McAfee and Symantecs Claims

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-10-05 Print this article Print

However, if you listened to McAfee youd get the impression that all versions of Vista are affected by kernel patch protection. I asked McAfee if the company planned to correct this dishonest letter from its Chairman and CEO (here as a PDF), but got no response. Symantec is more honest, from what I can see, in its public postings on the matter, such as this blog entry and this paper (PDF).
Symantec implies that Microsoft can bypass PatchGuard with its own products:
    If Microsoft wants to make Vista more secure, it should provide equal access to the platform that its own developers have to ensure that security vendors can continue to innovate on the platform, and to ensure that consumers and OEMs can continue to choose the best security solutions for the platform. This has always been the case with prior operating systems.
Microsofts response to this is to say that its own aftermarket products, such as its OneCare security service, have no more access to kernel patching than anyone else. The Vista developers themselves of course have more access to the operating system kernel, but thats just the way it is. Incidentally, Microsoft has some good blogs on the subject: The Windows Vista Security Blog: An Introduction to Kernel Patch Protection and Jeff Jones: Symantecs Plea : Protect Our Protection Racket. And just because companies dont have the same access to the kernel doesnt mean they dont have sufficient access to the kernel. With kernel patch protection you can still write a kernel-level driver, monitor process creations and DLL imports, then rewrite the binary code before its copied to executable memory. You just cant patch the kernel as its running. Microsoft has unveiled tools to fight Vista piracy. Click here to read more. For the more bread-and-butter aspects of malware protection, the right way to go is through a filter driver, a driver type that has existed since time immemorial, at least in Windows terms. Filter drivers are a built-in method in Windows for monitoring and processing I/O, whether its file I/O or network I/O or whatever. The answer from McAfees and Symantecs point of view is basically to keep Windows insecure. They have discussed whitelisting their products in the kernel, but that really stinks of new problems and hacks and I dont blame Microsoft for not considering it. Given that, McAfee thinks were all better off with a Windows more vulnerable to rootkits and other similar attacks. That way well need more of its products. All this does put more of a burden and responsibility on Microsoft to respond quickly if, or rather when, security problems develop in the kernel. Thats the way it has to be, and only time will tell if the company lives up to its obligations. I like its incentives in this regard better than McAfees. Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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