Tag Archives: malware protection

HTTPS encryption for all federal websites requires new endpoint protection concepts

13 June 2015

Starting in 2017, all federal websites that are publicly accessible in the US should have HTTPS encryption as the standard secure communication protocol.

This directive, issued by The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is a real game-changer because it makes it harder for attackers to intercept sensitive communications or to steal personal data that is entered on federal web sites.

I just finished my preparations for my ISO 27001 Information Security Officer exam when I read the announcement in a LIFARS post. ISO 27001 deals with cryptographic controls in Annex 10.1. In the related chapter A.10.1 of ISO 27002 you learn:

When developing a cryptographic policy the following should be considered:

g. the impact of using encrypted information on controls that rely on content inspection (e.g. malware detection).

Encryption means death for all traditional malware protection systems. Traditional malware detection tries to match patterns in a data stream with patterns stored in the pattern database of the anti-malware system. Since the patterns in the data stream are encrypted matches are no longer found. Game-Over!

This has only a minor impact on enterprises. They can use already available technology that breaks the SSL encryption for inspection, but this is too expensive for end-users.

Vendors of endpoint protection systems have to develop new concepts to protect consumers of unknown malware hidden in the encrypted data stream. And federal agencies have to grow their efforts to make sure that data exchanged through their websites does not contain malware.

‘HTTPS everywhere’ is indeed a real game-changer. Hopefully someone in the OMB has thought of the impact on endpoint protection.

Don’t panic… and have a good weekend.

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Software manufacturers have no sense for IT security – Part II

23 October 2014

Sometimes malware protection software works too well. I found some emails with malicious executables, disguised as pdf files, in the attachment in my junk-mail folder. Unfortunately the anti-malware system removed the attachments and replaced them by the filename.

Some weeks ago a new kind of malware that resides solely in the registry was in the news. To implant Poweliks attackers must exploit a vulnerability of the system and, the good faith of the users. Pdf or rtf documents with embedded malicious code are used very often to start the attack.

Just why is the Adobe Reader such a popular tool for attackers?

Adobe Reader is very popular for viewing of pdf documents, and very notorious for its vulnerabilities. The list of known vulnerabilities published in the National Vulnerability Database is really long, and some of them are perfectly suited to implant malware. By the way, Adobe Flash Player is as popular as the Adobe Reader for attackers, and the list of vulnerabilities is of comparable size.

Fortunately advanced security options like a sandbox are available to defend malicious attacks, but these are not activated during a standard installation. Even for enterprise users the standard installation procedure must be pre-configured.

I can’t find a reason why Adobe does not install the Reader with advanced security options enabled by default. Apparently, Adobe is not interested in protecting the privacy and security of their customers.

Fortunately the National Checklist Program Repository provides ‘detailed low level guidance on setting the security configuration of operating systems and applications’.

For Acrobat Reader X a checklist is available which could be easily adapted to the Acrobat Reader XI. Although this checklist is meant for pre-configuring installation packages the configuration hints could be used to secure existing installations as well:

Navigate to menu Edit/Preferences.

In category General section Application Startup activate option Use only certified plug-ins.

In category Security (Enhanced) set the protection options as described below:

Adobe ReaderEnhanced Security Settings

Adobe ReaderEnhanced Security Settings

[1] Enable sandboxing for all files

[2] Enable Enhanced Security

[3] Disable all Privileged Locations.

Although this sounds somewhat paranoid viewing of pdf files is much more secure now. A pdf file is now opened in a sandbox running at the lowest integrity level. Most features are disabled by default, but could be enabled with just one click.

Enjoy!

A brief introduction to Trusteer Apex Advanced Malware Protection

18 October 2014

The Trusteer approach to malware protection could be ground-breaking in the defence of zero-day exploits and phishing attacks.

Trusteer analysed millions of applications exposed to the Internet and created lists of valid application states and operations in a database.

For example, saving a web page to OneNote is a legitimate operation when it’s run from a process created by the user. In this case the Windows Explorer is the so-called parent process. If this operation is performed by an internet explorer process that has no valid parent process, it is very likely that a malicious operation is executed.

A watchdog process is monitoring the applications exposed to the Internet. If an application executes a sensitive operation the watchdog process checks its database and approves the operations if it’s valid. Invalid operations are rejected.

Brilliant idea! A watchdog process that checks the state of an application. I would appreciate it to get this for my windows phone. The ‘Here Drive+’ app hangs sometimes, in particular in foreign cities when you need it the most. A watchdog process could check the state and restart the process in such cases. This would be very helpful.

For more details about Trusteer Apex see the Trusteer Apex Product Flyer.

Unfortunately there are some minor flaws.

Trusteer Apex monitors only applications exposed to the Internet like Browsers, Java applets, Flash player or Office applications. Although the technology could also be used for protection against traditional malware like computer viruses, the product does not support this.

This means that Trusteer Apex is only useful in addition to traditional security products like an antivirus product.

Remember that every additional product increases the attack surface of your computer or network. It is not only the continuous patching to mitigate known vulnerabilities. Trusteer Apex receives e.g. application state updates across the internet, which could be tampered by an attacker. Moreover, the Trusteer computer scientists get their raw data from millions of computers operating in untrusted networks. If an attacker tampers some raw data and masks malicious states as valid, the entire installed base could be tampered.

This is the first signs of paranoia. I’m doing definitely too much threat modelling at the moment. But remind the words of Sigmund Freud:

‘The paranoid is never entirely mistaken.’

Just think of the impact of an attack against the master pattern database of a well-known provider of anti-malware software…

Don’t Panic!!