How to Setup an Ethical Hacking Lab

I have recently been setting up a Virtual Lab to use with Kali Linux, to safely practice some pen-testing. And just messing around with some stuff, but the first thing I needed to do before I started was to create a safe environment for myself to practice in. I did this by using VMware

VMware is a virtual machine package allowing you to run virtual machines on your main devices, this can be used for a number of different things. Such as setting up a forensics test environment to discover how some application change the machines as they are used. Or to practice ethical hacking in a safe and secure environment. This can be important because unless you had permission to practice on a real network you would be in breach of a number off different laws depending on the country your in.

This means without having access to a functional lab you’d struggle to either practice away from your studies or to even get started without the worry of getting yourself into trouble. Due to these reasons I went about setting my self up a little lab using VMware. This was very straight forward and simple to-do. And now means I can practice to my hearts content without the risk of breaking any laws.And here is how I did it.

VMWare Downlaod Page
First thing you will need to do is go to the VMware website, and download the VMware Workstation Player (And don’t worry its free for personal use)
VMware Welcome Screen
Once you have downloaded and installed VMware, you will be greeted by this window. From here we are going to select “Create a New Virtual Machine”
Create VM 1
Once you have selected to create a new virtual machine, you will have to select the ISO you wish to install (I will leave a list of Linux ISO below)
Create VM 3
Once you have selected your operating system you will be asked to enter information about the user
Create VM 4
The next step is to decided where you want to save your VM files and to name the VM if you have multiple VM’s of the same operating system this is usefulto manage and keep track of them.
Create VM 5
You will then be asked to select how much storage you want the virtual machine to have, I usually leave it around the 20GB mark but you can do what ever best suites your needs. As I only use mine for testing purpose and never store any data on them.
Create VM 6
This is the final stage before powering on your VM, and is also the stage you are give the option to assign how much hardware the VM will receive.
Create VM 7
Once you have decided how many cores and how much ram your VM is going to require you need to go down to the networking option and select Host-Only. This means that you will only be able to communicate with machines on the same virtual network as yourself.
Create VM 8
And finally you should be able to power on your virtual machine and install the operating system. Once this machine boots up you will be in your own virtual network and can practice your hacking in a safe and secure environment.

 

So if you follow all of the steps above you will be able to repeat this step to install OS such as Kali Linux, this is my go to operating system for practicing ethical hacking as it has all the tools you could need and is used within industry meaning you will have access to tools that are used by professionals.

I found it useful to play around with some older operating systems to practice on first, this tended to be Windows XP or an older version of Ubuntu. This is due to the security features on Windows 10 for example and more advance making it more of a struggle to practice. I also found the easiest way to get a Windows XP key was to have a look around the house and try and find an old laptop that ran windows XP and use the serial off that. But if you don’t have any laying round the house you can buy them on eBay for about £30.

 

Linux ISO Downloads

ProtonVPN – Review

I have been using ProtonMail for a while now, and when I had seen a couple of mentions about them starting a VPN service on Twitter I had to have a look and see what it was all about. This lead to me reading up on there new services ProtonVPN. And once on there website I was blown away! Some of the features and use cases that they mention show that they truly care about the people using their services. And protecting there users is paramount to them, you can tell from the fact that they offer an end to end encrypted email service. For people in a position were there privacy might be invaded while using the internet.  So after reading all of this on the website I saw all of the features that it boasts, these include:

  • Secure Core

    ProtonVPN’s Secure Core architecture gives our secure VPN service the unique ability to defend against network based attacks. Secure Core protects your connection by routing your traffic through multiple servers before leaving our network. This means an advanced adversary who can monitor the network traffic at the exit server will not be able to discover the true IP address of ProtonVPN users, nor match browsing activity to that IP.

    Secure core servers are located in hardened datacenters in Switzerland, Iceland, and Sweden, protected by strong privacy laws, and operated on our own dedicated networks. Learn More

  • Strong Encryption

    We use only the highest strength encryption to protect your Internet connection. This means all your network traffic is encrypted with AES-256, key exchange is done with 2048-bit RSA, and HMAC with SHA256 is used for message authentication.

  • Forward Secrecy

    We have carefully selected our encryption cipher suites to only include ones that have Perfect Forward Secrecy. This means that your encrypted traffic cannot be captured and decrypted later if the encryption key from a subsequent session gets compromised. With each connection, we generate a new encryption key, so a key is never used for more than one session.

  • Strong Protocols

    We exclusively use VPN protocols which are known to be secure (OpenVPN). Even though they are less costly to operate, you will not find ProtonVPN servers that support PPTP and L2TP/IPSec. By using ProtonVPN, you can be certain that your VPN tunnel is not using a protocol that has already been compromised.

  • Swiss Based

    In addition to strong technical security, ProtonVPN also benefits from strong legal protection. Because we are based in Switzerland, ProtonVPN is protected by some of the world’s strongest privacy laws and remains outside of US and EU jurisdiction. This means that unlike VPN providers based in a fourteen eyes country, we cannot be coerced into spying on our users.

  • Trusted

    We are one of the only VPN companies that provide transparency so you know exactly who is running the service. Our team has a long track record in security, having previously built ProtonMail – the world’s largest encrypted email service. Whether it is challenging governments, educating the public, or training journalists, we have a long history of fighting for privacy online and contributing to the open source community.

  • Physical Security

    We have gone to extreme lengths to protect ProtonVPN’s Secure Core servers to ensure their security. Critical infrastructure in Switzerland is located in a former Swiss army fallout shelter 1000 meters below the surface. Similarly, our Iceland infrastructure resides in a secure former military base. Our servers in Sweden are also located in an underground datacenter. By shipping our own equipment to these locations, we ensure that our servers are also secure at the hardware level.

  • No Logs Policy

    Under Swiss law, we are not obligated to save any user connection logs, nor can we be forced to perform targeted logging on specific users. This allows us to ensure that your private browsing history does in fact stay private and cannot be turned over to a third party under any circumstances.

  • DNS Leak Prevention

    ProtonVPN doesn’t just protect your browsing traffic, we also protect your DNS queries. By routing your DNS queries through the encrypted tunnel and not relying on third party DNS providers, we ensure that your browsing activity cannot be exposed by leaks from DNS queries.

  • Kill Switch

    ProtonVPN desktop and mobile applications come with a built-in Kill Switch feature which will block all network connections in the event that the connection with the VPN server is lost. This prevents a VPN server disconnect from inadvertently compromising your privacy by revealing your true IP address.

  • Tor VPN

    ProtonVPN comes with Tor support built-in. Through our selected Tor servers, you can route all your traffic through the Tor anonymity network and also access dark web sites. This provides a convenient way to access Onion sites with just a single click.

  • Anonymous

    We respect your privacy so no personal identifying information is required to obtain a ProtonVPN account. You can sign up with an anonymous ProtonMail email account and use our anonymous VPN without disclosing your identity.

  • High Speed

    For optimal performance, we use only high speed servers. All ProtonVPN servers have at minimum 1 Gbps bandwidth, and many of our servers also utilize 10 Gbps connections. This means that even though we utilize only the strongest encryption, ProtonVPN also provides blazing fast speeds.

  • Easy to Use

    We understand that it is important for security technology to be easy to use. We have designed the ProtonVPN applications to have a simple and intuitive user interface so that browsing privately and anonymously can be done with a single click. Additionally, you can create custom connection profiles which automatically protect your device whenever you connect to the internet.

  • Additional Features

    • P2P Support

    • Unlimited Bandwidth

    • Up to 10 Devices

    • Professional Support

    • Connection Profiles

    • Quick connect

    • Modern Interface

    • Multi-platform Support

    • Quick Country Selector

      Source – ProtonVPN Website

 

So after reading all of the information listed above it was clear that ProtonVPN was not messing about, and frankly it was offering stuff that I didn’t even know I needed. And some other stuff I had never heard of before. This was mainly the “Secure Core” but the look and style of the windows application was also a huge draw.So the next step was to sing up and start using it, this was a very simple and straight forward process as I already had a ProtonMail account so I logged in using that and then went to active the VPN. I was given a few different packages ranging from free to around about $30 a month

The first thing that drew me into the ProtonVPN was after looking on the website, seeing something they call “secure core” after a little digging it turn out that the secure core adds a second layer of protection by routing your traffic through multiple servers. Meaning its a huge amount harder to track. This is something that I have not seen on any of the other services I have used that have all been highly rated across the web. And understandably every ones use case for a VPN service is going to be drastically different to one another but as I said before the company Proton cares about its users privacy. This leads onto another key selling point and that is that the company is based in Switzerland, and if you know anything about the Swiss law they have amazing privacy laws. And don’t extradite information to countries such as the UK or USA. This was shown during the huge amount of time that the PirateBay way one of the largest torrenting sites in the world and remained relativity untouched until  about the past 5 years. This all adds up to some pretty good things to brag about.

The next thing to consider with any VPN is the price and if its worth it when there are so many others on the market, well I personally feel that ProtonVPN hits the market at right about the sweet spot. This is not only because they offer a free service (Obviously there are restriction, and due to the heavy demand much like when ProtonMail came out there is a waiting list to start using it) But even then the next step up is only $4 a month if an annual subscription is purchased, or $5 a month if paying monthly is more your thing. As you can see from the image below even the highest tier package is not hugely unrealistic for people to pay. It is also bundled with ProtonMail Visionary (This package is the top tier for the ProtonMail services that in my opinion is targeted at business due to some of the features they offer.

I decided to go for the middle ground and singed up to the Plus package costing $8 a month and bundled it with ProtonMail plus saving me 20% and after adding a second custom domain cost me the grand total of $13.60. And after using some other services and a little bit of research most of the other VPN’s out there tend to cost between $6 and $10 roughly. So this is not costing any more than your average VPN and is boasting features that I had not seen advertised anywhere before. And if you throw in a ProtonMail Plus subscription as well your not paying much more than you would for the top Netflix package.

ProtonPrices

So after signing up and getting into my ProtonVPN account I was excited to download the Windows application after seeing some screen shots on the website and there is a good reason to get excited. Unlike any of the other VPN’s that I have used it has a really pleasant GUI (Graphical User Interface) and an ascetically pleasing feel to it. This is done from the map of the world that it displays and the screen lines to show your active connections. They have managed to make it look really good and almost something that you can leave open on a second screen as a sort of wallpaper. When you compare this to other services such as SurfEasy and ExspressVPN it wins on looks hand down. Its not following what I believe is the standard VPN GUI and that’s a little window that lets you log into the services and then a drop-down box that offers you connection and then a connect button. And that’s amazing, so not only does it hit the sweet price spot while offering features that most other don’t it also looks and feels nicer to use than others on the market.

 

So the next thing I was looking for after signing up as mobile compatibility, naturally I use both my iPad and my smartphone on public WiFi networks. So I like for my VPN service to run on my mobile devices and ProtonVPN does run on mobile devices but not quite in the matter that I was expecting it to. This is because it use’s an application called OpenVPN this was something that I had never heard of before and was a little skeptical on using a 3rd party application to receive my VPN tunnel. But I proceeded anyway, and download the OpenVPN application and then went onto the ProtonVPN website to download the files I needed to set up my connection to the service. This was the first hurdle I faced with ProtonVPN, and that was largely due to not being able to download the files I needed through either my safari browser or my Firefox IOS application, a small work around however was if I downloaded all of the files as a Zip document I was able to download the file, and open it using the Files application (IOS 11) from there I downloaded an application to view and extract Zip files on my IOS devise. I wont say which as there are so many on the app store it will not be hard to find one that works. One the Zip file had been extracted to my devise I was simply able to share the file to the OpenVPN application. From here it was a simple matter of putting in my ProtonVPN login credentials and hitting connect. At first trying to get it to work seemed to be a daunting task but after managing to get it done on my iPad it took me mere minuets to do the same on my iPhone. Again the mobile versions offered are all the same connection as the Windows application uses, it also offers the secure cores as well they are just stored in a different folder to download. Although I have not used either Linux or Mac with this VPN I do know it is done using the OpenVPN application so I would imagine the processes of connecting is a very similar one to that of the IOS devices.

 

 

 

The next and final thing I am going to look at is the performance of the VPN its self, as with any your download speed will be effected by using the service and some of them slow your connection down more than others so I was interested to know how ProtonVPN would do in comparison to my standard internet speed. As the images below show on the left we have my connection without using the VPN and on the right my connection with the VPN connected. That works out to be around 10% of my original speed. Granted to a lot of people 51mbps is a huge speed, and when using the VPN it is silky and smooth with no noticeable drop outs or failed connections. Unlike some of the other VPN’s that I have used and had failed connections becoming a regular occurrence .

 

So to summarize I feel although ProtonVPN is the new kid on the block I feel it is a very nice VPN that not only looks good but delivers are service that you cannot complain about. And for the price even as a student I do not find it to be unreasonable. and if I was going to give it a rating I would go as far to say 4.5/5 due to all of the features that it offers that I haven’t seen anywhere else. And due to the company’s mantra about protecting peoples internet privacy.

NSA GitHub – Are they really being transparent

Earlier this week it came to light that the NSA (National Security Agency) had created a GitHub account, and realises some programs on the platform.  This bring up a number of questions, firstly are they really trying to be that transparent or is it a novel way to try and win back the trust of the public.
Thankfully the source code for all of the application is available so it is possible to see what is going on within them, as a major concern of mine would be the potential back doors or snooping application like this could do to e user if they where not able to actually see what was going on…

But this does still beg the question as to why they have realised it, now it is not uncommon for application and other such items to trickle down the pipe line to the more “consumer” market eventually but after the vault 7 leaks a few month ago it is possible to see that they have so many more application with much more malicious uses than the few that eye have realised for the public. So there is the potential they they have realsed stuff that is out dated to them or that they don’t feel will be to compromising to all if their activitys.

What is WannaCry

Recently you might have read that a computer virus by the name of WannaCry has been extorting money from people and organizations all over the world. But what is WannaCry and should you be worried?

WannaCry  (or WannaCrypt, WanaCrypt0r 2.0, Wanna Decryptor) is a computer worm that has been effecting Windows computers over the past week. It is rumored to have been enabled and aided by some of the recent Vault 7 vulnerabilitys including EternalBlue that the NSA (National Security Agency) had been collecting and storing over the past few years. This has lead to one of the most widespread and effective ransomware’s that has been seen to date. Not just targeting your average user but also going after large corporations and organization such as the NHS (National Health Services)

wannacry_05_1024x774-0
The WannaCry GUI that users have been met with

But what does it all mean, this ransomware could have sat dormant for month (It very likely has) just trying to spread the infection to as many vulnerable machines as possible. Until it is then activated by either the creator or by s spesific time and date. Once the infection is triggered the malicious package then encrypts the users PC and demands the user to pay the “Ransom” in this case the amount was $300 or £231.59. This is a rather large amount of money and on the scale of the attack would have made it a very profitable venture if all of the effected users pay the money to gain access back to there device.

In the case of WannaCry effecting the NHS it could have potentially cost human lives as well, because it was effecting hospitals and GP surgery’s. Without having access to the patient information the medical practitioner might have been unable to proceed with a user treatment or potential be unable to access the patients personal information.  But WannaCry made a few fatal error is the design and execution of the virus. Firstly the ransom payment was required in bitcoins (Bit coins are a digital currency with no central regulation making it hard to track) but because there what only 4 addresses to pay the bit coins too and because they where hard-coded into application it means that the possibility of tracking them is a whole lot easier. And then there is the built in “Kill Switch” that was again hard coded into the application. This meant that to deactivate the ransomware, a website address needed reached. Meaning that researchers were able to find the target URL and register it meaning they then had the ability to deactivate the program.

For such an effective and wide spread virus it looks as if corners where cut, for example if the URL that was required for the “Kill Switch” had been coded to be random it would have made the pressure of finding the target URL much greater as there would not have been a clear target. And the next blunder was in the form of having only used 4 Bitcoin payment addresses, because of this it will make the authority’s job of tracking the Bitcoins slightly easier as they will just have to monitor bitcoins public transaction ledger know as the blockchain. It has also been found by Cisco researchers that the “Check payment” button did not actually do anything other than display one of 4 possible out come, meaning that the decryption of the devices was most likely done manually. But there is also speculation that the creator may just have send out a random handful of decryption keys to make it appear as if the payment has gained the user access to there machine again. If that is the cases then this virus should not really be called ransomware at all, as there is a strong possibility that even after the ransom has been paid the user will not just be given access back to their files, making this more Theftware.

hacking

But there has been further speculation from other security researches that this attack might have been made to look as if it was ransomware. This could mean that the creators had alternate motives. This could have been for a number of things, but when you consider the sort of things that where effected and completely parallelized (Hospital equipment, Trains and ATM’s) could it be possible that the ransomware side of this attack was merely a cover up? And when you consider that researchers at Kaspersky Lab have been finding evidence linking WannaCry to North Korea. This was in the form of similar code that had been used in a previous attack this year. A number of other big names in cyber security have also backed up these claims as they too have noticed drastic similarity within the code that has been used in both attacks. And when you look at the raising tensions between the USA and North Korea and acknowledge the fact that “cyber space” is the new battle field this could have just been a test run for bigger things to come, but of course this is all merely speculation.

But what do you do if your computer if effected by Ransomware and are there any procotions that you can take to make it less damaging.

Precautions to take


  • Always keep regular backups of any documentation and files that you need or do not wish to lose. You could back them up to an external devices such as a USB stick or an external HDD. The other option would be to back up your files and documents to one of the many cloud services such as GoogleDrive or Microsoft’s OneDrive.

 

  • Make sure you download and install regular updates on your operating system, this should hopeful help to prevent the vulnerability being present on your computer.

 

  • If you machine does get infected by ransomware the first thing you should do is disconnect your devices from the internet, this could possibility prevent the virus from encrypting all of your data.