Web sites with financial news have become vital for investors. Imagine the disarray that could occur if a hacker took over such a site. A Dutch hacker claims he could have altered Nasdaq.com and three sites run by MarketWatch.com.
He didn't, however. Instead he warned the administrators at Nasdaq.com, CBS.MarketWatch.com, BigCharts.com and FTMarket-Watch.com. Now the security holes have been patched up, and the hacker is disclosing his discoveries.
Gerrie Mansur, one of the leaders of Dutch hacking group Hit2000, gained access to the global.asa file from the Web servers of the news sites. This file regulates who gets access to what application on the server.
The file also defines what the applications can do and contains the global settings for the applications, as well as startup and shutdown routines.
Nasdaq's global.asa file contains the password to the site's main database, Mansur said.
The news sites run on Internet Information Server (IIS) software from Microsoft.
"Mansur took advantage of known security holes," said Marco van Berkum, a security specialist at Dutch IT security company Obit. Van Berkum guessed that the hacker used a well known security hole called the Source Fragment Disclosure Vulnerability.
"Often the global.asa file will contain database passwords," said Van Berkum. "It looks like that was the case with Nasdaq."
Details of this particular vulnerability, or security hole, were published on the BugTraq mailing list on July 17. By adding "+.htr" to a request for a known .asa (or .asp, .ini, etcetera) file, Microsoft IIS 4.0 and 5.0 can be made to disclose fragments of source code which should otherwise be inaccessible. A description of the vulnerability can be found at http://www.security-focus.com/bid/1488/.
Mansur, however, denied having used this way to hack into the servers.
"I did not use the Source Fragment Disclosure Vulnerability, but used an exploit I wrote myself," he said. The exploit is a software tool that Mansur developed and then used to gain access to the servers.
"I will not publish the exploit," Mansur said.
"People will start using it, and that's just too dangerous. I was able to log in as service administrator and get full access to the server. I could even kick the administrator."
The hacker warned all the involved Webmasters by e-mail. Dan Schindler, director of Technical Client Service at CBSMarketWatch.com, responded, "Many thanks for bringing this to our attention. We have installed a patch and deployed it to all our data centres. We appreciate your honesty and willingness to send this notification to us," Schindler said in his e-mail.
Obit can be reached at 31-70-4278181 or http://www.obit.nl/.Hit2000 can be found at http://www.hit2000.nl/