Matrix Sequel Has Hacker Cred

Trinity uses a 'sploit


The average American moviegoer taking in the Matrix Reloaded this weekend will likely be wowed by the elaborate action sequences and dazzling special effects. But hackers who've seen the blockbuster are crediting it with a more subtle cinematic milestone: it's the first major motion picture to accurately portray a hack.

That's right: Trinity uses a 'sploit.

A scene about two thirds of the way through the film finds Carrie-Anne Moss's leather-clad superhacker setting her sights on a power grid computer, for plot reasons better left unrevealed.

But at exactly the point where audiences would normally be treated to a brightly-colored graphical cartoon of a computer intrusion, a la the 2001 Travolta vehicle Swordfish, or cheer as the protagonist skillfully summons a Web browser and fights valiantly through "404 Errors," like the malnourished cyberpunk in this year's "The Core," something completely different happens: Trinity runs "Nmap."

Probably the most widely-used freeware hacking tool, the real-life Nmap is a sophisticated port scanner that sends packets to a machine -- or a network of machines -- in an attempt to determine what services are running. An Nmap port scan is a common prelude to an intrusion attempt -- a way of casing the joint, to find out if any vulnerable service are running.

That's exactly how the fictional Trinity uses it. In a sequence that flashes on screen for a few scant seconds, the green phosphor text of Trinity's computer clearly shows Nmap being run against the IP address 10.2.2.2, and finding an open port number 22, correctly identified as the SSH service used to log into computers remotely.

"I was definitely pretty excited when I saw it," says "Fyodor," the 25-year-old author of Nmap. "I think compared to previous movies that had any kind of hacking content, you could generally assume it's going to be some kind of stupid 3D graphics show."

But the unexpected nod to hackerdom doesn't end there. Responding to the Nmap output , Trinity summons a program called "sshnuke" which begins "[a]ttempting to exploit SSHv1 CRC32."

Discovered in February, 2001 by security analyst Michal Zalewski, the SSH CRC-32 bug is a very real buffer overflow in a chunk of code designed to guard against cryptographic attacks on SSH version one. Properly exploited, it grants full remote access to the vulnerable machine.

"I think there are at least two public exploits in circulation right now," said Zalewski, in a telephone interview. "They just got released about a month after the advisory. And I know there are some that are not public."

The actual program Trinity uses is fictitious -- there no "sshnuke," yet, and genuine exploits sensibly drop the user directly into a root shell, while the big screen version forces the hacker to change the system's root password -- in this case to "Z1ON0101." (Note the numeral in the place of the 'I' -- more hax0r style.)

But then, the film does take place in the future. Is Zalewski surprised to see unpatched SSH servers running in the year AD 2199? "It's not that uncommon for people to run the old distribution," he says. "I know we had a bunch of boxes that were unpatched for two years."

Fyodor notes that the filmmakers changed the text of Nmap's output slightly "to make it fit on the screen better," but he's not quibbling over the details. The white hat hacker's stardom even gave him new appreciation for the speed of the Internet's underground. After seeing the film late Wednesday night, Fyodor put out a request to an Nmap mailing list asking for someone to get him a digital still of the program's three-seconds of fame. He expected it to take hours, or days.

"Twenty minutes after I send it, I'm getting a bunch of screens shots, some of them have suspicious Windows Media Player outlines to them," he says. "Now I've got screen shots, Divx copies of the movie, all sorts of stuff." If the Matrix borrows from real life, the Internet, it seems, already has the Matrix.

© Securityfocus.com


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021