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New attack can flatten XP firewall

Code crowbar could clear the way for more mayhem

By Robert McMillan
October 30, 2006 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Hackers have published code that could let an attacker disable Windows Firewall on certain Windows XP machines.

The code, which was posted on the Internet early Sunday morning, could be used to disable Windows Firewall on a fully patched Windows XP PC running Windows' Internet Connection Service (ICS). This service allows Windows users to essentially turn theirs PCs into routers and share their Internet connections with other computers on a LAN. It is typically used by home and small-business users.

The attacker could send a malicious data packet to another PC using ICS that would cause the service to terminate. Because this service is connected to the Windows firewall, this packet would also cause the firewall to stop working, said Tyler Reguly, a research engineer at nCircle Network Security Inc., who has blogged about the issue.

"Once the firewall is down, where's your line of defense?" he said Monday in an interview.

By knocking off the Windows Firewall feature, a criminal could open the door to new types of attacks, but there are a number of factors that make such an attack scenario unlikely, Reguly said.

For example, the attacker would have to be within the LAN in order to make the attack work, and, of course, it would work only on systems using ICS, which is disabled by default. Furthermore, the attack would have no effect on any third-party firewall being used by the PC, Reguly said.

Users can avoid the attack by disabling ICS, Reguly said. But this will also kill the shared Internet connection.

An easier solution may be for ICS users to simply move their networks onto a router or Network Address Translation device, said Stefano Zanero, chief technology officer at Secure Network SRL. "They are so cheap right now, and in many cases they offer better protection and a easier administration of your LAN," he said via instant message.

Windows XP appears to be the only platform affected by this attack, which has not been successfully reproduced on Windows Server 2003, Reguly said.

Microsoft's initial investigation into the matter "has concluded that the issue only impacts users of Windows XP," the company's public relations agency said Monday in a statement. "Microsoft is not aware of any attacks attempting to use the reported vulnerability or of customer impact at this time."

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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