September 18, 2020

How a Hacker’s Mom Broke Into a Prison—and the Warden’s Computer

John Strand breaks into points for a living. As a penetration tester, he gets employed by companies to attack their defenses, assisting reveal weaknesses before precise lousy guys uncover them. Normally, Strand embarks on these missions himself, or deploys 1 of his experienced colleagues at Black Hills Facts Stability. But in July 2014, prepping for a pen test of a South Dakota correctional facility, he took a decidedly distinct tack. He despatched his mom.

In fairness, it was Rita Strand’s strategy. Then 58, she had signed on as main financial officer of Black Hills the earlier calendar year following three many years in the food support business. She was confident, given that qualified practical experience, that she could pose as a state health inspector to get obtain to the prison. All it would get was a pretend badge and the ideal patter.

“She approached me a person day, and claimed ‘You know, I want to break in somewhere,” claims Strand, who is sharing the encounter this 7 days at the RSA cybersecurity meeting in San Francisco. “And it really is my mother, so what am I intended to say?”

That is not as straightforward a simply call as it may seem. Penetration testers often say that you can get incredibly much with just a clipboard and some assurance, but a novice operate at a point out correctional facility is just basic challenging. And whilst pen testers are contractually permitted to crack into a client’s devices, if they are caught tensions can escalate speedily. Two pen testers who broke into an Iowa courthouse as component of their occupation just lately used 12 hours in jail just after a run-in with neighborhood authorities.

Rita Strand’s mission would also be complicated by her lack of technical abilities. A specialist pen tester would be ready to assess an organization’s digital security in actual time and plant back again doorways personalized to what they found on the distinct community. Rita had the well being inspector guise down chilly, but she was no hacker.

Courtesy of John Strand

To help get her in the door, Black Hills manufactured Rita a bogus badge, a business enterprise card, and a “manager’s” card with John’s speak to information on it. Assuming she obtained inside, she would then get pics of the facility’s entry factors and actual physical security capabilities. Alternatively than have her test to hack any computers herself, John geared up Rita with so-identified as Rubber Duckies, malicious USB sticks that she would plug into each individual unit she could. The thumb drives would beacon again to her Black Hills colleagues and give them accessibility to the prison’s systems. Then they could perform on the digital aspect of the pen test remotely, when Rita ongoing her rampage.

“For most individuals, the 1st couple of times they do this they get definitely awkward,” Strand says. “But she was all prepared to go. Jail cybersecurity is crucial for apparent good reasons. If an individual could break into the prison and get in excess of computer systems, it gets seriously straightforward to just take an individual out of the jail.”

The morning of the pen check, the Strands and some colleagues carpooled to a cafe near the jail. In excess of a preparatory caramel roll and slice of pecan pie, they established up a war area of laptops, cell hotspots, and other gear. When everything was set, Rita drove off to the jail on her very own.

“She takes off, and I’m thinking in the back of my head that this is a truly undesirable strategy,” Strand says. “She has no pen testing knowledge. No IT hacking experience. I had reported ‘Mom, if this will get lousy you will need to choose up the phone and contact me immediately.'”

Pen testers generally test to get in and out of a facility as rapidly as attainable to avoid arousing suspicion. But soon after 45 minutes of waiting around, there was no sign of Rita.

“It gets to be about an hour and I’m panicking,” he states. “And I am imagining I should have imagined it as a result of, simply because we all went in the exact auto so I’m out in the middle of nowhere at a pie shop with no way to get to her.”

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