Saturday, January 30, 2010
Google attack highlights 'zero-day' black market
Because no fix was available, the linchpin in the attack was one of the worst kinds of security holes. Criminals treasure these types of "zero day" security vulnerabilities because they are the closest to a sure thing and virtually guarantee the success of a shrewdly crafted attack.
In this Jan. 26, 2010 photo, TippingPoint's Pedram Amini, manager of security research team and the company's zero day initiative, works at his desk in Austin, Texas. TippingPoint founded the Zero Day Initiative, a program for rewarding researchers for disclosing vulnerabilities like the recent programming flaw in Internet Explorer that was used to attack Google employees.
How did the perpetrators learn about the flaw? Likely, they merely had to tap a thriving underground market, where a hole "wide enough to drive a truck through" can command hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Ken Silva, chief technology officer of VeriSign Inc. Such flaws can take months of full-time hacking to find.
"Zero days are the safest for attackers to use, but they're also the hardest to find," Silva said. "If it's not a zero day, it's not valuable at all."
The Internet Explorer flaw used in the attack on Google Inc. required tricking people into visiting a malicious Web site that installed harmful software on victims' computers.
The attack, along with a discovery that computer hackers had tricked human-rights activists into exposing their Google e-mail accounts to outsiders, infuriated Google and provoked a larger fight over China's censorship of the Internet content. Google has threatened to shut down its censored, Chinese-language search engine and possibly close its offices in China.
Pedram Amini, manager of the Zero Day Initiative at the security firm TippingPoint, estimated that the IE flaw could have fetched as much as $40,000. He said even more valuable zero-day flaws are ones that can infect computers without any action on the users' part.
Zero days refer to security vulnerabilities caused by programming errors that haven't been "patched," or fixed, by the products' developers. Often those companies don't know the weaknesses exist and have had zero days to work on closing the holes. sanluisobispo