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Paul 'Tony' Watson Interviewed 77

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the getting-to-know dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Whitedust is running an interview with Paul Watson. Watson, who discovered a flaw in TCP/IP that could allow attackers to reset connections last year, made a splash with the media. He talks about how he got his start in computer security, as part of the early warez scene, his work in the Air Force and the US Government, and his current projects. He is now working at the leading search engine in the world, Google."
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Paul 'Tony' Watson Interviewed

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  • Google? (Score:5, Funny)

    by katana (122232) on Thursday July 28, 2005 @09:16PM (#13191504) Homepage
    Oh, THAT leading search engine. Thanks for clarifying.
  • by karvind (833059) <karvind@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday July 28, 2005 @09:18PM (#13191515) Journal
    From the article:

    I came to work at Google late last summer. It gets a lot of media buzz about being geek-sheik and super cool. I have worked at some really cool places before Google, but Google is so much more incredible than any media article or Slashdot post could ever describe. The best phrase I can think of would be nerd-nirvana (or should it be nerdvana?)

    Folks, we are not doing a good job here. We need to bump up the number of Google stories per day.

    • Geek Orgasm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Thursday July 28, 2005 @09:40PM (#13191607) Homepage
      Don't worry, like all dot-coms with "incredible" ideas and even more "incredible" toys in their work spaces, but very few profit producing products, Google's bubble will pop, the over-priced stock will whither, and Slashdot will move on to The Next Geek Orgasm.
      • Re:Geek Orgasm (Score:3, Insightful)

        by johnnyb (4816)
        The difference is that Google does create profit-producing programs. Many of them. In addition, it seems to be a technology-oriented company, so the techies don't have to chase their tales for years at a time just because some marketing guy said so.
        • Re:Geek Orgasm (Score:3, Insightful)

          The difference is that Google does create profit-producing programs.

          Yes, they do. Most if not all are amazing. But do they produce profit for Google? Not very many. Google stock is over-priced, and there will be an adjustment when people start to scale down their expectations to realistic levels.

          • Re:Geek Orgasm (Score:3, Insightful)

            by johnnyb (4816)
            "But do they produce profit for Google? Not very many."

            They don't need very many. They are already super-profitable.

            "Google stock is over-priced, and there will be an adjustment when people start to scale down their expectations to realistic levels."

            No question about that. However, this is not the fault of Google, but of the market. This is like RedHat. They have _always_ been a solid company. They have not always been a good stock, but that has nothing to do with their performance as a company, but wi
          • Could you outline what you mean, in more detail, in relation to their press release [sec.gov] and earlier filings [google.com]?
            • Could you outline what you mean, in more detail, in relation to their press release and earlier filings?

              What do you expect them to say in their filings? Time will tell. Just like it did for all the other inflated dot-coms that went down. Their filings sounded pretty rosy too. It's just a fact. I'm not saying that they don't produce some amazing things, I'm saying they have yet to show that they can or are willing to profit from these things, something that they will have to do to maintain their current le

  • which is it? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Is Paul Watson cool because he works at Google? Or is Google cool because it's where Paul Watson works?
  • Good quote from TFA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rangefinder (836739) on Thursday July 28, 2005 @09:30PM (#13191561) Homepage

    "In regards to all the media attention, I think that by far the coolest thing to come from all that attention was when I was Slashdot'd. That was like getting the key to the city from the Mayor of Geekville."

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I liked this one:

      I made a deal with a friends mom who was in school for Computers at Purdue; I would help her write her programs for her computer classes if she let me have use her Unix account so I could learn Unix and C. I fell in love with Unix immediately.

      Major nerd.
    • He talks about how he got his start in computer security, as part of the early warez scene, his work in the Air Force and the US Government,

      So the government doesn't do background checks anymore?!?
  • Discovered? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shamashmuddamiq (588220) on Thursday July 28, 2005 @09:36PM (#13191587)
    Discovered? Late last year? I think I remember "discovering" then subsequently reading about this problem in one of my TCP/IP books many years ago. Does this have to do with inserting packets into a TCP stream that have the RST flag set? (I can't find any technical information on this...some of the dumbed-down articles have broken links, but no interesting information.)
    • Re:Discovered? (Score:5, Informative)

      by liquidpele (663430) on Thursday July 28, 2005 @09:56PM (#13191673) Journal
      Here is a good technical artical on the subject...

      linky [kerneltrap.org]
       
      • Re:Discovered? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Shamashmuddamiq (588220) on Thursday July 28, 2005 @10:22PM (#13191766)
        Thanks! That's much better. His paper states that "TCP window sizes were not considered in the calculations." Perhaps not, but I find it hard to believe that he is the first to realize that. This guy probably deserves the credit for creating a media frenzy about this problem, but not much else.

        It really has bugged me, in the past, that all the popular operating systems assign outgoing ports sequentially. This especially causes problems with net-booted systems, because if the system gets interrupted part-way into the initial network transfer, the routers get really confused because on retry, all the source port and sequence numbers are the same! I've had problems with this before (I design software for embedded systems), and I think this is when I first "discovered", like this guy did, how relatively easy it is to perform TCP RST attacks under some circumstances.

    • Re:Discovered? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RedWizzard (192002) on Thursday July 28, 2005 @10:15PM (#13191737)
      Discovered? Late last year? I think I remember "discovering" then subsequently reading about this problem in one of my TCP/IP books many years ago. Does this have to do with inserting packets into a TCP stream that have the RST flag set? (I can't find any technical information on this...some of the dumbed-down articles have broken links, but no interesting information.)
      Yes. What's new is that Paul realised that the sequence number doesn't need to be brute forced from all 2^32 combinations - it only needs to fall within the current window. That makes the attack much more practical.
  • by ShatteredDream (636520) on Thursday July 28, 2005 @09:42PM (#13191617) Homepage
    After seeing him point out that the government came to regard hackers as such a major threat, I couldn't help but think that our government brings on most of its own problems. The hiring and firing practices and I suppose the procurement processes are also completely fucked up and need to be modernized.

    Our government will put people getting $50-$60K into a jet that costs $2B to build and that can carry very large nuclear payloads. They nearly crippled our navy's ability to wage war on other naval power through the SmartShip program, all because they wanted to save on the cost of a sysadmin's salary.

    I'm a libertarian by persuasion and I want the government buying the very best and being competitive in its core competencies. I want them to hire the best and brightest, and pay them accordingly because it's cheaper to pay someone an above fair market wage to get the best talent than to have someone do billions of damage to your country's networks. Saving money should be secondary to the government getting everything it needs to carry out its core missions.

    Someone who brings a tremendous wealth of networking experience should be elligible for a six digit salary starting out, just as they would in the private sector. I have no problem paying someone who's extremely good at computer security several hundred thousand dollars to do federal network security because as I said, it's cheaper to pay for good people who'll get the job done right.

    We also need fewer regulations that protect job security. People who don't do jack shit for the public should be kicked to the curb even faster than they would in the private sector.
  • WOW (Score:5, Funny)

    by JeiFuRi (888436) on Thursday July 28, 2005 @09:50PM (#13191648)
    "discovered a flaw in TCP/IP that could allow attackers to reset connections last year" So his flaw allows people to travel back in time - to last year - and reset connections?
    • Re:WOW (Score:2, Funny)

      by sharkey (16670)
      Now it just needs to be refined, so that one can travel back in time and insert </i> tags!
  • "Since the system was very customized to my previous employer, I wanted to rewrite all the code into something more generic and usable by anybody, which is when it was renamed Cygnus. "

    Hmmm. There a pattern here with google vs. the world (i.e. Microsoft Lee case)? If the original code was developed under a gov't contractor, much licensing/restrictions issues pop up.

    Anyway cisco stuff has much things to exploit, just a matter of time... they're working on it at least.

  • It's nice reading an article about somebody who gets media attention and doesn't turn into a total tool (*cough*Steve Gibson*cough*), assuming they weren't a tool to begin with. On top of that, the guy makes his point that the vulnerability he writes about is serious without sensationalizing the whole thing.
    • (*cough*Steve Gibson*cough*)

      Oh come on, Steve isn't all bad. For instance I particularly like his idea that people should disable TCP/IP on their home networks and use IPX instead.

      What it mainly has going for it is that anyone naive, gullible or stupid enough to take any notice of his sensationalist, self-publicising, scaremongering bullshit won't be able to talk to the rest of the Internet. It's like a self-cleaning gene pool!
  • It's not a bug, it's a feature. Some security products operate by inserting TCP reset signals to blog innapropriate connections. One company has had a patent on this method for years.
    • It's not a bug, it's a feature. Some security products operate by inserting TCP reset signals to blog innapropriate connections. One company has had a patent on this method for years.

      Yes, but there is a huge difference between a router/firewall/IDS which is actually handling the connection (and therefore has intimate knowledge of the sequence numbers) being able to send an RST and a 3rd party with only limited info about the connection being able to reset it.

      I assume you took that minor detail into account
  • Word is that this guy is THE authority on General Protection Faults. I usually get a chance to work with him 1 or 2 times a week.
  • by Shawarma (551973)
    Attackers can reset connections last year?!?
    Why didn't anyone tell me this before?
  • i'm STILL waiting for an account paw...

    Ir_dan
  • "...discovered a flaw in TCP/IP that could allow attackers to reset connections last year...."

    Wow, a TCP/IP flaw that had existed for all that time but only allowed the exploit to work in 2004? It's a good thing that was so clearly described, because otherwise I might have become quite confused.

You can measure a programmer's perspective by noting his attitude on the continuing viability of FORTRAN. -- Alan Perlis

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