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SQL Injection used in Heartland, 7-Eleven and Hannaford Breaches

Having recently seen our book SQL Injection Attacks and Defense come out, it is very timely indeed to see in the news of the recent indictment of Albert Gonzalez that SQL Injection played a key part in the Heartland Payment Systems, 7-Eleven, and Hannaford Brothers breaches, as well as for two other unnamed victim companies.

So how can SQL Injection, which is an application level problem, be used as a vector for attacking an organization? In a number of ways. SQL Injection gives an attacker the ability to interact with the database, and therefore if something is possible on the database server it may well be possible through SQL Injection. Modern database systems such as Oracle, SQL Server and others provide a rich variety of functionality for their users - all too often though, some of this functionality can be abused by malicious individuals.

Making some assumptions, its likely that something like the following occurred:

  1. It was possible to interact with the underlying operating system in some way using SQL Injection. This could have been through the ability to execute operating system commands (such as through the well known xp cmdshell stored procedure on Microsoft SQL Server), or through the ability to stage content to the database server (or filesystem) and then have it compiled to executable content.
  2. With the ability to execute content at the operating system layer, access was consolidated by providing some form of alternative control channel or remote access to the database server.
  3. With consolidated access to the database server, the attacker uses the database server as a foothold to go further into the organization.

These types of hybrid attacks where one type of attack is dovetailed or launched over another are becoming increasingly common. Another SQL Injection hybrid attack of recent note was the SQL Injection mass attacks that started in early 2008. These used SQL Injection in another way - to inject links to JavaScript malware into thousands of unsuspecting vulnerable sites. It just goes to prove that even if a vulnerability is over 10 years old, it still has some new tricks to be seen.

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