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03:15 AM

Research Run

Love 'em or hate 'em, security researchers open up whole new vistas on system vulnerability

11:15 AM -- There's been a lot of discussion about the merits of security research in recent weeks. One camp says the research is exposing new vulnerabilities that need to be sealed against the bad guys. The other camp says the vulnerabilities wouldn't be a problem if the researchers didn't keep finding and publishing them.

After looking back at this week's news, I can't help but put myself in the first camp. The research that we've seen in recent days will not only help in the evolution of security products, I think, but it will actually help protect organizations from being hurt by some vulnerabilities that were bound to be discovered by the bad guys.

For example, the Honeynet Project & Research Alliance this week demonstrated that criminal organizations behind two infamous malware families -- Warezov/Stration and Storm -- have begun to use so-called fast-flux service networks. Fast-flux -- basically load-balancing with a twist -- is a round-robin method where infected bot machines (typically home computers) serve as proxies or hosts for malicious Websites. It's been letting the bad guys hide -- but now that it's out in the open, something can be done about it. (See Attackers Hide in Fast Flux.)

Researchers also poked holes in so-called "data leak prevention" tools, an emerging class of products that has received a lot of hype but still needs a lot of work. A pair of researchers has discovered multiple types of flaws in various vendors' DLP products that would let an attacker evade them, alter their records of stolen data, and even use them to bot-infect client machines. (See Black Hat: DLP Hack.)

But research isn't just about finding next-generation bugs. Recently, some surprising flaws have been found in DNS pinning, a technology that's been around for years. One researcher even proved that you can bypass the corporate firewall by converting a victim's browser into a proxy server. (See Hack Sneaks Past Firewall to Intranet and Old Flaw Threatens Web 2.0.)

And guess what? You don't have to be a security pro -- or even an accomplished hacker -- to find some pretty scary vulnerabilities. A privacy-conscious law student this week demonstrated how a simple Google search can lead to extensive personal information in a specific, targeted community. (See Leaks Found in Louisiana University Systems.)

When the Louisiana Commissioner of Education found out about the law student's discovery, he stood up -- egg all over his face -- and thanked the kid for exposing a flaw that could have led to some very serious privacy violations among his constituents. That couldn't have been an easy statement to make, but he was right to be grateful that someone had the guts to show the emperor that he had no clothes.

The industry should be grateful that security researchers do the same thing every day.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • Honeynet Project

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