After AMTSO: a paper for EICAR 2012.

This is a paper presented at the 2012 EICAR conference in Lisbon. (I actually presented two: the other one will be posted here in a day or two, or maybe a little longer as I’m travelling right now.) It’s posted here rather than on the ESET resources page for conference papers in accordance with EICAR’s copyright stipulation that EICAR conference papers be posted on personal web sites.

After AMTSO: a funny thing happened on the way to the forum

Here’s the abstract: 

Imagine a world where security product testing is really, really useful.

  • Testers have to prove that they know what they’re doing before anyone is allowed to draw conclusions on their results  in a published review. 
  • Vendors are not able to game the system by submitting samples that their competitors are unlikely to have seen, or to buy their way to the top of the rankings by heavy investment in advertising with the reviewing publication, or by engaging the testing organization for consultancy. 
  • Publishers acknowledge that their responsibility to their readers means that the claims they make for tests they sponsor should be realistic, relative to the resources they are able to put into them. 
  • Vendors don’t try to pressure testers into improving their results by threatening to report them to AMTSO.
  • Testers have found a balance between avoiding being unduly influenced by vendors on one hand and ignoring informed and informative input from vendors on the other. 
  • Vendors don’t waste time they could be spending on enhancing their functionality, on tweaking their engines to perform optimally in unrealistic tests.
  • Reviewers don’t magnify insignificant differences in test performance between products by  camouflaging a tiny sample set by using percentages, suggesting that a product that detects ten out of ten samples is 10% better than a product that only detects nine. 
  • Vendors don’t use tests they know to be unsound to market their products because they happened to score highly.
  • Testers don’t encourage their audiences to think that they know more about validating and classifying malware than vendors.
  • Vendors and testers actually respect each others work.

When I snap your fingers, you will wake out of your trance, and we will consider how we could actually bring about this happy state of affairs. 

For a while, it looked as if AMTSO, the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization, might be the key (or at any rate one of the keys), and we will summarize the not inconsiderable difference that AMTSO has made to the testing landscape. However, it’s clear that the organization has no magic wand and a serious credibility problem, so it isn’t going to save the world (or the internet) all on its own. So where do we (the testing and anti-malware communities) go from here? Can we identify the other players in this arena and engage with them usefully and appropriately?

Small Blue-Green World
ESET Senior Research Fellow

EICAR 2011 Paper

And a big hand, please, for my EICAR 2011 paper!

This is a paper I presented last week at the EICAR conference in Krems, Austria, on “Security Software & Rogue Economics: New Technology or New Marketing?” Here’s the abstract:

A highlight of the 2009 Virus Bulletin Conference was a panel session on “Free AV vs paid-for AV; Rogue AVs”, chaired by Paul Ducklin. As the title indicates, the discussion was clearly divided into two loosely related topics, but it was perhaps the first indication of a dawning awareness that the security industry has a problem that is only now being acknowledged.

Why is it so hard for the general public to distinguish between the legitimate AV marketing model and the rogue marketing approach used by rogue (fake) security software? Is it because the purveyors of rogue services are so fiendishly clever? Is it simply because the public is dumb? Is it, as many journalists would claim, the difficulty of discriminating between “legitimate” and criminal flavours of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt)? Is the AV marketing model fundamentally flawed? In any case, the security industry needs to do a better job of explaining its business models in a way that clarifies the differences between real and fake anti-malware, and the way in which marketing models follow product architecture.

This doesn’t just mean declining to mimic rogue AV marketing techniques, bad though they are for the industry and for the consumer: it’s an educational initiative, and it involves educating the business user, the end-user, and the people who market and sell products. A security solution is far more than a scanner: it’s a whole process that ranges from technical research and development, through marketing and sales, to post-sales support. But so is a security threat, and rogue applications involve a wide range of skills: not just the technical range associated with a Stuxnet-like, multi-disciplinary tiger team, but the broad skills ranging from development to search engine optimization, to the psychologies of evaluation and ergonomics, to identity and brand theft, to call centre operations that are hard to tell apart from legitimate support schemes, for the technically unsophisticated customer. A complex problem requires a complex and comprehensive solution, incorporating techniques and technologies that take into account the vulnerabilities inherent in the behaviour of criminals, end-users and even prospective customers, rather than focusing entirely on technologies for the detection of malicious binaries.

This paper contrasts existing malicious and legitimate technology and marketing, but also looks at ways in which holistic integration of multi-layered security packages might truly reduce the impact of the current wave of fake applications and services.

ESET Senior Research Fellow

Re-Floating the Titanic: Social Engineering Paper

Back to ESET White Papers

Re-Floating the Titanic: Dealing with Social Engineering Attacks is a paper I presented at EICAR in 1998. It hasn’t been available on the web for a while, but as I’ve had occasion to refer to it several times (for instance, and in the last few days, I figured it was time it went up again. To my surprise, it doesn’t seem to have dated particularly (less so than the abstract suggests).

Abstract follows: 

“Social Engineering” as a concept has moved from the social sciences and into the armouries of cyber-vandals, who have pretty much set the agenda and, arguably, the definitions. Most of the available literature focuses on social engineering in the limited context of password stealing by psychological  subversion. This paper re-examines some common assumptions about what constitutes social engineering, widening the definition of the problem to include other forms of applied psychological manipulation, so as to work towards a holistic solution to a problem that is not generally explicitly recognised as a problem. Classic social engineering techniques and countermeasures are considered, but where previous literature offers piecemeal solutions to a limited range of problems, this paper attempts to extrapolate general principles from particular examples.

It does this by attempting a comprehensive definition of what constitutes social engineering as a security threat, including taxonomies of social engineering techniques and user vulnerabilities. Having formalized the problem, it then moves on to consider how to work towards an effective solution.  making use of realistic, pragmatic policies, and examines ways of implementing them effectively through education and management buy-in.

The inclusion of spam, hoaxes (especially hoax virus alerts) and distribution of some real viruses and Trojan Horses in the context of social engineering is somewhat innovative, and derives from the recognition among some security practitioners of an increase in the range of threats based on psychological manipulation. What’s important here is that educational solutions to these problems not only have a bearing on solutions to other social engineering issues, but also equip computer users to make better and more appropriate use of their systems in terms of general security and safety.

Security Author/Consultant at Small Blue-Green World
Chief Operations Officer, AVIEN
Chief Cook & Bottle Washer, Mac Virus
ESET Research Fellow & Director of Malware Intelligence

Also blogging at: