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MS bugware blamed for ‘inadvertent’ hack

Brian West's lawyers threaten Redmond subpoenas

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Possible Good Samaritan Brian West of Oklahoma was using MS FrontPage when he learned (inadvertently, he claims) that he could gain privileges on the local Poteau Daily News Web site without authentication. After bringing this gaffe to the paper's attention, he got into a bit of hot water with the Feds for 'exceeding authorization' on the machine.

Now West's lawyers are claiming that Microsoft's bugware is to blame for the whole incident.

"It appears that Microsoft's software may have caused this unfortunate situation to occur," the Oklahoma-based Chappell Law Firm representing West says in a press release circulated on the Politech mailiing list.

And then there's this bit, discouraging US Attorney Sheldon Sperling from opening a ghastly can of worms: "If this case goes to trial, the Microsoft personnel who developed these programs will likely be subpoenaed as witnesses by Mr. West's defense team," the legal beagles warn.

"Or if it is found that this software contributed to, participated in or caused the events under investigation to occur, Microsoft could be indicted under the same statute."

Jeez, you'd think these guys had never seen a click-through agreement....

What was West up to?
According to a now-famous explanation by Linuxfreak, while looking at the Daily News Web site "West clicked the 'Edit' button on Microsoft's Internet Explorer. This action brought up Microsoft FrontPage and should have created a local copy of the Web page, allowing West to do a mock-up of the site on his own computer."

"In this case, however, Microsoft FrontPage displayed some unusual files due to a server misconfiguration. After some confusion, West realized that the Web server hosting the Poteau Daily News site required no authentication to edit any file on the site."

But according to the FBI affidavit, the computer West is suspected of using was logged making approximately 40 attempts to access the Daily News Web server in an hour's time. These included attempts to access files. A few hours later the passfile was downloaded, and five minutes after that someone logged in on a user account, but the user in question claims not to have been on line at the time.

From this we can infer that the Daily News does practice grotesquely bad network hygiene. The passfile, obviously, didn't need to be cracked. But was their network hygiene so incredibly poor that a naive surfer could just hit their edit button and waltz inside?

It would require some determination to stuff up a server configuration quite that badly. Absurdly bad judgment in setting file and directory permissions could do the trick. And using a FAT file system on Win-NT would give full privileges to anyone who can connect to the server.

The most common exploit against an IIS server with Front Page extensions is a quite old buffer overflow attack against Dvwssr.dll, which supports the Link View feature in Visual Interdev 1.0. If West did something along those lines, his intrusion can hardly be considered inadvertent.

The documents here are incomplete; we really don't know the circumstances. If the Linuxfreak account is full and accurate, then it's outrageous that West should be punished. But if things went more along the lines the FBI is claiming -- well, we'll just wish him luck with his 'inadvertent buffer overflow' defence. ®

Related Story

FBI treats 'Good Samaritan' as public enemy

Related Link

Documents about the case

Reducing security risks from open source software

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