The controversy created by McAfee having pushed out a buggy antivirus update should encourage organizations to consider the viability of a staged approach to updating computers.
IT administrators affected by the flawed antivirus update
out April 21 by McAfee may have a lot of work ahead of them cleaning up
computers. But there are some lessons to be learned from the fiasco that admins
should file away for the future, experts told eWEEK.
IT operations for a number of organizations were disrupted
pushed out a .dat file update for its antivirus products. The
buggy update, which was meant to address an attack targeting Windows PCs,
incorrectly identified svchost.exe as a Windows virus detected as W32/wecorl.a,
and affected computers running Windows XP Service Pack 3.
According to McAfee, .5 percent of its corporate customers were impacted,
and an even smaller percentage of customers of its consumer products were hit
But among those enterprise users were police, hospitals and universities
whose XP computers downloaded the file and were greeted with a Blue Screen or DCOM
error, followed by shutdown messages.
For organizations, the moral here may be to take a more cautious approach to
applying antivirus updates. But doing so can open up its own can of worms,
noted Jason Miller, data and security team manager at Shavlik Technologies.
"Deploying AV updates can be quite challenging given that antivirus
definition files are extremely time-sensitive," Miller said. "The
longer IT administrators wait to deploy new definition files, the more likely
user machines are vulnerable to the last viruses. In addition, antivirus
vendors typically release multiple definition files daily. A good practice
is to test the new definition files as they become available before rolling
them out to the network, but this may not be feasible for all companies due to
the frequency of the updates and testing time."
Many organizations will first bring updated signature files, AV updates and
patches into a safe sandbox for internal testing and validation, said Peter
Schlampp, vice president of marketing and product management at Solera
"This sandbox would represent the general makeup of the overall
organization-various operating systems, various versions, hardware
[configurations], etc.," Schlampp said. "By exposing a select number
of machines to the updates, they get an idea of how the systems will respond to
the updates. Only after this internal validation will they then coordinate the
updates throughout the entire organization."
The incident will make many think twice about moving to a
"cloud-based" update system in which PCs just accept an automatic
push of updates from AV vendors without any gating by enterprise IT, opined
Gartner analyst John Pescatore.
While Pescatore characterized McAfee's response as quick and properly
apologetic, he compared the original mistake to an aspirin company providing
pills that end up causing headaches.
"This one incident doesn't really mean we need to go back to what was
common five years ago, i.e. fully QA-ing [quality assurance testing] every
signature update before pushing out," Pescatore said. "However,
waiting a few hours to see if anyone else reports problems before you push out,
or at least simple QA on the standard supported corporate image through a
reboot, is still a prudent approach."
In an additional twist, ESET
reports that attackers
have begun poisoning search engine results to lead
unsuspecting victims looking for information about the situation to sites
pushing rogue antivirus software.
"Juraj Malcho, our head of lab in Bratislava, reports that in a Google
search ... he got three malicious hits in the top 10 ... and 11 in the top
20," blogged David Harley, ESET's director of malware intelligence.
"Subsequent searches using different search strings are finding even more
hits, so right now, Google is well and truly poisoned."
McAfee published a tool earlier April 22 that suppresses the driver causing
the false positive by applying an Extra.dat file and restoring the svchost.exe.
Organizations looking for information about workarounds and fixes
can find it here.