Symantec Norton AV Hack: Some Further Considerations

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Pierluigi Paganini

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(Translated from the original Italian)

No doubt, the top news of the beginning of the year is the alleged theft of the source of the Symantec antivirus.

The news is sensational, "They stole everything but the police station!", hilarious but very serious. Let's try to resume the events.

A group that calling itself the Lords of Dharmaraja has posted online a piece of the source code that was declared to be part of the security software.

Immediately the manufacturer resized the event and its spokesman Cris Paden said "no source code was disclosed" in the post. The document proposed has been declared dated (12-year-old) and it does not contain any source code.

Later Symantec give a new announcement, confirming that a group had gained access to some of the security product's source code.


"Symantec can confirm that a segment of its source code has been accessed. Symantec’s own network was not breached, but rather that of a third party entity.We are still gathering information on the details and are not in a position to provide specifics on the third party involved.Presently, we have no indication that the code disclosure impacts the functionality or security of Symantec's solutions. Furthermore, there are no indications that customer information has been impacted or exposed at this time."

In the same hours, on the web site PasteBin, was published a portion of the stolen source code, which was promptly removed. I was able to give a look at the proposed code, to be exact in the document were presented the "signatures" of some functions which are presumably part of the antivirus Symantec.


But what is the source of the information and what is the proposed source code?

The information was obtained by hacking India's military computer network. The Indian intelligence agencies were in possession of the source code thanks to an agreement with Symantec. The source code seems to be part of the Norton Antivirus version 2006, but we have no idea how much it is still in use.

Early Friday morning the company announced that the products in question are Symantec Endpoint Protection 11.0 and Symantec Antivirus 10.2, so this incident impact on all those products “Norton” branded. The Endpoint Protection product is now at version 12.0 and Symantec Antivirus 10.2 has been discontinued.

The company was keen to point out that its systems had not been breached. “Symantec’s own network was not breached, but rather that of a third party entity"

How useful is knowledge of the source code of an antivirus program? Definitely not much I think, as most of antivirus are based on attack signatures recognition and this is also well known to malware authors that during the development continuously write new code to avoid signature detection.

As always I do not want to limit myself to watch the events, but I want to comment on them with you. First, as I emphasized in an article on the hardware qualification, the only way to avoid the presence of a backdoor is to analyze the source code, and be able to do it, of course.

In this case, Symantec had provided the source to the Indian authorities that have expressed, at least it would seem, the failure in its management. I find this aspect very seriously. You can not ask for guarantees to private companies unless you are not able to protect their business.

My second reflection, in a digital world scenario we have verified that collaborations can be important in view of a war against cyber crime and against the threat of hostile governments. The downside is that, as in this case, the pedestrian work of a military could seriously compromise a cyber strategy. And this must be taken into due consideration. The weakest link in the chain, as always, can compromise the security of the entire system.

Last point, What is the impact in terms of images related to events like this? No doubt they are destabilizing events that could give the final blow to companies in difficulty. It happened to DigiNotar, but the rule is not generalizable, because of incidents like these companies can show their ability to react to incidents increasing the customer account on their actual abilities... it is happened for example RSA.

Cross-posted from Security Affairs

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