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How to Take Down Offensive Web Sites

The fourth edition of the Happy Hacker book contains much more detailed information on how to fight back -- legally -- when you find a Web site you feel has no right to exist. Many people calling themselves hackers have ranted and flamed about how evil I am to show people how to take down Web sites. However, I believe that your right to protest what you see is evil is an essential part of your freedom of speech.

Oh, yes, I also show a fun, legal way to "hack" your friends' web sites in the fourth edition of the Happy Hacker book:):) -- Carolyn Meinel


Vol. 1 Number 6

It's vigilante phun day one more time! How to nuke offensive Web sites.

Now, how do we take down offensive Web sites?

Remember that the Internet is voluntary. There is no law that forces an ISP to serve people they don't like. As the spam kings Jeff Slayton, Crazy Kevin, and, oh, yes, the original spam artists Cantor and Seigal have learned, life as a spammer is life on the run. Well, the same holds for Web sites that go over the edge.

The reason I bring this up is that a Happy Hacker list member has told me he would like to vandalize kiddie porn sites. I think that is a really, really a kewl idea -- except for one problem. You can get thrown in jail! I don't want the hacker tools you can pick up from public Web and ftp sites to lure anyone into getting busted. It is easy to use them to vandalize Web sites. But it is hard to use them without getting caught!

YOU CAN GO TO JAIL NOTE: Getting into a part of a computer that is not open to the public is illegal. In addition, if you use the phone lines or Internet across a US state line to break into a non-public part of a computer, you have committed a Federal felony. You don't have to cause any harm at all -- it's still illegal. Even if you just gain root access and immediately break off your connection -- it's still illegal. Even if you are doing your civic duty by vandalizing kiddie porn -- it's still illegal.

Trying to throw Web kiddie porn guys in jail usually is not going to work. The Internet is global. Many countries have no laws against kiddie porn on the Internet. Even if it were illegal everywhere, in lots of countries the police only bust people in exchange for you paying a bigger bribe than the criminal pays.

Besides, I'm a First Amendment absolutist. Give the government the power to censor even kiddie porn, and you're giving the government too much power. On the other hand, the kind of mass outrage that keeps spammers on the run can also drive kiddie porn off the Web.

But no one can force an ISP to carry kiddie porn. In fact, most human beings are so disgusted at it that they will jump at the chance to shut it down. If the ISP is run by some pervert who wants to make money by offering kiddie porn, then you go to the next level up, to the ISP that provides connectivity for the kiddie porn ISP. There someone will get a conscience attack and cut off the b*****ds.

So, how do you find the people who can put a Web site on the run? We start with the URL.

I am going to use a real URL. But please keep in mind that I am not saying this actually is a web address with kiddie porn. This is being used for purposes of illustration only.


Now let's say someone just told you this was a kiddie porn site. Do you just launch an attack? No.

This is how hacker wars start. What if phreak.org is actually a nice guy place? Even if they did once display kiddie porn, perhaps they have repented. Not wanting to get caught acting on a stupid rumor, I go to the Web and find the message "no DNS entry." So this Web site doesn't look like it's there just now.

But it could just be the that the machine that holds the disk that holds this Web site is temporarily down. There is a way to tell if the computer that serves a domain name is running: the ping command:

/usr/etc/ping phreak.org

The answer is:

/usr/etc/ping: unknown host phreak.org

Now if this Web site had been up, it would have responded like my Web site does:

/usr/etc/ping cmeinel.com

This gives the answer:

cmeinel.com is alive

OK, now we have established that at least right now, http://phreak.com either does not exist, or else that the computer hosting it is not connected to the Internet.

But is this temporary or is it gone, gone, gone? We can get some idea whether it has been up and around and widely read from the search engine at http://altavista.digital.com. It is able to search for links embedded in Web pages. Are there many Web sites with links to phreak.org? I put in the search commands:

link: http://www.phreak.org
host: http://www.phreak.org

But they turn up nothing. So it looks like the phreak.org site is not real popular.

Well, does phreak.org have a record at Internic? Let's try whois:

whois phreak.org
Phreaks, Inc. (PHREAK-DOM)
Phreaks, Inc.
1313 Mockingbird Lane
San Jose, CA 95132 US

Domain Name: PHREAK.ORG

Administrative Contact, Billing Contact:
Connor, Patrick (PC61) pc@PHREAK.ORG
(408) 262-4142
Technical Contact, Zone Contact:
Hall, Barbara (BH340) rain@PHREAK.ORG

Record last updated on 06-Feb-96.
Record created on 30-Apr-95.

Domain servers in listed order:


I try telnetting to their login sequence:

telnet phreak.org
Trying ...
Connected to phreak.org.
Escape character is '^]'.

______________ _______________________________ __
___ __ \__ / / /__ __ \__ ____/__ |__ //_/____________________ _
__ /_/ /_ /_/ /__ /_/ /_ __/ __ /| |_ ,< _ __ \_ ___/_ __ `/
_ ____/_ __ / _ _, _/_ /___ _ ___ | /| |__/ /_/ / / _ /_/ /
/_/ /_/ /_/ /_/ |_| /_____/ /_/ |_/_/ |_|(_)____//_/ _\__, /

Connection closed by foreign host.

Aha! Someone just turned the computer hosting phreak.org on!

The fact that this gives just ASCII art and no login prompt suggests that this host computer does not exactly welcome the casual visitor.

Next I try fingering their technical contact:

finger rain@phreak.org

Its response is:


It then scrolled out some embarrassing ASCII art. Finger it yourself if you really want to see it. I'd only rate it PG-13, however.

The fact that phreak.org run a finger service is interesting. Since finger is one of the most powerful opportunities for the well-equipped hacker to crack into the system, we can conclude that either:

1) The phreak.org sysadmin is not very security-conscious, or
2) It is so important to phreak.org to send out insulting messages that the sysadmin doesn't care about the security risk of running finger.

OK, how about their HTML port, which would provide access to any Web sites hosted by phreak.org? We can check to see if it is active with, you guessed it, a little port surfing:

telnet phreak.org 80

Here's what I get:

Trying ...
Connected to phreak.org.
Escape character is '^]'.
HTTP/1.0 400 Bad Request
Server: thttpd/1.00
Content-type: text/html
Last-modified: Thu, 22-Aug-96 18:54:20 GMT

<HTML><HEAD><TITLE>400 Bad Request</TITLE></HEAD>
<BODY><H2>400 Bad Request</H2>
Your request '' has bad syntax or is inherently impossible to satisfy.
<ADDRESS><A HREF="http://www.acme.org/software/thttpd/">thttpd/1.00</A></ADDRESS
Connection closed by foreign host.

Now we know that phreak.org does have something like a web server on its host computer. This server is called thttpd, version 1.0. We also may suspect that it is a bit buggy!

What makes me think it is buggy? Look at the version number: 1.0. Also, that's a pretty weird error message.

If I were the technical administrator for phreak.org, I would get a better program running on port 80 before someone figures out how to break into root with it. The problem is that buggy code is often a symptom of code that takes the lazy approach of using calls to root. In the case of a Web server, you want to give read-only access to remote users in any user's directories of html files. So there is a huge temptation to use calls to root.

And a program with calls to root just might crash and dump you out into root.

Newbie note: Root! It is the Valhalla of the hard-core cracker. "Root" is the account on a multi-user computer which allows you to play god. It is the account from which you can enter and use any other account, read and modify any file, run any program. With root access, you can completely destroy all data on boring.ISP.net. (I am *not* suggesting that you do so!)

Oh, this is just too tempting. I do one little experiment:

telnet phreak.org 80

This gives:

Trying ...
Connected to phreak.org.
Escape character is '^]'.

Because the program on port 80 times out on commands in a second or less, I was set up ready to do a paste to host command, which quickly inserted the following command:

<ADDRESS><A HREF="http://www.phreak.org/thttpd/">thttpd/1.00</A></ADDRESS</BODY></HTML>

This gives information on phreak.com's port 80 program:

HTTP/1.0 501 Not Implemented
Server: thttpd/1.00
Content-type: text/html
Last-modified: Thu, 22-Aug-96 19:45:15 GMT

<HTML><HEAD><TITLE>501 Not Implemented</TITLE></HEAD>
<BODY><H2>501 Not Implemented</H2>
The requested method '<ADDRESS><A' is not implemented by this server.
<ADDRESS><A HREF="http://www.acme.org/software/thttpd/">thttpd/1.00</A></ADDRESS
Connection closed by foreign host.

All right, what is thttpd? I do a quick search on Altavista and get the answer:

A small, portable, fast, and secure HTTP server. The tiny/turbo/throttling HTTP server does not fork and is very careful about memory...

Ah, but did the programmer figure out how to do all this without calls to root? Just for kicks I try to access the acme.org URL and get the message "does not have a DNS entry." So it's off-line, too. But whois tells me it is registered with Internic. Hmm, this sounds even more like brand X software. And it's running on a port. Break-in city! What a temptation...arghhh...

So what may we conclude? It looks like phreak.org does have a Web site, but it is of a private nature. It is only turned on from time to time.

Now suppose that we did find something seriously bad news at phreak.org. Suppose someone wanted to shut it down. Ah-ah-ah, don't touch that buggy port 80!

You can go to jail note: Are you are as tempted as I am? These guys have notorious cracker highway port 79 open, AND a buggy port 80! But, once again, I'm telling you, it is against the law to break into non-public parts of a computer. If you telnet over US state lines, it is a federal felony. Even if you think there is something illegal on that thttpd server, only someone armed with a search warrant has the right to look it over.

First, I would normally email a complaint to the technical and administrative contacts of the ISPs that provide phreak.org's connection to the Internet. So I look to see who they are with whois:


I get the response:

[No name] (PC12-HST)

System: Sun 4/110 running SunOS 4.1.3

Record last updated on 30-Apr-95

In this case, since there are no listed contacts, I would email postmaster@ABLECOM.NET.

I check out the next ISP:


And get:

[No name] (ASYLUM4-HST)

System: ? running ?

Record last updated on 30-Apr-96.

Again, I would email postmaster@ASYLUM.ORG

I check out the last ISP:


And get:

1223 W North Shore, Suite 1E
Chicago, IL 60626

System: Sun running Unix

Torres, Walter (WT51) walter-t@MSN.COM

Record last updated on 31-Dec-95.

So in this case I would email walter-t@MSN.COM with evidence of the offending material.

That's it. Instead of waging escalating hacker wars that can end up getting people thrown in jail, document your problem with a Web site and ask those who have the power to cut these guys off to do something. Remember, you can help fight the bad guys of cyberspace much better from your computer than you can from a jail cell.

Oh, and if you are just burning with curiosity about whether thttpd can be made to crash to root, *DON'T* run experiments on phreak.org's computer. They will notice all those weird accesses to port 80 on their shell log file. They will figure out who you are and how to throw you in jail if you do crack in.

But this is the kind of intellectual challenge that calls for installing Linux on your PC. Then under Linux you would install thttpd. Then tie your Linux machine into the Internet and telnet away!

If you should find a bug in thttpd that seriously compromises the security of any computer running it, then what do you do? Wipe the html files of phreak.org? NO! You contact the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) with this information. They will send out an alert. You will become a hero and be able to charge $1500 per day as a computer security consultant. This is much more phun than going to jail. Trust me.

But if you are going to find a way to make thttpd that puts you into root, do it fast or I may beat you to it!

OK, I'm signing off for this column. I look forward to your contributions to this list. Happy hacking -- and don't get busted!


Want to share some kewl stuph? Tell me I'm terrific? Flame me? For the first two, I'm at . Please direct flames to dev/null@cmeinel.com. Happy hacking!
© 1996 Carolyn P. Meinel. You may forward the GUIDE TO (mostly) HARMLESS HACKING as long as you leave this notice at the end. To subscribe, email with message "subscribe hacker <joe.blow@boring.ISP.net>" substituting your real email address for Joe Blow's.

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