DNS tools play key role in Hollywood thriller 'Untraceable'

FBI agents in Sony Pictures’ upcoming 'Untraceable' movie turn to tools from DNSstuff to solve crime

When the FBI agents in Sony Pictures' upcoming "Untraceable" movie need to catch a killer, they turn to network technologies IT pros have been using for years, such as whois domain name lookup, traceroute and ping, via products developed by DNS tools vendor DNSstuff.

DNSstuff made its way into the major motion picture by word of mouth. Former FBI agent Ernest E.J. Hilbert II told directors and writers of the Diane Lane thriller scheduled to be released Jan. 25 that when he was working on a case and needed to track down the source of cybercrime or locate a cyber criminal, he would use DNS tools.

"DNSstuff is one of the various companies I would use to do a whois search and track down domain name information," says Hilbert, who today is director of security enforcement at MySpace.com. "I worked with the movie's CGI folks to help them understand how such technologies would work and could look, or how they should appear. For example, what Web site you would to go to run whois or where to go to run traceroute."

That's when DNSstuff realized its technology would soon move from behind the scenes to center stage. The company worked with the film to depict its technology in a visual way that would be suitable for the movie-going public. As a result of that, DNSstuff plans in the coming months to release a new product, dubbed Vector Trace, based on technology in its suite of DNS tools and the look and feel created for "Untraceable."

"We created a bit of eye candy for the film, and this opportunity for us was very interesting because the movie is incorporating the technology with real plausibility in terms of how DNS can be exploited or used in a positive way to avoid getting attacked," says Rich Person, CEO at DNSstuff.

DNS is the network function that translates domain names, such as www.networkworld.com, into an IP address, for instance, 65.214.57.165. If DNS doesn't work properly, a user won't gain access to the Web site, and that would become a perceived network failure. DNS is "essentially the phone book for the Internet," says DNSstuff CTO Paul Parisi. Criminals can use DNS to redirect legitimate traffic in such a way to exploit Web site visitors for profit or other purposes.

"DNS can be exploited in ways that make it difficult for people to detect. Most wouldn't notice if a DNS system has been diverted," Parisi says. "In most cases, DNS systems are distributed and weak. It's fairly easy to subvert different parts of it to direct people online away from where they thought they were going to another location and make them vulnerable."

While "Untraceable" portrays the FBI's efforts to stop a cyber serial killer, the most common crimes committed via DNS include phishing and pharming, Parisi says.

Phishing involves would-be attackers luring their victims to click on links in what appear to be legitimate e-mails from, say, a financial institution such as a bank or credit card company. Phishing attempts to trick victims into sharing personal information or into committing an act they might have not otherwise, such as sending money to a specific location.

Pharming is similar to phishing, but also incorporates domain spoofing, or IP spoofing. In the latter example, misspelled URLs could lead customers looking to visit, for example, Amazon.com to a Amazone.com, which is designed to look similar to its namesake. Pharming also involves malicious code being installed or downloaded to a computer, which misdirects victims to Web sites.

For instance, in "Untraceable" it appears the lead character becomes a target of the serial killer who is able to find her home via software downloaded to her daughter's video game. Technical consultant Hilbert says, "It can happen -- it does happen."

DNSstuff agrees, saying while most network professionals understand how critical DNS is to maintaining fluid operations and protecting an organization, DNS upgrade projects still seem to get pushed to the back burner. "It's easy to put DNS aside because it doesn't seem to impact the business until it fails," Parisi says.

On the positive side, DNSstuff executives say they feel the film will bring to the fore a technology that network engineers have always known is critical to keeping businesses up and running. The company offers some tools free in a limited capacity on its Web site, but points out signing up to its tools and services costs US$36 per year.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Denise Dubie

Network World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?