[ISN] From the L0pht to the West Wing.

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Fri Nov 30 2001 - 04:19:55 PST

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    Information Security Magazine
    November 2001
    It was supposed to be the year Peiter Zatko could finally step out
    from behind the digital curtain. Invited to a February 2000 photo op
    with President Bill Clinton in the White House Cabinet Room, he felt
    that he'd finally be able to reveal himself and receive the public
    recognition for security work he had done for the government.
    For more years than he's willing to admit, Zatko has been better known
    as Mudge, a computer hacker with a rock-star following. He always
    hated the label, but he looked the part. His hair fell well below his
    shoulders, and his goatee hung low off his chin. He used his alias,
    and he kept biographical details like his age and where he lived
    secret. As one of the founding members of the gray-hat hacker group
    L0pht Heavy Industries, Mudge, with his colleagues, developed and
    released defensive tools, including the widely used L0phtCrack
    password vulnerability software.
    In recent years, Zatko has morphed his underground celebrity status
    into a well-respected, oft-sought advisor to defending the digital
    frontier. He's consulted for everyone from the White House to the
    Pentagon to the FBI to Fortune 500 companies. But because of his
    somewhat shadowy background, his counsel has always come under the
    veil of secrecy--until February.
    "They said, 'OK, we can show you on this one,'" Zatko recalled of his
    White House appearance. "I was like, 'Finally, people will realize
    this is not a hacker thing.'"
    With Secretary of Defense Sandy Berger and Attorney General Janet Reno
    sitting between him and the president, Mudge came out last year as one
    of the government's chief cyberdefenders. But, to his disappointment,
    the White House press corps still fingered him as a secretive
    cyberstar. The Reuters news service called him "a long-haired hacker
    named 'Mudge'" in the second paragraph of its story, and didn't bother
    to quote him or elaborate on his contributions to government security.
    "The papers still grabbed it as 'ex-hacker' or 'reformed' hacker,"
    Mudge says.
    Undaunted by his initial stumble into the public light, Zatko has
    undergone a complete image change. He cut his hair (donating it to a
    charitable foundation that makes wigs for children with cancer),
    adopted a clean-shaven look and traded his t-shirts for business
    suits. But Zatko insists he doesn't care about image.
    "I care about doing the right thing, whether it's for a customer or
    the government. To me, the motto is making a dent in the universe,"
    Zatko says.
    Zatko doesn't shun his hacker past. Rather, he embraces the term's
    original meaning: "technophile." In endearing terms, he recalls how
    inventors and researchers throughout history--people such as Thomas
    Edison and Steve Jobs--were hackers in the truest sense of the word.
    He laments that popular culture has warped the meaning of hacker into
    someone sinister with malicious intentions. "It has become associated
    with criminal," he says.
    Throughout his career, Zatko has made his mark by sharing his IT
    secrets. Now that he has been recognized for his role in America's
    defense, from his position as chief scientist and VP of research and
    development at @stake (www.atstake.com), Zatko says he's about to do
    that again.
    "This next year is going to be really interesting," Zatko says
    teasingly. "Out of some of the divisions that I run here, we are going
    to announce a couple of things that are going to change the
    Along with his biographical background, Zatko won't say exactly what
    @stake has in the works--only that it's big. "We felt it was
    responsible of us to go and pre-brief most of the military and various
    intelligence agencies on the capabilities of these tools so they
    understood what was going to be out on the open market."
    Some of the new tools have already been put to the test. As the media
    became fixated with the Code Red worm in August, Zatko got a call
    about the Leaves worm, which the government was much more interested
    in. The worm appeared to be amassing an army of zombie systems,
    synchronizing the infected PCs' internal clocks. The question was,
    Zatko and his colleagues at @stake analyzed some of the worm
    information through their new tools, revealing everything from its
    propogation capabilities to its encryption algorithms. The creator
    wasn't a nation state, they told the government, nor was the worm
    created in a lab by someone with a college education.
    "I think (the government) was surprised that they were able to tap us
    and we were able to come back with that information in such a short
    amount of time," Zatko says.  No matter what security tool he or
    someone else puts on the market, Zatko says security still must be
    specifically modeled and personalized to individual environments.
    "Unfortunately, a lot of places still believe that they buy the tool
    and they are secure," he says. "But it is really about how you deploy
    the tool, how you interpret the tool, what did you feed into the tool.
    In the future, you are going to see people really needing to go and
    personalize security for their organization."
    SEAN CORCORAN (seanandfeaat_private), a recent graduate of the Columbia
    School of Journalism's graduate program, is a freelance writer based
    in Massachusetts. Since becoming a professional journalist in 1995,
    he's covered Congress for the political newsletter Inside Congress and
    has worked as a reporter for several award-winning New England
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