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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
Snapshot shows net under attack
Ocean wave, Eyewire
Some web users are fighting off waves of attacks
Every minute of every day hundreds of networks connected to the internet are under attack by automatic software tools looking for and exploiting the vulnerabilities they find.

At the same time vandals are looking for websites they can deface, some disgruntled employees are looking to cause trouble from within companies and virus outbreaks are threatening to overwhelm e-mail servers.

Two reports issued separately have shown that the net is awash with security problems and reveal the efforts anyone using the net has to take to stay safe.

The studies also show that attackers and their tools are getting more sophisticated in their attempts to crash networks, steal data or cause general mayhem.

Tool talk

In the first 90 days of 2002, security firm Counterpane investigated more than 57,000 potential intrusions on the 200 networks it oversees.

The vast majority of these incidents were false alarms (55%). But a significant proportion (18%) were attacks that tried to do damage - either by exploiting vulnerabilities or by flooding networks with bogus traffic to make them crash.

Pringles tube, BBC
Pringles tubes can help find vulnerable networks
With the FBI estimating that 1% of all attacks succeed, this could mean that vast numbers of the networks connected to the net have been compromised.

A statement issued by Counterpane along with the results said that without expert help many companies would be completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of attacks.

Many would also have trouble sorting out the serious assaults from the nuisance attacks.

Multi-purpose tools

Also this week, the Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert) released its regular report on new trends in attacks on websites.

In the report, Cert said that one of the most worrying trends was the increasing sophistication of the tools that computer vandals were using to cause havoc on the net.

Before now, tools that find vulnerabilities and those that exploit them have tended to be separate programs. But Cert reports that multi-purpose attack tools are turning up online that can instantly exploit vulnerabilities if they come across them.

The report also reveals that many attackers communicate with the tools that sweep the net on their behalf via instant messaging programs such as IRC.

Entirely new types of attacks are also starting to appear. One such attack is called "cache poisoning", which involves putting bogus information in a server that others use as a faster way to reach other parts of the net.

By changing the information that the server is holding, attackers have found it possible to redirect users to parts of the web they were not expecting.

"Organisations relying on the internet face significant challenges to ensure that their networks operate safely and that their systems continue to provide critical services even in the face of attack," concluded the report.

It said that a lot of work remained to be done to work out just how to combat many of the novel threats.

See also:

23 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Tipping the balance on net security
31 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Hackers to the honey
08 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Computer crime 'soaring'
08 Mar 02 | Sci/Tech
Hacking with a Pringles tube
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