Users Scramble To Patch Serious Flaw In Networking Software - InformationWeek

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7/17/2003
02:37 PM
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Users Scramble To Patch Serious Flaw In Networking Software

The vulnerability in Cisco routers and switches could be used by hackers to cause widespread outages.

Cisco Systems is working with customers to resolve a serious security flaw in the software that runs its routers and switches. The vulnerability affects hardware running Cisco's Internetworking Operating System and configured to process Internet Protocol version 4 packets. If left unpatched, it could leave businesses open to denial-of-service attacks that disconnect their networks.

Theoretically, attackers can send a special sequence of data packets to switches, routers, and wireless access points that are running IOS, causing the hardware to stop processing traffic. "All it does is shut down the interface that is attacked and disconnect your Internet access," says Russ Cooper, surgeon general for security services firm TruSecure Corp. Attackers are unable to modify access control or gain access to secure data, he says.

Nonetheless, the flaw could potentially be a very expensive one; companies that are hit will lose network capabilities until the hardware is rebooted and will incur expenses in both lost productivity and sending IT personnel to reboot and patch every affected device on the network, Cooper says.

Word of the vulnerability began circulating on the Internet Wednesday morning, when a number of Internet service providers, including AT&T, MCI, and Sprint, issued warnings of upcoming maintenance. Late Wednesday, Cisco released a security advisory describing the problem and released a free patch to correct it. There's no evidence that any systems have been attacked in an attempt to exploit the flaw.

It's unlikely that this vulnerability could be used by a worm or virus, Cooper says; instead, only companies that are specifically profiled and targeted are likely to be at risk. "It's very unlikely that small to medium-sized businesses will be attacked," he says.

But the flaw is likely to cause serious stress for IT departments that are racing to fix other security holes identified earlier in the week. On Wednesday, Microsoft revealed a critical vulnerability in most versions of Windows; if exploited, an attacker could run rampant on corporate systems, destroying data or running applications.

This one-two punch is likely to be a serious problem for already-overworked IT departments that may be short-staffed during the summer vacation season. "Not only do they have to patch all of their routers, they have to patch every Windows computer in their environment, whether it's connected to the Internet or not," Cooper says. "It's going to be hard."

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