The Packet Rat | Black Hat doings fill the Rat's paranoia to the brim

The Rat

Black Hat conferences are always good times for the Rat. The cyberrodent enjoys having his inborn paranoia fed with tangible examples, and nothing feeds that paranoia like watching someone hack a WiFi-connected computer to root, or clone and alter, data from an e-Passport RFID chip.

So far, no one has ever picked the whiskered one out during the traditional 'Spot the Fed' contest, despite his distinctive looks. But perhaps that's because few would expect an overgrown rodent to be in the employ of the government. Still, the beads of sweat on his brow during some of the technology demos drew a bit of suspicion from the flannel-shirts-in-summer set in Vegas.

Take the hacking of the latest Vista beta. While Microsoft Corp. was busy touting its security model and 'robust' Vista security testing, the operating system was getting its clock cleaned just a short distance away, as a researcher showed how to bypass restrictions that are supposed to prevent the running of unsigned code. Even better, Joanna Rutkowska showed how to use virtualization to shield nasty code from detection on a Vista machine.

Sure, Vista had to be running in administrator mode for the attacks to work. But then again, many users might accidentally run in admin mode all the time, unless sysadmins lock their systems down before they deliver them to the unwashed masses.

'That'll teach Microsoft to hand out test samples at a hacker-fest,' the wirebiter whispered to a fellow fed also flying below the radar.

Other researchers, perhaps chastened by Cisco System's running-to-ground of a security researcher last year over his demonstrations of Cisco software vulnerabilities, mentioned another vulnerability in Cisco's switches and routers but declined to go into deep details. Cisco is being somewhat more civil this time around'the company was even an event sponsor for Black Hat this year.

Microsoft, too, was trying to get on the Black Hatters' good side, following the advice, 'The way to a hacker's heart is through his liver and blood-brain barrier.' The Redmondites threw a party at Vegas' Palms resort on the last night, to make sure everyone was less than optimal for the kickoff of the second part of the Vegas hacker double-feature, the weekend Defcon conference.

Some of the feds in attendance may have been lighting up their neuroreceptors in celebration of the Senate's decision to ratify the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime. Given that cybercriminals are increasingly turning to Mafia-esque tactics, every little bit helps.

But the Rat was less thrilled by some of the potential downsides of the legislation'like the possible surveillance of people in the United States exercising their First Amendment rights in ways that might be construed as criminal in other countries. Also, his general rage level with Congress was raised by the latest in stupid 'child protection' legislation, the Deleting Online Predators Act.

DOPA would force libraries and schools accepting federal funding to restrict access to social networking and 'interactive' sites. While certainly no minor should be updating his or her MySpace account during civics class, 'it's just a matter of time before Johnny figures out how to use a proxy running on his mom's iBook to bypass the blockers,' the Rat sighed in disgust. And, the Rat realized as he looked around him, there were probably a hundred Johnnies using fake IDs to get into the Black Hat Microsoft party.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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