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A Day In The Antivirus World - 4. AVERT LAB VISIT & USEFUL WEBSITES

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We were taken to the AVERT labs where we were shown the path from the submission of a suspected malicious sample through to the testing of the suspect sample and then to the development of the removal tools and definition files, their testing and deployment.

Samples are collected by submission via email, the AVERT web portal, removable media via mail (e.g. CD or floppy disk) or captured via AVERT's honeypots in the wild.

Once a sample is received a copy is run on a goat rig. A goat rig is a test/sacrificial machine. The phrase “goat rig” comes from the practice in the past of tethering a goat in a clearing to attract animals the hunter wanted to capture. In this case the goat rig was a powerful workstation running several virtual machines courtesy of VMware software that were in a simulated LAN. The simulation went so far as to include a simulated access point to the Internet and Internet based DNS server.

The sample is run on the goat rig for observational tests. Observational tests are the first tests conducted after the sample has been scanned for known malicious signature files. Naturally malicious activity is not often visible to the common end user, so observable activity means executing the sample and looking for files or registry keys created by the sample, new ports opened and unexpected suspicious network traffic from the test machine.

As a demonstration the lab technicians ran a sample of the mydoom virus and the observable behaviour at this point was the opening of port 3127 on the test host, unexpected network traffic from the test host and newly created registry keys. The lab technician pointed out that a firewall on the host, blocking unused ports, would have very easily prevented mydoom from spreading.

Following observational tests the sample will be submitted for reverse engineering if it's considered complex enough or it warrants further investigation.

AVERT engineers that carry out reverse engineering are located throughout the world and I found it interesting that these reverse engineers and Top AV researchers maintain contact with their peers in the other main AV vendors. This collaboration is not maintained by the AV vendors but by the AV engineers so that it is based on a trust relationship. This means that the knowledge about a sample that has been successfully identified and reverse engineered to identify payload, characteristics etc is passed to others in the AV trust group.

From the test lab we went through to the AV definition testing lab. After the detection rules and a new AV definition have been written the definition is submitted to this lab. The lab runs an automated test that applies the updated AV definition on most known Operating System platforms and against a wide reference store of known applications.

The intention is to prevent the updated AV definition from giving false positives on known safe applications.

Imagine the grief if an updated AV definition provided a false positive on Microsoft's Notepad!

One poor soul was in a corner busy surfing the web and downloading all available material to add to their reference store of applications for testing future AV definitions.

After passing the reference store test an email is sent to all subscribers of the McAfee DAT notification service and the updated AV definition is made available on the McAfee website for download.

In summary, the AVERT lab tour was an informative look behind the scenes, without much of a sales pitch, and I found the co-operation amongst AV researchers of different AV companies very interesting.


Useful Websites

Tests and presents results for many AV products :

Compares many AV products:

Advertised as offering an “independent and neutral” source about developments in the AV field:

Provides security notifications direct to your mobile or wireless device:

A malicious hacker/cracker web site. Could be useful for a heads up on new vulnerabilities or exploits being developed:

This is an AVERT portal that can be used for submitting samples of potentially malicious files. AVERT will investigate and respond to your submission:

This website provides a downloadable local host based web proxy program:

The website offers a dictionary type service that provides a name for vulnerabilities and exposures that is common across all participating organisations:


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