Microsoft Consults Ethical Hackers at Blue Hat

The company encouraged visiting "white hat" hackers to crack away during a security conference intended to improve its development process.

For the second year in a row, Microsoft Corp. invited a small number of hackers onto its Redmond, Wash., campus to crack the companys products for all to see.

Blue Hat V2 was held on Thursday and Friday and teamed noted "white hat" hackers with Microsoft employees to break into and expose security weaknesses in the companys products.

Over 1,000 Microsoft developers, managers and security experts attended, including Microsoft brass Jim Allchin and Kevin Johnson, co-presidents of the companys Platforms, Products & Services Division.

The recent Blue Hat event follows a similar event held in March at the companys headquarters.

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Microsoft uses the sessions to teach its developers how malicious hackers view the software and to improve the companys secure development processes, according to Stephen Toulouse, security program manager in the Security Technology Unit at Microsoft.

The conference included one day of executive sessions and one of technical discussions for engineers, in addition to a mixer and dinner for attendees and speakers on Thursday, said Andrew Cushman, a BlueHat organizer and director in the Security Technology Unit at Microsoft.

Six ethical or "white hat" hackers attended, including noted security expert Dan Kaminsky, Brett Moore of, and David Maynor, a researcher at ISS (Internet Security Systems) Inc., Toulouse said.

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Maynor, who works for ISS X-Force team in Atlanta, Ga., said he showed Microsoft developers and executives how an attacker could use a USB device to load attack code directly into the memory of Windows machine and force it to run by taking advantage of the DMA (Direct Memory Access) rights assigned by Windows.

"The DMA vector was the most devastating in my talk because it is hard for just Microsoft to address it. They need support from hardware vendors as well," he said.

Maynor said Microsoft is working on a more secure model for handling peripheral devices, and may add security checks as a component of the companys USB device driver signing program in the future.

"[Microsoft developers] asked a lot of questions about how best to do it, tools I would suggest, and what types of things to look for," he said.

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Kaminsky and others have spent years sounding alarm bells about holes in the security defenses of Microsofts software, including the Windows operating system and the Internet Explorer browser.

As a sign of how times have changed, he and other presenters were treated to a lunch with retiring Windows chief Allchin and Johnson, who now share the presidency of the newly formed Platforms, Products & Services Division.

Maynor said he chatted with Allchin about ways to evade security features in IE7, the latest version of the companys browser, ways to cut down on patch distribution time and techniques for auditing security on Vista, the next version of Windows.

Maynor was impressed by Allchins technical grasp of the issues, and gratified by the experience, he said.

Outside researchers also had informal sessions with company developers, including a "burrito lunch" with the IE7 development team, he wrote.

Microsoft will use the information presented at the Blue Hat conference to educate developers within the company. It will also update its SDL (Secure Development Lifecycle) architecture. "Bringing in the expertise helps keep the overall SDL process fresh," Toulouse said.

Bringing in outsiders exposes company employees to new threats and the changing techniques used by attackers.

"I would imagine that if we look into the future at the sixth Blue Hat ... there probably wont be anything like the topics discussed at the first and second one, because things will have changed," he said.

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