This week, our team had the opportunity to test Google’s recently released web application scanner known as SKIPFISH. Touted as an active reconnaissance tool, SKIPFISH claims to present an interactive site map for a targeted site by performing a myriad of recursive crawls and discretionary based probes. The map is then notated with the output of several active security checks which are designed to be non-disruptive. SKIPFISH isn’t a replacement for Nessus, Nikto, or any other vulnerability scanner which might own your allegiance. Instead, this tool hopes to supplement your current arsenal.

SKIPFISH boasts high performance- “500+ requests per second against responsive Internet targets, 2000+ requests per second on LAN / MAN networks, and 7000+ requests against local instances have been observed, with a very modest CPU, network, and memory footprint.” To that end, the test used for our evaluation saw a total of more than 9 million HTTP requests over 3 days using the default dictionary included with the tool. While this test was conducted, there was no interruption of the target site although response times did increase dramatically.

The scan’s result provides a huge directory of files that are fed into index.html. When called by the web browser, this report turns out to be easily readable and comes with pointy-clicky goodness, thanks to a plethora of JavaScript (so be sure you’re allowing it to be seen). The report lists each page that was interrogated during the scan and documents server responses (including errors and successful replies), identifies possible attack vectors (such as password entry fields to brute force), along with other useful tidbits for each. Following the breakdown by page, SKIPFISH provides a list of document types (html, js, PDF, images, and various text formats) and their URLs. The report closes with an overview of various issues discovered during the scan, complete with severity ratings and the URL of the finding.

All in all, this tool has potential. It’s certainly not going to replace any of the other tools in our Web Application Assessment toolkit, but it is a good supplement and will most likely be added to give more information going forward. It is very user friendly, despite the time it took to scan the target site with the default dictionary. This in itself tells our team more testing is necessary, not to mention the fact that there are several options that can enhance functionality of the tool. With the sheer number of exploits and attack vectors available in web applications today, it can never hurt to get a different look at the application using a number of tools. And in this tech’s opinion, redundancy is good in that it shows the stability of our findings across the board.

Zeus-bot Gets More Power

Symantec is reporting that the mighty Zeus bot network is getting more capability and powerful new features. Read a summary of their thoughts here.

Among the new features seems to be a focus on Windows 7 and Vista systems as opposed to XP. New mechanisms for random file and folder names in an attempt to evade basic detection tools looking for static names and paths are also observed.

Even worse for web users, the manipulation and information gathering techniques of the trojan have been refined and now extend more capability to tamper with data flows when the user is using the FireFox browser in addition to Internet Explorer.

Organizations should note that this trojan has a strong history of credential theft from social networks and other popular sites on the public Internet. Users who use the same credentials on these sites with infected machines can expose their work credentials to attackers. Security teams should step up their efforts to make users more aware of how to secure their home and portable systems, what is expected from them in terms of using unique authentication and other relevant security training.

It’s quite unlikely that the threat of Zeus and other malware like it is going to go away soon. Technical controls are lagging well behind in terms of prevention and detection for these threats. That means that education and helping users practice safer computing is likely to be one of the most powerful options we have to combat these threats.

A Quick Thought on Window’s Anti-Virus

I know that recently I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about Windows antivirus. Often, I am quite disappointed at the effectiveness of most antivirus tools. Many security researchers, and my own research on the subject, estimate antivirus to be effective less than half of the time. That said, I still believe that antivirus deserves a place on all systems and I wanted to take a moment to describe the way that I implement antivirus on many of the Windows machines in my life.

Let me start by saying first, that I have very few Windows machines left in my life. Most of those machines that I still use on a day-to-day basis are virtual machines used for very specific research and testing purposes. I use a pretty basic approach for antivirus on these systems, as they are not usually exposed to general use, uncontrolled traffic or un-trusted networks.

However, there are still a few holdout machines that I either use or support for friends and family. On these devices, most of which are Windows, I have begun to use a new approach for antivirus implementation. Thus far, I have been impressed by the solution and the effectiveness of keeping the machines relatively virus free and operating smoothly. So, how do I do it? Well, for starters, I use two different antivirus products. First, I install Clam AV for Windows and configure it for real-time protection. Clam is free software and so far I have been very impressed with its performance. One of the nicest things about the clam solution is that it has a fairly light system footprint and doesn’t seem to bog down the system even while it performs real-time protection. Next, I install the Comodo firewall and antivirus solution. This solution is pretty nice. It includes, not only antivirus, but also a pretty effective and useful firewall. This software is also free for noncommercial use. On the Comodo antivirus, I remove real-time protection and instead, schedule a full antivirus scan every night while my family member is sleeping.

By combining two different antivirus products, one in real time and the other for periodic ongoing scanning, I seem to have been able to reduce my service call infection rates by about 50%. From an attacker standpoint, a piece of malware would need to be able to evade both products in order to maintain a presence on the system longer than 24 hours. While such an attack is surely plausible, it simply is not the threat pattern that my family’s home personal use machines face. By combining two different products and leveraging each of them in a slightly different way, I have been able to increase the effective defense for my users.

As always, your mileage and paranoia may vary. Certainly, I am not endorsing either of these products. You should choose whatever antivirus products you feel most comfortable with. I simply used these examples as free solutions in a way to illustrate this approach. Thanks for reading, and be careful out there.

McAfee Update Causing System Problems

McAfee’s Anti-Virus update for today (5958 DAT April 21, 2010) is causing systems to be stuck in an infinite reboot cycle. If your systems have not updated yet, it is highly recommended to prevent them from doing so, disable automatic updates and any pending update tasks.

The issue comes from the update detecting a false positive on systems. It appears that only Windows XP SP3 systems are effected. McAfee detects this false positive in the file C:/WINDOWS/system32/svchost.exe and thinks it contains the W32/Wecorl.a Virus. The machine then enters a reboot cycle.

McAfee has released a temporary fix to suppress the false positive. To use the fix with VirusScan Enterprise Console 8.5i or higher, Access Protection must be first disabled by following this knowledge base article here. (Alternate Google cache page, site is very busy here.)

To correct a machine with this issue, follow these steps:

1. Download the EXTRA.DAT file here. (Or from the KB article)
2. Start the effected machine in Safe Mode
3. Copy the EXTRA.DAT file to the following location:
\Program Files\Common Files\McAfee\Engine
4. Remove svchost.exe from the quarantine.

The 80/20 Rule of #Security: Threat Modeling

Threat modeling is a powerful technique that helps characterize higher level threats and separates them into more manageable sub-threats that can be addressed. Threat modeling can help an organization discover the core issue that lies beneath a high level threat, such as a denial of service (DoS).

There are different approaches toward threat modeling. One is to examine an existing application. The other is to evaluate a threat during every stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). With our 80/20 Rule of Information Security” project list, we tackle what regulations apply to your company and assess the risks.

For instance, let’s say a regulation requires strong access control measures to be in place. A high-level threat would be when a malicious user escalates privileges. In order to do this, the user would need to bypass the authentication process. With a Risk Management Threat Modeling Project, MSI would analyze the applications to find alternate entry points in order to harden them and ensure that only authorized users have access.

What is important is discovering where threats exist and then developing security solutions to address them. MSI also examines data flow diagrams that charts the system. Once we see the data flows, we can then start looking for vulnerabilities.

We use the STRIDE approach, which stands for: Spoofing, Tampering, Repudiation, Information Disclosure, Denial of Service, and Elevation of Privilege. With each phase, we carefully examine all of the loopholes that could leave your company’s data exposed. For instance, “spoofing” is pretending to be something you’re not. Many attackers use email to send notices to individuals that may look as though it was coming from a reputable source (like PayPal) but a quick look at the link address would prove otherwise. These attacks now have a name: phishing.

No business wants a Denial of Service. This happens when an attack overloads your server with fake requests so that it crashes the system. MSI’s HoneyPoint Security Server is an excellent way to prevent such attacks from happening.

Tampering attacks can be directed against static data files or network packets. Most developers don’t think about tampering attacks. When reading an XML configuration file, for example, do you carefully check for valid input? Would your program behave badly if that configuration file contained malformed data? These are some of the questions to consider when analyzing for risk.

MSI can help you achieve a more secure posture. Why not give us a call today?

Pain and Malicious PDFs

The ubiquitous PDF, it just seems to be everywhere. With all of the recent hype surrounding a variety of exploits that have come to light in the last couple of weeks, many of our customers are asking about how to defend against malicious PDF documents. This is both a simple and a complex question.

The simple answer, and of course the least realistic, is to disallow PDFs altogether. However, as you might already suspect, this is nearly impossible in any modern enterprise. A couple of recent polls in customer enterprises showed that even when staff members said they didn’t use PDFs for anything in their day-to-day work, nearly all of them realized suddenly that PDFs were an important part of some process once PDF documents started to get blocked at the perimeter. Not one single organization that is a client has reported success at blocking PDF documents as a blanket solution.

So, if we can’t block something that may be dangerous, then we are back to that age old game of defense in depth. We’re going to need more than one single control to protect our organization against this attack vector. Sure, almost everyone has antivirus on their workstations and other systems, however, in this case, most antivirus applications show little progress in detecting many malicious PDF attack vectors. But, the good news is, that antivirus is as effective as usual at detecting the second stage of a malicious PDF attack, which usually involves the installation of malware. Some organizations have also started to deploy PDF specific heuristic-based solutions in their email scanners, web content scanners, firewalls and IDS/IPS systems. While these technical controls each have varying levels of strengths and weaknesses, when meshed together they do a pretty good job of giving you some detective and maybe preventative capability for specific known attack vectors using PDFs.

Obviously, you want to back up these technical controls with some additional human training, education and awareness. You want users to understand that a PDF can be as dangerous, if not more so, than many other common attachments. Many of the users we have talked to in the last few weeks have been surprised by the fact that PDFs could execute remote code or be harmful. It seems that many users trust PDF documents a lot more than they should. Given how many of the new PDF exploits work, it is a good idea to make your users aware they they should pay careful attention to any pop-up messages in the PDF reader and that if they are unsure about a message they should seek assistance before accepting or hitting OK/Continue.

Lastly, PDF attacks like the current ones in circulation, continue to show the importance of many of the projects in our 80/20 Rule of Information Security. By leveraging projects such as anomaly detection and enclave computing, organizations can not only reduce the damage that a successful client side attack can do, but they can give themselves a leg up on identifying them, blocking their sources and quarantining their victims. If you would like to discuss some of these approaches, please drop me a line or give us a call.

What approaches to PDF security has your organization found to be effective? If you have a winning strategy or tactic, leave us a comment below. As always, thanks for reading and be careful out there.

MicroSolved, Inc. Announces the Immediate Release of NED Alpha

That’s right! No longer do you have to spend days and nights worrying about the state of your network. No more fretting about your partners, security or other traditional concerns.

Today is the dawn of a new day for network engineers around the globe!

Want to know how your network is? ASK YOUR PACKETS!!!!!

MicroSolved’s revolutionary new product, code named, NED or Network Emotion Detector, will continually update you on the emotional health of your packets. If there’s a network problem, a security breach or if you happen to fall out of compliance with the Pennsylvania Concrete Institute’s (PCI) standards, your NED will immediately alert your team to the lack of happiness being experienced by your packets as they traverse the various public and private networks!


Even more powerful than the executive dashboard, the GUI can be operated near the data center hallway window, so passing executives can quickly identify the happiness quotient (TM) of your network. When they see NED smiling, they will know you are doing your job well. When NED is unhappy and your packets begin to show signs of sadness, they can quickly and easily purchase additional “emotional credits” through the handy interface. These emotional credits (ie: money) make your packets happy and joyous as they traverse the Intertubes.

If that were all NED did, it would still be the most powerful network emotional monitoring tool on the market, but we even take it one step further! Using NED’s soon to be copylefted capabilities, we create emotional tunnels for your packets to move back and forth with your peers. These “Virtual Private Hugs” (VPH) allow you and your business partners to mutually enjoy all the power of NED and emotional credits together. You can easily monitor the happiness of your partner’s packets and those that show emotional disparity, making VPH even more important for those folks. Lastly, NED features a peer-to-peer network monitoring mechanism that allows you to closely monitor the overall happiness level around the Cloud. That’s right, MSI is the first in the world to create Happiness as a Service (HaaS)(TM)!

Act now and you can get your own copy of NED for Windows FREE for a limited time. Download from here and start enjoying the ease and joy of NED from MSI. We hope you enjoy NED, “because packets need love too…”

Happy April Fools Day from your security partners at MicroSolved, Inc. We hope it made you smile. BTW – The download really runs. Windows only, for now…. :p