A hacker's final exam: Federal systems
- By Dan Verton
- Mar 19, 2000
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
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."