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Re: Multiple AV Vendors ignoring tar.gz archives
From: bkfsec <bkfsec () sdf lonestar org>
Date: Tue, 08 Feb 2005 11:40:33 -0500

James Eaton-Lee wrote:

First off, thanks for the e-mail! It was well argued, and you obviously
took a lot of time on it; this is much appreciated. With that, let the
reply begin..
Thanks. Nah - it took me like 5 minutes to write. Not a lot of time at all. :)


but the devil is in the detail, especially in this particular case; I've
read through the documentation (which I happen to have in my office)
which comes with three extremely common corporate antivirus products
this afternoon (Norton, CA InnoculateIT, and Sophos SBE), and although
admittedly I've been busy and I *haven't* read through *every* piece of
paper and manual which comes with any of them (and I haven't read any of
the documentation on the vendors websites), I haven't found a single
paragraph concerning use in this particular manner.
Well, that should be your first hint. If that type of functionality isn't discussed, then what grounds does a person have to think that it would be supported? Don't get me wrong, it would be nice if the documentation included a section that had alternate products that served other functionality, but it's not necessary.

If a particular piece of antivirus software isn't designed for a
specific role, then vendors need to make this obvious in order that they
can avoid, as you put it, "misusing the product". Failure to do so is
the vendor's problem, not the user's. (No, it's not common sense.)
No, the distinction between a gateway AV and a desktop AV isn't common sense. I, myself, stumbled on that once a few years ago. Thankfully, I noticed before any damage was done.

Do you know why I stumbled on it? I didn't do the right research. Within 10 seconds (the time it took to do a search on google) I was in the process of putting in a purchase req. for a more appropriate package.

I know how easy it is to screw that up. But, it was my fault - not the AV company's fault. No one likes to put corporate feet to the fire more than me, but I just can't do it this time. There's a point where people have to take responsibility for their own actions. I realize that that is counter to corporate culture, but then I've never had much respect for corporate culture in the first place.

Many vendors *expect* their customers to write their own solutions,
scripts, and hacks based around their software packages - Microsoft have
one scripting language (vbs) which is really only used to hack
windows(!). If companies don't extend the same flexibility to their
product usage as others, they need to make thus abundantly clear.
Don't get me wrong at all. I'm pro-software modification and hacking. Misuse of products can lead to very useful results. However, don't get pissed off at the company if your misuse of their product results in bad things.


This *IS* a lack of understanding on the part
of the user, but they are not the expert on viruses, antivirus vendors
are.
Yes, and we're not going to be changing attitudes. If users knew the real threats out there, they'd never plug into the internet. They'd be scared into paralysis. Therefore, they're not going to listen or understand these things because it's not productive for them.

But, I fail to see how this translates to the problem at hand. The average user doesn't understand viruses and AV. They won't understand it. If the desktop-based AV they buy doesn't detect the malware uncompressed, then not detecting it compressed is going to have 0 added value for that average user.


However, this all comes down to one point: If the AV can detect the malware uncompressed, but can't detect it compressed, then there's no problem. The malware has to be decompressed to be dangerous. That was Nick's point and it's 100% correct.

Yes and no - if the AV can detect the malware uncompressed, there's less
of an issue. But the malware really shouldn't make it onto the network
in the first place - as I pointed out, clients are fallable, servers are
less so, and therefore security measures should be kept as
server-orientated as possible if businesses are to have maximum
security. I think I'm taking the braces and belt line here.
No - you really need a multi-layer solution. A good security solution is neither server-centric nor desktop-centric, it's system-wide. The components depend on each other. If the gateway AV misses it, I want to know that my desktop solution will catch it. It's best if it never makes it onto the network, but if it does, in this case, there won't be a problem.

Besides, I don't recall ever saying that gateway AV was a bad thing and we've already gone over that this functionality is important for a gateway AV system.


IF your AV software is functioning normally.
IF your AV software has proper real-time detection capabilities.
IF your AV is properly setup and scans the programs you run at the time they're read from the HD.
IF your AV will detect the malware uncompressed.

Then, as should be true for the vast majority of situations out there, the malware will be caught as it's being extracted from the archive. Or, barring detection on writes, when it's being executed in the first place.

If, If, If. This is a chain argument, and as soon as you break one link
in a chain argument, the conclusion fails to be valid! I'd far rather
have a situation where If X then Z, or if Y then Z. Failure of client
antivirus software should not leave clients open to viruses - without
compression support (and lots of other things), I believe that under
certain circumstances, it does.
The "ifs" I used above are the default settings that AV systems are installed with. They're set to be on by default. If any of these "ifs" are not met, you won't detect the virus regardless of whether the AV can get past the compression or not.


This is the same argument as before; I know that SMEs shouldn't do this,
and you know it too - but the fact is that they do. Security
professionals and vendors need to consider *all* eventualities, and not
rely on *one* method of doing everything based on the idea that if
anyone is doing any of this differently, they're wrong and they'll pay
the price. The job of a security professional isn't to consign companies
to security hell for political reasons - it's to make that company more
secure, whether or not they like the way in which they're doing it.
Whoa there. Predicting all eventualities is impossible. It's not just improbable, it's impossible.

We're not talking about a difference in philosophy here. We're talking about a corporation choosing not to deploy a security software that it knows it needs because *it* is relying on one method (gateway scanning) to carry out its security needs.

And no security product can solve an SMEs problems if they refuse to install it.


In what situation can you imagine where a person blindly forwards compressed (unscanned) content to a business partner?

Virtually every situation. People are stressed, lazy, and ignorant, and
they forward e-mails to other people *all the time*.
Yes, but how many standard users do you know of who are forwarding unix tarballs of financial documents blindly to people on a windows client? gzip/bzip2 aren't exactly common windows-based compression utilities.


But this isn't the
point - stupidity shouldn't be what causes network security to fall down
- network security should be *STUPIDITY INDEPENDENT*. This axiom
capitalised in order to promote my new line of 'Stupidity Independent'
network appliances and software. (Ok, that was less than funny, but this
is a long and serious e-mail and it needs punctuating in what has
otherwise been a rather pompous and arrogant thread in the mailing
list).

As an example of this point, consider this: Would you make every user on
your network a Domain Administrator based on the logic that if they
break anything it's due to stupidity and therefore their problem and not
yours? Like it or not, this is basically the same logic at work.
No, I wouldn't make all users Domain Administrators expressly because people are stupid and do stupid things. People are a part of the problem and they are always involved. There is no such thing as stupid-proof technology.

This is the wrong way to think about it.

The goal of antivirus is, plainly said, to detect and block malware from running.

Preventing business loss is a side-effect of this. There are many reasons for keeping malware off of systems, business benefit is only one of them.

Companies don't buy software because it's what the IT industry likes,
beacuse it's commonly deployed, or because it looks nice (usually). The
fundamental reason for IT upgrades in businesses is because it causes
the business to run more efficiently.
No No No.

You didn't get my point. You're thinking about the world from a business-centric standpoint. I'm thinking about the world from a reality-centric standpoint.

AV is a tool. AV's goal is to contain viruses. It's not to "enhance business efficiency". That is the reason that businesses buy AV, but it is not the reason for AVs existance. AV isn't a bag of magic beans which magically enhance business efficiency. I know you know this, but I'm illustrating a point.

If something is wrong with a tool, then that tool has to be fixed. That's all there really is to it. Business efficiency is not the express goal of AV, and as such, it is irrelivent to this conversation.

My point is, technology is *means*, not an *end*. Following this logic,
antivirus software is deployed because it provides a palpable benefit,
and for this reason, the primary goal of antivirus software *is* to
provide business continuity in the same way that a cleaner mops the
floors in order to provide business continuity. They simply go about
their tasks (the means to the end) in a different way in order to do so.
And I mop my floor at home to keep it clean. I keep AV running on my computer at home in order to keep people from getting at some of my personal information and to save me time so that I don't have to rebuild my system.

My motivations are different than a business's. But, motivation is irrelivent here. The mop exists and is designed to clean floors. Any benefits derived as a result of that are side-effects.

A hammer is a hammer. Its sole intent is to bash things (and, possibly, pry them out). It can be used to build houses, but it is not a house-builder.

That's a bad example; you've taken one thing which accomplishes one
thing (antivirus software) and compared it to something which can be
used for a wide variety of tasks.
It's a great example. AV is a tool. AV software doesn't secure networks just like hammers don't build houses. People build houses using hammers and other tools. Likewise, people secure networks using AV and other tools.

It's a loose analogy, but it's a great one.


Thankyou for your intelligent, considered e-mail! Fundamentally, I think we have the same ideas at work, but with some different experiences;
Likewise, and agreed.  :)

         -Barry


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