Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Quality and Assurance in Malware Attacks

The rise of multiple antivirus scanners and sandboxes as a web service, did not only increase the productivity level of researchers and utilized the wisdom of crowds concept by sharing the infected samples among all the participants courstesy of the crowds submitting them, it also logically contributed to the use of these freely available services by malware authors themselves. In fact, the low detection rate is often pointed out as the quality of the crypting service by the authors themselves while advertising their malware or crypting services. And when a popular piece of malware known as Shark introduced a built-in VirusTotal submission to verify the low detecting rate of the newly generated server, something really had to change - like it did.

At the beginning of 2008, VirusTotal which is among the most widely known and used such multiple antivirus scanner as a web service, decided to remove the "Do not distribute the sample" option, directly undermining the malware authors' logical option not to share their malware with anti virus vendors, but continue using the service. The multiple antivirus scanner as a web service is such a popular model, that there're several other such services available for free, with many other underground alternatives for internal Q&A purposes. But now that each and every possible service that comes with the malware product is starting to get commercialized, it is logical to question how would quality and assurance obsessed malware authors disintermediate the intermediary to actually break-even out of their investment in a malware campaign? Would they continue porting malware services to the Web, or would they take some of their Q&A activities offline?

In the past, there've been numerous underground initiatives to come up with an offline multiple virus scanners, and here are some examples courtesy of PandaSecurity's Xabier Francisco, and as you can see in the attached screenshot, development in this area is continuing, with the following anti virus scanners included within this all-in-one offline malware scanner :

"A-Squared, AntiVir, Avast; AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, BitDefender, Clam Win, Dr.Web, eTrust; F-Prot, Kaspersky Antivirus 7, McAfee, Nod32; Norman, Norton, Panda, QuickHeal, Sophos, TrendMicro, VBA32"

Talking about reactive security, the concept of doing this has always been there, and will continue to evolve despite that the most popular online multiple anti virus scanning services started sharing all the infected samples between the anti virus vendors themselves. And now that malware authors are also starting to understand what behavior-based malware detection is, and how a host based firewall can prevent their malware from phoning back home, even though the host is already infected, the success rates of their malware campaigns is prone to improve even before they've launched the campaign.

When malware authors start embracing the OODA loop concept -- Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action -- things can get really ugly. Why haven't they done this yet? They Keep it Simple, and it seems to work just fine in terms of the ROI out of their actions. One thing's for sure - malware will start getting benchmarked against each and every antivirus solution and firewall before the campaign gets launched, in a much more efficient and Q&A structured approach than it is for the time being.