How to detect hackers on your web
Catch hackers red handed through real-time security event
A discussion of the methods used by hackers to attack IIS web servers, and
how you can use event log monitoring on your web server to be alerted to
successful attacks immediately. WWW.GFI.COM
How to detect hackers on your web server • 2 Introduction
This white paper focuses on how administrators can set up their web servers successfully and
safely. Describing the tools used by hackers to gain backdoor access to your IIS web servers,
this paper details the necessary steps to detect successful intrusions on your network, as well
as explaining how to prevent such attacks to your web server.
Hacking a web server is not difficult ..............................................................................................2
Tools of the hacker trade...............................................................................................................3
Intrusion detection by monitoring key system files........................................................................5
How to detect attacks on your server ............................................................................................6
About GFI LANguard Security Event Log Monitor (S.E.L.M.) .....................................................11
About GFI ....................................................................................................................................12 Hacking a web server is not difficult
Internet Information Services (IIS) web servers are highly popular among business
organizations, with more then 6 million installations worldwide. Unfortunately, this makes IIS
web servers also a popular target amongst hackers. As a result, every so often, new exploits
emerge which endanger your IIS web server’s integrity and stability.
Many administrators have a hard time keeping up with the various security patches released for
IIS to cope with each new exploit, making it easy for malicious users to find a vulnerable web
server on the Internet. Taking advantage of an exploit is not difficult with the appropriate hacker
tools – these enable the average teenage hacker to easily attack and even control your web
server, with the possibility of penetrating your internal network.
In other words, it is not too difficult for outsiders to access proprietary corporate information.
Worse still, hackers need not be teenagers out for a thrill, as is commonly presumed:
disgruntled employees and competitors, for instance, may have their own reasons for breaking
into confidential areas of your network.
Few hacker attacks are actually instantly recognizable as such, and fewer still become high
profile affairs reported in the media. Most attacks are not easy to discover because many
intruders prefer to remain hidden so that they can use the IIS web server they have hacked as
a launch base for attacks on far more important or popular web servers. Apart from
endangering your own web site’s integrity, such use of your server can render you liable should
it be used to launch an attack on another organization. WWW.GFI.COM
How to detect hackers on your web server • 3 Tools of the hacker trade
Many tools exist to facilitate hackers who wish to deface a web site. Such tools are so easy to
use that even someone with no prior hacking experience can make a mess out of a web server
in no time at all. The Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) exploit IPP exploit made easy
A program that makes use of this exploit is Internet Printing Protocol Exploit v.0.15 (see figure
above). This is based on the infamous original exploit code in a C program file named “jill.c”,
made public by a hacker using the alias “dark spyrit”.
This application uses a vulnerability in the IPP buffer overflow on an IIS web server. All the
hacker needs to do is type in the name of the targeted web server (or a computer with IIS
installed on it) and click on “Connect”.
Upon connecting, the application will send the actual string that overflows the stack, leading to
the execution of custom code (that is known as shell code) and connecting the file cmd.exe to
the specified port on the attacker’s side (default being 31337).
This can bypass typical firewall configurations and other similar security measures.
Once that is done, the hacker is presented with a command line and SYSTEM access, from
where he/she could carry out a number of activities that an administrator would definitely not
have authorized, such as gaining access to databases that could contain credit card details and
other such confidential data. WWW.GFI.COM
How to detect hackers on your web server • 4 The UNICODE and CGI-Decode exploits Unicode exploit using Internet Explorer
Two other exploits preferred by web site defacers include the UNICODE and CGI-Decode
exploits. Here, the hacker can simply use the browser itself to do anything on a target machine
that is running an un-patched version of IIS. All it takes is Internet Explorer and a “magic string”
to execute anything under the anonymous account of the IIS. The above screenshot shows a
directory dump of C:\ of the IIS server in the web browser itself! This is just a simple example to
demonstrate that the hacker can gain access to your web server’s hard disk.
Initially, this access is limited to the user rights of the IIS anonymous user account
(IUSR_computername). Once the hacker has IIS anonymous access, he can easily upload an
ASP file, which can escalate his access to SYSTEM privileges. Such an action would give him
full access to the hacked computer, meaning he can do anything. Custom-made applications
Some web site cracker groups prefer to produce their own applications to automate the process
of defacing a web site. IIS Storm by m0sad
One such group is M0sad, an Israeli hacker unit that developed and released a hacking tool WWW.GFI.COM
How to detect hackers on your web server • 5
named IIS Storm v.2. An excerpt from the IIS Storm manual runs: “IIS Storm is a tool made for
Remote Web Site Defacement that is running IIS (Internet Information Server [NT platform])
and that also vulnerable to the Unicode Exploit.”
Tools such as this give full hacking capabilities to both skilled and unskilled hackers. IIS Storm
also allows users to hide their original IP address through anonymous proxies, and to easily
replace files on the target website with their own custom HTML pages.
PoizonB0x, another notorious group of self-proclaimed “cyber-terrorists” and “net-warriors”,
created iisautoexp.pl, an automated tool that handles all the legwork required to gain access
and perform defacing operations.
To deface a web site, all the malicious user has to do is give the name of the web site to the
script and run it. If the web site is vulnerable to attack (that is, if it does not have the appropriate
patches applied), the front page (index.htm, default.htm, default.asp or variants) is changed to
read “PoizonB0x Ownz YA”. This way, hackers can create a batch file with the names of their
target web sites, producing a mass defacement of IIS web servers. This script can be adapted
and run on both Windows and UNIX machines.
Knowing that your web server has been attacked is easy if your web page is defaced. However,
many hackers prefer stealth and install a Trojan to siphon off data or perform other malicious
activity. They will make sure not to leave any traces of their intrusion. Intrusion detection by monitoring key system files
So how can one protect against this potential onslaught of attacks? Well, almost all exploit tools
for IIS servers make use of one or more system files. By monitoring the activity on these files in
real time, an administrator can catch a hacker red-handed. The following system files are
frequently used by hacker tools:
1. cmd.exe: This is the command line emulation program in Windows; from here, users can
administer the server
2. ftp.exe: The command line FTP client available with all Microsoft Windows platforms;
hackers use this to obtain the files they need on the server machine from a remote FTP
3. net.exe: This program enables machine administration; under the system account, hackers
can use this tool to create backdoor users and groups, start and stop services, access
other machines on the network, and more
4. ping.exe: This program simply sends an ICMP echo packet to remote hosts; hackers can
use your server together with other vulnerable servers to run ping against a target host,
thus creating a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service attack) on the target
5. tftp.exe: This is a TFTP client that is also available with all Microsoft Windows machines;
some hackers prefer this to ftp.exe and will use it to get the files they need to further WWW.GFI.COM
How to detect hackers on your web server • 6
penetrate the IIS server.
When a cracker runs cmd.exe using the UNICODE exploit, it is actually run by the Internet
Guest Account (IUSR_machinename). Since this user has no business running this file, a
network-wide event log monitor such as GFI LANguard S.E.L.M. can log any events in which
this account runs cmd.exe. This way, GFI LANguard S.E.L.M. can immediately inform the
administrator of the intrusion.
Buffer overflow attacks obtain the SYSTEM account instead. This means that from here, the
malicious user who has already intruded the machine can change to any other user and
basically do anything that the operating system itself can. However if GFI LANguard S.E.L.M. is
enabled to monitor cmd.exe and log whenever the SYSTEM account has accessed this file, the
network administrator will now be able to detect such activity - because to change to another
user, tools make use of the command line itself. How to detect attacks on your server
After examining how intruders operate, administrators can now configure their server and GFI
LANguard S.E.L.M. to catch hackers red-handed. Step 1: Configuring your web server to audit objects
To monitor commonly used files, object auditing must be enabled in Windows web servers. Audit Policy – object access
If the web server is a standalone server, to enable object auditing, you must:
1. Go to the Administrative Tools – Local Security Policy
2. Select Local Policies and then Audit Policy WWW.GFI.COM
How to detect hackers on your web server • 7
3. Double-click on Audit Object Access and select Success and Failure.
If the web server is part of the domain, you must enable object auditing as a Domain Policy
(rather than just Local Policy). This is done in the same manner via Administrative Tools –
Domain Security Policy.
Once that is done, the files you want to audit must be specified. In this case we want to audit:
cmd.exe, ftp.exe, net.exe, ping.exe and tftp.exe. The auditing tab
To enable object access auditing to log each time the SYSTEM account and Internet guest
account attempt to run cmd.exe:
1. Right-click on cmd.exe and select Properties
2. Next select the Security tab and click on Advanced
3. Select the Auditing tab and click on Add
4. Now you can enter which users should get logged when they try to access the Object
(cmd.exe): Select the SYSTEM account
5. To enable full auditing on cmd.exe / SYSTEM account, select all Successful and Failed
How to detect hackers on your web server • 8
6. Press OK, select Add and do the same for the IUSR account.
7. This procedure must be followed for ftp.exe, net.exe, ping.exe, and tftp.exe.
Access to these files by the System or IUSR account will now be logged to the security event
log. Configuring auditing Step 2: Configuring GFI LANguard S.E.L.M. to monitor for these events
and alert administrator
Now you have configured file access auditing, you must configure GFI LANguard S.E.L.M. to
detect these security events: WWW.GFI.COM
How to detect hackers on your web server • 9 GFI LANguard S.E.L.M configuration console
1. In the GFI LANguard S.E.L.M. Configuration, ensure that the web server is listed in the
Computers to monitor node
2. Now go to the Event Processing Rules > Security Event Log > Object Access node. Select
the node, right-click and select New > Processing rule
3. Click on add, and add the events numbered 560 and 562. These events will identify an
intrusion. Event 560: Object Open – Meaning the object (e.g. cmd.exe was run) was
accessed, and Event 562: Handle Closed – Meaning that the object is no longer in use (e.g.
Cmd.exe was closed)
4. By default the rule will be applied to all computers that GFI LANguard SELM monitors. To
specify the web server only, go to the general tab and specify the web server computer
name. Specify a clear description too
5. Click on OK to add the rule. WWW.GFI.COM
How to detect hackers on your web server • 10 Creating a new object access rule
GFI LANguard S.E.L.M. will now monitor your web server for these events, and if CMD.exe is
run, it will notify you immediately! Step 3: Testing your new IDS
Once you have configured the above, you can test it. You can do this by creating a new ASP
script. If you have properly set up your auditing policies and enabled object access on the
indicated files, this script will create and trigger an object audit rule. GFI LANguard S.E.L.M will
then collect the generated event from the security event log, and – because a matching rule
exists – it will send an email alert to the administrator to advise that cmd.exe has been
The script below will simply run cmd.exe and make a directory listing of the C:\ in the
background. You can place this file on your IIS server and try to access it via the web browser.
<%@ Language=VBScript %>
' SELM_test.asp : used to test Languard S.E.L.M
' By : Sandro Gauci <Sandro@gfi.com>
' Co : GFi WWW.GFI.COM