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Reg duped by crime-busting D.I.R.T Trojan

That rhythmic thud you hear is Tom's forehead hitting his desk....

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My recent article on the D.I.R.T. (Data Interception by Remote Transmission) Trojan, with which law-enforcement agents can secretly monitor a suspect's computer and which is marketed by surveillance outfit Codex Data Systems, contained several inaccuracies, all of which can be attributed solely to my own lapse in the skepticism for which The Reg in general, and I personally, are known.

The full story, as it happens, is immensely more twisted than I imagined when I wrote my original item. Clearly, The Register's readers deserve better -- and here it is:

S.C.A.M.
Thanks to several e-mailed hints from readers, I continued doing background research and have now confirmed that the CEO of Codex Data Systems is one Francis Edward "Frank" Jones, a convicted felon currently on probation for illegal possession of surveillance devices. He was charged with trafficking and conspiracy to traffic in them, but in an agreement he pleaded guilty to simple possession, and the US Government dropped the other two charges.

He was sentenced to three-hundred hours' community service and five years' probation with no jail time, on the strength of his argument to the court that he was not responsible for his illegal acts by reason of mental defect. He has also been required to participate in a mental-health program, which, judging by some of his recent behavior, appears to be less than a screaming success.

Jones is widely regarded as a scam artist with a long history of security/surveillance snake-oil sales. He has, for example, sold bug-detection services, which we're told are completely fraudulent, involving detection apparatus easily cobbled together from the inventory of Radio Shack. He's reported to have planted a bug which he subsequently 'found' during one such charade.

A Legend in His Own Mind

He's also a shameless, Boswellian self-promoter with a Web site devoted to himself in his on-line incarnation, "SpyKing."

Here we're told that SpyKing/Jones is "formerly in military and law enforcement service," and "a popular talk show guest with 15 appearances on national & regional programming and news specials."

As for his law-enforcement experience, we've since learned that he managed to get himself fired from the New York City Police Department in 1975, according to a letter by Association of Counter-Intelligence Professionals (ACIP) Executive Director Michael Richardson.

But the PR beat goes on: "Jones has lectured at M.I.T. (Massachussetts [sic] Institute of Technology) on TEMPEST computer eavesdropping techniques," his Web site claims. Indeed, "No other speaker has their thumb on the pulse of changing world trends in immerging [sic] surveillance technologies."

Our illiterate subject has conned such publications as PC World, E-BusinessWorld, TechWeek, the Wall Street Journal, and, thanks to my carelessness, The Register as well.

The D.I.R.T. on the Trojan

The truly inexcusable element of my first story was my failure challenge rigorously Codex's claims regarding the amazing power of its D.I.R.T. Trojan.

Had I taken the time to learn that SpyKing/Jones was behind this, I would have immediately suspected that it's a lot more talk than technology. But I ran with the piece out of eagerness to work my own agenda, motivated by personal outrage that anyone would be so irresponsible as to sell a Trojan to law-enforcement and governments as a surveillance device.

And the reason for that outrage survives even now; D.I.R.T. unquestionably permits police to upload bogus evidence to a suspect's machine and offers no auditing controls by which they might be caught, which was the focus of my original report.

That much hasn't changed; D.I.R.T. is absolutely ripe for abuse without accountability, and Jones is utterly damnable for trying to sell it to governments and police organizations.

But I was on very shaky ground in reporting its true capabilities. My subsequent investigation indicates that Codex's claim that D.I.R.T. can defeat all known PC firewalls is, quite simply, false.

Furthermore, their claim that "the software is completely transparent to the target and cannot be detected by current anti-virus software," is misleading, if not completely false. There is no technology in D.I.R.T. responsible for this sort of stealth; the server isn't detected simply because no anti-virus vendor has as yet added it to their signatures catalog.

Defeating D.I.R.T.
My suggestions in the original article for defeating D.I.R.T. remain basically sound, if perhaps a bit over-cautious due to my mistaken belief that it defeats all known firewalls (though there is reason to believe it may defeat a few).

Because it isn't presently detected by anti-virus software, one does have to look for evidence of it. By default, it installs two files in the C:\WINDOWS directory -- DESKTOP.EXE and DESKTOP.DLL. If you find either of those files, you need to remove them and any associated files (such as .LOG files), or re-format your HDD to be on the safe side.

One can also check their Windows registry under:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\WINDOWS\CurrentVersion HKEY_USERS\SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\WINDOWS\CurrentVersion HKEY_USERS\DEFAULT\SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\WINDOWS\CurrentVersion for any references to DESKTOP.EXE or DESKTOP.DLL.

For those not intimately acquainted with the incontinent complexities of the Windows Registry, it would be best simply to search the entirety for references to both files mentioned. (It's also worthwhile to check out some of the suggestions in my previous report.)

Now, because those file names are defaults which can be modified by savvy operators, I'm not saying, 'if you can't find the files, then you're not infected.' The names can be changed; but we can rely on the fact that most operators will be using D.I.R.T. in its default configuration -- after all, its chief selling point is that it can be used successfully by the technically illiterate.

One final point regarding defenses against the Trojan: soon after I posted the first article recommending disk re-formats for those unsure how to combat D.I.R.T., which was mentioned and linked at Cryptome.org, a reader submitted the following warning:

"D.I.R.T. uses 'unused' space in the file system, so high-level reformatting will not destroy it. (This 'unused' space is used by operating systems to handle classified information with data structures similar to that in SE_Linux). Removing D.I.R.T. requires wiping the disk at the device-driver level."

I spoke with Eric Schneider, who wrote the program before leaving Codex on ethical grounds; and he told me that so far as he knows "there is no technology in D.I.R.T. which comes close to surviving a high-level format."

So there you have it. Codex's D.I.R.T. is a remote administration tool that functions in large part just like the free Trojans SubSeven and BO2K, which is being sold by a disgraced former cop, current felon and self-confessed lunatic for thousands of dollars a pop to creepy Feds in countries where the sort of abuse it invites is routine and impossible for a victim to challenge in court.

In all, a loathsome scam run by an equally loathsome con artist. ®

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