Cisco warns of new hacking toolkit

Cisco Systems Inc. during the weekend warned customers about the public release of computer code that exploits multiple security vulnerabilities in Cisco products.

Using exploits for nine software vulnerabilities, the program could allow malicious hackers to compromise Cisco's popular Catalyst switches or a wide variety of machines running versions of the company's Internetwork Operating System (IOS), Cisco said on Saturday.

Called the "Cisco Global Exploiter," the program appears to give users a menu of choices, depending on the system they are trying to crack. For example, the "Cisco 677/678 Telnet Buffer Overflow Vulnerability," or "Cisco Catalyst 3500 XL Remote Arbitrary Command Vulnerability," according to the Web site, www.k-otik.com.

While many of the exploits can only be used to shut down affected Cisco devices in "denial of service" attacks, at least one enables remote attackers to run malicious code on the affected system without needing to supply a user name or password, according to the Cisco security notice.

Computer code for a program matching the description in the Cisco security notice was posted on a French language computer security exploit Web site on Sunday.

An Italian security research group calling itself "BlackAngels" took responsibility for the new tool, but disavowed any responsibility for "incorrect or illegal use of this software or for eventual damages to others systems," according to the post on the K-Otik.com Web site and a statement on the group's Web page, www.blackangels.it.

The group describes itself as a "group of Italian teenager boys, expert in the network security field and programming," according to the BlackAngels Web site.

Members of the group did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The San Jose, California, networking equipment maker advised customers to patch software vulnerabilities exploited by the program to protect against malicious hackers using the new tool. (See: http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/707/cisco-sn-20040326-exploits.shtml.)

Cisco has released software updates and published "workaround" instructions for remediating the vulnerabilities exploited by the program.

One security expert called the appearance of a toolkit for launching the exploit "standard practice" in the malicious hacking community and part of an informal "product development cycle" for security exploits.

After discovering a vulnerability and publishing basic code to prove a vulnerability can be exploited, hackers work to refine that code and eventually make it "point and click," said Mark Rasch, senior vice president and chief security counsel at Solutionary Inc. of Omaha, Nebraska.

"Tools like this come out constantly," Rasch said.

Still, the release of a toolkit raises the bar for companies affected by the software holes by putting weapons into the hands of less sophisticated hackers, he said.

"There's a whole bunch of people out there with no technical skills at all (and) no idea what to do. They're just waiting for somebody to build a toolkit so they can use it to shut down a company or break in, even though they don't understand how it works," he said.

Companies that use affected Cisco products should scan their networks to see if they are using vulnerable Cisco devices or running vulnerable services such as FTP (File Transfer Protocol) or Telnet. Companies also need to make an inventory of the software products and versions they are running, even if the products are not vulnerable to one of the Cisco exploits, he said.

"Knowing that you don't have to do something is as important as knowing that you do have to," Rasch said.

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