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Heathrow PC security probe launched

Hacker discovers 'wide open' public access terminal

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Public access internet terminals at Heathrow airport may be vulnerable to hacking attacks. An Italian hacker stumbled on flaws that create a possible means for miscreants to load key logging software or other malware on a PC that allowed members of the public to access the internet. The same flaws create a means for the unscrupulous to obtain free internet access.

The firm that runs the terminals, Spectrum Interactive, is investigating reports first relayed to it by security consultancy RedOracle, which was approached by the white hat hacker who came across the wide-open PC. RedOracle, which was born as security-related website before becoming a security consultancy, informed Spectrum Interactive of the problem. In response, Spectrum Interactive pulled the affected PC and launched an investigation.

"We are aware of the incident that has been reported on one of our 1,900 Internet Desks," Daniel Gray, head of group marketing at Spectrum Interactive told El Reg. "We do appear to have experienced some sort of issue on the Internet Desk the author had used."

The possible breach has become the subject of an investigation by Spectrum Interactive. The services firm is keen to stress that the terminals are not connected to the network run by BAA, the firm that runs the airport itself.

"We are working to establish if it is a true security issue, or something else," Gray said. "If it is a security issue, it would be the first such breach we have suffered in seven years, and we are analysing the hard disk to establish exactly what occurred.

"Our Internet Desks, their PCs, DSL lines, and all related servers are completely unrelated and unconnected to any BAA networks, and thus there is no issue re. BAA infrastructure. However, again we take all suspected security issues very seriously and have already reacted accordingly."

RedOracle has published a detailed advisory, including screenshots obtained from its informant, documenting the problem.

Michael Dogali, webmaster of www.RedOracle.com, said the data suggested that public access PCs at Heathrow were "dangerously vulnerable".

"You can install back door, or open some services by the external network," he said. "You can surf on interenet free, and do what you want with these machines. User security is highly vulnerable."

Another security expert advised users to be more careful about using an internet cafe than they would be at home because they are dependent on a third-party for security. Securing PCs in a public area is far trickier than managing the security of a PC in a private area, he added. ®

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