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Warnings about security holes abound at Def Con

By Ann Harrison
August 1, 2000 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Las Vegas - Unsuspecting attendees logging on to the wireless network at the Def Con hackers convention here last weekend immediately found themselves targets in the event's annual "capture the flag" hacking competition. One visitor found his machine pinged within 10 seconds and had several of his Windows utilities disabled within minutes - but that was all part of the fun.

Now in its eighth year, Def Con has grown from a small private party to a large hacker social event featuring workshops on exploitable vulnerabilities, defense strategies and the latest technology and tools for the security community. It attracts hackers from around the world whose refined skills bedevil network administrators everywhere.

This year's event also drew officials from the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense, making the annual game of "spot the fed" an easy exercise. During the opening session, Arthur Money, CIO at the Pentagon, gamely thanked audience members for withholding attacks against the Pentagon's systems during the Y2k transition and appealed to attendees to use their talents on behalf of the U.S. government (see story).

"More hackers are getting their lunch money from the feds as they work with security companies and the [government]," said Tweetyfish, a member of the hacking group Cult of the Dead Cow. "All the cool stuff happening on the Internet now, and the cool stuff happening in security, is being built by hackers."

One of the most anticipated events was the annual presentation by the Cult of the Dead Cow, which released the Back Orifice hacking tool at Def Con in 1998 and announced an updated version of the Trojan horse program that targets Windows NT systems at last year's conference. This year, members of the group offered information on a type of denial-of-service attack that can disable NetBIOS services on Windows machines.

The NetBIOS protocol flaw was described by a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow known as Sir Dystic, who developed a tool called NBName that he said can exploit the hole by rejecting all name-registration requests received by servers on TCP/IP networks. NBName can disable entire LANs and prevent machines from rejoining them, according to Sir Dystic, who said nodes on a NetBIOS network infected by the tool will think that their names already are being used by other machines. "It should be impossible for everyone to figure out what is going on," he added.

However, Microsoft last week posted an advisory on its Web site saying that the company is aware of the potential NetBIOS vulnerability. The company



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