by January 11, 1999 0 comments

The Internet is a world inhabited by different kinds of people. Some read their mail,
some download the latest games, some sit around chatting with others. Then there are the
crackers. Seemingly almost supernatural in their abilities, these individuals usually hack
through systems for fun, or profit, or spite. Case in point, the Bhabha Atomic Research
Center in Mumbai, India.

barc.JPG (19730 bytes)BARC
played a key role in the recent underground nuclear tests that our country conducted. And
that attracted the attention of a fifteen-year-old adept in the dark art of cracking. On
the Net, he went about by the name “T3k-9” and decided to crack into

Crackers abound the Net. And they come in all shapes and sizes. The disgruntled
employee out for revenge, the cracker your rival company employed to hack into your
systems. And one day, one of them is going to try and breach the security of your system.
Are you taking adequate precautions? BARC didn’t.

T3k-9 used a powerful password cracking software called John The Ripper and set
it to work on the BARC’s Web and e-mail server. The software repeatedly logged into
the machine and tried out passwords in all combinations. Forty-five seconds later T3k-9
broke in. He couldn’t believe his eyes, someone had the same password as his login
name, “ANSI”!

He immediately went about downloading the entire password list from the server and
posted it on his favorite IRC channel. Access to a password file makes it much easier for
crackers to get into a system, since the password cracking software gets the entire list
of login names to work with.

Over the next few days, hundreds of crackers from all over the Net trampled through the
BARC servers, overwriting their home page, downloading e-mail and some supposedly
important papers on particle physics.

The dark side

barc1.JPG (41007 bytes)The Net is
still not secure. Every single organization that connects to the Internet renders itself
vulnerable to attack. The cracker out there is always looking for new and interesting
systems to attack. If your organization has a server connected to the Net with even the
smallest chink in its armor, be sure that sooner or later a cracker is going to try and
pry open your system.

In BARC’s case, its first line of defense, the firewall with its login password
was broken in under a minute. And all because the administrators didn’t enforce a
clear and strict policy on passwords. All in all, our premier atomic research center got
off lightly. The damage done could have been much more.

Most often, systems are broken into because of weak or stolen passwords. When you put a
lock on a warehouse, you put a huge lock with lots of levers inside. With a huge key! Same
way, when you choose a password you should do so with care. Make it something nobody can
guess. Don’t put in your wife’s or your own name. No birth dates or any such
text. Make it long, make it crazy, make it something no cracker can guess.

One final thing about passwords and accounts, when an employee leaves your
organization, do remember to kill his account and password from your computer systems. Not
doing so is like leaving a duplicate key to your warehouse with him.

An organization’s computer system connected to the Net is like a portal to its
internals. If a cracker manages to get in, he can possibly sift through a lot of sensitive
documentation. Who knows, he might even do some lasting damage. What if he decides to
delete a critical document? Or sell it off to a rival company? It all depends on who he
is. But who is a cracker?

Who is he?

Could he be that computer nerd who lives next door and hardly comes out? Quite
possibly. These guys are usually young, highly “techie” and armed to the teeth
with knowledge, will, and the desire to break into your systems. Once they get in,
it’s likely that they’ll do some damage before they get out. It takes a certain
kind of mentality do all this, and plenty of guys out there are trying to prove their

You’re likely to run across dozens of them on the various IRC channels on the Net.
Talking to them is like talking to a guy who doesn’t know the letter
“s”–some dayz just spent downloading warez! Otherz, doing
what I do best!

Another kind of “cracker” is of a different flavor all together. Enter the
disgruntled employee. As this person already has an account on his company’s network,
he can easily do plenty of damage. Fire him, and he’s likely to do much more.

The future

The future of the Net holds many surprises. One that’s not a favorite among
crackers goes by the name Kerberos (page 54). Kerberos is a system of security so powerful
that it’s “almost” impossible to break in. The entire security model of
Windows 2000 is based on this security system. Now I said “almost”, because one
day, someone will surely come up with a way to crack Kerberos.

The next generation of the Internet Protocol, IPv6, has an efficient security model
built right into it. The Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) protocol will make
credit-card transaction on the Net completely safe. The future looks good. The future
looks safe. Does it actually? Always remember that the cracker is an individual working on
the bleeding edge of technology. He will find his way through.

Meanwhile, all we can do is implement security to the best of our abilities, using the
latest in technology. If done properly, the probability of a cracker gaining access will
drop significantly, though it will never be zero. That would really be hard.

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