Security

Fighting fire with fire

Wired reported that on the eleventh of April, on Friday two weeks ago, security expert Joel Eriksson discussed the tools and techniques he uses to crack security on common security cracking software at the RSA Security Conference -- fighting fire with fire, you might say.

Wired reported that on Friday, April 11, two weeks ago, security expert Joel Eriksson discussed the tools and techniques he uses to crack security on common security cracking software at the RSA Security Conference — fighting fire with fire, you might say.

This was Bitsec AB, CTO Joel Eriksson's first public demonstration of the techniques he uses to crack security on the computers used by malicious security crackers via the very tools they use to compromise others' security. He discovers security vulnerabilities in widely distributed programs used by "script kiddies" — security crackers who rely on software developed by other people without any real understanding of the underlying techniques and principles. Once he has identified vulnerabilities, using the same sorts of techniques employed by the people who wrote the tools in the first place to discover vulnerabilities in more "legitimate" software, he exploits them to gain access to the computers used by the script kiddies that use the security cracking software.

The Wired article is long on the sensationalistic, "Security Guru Gives Hackers a Taste of Their Own Medicine" angle, but short on certain specifics. My first thought after reading the article was:

Okay, so he gains a foothold on some script kiddie's computer. Then what?

What these script kiddies usually do when they gain access to someone else's computer is use them to launch attacks on other systems, send spam e-mails, and so on. Obviously, doing the same things isn't really appropriate as a countermeasure. Does he just do damage to the script kiddies' operating environments — corrupt filesystems, crash applications, and otherwise make a mess of things? Vandalism against one target at a time seems fairly inefficient, even ineffective, as a countermeasure in general. A best-case scenario would probably involve collecting information about the individual security crackers and turning that over to appropriate law enforcement agencies.

I think a more likely scenario is that Mr. Eriksson is doing it because it's fun, and because it gives him something to talk about in front of a crowd at RSA.

The romantic notion that comes to mind upon hearing about Joel Eriksson's explanation of taking on script kiddies by exploiting their own tools is one of a sort of poetic vigilante justice, where the wronged can take the fight to the malicious security crackers of the world and hit them where it hurts. The lessons learned from work like Eriksson's may be useful in the fight against them in the future, but it's unlikely to yield any direct results.

Still . . . I wish I'd done it first.

About

Chad Perrin is an IT consultant, developer, and freelance professional writer. He holds both Microsoft and CompTIA certifications and is a graduate of two IT industry trade schools.

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