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Thursday, 10 October 2013 08:10

Microsoft not slipping on security

Written by Nick Farrell

Just the dark side is getting better

While Microsoft is getting a fair bit of stick for its recent security blunders, it seems that things were not better in the good old days. This week, people were waiting with trepidation as Microsoft issued its patch Tuesday. The last two times, people saw Microsoft recall a couple of patches because they didn’t work.

Security industry analysts told Fudzilla that despite all that, things are a lot better than they used to be. Analyst Graeme Cluley said that Microsoft is actually getting better at dealing with malware and vulnerabilities, and resolving issues faster than ever before. He said there had been a spate of faulty updates recently, which have rather blotted the copybook and understandably upset some of their users.

However, Cluley added that sensible defence for corporations is not to rely on one type of technology on the network, but to use defence-in-depth using a variety of tools and technologies to minimise the chances of a threat getting through.

“Proactive heuristic and behaviour-based detection of unknown malware certainly plays its part alongside traditional techniques,” he said.

However, we can't ignore the fact that a lot of malware and hacking attacks still relies upon human weaknesses - poor choice of passwords, laissez-faire attitude to clicking on links etc, rather than OS weaknesses,” Cluley said.

Mark Schloesser, security researcher, at US security firm Rapid7, agreed, saying that Microsoft's security programme has never been better, and the company definitely have made exploitation more difficult and expensive over the years. Microsoft typically does a pretty decent job of responding to them and getting patches out in a timely way. All that has happened is that the other side has upped its game, Schloesser added.

“Given the number of programmes, as well as operating system versions they’re maintaining, it’s not particularly surprising they deal with a lot of vulnerabilities, and it doesn’t relate to the amount of malware available,” he said.

Malware may be developed to take advantage of certain flaws in the software, but it does not create the problem in itself and in many case, vulnerabilities are being exploited in the wild without the use of malware, he said. Schloesser said that attacks come from a range of different actors, from hactivists, to criminals, terrorists and even nation states.

“The recent IE 0day was initially being used in targeted attacks against organisations in Japan and Taiwan, but quickly adopted by the broader criminal community for less targeted “drive by” attacks,” he said. As a result it is tough for defenders to keep up with the flood of malicious software and we will always see vulnerabilities, and thus also exploits, Schloesser said.

One of the biggest headaches is that virus checkers are based on old technologies and are often easy to bypass. He said that there were no perfect heuristic/signature based detections for malware and attackers with enough resources can always evade the heuristics in the same way that exploits circumvent OS protection mechanisms.

“However, there are promising developments coming in OS security that will raise the bar for attackers in the next systems/years (Intel SMEP/SMAP, Windows 8 ASLR / etc improvements). For example, EMET is a decent tool for preventing memory corruption-based exploits from gaining code execution. Unfortunately it’s not yet widely deployed,” Schloesser said.

Nick Farrell

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