By Gregg Keizer
August 15, 2007
A self-proclaimed hacker crew calling itself "clpwn" -- as in "clown" --
that's been bragging about how it's defaced sites such as CNN and
Playboy Casino isn't doing anything earth-shattering, said a security
researcher today. But the group is a reminder of how things once were,
when true hackers plied their trade for notoriety rather than profit.
"There are still people out there who are only looking for fame," said
Zulfikar Ramzan, senior principal researcher at Symantec Corp. today.
"You don't see a lot of that anymore, but I get the feeling they're just
trying to get noticed."
Part of Ramzan's take on clpwn comes from the self-aggrandizement that
pervades the crew's Web site. One entry, where the group brags about
compromising a Raleigh, N.C. television station's site, starts out: "The
notorious Web hackers TEAM CLPWN have struck yet another major
mainstream news portal...." In another entry that touts a hack of the
CNN International site, the gang writes: "At the time of writing the
leaders of this group have not responded to any contacts from the media
and no information is available on their targets or methods of attack."
Not exactly true. "There are no new insights from what they're doing,"
said Ramzan, "but they are using some of the latest research -- latest
meaning the last couple of years, not the last week -- and demonstrating
that it can be applied in a real-world setting."
Most of their efforts have utilized cross-site scripting attacks, Ramzan
noted, a venerable technique easily carried out against carelessly
maintained Web sites. But some of clpwn's work goes beyond that.
Recently, the group has added a Flash-based port scanner to at least one
page on their own site that scans Windows' localhost. "If you can do a
host-based scan like this on, say, a home network, you can log in to a
router that hasn't had its default password changed, and alter the DNS
settings, all remotely," said Ramzan. Called 'drive-by pharming,' the
practice allows attackers to redirect the user from legitimate sites
entered in the browser to phony, possibly malicious, URLs.
"Once they're able to do host-based scanning, I think malicious damage
is only a matter of time," Ramzan added.
Others aren't so sure. Gunter Ollmann, the director of IBM Internet
Security Systems' X-Force research lab, was less impressed with clpwn's
capabilities. "Not that any of the techniques are new, in fact I
publicly did the same kind of thing back in March 2002," said Ollmann.
He also leaned towards the hacking-as-entertainment opinion of the
group. "It looks like quite a few 'whitehats' are taking it all a bit
too seriously, which promotes even more amusement on the site," he said.
Symantec, though, recommended that users steer clear of clpwn's Web
site. "Given the nature of the current exploit, and the ease with which
this group can add payload updates, this domain should be considered
malicious," warned a notice sent to customers of the security company's
DeepSight threat network. "Customers are advised to browse with caution
and block access to the 'clpwn.com' domain."
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