Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Hackers Demonstrate Their Skills in Vegas

Filed under
Misc

Even the ATM machines were suspect at this year's Defcon conference, where hackers play intrusion games at the bleeding edge of computer security.

With some of the world's best digital break-in artists pecking away at their laptops, sending e-mails or answering cell phones could also be risky.

Defcon is a no-man's land where customary adversaries - feds vs. digital mavericks - are supposed to share ideas about making the Internet a safer place. But it's really a showcase for flexing hacker muscle.

This year's hot topics included a demonstration of just how easy it may be to attack supposedly foolproof biometric safeguards, which determine a person's identity by scanning such things as thumb prints, irises and voice patterns.

Banks, supermarkets and even some airports have begun to rely on such systems, but a security analyst who goes by the name Zamboni challenged hackers to bypass biometrics by attacking their backend systems networks. "Attack it like you would Microsoft or Linux he advised.

Radio frequency identification tags that send wireless signals and that are used to track a growing list of items including retail merchandise, animals and U.S. military shipments_ also came under scrutiny.

A group of twentysomethings from Southern California climbed onto the hotel roof to show that RFID tags could be read from as far as 69 feet. That's important because the tags have been proposed for such things as U.S. passports, and critics have raised fears that kidnappers could use RFID readers to pick traveling U.S. citizens out of a crowd.

RFID companies had said the signals didn't reach more than 20 feet, said John Hering, one of the founders of Flexilis, the company that conducted the experiment.

"Our goal is to raise awareness," said Hering, 22. "Our hope is to spawn other research so that people will move to secure this technology before it becomes a problem."

Erik Michielsen, an analyst at ABI Research, chuckled when he heard the Flexilis claims. "These are great questions that need to be raised," he said, but RFID technology varies with the application, many of which are encrypted. Encryption technology uses an algorithm to scramble data to make it unreadable to everyone except the recipient.

Also on hand at the conference was Robert Morris Sr., former chief scientist for the National Security Agency, to lecture on the vulnerabilities of bank ATMs, which he predicted would become the next "pot of gold" for hackers.

The Internet has become "crime ridden slums," said Phil Zimmermann, a well-known cryptographer who spoke at the conference. Hackers and the computer security experts who make a living on tripping up systems say security would be better if people were less lazy.

To make their point, they pilfered Internet passwords from convention attendees.

Anyone naive enough to access the Internet through the hotel's unsecured wireless system could see their name and part of their passwords scrolling across a huge public screen.

It was dubbed the "The Wall of Sheep."

Among the exposed sheep were an engineer from Cisco Systems Inc., multiple employees from Apple Computer Inc. and a Harvard professor.

An annual highlight of the conference is the "Meet the Feds" panel, which this year included representatives from the FBI, NSA, and the Treasury and Defense departments. Morris and other panel members said they would love to hire the "best and brightest" hackers but cautioned that the offer wouldn't be extended to lawbreakers.

During the session, Agent Jim Christy of the Defense Department's Cyber Crime Center asked the audience to stand.

"If you've never broken the law, sit down," he said. Many sat down immediately - but a large number appeared to hesitate before everyone eventually took their seats.

OK, now we can turn off the cameras, Christy joked.

Some federal agents were indeed taking careful notes, though, when researcher Michael Lynn set the tone for the conference by publicizing earlier in the week a vulnerability in Cisco routers that he said could allow hackers to virtually shut down the Internet.

Lynn and other researchers at Internet Security Systems had discovered a way of exploiting a Cisco software vulnerability in order to seize control of a router. That flaw was patched in April, but Lynn showed that Cisco hadn't quite finished the repair job - that the same technique could be used to exploit other vulnerabilities in Cisco routers.

Cisco and ISS went to court to try to stop Lynn from going public, but Lynn quit ISS and spoke anyway. In the wake of his decision, Lynn has become the subject of an FBI probe, said his attorney Jennifer Granick.

Many at the conference praised Lynn.

"We're never going to secure the Net if we don't air and criticize vulnerabilities," said David Cowan, a managing partner at venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners.

And the vulnerabilities are plenty.

During his session on ATM machines, Morris said thieves have been able to dupe people out of their bank cards and passwords by changing the software in old ATM machines bought off eBay for as little as $1,000 and placing the machines out in public venues.

Associated Press

More in Tux Machines

today's howtos

Security Leftovers

  • Java and Python FTP attacks can punch holes through firewalls
    The Java and Python runtimes fail to properly validate FTP URLs, which can potentially allow attackers to punch holes through firewalls to access local networks. On Saturday, security researcher Alexander Klink disclosed an interesting attack where exploiting an XXE (XML External Entity) vulnerability in a Java application can be used to send emails.
  • Microsoft: no plans to patch known bugs before March [Ed: Microsoft is keeping open 'back doors' that are publicly known about, not just secret ones]
    Microsoft has no plans to issue updates for two vulnerabilities, one a zero-day and the other being one publicised by Google, before the scheduled date for its next round of updates rolls around in March. The company did not issue any updates in February, even though it had been scheduled to switch to a new system from this month onwards. It gave no reason for this, apart from saying: "This month, we discovered a last minute issue that could impact some customers and was not resolved in time for our planned updates today. "After considering all options, we made the decision to delay this month’s updates. We apologise for any inconvenience caused by this change to the existing plan." The Google-disclosed bug was made public last week, and is said to be a flaw in the Windows graphic device interface library that can be exploited both locally and remotely to read the contents of a user's memory.
  • Microsoft issues critical security patches, but leaves zero-day flaws at risk
    Microsoft has patched "critical" security vulnerabilities in its browsers, but has left at least two zero-day flaws with public exploit code. The software giant released numerous patches late on Tuesday to fix flaws in Adobe Flash for customers using Internet Explorer on Windows 8.1 and later, as well as Edge for Windows 10.

Red Hat News

  • Why upstream contributions matter when developing open source NFV solutions.
    When software is developed using open source methods, an upstream repository of the code is accessible to all members of the project. Members contribute to the code, test it, write documentation and can create a solution from that code to use or distribute under license. If an organization follows the main stream or branch of the upstream code their solution will receive all the changes and updates created in the upstream repository. Those changes simply “flow down” to the member’s solution. However, if a member organization forks the code — if they create a solution that strays from the main stream — their solution no longer receives updates, fixes and changes from the upstream repository. This organization is now solely responsible for maintaining their solution without the benefit of the upstream community, much like the baby salmon that took a tributary and then have to fend for themselves rather than remain in the main stream and receive the benefit and guidance of the other salmon making their way to the ocean.
  • HPE and Red Hat Join Forces to Give Customers Greater Choice for NFV Deployments
    Hewlett Packard Enterprise ( NYSE : HPE ) and Red Hat, Inc. ( NYSE : RHT ) announced today they are working together to accelerate the deployment of network functions virtualization (NFV) solutions based on fully open, production-ready, standards-based infrastructures. HPE plans to offer ready-to-use, pre-integrated HPE NFV System solutions and HPE Validated Configurations incorporating Red Hat OpenStack Platform and Red Hat Ceph Storage for communications service providers (CSPs).
  • Red Hat Joins the OpenPower Foundation
    As part of our commitment to delivering open technologies across many computing architectures, Red Hat has joined the OpenPOWER Foundation, an open development community based on the POWER microprocessor architecture, at the Platinum level. While we already do build and support open technologies for the POWER architecture, the OpenPOWER Foundation is committed to an open, community-driven technology-creation process – something that we feel is critical to the continued growth of open collaboration around POWER.
  • Buy, Sell or Hold? Analysts Approach: HCA Holdings, Inc. (HCA), Red Hat, Inc. (RHT)?

Linux and FOSS Events