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Steve Gibson really is off his rocker
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Mon, 25 Jun 2001 04:48:45 -0500 (CDT)
By Thomas C Greene in Washington
Posted: 25/06/2001 at 08:38 GMT
My recent column ridiculing security specialist Steve Gibson's claim
that raw-socket functionality slated for Windows-XP is a major threat
attracted more flames than I can hope to post on this page.
Briefly, Gibson predicts that the ability of XP's raw sockets to send
and forward spoofed packets will result in massive denial of service
attacks which no one will be able to stop. I say he's loopy.
Most e-mail critics claimed that I'd missed Gibson's central point,
which is that XP boxes will be used as "zombies" (as the half-tech
press likes to call infected clients) to forward packets from a
malicious operator, because I'd written:
We'll allow that there'll be a few s'kiddies who might prefer to use
their Win-XP boxes for such purposes. But they can already do so
simply by installing Linux and doing a bit of reading.
Apparently, many failed to read further, because in the next paragraph
I did recognize the "zombie" potential:
There will also be more Windows clients available for malicious misuse
as XP grows in popularity; but one can already do heaps of packeting
from Windows machines with SubSeven, and even launch the attack in
bulk from IRC.
Of course I dismissed Gibson's exaggerated concerns about it:
The boxes will eventually be found because their IPs are traceable,
and admins will contact the owners and let them know they're infected
-- but only long after the damage is done. Raw sockets in XP only
marginally improve the situation for a malicious party.
Perhaps my phrasing wasn't quite transparent enough -- so let me spell
it out clearly this time: Steve Gibson is talking absolute bollocks.
As I pointed out in the previous article, malicious kiddies can
already take over Windows machines with Trojans like SubSeven and use
them for heavy packeting without the owner's knowledge. Raw socket
functionality does not in itself make a machine more or less
vulnerable to such infection.
Furthermore, malicious operators can already do heaps of packet damage
using Windows clients without spoofing. Gibson is right that spoofing
makes packets nearly impossible to filter, but filtering isn't the
answer to a severe packet attack, as anyone who's had to deal with one
The real solutions to packeting are capital intensive, like load
balancing and content distribution. Unfortunately, they're quite
expensive solutions, and few besides well-heeled commercial entities
can afford to put them to use.
Gibson learned that much for himself the hard way; he finally had to
cry uncle to a thirteen-year-old packeteer named "Wicked", even though
the kid tormenting him wasn't using compromised boxes capable of
sending spoofed packets. Nevertheless Gibson -- a security expert --
couldn't make it stop.
Gibson's attempts at filtering were rarely more than briefly effective
and caused him and his ISP days of exasperation, according to his own
account. So if packeting without spoofing is already brutally
effective, why does he insist that the inability to filter
XP-forwarded packets will lead to an Internet melt-down?
Because he's loopy, that's why.
Gibson is ranting as if raw sockets are going to multiply the number
of infected machines connected to the Internet. But that simply isn't
true; the same primary obstacle to getting an attack started remains,
spoofing or none, as Microsoft pointed out in their well-reasoned
reply to Gibson: an attacker first has to compromise a number of
client machines with which to packet the target system.
Let's say just for fun that there's a consistent number of infected
Windows machines x on the Net. There's nothing in Gibson's reckoning
which affects that number. There's nothing in Windows-XP that affects
it, and nothing in raw sockets either. We still have x victims out
We've seen from Gibson's account that dealing with a packet attack in
the absence of spoofing is a ghastly pain. I allow that the spoofing
potential of XP raw sockets will make it somewhat more of a pain, but
a bit worse than horrible is nothing to shriek about.
In spite of Gibson's paranoid three-storey-tall red lettering and
multiple exclamation points and bold-bordered tables, nothing in XP is
going to increase the number of infected victims.
He shows contempt for Windows users, assuming they're all complete
idiots (presumably with the circular argument that they must be morons
because they're using Windows), and strongly implies that they can
only hurt themselves with a fully-featured OS.
Gibson writes it in giant letters:
When those insecure and maliciously potent Windows XP machines are
mated to high-bandwidth Internet connections, we are going to
experience an escalation of Internet terrorism the likes of which has
never been seen before.
Madness writ large. The man seriously needs a holiday.
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- Steve Gibson really is off his rocker InfoSec News (Jun 25)