DefCon: The Few, The Weird, The Hackers

Thousands of federal agents, security professionals, and hackers--some wearing black T-shirts and leather boots despite the 100-plus-degree desert heat, converged on Las Vegas during the weekend to attend the annual DefCon security conference. There, they shared secrets of protecting--and breaking into--computers.

In a gathering of flamboyant computer experts that sometimes color their hair green or pink and revel in challenging authority, perhaps the most flamboyant is a group of hackers called the Cult of the Dead Cow.

The Cult of the Dead Cow has gained notoriety in the past two years for creating and making freely available remote administration tools for Microsoft Windows machines called Back Orifice and Back Orifice 2000. Using the tool, an administrator could remotely operate a Windows machine across the Internet, but so could malicious hackers if they could install the tool on a victim's machine.

The Cult of the Dead Cow is not a software company, and the group emphasized that fact by not releasing a new version of its Back Orifice remote administration tool at DefCon. "People seem to be expecting us to release more, but that's really your problem," says a CDC spokesman. This year, the independent group of hackers promoted a tool called NDNames. The new tool takes advantage of a flaw in the Microsoft Windows NetBIOs name service over TCP connections, which makes it possible to block network devices' ability to communicate with other machines.

The group told Microsoft about the flaw in June, and Microsoft issued a patch for the bug on Thursday. However, the patch was for Windows 2000 systems only--not for Windows NT, 95, or 98 machines.

When NDNames is installed on a network, the tool will intercept a server's request for an identifying name and deny its use or give it a conflicting name with another machine, thereby removing its ability to communicate with other machines. In that way, says CDC member "Sir Dystic," machines that routinely update their identification to a network would be disabled one by one.

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