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'Web attacks can find where you live'

world Updated: Aug 04, 2010 18:22 IST

PTI
Highlight Story

Visiting a booby-trapped website, the bogus webpage designed for phishing, means inviting cyber attackers to your home, a hacker turned security researcher has warned.

The attacker exploits the shortcomings in many routers -- the device which forwards data packets to their destinations
-- to find out a key identification number that can reveal the victim's whereabout in minutes, noted hacker Samy Kamkar said.

Demonstrating such an attack at the recently concluded Black Hat hacker conference in Las Vegas, Kamkar described how web attacks that begin with making contact with the target (user) can be used to find a person's physical location.

After making contact, the target is convinced to visit a booby-trapped website designed by the attacker. Once the
victim clicks the attacker's link, Kamkar showed how the attacker can manipulate geo location data from Google to
pinpoint a victim's precise location, the BBC reported.

Many people go online via a router and typically only the computer directly connected to the device can interrogate it
for ID information.

However, Kamkar found a way to booby-trap a webpage via a browser so the request for the ID information looks like it is coming from the PC on which that page is being viewed.

He then coupled the ID information, known as a MAC address, with a geo-location feature of the Firefox web
browser. This interrogates a Google database created when its cars were carrying out surveys for its Street View service.

This database links Mac addresses of routers with GPS co-ordinates to help locate them.

"This is geo-location gone terrible," said Kamkar during his presentation. "Privacy is dead, people. I'm sorry."

Mikko Hypponen, senior researcher at security firm F Secure, attended the presentation and said it was "very
interesting research".

"The thought that someone, somewhere on the net can find where you are is pretty creepy," he said.

"Scenarios where an attack like this would be used would be stalking or targeted attacks against an individual," he
added.

"The fact that databases like Google Streetview's Mac-to-Location database or the Skyhook database can be used
in these attacks just underlines how much responsibility companies that collect such data have to safeguard it
correctly," said Mr Hypponen.

In 2005, Mr Kamkar created a worm that exploited security failings in web browsers to garner more than one million
"friends" on the MySpace social network in one day.

Prosecuted for the hacking, Kamkar was given three years' probation and 90 days of community service and paid damages.

He was also banned from using the net for personal purposes for an undisclosed amount of time.