Databases assaulted by SQL injection attacks

Hackers are attacking databases in large numbers in an effort to swipe personal and financial data, a security vendor said Wednesday.

Hackers are striking databases in record numbers, trying to pilfer a rich trove of personal and financial data, a security vendor said Wednesday.

SecureWorks is detecting up to 8,000 attacks per day on databases owned by its clients, up from an average 100 to 200 attacks per day in the first three months of this year.

The statistics come from data on its 1,300 clients, including financial institutions and utilities, most of which are located in the U.S. SecureWorks provides managed security services, including intrusion detection technology along with virus and spam filtering for e-mail.

Hackers, which SecureWorks has detected working from computers in Russia, China, Brazil, Hungary and Korea, are using a method known as a SQL (sequence query language) injection attack, said Jon Ramsey, Secureworks' chief technology officer.

Hackers start by using Google's search engine to find Web pages with forms that have active content, meaning they transmit information to a database, Ramsey said.

Many Web applications do not validate the information in the forms, allowing an attacker to inject malicious SQL commands that are executed by the database. The attacker can then use automated tools to collect information from certain tables and columns in the database.

The next step is to compromise the database server by injecting more code, potentially causing a database server to download other programs from the Internet that give a hacker wider control, Ramsey said.

SQL injection attacks are very targeted and aren't likely to generate wide attention such as when a computer virus or worm widely propagates itself. An attack can take place on a Web page with a simple form, such as a mortgage payment calculator, he said.

"We're not in the age of the worm anymore," Ramsey said. "We're in the age of zero-day, specifically crafted exploits targeting an institution."

Enterprises are taking a closer look at how their databases are secured after a series of well-documented data breaches.

Visa International and MasterCard International are rewriting security rules for merchants that accept credit card payments to better guard against attacks such as SQL injection.

One high-profile SQL injection attack was aimed at CardSystems Solutions, a company that processed payment data for credit-card companies. The hacker used a SQL injection attack to install a program that transferred credit-card data from a database every four days to a remote computer.

As a result, banks reported millions of dollars in fraudulent purchases using counterfeit cards. The hacker is believed to have had access to 40 million credit-card numbers.

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