[ISN] Security Firms Follow Unwritten Code When Digging Up Dirt On
isn at c4i.org
Mon Feb 28 05:36:56 EST 2005
By Gregg Keizer
Feb. 25, 2005
A critical vulnerability was spotted Thursday in the anti-virus engine
used by Trend Micro's entire line of client, server, and gateway
security products, the third such disclosure this month of flaws in
major security firms' software.
As in the other two instances with Symantec and F-Secure, the Trend
Micro vulnerability was discovered by Internet Security Systems, an
Atlanta-based security provider, and revolved around the processing of
a compressed file format.
The Trend Micro flaw related to the ARJ file format, which, said ISS,
could be used by a hacker to "gain unauthorized access to networks and
machines being protected by Trend Micro AntiVirus Library." The
affected titles include Trend Micro's Messaging Suite, VirusWall,
ScanMail, and PC-cillin lines, among others. A complete list has been
posted on Trend Micro's Web site.
An attacker would only have to send an e-mail containing a
specially-crafted ARJ file to the target system to compromise the
system, added ISS.
Previously, ISS spotted similar vulnerabilities in how Symantec's
products handled UPX files and how F-Secure's dealt with ARJ
For its part, Trend Micro dubbed the vulnerability "critical," and
posted fixes to the affected software on its Web site. Customers were
urged to download the updated anti-virus scanning engine from here as
soon as possible. Users who don't update manually will receive
automatic updates the middle of next week.
While vulnerabilities within security products are rare -- at least in
comparison to, say, operating systems such as Windows -- they're not
unheard of. And by one analysts' take, they're fair game.
"Within the security community, anytime one finds any vulnerability,
it's kosher to make it public if the researcher follows the protocol
for responsible disclosure," said John Pescatore, a vice president at
Gartner and one of the research firm's security gurus.
In that unwritten protocol, he said, researchers don't publicly
disclose a vulnerability until they've alerted the vendor and given it
time -- 30 to 45 days at least -- to fix the problem. ISS followed
that protocol in all three instances of revealing vulnerabilities in
anti-virus firms' products.
"I haven't heard any negative rumblings in the security community
about what ISS is doing," said Pescatore. "They've been very above
Trend Micro agrees. "ISS is really great to work with," said Bob
Hansmann, the product marketing manager for Trend Micro in North
According to Pescatore, it's crucial that security software get the
once over. "It's even more important than looking for vulnerabilities
in Windows or Oracle," he said. "People have a feeling of security
when they're using a security product, and if there's a vulnerability
in a firewall, for instance, nothing behind that firewall is
protected. Everything's exposed."
Trend Micro agreed here, too. "We're actually really happy that people
are doing this. The industry needs something like this, not because we
need to stir up anything politically [between companies] but because
different people tend to look at problems different ways," said
But the practice of one security firm investigating another could be
considered inappropriate, said Pescatore, if abused. In the past,
various anti-virus firms took potshots at each other, not in public,
but by touting the weaknesses in rivals to analysts like Pescatore.
In practice, he said, there's an unwritten rule not to poke in
competitors' products, for fear of unleashing the beast. "It's like
the old days between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neither dared use
the Bomb." Likewise, if one vendor picked on a rival, it could only
expect that in return.
But the market dynamic is different here, Pescatore said. "ISS doesn't
sell anti-virus products, so they're not really direct competitors
with Trend Micro, Symantec, and F-Secure. They do get publicity out of
"Maybe in a year or so, we'll look back and see a pattern, and go,
'okay, that's why ISS was digging into anti-virus code,'" said
Hansmann, "but for now, we appreciate what they've done."
ISS itself isn't a stranger to vulnerabilities. About a year ago, the
Witty worm exploited an unpatched vulnerability in ISS' BlackICE
firewall, infected 10,000 to 50,000 systems, and erased data on some
"If there's one thing I would tweak ISS about," said Pescatore, "it
would be that I'm assuming we'll never see anything like the Witty
worm in the future if ISS has the time to look for vulnerabilities in
other companies' products."
It's not easy to dig up vulnerabilities, said Pescatore: "it takes
skill," he said.
"You would have thought they'd been looking at their own products."
ISS did not respond to requests for comment.
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