Mistakes We All Make #2: One Man’s Trash..

A recent CBC news story detailing the recovery of a 30 gigabyte hard drive containing personally-identifiable information of military personnel at a local recycling depot compelled me to share a similar experience regarding improper disposal and sanitation of IT assets.

In my previous article, I described how I had begun to build a CCNA test lab to help in my studies, including a a few 2651XM routers that I purchased from a wholesaler via eBay. While exploring their file systems and experimenting with backup and restore through TFTP, I happened upon a curious text file in the root directory.

It became quickly apparent that this router was once owned by a major US telecommunications company and contained its share of information that the organization would likely prefer to keep private.

In this case, the evidence existed not in the unit’s startup config (which had likely been erased both by the telecom and the wholesaler prior to the router being re-sold), but in a file labelled with a .old extension, suggesting it had been used as a backup before a configuration change was made.

From this configuration, I could determine:

– The name and username of the user who edited the configuration file

– The hostname of the router.

– A long list of sub-domains associated with the company’s domain name.

– The IPs of the name servers being used.

– The fact that the user used TACACS+, the IPs of the TACACS+ servers, and the key being used.

– Telnet and console passwords, using level 7 encryption that was easily broken. To the admin’s credit, the passwords were technically strong in their use of a larger keyspace through upper-case/lower-case/numbers/symbols. However, they were very generic, and I would not be shocked if they had been re-used across network devices.

– The hostnames to which each port on the switch connected (left in the description of the interfaces) and the VLANs with which they were associated.

– The IPs of logging servers.

– A long list of permitted IPs in the unit’s ACL.

– SNMP community strings.

– The physical location of the router, as specified in the EXEC banner. (Cross-referencing this information through Google resulted in quite a few contact telephone numbers.)

A couple of years have passed since the router was decommissioned, but even if only one or two items in this list are still relevant, they clearly compromise the security of the network in question.

Nowadays, most users are aware that data can be recovered from a hard drive or SSD, and are careful to securely dispose of these components. However, non-volatile storage extends beyond the scope of these examples, and not everyone will make similar considerations when dealing with devices such as the aforementioned router.

Furthermore, even if the a component doesn’t contain any personal information or financial data, these details can form the basis of further attacks centered around social engineering, or tip off attackers to probable vulnerabilities. Poking around a switch or router isn’t likely to give an attacker any credit card numbers, but it’s an awfully strong first step toward doing so, if this is one’s intent.

It’s easy to find even more egregious examples in the consumer electronics realm. Consider how many cell phones get tossed to the curb without a second thought once their users accidentally smash the screen or kill the battery, and instead decide to move to the latest and greatest model. A Playstation or XBox found at a pawn shop might contain cached login credentials, friend lists, purchase histories, and saved network profiles. Wherever non-volatile storage exists, the potential for exploiting its contents exists as well. Even if this information is encrypted and seems secure at the moment, there’s no telling if it might become accessible in the future.

Of course, if you’ve been tasked with operating a computer in the last 20-30 years, this is likely a speech that you’ve heard many times before. However, this sort of advice need not be exclusively aimed at those who Post-It their login credentials to their monitor, or those whose password is “password”. As professional responsibility increases, so does the of the information that is handled, and everyone is well-served to pay mind to an occasional reminder of the consequences of lazy or short-sighted security policies.

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