Hackers Claim Breach Of Norton Antivirus Source Code; Experts Say Claims Are Exaggerated

Symantec says disclosure poses 'no threat' to the security of its AV products or their customers

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading, Contributor

January 7, 2012

3 Min Read

Symantec confirmed that a hacking group has gained access to some of the source code of its Norton Antivirus product, but also stated the code was old and not stolen directly from Symantec servers.

An Indian hacking group called the Lords of Dharmaraja has threatened to publicly disclose the source code.

"Symantec can confirm that a segment of its source code has been accessed," a spokesman told the publication InfoSec Island. "Symantec’s own network was not breached, but rather that of a third party entity. We are still gathering information on the details and are not in a position to provide specifics on the third party involved.

"Presently, we have no indication that the code disclosure impacts the functionality or security of Symantec's solutions. Furthermore, there are no indications that customer information has been impacted or exposed at this time."

The security company made a slightly longer statement on its Facebook page:

"Symantec can confirm that a segment of its source code used in two of our older enterprise products has been accessed, one of which has been discontinued. The code involved is four and five years old. This does not affect Symantec's Norton products for our consumer customers. Symantec's own network was not breached, but rather that of a third party entity."

The Facebook statement repeats the spokesman's statement about the limitations of the threat. However, it also makes reference to a "remediation process."

"Symantec is working to develop remediation process to ensure long-term protection for our customers' information," the statement says. "We will communicate that process once the steps have been finalized. Given the early stages of the investigation, we have no further details to disclose at this time but will provide updates as we confirm additional facts."

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Symantec says it has investigated the claims made by the hacker group, and that data posted in Pastebin was not source code, but documentation dated from April 1999 related to an API used by Norton Antivirus.

The hacking group also shared source code related to the 2006 version of Symantec's Norton AntiVirus product with Infosec Island.

A hacker called "Yama Tough," a spokesman for the gang, posted the content to PasteBin and subsequently published messages on Google+ about the alleged breach. The content on PasteBin has since been removed, and Yama Tough's Google+ posts were deleted, Symantec says.

Although Symantec will not say where the source code came from, experts at the security firm Sophos say it's possible that the code was stolen from government servers after the Indian authorities demanded source code from many software providers.

Mike Lloyd, CTO at RedSeal Networks, says the hack could offer a lesson in protecting enterprise data from third-party breaches.

"The fact that Symantec suffered a breach due to lax protections in someone else's network is a significant wake-up call," Lloyd says. "It is not enough to ensure you follow best practices; in an interconnected world, you have to worry about the security of other organizations. Your business partners and strategic customers may be friendly, but they are not going to expose specifics to you about how well they protect themselves.

"This issue -- needing to understand the risk of a network you cannot see -- has led to standards like PCI, FISMA, and DISA STIGs, which establish agreed, measurable baselines of 'basic hygiene,'" Lloyd observes. "As we steadily lose control of our own critical assets, and as attackers increasingly automate their attacks, we will need more baselines like this so that one organization can show another that it is well-run."

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About the Author(s)

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading


Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one of the top cyber security journalists in the US in voting among his peers, conducted by the SANS Institute. In 2011 he was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Voices in Security by SYS-CON Media.

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