Race Conditions aka TOCTOU and now KHOBE

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]There is a ‘supposedly new’ threat on the horizon for Windows XP users, and more so on multi-core systems called KHOBE (Kernel HOok Bypassing Engine).

Although this is a threat, it is not a new threat — in fact, this type of thing has been a threat to computing since 1998 when it was written about in PDF format: RaceConditions.pdf, and in 1996 in this PDF: racecond.pdf and many times since then in articles online about TOCTOU (noted below in this posting).

It definitely sounds pretty bad when it is reported that this ‘new’ KHOBE can bypass EVERY Windows security product in an article by the respected Adrian Kingsley-Hughes at ZDNet Blogs and as reported and tested by MATOUSEC here. And it certainly isn’t a non-issue…

However, let’s look at this objectively. First this is not the first, last or only situation that has or will arise. Race Conditions as noted above have been created by TOCTOU (Time of check to time of use) situations since the dawn of computing and yes, they are not easy to test for in all situations/hardware prior to release of software/Operating Systems, but these types of conditions have been a potential threat for a very long time in all kinds of software.

A time-of-check-to-time-of-use bug (TOCTTOU − pronounced “TOCK too”) is a software bug caused by changes in a system between the checking of a condition (such as a security credential) and the use of the results of that check. It is a kind of race condition.

Before Windows was capable of true multi-tasking/multi-threading, it was possible to create these conditions on UNIX machines as noted in this 2001 article at InformationWorld.

So, why the fuss now? Windows 7 is basically claimed to be immune — by its omission in the ‘affected Windows Operating Systems’ list. Apparently only Windows XP (ONLY about 60% of Windows users –eeek! — per Adrian Kingsley-Hughes article above), or earlier Windows OSes are affected and in this particular case, and then only by security software that use the KHOBE (Kernel HOok Bypassing Engine).

Graham Cluely at his Sophos Blog notes,

Because KHOBE is not really a way that hackers can avoid detection and get their malware installed on your computer. What Matousec describes is a way of “doing something extra” if the bad guys’ malicious code manages to get past your anti-virus software in the first place.

In other words, KHOBE is only an issue if anti-virus products such as Sophos (and many others) miss the malware. And that’s one of the reasons, of course, why we – and to their credit other vendors – offer a layered approach using a variety of protection technologies.

In addition, Paul Ducklin’s Sophos blog notes,

The security panic of the week is the widely-reported story of a “vulnerability” called KHOBE. One news headline goes so far as to announce that this “new attack bypasses virtually all AV protection”.

I disagree.

The sample “attack”, which claims to be an 8.0 earthquake for desktop security software, describes a way in which the tamper protection implemented by some anti-malware products might potentially be bypassed. Assuming you can get your malicious code past the anti-malware product in the first place, of course.

Much more in his blog entry. All of these links are must read if you wish to understand as much as is possible what the real threat is.

So, given all this, is the game over on security software because this is now disclosed to be possible (READ: it was always possible) — at least till they figure out how to prevent Race Conditions in security software?

Hardly. But due to the release of the information, this situation may make life interesting security-wise for Windows XP users (earlier Windows OSes like Win2K, Win98, WinME, WinNT shouldn’t even be on the net at this point for many reasons, the least of which is this situation).

So, if you are a Windows user what can you do in the meantime?

  • Keep your systems up to date
  • Make sure you have a hardware NAT or SPI Firewall/Router on your local network, and a software firewall in place and working properly and updated (if it’s a third party firewall – Windows Firewall is updated with your Windows Updates)
  • Keep your browsers up to date
  • Keep your browser plugins (Adobe products, Apple products, Java, etc.) and extensions (like Firefox’s AdBlock Plus, etc.) up to date
  • Keep all Internet facing programs (Adobe, Microsoft, etc.) up to date
  • Run your CCleaner (or other Temporary Files/Temporary Internet Files cleaner program) frequently (I actually run mine several times a day) – Fully close any browsers before running your ‘cleaner’ and then re-open it as needed after you run the ‘cleaner’
  • Make sure your antivirus software is updating as it should and doing its scheduled scans
  • Update and Run any cleaner software and secondary anti-malware programs (like Malwarebytes Anti-malware) at least once a week or more often and immediately if something seems odd on your computer
  • Don’t open suspicious emails, even from known senders
  • Be careful where you go on the Internet. Even some legitimate sites have been hacked
  • Be careful about links and friends on Facebook (if you haven’t deactivated your account yet), Twitter, LinkedIn, and other Web 2.0/dynamic Social Networking sites.

In short, do what you should always be doing to keep yourself safe. Because this isn’t over. It was always a possibility whether we were aware or not, and it will likely be a possibility for a long time to come.

You might also consider installing a preventative program like BillP’s WinPatrol on your system to make you aware of potential changes to your system. *See EDIT below for a note from BillP about WinPatrol and kernel hooks.

And as I noted earlier, the focus of this issue, at this time, is apparently Windows XP, but any operating system is vulnerable to this type of attack and always has been — and that is not likely going to change any time soon.

EDIT: Added the following comment from BillP who developed WinPatrol:

* Thanks! I’m honored by the mention.
It’s a great topic and mentioning WinPatrol is appropriate since I don’t use any kernel hooking to detect changes. Thumbs Up!

Bill

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Embedded PDF executable hack

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]Embedded PDF executable hack goes live in Zeus malware attacks (Ryan Naraine at ZDNet)

Yes, there has been a lot of coverage on Adobe Reader vulnerabilities, and this is no exception, and with good reason since this is being actively exploited.

This one is the same /launch vulnerability built into Adobe Reader that was being exploited to run malicious code. This one also comes via email, and the PDF has an embedded attachment within the document. The file is executable and if you run it, it will install the Zeus bot on your computer.

It’s no longer good enough to disable Javascripting alone. There is more needed to thwart this attack.

From the article:

Here are the instructions for mitigating a potential attack:

* Users can also turn off this functionality in the Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat Preferences by selecting > Edit > Preferences > Categories > Trust Manager > PDF File Attachments and clearing (unchecking) the box “Allow opening of non-PDF file attachments with external applications”

It is important to download PDF files from email rather than opening them directly from email, as with any attachment, so you can virus scan the file prior to opening it.

While you are in the Preferences, you might want to make sure Javascripting is turned off. And you might want to disable viewing PDF files in browser windows. There are times when that may be inconvenient, but it will keep you safer at least for now.

One way to keep PDF files from opening in browsers if you are using Firefox is to install the PDF Download Extension which allows you to download rather than open a PDF file in the browser. It also gives you a chance to determine if this is really what you want to do.

Oracle Sun ships Java patch as attacks surface

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]As attacks surface, Sun ships Java sudden Java patch (ZDNet):

In a sudden about-face, Sun has rushed out a Java update to fix a drive-by download vulnerability that exposed Windows users to in-the-wild malware attacks.

The release notes that accompanies the new Java 6 Update 20 makes no mention of the public flaw disclosure or subsequent attacks but I’ve been able to confirm that the patch does cover the vulnerability released by Google security researcher Tavis Ormandy.

Much more in the article by Ryan Naraine at ZDNet blogs linked above.

Glad to hear they have finally released a patch.

Might want to go get the latest Java 6 Update 20 asap at Manual Downloads at Java.com

Unpatch Java Exploit Spotted in-the-wild

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]Unpatch Java Exploit Spotted in-the-wild (Krebs on Security):

Last week, a Google security researcher detailed a little-known feature built into Java that can be used to launch third-party applications. Today, security experts unearthed evidence that a popular song lyrics Web site was compromised and seeded with code that leverages this Java feature to install malicious software.

As I mentioned last time, it is sad that Java is needed to help keep your systems safer through Secunia’s OSI (Online Software Inspector) by helping you keep your Internet facing programs up to date.

For now, if you are not sure if you have Java on your system, you can look in Add/Remove Programs (Windows XP) or Programs, Uninstall Programs (Vista and Windows 7) to see if it is installed. The best option at this point is to probably uninstall Java entirely on Windows computers until Oracle realizes the dangers this problem poses to Windows users.

Of course if you would prefer, you could use the link to SANS Internet Storm Center (New bug/exploit for javaws) to review your options.

Another option would be to use Firefox with the NoScript Extension and only allow scripting on trusted sites. NOTE: Even though java is not javascript, most plugins use some sort of scripting to wrap their plugins in to work in a browser so using NoScript would go a long way to protecting users and still be able to use Secunia’s OSI noted earlier in this article.

However, note that there is still the possibility that the malware cocktail could still potentially gain access through Internet Explorer even if you are not using Internet Explorer. To prevent this, Windows users might consider installing BillP Studios’ WinPatrol so they are alerted to any changes to their system before it happens and be given an opportunity to prevent it – You can try it out for free, but it is one of the best $19.99 you ever spent ($10 off right now, normal price $29.99). BillP Studios used to have a free version which can still be found on sites like FileHippo.com (note, however that it is not the new version which is apparently only offered in Trial/Buy).

According to the article, popular lyrics site: songlyrics dot com (I did not create a link to it and I would NOT recommend going there if you have Java installed!) the “Crimepack” exploit kit is being used to foist a cocktail of malware on Windows users’ computers.

I mentioned this Java vulnerability in my last posting. If you want more information, please see my earlier post and Brian Kreb’s Krebs on Security article above.

Tavis Ormand tried to get through to Oracle about the danger, but they chose to rate it as not that important. They indicated that it could wait till the normal patch cycle. However, apparently, they didn’t fix it then either because when all the Oracle quarterly cycle patches came out this week it wasn’t in their list of fixed vulnerabilities — which means they apparently intend to wait till the NEXT cycle!

Roger Thompson, chief research officer at AVG says:

the site appears to use the very same code mentioned in Ormandy’s proof-of-concept to silently redirect songlyrics.com visitors to a site that loads the “Crimepack” exploit kit, a relatively new kit designed to throw a heap of software exploits at visiting browsers…

It is hard to say whether visiting sites like the lyrics site would hurt other OSes like Mac OS X (especially Tiger which hasn’t had a Java update in ages!), or Linux because Brian Krebs’ article was geared to Windows users.

Oracle, Java and Security

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]Oracle, Java and Security … oh my!

Java bug exposes users to serious code-execution risk – Researchers disclose because Oracle won’t!

This zero day bug, which is in the Java Web Start (this is automatically added as an ‘extension’ in Firefox – which I always disable) has become a real problem. Here’s a quote from the article regarding the Researchers’ attempt to make Oracle understand the severity of this issue:

Both researchers stressed the ease in which attackers can exploit the bug using a website that silently passes malicious commands to various Java components that jump-start applications in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and other browsers. Ormandy said he alerted Java handlers in Oracle’s recently-acquired Sun division to the threat but “they informed me they do not consider this vulnerability to be of high enough priority to break their quarterly patch cycle.

(bold emphasis in the quote mine)

Merely disabling ActiveX or Firefox plugins isn’t enough because the toolkit is installed separately from Java. That means the only temporary fixes are browser specific for IE and Firefox and involve setting killbits or employing file system access control list features. (More about that here).

Or we could always just uninstall Java entirely until Oracle decides to protect their users.

That is a sad option since Secunia makes use of Java for it’s OSI (Online Software Inspector) which has become a very handy free tool for folks to keep up on the myriad of “Internet-facing” programs, plugins, missing Windows Updates, etc.

And of course, Weather.gov (for animated maps) and NASA/JPL use Java for many online projects. I would think they would want Oracle to rethink their position on this problem!

Plus, this is not just a Microsoft Windows Issue. The article also notes that this could affect Linux.

And from the sound of it, also Apple’s Mac OS; particularly since Apple is slow to upgrade Java on their OS platform, and they haven’t done an update for Java in a while for OS X Tiger at all.

What a mess. This issue with Java vulnerabilities, and how Oracle is handling it, may well provide a backdrop that opens up other concerns about Oracle’s stance on security related to their flagship products … things that maybe Oracle wouldn’t want folks to start thinking about…

Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, Firefox, more

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]Finally getting back to this blog! Sheesh, time sure gets away from ya!

iPad

The iPad looks great! But…

Why couldn’t Apple have done a Mac OS X tablet! Mac OS X which really does just work but is still much more open than iPhone OS. I absolutely love my Mac, and I love my iPod Touch, but I wouldn’t want my iPod Touch’s iPhone OS on my Mac!

Apple’s new iPad coming soon and already introduced by Steve Jobs in the Keynote; but it is basically a tablet in the form of a larger iPod Touch. Including no Flash player still (but can you blame Apple for not including Flash – yes and no LOL!)? Also, apparently, including still only allowing single apps to run at a time?

Also playing games with eBooks and their customers and retailers, and basically saying that their fiddling will only mean that all eBooks will be the same price (albeit Apple’s higher pricing worked out by playing games with the publishers) — kinda a reversal of what they did with the music labels, by the way.

EDIT (added this paragraph): Speaking of single apps only at a time like the iPhone OS … I remember the Windows 7 Starter on netbooks which restricted users to 3 concurrent apps at a time and people were very upset about it. (Thanks to @Blair_42 for reminding me about it. We talked about this on the JimmyLee and Bambi Show Saturday night on CNIRadio, or JimmyLee and I talked about it before the show…will have to go back and listen to the show to be sure LOL!)

… all instead of a Mac OS X tablet that would be able to do so much more, and be more open than the TOTALLY closed environment of the iPhone OS.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPod Touch, but it is not the venue I would want for a tablet computer.

Microsoft

Security Garden reports;

Microsoft released thirteen security bulletins addressing twenty-six vulnerabilities. Windows is affected by eleven of the bulletins and older versions of Office by the remaining two bulletins. Of the bulletins, the following are rated as Critical: MS10-006, MS10-007, MS10-008, MS10-013, and MS10-015.

Much more in the Security Garden article.

But this is after next to nothing in January, mind you.

And Researchers warn of likely attacks against Windows, PowerPoint;

Hackers will jump on several of the bugs Microsoft patched today

And of course, there’s also The Windows 7 honeymoon is over as well.

Joy…Windows XP is long in the tooth, Vista is a total dud, and now the only contender for Windows is Windows 7. I personally love Windows 7, but it does have some oddities that are quite annoying.

Flash

Back to the part about no Flash on the iPad, as I say, who can blame Apple’s decision on Flash when you have things like Adobe screw-up leave Flash flaw unpatched for 16 months?

Firefox

Those that know me, know that I highly suggest that folks use Firefox due to the lack if Active-X and it’s related vulnerabilities, as well as the extension system which has been very helpful; NoScript, Adblock Plus, MyWOT, and so many more wonderful extensions.

But there is the recent concern about Firefox Add-ons Infected;

Perhaps you read the Mozilla blog at http://blog.mozilla.com/addons/2010/02/04/please-read-security-issue-on-amo/ where it was revealed that two add-ons for Firefox were infected with Trojans. In this case the distribution was very small, so not many users were infected, but this type of attack is likely to grow.

And then there is the outright annoyance of HTML 5 and NO H.264 support in Firefox 3.6

Just when HTML 5 is finally breaking ground…We have Firefox 3.6, which supports HTML 5, but which is also a step backward in compatibility with video sites?! Huh?!

What good is HTML 5 support in Firefox if they take away H.264 support?! I understand ADDING Ogg Theora support, but removing H.264 support?

I applaud YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.TV, etc. (hopefully Hulu too), for going to a more open standard like HTML 5 (instead of Flash) for their delivery method of their video content, but they are staying with the same H.264 codec for the videos themselves.

So, why would Firefox, at this particular juncture, remove the ability to play H.264 from Firefox so all their Firefox 3.6 users (even on a computer with the proper codecs installed) get greeted with this:

Firefox 3.6 and YouTube HTML 5 breakage

Or is Flash the ONLY way to get H.264 compatibility?! Which would really stink big time.

I predict, sadly that many will move from Firefox to other browsers as their main browser due to this major annoyance to browsers such as Google Chrome, or Safari who also support HTML 5 but also support H.264.

I am very disappointed about this. And the only way to get around this is what to stay with Firefox? Stay with Firefox 3.5.7? Brilliant move Mozilla. And this from a Firefox user who has been thrilled with Firefox all the way since before it was Firefox in the Beta days. *Sigh*

Me? I don’t know. For general surfing, Firefox with the security addons that I use and other addons that make life easier, I may stay with Firefox. But now I will have to look elsewhere for video rendering of H.264 on all the video sites?!

More…

Oh, and apparently there may be some malware that is currently corrupting DNS or redirecting results for any of the built-in or toolbar search engines in both Firefox and Internet Explorer.

I am not sure which combination appears to do it, but one client got hit by malware (and removed it with Malwarebytes Antimalware), and found that even after the malware was gone — and BTW the host file was clean — they would get misdirected to bogus sites if they used the built-in search engine for Google or use the Yahoo Toolbar in both Firefox or Internet Explorer. However, correct results would happen when going directly to the search engine website like google.com, ixquick.com or yahoo.com. Very interesting.

Buying a new computer? Here’s some great information from Bits from Bill Pytlovany (creator of WinPatrol — great program by the way!) and the article has nothing to do with buying or using WinPatrol. 😉

Here’s the lead in to his article over Bits from Bill blog:

Bits from Bill Pytlovany: Brand New Computer? Read Me First!

Did you think I was going to start out by telling you all to install WinPatrol as soon as you opened up your new computer? Guess again. I always try to write my articles from a different point of view and today may not be what you expect.

For the 2nd time I’ve had to return the Dell All-in-One Multi-Touch computer system that I’ve been dreaming about for months. The first unit had to go back because Dell shipped the wrong configuration. The 2nd system had to go back due to internal hardware failure. I should have known something was wrong when I could hear loose parts when I took the computer out of the box.

My point today is take a little time to insure your brand new computer is everything it should be or you may be sorry. Before you install your favorite software on your brand new system I have a few recommendations.

Great article.

The Bits from Bill blog also has some great posts. One in particular is Who Gets Your Personal Information on Facebook?

Well that’s enough for today, I think…

EDIT: Added inline edit about concurrent apps

Firefox 3.6 released

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]On January 21, 2010, Firefox 3.6 was released.

Full release notes and what’s new in Firefox 3.6 here.

Firefox now has what is called Personas. Some folks may enjoy them. I am not all that thrilled with that but maybe that’s because I don’t generally use alternate themes which is very similar.

Notable Firefox 3.6 features include:

  • Available in more than 70 languages – get your local version.
  • Support for a new type of theme called Personas, which allow users to change Firefox’s appearance with a single click.
  • Protection from out-of-date plugins to keep users safer as they browse.
  • Open, native video can now be displayed full screen and supports poster frames.
  • Improved JavaScript performance, overall browser responsiveness, and startup time.
  • The ability for web developers to indicate that scripts should run asynchronously to speed up page load times.
  • Continued support for downloadable web fonts using the new WOFF font format.
  • Support for new CSS attributes such as gradients, background sizing, and pointer events.
  • Support for new DOM and HTML5 specifications including the Drag & Drop API and the File API, which allow for more interactive web pages.
  • Changes to how third-party software can integrate with Firefox in order to prevent crashes.

Personally, I think that the biggest news is the HTML5 support.

Although there will be some growing pains, it will be very welcome news when the dust settles as it does with all major changes to HTML.

One of the lofty aims of HTML5 specifications is:

HTML5 aims to reduce the need for proprietary plug-in-based rich Internet application (RIA) technologies such as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and Sun JavaFX.

Although these technologies are free for users to view Flash content, etc., the cost to companies to make use of them can be very expensive indeed. If you have ever noted how expensive the Adobe Suite(s) are then you may already know what I mean.

Technologies like Flash, Silverlight and Java can be considered a combination of a container and delivery mechanism for presenting various types of file such as video and audio, etc. in a browser environment.

The video and audio codecs themselves used to present these files can vary. You can see audio files in mp3, m4a, wma, ogg, etc. audio formats, or video files in H.264, Windows Media, Ogg Theora, etc., video formats.