What Is This “Hacking” Thing?
So.. you want to learn how to hack, but what is “hacking”? What is a hacker? Well the short an sweet is, as with most topics in security…it depends. The idea of “Hacking” has many definitions depending on who you ask. To a Facebook user, it would be using tennis balls as repurposed key holders. To the average Call of Duty player, it’s the guy who just killed them, and to the media it’s anonymous. The thing is, the idea of “Hacking” encapsulates much of that. To us, a hacker is someone who understands how an object, system, or subject works in such a way they also begin to understand the alternative, unintended ways it could work. A tennis ball is more frequently used by dogs and players of tennis however, when you use it as a key-chain holder, this is an alternate use for the object. For the “hacker” in Call of Duty, they are using the system in an alternative way by using an aim-bot.
Narrowing our scope to the realm of cyber security, a user presented with a login page may enter in a funky sequence of letters and receive all the usernames and passwords on the server. The main use for this login page is to allow you as the user to login to your account. The alternative use here is printing out all the usernames and passwords to the user. This is the pivot which defines one of our main focuses as a club. The difference between the the malicious hackers in the news and the day to day penetration tester is all about intent. In both cases, we have groups of people with the intellectual curiosity to find alternative uses of a system however, the malicious hacker sees the passwords leaked and may sell the information, use it for personal gain, or use it as black mail to obtain more assets of a company. A penetration tester, ethical hacker, or cyber security enthusiast notices the leaked data, attempts to determine the cause of these issues and propose some mitigations then present this data to the company or user group in question. To be more formal, we define a hacker with good intent (an ethical hacker) as “A hacker who gains access to systems with intent to fix the identified vulnerabilities”. Our goals, content, and other teachings are based around this idea of “ethical hacking” and protecting our systems and users of those systems.
I’m a(n) [Insert Title Here], I Can’t Be a Hacker
Well of course you can! In fact some of the best “hackers” are people who are closest to the systems which need to be audited. Maybe you are a medical professional using a record system and notice the way it is storing user data makes it accessible to the network outside of the establishment. You know the program best as opposed to someone who has not used the system before. Therefore you have a unique ability to know best what functionalities the program should be able to execute and what functionalities the program should not be able to execute. The idea is to just have an interest or that intellectual curiosity which allows us to constantly question the systems we use and ask a couple fundamental questions, “What are some other things I can make this system do which is not intended?”, and, “How can I fix those alternative functions to make the system more secure?”.
Virtual Machines: The Computer Within a Computer
Have you ever wanted to use a Windows machine but you are using a Mac? Or have you ever been using a Mac machine and wanted to use Windows? The problem is, if you want to use these respective systems, you will either need another system which runs the desired operating system or reinstall it on your current system which overwrites your current operating system. This can cost the user money or just inconvenience them by needing to reinstall an operating system on their host system. We can solve this problem by creating what is called a Virtual Machine. <br? A Virtual Machine (VM) is an environment which emulates a specific operating system such as Windows, Mac, or Linux. The software which runs the emulation of this VM is called an Hypervisor. This will be the software you run on your laptop or desktop which is running either Linux, Mac, or Windows and will allow you to run the VM environment.
In the club, we will use hypervisors such as Vsphere to run our lab infrastructure. We will also use others such as VMware and Oracle’s VirtualBox to run our Kali Linux and Windows test environments on our laptops and desktops. Links to common hypervisors for Windows, Mac, and Linux are below:
- VMware Workstation Player (Free and Paid)
- Oracle’s VirtualBox (Free)
- Qemu (Free)
- Microsoft Hyper-V (Check OS for availability)
Most commonly we will use these virtual environments to do many things such as:
- Creating a simulated network of servers
- A Sandboxing environment for testing potentially unsafe programs
- Ready to use security analysis tools with Kali Linux
What Is A Windows?
Microsoft Windows is a group of several graphical operating system families, all of which are developed, marketed and sold by Microsoft. Along side Mac OS X, Windows is one of the most common operating systems for consumers and enterprise environments. Most personal computers such as laptops and desktops run Windows 10 today. In other systems such as enterprise networks, common systems you may see are Windows 10 Professional and Windows Server such as Windows server 2019.
In DevilSec, we explore all the Windows systems from understanding common vulnerabilities in misconfigured public accessible Windows systems (vulnerability analysis) to how to strengthen Windows environments for servers and client-side (Code/System Hardening). For most of our environments which we will be exploring, we will use a hypervisor to run a Windows virtual machine for hosting our Windows systems either client-side or in our club’s cloud server. Keep in mind the set of Windows operating systems does cost money. The price depends on the version of the Windows operating system whether it is Windows 10 Home Premium, Windows Enterprise, Educational, Professional, or Server.
What Is A Linux?
Linux is a family of open source Unix-like operating systems based on the Linux kernel. Many systems around you run on Linux such as many enterprise servers which run websites and mail services. Common platforms such as routers, modems, and android phones run a Linux system. Since the classification of a Linux system is one which uses the Linux Kernel, the classification of Linux operating systems is also called a Distribution or a “Distro”. Many common distros you may have heard of are:
Many activities we do in the club will include a Linux operating system to some extent due to the cost of creating multiple Linux virtual machines or hosts is free (for most distributions). This is as opposed to Windows and Mac OS where there are licenses needed to run the operating system for periods of time. The distributions we deal with most often when we do demonstrations will be Kali Linux as this has a general set of useful penetration testing tools which will be needed for most demonstrations, competitions, or when assessing vulnerable machines. Other Linux distributions we may use include the list mentioned above.
Enough of This, I Want to Get Started!
Awesome! We love the enthusiasm. You made the first step by viewing this page. To get started I recommend first downloading a hypervisor from the list above in the “Virtual Machines: The Computer Within a Computer” section. I personally recommend VMware player free as this is one of the more fluid and straight forward Hypervisors. On these hypervisors, we want to setup a Kali Linux machine for use later on either during club meetings or when learning how to use specific techniques and tools. Below I have included some great resources on installing VMware player and Oracle’s VirtualBox:
- Kali Linux Virtual Pentesting Lab
- You do not need to setup Metasploitable which is also shown in this video. You do not need to do this but it is also great practice if you want to learn :).
- Another Operating system is also shown installed, Parrot OS, which is another penetration testing Linux Distro just like Kali however, as explained in the video, Kali provides a VMWare/VirtualBox image which may be easier to import and run as opposed to installing using the ISO file.
- VMware Install of Kali Linux
- Install Kali Linux on VirtualBox
- The overall tutorial gives good insight on how to quickly install using Virtual Box on Windows.
Awesome! So you now have a Linux virtual environment with all the tools you need to get started learning how to analyze systems, find vulnerabilities, and let your intellectual curiosity run wild! Below I have included some amazing resources to get started with using Linux, practicing Linux forensics, and more to get you started on common topics which will be useful for you to know going forward:
- Learn to Use Linux
- Practice Linux Forensics
- Over The Wire: Bandit
- We recommend levels 0 to level 11 at least but feel free to take them all on. The more practice the better!
- Over The Wire: Bandit
- Website Hacking
- Windows/Linux Privilege Escalation
- Windows/Linux Privesc
- This will require some installing on your local system. The instructions in the repository are quite straight forward. However, if there is any trouble, we will be more than happy to help!
- Windows/Linux Privesc
Along with the material included above, we also have presentations and content here on our DevilSec website for you to digest, build upon, or even demonstrate in the field.
Note (Please read)
One last thing as a note from the DevilSec leadership, this field can be tough. There will be trials and tribulations which will stump you, may even just make you want to pull your hair out. Cyber security researchers and professionals face these challenges every day and we want to tell you, it is normal. You soon will be part of a community of bright minds and those who have a large amount of experience beyond even some of our experience. So when you run into these challenges which may seem impossible or may make you want to quit, remember that you have a family of ASU born pentesters, hackers, and cyber-security enthusiasts who are here to fight the same fight as you in protecting assets and solving problems. If you have any issue or do not know anything, don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow members or even the leadership. The Discord and send a message or join a voice chat and we will do our best to help you with the complication at hand and guide you to the answer. We all start as beginners and it is never too late to start. Just be willing to learn and willing to put your heart and mind into it as that will be how you get the most out of this club and the cybersecurity world as a whole. From all of us in the DevilSec leadership, we welcome you, and thank you for joining.