mailing list archives
Re: Multiple AV Vendors ignoring tar.gz archives
From: Nick FitzGerald <nick () virus-l demon co uk>
Date: Sun, 06 Feb 2005 11:15:26 +1300
Barrie Dempster wrote:
By passing some archives through www.virustotal.com I discovered that
some AV companies ignore tar.gz's and possibly other archive formats
that aren't very common on windows systems (but supported by the common
If virus writers start using these formats AV companies could be slow to
react as in some cases they may have to write functionality into their
products that doesn't currently exist (support for scanning inside said
archives) this could delay signature updates.
That's a non sequitur.
If a virus was released that depended on, say tar.gz archives, and some
AV products did not have tar.gz unpacking capabilities, there would be
no hindrance to those companies releasing detection updates. Afterall,
what they detect are the unpacked contents of such archives, so
detection of the actual malware is just as easily added and shipped
regardless of whether the malware in question self-packs in .RAR, .ZIP,
.TAR.GZ or .ZOO format (or does not pack itself in any archive format
Worse however, is the implication that missing unpacking abilities for
some modestly common archive type is a terrible flaw in a scanner.
Well, OK -- in a gateway scanner it is likely to be a terrible flaw.
Any vaguely competent gateway scanner should have basic knowledge of
all archive formats and should have an option to quarantine all
messages with archives in the formats it cannot unpack and inspect.
Sadly, most gateway scanners are not designed this way. It is the job
of a gateway scanner to not let anything "dangerous" in and if you
cannot tell what something is, prudence says you keep it out, or at
least set it aside for more expert inspection.
However, once something gets to the desktop, it is only very mildly
inconvenient that a scanner does not know how to unpack, say, tar.gz
archives. The point of a desktop scanner is to stop as much as
possible that has got to where it shouldn't be. Known virus scanning
is a far from perfect method for achieving this, but as the only
intelligent method of achieving it has been entirely disregarded by
users, AV and OS developers, scanning is pretty much what we are left
with. Anyway, as we are assuming that the malware in question can be
detected already, let's look at the consequence of a desktop scanner
not knowing anything about tar.gz packing and the arrival of a piece of
known malware in such an archive...
Let's assume that the user has a tar.gz handler and the user double-
clicks on the dodgy Email attachment in question (the attachment that
the shoddy gateway Email scanner should have stopped, even if it
couldn't scan inside tar.gz files because this is hardly a just-minted
compression format...). What happens? The on-access virus scanner
says nothing as the tar.gz file hits the disk in some temp dir, as it
doesn't know anything about tar.gz archives. For the same reason the
on-access scanner says nothing when the user's archive-handling program
opens the tar.gz file from its temp dir. As no code has so far been
deposited on the machine in executable form, this is not any kind of
failure on the part of the desktop scanner. (Yes, some lily-livered,
weak-kneed sops may _prefer_ the "reassurance" of the malware code
inside such files being detected "as soon as possible" but that is not
a strong (or even useful) criterion for judging a desktop scanner's
The user now sees, listed in the contents of the archive as displayed
by their tar.gz archive handler the "card" or "picture" or "document"
or whatever that the Email message promised, so double-clicks it. _Now_
their virus scanner gets excited. The archive handling program
extracts the file to a temp dir and the on-access scanner (if set to
scan on writes and/or closes) detects the malware and pops an alert
(and blocks further access to the file or automatically quarantines/
deletes/etc as it is configured). If the scanner is only set to scan
on execute it will pop an alert (and block/quarantine/delete) a moment
later when the archive handler tries to have the file executed.
There is no failure here. The desktop scanner "protected" the user, as
Yes, it is easy for testers to add tests such as "detects malware
packed in .ZIP files", "detects malware packed in .RAR files", "detects
malware packed in .TAR.GZ files" but the results of such tests tell you
squat about the quality of the product. (In fact, that's not true --
as it seems axiomatic that the larger and more complex a software
project the more bugs it will have, it would seem that the more archive
formats a scanner can handle the buggier the scanner will be, so maybe
such tests do tell us something about the quality of the products --
the higher the score, the buggier the product will be...)
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