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Attackers Use Skipfish to Target Financial Sites

Akamai's CSIRT team has discovered a series of attacks against the financial services industry. In this instance, the bad guys are exploiting the Skipfish Web application vulnerability scanner to probe company defenses.

Skipfish is available for free download at Google's code website. Security practitioners use it to scan their own sites for vulnerabilities. The tool was built and is maintained by independent developers and not Google, though Google's information security engineering team is mentioned in the project's acknowledgements.

In recent weeks, our CSIRT researchers have watched attackers using Skipfish for sinister purposes. CSIRT's Patrick Laverty explains it this way in an advisory available to customers through their services contacts:

Specifically, we have seen an increase in the number of attempts at Remote File Inclusion (RFI). An RFI vulnerability is created when a site accepts a URL from another domain and loads its contents within the site. This can happen when a site owner wants content from one site to be displayed in their own site, but doesn't validate which URL is allowed to load. If a malicious URL can be loaded into a site, an attacker can trick a user into believing they are using a valid and trusted site. The site visitor may then inadvertently give sensitive and personal information to the attacker. For more information on RFI, please see the Web Application Security Consortium and OWASP websites.

Akamai has seen Skipfish probes primarily targeting the financial industry. Requests appear to be coming from multiple, seemingly unrelated IP addresses. All of these IP addresses appear to be open proxies, used to mask the attacker's true IP address. 

Skipfish will test for an RFI injection point by sending the string www.google.com/humans.txt or www.google.com/humans.txt%00 to the site's pages. It is a normal practice for sites to contain a humans.txt file, telling visitors about the people who created the site.

If an RFI attempt is successful, the content of the included page (in this instance, the quoted Google text above) will be displayed in the targeted website. The included string and the user-agent are both configurable by the attacker running Skipfish. 

While the default user-agent for Skipfish version 2.10b is "Mozilla/5.0 SF/2.10b", we cannot depend on that value being set. It is easily editable to any value the Skipfish operator chooses.

Companies can see if they're vulnerable by using Kona Site Defender's Security Monitor to sort the stats by ARL and look for the presence of the aforementioned humans.txt file being included in the ARL to the site. Additionally, log entries will show the included string in the URL.

"We have seen three behaviors by Skipfish that can trigger WAF rule alerts," Laverty wrote. "The documentation for Skipfish claims it can submit up to 2,000 requests per second to a site."

Laverty said companies can blunt the threat by adjusting Summary and Burst rate control settings to detect this level of traffic and deny further requests. Also, a WAF rule can be created that would be triggered if the request were to contain the string "google.com/humans.txt". 

There is no situation (other than on google.com) where this would be a valid request for a site, he said.