A hacker's final exam: Federal systems

HOUSTON — More and more cybervandals are turning their attention to federal

government networks to test their virus-development skills and prove their

hacking prowess, according to one of the Army's top security experts.

In the hacker community, "you get your gold certificate by [hacking] the

Department of Defense or another federal agency," said Philip Loranger,

chief of the Command and Control Protect Division in the Army's Information

Assurance Office. Hackers on Tuesday threatened to take down the Army's

home page on the World Wide Web today.

Loranger said hacker groups consider a successful hack against a U.S. government

system a rite of passage. Hacker groups also are crawling out from the

underground and establishing commercial Web sites where other hackers can

download hacking tools, he said.

One such group — Lopht Heavy Industries — offers via its Web site what Loranger

called one of the most effective network surveillance tools available. "They

used to [hack] us, and now they're going to sell to us," said Loranger.

"And guess what? We're buying."

Loranger noted that in India, graduate programs in computer science are

known to require students to conduct a successful hack against a system

in the United States before they can get their degree. However, many of

the tools available on the Internet are so easy to use that any computer

novice can become a dangerous hacker, he said.

During the Army Directors of Information Management Conference here, Loranger

demonstrated how fast these "point-and-click" tools can help hackers map

out networks, uncover security gaps such as "guest" log-on accounts and

password files, gain root access to major network servers, and locate computers

belonging to high-level officials. The same types of tools exist for creating

viruses, he said.

"If you've ever been [listed] in the White Pages [in the phone book], you're

going to show up," said Loranger, demonstrating how Network Solutions Inc.'s

popular Whois service can provide hackers with anybody's full name, e-mail

address, phone and fax number, and the server address that supports those

accounts.

Using a notebook computer with a 2,400 megabits/sec Internet connection,

Loranger displayed a network map of all the systems associated with an Army

official at the Pentagon. From there, he gained access to the system using

a program called "John the Ripper," which cracked all but one of the passwords

in the Caldera Inc. Open Linux-based system.

"This is like taking candy from a baby," said Loranger. "This is about a

two-minute hack. And I haven't used a single hacker tool yet."

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