Tag Archives: Viruses Revealed

(Intellectual) Property is Theft?*

First of all, congratulations to Andrew Lee on his new role as CEO of ESET LLC. It’s as well that my work for AVIEN is unpaid, as otherwise he’d be my boss twice over. ūüėČ Reading the press release here, it includes substantial references to AVIEN and the AVIEN book, to which many AVIEN members contributed, as did¬†Andrew and myself.

That was a very worthwhile project, but one of the less attractive aspects was the readiness of a great many people to generate and distribute pirated copies: apparently the time and effort it took us all to generate that book doesn’t deserve any recompense. In fact, I had a pirated PDF copy sitting on my desktop before my author’s (hard) copies arrived…. That wasn’t the first of my books to be pirated, let alone the only one. But it seems that the pace has picked up in recent years.

So imagine my joy on reading in the Vancouver Sun that ION Audio are about to market a device that can scan a 200-page book in 15 minutes. (Thanks to Robert Slade, my co-author on Viruses Revealed, for bringing this gem to my attention.) Well, it’s basically just a more ergonomic type of scanner, and hopefully dedicated pirates will find that having to turn all those pages by hand will still have a negative effect on their sex lives.

I don’t think there’s much doubt, though, that for every individual¬†who has a legitimate and possibly legal reason to scan one of their books into machine-readable form (i.e. for iPad, Kindle etc.), there will be many more who will see this as a way to profit from the labour of others without asking the question “why do I have the right to assume that authors should go through the pain of writing and publishing with no right to any sort of return?”

What is really infuriating, though, is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to ION that it is marketing rather more than a legitimate tool for honest students and educationalists. Or maybe it doesn’t care, because it can’t be used to copy ION hardware.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property_is_theft

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
AVIEN COO

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The Real Lovebug

I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Kramer versus Kramer”, but I did actually read the novel by Avery Corman, a long, long time ago. And I have a vague recollection of Ted Kramer saying something to his wife Joanna about the birth of their son, and of her responding that she doesn’t remember Ted having been there. Hold that thought…

Suddenly, there’s a whole rash of anti-malware vendors reminiscing about VBS/Loveletter, which is, in epidemiological terms anyway, ten years old today. There’s a massive amount of information about what it actually did, of course, complete with copious screenshots, so I won’t waste time reproducing that information – I doubt if you’ll be faced with a Lovebug infection¬†at this stage¬†in the game.¬†¬†There is even a certain amount of discussion about which company “discovered” it.

As someone who works for an anti-malware vendor, I have nothing to say about that: I was certainly very active in the anti-virus field by that time, but I didn’t work for a vendor. In fact, I was working in security systems administration for a medical research charity, so I didn’t get a vendor’s eye view of the drama, but very much the customer view.

I do know how I became introduced to the Love Bug, because I included a note about it in the case study Rob Slade and I included in a book we wrote in 2001 called “Viruses Revealed”. One of our end users reported receiving an attachment containing gibberish – Outlook wasn’t in common use on that site, and other clients couldn’t interpret the code. The Helpdesk analyst who picked up the call realized that “gibberish” might well denote program code, and passed it on to me. And, in fact, the most cursory inspection of the code indicated that it was clearly meant to be infective, so I passed a copy straight to the vendor from whom my company was licensing AV at the time.

No, I’m not claiming to be patient zero: by that time, I was starting to see mail from other corporate AV specialists – that is, people specializing in malware management but not working in the anti-virus industry – seeing the same malcode. What I wasn’t seeing at that time was information from the industry.

That was a little before the birth of AVIEN (the result of a meeting at the 2000 Virus Bulletin conference later that year), but I remember talking to several of the same people who later exchanged information¬†on other malware outbreaks on AVIEN lists. These less formal exchanges of information and opinions¬†during the first phase of the Loveletter epidemic were immensely valuable as we all evolved strategies suited to our particular environments¬†for dealing with the threat (and the waves of copycat malware that quickly followed), while we waited for signatures from our vendors of choice. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to those emails anymore, but I used an AVIEN mailing list to ask some of those who were there at the time what they remembered.

Some remember risking life, limb and speeding tickets trying to get to the office¬† in order to take hands-on remediative action. Ken Bechtel remembers getting 12 messages on his pager and three phone calls before he’d even left home, and subsequently, he says, “I remember 36 out of 48 hours of work blocking vbs at the PMDF, and creating a custom SMS script to create a special named DIRECTORY to prevent a file from being dropped.”

Mike Blanchard was due at a training session that morning, but was similarly pounded by pager messages and phone calls and had to turn around en route and get to the office. (He actually received a ticket for turning around in someone’s driveway, but successfully fought the case because of the nature of the emergency.)

Thankfully, I was already at work, so there was no risk of my being charged with running too fast on a London Underground station…

So to all those industry professionals I’m now immensely proud to call colleagues, I’d like to say thank you for all your help over the years, and not least for the excellent job you did ten years ago in producing updates for Lovebug and the wave of semi-clones that followed.

But as far as Lovebug is concerned, I don’t remember you being at the birth. ūüôā

David Harley FBCS CITP CISSP
AVIEN Chief Operations Officer

About those alligators….

I don’t¬†know what Peter Norton¬† is up to these days. In the anti-virus industry, he’s probably best remembered for (a) the security products marketed by Symantec that still bear his name (though not the famous pink shirt photograph), though he sold his company to Big Yellow about 20 years ago. In researcher circles, he’s also remembered for telling Insight magazine in 1988 or thereabouts that ‚ÄúWe’re dealing with an urban myth. It’s like the story of alligators in the sewers of New York. Everyone knows about them, but no one’s ever seen them. Typically, these stories come up every three to five years.‚ÄĚ Well, quite a few people put computer viruses in the same category as flying saucers around that time. Commodore, for instance, reacted to questions about Amiga malware by saying that it sounded like a hoax, and moved on (1) to ignoring it altogether.

Not long after that, he lent his name to Symantec’s antivirus product, which I suppose makes it the world’s first anti-hoax software.

I’ve no idea whether there really are or ever were alligators in the sewers of New York, but according to the BBC, Scotland ‘s sewage system has quite a few equally bizarre inhabitants. Notably:

  • A Mexican Kingsnake
  • A goldfish called Pooh
  • An anonymous frog
  • An equally anonymous badger (no, it wasn’t in the company of the frog: what a story that could be…)

 The above were all alive and well, if not as sanitary as one might hope. However, a sheep found in a manhole chamber and a cow found in a storm tank did not survive the experience. Other inanimate objects found included credit cards, a working iron, false teeth, jewelry, and some of the hundreds of thousands of mobile phones that Brits are alleged to flush down the loo. 

It’s not known whether the very smelly¬†aggregation of¬†money mules that is apparently operating out of Scotland and associated with the “London scam” described here is operating out of the same network

(1) Yes, I’m paraphrasing myself. “Viruses Revealed”, Chapter 2, published by Osborne in 2001.

David Harley FBCS CITP CISSP
Security Author/Consultant at Small Blue-Green World
Chief Operations Officer, AVIEN
ESET Research Fellow & Director of Malware Intelligence

Also blogging at:
http://avien.net/blog
http://www.eset.com/blog
http://smallbluegreenblog.wordpress.com/
http://blogs.securiteam.com
http://blog.isc2.org/
http://dharley.wordpress.com
http://macvirus.com