By Robert McMillan
IDG news service
15 February 2008
Hell hath no fury than a hacker scorned. When a hacker going by the name
Chujwamwdupe published attack code that exploited a recently patched bug
in Microsoft Office 2003 earlier this week, it seemed as if he were
publishing the software out of spite.
At the top of his submission, Chujwamwdupe wrote about an email
informing him that "Unfortunately, Microsoft has refused to credit you
using the name you requested." Microsoft acted this way because, in
Polish, the word refers to a form of sexual intercourse.
Microsoft had been put into a tough position. The company generally goes
out of its way to credit hackers who responsibly disclose software
vulnerabilities, and by not crediting Chujwamwdupe, it may have put
customers at risk by accelerating the release of attack code. After all,
quickly releasing an exploit is the one way a hacker can back up his
claim that he actually discovered the bug in question.
Even though the flaw, which lies in the Works File Converter, was
patched the day before the exploit code was released, it will be months
before all of Microsoft's customers install the updates. This means that
Chujwamwdupe's code could be misused by criminals.
A member of Microsoft's security team flagged Chujwamwdupe's submission,
a Microsoft spokeswoman said. "One of them happened to speak the right
language and brought the issue to our attention," she said. "The
finder's user name could have been perceived as offensive in another
language, so we credited the vendor, VeriSign iDefense VCP
[Vulnerability Contributor Program], for reporting the issue to us
VeriSign pays hackers like Chujwamwdupe for vulnerability information so
that it can give its customers better information on the bugs when
Microsoft finally patches them. And while the majority of contributors
use their real names, some use hacker pseudonyms.
Usually that's not a problem, said Matthew Richard, the director of
iDefense's Rapid Response Team. "It really doesn't come across that
often. There really aren't that many handles that are offensive," he
said. Chujwamwdupe is "one of the very few that I've seen," he added.
3Com's TippingPoint division, which also pays hackers for vulnerability
information, had to talk researcher Manuel Santamarina Suarez out of
using a similarly offensive pseudonym, telling him, "we totally get your
originality, but we're professionals here," said Terri Forslof,
TippingPoint's manager of security research.
According to Forslof, who spent four years working for Microsoft's
Security Response group, there are technical reasons why offensive terms
cannot be included in the security bulletins. Such a word might cause
the bulletin to be blocked by email or web-filtering software, she said,
making it harder for Microsoft to communicate vital security information
with its customers.
Still, things would have probably worked out better for all parties if
Microsoft and VeriSign had worked out some way to credit the hacker, she
said. "If Microsoft would have credited him, would he have felt the need
to post that exploit code?"
"I believe that there was a communication breakdown here," she said.
Subscribe to InfoSec News