Nick Moffitt on Sat, 10 Aug 2002 20:13:56 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> hack, hack, hack digest [spornitz, flagan, hwang, pope, assange]

begin  nettime's_1337ologist  quotation:
> > Hackers literally do enter strings of code at random in the hopes
> > of cracking somebody's password etc. It's like searching for a
> > needle in a haystack much of the time, and it is hideously dull
> > and tedious work that bears absolutely no relationship to the
> > intensive creativity of an artist's task. 

	I was amazed by this thread.  The whole discussion that followed
this post seemed to actually accept its premise!  Brute force and
dictionary attacks against passwords are quite possibly the most unpopular
mechanisms for breaking into a system!

	Most intruders, rather than bother with the front door, will look
for a service that holds privilege on a remote system and then trick it
into granting some of that privilege.  The most common such attacks
involve buffer overflows (an accounting mistake in the way many programs
manage their allotted RAM that actually allows one to upload a new program
over the running one), string format attacks (slipping redirecting data
into a program to get it to do its work somewhere that it wasn't intended,
or taking advantage of the trusting nature of an underlying tool), or
man-in-the middle/snooping attacks (watch what authorized users do, and
mimic it).

	The act of breaking into a system is a complicated one, and it's
something that every system administrator needs to know. Unfortunately,
the only side of it that the users see is their account and password
management.  They never see the constant upgrading, patching, malloc
debugging, or service access restriction.  This leads to some
misunderstandings about how network and system security work. It doesn't
help that film depictions of so-called "hacking" tend to show it as simple
brute-force password guessing.  I can tell you right now that any system
running any sort of modern OS would flag any more than a few failed
logins.  Someone playing this guessing game would light up my alarms like
a christmas tree.

	My friend Jim Dennis summarizes system security as "providing
appropriate access to resources".  Most intrusion is based on subverting
some program's misunderstanding of just what's "appropriate".  The
SysAdmin's job is then broken up into three parts: Prevention, Detection,
and Recovery.  The sad story is that the first of these three is
sysyphian, to say the least.  The good news is that if you get the other
two down pat you can almost ignore the former (see The Wiki Way for an
example of this -- no access controls on the system, but everyone can
quickly see a bogus change and revert it easily!).

> > If you want an analogy that works, compare it to the codebreakers
> > of WWII, 

	The code-breakers of WWII were intense mathematical thinkers and
the founders of Computer Science (not to be confused with programming,
fool!).  On the other hand, most crackers are technologists (not
scientists or mathematicians), and are playing with the cogs and springs
of the systems.  These code breakers were uncovering truths about the
universe and developing a calculus of information theory.  There's an
amazing gulf between the two, but the latter did lead to the former.

> > I am sorry, but I refuse to see hacking as a pursuit we should be
> > putting on the same pedestal (or higher, in one person's view) as
> > artistic creation. It just ain't so!

	Exploring networks and making maps is an immensely creative
activity.  It's a pity that the Internet has homogenized things to the
point where that's not nearly as entertaining as it once was.

Jack Valenti is to the American film viewer and the American public
as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone. 
      --    (search for "Boston")

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