The online version of Technology Review today carries a story I wrote about a government funded research group that is preparing to release a new free tool designed to block “drive-by downloads,” attacks in which the mere act of visiting a hacked or malicious Web site results in the installation of an unwanted program, usually without the visitor’s consent or knowledge.
The story delves into greater detail about the as yet unreleased software, called “BLADE,” (short for Block All Drive-By Download Exploits). That piece, which explores some of the unique approaches and limitations of this tool, is available at this link here.
As I note in the story, nearly all of the sites that foist these drive-by attacks have been retrofitted with what are known as “exploit packs,” or software kits designed to probe the visitor’s browser for known security vulnerabilities. Last month, I shared with readers a peek inside the Web administration panel for the Eleonore exploit pack — one of the most popular at the moment.
The BLADE research group has been running their virtual test machines through sites infected with Eleonore and a variety of other exploit packs, and their findings reinforce the point I was trying to make with that blog post: That attackers increasingly care less about the browser you’re using; rather, their attacks tend to focus on the outdated plugins you may have installed.
Phil Porras, program director for SRI International — one of the research groups involved in the project — says that so far none of the exploit sites have been able to get past BLADE, which acts as a kind of sandbox for the browser that prevents bad stuff from being written to the hard drive. Yet, because the tool allows the exploit but blocks the installation of the malicious payload, the group has been able to collect a great deal of interesting stats about the attacks, such as which browsers were most often attacked, which browser plugins were most-targeted, and so on.
The following graphs were taken from the latest version of BLADE’s evaluation lab, which is constantly updated with results from new exploit sites. The charts below show the breakdown from 5,154 drive-by download infections blocked by BLADE.
Researchers also found lackluster detection of the exploits by the industry’s top anti-virus products (Porras said the data below is an average of the detection rates for each malicious binary delivered by the exploit sites):