INSIGHTS | July 16, 2013

2013 ISS Conference, Prague

I had the opportunity to attend the 2013 ISS conference in Prague a few weeks ago. The conference is a place where company representatives and law enforcement (and other government agency) officials can meet to share ideas and products information (such as appliances). Even though I had a sore throat, I still found it quite interesting; although not necessarily in terms of the products and presentations – which I felt was overall a bit flat.

It was easy to differentiate between company representatives and government officials. Government officials wore yellow ID tags, while company representatives wore purple ID tags. These tags stated the individual’s first and last name and the company or government agency they represented.

I didn’t know what to expect, because I had never been to an ISS conference. However, I quickly realized that the conference itself could be an attacker’s paradise. For example, one could easily use a camera phone to take undetected photographs of the various government officials.

Being inquisitive by nature, I decided to conduct an experiment. First, I turned my ID tag (which I was supposed to visibly wear around my neck at all times) backwards so that nobody could see who I was. Even with hotel security guards stationed at all entrances, nobody stopped me or checked my badge.

This is an attack scenario in and of itself. My only interaction with a security guard occurred when I tried to take a shortcut to exit the conference—but even then, I was not asked to show my badge.

The first day had many presentations given. I attended a few of these but found that they were not particularly interesting. A law enforcement official illustrated how to find and check EXIF data in pictures. I asked a question relating to a page with “right-click” protection on. He answered by saying that they needed a third-party program (an open source one) to download the page. I was baffled and wondered what ever happened to “View Source”, which exists in most browsers. What about blocking JavaScript? What happened to File > Save As? This disturbed me, but not as much as what happened later on in the day.

Some of the presentations required a yellow (government) ID tag to attend. With security guards stationed outside of each presentation, I wanted to see if I could successfully enter any of these. I used a yellow piece of paper, borrowed the hotel printer to create a new ID tag, and wrote my name as Mr. Sauron Chief of Security, Country of Mordor. Just like that! I smiled, nodded, and entered the presentation as a yellow-badged participant. To be clear, the presentation had not yet begun, so I quickly exited after a minute or two.

Later in the day, I attended a presentation on TOR, Darknet, and so on. During the presentation, I overheard a number of yellow-badged participants indicating they had never heard of TOR. As the presentation went on, I had a general feeling that the presenter viewed TOR as a safe way to stay anonymous. However, I see it as a network by which attackers can obtain a substantial amount of data (usernames, passwords, credentials, and so on) after setting up their own TOR networks.

There were problems with Wi-Fi access at the hotel. Guests had to pay, for example, 80 Euros per day for a 1MB line (per day). No cables and wiring had been set up beforehand for attendees, so technicians were busy setting these up during the conference. I found this to be a bit dangerous.

When I checked the wireless network, I found that the hotel had a “free” access point to which I quickly connected. I found it ironic, being at an ISS conference, that the hotel used insecure items such as clear text as part of their free connection!

If you happen to represent law enforcement in your country, do not (I repeat, DO NOT)…
  • Connect to anything anywhere in the area,
  • Accept invalid SSL certificates,
  • Use your Viber or What’s Up messenger to send messages (clear text protocols),
  • Use non-encrypted protocols to check your email,
  • Publicly display your name and the agency you represent unless asked to do so by a security representative wearing the proper badge


The same rules that apply to the Defcon and Blackhat conferences should apply at the ISS conference—or any security conference for that matter!

If I had been an evil attacker at the ISS conference, I could have easily sat in the lounge downstairs all day and overheard all kinds of conversations about products, firewalls, and solutions used by a variety of countries. Also, by simply using the “free” hotel Wi-Fi, I could have gained access to a number of participant email messages, text messages, and web pages sending username and password credentials in clear text. Imagine what I could have done with a hotel voucher containing a locked account!

A colleague of mine attending the conference decided to perform a quick experiment using the SSLstrip tool to test for hotel network vulnerabilities. Moxie Marlinspike introduced this tool at the Black Hat DC 2009 conference to demonstrate how attackers can perform HTTP stripping attacks. SSLstrip prompts users to use an invalid certificate, which they can accept or reject. Much to our surprise, ISS conference participants accepted our invalid certificate. My colleague and I were completely baffled and blown away by this! I would like to note that we were not performing this experiment for malicious reasons. We simply wanted to verify the network vulnerability at the conference and provide our feedback to ISS conference and hotel stakeholders in this blog.

Using a tool similar to SSLstrip, an attacker would not even have to enter the main conference area to perform attacks. He could sit back in the smoker’s lounge, order a beverage of choice, set up sniffing, lean back on the couch, and let participants do the rest of the work!
Don’t get me wrong. The conference offered a lot of interesting topics and presentations. Someone presented a board equipped with Bluetooth, wireless, and a 3g module (for listening to calls) that had Linux as a base operating system. Anyone can buy this, not just government officials. The potential an attacker getting this into his hands is huge, and it is only the size of a Rasberry Pi.

Another security concern at the conference involved the use of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. People everywhere were using the Internet on their phones and had Bluetooth activated. You have to ask yourself, would these be activated at a Blackhat conference?

It’s obvious that law enforcement and other governmental agencies need training with regard to the popular hacking techniques used at conferences. We encourage such agencies to contact us at IOActive for help in this arena.


Perhaps you are reading this blog post and realizing that you too have used free Wi-Fi to check email, turned Bluetooth/Wi-Fi on in public places, or accepted a faulty SSL certificate. Promise me one thing… at the next conference you attend make sure everything at the hotel is safe and turn Bluetooth/Wi-Fi off on your devices. Do not talk loudly about things that are supposed to be confidential Do so after the conference! Also, if you are an organizer at the next ISS conference, please be sure to properly check participant badges. Also, consider using something more secure than a paper ID tag with a name on it.