Take the Offensive in Slow Times for Worms

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-05-27 Print this article Print

Despite Sasser, I think we're in a period of relatively light threat. It's a good time to shore up defenses if you have no fires to put out, Larry Seltzer writes.

I was trolling the antivirus sites recently looking for a hot threat and was overcome by the dominance of old, endemic ones that have dropped to "low" status. Sasser aside, its been a while since there was a worm threat out there worth worrying about—and far longer since we had a mail worm that made a difference. As Jay Munro of PC Magazine reported in his most recent Security Watch, weve had quite a number of worms such as Sasser emerge to take advantage of the LSASS vulnerability in Windows, but none of them has much traction.

I have to figure that Sasser polluted the field for all these latecomers. Sasser wasnt the kind of worm you could sit and suffer with.
It rebooted the system frequently. Anyone who was vulnerable to Sasser probably got it and was forced to deal with it, not only by removing the worm but by applying the patch or blocking the relevant ports on a firewall.

As a result, there probably arent that many vulnerable systems out there. There are always bound to be some, such as new systems set up with Windows XP but without the latest patches. (The answer for such people is an up-to-date Windows Update CD. Microsofts latest one was in February, and they havent answered my questions about whether they will update it again.)

But of course you are a responsible user/administrator, so you had the patch applied and you blocked the ports on your firewall(s) before Sasser ever hit. So, none of these threats are really a problem for you or your users. What threats are out there?

Lets look at Symantec Corp.s threat lists: Its got Gaobot.ALV, Gaobot.ALW, Korgo.B and Korgo.C as elevated threats (2 on a scale from 1 to 5), not because it has ever seen one in the wild but because theyre dangerous. Look at everyones lists of the threats youre likely to encounter in the wild, and theyre all much older. Symantec still has Sasser.B as a 4 out of 5, but most of the problem is Netsky variants from two months ago. And I can understand how there are no new Netsky variants since they busted the author, but why are there no new Bagle variants either?

Next page: Hit em when theyre down.

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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