Thursday, February 27, 2003

SEATTLE -- When an Internet worm such as ``Slammer'' starts taking down computer servers, what's a company to do?

A controversial software architect named Timothy Mullen says he's got an answer -- cut the worm off at the pass.

Mullen is chief information officer at AnchorIS, a software firm based in Charleston, S.C. He's one of 280 security professionals and computer hackers in Seattle this week for the third Black Hat Windows Security conference, which ends today.

On Thursday at Black Hat, Mullen launched a unique software product called Enforcer that can find a worm and stop it before it passes to another server.

The product, which AnchorIS hasn't priced yet, is for computer networks inside a company.
What makes Mullen controversial is that, last July at a larger Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, he unveiled software that a company could use to attack a worm on an outside computer that sent it.

It's called striking back -- a move that would disable worms, Mullen said, but is also illegal hacking.

``It stirred tremendous debate, support and condemnation,'' Mullen said.

Debating counterattacks and other hot security issues is exactly what Black Hat was created for.

The four-day Windows conference taking place in Seattle is an offshoot of a much larger, industrywide event put on each year by Black Hat, a small, Seattle-based security consulting firm.

The firm's president is Jeff Moss, the man who started DefCon, a 10-year-old conference where hackers share trade secrets, as it were -- not necessarily criminal. Moss notes the term ``hacker'' originally meant a computer enthusiast.

Moss, whose hacker name is ``Dark Tangent,'' said the Black Hat events are corporate versions of DefCon. The goal, he explained, is to provide a forum where computer staff from corporations, government agencies and security firms can hash out how to prevent hacking.
Moss noted that attendance was strong at this year's Windows Black Hat, particularly among employees of Microsoft, which sponsored the event.

Though the Redmond software maker isn't alone, hackers often exploit flaws in its products.
``It's the biggest target,'' Moss said, because Microsoft Windows is everyone's first operating system.

Until that changes, he added, ``the young and intellectually challenged will work with what they have -- and what they have is Microsoft.''

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