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Fedora Project leaders have banned a popular penetration-testing tool from their repository out of concern it could saddle the organization with legal burdens.

The move came on Monday in a unanimous vote by the Fedora Project's board of directors rejecting a request that SQLNinja be added to the archive of open-source applications. It came even as a long list of other hacker tools are included in the bundle and was harshly criticized by some security watchers.

“It seems incredibly short sighted to reject software based on perceived legal usage,” said Jacob Appelbaum, a full-time programmer for the Tor Project. “They have decided to become judges of likely usage based on their own experience. That is a path of madness.”

SQLNinja is an open-source toolkit that exploits SQL injection vulnerabilities in poorly configured web applications that use Microsoft SQL Server as the back-end database. Its creator, Alberto Revelli, concedes it “has an extremely aggressive nature,” in part because its focus is on taking over remote machines by “getting an interactive shell on the remote DB server and using it as a foothold in the target network.”

But his website insists it should be used by professional penetration testers and only when they have authorization to do so.

“The guys at Fedora can choose to include/reject whatever they like,” he told The Reg. “Of course, deciding to exclude applications like SQLNinja might not make their distribution particularly popular with penetration testers and security professionals.”

Fedora's move isn't the first time legal concerns have prompted an organization to place restrictions on security wares. Last year, PayPal suspended the account of hacker Moxie Marlinspike after an unknown person used his research into website authentication to publish a counterfeit certificate for the online payment processor.

In 2007, Germany enacted draconian anti-hacker measures that criminalize the creation or possession of dual-use security tools. In 2008, the UK government considered doing much the same.

The Fedora board's meeting minutes, don't state the precise objections that led to the decision, but they show one consideration involved concerns that SQLNinja “is advertised as 'get root on remote systems' – it doesn't advertise itself as a security tool.” Board members also discussed whether inclusion of such software would significantly increase their legal liability.

“After debating the pros and cons of whether or not to include it in Fedora, we put it up for a vote,” Fedora Project Leader Jared Smith wrote in an email. “The Fedora Board voted to exclude it from the Fedora repositories, based on the criteria listed above.”

The decision came during the same meeting that the board unanimously decided to add a new statement to Fedora's legal guidelines concerning the inclusion of hacking tools. It reads:

Where, objectively speaking, the package has essentially no useful foreseeable purposes other than those that are highly likely to be illegal or unlawful in one or more major jurisdictions in which Fedora is distributed or used, such that distributors of Fedora will face heightened legal risk if Fedora were to include the package, then the Fedora Project Board has discretion to deny inclusion of the package for that reason alone.

Smith said the language is intended to clarify its stance on a class of software that can be used both to secure and penetrate protected networks.

“It's very much a gray area, and as a Board we wanted to ensure that we were careful and deliberate about the kinds of tools we choose to put in Fedora,” he explained.

For the record, Fedora already includes a host of other hacking tools, including Jack John the Ripper, Ettercap, Dsniff, Yersinia, Nessus and Nikto, to name a small few. ®

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