Case Study

An air conditioning contractor walks into the lobby of a company. He approaches the receptionist, stating that he is supposed to work on the air conditioner in the server room. The receptionist escorts him to a member of the IT Department who promptly gives him access to the server room. After waiting in the cold, loud room for a few minutes, the chaperone glances at her phone a few times and eventually walks away.

Once inside, the air conditioning contractor locates the server of interest contained in an open server rack. He pulls out a Knoppix-STD Linux boot disk, places it in the CD tray, and reboots the server by pressing the power button, which promptly boots backup into Knoppix. He mounts the root partition of the respective server, replacing the root password in the /etc/shadow file with a known password hash and salt. He copies Netcat to the server and installs the corresponding startup files to create a reverse tunnel and shovel a shell to a remote server whenever the server is restarted. He glances casually over his shoulder to make sure he is still alone. Removing the Knoppix-STD disk, he restarts the server and walks out of the server room, pronouncing the air conditioner in good working order.

Back home in a more comfortable setting, he powers up his monitor to see the remote shell already waiting patiently. After a quick cracking of his knuckles, he sets straight to work. Grinning, he thinks about what his grandfather once told him, "If you do what you love, then you'll never work a day in your life."

You can implement the best network and host-based security software and devices in the world, but unless you take steps to restrict physical access, it is all for naught. Probably the single most important rule in information security is to always prevent physical access to a machine at all costs! In most cases, physical machine access grants attackers the ability to attempt to compromise a box on their terms. They have free reign to run any tool at their disposal within their own timeframe, and they have full access to remove or modify components.

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