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2/1/2006 - Penetration testing worms

"A researcher has reopened the subject of beneficial worms, arguing that the capabilities of self-spreading code could perform better penetration testing inside networks, turning vulnerable systems into distributed scanners.

The worms, dubbed nematodes after the parasitic worm used to kill pests in gardens, could give security administrators the ability to scan machines inside a corporate network but beyond a local subnet, David Aitel, principal researcher of security firm Immunity, said at the Black Hat Federal conference.

"Rather than buy a scanning system for every segment of your network, you can use nematodes to turn every host into a scanner," he said during an interview with SecurityFocus. "You'll be able to see into the shadow organisation of a network - you find worms on machines and you don't know how they got there."

The topic of whether self-propagating code can have a good use has cropped up occasionally among researchers in the security testing community. In 1994, a paper written by antivirus researcher Vesselin Bontchev concluded that 'good' viruses are possible, but the safeguards and limitations on the programs would mean that the resulting code would not resemble what most people considered a virus.

Later attempts at creating 'good' worms have failed, however, mainly because the writers have not adopted many of the safeguards outlined in the Bontchev paper."

What do you think? A great technique for security testing software applications, IT systems and infrastructures? Not everyone agrees:

"On the other hand, the dangers inherent in self-propagating code are hard to overcome, said Jose Nazario, senior security and software engineer for network defense firm Arbor Networks.

"I still have my doubts that the controls he described are effective enough," Nazario said. "He addressed how you shut the nematodes down and how you make sure they don't infect other networks, but he hasn't addressed machine instability and the danger when people carry laptops across network boundaries."

Nazario, the author of Defense and Detection Strategies Against Internet Worms, believes the best way to find vulnerabilities on a large network is to use dedicated sensors, an approach used by Arbor Networks.

"There are a number of ways of finding those vulnerabilities in the network without the inherent risks involved in self-propagating code," he said."

This is an extract from an article which originally appeared in



 
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