
Let me explain what it is I just typed out. Let’s pretend that I own a badly made online store for craft supplies. If I wanted to see the store’s selection of popsicle sticks, I would use its search bar to search for popsicle sticks, and it would give me a result of the name of the item (popsicle stick), the price of the item (12.99$), and the quantity of the item (500). I type in the search query that PHP sends to the site’s database as an SQL query where it selects and item (I don’t know what, hence the question mark) from a table, (again, don’t know what table this will be) where the column (another mystery) is like my query. Hence, I get a result. I can also type in a term like “opsicle stic” to get the result I want which means that there are wildcards on the side making the SQL query look something like this:
SELECT ? FROM ? WHERE ? LIKE ‘%POPSICLE STICK%‘;
As a hacker who doesn’t have access to the back-end code, I can only manipulate what’s in the quotation marks. So, what would happen if I entered just a quotation mark as my search query? If the website isn’t coded against it, the SQL query will look something like this:
SELECT ? FROM ? WHERE ? LIKE ‘%%’;
The program assumes the quotation we entered as the query is the ending quotation of the query, and doesn’t know what to do with the last three symbols. This will return an error, even though a product in a craft supplies shop can have a quotation mark in its name, for example, if it was named something like Burt’s Pipe Cleaners. Here’s how a hacker can abuse it. If you add a semicolon, and then a comment sign (two dashes in MySQL, for example) to indicate a comment in the query, it becomes:
SELECT ? FROM ? WHERE ? LIKE ‘%‘;— %’;
Which will ask the database for simply a wildcard, meaning everything. A hacker now can input commands into PHP by using this trick (which, again, can be prevented relatively easily) to access sensitive info. Here’s an example, let’s say the hacker wanted to have a timer on the response a website gives out. If they were trying to access a site that they know uses MySQL, for example, they can make a query of
popsicle stick’ AND 1 = SLEEP(2);– 
to make an SQL query of

SELECT ? FROM ? WHERE ? LIKE ‘%popsicle stick%‘AND 1 = SLEEP(2);— %’;
which will make the server wait two seconds for every query found.

Hopefully, this helped you understand just how easy an SQL injection really can be. Just remember that hackers don’t usually go after big targets, it’s much easier to catch a smaller fish that doesn’t care about it’s web app security as much, which could be you.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve gone through every tool Burp Suite has to offer. Well, almost. After teaching you how to use the Spider, the Intruder, and all the rest, there are only two more tools left. They’re both quite simple, so I’ll just squish both into one post.

Burp Decoder

Burp Decoder works a little bit like Google Translate. It’s a very simple tool that you can use to encode and decode different types of data. It is different, however, from another set of terms security professionals use, which is decryption and encryption.

Encoding data involves turning one commonly used type of data into another commonly used type of data. There are standards which are available to anyone. It’s essentially translating between languages. Dictionaries are available anywhere, and if I wanted to ask my Polish neighbour “How’s it going?” in Polish, I would tell them the same thing as if I booked a flight to Poland and asked someone there. Encoding has a practical use, but not a security-oriented one. If I had a USB that contained data in ASCII hexadecimal form that I needed to configure with a PC that uses binary, I could easily encode the ASCII hex into binary.

This is different from an encryption, the method of translation of which is known only to a select few. This is the point, so that only people who are allowed to see it should be able to.

So, in order to encode or decode data, simply paste the text into the Decoder. You have two options. If you know what the data is, for example, if you know that a certain part of a web application is using Base64, you can select ‘Decode’ on the right, and decode it as Base64. Burp will then create a second box with the data in our human language. The other way around, if you wanted to take a word and translate that into HTML, simply select the ‘Encode’ option and encode it as such.

Burp Comparer

Burp Comparer lets you make a comparison between two different pieces of data. Let’s say you wanted to brute-force your way into a login screen. You use Burp Intruder and two sets of data (one for the username and one for the password, for example) to repeatedly fuzz the site and see what kinds of responses you got. This is, by the way, something I also teach how to do on the site. Anyway, you got your results back, and you see that two responses have two different “status” values.Status Difference

You don’t know what this means, so you right click both and send both to the Comparer. Select them, and then at the bottom right, select the “Words” option. Now you have a side-by-side view of both responses so that you can easily identify the discrepancy.

For most of the websites we use, we do so under the impression that we have some sort of amount of safety. We hope that a password protected login screen will keep the bad guys out. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely the case. One of the many ways hackers can access your account is called “Session ID Hijacking”. Essentially, when you log into your Facebook or Ebay account, the server spits out a random combination of characters which is called your “Session ID”, the point of which is to differentiate you between other users, and the page you’re currently on from other pages. It’s the computer version of “Welcome Mr Smith, enjoy your stay.” If a hacker can get their hands on the right session ID, they would be able to bypass the entire verification process and hop straight into “Welcome Mr Smith”, and have access to all of your data with relative ease. Each session ID is supposed to be randomised so that no one could guess one. This is where Burp’s Sequencer tool comes in.

The Sequencer is used to test the overall “randomness” of a variable that an application’s server provides. Not only that, but it also runs a bunch of different tests to check how easily a variable can be guessed. This is used most commonly for session IDs because these are usually the most important things to keep random on a website, however, things like cookies may also be susceptible. 

So, the first step to using the sequencer is to find the page you want to test, either through the Spider or by clicking around manually. Send a request to the page and get a response back. On a login screen, this would mean entering any username-password combo just to get an answer from the site. Right-click the response and press “Send to Sequencer”
Burp SequencerGo to the ‘Sequencer’ tab. Don’t bother fiddling with all of the different options and menus, what you want to direct your attention to is the “Token Location within Response” section in the “Live Capture” subtab. Here is where you’ll want to select what it is that you want to test for randomness. If Burp hasn’t already found it for you in the “Cookies” or “For Field” drop-down boxes, you can manually select in by clicking “Configure”, selecting it like so Tokenand clicking “OK”.

Now click “Start Live Capture”. Burp will send request tokens to the server and document its responses. It may be a little slow, but if you aren’t in a rush wait it out until it makes twenty thousand requests so you can make a good analysis. The sequencer gives you lots of different analyses, you can look at the individual tests by clicking through the tabs, but Burp does give you an overall summary on the first page. Take note that the Sequencer only gives you the information, but it doesn’t actually tell you what to do with it.Capture 15

Burp Suite is an incredibly powerful security tool, and part of what makes it that powerful is its relative simplicity. Its more powerful tools such as the Spider or Intruder are quite intuitive, and it’s filled with a load of smaller, simple tools that make a security analyst’s job much easier. These tools may be a little bit limited or one-sided in their design, but that just makes them better for the job they’re doing. Scissors are no use for cutting trees, but we don’t use them for that anyway. One of these tools is the Repeater.


The Repeater is used to manually change small bits of code in the requests you send to the web application you’re testing, without actually waiting for them to load through a browser. Say you have a login page that you’re testing for vulnerabilities. The Repeater will let you quickly make changes to the page request code, which is important if you know what you’re doing and what results you’re expecting. To use the Repeater, get Burp up and running, turn Intercept to ON, and go to the web page you want to test, let’s assume it is a login page, and simply enter any two username and password values. We are expecting you to get these wrong. The point is for Burp to intercept what the request you’re sending out looks like. And before we move on, please make sure that you’re either working with a local version of a website that won’t affect the real thing or with the conspicuous consent of the site owners, otherwise, all of this is illegal. Anyway, find the request you want in the Target tab and Site Map subtab, right click, and press ‘Send to Repeater’.Send to Repeater

Now go to the Repeater tab and you should see two spaces, one called Request, and the other called Response. Request is what you’re editing, and Response is what the website spits out back at you. From here you can change anything you want about the request in any form, from the raw data to hexadecimal values. Just press go and you’ll see how the website would react. With premium, you can even render what the code looks like. Notice that in your browser, the website hasn’t changed. From here it’s up to you and your prior HTML knowledge to start picking at the site.

Following celebrity news is a lot like watching a bad horror movie. You’re constantly wondering why every decision they make is just so stupid. Whether we’re watching Friday the 13th or TMZ, we always end up yelling “No! Stop!” at our screens. We lift our chins up boldly and proclaim “I’d never do such a thing!”. That, or we shrug our shoulders and mumble “Can’t be helped” if something random and extraordinary happens to them. That’s pretty much what I did when a month ago a huge LinkedIn password dump led to hackers gaining access to thousands of Twitter accounts, including Mark Zuckerberg’s, not that he uses his much anyway. 

What I’m saying is we think our passwords are very secure, or maybe just secure enough, until it’s too late. This particular hack happened because people tend to use the same password everywhere, or at the very least the passwords are very similar. In the case of Mark Zuckerberg, I can only imagine his LinkedIn and Twitter passwords to be Faceb00kRul3z. This is not the only way to gain access to someone’s account, however. A very common way is to get a very powerful computer to enter every possible character it can in the hopes that it’ll get a match. Burp Suite is a very powerful tool for doing this, just remember to only use it with the consent of the site owner and without malice.

The first thing you’ll want to do is load up Burp Suite (assuming you have it set up already).Burp Home

Then, go to the web application you want to break into. Click around on it, or use Burp Spider until you have enough information on the site or have found the page you want to enter. As an example, I’ll use DVWA, which is a free open-source web app made specifically to have its vulnerabilities exploited.Capture 8

What you want to do now is just enter anything into both fields and click login. The point right now is not to guess the password, but to show Burp what the response to your invalid input is. Now open your Burp window, open up the Target tab and the Site Map subtab, and find the page and request that your invalid login attempt is in. Right-click on the request and click ‘Send to Intruder’.Capture 9

Now Burp Intruder can work with the web page. Go to the Intruder tab and the Positions subtab. You should see the request script, with bits bolded in. That’s Burp letting you know where it found a login textbox or a cookie that it thinks you can work with. Find the pieces of text that you want to fuzz and use the ‘Clear’ button on the right to clear the pieces of text you want to leave alone. Above all the code there’s a drop-down bar that asks you what attack type you want.

There are four attack types: Sniper is used when you only have one piece of code you want to break into (called a position), so it throws data at it (called a payload) one by one. Battering Ram works with several positions and inserts the same payload into them all at once. Pitchfork uses several sets of payloads where it enters the different payloads into different positions at the same time. For example, if you had two positions and two payload sets, it would enter the first payload from the first set into the first position and the first payload from the second set into the second position, then the second payload from the first set into the first position and the second payload from the second set into the second position, and so on. Cluster Bomb sets the same payload into one position while running through every payload in another, then sets the second payload into the first position while running through every payload, then the third, until it finds a match. This is what we want to use since we don’t know what usernames work with what passwords, so select that.

Capture 10

Now go into the Payloads subtab. The Payload Options section is where you’ll enter the payloads that you want to be used. Either enter them by hand, or copy and paste them, or if you have the premium version, load them from the Add From List drop-down box, where Burp already prepared some for you. You can change what set you’re editing in the drop-down option in the Payload Sets section. After you’ve got all of that done

After you’ve got all of that done, you’re ready to fuzz, just press Start Attack in the top right corner of the window and your login attempts will show up on the screen. A status of 302 means your login was invalid, a status of 200 means you broke in.Capture 11

And that’s it, now you just wait and hope for the best. You may have noticed that most of the passwords are quite similar, which would make a malicious hacker’s job much easier. If you can, change your password to something a little more complex, you’ll save yourself a world of regret later.

Using Burp Suite efficiently means understanding your tools and capabilities, but it also means having a full scope of the web application you’re about to start testing. Let’s say your friend asks you for help changing their bike’s handlebars. You’d have to use a wrench to unscrew the old handlebars, replace them with new ones, and screw the new ones in. You could be a master at screwing bolts in and you could have a PhD in wrenches, but if you’ve never seen a bicycle in your life, and you don’t know where the handlebars are, you won’t be much help to your friend. The idea is the same (albeit a little less silly) with penetration testing. 

You’ll want to look at your web application the same way the guys in Ocean’s Eleven look at a casino. If you’ve never seen an Ocean’s movie, it’s about a rag-tag group of thieves who go around robbing high-profile locations. It’s all very elaborate and entertaining, but there are a couple of similarities. Before doing anything, the gang gets blueprints of the building they want to break into. Sometimes they build life-size replicas of the vaults they want to crack. They gather as much information about their target as they can before making a decision.

This is what you should do as well. When tasked with penetrating a website, check everything. Find places where a user can enter input, like text boxes or buttons. Look for any links that may lead to other websites. Check for files and forms. Get a feel for how the components of the web application interact with other web applications as well as each other.

If this seems long and tedious, that’s because it is. Nobody has the time or the patience to click and prod every nook and cranny, which is why Burp has a built-in function for it. It’s called Burp Spider and its job is to make yours a whole lot easier. It crawls your site and tells you of all of the different elements that it has to offer. Finding and identifying vulnerabilities is up to you, but the program really does take some weight off your shoulders. Fair warning, however, the spider can miss things, which is why you should always double check what it gives you to make sure you have everything you need.

Using Burp Spider is easy, first, open up Burp and go to the desired URL. Go to the ‘Target’ tab and the ‘Site map’ subtab. Right-click the URL and select “Add to Scope”.Add to Scope

This tells Burp what exactly it should be working with. Anything within the “scope” is data that can be scanned and penetrated, anything outside is fluff. This way you can have lots of tabs open and only crawl what you need to crawl. The next step is to right-click that same URL and select “Spider this Branch”. More files should show up on the right-hand side.Spider Branch

And that’s it. You are now free to analyse the files Burp gives you and begin to manipulate them. I’ll soon be making more posts about the other functionalities Burp has that will help you become a better white-hat hacker.