Monday, September 13, 2010

don't be too proud of this technological terror you've created

lot's of folks have been posting about the 'here you have' mass mailing email worm that's been making the rounds. it's strange that such an old-school technique should inspire so much discussion, but it has and some of it's actually interesting.

one of the discussions comes from the enterprise application whitelisting blog, in other words, it comes from application whitelisting vendor bit9. they are, perhaps understandably, quite bullish about the fact that their technology would have stopped the threat before it could have spread while the anti-virus software vendors were supposedly left to scramble to get detection added after the fact.

while it's true that a classical blacklist or known-malware scanner would require updating after the threat becomes known, it seems that at least some of the anti-virus software vendors that harry sverdlove was taking a shot at were actually able to detect the threat heuristically (see f-secure's post or kaspersky lab's post for example).

it also deserves to be said that many anti-virus software vendors are bundling whitelisting in their suites these days, so people using that feature of those offerings would have been just as safe as if they'd been using bit9's.

most importantly, though - if social engineering can be used to get people to extract malware from a password protected archive sent as an attachment and then run that malware (and we have historical examples of successful email worms that used precisely this technique), social engineering can be used to get people to add that malware to the whitelist.

whitelists do not make you magically immune to this threat. i'm not even convinced they raise the bar a significant amount when you consider how easily people can be tricked into doing all sorts of dumb things. perhaps an enterprise would be in a better position because relatively few would (in theory) have access to modify the whitelist, but administrative users aren't above doing dumb things.