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Free download empowers black hat hackers

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The folks at Immunity, a company specializing in tools for penetration testing, have released a free application advertised to streamline the development of software exploits.

Immunity Debugger, as the app is called, will cut exploit development time by half, according to this product announcement. The debugger is designed with malware writers in mind, providing a rich GUI, powerful scripting language and connectivity to fuzzers and exploit development tools.

The program gives developers the option of using command line or GUI depending on the task at hand, and runs plug-ins written in Python by third-party developers.

It has also touched off a familiar debate about whether what is good for the goose will be good for the gander, which in security circles often translates to "does that which helps bad guys also help the good guys (or vice versa)?"

"Giving people a tool that makes the creation of malicious code easier is just not a good thing," Dave Marcus, a security research and communications manager at McAfee argues. "This tool in the wrong hands is going to create more zero days, more exploits and more code that ultimately puts people at risk, and I know that's not the intent."

We see some merit in the argument. A vulnerability is found in a widely used application, and a bad guy uses Immunity Debugger to write an exploit, shaving 50 percent of the time it would previously have taken to do so. That allows the black hat to release the attack code several days before the vendor issues a fix.

But so far we're not hearing other security white hats echoing the criticism. On Sunday, SANS Diary writer Scott Fendley appeared to praise Debugger because "it seems to take the best of command line interfaces as well as the GUI ones and combined it into one package."

And John Bambenek, a security researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also welcomed the release.

"If this tool does what it says ... software development companies, researchers and white-hats guys will be running these tools also and finding these exploits just as fast as the bad guys," he said. "Less sophisticated hackers will be able to get more into the exploit writing market, but I'm less worried about the people who need GPL debuggers to figure out how to hack stuff." ®

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