Hacking Contest Reveals Solaris Vulnerability

Argus Systems awarded a team of four hackers $48,000 for accessing a server protected with its PitBull intrusion-prevention software. Argus had promised the prize money to any hacker who could beat PitBull.

This was the fifth such hacker challenge issued by the security-software maker. Claiming the prize are four-person crewmates Michal Chmielewski, Sergiusz Fonrobert, Adam Gowdiak, and Tomasz Ostwald, collectively known as Last Stage of Delirium.

Argus CEO Randy Sandone says that the hackers actually exploited a vulnerability within Solaris 7 for Intel x86 machines, not one within the PitBull software. In fact, he contends that the successful hack validates the need for software such as PitBull.

Argus says hackers were able to create a hole in the Solaris/x86 OS kernel. No patch is required for PitBull because the hackers found no vulnerability within its software, according to the company. But Sandone warns that the flaw used by LSD "could potentially affect every system running the x86 architecture." He adds that Argus has notified OS vendors supporting the Intel x86 architecture and will afford them the opportunity to correct the vulnerability before making the details public.

Sandone says two criteria had to be in place for the hack to be successful. "First, there had to be a flaw in the operating system that wasn't identified through code analysis. Second, hackers had to have access to shell accounts. We gave them the shell accounts."

He says the servers that were hacked had neither firewall nor intrusion detection. Cumulatively, through all five contests, PitBull has withstood more than 7 million hack attempts.

Sandone argues that if this system in the contest had been protected with traditional firewall- and intrusion-detection software, it would have been vulnerable not only to this flaw, but to thousands of other less-complicated attacks from the network, application, and middleware vulnerabilities. "The goal is to get as close to zero vulnerability the most cost-effective way," he says.

Sandone says Argus has received plenty of flack stemming from the company's use of hacking contests on its PitBull security products. "But I strongly believe that these contests hold legitimate value. If, through this contest," he says, "we were able to identify a flaw in the x86 architecture and have the operating system vendors correct that, well, that's worth $50,000 and a little negative press."

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