Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint

4/22/2010
04:32 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Crippling McAfee Virus Update Could Have Long-Term Fallout

McAfee says it didn't fully test errant DAT file on XP Service Pack 3; some tens of thousands of PCs reportedly hit

As organizations worldwide scramble to restore their Windows XP S3 machines from crashes or repeated reboots due to a faulty virus definition update issued by McAfee yesterday, some security experts worry that additional machines could be affected weeks or months from now.

McAfee has apologized publicly for pushing the defective 5958 virus definition file, which caused some Windows XP Service Pack 3 systems to crash or continuously reboot; the company says less than 1 percent of its enterprise customers were affected. The faulty update, which passed McAfee's quality assurance testing process, generated a "false positive," the company says, incorrectly detecting and quarantining XP S3's svchost.exe as a virus.

According to a FAQ issued to McAfee corporate customers today, the company did not include XP SP3 with VSE 8.7 in its testing, resulting in "inadequate coverage of Product and Operating System combinations in the test systems used." The faulty AV update was removed from McAfee's download servers, and a new version has been released.

"We are not aware of significant impact on consumers," McAfee said in a statement. "We are investigating how the incorrect detection made it into our DAT files and will take measures to prevent this from reoccurring."

But there are still plenty of unanswered questions about the error -- what exactly went wrong in McAfee's quality assurance testing process, why McAfee wasn't testing sufficiently for the pervasive XP SP3 configuration, and what happens to XP SP3 machines that haven't yet been affected by the bad update, but could be later.

"It could have been anything from sabotage to just carelessness," says security expert Lucas Lundgren. "What scares me a little is haven't they tried this in a test environment before launching? And if they did, they have a serious problem on how they test their products."

Amrit Williams, CTO at BigFix and the former director of engineering at McAfee who helped develop the AV company's DAT testing process, says the incident is a major failure of McAfee's internal quality control process. "It's completely unacceptable," Williams says. "The fact that this got through indicates it was either malicious or negligent."

Organizations that don't apply the replacement DAT file McAfee issued could end up suffering crashes and repeated reboots: "Those customers should exclude svchost.exe from being scanned until they can apply the appropriate McAfee DAT file, which is now available," Williams says.

Peter Schlampp, vice president of marketing and product management for Solera Systems, says his firm has spoken to companies that are worried about these time bombs. "They are concerned that machines that they don't know about will get the DAT file ... They might not immediately exhibit the behavior" caused by the file, Schlampp says. That's because not all DLLs are loaded all the time, and not all host processes trigger the crash or constant reboot issue, he says.

"They are concerned it's going to manifest over time, and weeks or months from now they will find machines behaving like this," he says.

The bad AV update hit many companies hard: Lundgren says Sweden's largest local telephone company reported 17,000 of its machines knocked out of commission by McAfee's update, as well as 10,000 machines in municipal jurisdictions. "There's still a void [with] corporations that have not yet reported the issue," says Lundgren, who recently blogged about the update.

Security experts compare the DAT debacle to a virus outbreak. "The impact on some organizations is far worse than any virus clean-up," Williams says. "It's more than a false positive -- it's creating a massive denial-of-service for XP SP3."

Victim organizations have to physically work on each affected machine, either booting it into safe mode or reimaging the device altogether, he says.

McAfee's viral virus update isn't the first such incident, but experts say it may be one of the worst. A bad DAT file issued five years ago by one major AV vendor deleted email for hours, Solera's Schlampp says. "When you're relying on signature-based security, there's a battle against time to deliver signatures that fight the latest threats ASAP," he says. But vendors have to be sure these fixes do no harm, he says.

McAfee's mistake may have been one of the biggest ones to date, experts say. "This one happened to a critical Windows system file," Williams notes.

While false positives occur regularly for nonvital processes, they're a real problem when they hit vital process such as this one, Lundgren says. "I wouldn't get mad if McAfee thought that my DVD player software was a virus. But when it's a false positive on a vital process, it's really bad," he says.

Meanwhile, McAfee noted that customers who had the Virus Scan Enterprise software's "Scan processes" feature disabled were immune from the issue.

But experts say the workaround McAfee provided for the problem doesn't work on computers already experiencing the reboot loop or that couldn't start critical Windows systems files like svchost.exe.

BigFix's Williams says the incident in the long run undermines the integrity of the security industry as well as AV. "It's probably going to push some folks to look at alternative methods for endpoint protection," such as desktop virtualization for running security tools, he says. "It could have some good impact on the industry" to accelerate innovation beyond today's tools, he says.

McAfee is providing more information on the DAT problem here and here.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Why Cyber-Risk Is a C-Suite Issue
Marc Wilczek, Digital Strategist & CIO Advisor,  11/12/2019
DevSecOps: The Answer to the Cloud Security Skills Gap
Lamont Orange, Chief Information Security Officer at Netskope,  11/15/2019
Attackers' Costs Increasing as Businesses Focus on Security
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  11/15/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Navigating the Deluge of Security Data
In this Tech Digest, Dark Reading shares the experiences of some top security practitioners as they navigate volumes of security data. We examine some examples of how enterprises can cull this data to find the clues they need.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-19040
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
KairosDB through 1.2.2 has XSS in view.html because of showErrorMessage in js/graph.js, as demonstrated by view.html?q= with a '"sampling":{"value":"<script>' substring.
CVE-2019-19041
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
An issue was discovered in Xorux Lpar2RRD 6.11 and Stor2RRD 2.61, as distributed in Xorux 2.41. They do not correctly verify the integrity of an upgrade package before processing it. As a result, official upgrade packages can be modified to inject an arbitrary Bash script that will be executed by th...
CVE-2019-19012
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
An integer overflow in the search_in_range function in regexec.c in Oniguruma 6.x before 6.9.4_rc2 leads to an out-of-bounds read, in which the offset of this read is under the control of an attacker. (This only affects the 32-bit compiled version). Remote attackers can cause a denial-of-service or ...
CVE-2019-19022
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
iTerm2 through 3.3.6 has potentially insufficient documentation about the presence of search history in com.googlecode.iterm2.plist, which might allow remote attackers to obtain sensitive information, as demonstrated by searching for the NoSyncSearchHistory string in .plist files within public Git r...
CVE-2019-19035
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
jhead 3.03 is affected by: heap-based buffer over-read. The impact is: Denial of service. The component is: ReadJpegSections and process_SOFn in jpgfile.c. The attack vector is: Open a specially crafted JPEG file.