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Sophos Method Used to Crack Trojan

The spyware tool in Sophos's new Endpoint Security product was built on the same 'genotyping' tech used to crack this week's 'ransomware' Trojan

It's all in the DNA.

The automated spyware tool feature introduced yesterday in Sophos's new Sophos Endpoint Security product was built on the same "genotyping" technology the company used to crack this week's "ransomware" Trojan, officials say.

The backdoor program, dubbed Arhiveus-A, commandeers a PC and encrypts his or her "My Documents" files. The only way to free them up is with the password, which you can only get by making a purchase on an online drug store.

Sophos claims that unlike the more common heuristic approach other AV programs use, Sophos's Genotype technology digs deeper into malware, whether it's a virus or annoying spyware. "We analyze a virus program down to code level... language level," says Ron O'Brien, senior security analyst with Sophos. "We've been able to expand this to include Trojans that have specific behavior characteristics -- the essence of their DNA. By identifying that DNA and writing an identity to block it from stealing information or corrupting files or holding them hostage, we can prevent both known and unknown threats."

These so-called ransomware attacks have been on the rise -- a combination of recycled zombie networks, a little extra coding and downright extortion. In the case of the pharmacy ransomware attack, Sophos researchers used its DNA to retrieve the password, O'Brien says.

Sophos's Endpoint Security software runs on servers, desktops, and laptops. It blends Sophos Anti-Virus 6.0, Sophos Client Firewall, and Sophos Enterprise Console.

Sophos plans to use the very same technology to deploy and distribute legitimate applications too, O'Brien says. "It will allow us to control and deploy good apps on the network," such as ensuring users have updated verisons of Adobe Reader, for example, he reports.

The School District of Philadelphia chose the new Sophos package rather than upgrade its existing McAfee antivirus software, in part because the Sophos package is more integrated, says Sandra McClurken, educational technologist for the city school system, which is deploying Sophos Endpoint Security in 40,000 systems in 300 different locations. "With McAfee, if you didn't know about the ePO piece, it was a separate install from the AV component," McClurken says. "The console management piece as one package was huge for us -- there was no separate install."

But the bottom line is that Sophos is still playing catchup with AV leaders Symantec, McAfee, and Trend Micro. "This might be new to Sophos, but I didn't see much that was new to the [AV] market," says Eric Ogen, security analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group. "But the single console can save some administrative costs."

The jury is out as to whether or not Sophos's technology is any better than other AV tools, industry analysts say. Sophos and other AV vendors can only stop what they know. "I'd like to see AV vendors take more action and be more runtime-oriented than file-oriented," Ogen says. "Slammer is still in top 10 list. If AV is that good, how could Slammer still be on the top 10 list?"

A 1,000-user license for Sophos Endpoint Security is $16,000 per year or $48,000 for three years. The product is shipping now.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

Companies mentioned in this article:

  • Sophos plc
  • McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE)
  • Burton Group
  • Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG)
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