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Re: How hackers cause damage... was Vulnerabilites in new laws on computer hacking
From: Jason Coombs <jasonc () science org>
Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2006 10:08:10 +1300

Craig Wright wrote:
> Cyber-trespass leaves one in a state of doubt. It is commonly stated
> that the only manner of recovery from a system compromise is to
> rebuild the host.

Don't you mean that the trespass disrupts the condition of denial and neglect that normally exists surrounding any network of programmable computers?

The 'state of doubt' is no different post-trespass than it was beforehand, what has changed is the emotional condition of the property owner. After recovery steps to rebuild the host, there is again a 'state of doubt' and it is just as substantial as it was before the trespass incident caused everyone emotional trauma.

We must build computer systems that separate the act of installing and executing software from the act of depositing data on read/write media.

Executable code must not be stored on read/write media. At least not the same media to which data is written, and access to write data to software storage must not be possible through the execution of software; at least not software executing on the same CPU as already-installed software.

Our CPUs need a mechanism to verify that the machine code instructions being executed have been previously authorized for execution by the CPU, i.e. the machine code is part of software that has been purposefully installed to a protected software storage separate (logically, at least, and both physically and logically separated at best) through actions that could not have been simulated or duplicated by the execution of machine code at runtime on the system's primary CPU.

The worst-case scenario of 'repair' and 'recovery' from any intrusion event should be verification of the integrity of protected storage, restore from backup of data storage, analysis of data processing and network traffic logs to ascertain the mode of intrusion (if possible) and reboot of the affected box with a staged reintroduction of the services that box previously provided (if you just re-launch all of the services being exposed by the box then it is just as vulnerable as before to whatever attack resulted in the intrusion, so you start from the most-locked-down condition and add services one at a time, monitoring for a period of time at each step).

Depending on the length of time one is willing to monitor the box as it is staged into deployment again after recovery, and depending on the tools put into place to enable verification of the authenticity and 'correctness' of the machine code found to be present on the protected storage where software is installed, 'recovery' from any incident can be almost immediate, requiring little more than a reboot (the steps for which could also be optimized in a well-built secure computer system, since the objective really is nothing more than wiping all RAM and re-reading machine code from the protected storage after integrity verification is complete) ...

All of the 'damage' and 'vulnerabilities' you're talking about stem directly from very bad business decisions made by owners of computer systems and from authors of software made to run on those computer systems. Hackers can be made irrelevant, and virtually all significant damage from 'intrusion' can be prevented in advance, by putting a stop to the world's addiction to the installation and execution of arbitrary code. The problem is that the computer industry has been built around providing financial rewards to the businesses that can get as many copies of their code executing as possible, and security barriers that curtail access to this cash generating machine would kill 75% of the existing computer industry.

I say let 'em die. Give us secure computing, and may every company that intentionally harms people for profit die a horrible and painful death that takes as many of its investors with it as possible in the process!


Jason Coombs
jasonc () science org

The Norwich University program offers unparalleled Infosec management education and the case study affords you unmatched consulting experience. Tailor your education to your own professional goals with degree customizations including Emergency Management, Business Continuity Planning, Computer Emergency Response Teams, and Digital Investigations.

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