CyberSec Tips: Malware – advice for the sysadmin

This is possibly a little out of line with what I’m trying to do with the series.  This advice is aimed a little higher than the home user, or small business operator with little computer experience.  Today I got these questions from someone with an advanced computer background, and solid security background, but no malware or antivirus experience.  I figured that this might apply to a number of people out there, so here was my advice:

 

> Question 1: What is the best way to obtain some good virus samples to
> experiment with in a clean-room environment?

Just look for anything large in your spam filters  :-)

> What I see doing is setting up a VM that is connected to an isolated
> network (with no connection to any other computer or the internet except
> for a computer running wireshark to monitor any traffic generated by the
> virus/malware).

VMs are handy when you are running a wholesale sample gathering and analysis operation, but for a small operation I tend not to trust them.  You might try running Windows under a Mac or Linux box, etc.  Even then, some of the stuff is getting pretty sneaky, and some specifically target VMs.  (I wonder how hard it would be to run Windows in a VM under iOS on ARM?)

> Also, any other particular recommendations as to how to set up the
> clean-room environment?

I’m particularly paranoid, especially if you haven’t had a lot of background in malware, so I’d tend to recommend a complete airgap, with floppies.  (You can still get USB 3 1/2″ floppy drives.)  CDs might be OK, but USB drives are just getting too complex to be sure.

> Question 2: What products are recommended for removing viruses and malware
> (i.e. is there a generic disinfector program that you recommend)?

I wouldn’t recommend a generic for disinfection.  For Windows, after the disaster of MSAV, MSE is surprisingly good, and careful–unlikely to create more problems than it solves.  I like Avast these days: even the free version gives you a lot of control, although it seems to be drifting into the “we know what’s best for you” camp.  And Sophos, of course, is solid stuff, and has been close to the top of the AV heap for over two decades.  F-Secure is good, although they may be distracted by the expansion they are doing of late.  Kaspersky is fine, though opinionated.  Eset has long had an advantage in scanning speed, but it does chew up machine cycles when operating.

Symantec/Norton, McAfee, and Trend have always had a far larger share of the market than was justified by their actual products.

As always, I recommend using multiple products for detection.

> I assume the preferred approach is to boot the suspect computer from USB
> and to run the analysis/disinfection software from the USB key (i.e. not to boot
> the infected computer until it has been disinfected).

A good plan.  Again, I might recommend CD/DVD over USB keys, but, as long as you are careful that the USB drive is clean …

> Question 3: How/when does one make the decision to wipe the hard drive and
> restore from backup rather than attempt to remove the malware?

If you have an up-to-date backup, that is always preferred when absolute security is the issue.  However, the most common malware is going to be cleanable fairly easily.  (Unless you run into some of the more nasty ransomware.)

Pushing backup, and multiple forms of backup, on all users and systems, is a great idea for all kinds of problems.  I’ve got a “set and forget” backup running to a USB drive that automatically updates any changes about every fifteen minutes.  And every couple of days I make a separate backup (and I have different USB drives I do it to) of all data files–which I then copy on to one of the laptops.  I just use an old batch file I created, which replaces any files with newer versions.  (Since it doesn’t delete anything I don’t change, it also means I have recovery possibilities if I make a mistake with deleting anything, and, by using multiple drives, I can rotate them for offsite storage, and even have possibilities of recovering old versions.)

> Question 4: Any recommended books or other guides to this subject matter?

Haven’t seen anything terrifically useful recently, unfortunately.  David Harley and I released “Viruses Revealed” as public domain a few years back, but it’s over ten years old.  (We released it about the time a vxer decided to upload it to http://vxheavens.com/lib/ars08.html  He probably thought he was hurting our sales, but we figured he was doing us a favour  :-)

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CyberSec Tips: Email – Spam – check your filters

Spam filters are getting pretty good these days.  If they weren’t, we’d be inundated.

But they aren’t perfect.

It’s a good idea to check what is being filtered out, every once in a while, to make sure that you are not missing messages you should be getting.  Lots of things can falsely trigger spam filters these days.

Where and how you check will depend on what you use to read your email.  And how you report that something is or isn’t spam will depend on that, too.

If you use the Web based email systems, like Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook/Hotmail, or others, and you use their Web interface, the spam folder usually is listed with other folders, generally to the left side of the browser window.  And, when you are looking at that list, when you select one of the messages, somewhere on the screen, probably near the top, is a button to report that it isn’t spam.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I did this myself, so I checked two of my Webmail accounts this morning.  Both of them had at least one message caught in the spam trap that should have been sent through.  Spam filtering is good, but it isn’t perfect.  You have to take responsibility for your own safety.  And that means checking the things you use to keep you safe.

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Review of “cloud drives” – Younited – pt 3

Yesterday I received an update for the Younited client–on the Win7 machine.  The XP machine didn’t update, nor was there any option to do so.

This morning Younited won’t accept the password on the Win7 machine: it won’t log on.  Actually, it seems to be randomly forgetting parts of the password.  As with most programs, it doesn’t show the password (nor is there any option to show it), the password is represented by dots for the characters.  But I’ll have seven characters entered (with seven dots showing), and, all of a sudden, only three dots will be showing.  Or I’ll have entered ten, and suddenly there are only two.

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REVIEW: “Debug It: Find, Repair, and Prevent Bugs in Your Code”, Paul Butcher

BKDEBGIT.RVW   20130122

“Debug It: Find, Repair, and Prevent Bugs in Your Code”, Paul Butcher, 2009, U$34.95/C$43.95, 978-1-93435-628-9
%A   Paul Butcher paul@paulbutcher.com
%C   2831 El Dorado Pkwy, #103-381 Frisco, TX 75033
%D   2009
%G   978-1-93435-628-9 1-93435-628-X
%I   Pragmatic Bookshelf
%O   U$34.95/C$43.95 sales@pragmaticprogrammer.com 800-699-7764
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/193435628X/robsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/193435628X/robsladesinte-21
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/193435628X/robsladesin03-20
%O   Audience n- Tech 2 Writing 1 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   214 p.
%T   “Debug It: Find, Repair, and Prevent Bugs in Your Code”

The preface states that there are lots of books in the market that teach development and few that teach debugging.  (In my experience, a great many development books include debugging advice, so I’m not sure where the author’s perception comes from.)  The work is structured around a core method for debugging: reproduce, diagnose, fix, and reflect.

Part one presents the basic technique.  Chapter one repeats the description of this core method.  Chapter two encourages the reproduction of the bug.  (This can be more complex than the author lets on.  I have a netbook with some bug in the hibernation function.  Despite constant observation over a period of three and a half years, I’ve yet to find a combination of conditions that reproduces the failure, nor one that prevents it.)  Some of the suggestions given are useful, if pedestrian, while others are pretty pointless.  (Butcher does not address the rather thorny issue of using “real” data for testing.)  In terms of diagnosis, in chapter three, there is limited description of process, but lots of good tips.  The same is true of fixing, in chapter four.  (I most definitely agree with the recommendation to fix underlying causes, rather than effects.)  Reflection, the topic of chapter five, is limited to advice that the problem be considered even after you’ve fixed it.

Part two explores the larger picture.  Chapter six examines bug tracking systems, and eliciting feedback from users and support staff.  Chapter seven advises on trying to address the bugs, but concentrates on “fix early,” with little discussion of priorities or ranking systems.

Part three, entitled “Debug Fu,” turns to related and side issues.  The “Special Cases” in chapter eight seem to be fairly common: software already released, compatibility issues, and “heisenbugs” that disappear when you try to track them.  Chapter nine, on the ideal debugging environment, is about as practical as most such exercises.  “Teach Your Software to Debug Itself” in chapter ten seems confined to a few specific cases.  Chapter eleven notes some common problems in development teams and structures.

The advice in the book is good, and solid, but not surprising to anyone with experience.  Novices who have not considered debugging much will find it useful.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2013   BKDEBGIT.RVW   20130122

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The Common Vulnerability Scoring System

Introduction

This article presents the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) Version 2.0, an open framework for scoring IT vulnerabilities. It introduces metric groups, describes base metrics, vector, and scoring. Finally, an example is provided to understand how it works in practice. For a more in depth look into scoring vulnerabilities, check out the ethical hacking course offered by the InfoSec Institute.

Metric groups

There are three metric groups:

I. Base (used to describe the fundamental information about the vulnerability—its exploitability and impact).
II. Temporal (time is taken into account when severity of the vulnerability is assessed; for example, the severity decreases when the official patch is available).
III. Environmental (environmental issues are taken into account when severity of the vulnerability is assessed; for example, the more systems affected by the vulnerability, the higher severity).

This article is focused on base metrics. Please read A Complete Guide to the Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2.0 if you are interested in temporal and environmental metrics.

Base metrics

There are exploitability and impact metrics:

I. Exploitability

a) Access Vector (AV) describes how the vulnerability is exploited:
- Local (L)—exploited only locally
- Adjacent Network (A)—adjacent network access is required to exploit the vulnerability
- Network (N)—remotely exploitable

The more remote the attack, the more severe the vulnerability.

b) Access Complexity (AC) describes how complex the attack is:
- High (H)—a series of steps needed to exploit the vulnerability
- Medium (M)—neither complicated nor easily exploitable
- Low (L)—easily exploitable

The lower the access complexity, the more severe the vulnerability.

c) Authentication (Au) describes the authentication needed to exploit the vulnerability:
- Multiple (M)—the attacker needs to authenticate at least two times
- Single (S)—one-time authentication
- None (N)—no authentication

The lower the number of authentication instances, the more severe the vulnerability.

II. Impact

a) Confidentiality (C) describes the impact of the vulnerability on the confidentiality of the system:
- None (N)—no impact
- Partial (P)—data can be partially read
- Complete (C)—all data can be read

The more affected the confidentiality of the system is, the more severe the vulnerability.

+b) Integrity (I) describes an impact of the vulnerability on integrity of the system:
- None (N)—no impact
- Partial (P)—data can be partially modified
- Complete (C)—all data can be modified

The more affected the integrity of the system is, the more severe the vulnerability.

c) Availability (A) describes an impact of the vulnerability on availability of the system:
- None (N)—no impact
- Partial (P)—interruptions in system’s availability or reduced performance
- Complete (C)—system is completely unavailable

The more affected availability of the system is, the more severe the vulnerability.

Please note the abbreviated metric names and values in parentheses. They are used in base vector description of the vulnerability (explained in the next section).

Base vector

Let’s discuss the base vector. It is presented in the following form:

AV:[L,A,N]/AC:[H,M,L]/Au:[M,S,N]/C:[N,P,C]/I:[N,P,C]/A:[N,P,C]

This is an abbreviated description of the vulnerability that brings information about its base metrics together with metric values. The brackets include possible metric values for given base metrics. The evaluator chooses one metric value for every base metric.

Scoring

The formulas for base score, exploitability, and impact subscores are given in A complete Guide to the Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2.0 [1]. However, there in no need to do the calculations manually. There is a Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2 Calculator available. The only thing the evaluator has to do is assign metric values to metric names.

Severity level

The base score is dependent on exploitability and impact subscores; it ranges from 0 to 10, where 10 means the highest severity. However, CVSS v2 doesn’t transform the score into a severity level. One can use, for example, the FortiGuard severity level to obtain this information:

FortiGuard severity level CVSS v2 score
Critical 9 – 10
High 7 – 8.9
Medium 4 – 6.9
Low 0.1 – 3.9
Info 0

Putting the pieces together

An exemplary vulnerability in web application is provided to better understand how Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2.0 works in practice. Please keep in mind that this framework is not limited to web application vulnerabilities.

Cross-site request forgery in admin panel allows adding a new user and deleting an existing user or all users.

Let’s analyze first the base metrics together with the resulting base vector:

Access Vector (AV): Network (N)
Access Complexity (AC): Medium (M)
Authentication (Au): None (N)

Confidentiality (C): None (N)
Integrity (I): Partial (P)
Availability (A): Complete (C)

Base vector: (AV:N/AC:M/Au:N/C:N/I:P/A:C)

Explanation: The admin has to visit the attacker’s website for the vulnerability to be exploited. That’s why the access complexity is medium. The website of the attacker is somewhere on the Internet. Thus the access vector is network. No authentication is required to exploit this vulnerability (the admin only has to visit the attacker’s website). The attacker can delete all users, making the system unavailable for them. That’s why the impact of the vulnerability on the system’s availability is complete. Deleting all users doesn’t delete all data in the system. Thus the impact on integrity is partial. Finally, there is no impact on the confidentiality of the system provided that added user doesn’t have read permissions on default.

Let’s use the Common Vulnerability Scoring System Version 2 Calculator to obtain the subscores (exploitability and impact) and base score:

Exploitability subscore: 8.6
Impact subscore: 7.8
Base score: 7.8

Let’s transform the score into a severity level according to FortiGuard severity levels:

FortiGuard severity level: High

Summary

This article described an open framework for scoring IT vulnerabilities—Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) Version 2.0. Base metrics, vector and scoring were presented. An exemplary way of transforming CVSS v2 scores into severity levels was described (FortiGuard severity levels). Finally, an example was discussed to see how all these pieces work in practice.

Dawid Czagan is a security researcher for the InfoSec Institute and the Head of Security Consulting at Future Processing.

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Fuzzing Samsung Kies

Android fuzzing is always fun – seems that whenever we fuzz an android app it crashes within seconds.

Samsung Kies was no different. With the help of the talented Juan Yacubian (who built the Kies module in no time) we launched beSTORM against Kies… And saw it crash in record 23 seconds (just over 1,100 attack combinations).

Next on the agenda: install gdb for Android and build the proper payload.

Samsung Kies Crash

 

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REVIEW: “Security and Privacy for Microsoft Office 2010 Users”, Mitch Tulloch

BKSCPRO2.RVW   20121122

“Security and Privacy for Microsoft Office 2010 Users”, Mitch Tulloch,
2012, 0735668833, U$9.99
%A   Mitch Tulloch info@mtit.com www.mtit.com
%C   1 Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA   98052-6399
%D   2012
%G   0735668833
%I   Microsoft Press
%O   U$9.99 800-MSPRESS fax: 206-936-7329 mspinput@microsoft.com
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0735668833/robsladesinterne
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0735668833/robsladesinte-21
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0735668833/robsladesin03-20
%O   Audience n- Tech 1 Writing 1 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   100 p.
%T   “Security and Privacy for Microsoft Office 2010 Users”

Reducing the complex jargon in the introduction to its simplest terms, this book is intended to allow anyone who uses the Microsoft Office 2010 suite, or the online Office 365, to effectively employ the security functions built into the software.  Chapter one purports to present the “why” of security, but does a very poor job of it.  Company policy is presented as a kind of threat to the employee, and this does nothing to ameliorate the all-too-common perception that security is there simply to make life easier for the IT department, while it makes work harder for everyone else.

Chapter two examines the first security function, called “Protected View.”  The text addresses issues of whether or not you can trust a document created by someone else, and mentions trusted locations.  (Trusted locations seem simply to be defined as a specified directory on your hard drive, and the text does not discuss whether merely moving an unknown document into this directory will magically render it trustworthy.  Also, the reader is told how to set a trusted location, but not an area for designating untrusted files.)  Supposedly “Protected View” will automatically restrict access to, and danger from, documents you receive from unknown sources.  Unfortunately, having used Microsoft Office 2010 for a couple of years, and having received, in that time, hundreds of documents via email and from Web sources, I’ve never yet seen “Protected View,” so I’m not sure how far I can trust what the author is telling me.  (In addition, Tulloch’s discussion of viruses had numerous errors: Concept came along five years before Melissa, and some of the functions he attributes to Melissa are, in fact, from the CHRISTMA exec over a decade earlier.)

Preparation of policy is promised in chapter three, but this isn’t what most managers or security professionals would think of as policy: it is just the provision of a function for change detection or digital signatures.  It also becomes obvious, at this point, that Microsoft Office 2010 and Office 365 can have significantly different operations.  The material is quite confusing with references to a great many programs which are not part of the two (2010 and 365) MS Office suites.

Chapter four notes the possibility of encryption with a password, but the discussion of rights is unclear, and a number of steps are missing.

An appendix lists pointers to a number of references at Microsoft’s Website.

The utility of this work is compromised by the fact that it provides instructions for functions, but doesn’t really explain how, and in what situations, the functions can assist and protect the user.  Any employee using Microsoft Office will be able to access the operations, but without understanding the concepts they won’t be able to take advantage of what protection they offer.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2012     BKSCPRO2.RVW   20121122

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Password reset questions

Recently therewas some discussion about “self-service” password resets.  The standard option, of course, is to have some sort of “secret question” that the true account holder should be able to answer.  You know: super-secret stuff like your pet’s name.  (Yes, Paris Hilton, I’m talking about you.)

The discussion was more detailed, turning to policy and options, and asked whether you should turn off “custom” questions, and stick to a list of prepared questions.

I would definitely allow custom questions.  The standard lists never seem to give me options that I can both a) remember, and b) that wouldn’t be immediately obvious to anyone who was able to find out some minimal information about me.

If I can make up my own question, I can ask myself what my favourite burial option would be.  The answer, “encryption,” is something I will remember to my dying day, and nobody else is ever going to guess.  (Well, those who have read the “Dictionary of Information Security” might guess that one, so I guess I won’t actually use it.)

Go ahead: try and guess what is the only pain reliever that works for me.

What sits under my desk and keeps the computers running in the case of a power failure?

What is Gloria’s favourite ice cream flavour?

Finish the following sentence: Don’t treat Rob as your _______ ___.  (This is a two-factor authentication: you also have to fill in the standard response to that statement.)

The thing is, all of these oddball questions have special meaning for Gloria and I, but for very few other people in the world.  They rely on mistakes or quirks that have become “family phrases.”  For example, what do you need before bed to get to sleep?  Answer: “warum melek,” coming from an elderly lady of our acquaintance from a northern European background.

Yeah, I like “custom questions” a lot.

(OK, yes, you do have to do a bit of security awareness training to indicate that “who is my sweetie poo” may not be as secret as some people seem to think …)

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S. Korea Cyber Attack Crashes Navigation Devices. Time to fuzz your GPS?

South Korea suffered a major cyber attack yesterday. The origin of the attack seems to be China at the moment, but that is far from being definite.

I happened to be in one of the (several) cyber security operation centers, by pure coincidence. I had a chance to see events unravel in real time. Several banks have been hit (including the very large shinhan bank) and a few broadcasting channels.

The damage is hard to assess, since it’s now in everyone’s advantage to blame the cyber attack on anything from a system crash to the coffee machine running out of capsules. Budget and political moves will dominate most of the data that will be released in the next few days.
It’s clear, however, that the damage substantial. I reached out to a few friends in technical positions at various MSPs and most had a sleepless night. They’ve been hit hard.

The most interesting part of this incident, in my opinion, was a report on car GPS crashing while the attack was taking place. I haven’t seen a news report about that yet, and I couldn’t personally verify it (as I mentioned, I was stationary at the time, watching the frantic cyber-security team getting a handle on a difficult situation) but this is making rounds in security forums and a couple of friends confirmed to me that their car navigation system crashed and had to be restarted, at the exact time the attack was taking place.

The most likely explanation is that the broadcasting companies, who send TPEG data to the GPS devices (almost every car in Korea has a GPS device, almost all get real-time updates via TPEG), had sent malformed data which caused the devices to crash. This data could have been just a result of a domino effect from the networks crashing, or it could have been a very sophisticated proof-of-concept by the attacker to see if they can create a distruption. Traffic in Seoul is bad even on a normal day; without GPS devices it can be a nightmare.

Which brings up an interesting point about fuzzing network devices. TPEG fuzzers have been available for a while now (beSTORM has a TPEG module, and you can easily write your own TPEG fuzzer). The difficult part is getting the GPS device to communicate with the fuzzing generator; this is something the GPS developer can do (but probably won’t) but it is also possible for a government entity to do the necessary configuration to make that happen, given the proper resources or simply by forcing the vendors to cooperate.

The choice of the attacker to bring down the broadcasting networks might be deliberate: other than knocking TV and radio off the air (an obvious advantage in a pre-attack strike) the broadcasting networks control many devices who rely on their data. Forcing them to send malformed data to crash a variety of devices can have interesting implications. If I was a little more naive, I would predict that this will push governments around the world to focus more on fuzzing to discover these kind of vulnerabilities before they see their adversaries exploit them. But in the world we live in, they will instead throw around the phrase “APT” and buy more “APT detection products” (an oximoron if I’ve ever heard one). Thank god for APT, the greatest job saving invention since bloodletting.

An detailed analysis of the attack here:

http://training.nshc.net/KOR/Document/virus/20130321_320CyberTerrorIncidentResponseReportbyRedAlert(EN).pdf

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Read this book. If you have anything to do with security, read this book.

I have been reviewing security books for over twenty years now.  When I think of how few are really worthwhile that gets depressing.

However, Ross Anderson is always worth reading.  And when Ross Anderson first published “Security Engineering” I was delighted to be able to tell everyone that it was a worthwhile read.  If you are, in any way, interested in, or working in, the field of security, there is something there for you.  Probably an awful lot.

When Ross Anderson made the first edition available online, for free, and then published the second edition, I was delighted to be able to tell everyone that they should buy the second edition, but, if they didn’t trust me, they should read the first edition free, and then buy the second edition because it was even better.

Now Ross has made the second edition available, online, for free.

Everyone should read it, if they haven’t already done so.

(I am eagerly awaiting the third edition  :-)

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Comparison Review: AVAST! antiviral

PCAVAST7.RVW   20120727
Comparison Review

Company and product:

Company: ALWIL Software
Address: Trianon Office Bldg, Budejovicka 1518/13a, 140 00, Prague 4
Phone:   00 420 274 005 777
Fax:     00 420 274 005 888
Sales:   +42-2-782-25-47
Contact: Kristyna Maz nkov /Pavel Baudis/Michal Kovacic
Email:   mazankova@avast.com baudis@asw.cz
Other:   http://www.avast.com
Product: AVAST! antiviral

Summary: Multilayered Windows package

Cost: unknown

Rating (1-4, 1 = poor, 4 = very good)
“Friendliness”
Installation      3
Ease of use       4
Help systems      1
Compatibility           3
Company
Stability         3
Support           2
Documentation           1
Hardware required       3
Performance             3
Availability            3
Local Support           1

General Description:

Multilayered scanning, activity-monitoring, and change-detection software.  Network protection including Web and email monitoring.

Comparison of features and specifications

User Friendliness

Installation

The product is available as a commercial package, but also as a free download for home or non-commerecial use.  As previously noted in other reviews, this is highly desirable not simply as a marketing and promotional effort by the company, but because making malware protection available to the general public reduces the malware threat for the entire computing and network environment.  One important
aspect is that the free version, unlike some antivirus products which reduce available functions, appears to be complete.  Scanning, disinfection, network protection, reporting, and management functions all seem to be included in the free version, making Avast a highly recommended product among free downloads.

I downloaded the free version, and installed it with no problem.  It was compatible with Windows 7, as well as previous versions.  The basic installation and configuration provides realistic protection, even for completely naive users.

Ease of use

With ten basic, and a larger number of minor, functions now included in the program, the interface is no longer very easy to figure out.  For example, one of the first things I (as a specialist) need to do is to turn off scanning of my “zoo” directory.  I initially thought this might be under the large “Maintenance” button.  No, “maintenance” is reserved for upgrading and buying additional features.  I did finally find the function I wanted under a much smaller “Settings” tab.  However, as noted, most users will not require any additional functions, and need not worry about the operation of the program.  The default settings provide decent protection, and updating of signatures, and even the basic program, is almost automatic.  (The updates for the free version do push the user to “upgrade” to the commercial version, but it is not necessary.)

I located (eventually) some great functions in the program which I found very helpful.  Admittedly, I’m a very special case, since I research malware.  But I really appreciated the fact that not only could I turn scanning off for a particular directory (my “zoo”), and that I could pull programs out of the quarantine easily, but that I could also turn off individual network protection functions, very easily.  Not only could I turn them off, but I was presented with options to stop for 10 minutes, 1 hour, until the next reboot, or permanently.  Therefore, I could turn off the protection for a quick check, and not have to remember to turn it on again for regular work and browsing.

However, I cannot commend Avast for some of the reporting and logging functions.  Late in the review period it reported an “infected” page, but refused to tell me where/what it is.  In addition, recently Avast has been blocking some of my email, and the message that an email has been blocked is the only available information.

Help systems

Help is available onscreen, but it is not easy to find.  There is no help button on the main screen: you have to choose “? Support,” and then, from a list of six items choose the last one, “Program Help.”  (The standard Windows F1 key does bring up the help function.)  Most other help is only available online via the Web, although there is a downloadable PDF manual.

Compatibility

The system scores well in malware detection ratings from independent tests.  I have been running Avast for over a year, and have not seen a false positive in a scan of the computer system.  I have observed only one false positive blockage of “known good” Websites or email, although this is of some concern since it involved the updating of another malware package under test.

Company Stability

Avast has been operating (previously as Alwil Software) for over twenty years.  The program structure is thoughtful and shows mature development.

Company Support

As noted, most is via the Web.  Unfortunately, in the recent case of a false positive the company, even though I had alerted them to the details of both the review and the warning I had noted, there was no useful response.  I received email stating that someone would review the situation and get back to me, but there was no further response.

Documentation

The documentation available for download is primarily for installation and marketing.

System Requirements

The system should run on most extent Windows machines.

Performance

The antivirus system has minimal impact on the computer system.  When performing a full scan, there are other programs that run faster, but Avast runs very well unattended.

As noted above, the free version has complete and very useful functionality.

Local Support

None provided.

Support Requirements

Basic operation and scanning should be accessible to the novice or average user.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 1995, 2012   PCAVAST7.RVW   20120727

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Anti-Virus, now with added Michelangelo

Apparently it’s all our fault. Again. Not only is anti-virus useless, but we’re responsible for the evolution and dramatic increased volume of malware. According to something I read today “If it wasn’t for the security industry the malware that was written back in the 90’s might still be working today.”

I guess that’s not as dumb as it sounds: we have forced the malware industry to evolve (and vice versa). But you could just as easily say:

“The medical profession is responsible for the evolution and propagation of disease. If it wasn’t for the pharmaceutical industry illnesses that killed people X years ago might still be killing people today.”

And to an extent, it would be true. Some conditions have all but disappeared, at any rate in regions where advanced medical technology is commonplace, but other harder-to-treat conditions have appeared, or at least have achieved recognition.

I can think of plenty of reasons for being less than enthusiastic about the static-signature/malcode-blacklisting approach to malware deterrence, though I get tired of pointing out that commercial AV has moved a long way on from that in the last couple of decades. Even so, if pharmaceutical companies had to generate vaccines at the rate that AV labs have to generate detections (even highly generic detections) we’d all have arms like pincushions.

However, there are clear differences between ‘people’ healthcare and PC therapeutics. Most of us can’t trust ourselves as computer users (or the companies that sell and maintain operating systems and applications) to maintain a sufficiently hygienic environment to eliminate the need to ‘vaccinate’. It’s not that we’re all equally vulnerable to every one of the tens or hundreds of thousands of malicious samples that are seen by AV labs every day. Rather, it’s the fact that a tailored assessment of which malware is a likely problem for each individual system, regardless of provenance, region, and the age of the malware, is just too difficult. It’s kind of like living at the North Pole and taking prophylactic measures in case of Dengue fever, trypanosomiasis and malaria.

Fortunately, new or variant diseases tend not to proliferate at the same rate that malware variants do, and vaccines are not the only way of improving health. In fact, lots of conditions are mitigated by better hygiene, a better standard of living, health-conscious lifestyles and all sorts of more-or-less generic factors. There’s probably a moral there: commonsense computing practices and vitamin supplements – I mean, patches and updates – do reduce exposure to malicious code. It’s worth remembering, though, that even if AV had never caught on, evolving OS and application technologies would probably have reduced our susceptibility to antique boot sector viruses, macro viruses, and DOS .EXE infectors. Is it really likely that they wouldn’t have been replaced by a whole load of alternative malicious technologies?

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
ESET Senior Research Fellow

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Sophos Threatsaurus

http://www.sophos.com/en-us/security-news-trends/security-trends/threatsaurus.aspx

Concentrating on malware and phishing, this is a very decent guide for “average” computer users with little or no security background or knowledge.  Three sections in a kind of dictionary or encyclopedia format: malware and threats, protection technologies, and a (very brief but still useful) history of malware (1949-2012).

Available free for download, and (unlike a great many “free” downloads I could name) you don’t even have to register for endless spam from the company.

Recommended to pass around to family, friends, and your corporate security awareness department.

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Security unawareness

I really don’t understand the people who keep yelling that security awareness is no good.  Here’s the latest rant.

The argument is always the same: security awareness is not 100% foolproof protection against all possible attacks, so you shouldn’t (it is morally wrong to?) even try to teach security awareness in your company.

This guys works for  a security consultancy.  He says that instead of teaching awareness, you should concentrate on audit, monitoring, protecting critical data, segmenting the network, access creep, incident response, and strong security leadership.  (If we looked into their catalogue of seminars, I wonder what we would find them selling?)

Security awareness training isn’t guaranteed to be 100% effective protection.  Neither is AV, audit, monitoring, incident response, etc.  You still use those thing even though they don’t guarantee 100% protection.  You should at least try (seriously) to teach security awareness.  Maybe more than just a single 4 hour session.  (It’s called “defence in depth.”)

Tell you what: I’ll teach security awareness in my company, and you try a social engineering attack.  You may hit some of my people: people aren’t perfect.  But I’ll bet that at least some of my people will detect and report your social engineering attack.  And your data isolation won’t.

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Trust me, I didn’t look right as I typed this …

‘Lying eyes’ are a myth – looking to the right DOESN’T mean you are fibbing.

“Many psychologists believe that when a person looks up to their right they are
likely to be telling a lie.  Glancing up to the left, on the other hand, is said to
indicate honesty.

“Co-author Dr Caroline Watt, from the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘A large
percentage of the public believes that certain eye movements are a sign of lying,
and this idea is even taught in organisational training courses. … The claimed link
between lying and eye movements is a key element of neuro-linguistic
programming.

“According to the theory, when right-handed people look up to their right they
are likely to be visualising a ‘constructed’ or imagined event.  In contrast when
they look to their left they are likely to be visualising a ‘remembered’ memory.
For this reason, when liars are constructing their own version of the truth, they
tend to look to the right.”

“Psychologist Prof Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, said: ‘The
results of the first study revealed no relationship between lying and eye
movements, and the second showed that telling people about the claims made by
NLP practitioners did not improve their lie detection skills.’

However, this study raises a much more serious question.  These types of “skills” are being extensively taught (and sought) by law enforcement and other agencies.  How many investigations are being misdirected and delayed by false suppositions based on NLP “techniques”?  More disturbingly, how many people are being falsely accused, dismissed, or charged due to the same questionable “information”?  (As I keep telling my seminars, when you get sidetracked into pursuing the wrong suspect, the real culprit is getting away free.)

(I guess we’ll have to stop watching “The Mentalist” now …)

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Quick way to find out if your account has been hacked?

In the wake of the recent account “hacks,” and fueled by the Yahoo (and, this morning, Android) breaches, An outfit called Avalanche (which seems to have ties to, or be the parent company of, the AVG antivirus) has launched https://shouldichangemypassword.com/

They are getting lots of press.

“If you don’t know, a website called ShouldIChangeMyPassword.com will
tell you. Just enter your email—they won’t store your address unless
you ask them to—and click the button that says, “Check it.” If your
email has been associated with any of a large and ever-growing list
of known password breaches, including the latest Yahoo hack, the
site will let you know, and advise you to change it right away.”

Well, I tried it out, with an account that gets lots of spam anyway.  Lo and behold, that account was hacked!  Well, maybe.

(I should point out that, possibly given the popularity of the site, it is pig slow at the moment.)

The address I used is one I tend to give to sites, like recruiters and “register to get our free [fillintheblank]” outfits, that demand one.  It is for a local community site that used to be a “Free-net.”  I use a standard, low value password for registering on remote sites since I probably won’t be revisiting that site.  So I wasn’t completely surprised to see the address had been hacked.  I do get email through it, but, as noted, I also get (and analyse) a lot of spam.

When you get the notification, it tells you almost nothing.  Only that your account has been hacked, and when.  However, you can find a list of breaches, if you dig around on the site.  This list has dates.  The only breach that corresponded to the date I was given was the Strategic Forecasting breach.

I have, in the past, subscribed to Stratetgic Forecasting.  But only on the free list.  (Nothing on the free list ever convinced me that the paid version was worth it.)  So, my email address was listed in the Strategic Forecasting list.  But only my email address.  It never had a password or credit card number associated with it.

It may be worth it as a quick check.  However, there are obviously going to be so many false positives (like mine) and false negatives (LinkedIn isn’t in the list) that it is hard to say what the value is.

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