Feeds

Researcher attempts to shed light on security troll

It's all in the writing style

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

For over a year, subscribers to the Full Disclosure security mailing list had to endure the taunts and rants of a self-styled vulnerability researcher known as "n3td3v."

The troll - as such taunting posters are dubbed - would frequently ignite massive angry email responses, or flame wars, at times limiting the usefulness of the Full Disclosure list. Over time, n3td3v took on multiple online personalities, or gained members of the n3td3v group, and attempted to create an online security hub. The group's favorite targets included Yahoo!, Google, other researchers and security news reporters, including this one.

Even after n3td3v gave up the virtual ghost in September 2006, no one knew the name of the person who infuriated, and amused, so many researchers. Now, an independent security consultant believes that linguistic forensics - a branch of science that attempts to identify authors by the content and style of their writings - has linked n3td3v with a previous security-list troll and hacking group known as Gobbles.

In a 19 page report published on Friday, consultant Neal Krawetz argues that statistical analysis of mailing-list messages posted by n3td3v and advisories written by Gobbles indicates that each group appears to be three, or possibly four, people, and the writing styles of the people making up the two groups appear to match. The report uses five different metrics of writing style to determine whether the authors are American or non-American, male or female, and their degree of education. While the five indicators have large margins of error, using the methods together minimises the error, Krawetz claimed.

"Because these methods are not perfect, I definitely could be wrong - I just don't think I am," Krawetz said in an interview with SecurityFocus.

The conclusion is not new: Several security researchers that subscribe to the Full-Disclosure mailing list have also noted that n3td3v's tactics seemed similar to Gobbles. However, this is the first time that science seemingly backs up the conclusion.

Krawetz argued that the link could mean that n3td3v's claims of having zero-day vulnerabilities in Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google software could have some basis in reality. In 2001, Gobbles taunted the community, was written off as a troll, but then surprised many researchers by releasing a number of respectable vulnerabilities in late 2001 and 2002.

"Assuming that they are the same group and they are following the same pattern, then (n3td3v) are probably sitting on a lot of zero-day exploits and, probably, for Windows Vista," Krawetz said, stressing that the hypothesis was only conjecture.

Yet, others believe that any link between the two groups is purely circumstantial.

"Gobbles showed some real techniques; n3td3v is nothing but a troll," said Brian Martin, a network security consultant, who asked that his company name not be mentioned. "If you sit down and really think about trolls, Gobbles is going to come to mind. But for no other reason than he's a notable troll."

Martin has met the primary researcher - who used the pseudonym "Gobbles" - in the past and characterised the person, who he refused to name, as "polite and soft-spoken". He doubted that the person who primarily used the Gobbles nom de plume would devolve into more prolific troll.

"Several years later, I don't see him turning into n3td3v at all," Martin said. "Sure he was a troll, but several years later, I don't see him getting worse."

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Multipath TCP speeds up the internet so much that security breaks
Black Hat research says proposed protocol will bork network probes, flummox firewalls
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
Microsoft's Euro cloud darkens: US FEDS can dig into foreign servers
They're not emails, they're business records, says court
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?