Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can ever be made.
In late 1996 there were approximately 14,000,000 computers connected to the Internet. Nearly all of them relied on the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), one of the fundamental rule sets underlying communication between computers, and the one used for most common services on the Internet. And although it was known to have security weaknesses, the protocol had been doing its work quietly for nearly two decades without a major attack against it.
But on September 1 of that year, the online magazine Phrack published the source code for a network attack tool that exploited the trusting way the protocol handled connection requests (see the sidebar A Fractured Dialogue). Suddenly, the majority of those 14,000,000 computers were now vulnerable to being taken offline—in some cases, crashed—at the whim of any malcontent capable of compiling the attack program.
Sidebar 1. A Fractured Dialogue
What happens when you call someone on the phone and they hang up before you do—and you decide not to hang up yourself? Until a few years ago (in the U.S., at least), it was possible to tie up the other person's telephone line for a long time this way.
Today we might call this trick a denial of service attack. It's an example of what can happen when one party to a conversation decides not to play by the rules. In the network world, a set of such rules is called a protocol. And the ...