Monday, November 3, 2014

The hackers who ate Cap’n Crunch

In the early 70s, John Draper discovered by chance (thanks to a blind friend) that the whistle given in the Cap'n Crunch cereal boxes emitted a sound with the same wavelength than AT & T’s routing system. This allowed John Draper access to the system in operator mode and perform various actions, including making free calls. These homemade experiments helped knowledge be democratized, and boosted the development of our current telephone system.


Something similar to what we are experiencing today with the release of several Hacking Team’s product guides, a renowned Italian company for government spying. Several tutorials explain what techniques they used, how to exploit vulnerabilities (called 0-Days at the time) and the software’s possibilities for scaling privileges while going unnoticed by most antivirus firms.

Free software is one of the catalysts of this fierce evolution of computing. It brings both advantages and disadvantages. Drupal version 7, one of the most used content management systems (CMS) has a critical vulnerability allowing an attacker to gain control of the system. The worse part is that bug could be exploited on an automated way (massively attacking Drupal systems on the Internet). Even if you has updated your system, if you've already been affected, it is possible that the tool has backdoors allowing further attacks.

Fortunately, since free software is easy to access and understand by the community, it can be quickly patched, as demonstrated with a vulnerability on WGET, the download manager for UNIX operating systems (Linux, OS X...), published last week that already has a patch.

Service settings sometimes can be considered an channel eligible to be exploited. NAT-PMP protocol, used by many home routers based on Linux that can automatically configure open and close ports (eg for P2P services), has no security flaws. But its misconfiguration could allow to intercept both internal and external NAT traffic or perform a denial-of-service attack.

In the 70s concerns were different than now. John Draper found out how to communicate by telephone for free. The problem today is not the connection itself, but the privacy and security of it. Even under this paradigm, some news may catch your attention, such as Facebook implementing a communication system based on servers under the TOR network. This is direct communication from an .onion domain, which "ensures" user privacy leaving apart that Facebook will always know who you are...

Times change. If John Draper were born thirty years later, perhaps his extensive career would have been very different, thanks to the arrival of computer security industry. It is not about vulnerabilities with technical nomenclature anymore, but security flaws with its own name (Heartbleed, Shellshock, POODLE...). This change of strategy on how to deal with risk has, like everything in life, its dangers.

Communication, dissemination and security are three constant aspects of the technological world key to understand the functioning of the XXI century.

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