Tag Archives: AVIEN

(Intellectual) Property is Theft?*

First of all, congratulations to Andrew Lee on his new role as CEO of ESET LLC. It’s as well that my work for AVIEN is unpaid, as otherwise he’d be my boss twice over. 😉 Reading the press release here, it includes substantial references to AVIEN and the AVIEN book, to which many AVIEN members contributed, as did Andrew and myself.

That was a very worthwhile project, but one of the less attractive aspects was the readiness of a great many people to generate and distribute pirated copies: apparently the time and effort it took us all to generate that book doesn’t deserve any recompense. In fact, I had a pirated PDF copy sitting on my desktop before my author’s (hard) copies arrived…. That wasn’t the first of my books to be pirated, let alone the only one. But it seems that the pace has picked up in recent years.

So imagine my joy on reading in the Vancouver Sun that ION Audio are about to market a device that can scan a 200-page book in 15 minutes. (Thanks to Robert Slade, my co-author on Viruses Revealed, for bringing this gem to my attention.) Well, it’s basically just a more ergonomic type of scanner, and hopefully dedicated pirates will find that having to turn all those pages by hand will still have a negative effect on their sex lives.

I don’t think there’s much doubt, though, that for every individual who has a legitimate and possibly legal reason to scan one of their books into machine-readable form (i.e. for iPad, Kindle etc.), there will be many more who will see this as a way to profit from the labour of others without asking the question “why do I have the right to assume that authors should go through the pain of writing and publishing with no right to any sort of return?”

What is really infuriating, though, is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to ION that it is marketing rather more than a legitimate tool for honest students and educationalists. Or maybe it doesn’t care, because it can’t be used to copy ION hardware.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property_is_theft


AVIEN Sponsors VB 2010

Virus Bulletin 2010

In honour of our 10th Anniversary here at AVIEN, we’re sponsoring the pre-dinner drinks reception at the 20th Virus Bulletin Conference in Vancouver next week. In case you didn’t know AVIEN was formed out of conversations held at Virus Bulletin in 2000, and the relationship has been a long and friendly one between the two companies. We’re proud to help bring a part of the conference to the attendees.

Andrew Lee
AVIEN CEO / CTO K7 Computing

The Real Lovebug

I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Kramer versus Kramer”, but I did actually read the novel by Avery Corman, a long, long time ago. And I have a vague recollection of Ted Kramer saying something to his wife Joanna about the birth of their son, and of her responding that she doesn’t remember Ted having been there. Hold that thought…

Suddenly, there’s a whole rash of anti-malware vendors reminiscing about VBS/Loveletter, which is, in epidemiological terms anyway, ten years old today. There’s a massive amount of information about what it actually did, of course, complete with copious screenshots, so I won’t waste time reproducing that information – I doubt if you’ll be faced with a Lovebug infection at this stage in the game.  There is even a certain amount of discussion about which company “discovered” it.

As someone who works for an anti-malware vendor, I have nothing to say about that: I was certainly very active in the anti-virus field by that time, but I didn’t work for a vendor. In fact, I was working in security systems administration for a medical research charity, so I didn’t get a vendor’s eye view of the drama, but very much the customer view.

I do know how I became introduced to the Love Bug, because I included a note about it in the case study Rob Slade and I included in a book we wrote in 2001 called “Viruses Revealed”. One of our end users reported receiving an attachment containing gibberish – Outlook wasn’t in common use on that site, and other clients couldn’t interpret the code. The Helpdesk analyst who picked up the call realized that “gibberish” might well denote program code, and passed it on to me. And, in fact, the most cursory inspection of the code indicated that it was clearly meant to be infective, so I passed a copy straight to the vendor from whom my company was licensing AV at the time.

No, I’m not claiming to be patient zero: by that time, I was starting to see mail from other corporate AV specialists – that is, people specializing in malware management but not working in the anti-virus industry – seeing the same malcode. What I wasn’t seeing at that time was information from the industry.

That was a little before the birth of AVIEN (the result of a meeting at the 2000 Virus Bulletin conference later that year), but I remember talking to several of the same people who later exchanged information on other malware outbreaks on AVIEN lists. These less formal exchanges of information and opinions during the first phase of the Loveletter epidemic were immensely valuable as we all evolved strategies suited to our particular environments for dealing with the threat (and the waves of copycat malware that quickly followed), while we waited for signatures from our vendors of choice. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to those emails anymore, but I used an AVIEN mailing list to ask some of those who were there at the time what they remembered.

Some remember risking life, limb and speeding tickets trying to get to the office  in order to take hands-on remediative action. Ken Bechtel remembers getting 12 messages on his pager and three phone calls before he’d even left home, and subsequently, he says, “I remember 36 out of 48 hours of work blocking vbs at the PMDF, and creating a custom SMS script to create a special named DIRECTORY to prevent a file from being dropped.”

Mike Blanchard was due at a training session that morning, but was similarly pounded by pager messages and phone calls and had to turn around en route and get to the office. (He actually received a ticket for turning around in someone’s driveway, but successfully fought the case because of the nature of the emergency.)

Thankfully, I was already at work, so there was no risk of my being charged with running too fast on a London Underground station…

So to all those industry professionals I’m now immensely proud to call colleagues, I’d like to say thank you for all your help over the years, and not least for the excellent job you did ten years ago in producing updates for Lovebug and the wave of semi-clones that followed.

But as far as Lovebug is concerned, I don’t remember you being at the birth. 🙂

AVIEN Chief Operations Officer

Who Will Educate the Educators?

@vmyths, otherwise known as Rob Rosenberger, notes on Twitter that

“3doz firms THAT EMPLOY COMPUTER SECURITY EXPERTS got whacked in a zero-day attack. How about some “education” for THEM, eh?”

Well, “computer security experts” is a somewhat fuzzy term, and a little pejorative: when the media use it, they usually mean themselves, or the company that supplied the press release they’re recycling. When they actually mean computer security professionals, it’s usually in the sense of “so-called security experts who can’t see what is absolutely clear to any right-thinking journalists.” A somewhat similar mindset, perhaps, to those denizens of Security-Basics who believe that anyone who has letters after his name has to be a blithering idiot with no actual security experience. No, I’m not getting into that argument again…

But let’s assume that Rob means the same group that I probably would, if I couldn’t avoid using the term: information security professionals not necessarily working within the security industry. (I know there sometimes seems to be far too many of us who are in the industry, but most of us are OK, honestly.)

A group, in fact, rather like the subscribers to the first incarnation of AVIEN: people with a wide range of job titles, skill sets and responsibilities, from independent researchers to experienced managers and system administrators to people who suddenly found themselves landed with (some) security responsibility for their company. (Yeah, me too…)

Well, it’s true: if you’re going to make people responsible for security, you do need to ensure that they already have some experience and training, or that they at least receive some training to jumpstart them into the role. Especially if, like me, you believe that part of the security professional role is to take some responsibility for the education of others. (Yes, I know that there’s a sizeable section of the security community that believes there’s no mileage in trying to educate the end-user – http://www.eset.com/download/whitepapers/People_Patching.pdf – but I’m not getting into that argument right now, either.

Before we start blaming everything (yet again) on lazy, incompetent, uneducated security experts though (and hopefully that isn’t what Rob meant), let’s remind ourselves of a few pertinent facts.

  • As my colleague Aryeh Goretsky has pointed out, banks with security guards are not immune to bank robberies. “Mitigation of risk != elimination in its entirety.”
  • When a company hires security professionals, it doesn’t necessarily mean it listens to those professionals. Especially when listening to their advice entails spending significant sums that could be better spent on upgrading the catering on the Executive floor.
  • The corollary to assuming that employing security professionals (even competent individuals with exemplary support from the Boardroom) is enough to eliminate risk, is that if some malicious actor does get through, someone has “failed” and needs to be fired. That’s just lazy thinking: not so different to giving the bank janitor a uniform, a revolver and six shells, and saying “Hey, you’re promoted: now our asses are covered.”

Let’s not forget Spaf’s first principle of security administration:

If you have responsibility for security, but have no authority to set rules or punish violators, your own role in the organization is to take the blame when something big goes wrong.

That observation by Professor Eugene Spafford is as accurate now as it was when I first read it nearly twenty years ago…

David Harley [Formerly FBCS CITP CISSP]
ESET Senior Research Fellow


AVIEN tiptoes into Web 2.0

First the blog, then the twitter account, now the Facebook group. I don’t have a clear agenda for the group: to some extent it’s an exercise designed to force me to make more use of Facebook. It’s certainly an opportunity for AVIEN members to leap in at an early stage if they have ideas on how we could make good use of the group. However, it’s open to non-members, too, as I’d like to see more engagement with the public and media, which we’ve pretty much lost lately. Of course, if there’s a feeling that we’d benefit from a group for internal use, we could do that too.

I’ve also put up an AVIEN FB page, but there’s nothing to see there right now.

Chief Operations Officer, AVIEN
Director of Malware Intelligence, ESET

Also blogging at:

Testing, testing

OK, we’ve used that as a title before. However, it seems quite apposite as this is my first published blog here, and it’s related to anti-malware testing. (See what I did there? :-D)

This is actually a retread of my heavily re-edited blog at securiteam. But since it concerns (obliquely, for legal reasons) an issue that some of us discussed at VB 2009, I’m quite happy to repurpose some of it here.

Principle 3 of the AMTSO (Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization) guidelines document (http://www.amtso.org/amtso—download—amtso-fundamental-principles-of-testing.html) states that “Testing should be reasonably open and transparent.”

The document goes on to explain what information on the test and the test methodology it’s reasonable to ask for.

So my first question is, is it open and transparent for an anti-malware tester who claims that his tests are compliant with AMTSO guidelines to decline to answer a vendor’s questions or give any information about the reported performance of their product unless they buy a copy of the report or pay a consultancy fee to the tester?

Secondly, there is, of course, nothing to stop an anti-malware tester soliciting payment from the vendors whose products have been tested both in advance of the test and in response to requests for further information. But is he then entitled to claim to be independent and working without vendor funding? In what respect is this substantially different to the way in which certification testing organizations work, for example?

AMTSO will be considering those questions at its next meeting (in Prague, next week).  But there are a lot of people inside and outside AVIEN who are seriously concerned with testing standards, as an aid to evaluating products for use in their own organizations, or because they have a vocational interest in making or supporting products that are impacted by fair/unfair or good/bad testing, and I’d be more than a little interested in hearing your views.

Chief Operations Officer, AVIEN