(credit: ShahanB)

A German university student has demonstrated an effective way to get code of his choosing to run on the computers of software developers, at least some of whom work for US governmental and military organizations.

The eye-opening (if ethically questionable) research was conducted by University of Hamburg student Nikolai Philipp Tschacher as part of his bachelor thesis. Using a variation of a decade-old attack known as typosquatting, he uploaded his code to three popular developer communities and gave them names that were similar to widely used packages already submitted by other users. Over a span of several months, his imposter code was executed more than 45,000 times on more than 17,000 separate domains, and more than half the time his code was given all-powerful administrative rights. Two of the affected domains ended in .mil, an indication that people inside the US military had run his script.

“There were also 23 .gov domains from governmental institutions of the United States,” Tschacher wrote in his thesis. “This number is highly alarming, because taking over hosts in US research laboratories and governmental institutions may have potentially disastrous consequences for them.”

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How a college student tricked 17k coders into running his sketchy script