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CA in malformed archives malware risk

Anti-virus protection turned against users

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CA has updated its anti-virus software to guard against a brace of flaws that created a means for hackers to turn the security protection software against its users.

Both bugs involved problems in processing malformed CAB archives. Successful exploitation of the vulnerabilities potentially allows execution of arbitrary code (malware) or system crashes thanks to that perennial hacker favourite, buffer overflow flaws.

The vulnerabilities affect CA Anti-Virus and eTrust security packages, enterprise versions of these products, as well as systems management and backup suites that bundle the security software. CA has published an update (30.6, if you must know) designed to address the flaws, which were reported by security researchers via 3Com Tipping Point's Zero Day Initiative (advisories here and here).

CA's advisory can be found here.

Processing archived files is something of an Achilles heel for anti-virus products in general. The issue came to the fore around two years ago after security tools vendor ISS issued alerts over similar but distinct vulnerabilities in various security packages from Symantec, involving the processing of UPX compressed files; and anti-virus products from F-Secure and Trend Micro, both involving the handling of ARJ archive files.

More recently, Trend Micro had a problem with UPX compressed files back. Anti-virus products are designed to keep users safe from virus attacks. Flaws, such as the bugs in CA's software, illustrate these security packages can become the source of security bugs. The problem is nowhere near severe enough to spark much of a rethink by vendors, much less changes in anti-virus user buying behaviour, but it does illustrate the problems of adding additional layers of protection rather than making systems secure in the first place. ®

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