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29 June 2011, 14:41

Attack of the computer mouse

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Security firm Netragard has described an attack during which a modified computer mouse was used to infiltrate a client's corporate network. For this attack, the security experts equipped the mouse with an additional micro-controller with USB support (Teensy Board) to simulate a keyboard, and added a USB flash drive to the setup.

When connected to the PC, the Teensy Board's Atmel controller sent keyboard inputs to the computer and ran software that was stored on the USB flash drive. This allowed Netragard to install the Meterpreter remote control software, which is part of the Metasploit framework. To bypass the target system's McAfee virus scanner, Netragard says it used a previously undisclosed exploit.

The crux of the attack was to find a suitable company employee who would, upon receiving the computer mouse, connect it to a company PC without becoming suspicious. The client who ordered the pen test had excluded social engineering attacks via telephone, social networks and email, but Netragard managed to obtain a list of the company's employees via the Jigsaw service. The security experts selected one of the employees and sent the mouse in its original packaging – camouflaged as a promotional gadget.

Attacks that use specially modified USB devices have been around for a while; USB flash drives that are "accidentally" left lying around are often used in security tests. A current study by the US Department of Homeland Security found that 60 per cent of users will naively connect a USB flash drive to their PC to see what is stored on it.

However, using a computer mouse for such an attack is a new idea. Corporate IT security staff may in future be faced with the problem of having to test peripheral devices before they can allow users to connect them to their PCs. Specially modified Android phones can also present themselves as keyboards, and take control, when they are connected to a PC.


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