Hacker helps Excite@Home toughen defenses

A security expert helps the Net service provider shore up its network after the company leaves roughly 3 million support records accessible to the outside world.

Not all hackers are bad--just ask Excite@Home.

The company shored up its online defenses after a hacker pointed out a vulnerability in April that allowed access to the company's internal network and exposed nearly 3 million support records to the public.

The company praised the hacker, Adrian Lamo, for coming forward after he poked around its network.

Lamo contacted the company nearly two months ago after he discovered a server that could be used by would-be attackers to get into portions of the Excite@Home corporate network. Among the accessible data was a customer support database of users, their machine configurations and their addresses, Excite@Home spokeswoman Londonne Corder said.

However, no credit card information was in the database, she stressed, and because of Lamo's aid, no records were accessed by others. Lamo first found the network vulnerability in March, she said.

The details of the breach were first reported by security site SecurityFocus.com, which had been contacted by Lamo.

Lamo is "someone who tries to uncover security holes with good intentions--to show us where we had some security holes, so those could be fixed," Corder said.

While not a first, a collaboration like Excite@Home's cooperation with a hacker to secure its network is rare.

Despite the open-source movement underscoring the historic definition of hackers as curious--if unconventional--researchers, companies have been frequently leery of associating with anyone who considers themselves one.

Yet, the Excite@Home network seems a bit more secure today because of the cooperation.

"After meeting with Lamo, we took steps to further secure the corporate network by installing firewalls, restricting access to the network, implementing programs to prevent denial-of-service attacks, and adding hardware and software designed to detect and prevent security breaches," Corder said.

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