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SAD/U5 Topic 1 Basics of Information Security, Types of Attacks

Information Security is not all about securing information from unauthorized access. Information Security is basically the practice of preventing unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, inspection, recording or destruction of information. Information can be physical or electrical one. Information can be anything like your details or we can say your profile on social media, your data in mobile phone, your biometrics etc. Thus Information Security spans so many research areas like Cryptography, Mobile Computing, Cyber Forensics, Online Social Media etc.

During First World War, Multi-tier Classification System was developed keeping in mind sensitivity of information. With the beginning of Second World War formal alignment of Classification System was done. Alan Turing was the one who successfully decrypted Enigma Machine which was used by Germans to encrypt warfare data.

Information Security programs are built around 3 objectives, commonly known as CIA – Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability.

  1. Confidentiality: Means information is not disclosed to unauthorized individuals, entities and process. For example if we say I have a password for my Gmail account but someone saw while I was doing a login into Gmail account. In that case my password has been compromised and Confidentiality has been breached.
  2. Integrity: Means maintaining accuracy and completeness of data. This means data cannot be edited in an unauthorized way. For example if an employee leaves an organization then in that case data for that employee in all departments like accounts, should be updated to reflect status to JOB LEFT so that data is complete and accurate and in addition to this only authorized person should be allowed to edit employee data.
  3. Availability: Means information must be available when needed. For example if one needs to access information of a particular employee to check whether employee has outstanded the number of leaves, in that case it requires collaboration from different organizational teams like network operations, development operations, incident response and policy/change management.
    Denial of service attack is one of the factor that can hamper the availability of information.

Apart from this there is one more principle that governs information security programs. This is Non repudiation.

  • Non repudiation: Means one party cannot deny receiving a message or a transaction nor can the other party deny sending a message or a transaction. For example in cryptography it is sufficient to show that message matches the digital signature signed with sender’s private key and that sender could have a sent a message and nobody else could have altered it in transit. Data Integrity and Authenticity are pre-requisites for Non repudiation.
  • Authenticity: Means verifying that users are who they say they are and that each input arriving at destination is from a trusted source. This principle if followed guarantees the valid and genuine message received from a trusted source through a valid transmission. For example if take above example sender sends the message along with digital signature which was generated using the hash value of message and private key. Now at the receiver side this digital signature is decrypted using the public key generating a hash value and message is again hashed to generate the hash value. If the 2 value matches then it is known as valid transmission with the authentic or we say genuine message received at the recipient side
  • Accountability: Means that it should be possible to trace actions of an entity uniquely to that entity. For example as we discussed in Integrity section not every employee should be allowed to do changes in other employee’s data. For this there is a separate department in an organization that is responsible for making such changes and when they receive request for a change then that letter must be signed by higher authority for example Director of college and person that is allotted that change will be able to do change after verifying his bio metrics, thus timestamp with the user (doing changes) details get recorded. Thus we can say if a change goes like this then it will be possible to trace the actions uniquely to an entity.

At the core of Information Security is Information Assurance, which means the act of maintaining CIA of information, ensuring that information is not compromised in any way when critical issues arise. These issues are not limited to natural disasters, computer/server malfunctions etc.

Thus, the field of information security has grown and evolved significantly in recent years. It offers many areas for specialization, including securing networks and allied infrastructure, securing applications and databases, security testing, information systems auditing, business continuity planning etc.

Types of Attacks

Active attacks: An Active attack attempts to alter system resources or effect their operations. Active attack involve some modification of the data stream or creation of false statement. Types of active attacks are as following:

  1. Masquerade:
    Masquerade attack takes place when one entity pretends to be different entity. A Masquerade attack involves one of the other form of active attacks.
  2. Modification of messages:

It means that some portion of a message is altered or that message is delayed or reordered to produce an unauthorized effect. For example, a message meaning “Allow JOHN to read confidential file X” is modified as “Allow Smith to read confidential file X”.

  1. Repudiation:
    This attack is done by either sender or receiver. The sender or receiver can deny later that he/she has send or receive a message. For example, customer ask his Bank “To transfer an amount to someone” and later on the sender(customer) deny that he had made such a request. This is repudiation.
  2. Replay:
    It involves the passive capture of a message and its subsequent the transmission to produce an authorized effect.
  3. Denial of Service:
    It prevents normal use of communication facilities. This attack may have a specific target. For example, an entity may suppress all messages directed to a particular destination. Another form of service denial is the disruption of an entire network wither by disabling the network or by overloading it by messages so as to degrade performance.

Passive attacks: A Passive attack attempts to learn or make use of information from the system but does not affect system resources. Passive Attacks are in the nature of eavesdropping on or monitoring of transmission. The goal of the opponent is to obtain information is being transmitted. Types of Passive attacks are as following:

  1. The release of message content:

Telephonic conversation, an electronic mail message or a transferred file may contain sensitive or confidential information. We would like to prevent an opponent from learning the contents of these transmissions.

  1. Traffic analysis:

Suppose that we had a way of masking (encryption) of information, so that the attacker even if captured the message could not extract any information from the message.

The opponent could determine the location and identity of communicating host and could observe the frequency and length of messages being exchanged. This information might be useful in guessing the nature of the communication that was taking place.

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