Home > General Rants & Raves, Information Security, Information Survivability, Intrusion Detection, Intrusion Prevention, Malware > Why Steeling Your Security Is Less Stainless and More Irony…

Why Steeling Your Security Is Less Stainless and More Irony…

(I originally pre-pended to this post a lengthy update based on my findings and incident response, but per a suggestion from @jeremiahg, I’ve created a separate post here for clarity)

Earlier today I wrote about the trending meme in the blogosphere/security bellybutton squad wherein the notion that security — or the perceived lacking thereof — is losing the “war.”

My response was that the expectations and methodology by which we measure success or failure is arbitrary and grossly inaccurate.  Furthermore, I suggest that the solutions we have at our disposal are geared toward solving short-term problems designed to generate revenue for vendors and solve point-specific problems based on prevailing threats and the appetite to combat them.

As a corollary, if you reduce this down to the basics, the tools we have at our disposal that we decry as useless often times work just fine…if you actually use them.

For most of us, we do what we can to provide appropriate layers of defense where possible but our adversaries are crafty and in many cases more skilled.  For some, this means our efforts are a lost cause but the reality is that often times good enough is good enough…until it isn’t.

Like it wasn’t today.

Let me paint you a picture.

A few days ago a Wired story titled “Is antivirus a waste of money?” hit the wires that quoted many (of my friends) as saying that security professionals don’t run antivirus.  There were discussions about efficacy, performance and usefulness. Many of the folks quoted in that article also run Macs.  There was some interesting banter on Twitter also.

If we rewind a few weeks, I was contacted by two people a few days apart, one running a FireEye network-based anti-malware solution and another running a mainstream host-based anti-virus solution.

Both of these people let me know that their solutions detected and blocked a Javascript-based redirection attempt from my blog which runs a self-hosted WordPress installation.

I pawed through my blog’s PHP code, turned off almost every plug-in, ran the exploit scanner…all the while unable to reproduce the behavior on my Mac or within a fresh Windows 7 VM.

The FireEye report ultimately was reported back as a false positive while the host-based AV solution couldn’t be reproduced, either.

Fast forward to today and after I wrote the blog “You know what’s dead? Security…” I had a huge number of click-throughs from my tweet.

The point of my blog was that security isn’t dead and we aren’t so grossly failing but rather suffering a death from a thousand cuts.  However, while we’ve got a ton of band-aids, it doesn’t make it any less painful.

Speaking of pain, almost immediately upon posting the tweet, I received reports from 5-6 people indicating their AV solutions detected an attempted malicious code execution, specifically a Javascript redirector.

This behavior was commensurate with the prior “sightings” and so with the help of @innismir and @chort0, I set about trying to reproduce the event.

@chort0 found that a hidden iFrame was redirecting to a site hosting in Belize (screen caps later) that ultimately linked to other sites in Russia and produced a delightful greeting which said “Gotcha!” after attempting to drop an executable.

Again, I was unable to duplicate and it seemed that once loaded, the iFrame and file dropper did not reappear.  @innismir didn’t get the iFrame but grabbed the dropped file.

This led to further investigation that it was likely this was an embedded compromise within the theme I was using.  @innismir found that the Sakura theme included “…woo-tumblog [which] uses a old version of TimThumb, which has a hole in it.”

I switched back to a basic built-in theme and turned off the remainder of the non-critical plug-ins.

Since I have no way of replicating the initial drop attempt, I can only hope that this exercise which involved some basic AV tools, some browser debug tools, some PCAP network traces and good ole investigation from three security wonks has paid off…

ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT MALWARE FIRES (so please let me know if you see an indication of an attempted malware infection.)

Now, back to the point at hand…I would never have noticed this (or more specifically others wouldn’t) had they not been running AV.

So while many look at these imperfect tools as a failure because they don’t detect/prevent all attacks, imagine how many more people I may have unwittingly infected accidentally.

Irony?  Perhaps, but what happened following the notification gives me more hope (in the combination of people, community and technology) than contempt for our gaps as an industry.

I plan to augment this post with more details and a conclusion about what I might have done differently once I have a moment to digest what we’ve done and try and confirm if it’s indeed repaired.  I hope it’s gone for good.

Thanks again to those of you who notified me of the anomalous behavior.

What’s scary is how many of you didn’t.

Is security “losing?”

Ask me in the morning…I’ll likely answer that from my perspective, no, but it’s one little battle at a time that matters.


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  1. March 6th, 2012 at 00:58 | #1


    Still getting antivirus(nod32) notification about mailware in your blog.
    I had the similar mailware in my wordpress website. You can try search eval() functions in your all wordpress files, it helped me to find virus code. I found some php files with array which contains encrypted mailware code and this code run by hexadecimal code which is run by eval() funtion. Also dont forget to change passwords on all users who can change wordpress files content.

  2. March 6th, 2012 at 12:43 | #2

    IMO the fun part of security is finding actual bad stuff and figuring out how it works. It’s a lot easier to do that when multiple people are looking at the problem, applying different approaches, and sharing their results.

    I’m glad you identified the compromise timeline and got back up and running so quickly.

  3. Chris
    March 6th, 2012 at 14:33 | #3

    I run a Mac and I did notice (on 2/10), because the firewall told me stuff smelled bad (“HTML/Trojan.iframe.eih”).

    Tried to verify with curl/wget, jerked with user-agent and such, no love. Sucuri (IIRC) gave you a clean bill of health, too. I figured it was a false positive. Next time, I’ll say something.

  1. March 6th, 2012 at 14:26 | #1
  2. March 6th, 2012 at 16:08 | #2