« Comment | Main | Doctor Who »

Thursday, April 22, 2010

McAfee, ClamAV, McAfee: Why keeping security software up to date is mandatory, not optional

1: On March 31st, McAfee's support for their V1 format antivirus DAT files ended, and with it come the end-of-life for VirusScan 8.0. Plenty of warning had been given, and they'd even extended the end-of-life date by three months. Yet, come April 1st, McAfee's Community Forums were filled with tales of people whose antivirus had ceased updating. There was a twist to this tale, however. One customer was using a V2-supporting antivirus program, but it still wasn't updating. It turned out that updating to a later version of the McAfee Agent solved his problem.

2: The ClamAV Users' mailing list has become a bit of a flame-fest of late, all due to Sourcefire's withdrawal of support for versions pre-0.95. They'd announced all this six months ago, but users were still caught unawares. Unfortunately, the developers effectively "turned off" older versions when they issued a pattern update using a data format only supported by ClamAV 0.95 and later. And how the affected users howled.

3: Back to McAfee yesterday, and we find peoples' PCs being screwed up by a bad DAT update. Those who escaped unscathed were those who had read, comprehended, and implemented a setting change discussed in the last VirusScan 8.7 patch release notes. More luck than anything else, in this case, though.

Notice a common theme to all of these?

Due diligence, or lack of it. Not by the vendors, but by the users of their products.

Security software, by its very nature, requires frequent updates. Improvements to increase reliability, detect new classes of threat, and so on. It is critical to the security of an organisation's assets.

So why, oh why, are people sticking their heads in the sand and not keeping things up to date?


Posted by Phil at 10:55 PM
Edited on: Thursday, April 22, 2010 11:26 PM
Categories: Comment, Computer Security

McAfee Mayhem

Yesterday afternoon McAfee released their 5958 anitivirus DAT pattern and unwittingly unleashed a denial of service attack on thousands of PCs around the world.

The update mistakenly detected the W32/Wecorl.a virus in the system file svchost.exe, promptly quarantining it, and rendering the affected PCs almost useless.

The McAfee users' forum was soon full of posts from upset customers.

This afternoon, McAfee sent out an email to its security alerts mailing list from Dave DeWalt, President and CEO, full of spin over this incident.

"In the past 24 hours, McAfee identified a new threat that impacts Windows PCs. Researchers worked diligently to address this threat that attacks critical Windows system executables and buries itself deep into a computer's memory.
The research team created detection and removal to address this threat. The remediation passed our quality testing and was released with the 5958 virus definition file at 2.00 PM GMT+1 (6am Pacific Time) on Wednesday, April 21"

So far so good, and thanks for telling us how this came about, much appreciated.

"The research team created detection and removal to address this threat. The remediation passed our quality testing and was released with the 5958 virus definition file at 2.00 PM GMT+1 (6am Pacific Time) on Wednesday, April 21."

The timing seems right, good, good.

"McAfee is aware that a number of customers have incurred a false positive error due to this release. Corporations who kept a feature called “Scan Processes on Enable” in McAfee VirusScan Enterprise disabled, as it is by default, were not affected."

Nice spin, but that doesn't quite wash. From the Virusscan 8.7i Patch 3 release notes:

Issue: With the improved functionality of the on-access scanner memory scan, lower and middle ranged systems may see a performance impact at startup and after a successful AutoUpdate of the engine or DATs. Currently the Process on enable option is enabled by default on the shipping version of VirusScan Enterprise 8.7i. McAfee recommends that in a managed environment, disable this option prior to deployment of the Patch, until the impact of memory scanning can be determined for your environment. It is not possible to maintain both the more comprehensive scanning that comes with Patch 1 and later, and the former level of scanning. Therefore, only the more comprehensive scan is used.


* The Patch installation does not modify current settings to disable the Process on enable option.

* The VirusScan 8.7i NAP and extension that are included with the Patch do change the McAfee Default policy, but do not modify the My Default policy, or any custom policy settings that were made prior to the check-in of the new NAP/extension.

* The VirusScan Enterprise 8.7i Repost with Patch now installs with the Process on enable option disabled, unless the Maximum Security option is selected during the installation.

The emphasis in red is mine. So no, it was not the default apart from clean installs of VSE 8.7i Patch 3 repost into a virginal ePO. Tut (to put it mildly).

The CEO's email continues:

"Our initial investigation indicates that the error can result in moderate to significant issues on systems running Windows XP Service Pack 3."

That seemed to be the consensus on the McAfee forum, too.

"The faulty update was quickly removed from all McAfee download servers, preventing any further impact on customers. We believe that this incident has impacted less than one half of one percent of our enterprise accounts globally and a fraction of that within the consumer base."

I'm not sure how quickly it was removed, a notification timed at 12:47pm CDT (18:47 GMT+1) stated it had been removed. I think several customers would quibble about the precise meaning of "quickly" in this context.

Less than one half of one percent of a very large number is still a large number. Actual numbers would have been more meaningful.

"McAfee teams are working with the highest priority to support impacted customers. We have also worked swiftly and released an updated virus definition file (5959) within hours and are providing our customers detailed guidance on how to repair any impacted systems."

Within hours? Bad DAT released at 2pm GMT+1, replacement after 7pm GMT+1. So that's 5 hours between releases. Could a solution have reasonably been released sooner? The spinmeister doesn't tell us. 5 hours is a long time when people have PCs dying all around them.

As a result of this fiasco, widely respected Windows commentator Ed Bott no longer recommends McAfee security software. Ouch, that's going to hurt.

Securosis' Mike Rothman asks Who DAT McAfee Fail?. Not a totally stupid analysis, but he fails to consider reality. He suggests delayed updates as a workaround, giving sysadmins time to react to duff updates. But, McAfee, on a good day, releases DAT updates once daily. Not good enough to catch new threats, alas. But it is worse than that. New detections can take up to three days to appear in the DAT files. Yes, really! And even more delay in fighting malware's the last thing we need.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to tell you. We were lucky. I'd read that bit in the release notes and configured McAfee's ePolicy Orchestrator appropriately. Only one PC (out of several thousand) misbehaved, detecting the non-existent virus. Fortunately, McAfee Virusscan's attempt to clean it had failed, leaving the PC in a healthy state. I suspect that detection was the result of a rare (but known) bug where policies aren't correctly applied. Needless to say, McAfee's antivirus was stripped off and reinstalled, without any further issues.

This blog post is an expanded version of a post originally made in the McAfee Community Forums

Postscript, April 27th: Over at PCMag's "Security Watch", Larry Seltzer has some interesting comments on the Lessons of the McAfee False Positive Fiasco. Be sure to follow the links in his story. Neither he nor Ed Bott cover the "end user responsibility" angle that I do, alas.

Posted by Phil at 9:01 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 01, 2015 10:45 PM
Categories: Comment, Computer Security

Friday, August 11, 2006

Active Virus Shield

AOL is widely regarded as an evil empire, second only to Microsoft, but this week they redeemed themselves somewhat by releasing a free Windows antivirus program, Active Virus Shield, based on Kapersky Labs' Personal Antivirus.

I've given it a whirl here and so far I'm impressed. Kapersky's Virus scanning engine is one of the best, and they are renowned for the speed of their responses to new malware. So far I'm seeing several pattern updates a day, which is what I'd expect from any proper antivirus vendor.

It's staying on my PC for a while. It may yet replace Alwil's Avast! here, but I have a certain irrational fondness for products whose support forums give the users direct contact with the developers.

Postscript, September 5th

Independent research confirms Active Virus Shield as being one of the best antivirus products. There's commentary and discussion over at cybernetnews.com.

Posted by Phil at 11:00 PM
Edited on: Tuesday, September 05, 2006 11:56 AM
Categories: Computer Security, Software

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Patch Tuesday (April)

There is another round of security updates over at Windows Update, as well as some for Word - office users should check here for updates. There's an update for MSN Messenger 6.2 hidden here too. Or go to the MSN Messenger site and download MSN Messenger 7. It's ugly, annoying, and deceptive (you tell me whether an extra you're selecting costs money or not - it's not obvious at all until some way into the process, and to me that's downright dishonest, Microsoft).

Posted by Phil at 8:54 PM
Edited on: Friday, April 22, 2005 11:38 AM
Categories: Computer Security

Monday, March 21, 2005

sms.ac con

Just what I feared when I started getting all those sms.ac invites. Ali Ebrahim's blog has the lowdown.

Posted by Phil at 6:27 PM
Edited on: Friday, April 22, 2005 11:39 AM
Categories: Computer Security

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Sasser Worm

On April 30th, a new worm, Sasser, was released into the wild. This exploits a buffer overflow vulnerability in LSASS and works by scanning the internet for vulnerable PCs and infecting them directly. You don't have to open an email or visit a web site to get infected. Microsoft released a critical update to patch this vulnerability on April 23th, which can be got from Security Bulletin MS04-011 or Windows Update.

After applying the patch, reboot and disinfect your PC with McAfee's Stinger.

The Internet Storm Centre says this about Sasser.

Earlier in this weblog I gave details about patching to prevent the MS-Blaster Worm infecting your PC. There's an updated RPC patch available at MS04-012 (or from Windows Update).

The time to patch is now, not tomorrow, or next week, so get patching.

Microsoft releases its security updates on the second Tuesday of the month, in the early evening GMT. So the second Wednesday of the month is a good time to do your patching.

Posted by Phil at 9:32 PM
Edited on: Saturday, April 23, 2005 10:21 AM
Categories: Computer Security

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Another day, another worm

The last few weeks have seen a spate of email-borne computer worms. What's been unusual this time is that with MyDoom and its successors, we're seeing the virus in the wild well before the antivirus vendors have updates available. This is a trend which should wake up the antivirus companies and users. Some vendors have a weekly update cycle, with extra antivirus patterns only being released when a virus has been seen in large numbers in the wild. Too little, too late. What's needed is defence in depth. All ISPs should scan all emails going via their mail gateways for both spam and viruses. Home users should make sure that their antivirus software is always up to date. Nobody in their right mind would use Internet Explorer or Outlook Express when we have better alternatives which do not try to execute viruses for us. I use the Mozilla Firefox web browser and Mozilla Thunderbird email and news programs. I suggest you give them a try. And turn off file extension hiding in Windows while you're at it.

Posted by Phil at 9:26 PM
Edited on: Saturday, April 23, 2005 10:22 AM
Categories: Computer Security

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Blaster / Lovsan / Poza Worm

This one's a bit of a bastard. By forcing shutdown it makes it difficult to download the fixes and disinfector.

Running shutdown /a (on XP Pro only) will prevent the automatic shutdown.

You can also go into Computer Manager -> Services and Applications -> Services and change the Recovery settings for Remote Procedure Call (RPC) from "Restart the Computer" to "Restart the Service".

The easiest way is to set your system clock back a month when you get the shutdown message.

CERT has detailed disinfection / recovery instructions as part of their Blaster advisory. Visualante.org has good instructions too.

The updated (April 2004) Microsoft patch for your Operating System can be found on Microsoft's Technet.

Updated Windows XP patch is here.

Details of the worm are here.

Get the patch on, disinfect with something like Mcafee's Stinger.

Then force update your antivirus program's patterns. If you don't have an antivirus program, then try Avast! Personal Edition. It's free for personal use. Trend Micro offer a free online virus scanning tool too.

Then go to Windows Update and get all the critical updates.

Using a personal firewall like ZoneAlarm would have prevented infection in the first place (if properly configured).

Posted by Phil at 9:24 PM
Edited on: Saturday, April 23, 2005 10:22 AM
Categories: Computer Security

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Yaha.K worm spreading rapidly

The Yaha.K worm, released on Dec 21st, is spreading rapidly. Three of my friends, all of whom had Norton Antivirus running on their PCs suffered infection. The worm disables Norton Antivirus making disinfection difficult. The solution is to download and run McAfee's Stinger. This will detect and remove the Yaha, Klez, Bugbear, and Elkern worms. I advise everyone to download and run it NOW.

Posted by Phil at 8:58 PM
Edited on: Friday, April 22, 2005 11:39 AM
Categories: Computer Security

Friday, December 27, 2002

Yaha.K Worm

The Yaha.K worm is starting to spread rapidly. There are some helpful details here.

Posted by Phil at 8:56 PM
Edited on: Friday, April 22, 2005 11:39 AM
Categories: Computer Security