Hackers Take Microsoft to School

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It's the kind of thing bellboys have nightmares about an entire hotel full of hackers, messing with the computers, screwing up the phones and generally raising hell. That's the scene at DEF CON, an annual hacker convention held at the Alexis Park Hotel in Las Vegas. At last year's DEF CON a hacker group called the Cult of the Dead Cow released a program called BackOrifice that can completely take control of a computer over the Internet. This Friday DEF CON 1999 kicks off, and the Cult of the Dead Cow is back with a new version of BackOrifice that's more dangerous than ever. Should we be grateful?

A little disingenuously, the Cult of the Dead Cow released the original BackOrifice as "a remote administration tool," a simple way of operating a computer running Windows 95 or 98 from a distance over an ordinary Internet connection. While it's possible to imagine scenarios in which having that kind of power would be useful and there are legitimate applications that perform similar functions such a tool is obviously very much open to abuse. Say, for example, allowing a hacker (or, as malicious hackers are sometimes called, a cracker) to take over a machine, read your personal information, send e-mail under your name and then erase your hard drive. Fortunately, BackOrifice has certain weaknesses. It can only take over machines on which BackOrifice has actually been installed, and once installed, it's not that hard to detect and remove. MORE >>