AOH :: SH.TXT|
Super Hacker-WAS HE BUSTED OR DID HE SLIP OFF INTO THE NIGHT-You decide what happened in this true story.
From: David Rogers <DRogers@SUMEX-AIM.ARPA>
Subject: "19 year old UCLA hacker"
Well, that 19 year old hacker was here at Stanford, and here is a
system programmers account of what it was like. After reading this message,
I took the problem of hackers much less casually.
(By the way, "call-back" systems are good, but if the computer is on a
network, it's virtually impossible to keep the hackers out. Read on.)
Date: Wednesday, 9 November 1983 16:44:19-PST
Subject: the breakin: short summary of a media event
From: Brian Reid <reid@Glacier>
Enough people have asked me "what really happened" that I thought it was
worth posting a medium-sized note to bboard explaining what this computer
intruder stuff is all about. I will also tell the tale of how it came to be
a full-fledged media phenomenon.
Early morning on September 17 I had logged on to Shasta and noticed an
unseemly slowness to the logon process. I was the only user on the system,
which made it even more curious. I was too sleepy to care, but filed it
away for future puzzleement. A few hours later Jeff Mogul telephoned me
with the truth, which he had discovered and explained. The Shasta directory
/usr/local/bin contained a file named "stty", whose contents was actually a
shell script that copied /bin/csh into ~somewhere/.$USER, then chmod u+s
$USER .$USER, then an exec of the real stty. Translating into English from
Unix-ese, this means that when some innocent victim ran this false "stty"
program, it would store in the perpetrator's directory a copy of the shell
(a shell is like the Tops-20 EXEC) set up in such a way that when the
perpetrator later executed that shell, he would acquire all of the
permissions and access rights of the victim. The unseemly delay that I had
noticed at 5:30 a.m. was caused by the length of time that it took to copy
the 64KB shell file into the intruder's directory.
The "stty" program on Unix is used by virtually all users to set up their
terminal characteristics when logging on, and most Shasta users have their
search lists set up to look in /usr/local/bin before /usr/bin. This means
that after the passage of a few hours, the perpetrator's directory
contained many files with names like ".reid" or ".mogul" or ".hennessey",
each rigged so that if he executed it he could read or write any files to
which reid or mogul or hennessey had access.
The account used by the perpetrator belonged to Jim Miller, who had visited
HPP last year, and who had left quite some time ago. Tom Rindfleisch
assured me that Miller was an honest person who would not do such a thing;
we therefore concluded that some alien was using the account. I spent a
couple of minutes finding out some biographical data about him, and was
easily able to guess his password. That solved the mystery of how the
intruder was using Miller's account.
We waited for the perpetrator to log on again, and when he did so, he was
coming in through the Internet from Purdue. I traced the net connections
back to find out that he was logged on as Mark Bronson at Purdue, and
immediately called Walter Tichy at Purdue to ask about Bronson, and was
told that Mark Bronson had graduated a year ago and gone to work for a
certain company in another state, which intriguingly enough was the same
company that Miller worked for. This "clue" turned out to be a red herring,
but it distracted us for a day. Chris Kent of Purdue traced the network
connections back to SU-TAC, where the perpetrator was dialed in on a 300-
At this point I wanted to go home for dinner, so I shut down Shasta's
internet service, which made it impossible for him to telnet in to Shasta
from ARPA-land. I figured that he would think Shasta had just crashed. To
my amazement, he was logged back on within 30 seconds, this time coming in
from Navajo via PUP telnet (which I had not shut off). A quick trace of the
net connections showed that he was logged on to Navajo as Anita Mayo. Steve
Hartwell phoned Anita in New York to ask her if she was doing this; she
said no, she wasn't, but her password wou| to guess. I
tried guessing "Anita", and sure enough it worked. Wanting to go home for
dinner, I changed Anita's Navajo password to something unrememberable and
killed the Mayo job on Navajo, figuring that this would keep him out.
30 seconds later he was back on again, this time coming in from Diablo,
where he was logged on as Jeff Adams. I was unsuccessful at guessing Jeff
Adams' password, but I realized at this point that I was dealing with
organized crime and not just with some casual password hacker: he clearly
had access to lists of account names and passwords all over the place. I
hotwired Shasta's "login" so that only people actually physically in ERL
could log in, and went home a bit shaken.
At this point I called Ralph Gorin to ask for advice, and he advised me to
call the FBI. It took 24 hours to get them to return my call, and another
24 hours to get them to believe that a real crime was taking place. They
came to campus and spent a day talking to me, to Len Bosack, and to Ralph.
The following morning they obtained permission authorizing Pacific
Telephone to put a "trap" on the SU-TAC dialin lines; simultaneously, Len
and Benjy Levy connected a hardcopy terminal to the TAC dialin line so that
we could get a transcript of what the intruder was doing, to use as
evidence if necessary.
Meanwhile back at Shasta, we were walking the fine line between keeping
this intruder out of our files and keeping him interested enough to stay on
the line long enough for us to trace the call. We did this by leaving his
Trojan horse in place, and periodically getting volunteers to run it,
whereupon he would get quite excited and spend an hour or two checking to
see if he had acquired any interesting new privileges. Steve Przybylski,
Glenn Trewitt, Steve Hartwell and I took turns at this babysitting task.
Pacific Telephone told us that the calls were being made from a certain
travel agency in San Bruno. The FBI folks made a visit there, and found no
evidence of any such thing. Pacific Telephone then suspected that the
telephone wires in that building had been compromised, but after another
day of fooling around, Pac Tel admitted that what was *really* going on was
that the call was coming in through a long-distance calling service, such
as Sprint or MCI. The long-distance calling service people refused to
cooperate; Len and the FBI obtained the necessary search warrant (another
delay); they cooperated and told us that the calls were coming from Los
At this point I went out of town for a program committee meeting, so I am a
little fuzzy on the exact details, but Len and the FBI together managed to
get the necessary traps in place on the Los Angeles local telephone end. I
returned from the trip to resume my shift at babysitting Shasta to make
sure the intruder did not get too carried away. By this point we had a
fairly automatic notification mechanism set up; we doctored "login" so that
whenever the intruder logged on it would send mail notification to all of
us who were participating in the chase.
But he never logged in again. After a few days of wondering whether he had
detected our traps and chickened out, I got word from Ralph that Ralph had
gotten word that the Los Angeles police had raided some teenager's
apartment and seized a computer. The date and time of the raid mesh fairly
well with the last recorded instance of our intruder coming in, but of
course we have no hard evidence that it is the same person. The FBI might
have further evidence; they aren't talking.
That was September 22. I had thought the whole issue was dead, but last
week somebody at Purdue told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times that I
had located this intruder and informed Purdue of his existence; the L.A.
Times reporter called me and I told him the story pretty much as you read
it above. It appeared in the Sunday LA Times, and went out on the LA Times
News Service newswire.
Well, it seems that when the LA Times runs a story on something it becomes
Big News. The following morning (Tuesday a.m.) Len and I started getting
calls from every imaginable reporter (Only his name and mine appeared in
the LA Times story). Before 10am, 10 radio stations, 4 TV stations, all of
the local newspapers, even the Stanford Daily had picked up on this hot
story of evil alien spies penetrating the Department of Defense through
Stanford University, and all had to have the story first-hand.
It has all blown over now; today something else is Big News. Please,
everyone, please make sure your passwords are hard to guess. Try to make
them non-pronounceable, and long, and certainly make them unrelated to your
life. And try to understand that not every quote you read in the papers is
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