About eight years ago a media story broke about how some “hackers” took over a British Ministry of Defense Satellite and were holding it for ransom. Anyone who knew anything about Command and Control systems for satellites knew this would be almost impossible especially for a military satellite. That didn’t stop Newsbytes, Yahoo News, ZDNet, even Reuters from running the story and sensationalizing the crap out of it. None of the ‘legitimate’ media questioned the story at all. They just reran the original Sunday Business story. The only website that I know of that questioned the story at the time was The Hacker News Network.. It was the questioning of that story that prompted Brock Meeks of MSNBC to label HNN as “the voice of reason”. As it turned out no confirmation of the original story was ever obtained, the Ministry of Defense flat out denied the event ever took place and the Sunday Business never revealed where the story came from.
So? Big deal? What’s the point of this walk down memory lane? Well, here it is eight years later and the same crappy media is republishing the same bullshit story as truth and fact. Evidently Corinne Iozzio over at PC Magazine, nor her (his?) editors can be bothered to do basic journalism, simple research or check facts. No, can’t let facts get in the way of a good headline and increased page views and ad impressions. So now this supposed ‘hack’ that as far as I can tell never actually happened, is the second most mysterious unsolved cyber crime. I suppose, on the Internet, if you repeat something enough times it magically turns into fact?
For reference here are the old HNN pages from March 1, 1999 and March 2, 1999. Unfortunately the chrome is gone and none of the links work anymore but the content is unchanged.
UPDATE: Thanks to Google’s 10th Anniversary Archive from 2001 and the Internet Archive a few quick searches help to confirm that the original story was fake. (Hey, Corinne, this took me all of about ten minutes.)
ZDNet – via Internet Archive “Our Satellites are Hack Proof”
Geek.com – via Internet Archive “Satellite hack is impossible, says UK”
Reuters Retraction – via Shmoo.com “British Defense Ministry Dismisses Hacker Report”
So I get into work this morning and grab my snail-mail and throw it on my desk and go grab my morning oatmeal and glass of water. I get back to my desk and start eating my oatmeal as I go through my mail. Things like fake domain name renewal bills, pleas from wireless phone companies to switch services, a copy of Information Week, the normal crap that finds it way into the IT Managers inbox. Then I get to this weeks (August 22-28) copy of Mass High Tech and oatmeal spews out of my nose! Why? Freaking a big ass above the fold picture of Mudge’s fat smiling face staring back at me. Seriously his face takes up like half the damn page.
The online version is much smaller. Here is a scan of the front cover [PDF]. Just make sure you have finished your oatmeal before you open it.
Oh, the story? It is about finding security holes in heart defibrillators. Which is important I guess, and I suppose I would find it more interesting if I or someone I know actually had one of these implanted. Personally I can’t wait until someone starts looking at wireless utility meters.
So The Last HOPE is over and while I am still here in New York (the reason why Iâ€™ll save for another day) I have been contemplating the events of the weekend. All in all I thought the con ran extremely well which is a bit unusual in my experience for HOPE. While there were a few excellent talks that I mentioned in my previous post I found many of the talks to be… elementary. But hacker cons are sooo much more than just the talks and presentations, they are time to reconnect with old friends, friends you only see at cons and online. Time to drink bears and retel old war^h^h^h hacking stories. The fact that this is the â€œLastâ€ HOPE and that 2600 the book has just been released I have been reflecting on my own travels through this underground maze. From my first real introduction to hacker culture at HoHo Con â€˜92 held in Houston Texas to the â€˜lastâ€™ Pump con in Philadelphia just a few years ago. In â€˜92 the internet did exist but getting access to it was a bit more difficult. I remember making a modem call from my HP95LX from my hotel room to post news from HoHo con back on the hometown BBS. By the time of the first HOPE in 1995 the Internet was much more prolific but still new and shiny. The First HOPE captured that excitment of newness and the possibilities that it presented. Here at The Last HOPE people are live twittering (tweeting?), disecting talks and heckling in real time from behind keyboards. Change is of course inevitable but I think what I am seing here is a change in the culture itself. Sure parents are now bringing their kids to the same cons they snuck out of the house to go to, but I think it is more than just the core population growing older. There is a definite shift in how people interact and react to each other and technology. I havenâ€™t quite been able to put my finger on it but I have been feeling it all weekend. Much like the first HOPE opened a new chapter I got the feeling that this last HOPE is closing a chapter in hacker history and culture. It makes me wonder what comes next?
P.S. Rumour has it that the Hotel Pennsylvania will not be torn down due to the poor economy. In which case, if it is still standing, the next HOPE will be in 2010. (Eternal HOPE?, HOPE Pheonix?). Personally I think if this con continues they should come up with a new name. The era of HOPE is over.
After you attend more than a half dozen or so hacker cons you start to realize several recurring themes amoung presentation topics. Topics such as Freedom of Information Act requests, hacker spaces, or hacker history have been done several times at various cons. The Last Hope is no different as these topics have recurred here as well. The difference here is that the presentors of these topics have each taken a different more interesting slant and have actually presented new and useful information. The FOIA talk has actually motivated me to file a few requests myself. The Hacker Spaces presenation actually broke down many of the problems that we ran into at the L0pht and even some we didnâ€™t have and actually codified them all with solutions creating almost a blueprint for anyone wanting to create thier own hacker space. And Sketch Cowâ€™s talk on hacker history makes you stop and think when you realize that future historians may only have major media sources such as hollywood movies and copies of Newsweek to try to understand what all hacker culture was all about.
Looking forward today to talks on Phone Phreaking History, Copying High Security Keys, Honeypots for the Home User, and the premier of Hackateer.
Can’t be here and are missing all the action? Check out the Live twitter feed and the Flickr stream.
I’m sitting on the floor of the eighteenth level of the Hotel Pennsylvania at The Last HOPElistening to Karsten Nohl talk about the (Im)possibility of Hardware Obfuscation as he discuss tracing connections in integrated chip design. Heady stuff. Already ran into Lady Ada from AdaFruit Industries and Road Dancer from the old (defunct?) HDF.
So far it is a very interesting crowd mix, there are your standard hacker types but here also seem to be a lot of â€˜normalâ€™ people as well. The crowd seems sedate but there is a certain electric charge in the air present at all hacker cons. The real fun will come later tonight as people absorb all the new information presented at the talks and start to mix it up amongst themselves. Good stuff.
Check my flickr stream for pictures.
Many years ago, (like ten or more) there was a major US bank (BoA, CitiBank I don’t remember) that had a major security breach. I don’t remember all the details, and Google has been less than helpful, but the bank in question was very forth coming, they announced the incident, released a press release, and detailed what happened. They then spent millions to revamp their entire security posture to prevent it from happening again. That bank lost millions of dollars of business afterwards despite the fact that after the breach it was probably the most secure bank in the country at that time.
Looks like banks have learned their lesson and now are keeping as quiet as possible about any and all compromises in their security.
Kevin Poulsen has written an excellent article over at Wired detailing the recent breach of ATM card numbers and their PINS. Seems that someone broke into a server that controlled CitiBank branded ATMs in various 7-11s across the country and then used the card numbers and PINs to create fake cards and drain bank accounts. There are a lot of unanswered questions about this case such as who was actually responsible for this server. Citibank is pointing the finger at a third party transaction processing company and that company seems to be denying any involvement. No one is being very forthcoming with the details, probably afraid of bad publicity and the loss of business that may result from it.
Consumers of course are protected by law from actual monetary losses but the hassle of having to get a new card number can’t be fun. Unfortunately there isn’t much the consumer can do to protect themselves against this sort of attack. You can try to avoid those stand alone ATM kiosks like those found in convenience stores and rely solely on ATMS at actual banks but in many cases that is just not practical. So keep a close eye on those statements, verify every line item and call your bank at the first sign of anything weird.
UPDATE: Thanks to NR for sending me a link to the CitiBank breach from 1995 that I referenced above.
About a month or so ago I did an email interview with an online ezine known as The Bug Magazine. They are based in Brazil so most of the magazine is in Portuguese however the editors graciously published my interview in English as well. Scroll about half way down the page to get to the English version. The interview covers some of the old L0pht and @Stake stuff but also touches on new trends and the future.
Everyone gets a kick out of TV shows and news reports that feature stupid criminals. People who get themselves locked inside the store they are trying to rob or stuck in the air vent attempting to break in. For some reason you don’t hear about the smart criminals very often. Maybe they don’t get caught as much?
Recently there has been a new twist on the old credit card number scam. Criminals have found a way to modify those point-of-sale scanning machines everyone swipes their cards through to make copies of the information. I’ve written about this before here and here. Previously it was Stop & Shop Supermarkets who had their card readers physically altered inside the store to record card information (smart) and the second time it was researchers at the University of Cambridge [PDF] who found how easy it was to tamper with the tamper resistant chip and pin machines (wicked smart). Now it is Lunardi’s Supermarket in Los Gatos California who have found their card swipe machines altered to record the card number and PIN. At least a hundred people so far have reported fraud against their cards.
There isn’t a lot of room inside those little machines, so to be able to take one apart, install your recording device then put it back together and install it inside the store without anyone noticing seems to be pretty damn smart to me.
So you want to be smarter? Don’t trust the machines. Don’t give out your PIN number to every retailer you shop at. When the machine asks for a PIN hit the cancel button and choose ‘credit’ instead of ‘debit’. If your debit card can’t double as a credit card get to your bank today and demand one that can. Don’t give your PIN to the Supermarket or Walmart, and at the corner MOM & POP store use cash. Cash is King. Even at the ATM protect your PIN, look for tampering at the machine, cover your hand when entering the number. Be smarter than the criminals. Sure you may feel like George Costanza in an episode of Seinfeld but better to feel like a stocky bald man than to become the victim of fraud.
One of the more popular features of HNN (The Hacker News Network) was the daily list of web page defacements that was maintained at the time by Attrition.org. Maintaining such an archive soon overwhelmed Attrition and the task was taken over by Alldas. After the demise of Alldas, a small (at the time) upstart security site in Austria, Zone-H took over. They have been maintaining the defacement archive for years and years slowly adding to it over time as new websites get compromised. Their archive now encompasses over 2.6 million web page defacements. The amount of data they have collected is invaluable and is an amazing resource for security researchers to gain a historical perspective on the frequency and methods of attacks used over the years.
Lately Zone-H has had some rough times, their founder has been arrested in relation to an Italian spying scandal and they have been coming under increasing criticism from people who think their archive is actually promoting web page defacements. As a result they are actually thinking about discontinuing the defacement archive.
This would be an unfortunate occurrence if it was to happen. They are currently running a poll on their front page, (in the left column) as to whether they should continue hosting and updating the archive or not. I urge you to cast your vote and help save a valuable security research tool.
I had been waiting for the folks at Source Boston to update their website with relevant materials before I posted a recap but they are probably waiting until Monday and I know I won’t have time to post anything then. So be sure to check their site for presentation slides, videos, and whatnot, but in the meantime here is what I have.
First of all I don’t think I have been to a better con since HoHoCon ’92 or maybe SummerCon ’97? (Was there a SummerCon that year?). So what made it so great? The excellent talks for one thing. You had to make hard decisions for three days straight about where you wanted to spend your time. All of the talks I listened to were extremely high caliber, better than most talks at Blackhat, Defcon, RSA or elsewhere. Then throw in just enough socializing to make it interesting without going overboard (i.e. Defcon), not to many pushy vendors trying to sell stuff (i.e. RSA), and the small (by Blackhat standards) number of attendees and you had a really intimate setting of knowledge sharing for three days straight.
For a recap of the whole conference check out Jack Daniel’s blog post over at Uncommon Sense Security and check the individual talk write-ups at the Source Boston Blog. So far I have only found slides for Sinan Eren’s talk on Information Operations. Dan Geer’s keynote speach is posted here (If you read nothing else read that!). If you want to relive the con vicariously check out the tweme feed as several people (myself included) were microblogging the whole thing.) Other than that you can check out all the photos posted to Flickr so far.
Oh, and videos of all the talks should be available at Media Archives real soon now. I can personally recommend James Atkinson’s talk about telephone defenses, Andrew Jaquith’s talk about problems with AV software, Matt Moynahan’s talk about software inspections, Carole Fennelly’s talk about Incident response plans, and Frank Reiger’s talk on cell phone security. Oh, and there was a little thing near the end about the L0pht you might want to watch as well.
Anyone got more links? Post in the comments. Thanks.