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Risk

4/15/2008
03:53 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Is It Time For Security To Go On The Offense?

Security researcher Joel Eriksson recently demonstrated how security vulnerabilities within hacker attack tools can be used to turn the tide on online criminals.

Security researcher Joel Eriksson recently demonstrated how security vulnerabilities within hacker attack tools can be used to turn the tide on online criminals.According to a Wired blog post, Eriksson, a security researcher with Swedish security form Bitsec, demonstrated how he has successfully reverse engineered attack software, such as Trojan horses, so that he can upload his own exploits on the attacking systems.

It seems Eriksson is finding vulnerabilities in a number of "remote administration" tools, including Bifrost and PCShare.

"If there is a vulnerability, it is still game over for the hacker," Eriksson is quoted as saying.

It's truly turning the tables on attackers: Once a vulnerability is found in a Trojan, it's then possible to crash, or even infect, the attacking system with the software of your choosing.

I'm all for nailing the bad guys, and while this is interesting, there's the obvious question: are you legally justified toasting the machine that is attacking you? And what about the innocent bystander, albeit infected, systems potentially caught in the crossfire?

This research sort of reminds me of a story I wrote one week short of five years ago, about the digital tar pit, LaBrea, developed by Tom Liston. LaBrea would entrap hackers and worms -- but it froze their machine and forced the hacker to break off the attack. That story is available here, and goes into how LaBrea might go afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

Both Eriksson's and Liston's works are laudable, in my opinion. And maybe, one day, there will be a legal mechanism, akin to digital self-defense, that would let us all safely and legally temporarily brick -- or at least reboot -- an offending system.

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