BugTraq members cited as source of DoS attack

A DoS (Deinal of service) attack that hindered Network Associates Inc.’s Web site accessibility this week was inadvertently launched at the security vendor by members of the BugTraq security newsletter through a Trojan horse masking itself as a DNS security hole exploit attachment.

Just how many of BugTraq’s 37,000 subscribers were used to mount the DoS attack against Network Associates on Wednesday night or did not discover the code bore a Trojan horse before its true intent was realized is difficult to estimate, said BugTraq moderator and CTO of SecurityFocus.com, Elias Levy.

“We wish that something like that wouldn’t have happened, but BugTraq moderation is not in place to validate information or source code sent out to list,” Levy said. “[BugTraq] is only in place to maintain messages of topic.”

Levy said the BugTraq service will not change any of its moderation policies in light of some of its membership being recruited as “zombies,” because trying to validate every incoming message or program for the list would “simply be impossible” for administrators. Instead, he said that responsibility lies upon BugTraq’s long list of security experts, network administrators, academic members, and even representatives of the hacking community who are subscribers.

BugTraq, in operation since 1993, is a popular free discussion forum for Unix-related security holes and risks and other computer security threats.

Access to Network Associates’ Web site was hampered for a period of about 90 minutes on Wednesday, although the site never went fully offline, according to Jim Magdych, security research manager at the Computer Vulnerability Emergency Response Team (COVERT) at PGP Security, a Network Associates business.

Some users were unable to connect to the Network Associates Web site during the attack, while others could access the site but experienced slow responses to their queries, Magdych said. All the company’s sites worldwide were affected by the DoS assault on NAI’s DNS server, not its Web servers.

COVERT on Monday warned of vulnerabilities in the software used in most DNS servers. At that time, Magdych said that flaws in two widely used versions of Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND), distributed free by the Internet Software Consortium (ISC), could be immediately exploited by unscrupulous programmers.

If exploited, the vulnerabilities could enable hackers to shut down both ISPs and corporate Web servers and to steal data. COVERT and ISC posted patches for the vulnerability Monday at www.isc.org.

Given the publicity COVERT’s announcement gained, Magdych said hackers’ ire against Network Associates may be behind the DoS attack. “It certainly could be a motivating factor,” he said.

Simple-flooding DoS attacks are very hard to counter because all servers have physical limits of how much traffic they can handle, Magdych said. He added that Network Associates’ IT department has already implemented the necessary means to try to minimize any future attacks.

Levy predicted that DoS attacks will not subside until many older legacy networks, particularly those operated by large enterprise customers, are upgraded with state-of-the art security measures available today.

“It’s easier to build security into a new deployment rather than try to put security on a system that’s been deployed for a long time,” Magdych added.