[ISN] Security warning draws DMCA threat

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Wed Jul 31 2002 - 00:07:19 PDT

Fpwarded from: William Knowles <wkat_private>


By Declan McCullagh 
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
July 30, 2002, 4:48 PM PT

WASHINGTON -- Hewlett Packard has found a new club to use to pound
researchers who unearth flaws in the company's software: the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act.

Invoking both the controversial 1998 DMCA and computer crime laws, HP
has threatened to sue a team of researchers who publicized a
vulnerability in the company's Tru64 Unix operating system.

In a letter sent on Monday, an HP vice president warned SnoSoft, a
loosely organized research collective, that it "could be fined up to
$500,000 and imprisoned for up to five years" for its role in
publishing information on a bug that lets an intruder take over a
Tru64 Unix system.

HP's dramatic warning appears to be the first time the DMCA has been
invoked to stifle research related to computer security. Until now,
it's been used by copyright holders to pursue people who distribute
computer programs that unlock copyrighted content such as DVDs or
encrypted e-books.

If HP files suit or persuades the federal government to prosecute, the
company could set a precedent that stifles research into computer
security flaws, a practice that frequently involves publishing code
that demonstrates vulnerabilities. The DMCA restricts code that "is
primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing
protection" of copyrighted works.

On July 19, a researcher at SnoSoft posted a note to
SecurityFocus.com's popular Bugtraq mailing list with a hyperlink to a
computer program letting a Tru64 user gain full administrator
privileges. The researcher, who goes by the alias "Phased," said in
the message: "Here is the warez, nothing special, but it does the

That public disclosure drew the ire of Kent Ferson, a vice president
in HP's Unix systems unit, who alleged in his letter on Monday that
the post violated the DMCA and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

"HP hereby requests that you cooperate with us to remove the buffer
overflow exploit from Securityfocus.com and to take all steps
necessary to prevent the further dissemination by SnoSoft and its
agents of this and similar exploits of Tru64 Unix," Ferson wrote,
according to a copy of the letter seen by CNET News.com. "If SnoSoft
and its members fail to cooperate with HP, then this will be
considered further evidence of SnoSoft's bad faith."

Ferson also said that HP reserves the right to sue SnoSoft and its
members "for monies and damages caused by the posting and any use of
the buffer overflow exploit."

HP refused to discuss Ferson's letter. "We're not going to comment on
this," spokesman Jim Dunlap said on Tuesday.

Last year, Adobe Systems persuaded the Justice Department to prosecute
Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian programmer who allegedly violated the DMCA
by writing an e-book unscrambler. Charges against Sklyarov were
eventually dropped in exchange for his testimony in his company's
trial, which begins Aug. 26 in San Jose, Calif.

Researcher Phased did not reply to a request for comment. But in an
e-mail sent to SnoSoft on Tuesday, Phased said he was not worried
about legal action because he released it independently of SnoSoft,
adding, "I'm not American; the law doesn't apply to me." SnoSoft
representatives said they did not know where Phased lived.

SnoSoft began talking with HP this spring about the group's research
into Tru64 Unix's security flaws and had not intended to release the
code publicly.

SnoSoft co-founder Kevin Finisterre said on Tuesday afternoon that
Phased released the C language code, which was created by another
SnoSoft programmer, without authorization from the group.

It is common to release "live" code that takes advantage of a security
hole after notifying the company. In HP's case, SnoSoft says that
information made public last year should have given the computer maker
enough time to fix the problem.

SecurityFocus.com, which is in the process of being acquired by
Symantec, said it had already deleted a copy of the C source code from
its Web site at the request of SnoSoft.

"Shortly after (the Bugtraq post), we were contacted by SnoSoft to
suggest that this was leaked by a member who was not following the
rules, and it should not have made its way onto the list," said Dave
Ahmad, the moderator of the Bugtraq list. When an organization that
contributed an exploit wants to modify or delete it,
SecurityFocus.com's policy is to comply, Ahmad said.

Ahmad said that while the source code had been removed, the original
post remained in the Bugtraq archives. Whether to delete it or not is
"still a decision that I have to make," Ahmad said.

Triggering penalties

Robin Gross, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF),
predicted HP would be one of many companies striving for broad
interpretations of the DMCA. "These are the kinds of letters that we
can expect to see now that the DMCA has granted such broad powers to
copyright holders," Gross said. "Any information that can bypass
controls will trigger DMCA penalties.

"The DMCA is so broad in what it prohibits it does include preventing
researchers from revealing security weaknesses in operating
systems--even though that has nothing to do with protecting

The EFF represented Princeton University professor Ed Felten after he
was threatened with a DMCA lawsuit for exposing weaknesses in a music
watermarking scheme. The San Francisco-based nonprofit group also
backed hacker publication 2600, which was successfully sued by eight
movie studios for distributing a DVD-decrypting utility.

SnoSoft representatives stressed in an interview that they wanted a
cordial relationship with HP. They provided a copy of an e-mail
message sent before the July 19 posting in which HP had discussed a
deal with SnoSoft, asking what it would "cost for you to share, under
NDA, the problems you have discovered to date for Tru64 Unix V5.1
and/or V5.1a."

HP has known about the Tru64 vulnerability "for some time," SnoSoft's
Finisterre said, but never fixed the problem. An HP spokesman said he
did not know if a patch had been released.

Another researcher, who uses the alias K2 and is part of the ADM
hacking group, released a similar exploit in 2001 that also gave a
person complete access to a Tru64 Unix system.

Finisterre said that while he wanted to resolve the dispute with HP,
he resented receiving DMCA threats. "We are like the guys that found
out that Firestone tires have issues on Ford explorers," he said.  
"It's not our fault your Explorer has crap tires. We just pointed it
out. We should not get attacked for pointing out issues in someone's
product nor for proving it is possible."

Ahmad of SecurityFocus.com said that HP's Tru64 operating system is no
more secure than other mainstream Unix variants.

"A lot of the time, when a major Unix has some vulnerability, Tru64
Unix will also be vulnerable just as a result of shared code," Ahmad
said. "Also it's old code, and it's my belief that much of it was
written without an understanding of the modern code problems that can
be exploited by hackers."

Tru64 Unix came in last place in a recent survey by a computing
research firm. As a result of HP's acquisition of Compaq Computer,
Tru64 is being phased out over the next few years, and its features
are supposed to be folded into HP-UX.

In an unrelated incident last week, HP asked one of its employees not
to engage in a public demonstration that would have arguably violated
the DCMA.

"Communications without intelligence is noise;  Intelligence 
without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
C4I.org - Computer Security, & Intelligence - http://www.c4i.org

ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org

To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn'
in the BODY of the mail.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed Jul 31 2002 - 03:02:03 PDT