Purveyors of rogue anti-virus, a.k.a. “scareware,” often seize upon hot trending topics in their daily efforts to beef up the search engine rankings of their booby-trapped landing pages. So it’s perhaps no surprise that these scammers are capitalizing on search terms surrounding McAfee, which just yesterday shipped a faulty anti-virus update that caused serious problems for a large number of customers.
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McAfee‘s anti-virus software is erroneously detecting legitimate Windows system files as malicious, causing reboot loops and serious stability problems for many Windows XP users, according to multiple reports.
The SANS Internet Storm Center has received dozens of reports from McAfee users who complained that a recent anti-virus update (DAT 5958) is causing Windows xP Service Pack 3 clients to be locked out. According to SANS incident handler Johannes Ulllrich, McAfee is flagging “svchost.exe” as malicious. Svchost is a common system process typically used by multiple legitimate programs on a Windows system (although malware does often inject itself into this process), so having an anti-virus program that flags the process as a threat could cause major problems on a host system, Ullrich said.
“The [reports] keep coming in,” Ullrich said. “Systems either get stuck in a reboot loop, or networking is no longer working.”
One symptom seems to be that McAfee reports that user systems are infected with W32.Wecorl.a. The anti-virus program’s attempts to destroy or quarantine that targeted process then forces the Windows machine into a reboot cycle.
McAfee’s own support forum is currently queuing up with a large number of users piping in with stories about how the incident is affecting their operations. That thread,which began at 9:54 a.m. today, has more than 27,000 views and 83 replies.
Stay tuned for more updates as available.
Update, 1:56 p.m. ET: McAfee released the following statement regarding this event. “McAfee is aware that a number of customers have incurred a false positive error due to incorrect malware alerts on Wednesday, April 21. The problem occurs with the 5958 virus definition file (DAT) that was released on April 21 at 2.00 PM GMT+1 (6am Pacific Time).
Our initial investigation indicates that the error can result in moderate to significant performance issues on systems running Windows XP Service Pack 3.
The faulty update has been removed from McAfee download servers for corporate users, preventing any further impact on those customers. We are not aware of significant impact on consumer customers and believe we have effectively limited such occurrence.
McAfee teams are working with the highest priority to support impacted customers and plan to provide an update virus definition file shortly. McAfee apologizes for any inconvenience to our customers.”
Update, 3:51 p.m. ET: McAfee’s main support forum is down due to an “unusually large traffic.” McAfee has posted a separate thread here that includes a couple of workarounds for customers struggling to deal with this problem.
Microsoft has issued a stopgap fix to shore up a critical security hole in older versions of its Internet Explorer browser. Meanwhile, exploit code showing would-be attackers how to use the flaw to break into vulnerable systems is being circulated online.
Microsoft warned last week that it was aware of public reports that criminal hackers were using the vulnerability — present in IE 6 and IE 7 — in limited attacks. A few days later, a security researcher put together a working exploit for the flaw, based on a snippet of code he said he found referenced on a McAfee blog post (McAfee says it will be closely reviewing future blog posts to make sure they don’t inadvertently help the bad guys).
I’ve grown fascinated over the years with various efforts by Internet service providers to crack down on the menace from botnets, large groupings of hacked PCs that computer criminals remotely control for a variety of purposes, from spamming to hosting malicious software and attacking others online. Indeed, the botnet problem has become such a global menace that entire countries are now developing anti-botnet programs in collaboration with domestic ISPs.
One of the more unique and long-running examples of this is Japan’s “Cyber Clean Center,” (referred to hereafter as CCC) a little-known effort by the Japanese Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (JP-CERT) and a collection of 76 Japanese ISPs covering 90 percent of the nation’s Internet users.
Participating ISPs that have customers with botted PCs may send those users an e-mail — and in some cases a letter via postal mail — instructing them to visit the CCC’s Web site, and download and run a cleanup tool developed by the JP-CERT in coordination with Trend Micro, the dominant anti-virus and computer security firm in Japan.
Relatively few of the thousands of U.S.-based ISPs have such programs in place, or if they do then not many have been willing to discuss them publicly. Some notable exceptions are Cox, Comcast (which is rolling out a trial bot infection notification system), and Qwest (if I missed any other biggies, readers please set me straight).
It’s unfortunate that such programs aren’t more widely emulated, because a majority of the world’s bot problem begins and ends here in the United States. According to a recent report (.pdf) by McAfee, the United States is home to the second largest pool of botted PCs — 2nd only to China — and is the world’s biggest exporter of junk e-mail.
New reports released this week on recent, high-profile data breaches make the compelling case that a simmering Cold War-style cyber arms race has emerged between the United States and China.
A study issued Thursday by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that more than half of the 600 executives surveyed worldwide said they had been subject to “stealthy infiltration” by high-level adversaries, and that 59 percent believed representatives of foreign governments had been involved in the attacks.
A more granular analysis issued Thursday by Mandiant, an Alexandria, Va. based security firm, focuses on data breaches it has responded to involving the so-called “advanced persistent threat,” or those characterized by highly targeted attacks using custom-made malicious software in the hands of patient, well-funded assailants.
Mandiant notes that the scale, operation and logistics of conducting these attacks – against the government, commercial and private sectors – indicates that they’re state-sponsored.
The Chinese government may authorize this activity, but there’s no way to determine the extent of its involvement. Nonetheless, we’ve been able to correlate almost every APT intrusion we’ve investigated to current events within China. In all cases, information exfiltrated by each set of attackers correlates with a need for intelligence related to upcoming major U.S. / China mergers and acquisitions, corporate business negotiations, or defense industrial base acquisition opportunities [emphasis added].
The reports come just days after the Christian Science Monitor revealed that three Texas-based oil companies – Conoco, ExxonMobil and Marathon – were alerted by the FBI that their systems were penetrated back in 2008. The Monitor story said the attacks, thought to have originated in China, targeted “bid data” about oil reserves and potential drilling sites.
I had just finished opening an account at the local bank late last week when I happened to catch a glimpse of the bank manager’s computer screen: He had about 20 Web browser windows open, and it was hard to ignore the fact that he was using Internet Explorer 6 to surf the Web.
For more than a second I paused, and considered asking for my deposit back.
“Whoa,” I said. “Are you really still using IE6?”
“Yeah,” the guy grinned sheepishly, shaking his head. “We’re supposed to get new computers soon, but I dunno, that’s been a long time coming.”
“Wow. That’s nuts,” I said. “You’ve heard about this latest attack on IE, right?”
I might as well have asked him about the airspeed velocity of an African Swallow. Dude just shook his head, and so did I.
Well, you can’t really blame the poor guy for not knowing. Just hours before, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer looked a bit like a deer in headlights when, standing in front of the White House in a planned CNBC interview on how the Obama administration is looking to use technology to streamline its operations, he was suddenly asked about a report just released from McAfee effectively blaming a slew of recent cyber break-ins at Google, Adobe and more than 30 top other Silicon Valley firms on a previously unknown flaw in IE.
“Cyber attacks and occasional vulnerabilities are a way of life,” Ballmer said. “If the issue is with us, we’ll work through it with all of the important parties. We have a whole team of people that responds very real time to any report that it may have something to do with our software, which we don’t know yet.”
The recent targeted cyber attacks against Google, Adobe and other major companies were fueled in part by a previously unknown — and currently unpatched — security flaw in Microsoft‘s Internet Explorer Web browser, anti-virus vendor McAfee said today.
McAfee said its investigation revealed that one of the malicous software samples used in the attacks exploited a new, not publicly known vulnerability in IE that is present in all of Microsoft’s most recent operating system releases, including Windows 7.