SATAN appeared Wednesday on worldwide computer networks, an intended gift that could raise hell with security.
SATAN is a new piece of software designed to find chinks in the armor of computers connected to the outside world by telephone line or networks such as the Internet.
It could enable managers to plug cracks in security, keeping unauthorized people from breaking into off-limits areas to steal or scramble valuable data.
But it also could help malicious hackers, showing them weak spots in defenses where they could concentrate an attack.
The program, which already has cost one of its designers his job, was made available this morning on several Internet-connected computers around the world.
“It works pretty well. It installs easily. I am running it as we speak,” said Roger Safian, director of the Computer Emergency Response Team at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
SATAN designer Dan Farmer and his partner said they released it despite fears that hackers will use it to execute break-ins.
“As far as abuse goes, I think it will actually decrease because people can make better decisions about improving their security,” Farmer said Tuesday.
SATAN stands for Security Administrators Tool for Analyzing Networks.
While serious hackers already are familiar with ways of breaking into computer systems, experts say SATAN is significant because it is easy enough for novices to use.
Youngsters could easily play computer pranks, on-line vandals could scramble a hospital’s medical records and white-collar criminals could steal corporate secrets, said Donn Parker, a computer security consultant with SRI International, a consulting company in Menlo Park.
“It’s like any other powerful tool: It can be used for great good and great harm,” Parker said.They first planned to release the program on April 1. But because that was Saturday, they pushed the release date to April 5, Farmer’s 33rd birthday.
Parker said Farmer should have sold SATAN only to experts guarding computer systems, and he disagrees that SATAN will help protect against electronic intrusion.