Symantec: Users Should Disable PCAnywhere NowSymantec: Users Should Disable PCAnywhere Now
Symantec moves into damage-control mode after LulzSec leader tweets the remote-access software may be used to launch exploits.
January 26, 2012
Stop using pcAnywhere.
The recommendation that users disable or delete the software is the takeaway from a surprise security advisory issued by Symantec late Tuesday, which warns customers to "only use pcAnywhere for business-critical purposes," and even then, only after configuring the software "in a way that minimizes potential risks."
Those risks stem from the theft of Symantec source code in 2006. The worry is that attackers, after studying the code, may have found a way to crack pcAnywhere's encryption, which would allow them to use the remote-access software to remotely access any PC on which it's active. That, in turn, might give attackers access to data stored on corporate networks.
Those revelations will no doubt lead to sharp questions for information security vendor Symantec, especially given the fact that five years' time elapsed between the source code theft, and Symantec publicly confirming the breach. Indeed, the data exposure only came to light after the hacking group Lords of Dharmaraja earlier this month posted to Pastebin what it said was part of the source code for Symantec's Norton Utilities (NU).
[ Consider another potential security hole in your enterprise: Videoconferencing Systems Vulnerable To Hackers. ]
Symantec at first dismissed that claim, but on January 16, former LulzSec leader Sabu announced via Twitter: "Lords of Dharmaraja has sent #antisec Symantec source codes for 0day-plundering. All your NU+PCAnywhere base are belong to us. Release soon."
Since then, Symantec has switched into damage-control mode, and begun detailing the results of its internal investigation into the source theft, which remains ongoing. "There are no indications that customer information has been impacted or exposed at this time," according to Symantec's security bulletin.
Who's at risk? According to Symantec's security advisory, "all pcAnywhere 12.0, 12.1, and 12.5 customers are at increased risk, as well as customers using prior versions of the product." The remote-access software runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and the PocketPC platform.
Symantec's pcAnywhere has also been bundled with numerous other products, both from Symantec as well as Altiris, which Symantec acquired in 2007. In addition, said Symantec, "a remote access component of pcAnywhere, called the pcAnywhere Thin Host, is also bundled with a number of Symantec backup and security products." The source code theft involves more than just the pcAnywhere application, and Symantec Tuesday detailed all products involved. "Our investigation continues to indicate that the theft is limited to only the code for the 2006 versions of Norton Antivirus Corporate Edition; Norton Internet Security; Norton SystemWorks (Norton Utilities and Norton GoBack); and pcAnywhere," according to Symantec.
What exactly could malicious actors do with the source code to pcAnywhere? In a white paper released Tuesday, Symantec detailed the potential risks, which include breaking the encryption or encoding used by the product, which would allow attackers to launch successful man-in-the-middle attacks, through which they could steal a PC user's credentials or session information. In particular, this could allow them to steal the cryptographic key required to remotely connect to the computer. "If the cryptographic key itself is using Active Directory credentials, it is also possible for them to perpetrate other malicious activities on the network," said Symantec.
Similar types of attacks could be launched by insiders or botnets, according to the white paper. In either case, provided that attackers had broken the pcAnywhere encryption, they'd be able to intercept session details or credentials by planting a sniffer in the internal network.
Symantec said the source code stolen in 2006 accounted for approximately 5% of the code found in its Symantec AntiVirus 10.2 product. But it said that users of its 10.x and newer products--aside from pcAnywhere--"should not be in any increased danger of cyber attacks" resulting from the source code theft.
Also on the good-news front, the company said that it now thinks that the source code for Symantec Endpoint Protection 11, released in late 2007, wasn't stolen, as it first suspected. That finding will be a relief for current version 11 users, as well as for Symantec, since the product was the first to contain multiple new types of security technology--also present in its current 12.x product versions--including "heuristic protection, intrusion prevention security, firewall, application control, device control, tamper protection, redesigned core engines, as well as our Symantec Endpoint Protection Manager (SEPM)," according to Symantec.
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