My new paper on Cybersecurity in the AWS Cloud

This new paper was just posted as a technical report at Cornell’s arXiv (, but it will be submitted for publication in the future. PDF of the paper.

From the abstract: This paper re-examines the content of a standard advanced course in Cybersecurity from the perspective of Cloud Computing. More precisely, we review the core concepts of Cybersecurity, as presented in a senior undergraduate or graduate class, in light of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

This paper has three goals: (i) to aid faculty in cloudifying a Cybersecurity offering; (ii) to re-examine Cybersecurity in light of the new paradigm of Cloud Computing; and, (iii) as a guide for preparing for the AWS Security Specialty certification. The paper presents an outline of Cybersecurity, with topics examined in the context of AWS, and with a long bibliography for a more in-depth study of each topic.

It should be mentioned that this paper is a second paper in a sequence on cloudification with AWS; the first one, Cloudifying the Curriculum with AWS, can be found here:, and it was mentioned in this blog post. I mention the AWS security speciality certification exam in this post.

New Orleans cyber attack

The City of New Orleans has suffered a cybersecurity attack serious enough for Mayor LaToya Cantrell to declare a state of emergency. 

The attack started at 5 a.m. CST on Friday, December 13, according to the City of New Orleans’ emergency preparedness campaign, NOLA Ready, managed by the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. NOLA Ready tweeted that “suspicious activity was detected on the City’s network,” and as investigations progressed, “activity indicating a cybersecurity incident was detected around 11 a.m.” As a precautionary measure, the NOLA tweet confirmed, the city’s IT department gave the order for all employees to power down computers and disconnect from Wi-Fi. All city servers were also powered down, and employees told to unplug any of their devices.

Voyager: an implementation of a tracking pixel

Voyager is a software that implements what is called an invisible bit (aka, a tracking bit), that can be used to track certain activities. Voyager deploys the AWS network infrastructure, and its Data Base, the Relational Database Service (RDS). Voyager has been implemented at CI by a group of Computer Science students, as a Research & Development project for the HTTF. From AWS website:

Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud. It provides cost-efficient and resizable capacity while automating time-consuming administration tasks such as hardware provisioning, database setup, patching and backups. It frees you to focus on your applications so you can give them the fast performance, high availability, security and compatibility they need.

For this project, we are also using the following tools: EC2, S3 and Route 53.

US weapons systems can be easily hacked

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found “mission-critical” cyber-vulnerabilities in nearly all weapons systems tested between 2012 and 2017.That includes the newest F-35 jet as well as missile systems.

Pentagon officials had no immediate response to the 50-page report from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The committee’s members expressed concerns about how protected weapon systems were against cyber-attacks.

Source: US weapons systems can be ‘easily hacked’ – BBC News

Using AWS on a project in collaboration with SoCal HTTF to decrypt a password

Anyone working in the field of Digital Forensics is aware that a substantial portion of time is dedicated to reverse engineering passwords. That is, in most cases a digital forensics investigator receives a password-protected handheld device, or a laptop with an encrypted hard disk, or a Microsoft Word document which has been password protected.

It is then the task of the investigator to try to retrieve the evidence, and that in turns requires reverse engineering the password; in some cases this can be achieved by recovering the hash of the password, which is stored somewhere (the locations are often known) on the device’s memory.

In order to obtain the password from the hash, we have to run a brute-force search algorithm that guesses passwords (the guesses can be more or less educated, depending on what is known about the case). Sometimes we get lucky. There are two programs that are used extensively for this purpose: John the Ripper and hashcat.

As we have been studying methods for recovering passwords from hashes, we have been using AWS EC2 instances in order to run experiments and help HTTF with their efforts. Together with senior capstone students as well as graduate students in Cybersecurity, we have been creating a set of guidelines and best practices to help in the recovery of passwords from hashes. AWS EC2 instances are ideal as they can be crafted to the needs and resources of a particular case. For example we are currently running a t2.2xlarge instance on a case where we have to recover the password of a Microsoft Word document; we have also used a p2.16xlarge with GPU-based parallel compute capabilities, but it costs $14/hour of usage, and so we deploy it in a very surgical manner.

The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies – Bloomberg

The attack by Chinese spies reached almost 30 U.S. companies, including Amazon and Apple, by compromising America’s technology supply chain, according to extensive interviews with government and corporate sources.
— Read on