Thursday, August 06, 2009

Astroturfing AV: When the wolves guard the hen house

Like any typical morning, I woke up, picked up my iPhone, fired up a twitter app and prepared to be educated about current happenings in the world. I was initially bored when I stumbled across a blog post on the Kapersky Lab Security sponsored site "threatpost" entitled “Some Researchers Lack Basic Ethics”. I assumed that I would read another generic article about AV researchers selling warez to the Russian Mafia or something truly nefarious along those same lines. Instead I was treated to a thinly disguised PR talking point by a Kaspersky researcher, Roel Schouwenberg. The central theme to Schouwenberg's post was the vilification of ethicless researchers who demonstrate how easily an attacker can evade signature based AV systems.

The evil ethics-lacking incident drawing the ire of Schouwenberg is a University of Michigan project, Polypack. The Polypack Project is a website that demonstrates how Crimeware-as-a-Service, a generic term describing anyone who creates malware for a system, works with specific detected malware sample that the user uploads to the site. To quote Schouwenberg:
“The idea behind the site is that people can upload (detected) malware files and make them undetected by as many anti-virus products as possible.”

Being able to tell how easy a malware sample can be made undetected by various AV products...could you think of anything worse for an AV sales person?

I visualize how this conversation went down: A Kaspersky sales guy didn’t make his anti-virus product sales numbers and blamed it on the Polypack Project. Without further questioning, the PR people immediately dispatched a researcher to debunk the accuracy and validity of this project. You can tell this isn’t an earnest effort by Schouwenberg to educate a reader, at no point does Schouwenberg ever provide a link to the project so that the reader can review and make the decision for themselves Schouwenberg and the PR people are banking on the laziness of their reader.

The Polypack Project can be found here with the research paper here. Contrary to the claims of PR people at an AV sales company, I think this project is a good piece of engineering and evaluation of a failing technology. Through this project, a user can determine which AV system fails to detect a higher number of malware (aka viruses). In turn, a large company can spend less money, time, and resources deploying a highpriced signature based AV system if they know it has the most holes. Hrm, why is Kapersky afraid of this sort of open testing? The crowning jewel of Schouwenberg's post is when he cites numbers for how many samples are received and analyzed in a day. He makes the numbers sound almost overwhelming and intends to convey the message that “we can’t protect you from the bad guys if we have to spend time handling shortcomings in our engine pointed out by projects like this”. Schouwenberg fails to point out that technology like the Polypack Project is useless to criminals as criminals have their own tools for these types of testing.

Unfortunately for Kapersky (and other AV sales companies), projects such as the Polypack Project highlight the fallacy that signature based AV products can protect anything other than sales numbers. Could you imagine a slightly different scenario: "Cigarette company employee states that research into tobacco/cancer link is unthical?"


Unknown said...

Above-referenced URL offers only:

"PolyPack has been brought down for some enhancements."

Do you think that by "enhancements," they mean "harassment[s]?"



Anonymous said...

I love the paper by Jon & Company @ the University of Michigan. I love the realistic take they took with respect to writing the paper and the project on the whole. I think the project has proven (and the paper reinforced), the realistic possibilities of a services such as 'Polypack' being launched for commercial ends in the underground. I think it is clear that such a service is important to 'whitehat' assessors, pen testors and researchers as well.