Friday, December 18, 2009

20 years in av

i knew time was coming, i even thought about marking the occasion here, but my attention was elsewhere at the time so there weren't any posts on the subject.

then eddy willems posted about his 20th anniversary in anti-malware and i thought maybe i should post about this after all - so it entered my to-do list and languished there for a while.

and then today david harley posted about his upcoming 20th anniversary in anti-malware so i figure it's time to pop that task off the to-do stack and actually write something.

you see, i also had my 20th year in the anti-malware field this year - though not in the professional sense that eddy and david did. i don't recall the exact date but i know it was in late november of 1989 that i started down the path i'm on today (i gave a basic run down of how it happened in my about me post 3 years ago).

it's interesting to me to discover that some of the other names i know in this field also got started the same year. it didn't really seem like '89 was all that significant a year or anything, but i guess that's about when awareness of the malware problem (or rather the virus problem at the time since that was the principle form of malware being created) was reaching the critical mass necessary to entrench itself firmly in the general public's consciousness - first as an obscure curiosity, but as an increasingly real and oftentimes personal annoyance for people as they had their own run-ins with the problem. as such i'm sure there's quite a few more who got their start that year.

at any rate, happy anniversary eddy and david. i hope it's been as stimulating for you as it has been for me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

why mac fanatics still believe they're virus free

(another post form the draft pile)

i stumbled across this article about why macs are still virus free and it occurred to me that there were a number of false premises that deserved highlighting to illustrate why mac users still think their beloved platform is so safe.

  • the first thing i noticed was an ill-conceived notions of what a virus is (eg. "When I say virus I'm referring to a program which self-propagates and self-installs either by exploiting a back door in the operating system or another legitimate application"). by this definition most PC viruses (and i'm not using virus as a catch-all umbrella term here) are not actually viruses.
  • next thing i noticed was the comparison of apples to fruit (eg. "So why don't Macs get viruses while Windows PC's seem to be facing a constant tsunami of malware, spyware, worms, trojans and botnets?"). compare mac viruses to pc viruses please, not mac viruses to pc viruses, worms, spyware, trojans, botnets, etc. either that or compare the gamut of mac malware to the gamut of pc malware.
  • next on the list of wrong-headed thinking i picked up from that post was thinking malware authors are still just attention seekers (eg. " There are a lot of theories regarding install base and attention-seeking virus writers") when it has been demonstrated over and over again for the past several years that they're financially motivated now - the current trend is to follow the money.
  • another bit of nonsense i noticed (which in fairness is bandied around by a lot of otherwise intelligent people) is thinking that going after the biggest group limits them to going after just one group (eg. "wanting to target the biggest market") when it has been demonstrated that professional malware gangs are targeting both platforms at the same time (see zlob gang).
  • yet another wrong thought in the article was thinking that unix makes the difference (eg. "The real answer is UNIX") when in fact the first academic treatment of the virus problem (back when the term 'computer virus' was originally coined) had viruses successfully replicating across a user population in a professionally administered unix environment without cooperation from the admin.
  • the most damning, however, is thinking in yesterdays terms. the very fact that they're still focusing on viruses rather than malware in general shows just how outdated the thinking really is. most of the malware currently attacking pc's these days is NOT viral (either by normal pc definitions, incorrect mac definitions, or formal definitions). furthermore viral malware isn't really the biggest malware problem these days. huge numbers of non-viral malware are the biggest problem facing pc's and the malware gangs have been targeting both pc's and macs for years now.

mac users have largely ignored the malware problem, which is probably why what little they know of the problem is generally either wrong or out of date. the malware problem isn't ignoring them, however. they have an opportunity to get ahead of the problem, but if they keep living in the past that opportunity will be squandered.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

sneakemail is no longer free

well, y'know what they say, all good things must come to an end and the free ride at appears to be one of those things. as of sometime earlier this month moved to a paid service and existing accounts were switched over to the one month trial setup.

if you're using sneakemail then this is probably something you want to know about (i found out quite by accident) because when the trial is over your emails won't get forwarded to your real email address anymore.

i've been using sneakemail for years now, and directing others their way. it's a great service and it's helped me keep spam in check so i don't want to say that their service isn't worth the $2 a month fee, but recurring charges are the bane of my existence so i'm not sure what i'm going to do. this is complicated by the fact that i have so many addresses with them (most of which get no traffic, but still). switching to another service would be a pain due to a several years long habit of using sneakemail as well as all the existing addresses i'd have to switch over. plus there's no guarantee that the next one will turn out any better in the long run. paying the fee would also be a pain, and an ongoing one at that.

but enough of my griping - you're now forewarned, go do something about your account if you're a sneakemail user. you have less than 30 days.

malware classification fail

here's one from the drafts pile, hopefully it's not too stale

i'm wondering what the anti-malware world is coming to when the leading vendor classifies something as a trojan even though it clearly discloses what damage it does.

by this logic, every copy of every operating system also ships with a trojan horse program, either in the form of the delete command or the format command.

one of the basic requirements of a trojan is that it tricks the user into executing it - the original trojan horse wouldn't have gotten very far if there was a warning sign on the outside that said it contained enemy soldiers that would sack the city when night fell. so too would suspected malware not get very far if it plainly disclosed what it does.

this game is at worst a potentially unwanted program - in other words, grayware. we can't just go around calling every bad program (or even just every bad non-viral program) a trojan anymore than we can go around calling all malware viruses. not using the proper terminology is a great way to confuse everyone and confusion is something we don't want to sow, right?!?