Opinion: Old Attack Exposes Microsoft Shortcomings
- By Russ Cooper
- March 28, 2005
Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Service Pack 2 were both found to
be vulnerable to a very old form of Denial of Service attack known as a
"Land" attack. The attack involves sending a packet to a machine with
the source host/port the same as the destination host/port. This
results in the system attempting to reply to itself, causing it to lock
Land attacks first came to light in 1997, and the flaw was fixed in all Windows versions at the time. The vulnerability appears to have been re-introduced as a result of the security hardening done during XP SP2 development.
The fact that the newest versions of Microsoft's OSes can be crashed by Land attacks makes you realize how far Bill Gates' vaunted Trustworthy Computing initiative still has to go. Some key failures this vulnerability exposes:
1. This is an old and well-known form of attack. How could Microsoft
miss this during security testing of the new versions? The likely
answer is that they had routers which prevented the LAND attacks; thus,
they probably tested for the vulnerability and missed the problem
because the router blocked the attack, even though the OSes won't. This
means the criteria they used for determining the success or failure of
the test was completely off-base.
2. Code was originally written, then subsequently found to be
vulnerable to an attack (in this case, the original LAND attack in
1997.) Such an occurrence should get logged in such a way as to ensure
that the issue, or the coding that led to the vulnerability in the
first place, was double-checked every time the modules containing the
code were revised, updated or replaced. Yet here we are again, so
obviously there were no sticky notes on the vulnerable modules saying
"Hey, check and make sure we're not vulnerable to LAND attacks!"
3. We could simply attribute this to the age-old charge that
Microsoft's code is so huge and so diversely managed that it doesn't
know what it's doing with -- or to -- it.
4. It could also be that its code is just too difficult to do proper
quality assurance (QA). It seems hardly fair to blame Computer
Associates for legacy issues in its code (as I did a few weeks ago) and
not call out Microsoft's QA people for re-introducing a previously
patched vulnerability. Holy Windows, Batman!
More information on the Land attack can be found at
Russ Cooper is a Senior Information Security Analyst with
Cybertrust, Inc., www.cybertrust.com. He's also founder and editor of
NTBugtraq, www.ntbugtraq.com, one of the industry's most influential
mailing lists dedicated to Microsoft security. One of the world's most-
recognized security experts, he's often quoted by major media outlets
on security issues.
Russ Cooper's Security Watch column appears every Monday in the
Redmond magazine/ENT Security Watch e-mail newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
Russ Cooper is a senior information security analyst with Verizon Business, Inc.
He's also founder and editor of NTBugtraq, www.ntbugtraq.com,
one of the industry's most influential mailing lists dedicated to Microsoft security.
One of the world's most-recognized security experts, he's often quoted by major
media outlets on security issues.