A hacking expert has launched a $200 password-cracking tool that makes it easy to decipher Internet traffic sent through a widely used method for securing businesses communications.
Moxie Marlinspike, one of the world's top encryption experts, unveiled the tool on Saturday during a presentation at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas.
Marlinspike said he developed the service, CloudCracker.com, by taking advantage of a vulnerability he discovered in a widely used virtual private network technology known as point-to-point tunneling protocol.
Virtual private networks, or VPNs, scramble traffic as it travels between a PC and its final destination so that the data is useless to hackers if they eavesdrop on those communications.
But Marlinspike provides clients with a tool that analyzes captured data streams and creates a data file that they upload to his website. He then runs that through code-cracking computer programs that figure out a password that will unscramble the protected communications. He delivers that to clients within 24 hours.
With access to web traffic, hackers could potentially steal passwords to financial accounts, read business emails and learn business secrets.
Marlinspike said he will not screen clients to determine whether they are using CloudCracker for illegal purposes, although his ultimate intent is help computer users by pressuring operating systems makers to make their software safer.
"What we're trying to do is force people to use more secure VPN technology in the products they are building," he said.
Marlinspike said that small to mid-sized businesses and consumers typically use VPN software with the point-to-point tunneling protocol.
Large corporations typically supply their employees with VPN software from Cisco Systems Inc, whose communications cannot be cracked by CloudCracker.com, he said.
Marlinspike has worked for Twitter since the end of last year when the mobile blogging service acquired a company he co-founded, Whisper Systems. Marlinspike said that CloudCracker.com was a personal project and has nothing to do with Twitter.
Hackers and security experts present research on a wide range of vulnerabilities in products ranging from computers and networking equipment to locks, drones and air-traffic control systems at the annual Def Con gathering.
They often publicize their work in an effort to warn the public about security risks and pressure manufacturers to address the problems.
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012