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Joy Riders: Mischief That Leads to Mayhem

Richard Power delves beyond the media hysteria surrounding Internet crime. He provides case studies of several important cybercrimes from the last few years, many of which have surprisingly escaped public notice. This chapter examines three cases of hackers who broke into computer systems of government agencies, military bases, universities, and foreign countries.

One of the greatest misconceptions among the many who hamper the defense of cyberspace is the idea that all hacking is done only by juvenile joy riders: i.e., youthful geniuses bent on embarrassing law enforcement and the military. Of course, one of the ways in which this misconception is spread is through the mainstream media. Most cases that reach the light of day usually do end up involving juvenile hackers.

Why? Well, cases involving true cyberterrorists, information warriors, intelligence agencies, and corporate spies slip below the surface of the headlines. They are lost in the murky waters of “classified operations” or are swept under thick corporate carpets. ( You’ll read more about such cases in Chapter 10 and Chapter 12.)

Juvenile hackers or other “sport hackers” (a term used to describe hackers who break into systems for the same reasons but aren’t minors) end up in the newspapers because they get caught. They also end up in the headlines because they seek the limelight. Furthermore, acknowledging their activities doesn’t open a Pandora’s box for the government agency or the corporation that was hit. If a government agency acknowledged an intelligence operation conducted by another country, there could be serious diplomatic or even military consequences. If a major corporation acknowledged a hack attack in which trade secrets were compromised seemingly by another corporation, there would be a public relations debacle: for example, their stock could dive, law suits could get filed, etc.

Nevertheless, juvenile or sport hackers, or joy riders, have wreaked a lot of havoc and mayhem over the years.

Here are some of the details of three high-profile stories, stretching from 1994 to 1999, that illustrate some of the lessons learned and unlearned along the way.

The Rome Labs Case: Datastream Cowboy and Kuji Mix It Up with the U.S. Air Force

The Rome Air Development Center (Rome Labs), located at Griffiss Air Force Base (New York), is the U.S. Air Force’s premier command-and-control research facility.

Rome Lab researchers collaborate with universities, defense contractors, and commercial research institutions on projects involving artificial intelligence systems, radar guidance systems, and target detection and tracking systems.

On March 28, 1994, Rome Labs’s system administrators (sysadmins) noticed that a password sniffer, a hacking tool that gathers user’s login information, had been surreptitiously installed on a system linked to the Rome Labs network. The sniffer had collected so much information that it filled the disk and crashed the system, according to James Christy, who was director of Computer Crime Investigations for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

The sysadmins informed the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) that the Rome Labs network had been hacked into by an as yet unknown perpetrator. The DISA Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), in turn, informed the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) of the report of an intrusion. The AFOSI, in turn, informed the Air Force Information Warfare Center (AFIWC), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas.

An AFOSI team of cybercrime investigators and security experts was dispatched to Rome Labs. They reviewed audit trails and interviewed the sysadmins. The conclusions that they reached in their preliminary investigation were very disturbing.

Two hackers had broken into seven different computers on the Rome Labs network. They had gained unlimited access, downloaded data files, and secreted sniffers on every one of them. The seven sniffers had compromised a total of 30 of Rome Labs’s systems.

These systems contain sensitive research and development data.

System security logs disclosed that Rome Labs’s systems had been actually been hacked into for the first time on March 23, five days before the discovery made on March 28.

The investigation went on to disclose that the seven sniffers had compromised the security of more than 100 more user accounts by capturing user logons and passwords. Users’ e-mail messages had been snooped, duplicated, and deleted. Sensitive battlefield simulation program data had been pursued and purloined. Furthermore, the perpetrators had used Rome Labs’s systems as a jumping-off point for a series of hack attacks on other military, government, and research targets around the world. They broke into user accounts, planted sniffer programs, and downloaded massive quantities of data from these systems as well.

The investigators offered the Rome Labs commanding officer the option of either securing all the systems that had been hacked or leaving one or more of them open to attack. If they left a few systems open, they could monitor the comings and goings of the attackers in the hope of following them back to the their point of origination and identifying them.

The commander opted to leave some of the systems open to lay a trap for the intruders.

Figure 6.1 More than 100 downstream victims from the Rome Labs attacks.

Source: U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations

Investigators Wrestle with Legal Issues and Technical Limitations

Using standard software and computer systems commands, the attacks were initially traced back one leg of their path. The majority of the attacks were traced back to two commercial Internet service providers, cyberspace.com, in Seattle, Washington and mindvox.phantom.com, in New York City.

Newspaper articles indicated that the individuals who provided mindvox.phantom. com’s computer security described themselves as “two former East Coast Legion of Doom members.”

The Legion of Doom (LoD) was a loose-knit computer hacker group that had several members convicted for intrusions into corporate telephone switches in 1990 and 1991. Because the agents did not know whether the owners of the New York Internet service provider were willing participants or merely a transit point for the break-ins at Rome Labs, they decided not to approach them. Instead, they simply surveiled the victim computer systems at Rome Labs’s network to find out the extent of the intruders’ access and identify all the victims.

Following legal coordination and approval with Headquarters, AFOSI’s legal counsel, the Air Force General Counsel’s Office, and the Computer Crime Unit of the Department of Justice, real-time content monitoring was established on one of Rome Labs’s networks. Real-time content monitoring is analogous to performing a wiretap because it allows you to eavesdrop on communications, or in this case, text. The investigative team also began full keystroke monitoring at Rome. The team installed a sophisticated sniffer program to capture every keystroke performed remotely by any intruder who entered the Rome Labs.

This limited context monitoring consisted of subscribing to the commercial ISPs’ services and using only software commands and utilities the ISP authorized every subscriber to use. The team could trace the intruder’s path back only one leg. To determine the next leg of the intruder’s path required access to the next system on the hacker’s route. If the attacker was using telephone systems to access the ISP, a court-ordered “trap and trace” of telephone lines was required.

Due to time constraints involved in obtaining such an order, this was not a viable option. Furthermore, if the attackers changed their path, the trap and trace would not be fruitful. During the course of the intrusions, the investigative team monitored the hackers as they intruded on the system and attempted to trace the intruders back to their origin. They found the intruders were using the Internet and making fraudulent use of the telephone systems, or “phone phreaking.”

Because the intruders used multiple paths to launch their attacks, the investigative team was unable to trace back to the origin in real-time due to the difficulty in tracing back multiple systems in multiple countries.

In my interview with James Christy for this book, he provided fascinating insight into the deliberations over what capabilities could be used to pursue the investigation.

“The AFIWC worked the Rome Labs case with us,” Christy says. “They developed the Hackback tool right at Rome.” According to Christy, Hackback is a tool that does a finger back to the system the attack came from, then launches a scripted hack attack on that system, surveils the system, finds the next leg back, and then launches a scripted attack on that system. Hackback was designed to follow them all the way back over the Internet to their point of origination.

“Well, AFIWC developed this tool,” Christy continues, “but we told them, ‘Hey, you can’t use that ’cause it’s illegal. You’re doing the same thing as the hacker is doing: You’re breaking into systems.’ They said, General Minihan [who was at that time the head of the NSA] says, ‘We’re at war, we’re going to use it.’ My guys had to threaten to arrest them if they did. So we all said, ‘Let’s try something.’”

Christy tells me there was a big conference call involving the DoJ, the Secret Service, the FBI, AFOSI, and the guys that were up at Rome Labs. “We all claimed exigent circumstances, a hot pursuit. Scott Charney [who was at that time the head of DoJ’s computer crime unit] gave us the approval to go run Hackback one time. We did it, but it didn’t buy us anything. The hackers weren’t getting into those nodes via the Internet. They were getting in through telephone dial-ups. So it dead-ended where we already knew it was coming from.”

Datastream Cowboy’s Biggest Mistake

As the result of the monitoring, the investigators could determine that the hackers used the nicknames Datastream and Kuji. With this clue, AFOSI Computer Crime Investigators turned to their human intelligence network of informants that surf the Internet. The investigators levied their informants to identify the two hackers using the handles Datastream and Kuji.

“Our investigators went to their sources,” Christy recalls, “saying, ‘Help us out here, anybody know who these guys are?’ And a day and a half later, one of these sources came back and said, ‘Hey, I got this guy. Here’s his e-mail!’”

According to Christy, these informants have diverse motivations. Some of them want to be cops; some of them want to do the right thing; some of them simply find hacking exciting; some of them have pressure brought to bear on them because of their own illegal activities.

Indeed, whatever the motivation, on April 5, 1994, an informant told the investigators he had a conversation with a hacker who identified himself as Datastream Cowboy.

The conversation was via e-mail and the individual stated that he was from the United Kingdom. The on-line conversation had occurred three months earlier. In the e-mail provided by the informant, Datastream indicated he was a 16-year-old who liked to attack .mil sites because they were so insecure.

Datastream had even provided the informant with his home telephone number for his own hacker bulletin board systems he had established.

Bragging of his hacking feats, as Christy explains, was Datastream Cowboy’s big mistake.

“It was the only way we solved the case,” he said. “If we had to rely on surveillance alone, we never would have traced it back to them because of all the looping and weaving through South America. We would have been working with multiple countries.

“Did these South American countries have laws against hacking?” Christy continues. “No. Would the South Americans have been able to do a trap and trace? Maybe not. Remember, they were using telephone lines.”

The Air Force agents had previously established a liaison with New Scotland Yard who could identify the individuals living at the residence associated with Datastream’s telephone numbers.

New Scotland Yard had British Telecom initiate monitoring of the individual’s telephone lines with pen registers. A pen register records all the numbers dialed by the individuals at the residence. Almost immediately, monitoring disclosed that someone from the residence was phone phreaking through British Telecom, which is also illegal in the United Kingdom.

Within two days, Christy and the investigative team knew who Datastream Cowboy was. For the next 24 days, they monitored Datastream’s online activity and collected data.

During the 26-day period of attacks, the two hackers, Datastream Cowboy and Kuji, made more than 150 known intrusions.

Scotland Yard Closes in on Datastream Cowboy

New Scotland Yard found that every time an intrusion occurred at Rome Labs, the individual in the United Kingdom was phone-phreaking the telephone lines to make free telephone calls out of Britain. Originating from the United Kingdom, his path of attack was through systems in multiple countries in South America and Europe, and through Mexico and Hawaii; occasionally he would end up at Rome Labs. From Rome Labs, he was able to attack systems via the Internet at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and its Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Continued monitoring by the British and American authorities disclosed that on April 10, 1994, Datastream successfully penetrated an aerospace contractor’s home system. The attackers captured the contractor’s logon at Rome Labs with sniffer programs when the contractor logged on to home systems in California and Texas. The sniffers captured the addresses of the contractor’s home system, plus the logon and password for that home system. After the logon and password were compromised, the attackers could masquerade as that authorized user on the contractor’s home system. Four of the contractor’s systems were compromised in California and a fifth was compromised in Texas.

Datastream also used an Internet Scanning Software (ISS)(1) attack on multiple systems belonging to this aerospace contractor. ISS is a hacker tool developed to gain intelligence about a system. It attempts to collect information on the type of operating system the computer is running and any other available information that could be used to assist the attacker in determining what attack tool might successfully break into that particular system. The software also tries to locate the password file for the system being scanned, and then tries to make a copy of that password file.

The significance of the theft of a password file is that, even though password files are usually stored encrypted, they are easily cracked. Several hacker “password cracker” programs are available on the Internet. If a password file is stolen or copied and cracked, the attacker can then log on to that system as what the systems perceive is a legitimate user.

Monitoring activity disclosed that, on April 12, Datastream initiated an ISS attack from Rome Labs against Brookhaven National Labs, Department of Energy, New York. Datastream also had a two-hour connection with the aerospace contractor’s system that was previously compromised.

Kuji Hacks into Goddard Space Flight Center

On April 14, 1994, remote monitoring activity of the Seattle ISP conducted by the Air Force indicated that Kuji had connected to the Goddard Space Flight Center through an ISP from Latvia. The monitoring disclosed that data was being transferred from Goddard Space Flight Center to the ISP. To prevent the loss of sensitive data, the monitoring team broke the connection. It is still not known whether the data being transferred from the NASA system was destined for Latvia. (Latvia as a destination for sensitive data was, of course, something that concerned investigators. After all, the small Baltic nation had only recently become independent of Russian domination. It had been a part of the former U.S.S.R.)

Further remote monitoring activity of cyberspace.com disclosed that Datastream was accessing the National Aero-Space Plane Joint Program Office, a joint project headed by NASA and the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Monitoring disclosed a transfer of data from Wright-Patterson traversing through cyberspace.com to Latvia.

Apparently, Kuji attacked and compromised a system in Latvia that was just being used as conduit to prevent identification. Kuji also initiated an ISS attack against Wright-Patterson from cyberspace.com the same day. He also tried to steal a password file from a computer system at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Kuji Attempts to Hack NATO HQ

On April 15, real-time monitoring disclosed Kuji executing the ISS attack against NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and Wright-Patterson from Rome Labs. Kuji did not appear to gain access to any NATO systems from this particular attack. However, when interviewed on April 19 by AFOSI, a systems administrator from NATO’s SHAPE Technical Center in the Hague, Netherlands, disclosed that Datastream had successfully attacked one of SHAPE’s computer systems from the ISP mindvox.phantom.com in New York.

After authorities confirmed the hacker’s identity and developed probable cause, New Scotland Yard requested and obtained a search warrant for the Datastream Cowboy’s residence. The plan was to wait until the individual was online at Rome Labs, and then execute the search warrant. The investigators wanted to catch Datastream online so that they could identify all the victims in the path between his residence and Rome Labs. After Datastream got online at Rome Labs, he accessed a system in Korea, downloaded all data stored on the Korean Atomic Research Institute system, and deposited it on Rome Labs’s system.

Initially, it was unclear whether the Korean system belonged to North or South Korea. Investigators were concerned that, if it did belong to North Korea, the North Koreans would think the logical transfer of the storage space was an intrusion by the U.S. Air Force, which could be perceived as an aggressive act of war. During this time frame, the United States was in sensitive negotiations with the North Koreans regarding their nuclear weapons program. Within hours, it was determined that Datastream had hacked into the South Korean Atomic Research Institute.

At this point, New Scotland Yard decided to expand its investigation, asked the Air Force to continue to monitor and collect evidence in support of its investigation, and postponed execution of the search warrant.

Scotland Yard Knocks on Datastream Cowboy’s Door

On May 12, investigators from New Scotland Yard executed their search warrant on Datastream’s residence.

When they came through the door, 16-year-old Richard Pryce (a.k.a. Datastream Cowboy) curled up in the fetal position and wept.

The search disclosed that Datastream had launched his attacks with only a 25 MHz, 486 SX desktop computer with only a 170 megabyte hard drive. This is a modest system, with limited storage capacity. Datastream had numerous documents that contained references to Internet addresses, including six NASA systems and U.S. Army and U.S. Navy systems with instructions on how to loop through multiple systems to avoid detection.

At the time of the search, New Scotland Yard detectives arrested and interviewed Datastream. Detectives stated that Datastream had just logged out of a computer system when they entered his room. Datastream admitted to breaking into Rome Labs numerous times as well as multiple other Air Force systems (Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, and Wright-Patterson). (He was charged with crimes spelled out in Britain’s Computer Misuse Act of 1990.)

Datastream admitted to stealing a sensitive document containing research regarding an Air Force artificial intelligence program that dealt with Air Order of Battle. He added that he searched for the word missile, not to find missile data but to find information specifically about artificial intelligence. He further explained that one of the files he stole was a 3–4 megabyte file (approximately three to four million characters in size). He stored it at mindvox.phantom.com’s system in New York because it was too large to fit on his home system.

Datastream explained he paid for the ISP’s service with a fraudulent credit card number that was generated by a hacker program he had found on the Internet. Datastream was released on bail following the interview.

This investigation never revealed the identity of Kuji. From conduct observed through the investigators’ monitoring, Kuji was a far more sophisticated hacker than the teenage Datastream. Air Force investigators observed that Kuji would only stay on a telephone line for a short time, not long enough to be traced successfully. No informant information was available except that Computer Crime Investigators from the Victoria Police Department in Australia had seen the name Kuji on some of the hacker bulletin-board systems in Australia.

Unfortunately, Datastream provided a great deal of the information he stole to Kuji electronically. Furthermore, Kuji appears to have tutored Datastream on how to break into networks and on what information to obtain. During the monitoring, the investigative team could observe Datastream attack a system and fail to break in. Datastream would then get into an online chat session with Kuji, which the investigative team could not see due to the limited context monitoring at the Internet service providers. These chat sessions would last 20–40 minutes. Following the on-line conversation, the investigative team would then watch Datastream attack the same system he had previously failed to penetrate, but this time he would be successful. Apparently Kuji assisted and mentored Datastream and, in return, received stolen information from Datastream. Datastream, when interviewed by New Scotland Yard’s Computer Crime Investigators, told them he had never physically met Kuji and only communicated with him through the Internet or on the telephone.

Kuji’s Identity Is Finally Revealed

In 1996, New Scotland Yard was starting to feel some pressure from the glare of publicity surrounding the upcoming hearings in the U.S. Senate, chaired by Sam Nunn (D-Georgia). Two years had passed since the arrest of the Datastream Cowboy, and yet Kuji was still at large.

New Scotland Yard investigators went back to take a closer look at the evidence they had seized and found a phone number that they hadn’t traced back to its origin. When they did trace it, they discovered Kuji’s true identity. Ten days after Jim Christy’s initial testimony concerning the Rome Lab intrusions, 21-year-old Matthew Bevan (a.k.a. Kuji) was finally apprehended.

In court, Pryce pleaded guilty to 12 hacking offenses and paid a nominal fine of 1,200 British pounds.

But Bevan, whose father was a police officer, “lawyered-up.”

After 20 hearings in which the defense challenged the Crown’s evidence, the prosecution made a “business decision” and dropped the charges.

Bevan is now a computer security consultant. His Web site, www.bogus.net/kuji, features an archive of news media coverage of the Rome Labs case, a timeline of his exasperating and successful legal maneuvers, photographs of his arresting officers, and scanned headlines from the London tabloids.

In my interview with Bevan, I asked him about the motivation in the attack on Rome.

“My quest,” he tells me, “was for any information I could find relating to a conspiracy or cover-up of the UFO phenomenon. I was young and interested in the UFO stuff that I had read and of course as I had the access to such machines that were broken (i.e., with poor security) it was a natural progression to seek out information.

“Also,” Bevan continues, “I was bullied almost every day of my school life; the hacking world was pure escapism. I could go to school, endure the day, come home, and log on to another world. Somewhere I could get respect, somewhere that I had friends.

“At school I may have been bullied but in the back of my mind was ‘Well, I hacked NASA last night, and what did you do?’”

I also asked Bevan if he wanted to set the record straight in regard to how authorities handled the case or how the media reported it.

“One of the biggest concerns that I have about the reporting of the case relates to the InfoWar aspect,” he says. “It is suggested that we were taken to the brink of WWIII because of an attack on the Korean nuclear research facility. A Secret Service agent here alleged that bombers were already on their way to Korea to do a preemptive strike as it was thought that when they discovered the attack, said to have come from a U.S. military computer, they would retaliate.

“In the evidence presented in the case,” Bevan says, “there was a snippet of a log that shows Datastream Cowboy logging into said facility with the user ID of ‘sync,’ and as the user has no Unix shell associated with it, the login is terminated. Nowhere else in the logs is any record of the intrusion being successful, and in my opinion the logs do not reflect that. Being called ‘the single biggest threat to world peace since Adolf Hitler’ is a tad annoying, but then even the layman can see that is just hype and propaganda.”

Who Can Find the Bottom Line?

A damage assessment of the intrusions into the Rome Labs’s systems was conducted on October 31, 1994. The assessment indicated a total loss to the United States Air Force of $211,722. This cost did not include the costs of the investigative effort or the recovery and monitoring team.

No other federal agencies that were victims of the hackers (for example, NASA) conducted damage assessments.

The General Accounting Office conducted an additional damage assessment at the request of Senator Nunn. (See GAO Report, Information Security: Computer Attacks at Department of Defense Pose Increasing Risks [AIMD-96-84], May 22, 1996.)

Some aspects of this investigation remain unsolved:

  • The extent of the attack. The investigators believe they uncovered only a portion of the attack. They still don’t know whether the hackers attacked Rome Labs at previous times before the sniffer was discovered or whether the hackers attacked other systems where they were not detected.

  • The extent of the damage. Some costs can be attributed to the incident, such as the cost of repair and the cost of the investigative effort. The investigation, however, was unable to reveal what they downloaded from the networks or whether they tampered with any data. Given the sensitive information contained on the various computer networks (at Rome Labs, Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Wright-Patterson AFB, or the National Aero-Space Plane Program), it is very difficult to quantify the loss from a national security perspective.

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