[ISN] Hackers gang up on Kaminsky over DNS

From: InfoSec News <alerts_at_private>
Date: Fri, 11 Jul 2008 04:36:27 -0500 (CDT)

By Robert McMillan
IDG News Service
10 July 2008

Computer security professionals have ganged up on Dan Kaminsky for 
violating a cardinal rule of hackerdom: publicising a flaw without 
providing the technical details to verify the finding.

Kaminsky made headlines earlier this week by talking about a major flaw 
in the DNS software used to connect computers to each other on the 
Internet. In late March he grouped together 16 companies that make DNS 
software - companies like Microsoft, Cisco and Sun Microsystems - and 
talked them into fixing the problem and jointly releasing patches for 

On Wednesday this week, he took things a step further on his blog, 
asking hackers to avoid researching the problem until next month, when 
he plans to release more information about it at the Black Hat security 

He said he wanted to go public with the issue to put pressure on 
corporate IT staff and Internet service providers to update their DNS 
software, while at the same time keeping the bad guys in the dark about 
the precise nature of the problem. A full public disclosure of the 
technical details would make the Internet unsafe, he said. "Right now, 
none of this stuff needs to go public."

He quickly received a sceptical reaction from Matasano Security 
researcher Thomas Ptacek, who blogged that Kaminsky's cache poisoning 
attack is merely one of many disclosures underlining the same well-known 
problem with DNS -- that it does not do a good enough job in creating 
random numbers to create unique "session ID" strings when communicating 
with other computers on the Internet.

"The bug in DNS is that it has a 16-bit session ID," he said via an 
e-mail Wednesday. "You can't deploy a new Web app with less than 128-bit 
session IDs. We've known about that fundamental problem since the '90s."

"Here comes the onslaught of interviews and media explosion for another 
overhyped bug by Dan Kaminsky," wrote a jaded (and anonymous) poster to 
the Matasano blog.

Over at the SANS Internet Storm Center, one blogger speculated that 
Kaminsky's bug had actually been disclosed three years earlier.

The flaw appears to be a serious one that could be exploited in what's 
called a "cache poisoning attack". These attacks hack the DNS system, 
using it to redirect victims to malicious websites without their 
knowledge. They have been known about for years but can be hard to pull 

But Kaminsky claims to have found a very effective way of launching such 
an attack, thanks to a vulnerability in the design of the DNS surprised" 
by some of the negative reaction, but that this kind of scepticism was 
vital to the hacker community. "I'm breaking the rules," he admitted. 
"There's not enough information in the advisory to figure out the attack 
and I'm bragging about it."

According to DNS expert Paul Vixie, one of the few people who has been 
given a detailed briefing on Kaminsky's finding, it is different from 
the issue reported three years ago by SANS. While Kaminsky's flaw is in 
the same area, "it's a different problem", said Vixie, who is president 
of the Internet Systems Consortium, the maker of the most widely used 
DNS server software on the Internet.

The issue is urgent and should be patched immediately, said David Dagon, 
a DNS researcher at Georgia Tech who was also briefed on the bug. "With 
sparse details, a few have questioned whether Dan Kaminsky had 
repackaged older work in DNS attacks," he said. "It is not feasible to 
think that the world's DNS vendors would have patched and announced in 
unison for no reason."

By day's end, Kaminsky had even turned his most vocal critic, Matasano's 
Ptacek, who issued a retraction on this blog after Kaminsky explained 
the details of his research over the telephone. "He has the goods," 
Ptacek said afterward. While the attack builds on previous DNS research, 
it makes cache poisoning attacks extremely easy to pull off. "He's 
pretty much taken it to point and click to an extent that we didn't see 

Kaminsky's remaining critics will have to wait until his 7 August Black 
Hat presentation to know for sure, however.

The security researcher said he hopes that they show up for his talk. 
"If I do not have the exploit," he said. "I deserve every single piece 
of anger and distrust."

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Received on Fri Jul 11 2008 - 02:36:27 PDT

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