Feeds

Rogue McAfee update strikes police, hospitals and Intel

It's bad, but is it Blaster-bad?

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Many enterprises, including police departments and hospitals in the US, were hit by a false positive from McAfee on Wednesday that labelled a core Windows file as potentially malign.

A detection update from McAfee (DAT 5958) falsely labelled the svchost.exe as the Wecorl-A virus, sending a core Windows system file into quarantine in the process. Infected computers became inoperable and went into a continuous reboot cycle. Clean up operations were further complicated by the fact that the dodgy update disabled network access.

McAfee responded to the problem by withdrawing the definition update and later releasing a clean one. The security giant also published advice on how to manually fix affected computers. The influx of interested parties trying to look up this advice through McAfee's forum caused the site to become unavailable for a short time on Wednesday evening.

Cybercrooks wasted little time in exploiting the situation for their own purposes, poisoning search results so that links to scareware portals appeared prominently in indexes. As a result users are advised to be especially careful if they choose to search for information on solving the problem. Getting advice directly from McAfee is a far better option.

The timing of the update - mid-afternoon on Wednesday (European time) - meant that US enterprise systems configured to automatically apply new updates were among those worst affected. Reported victims include Kansas City Police Department and and the University of Kansas Hospital and about a third of the hospitals in Rhode Island. PCs also went haywire at Intel, the New York Times reports, citing Twitter updates from workers at the chip giant as a source.

First hand experiences from an Iowa community emergency response centre, ironically running a disaster recovery exercise at the time, can be found in a posting to the Internet Storm Centre here. The Register has heard from a senior security officer at a net infrastructure firm that was also hard hit by the snafu, as reported in our earlier story here.

Some commentators compared the effect of the update to the infamous Blaster worm. It's unclear, however, if any item of malware has so effectively floored so many systems in such a short space of time.

McAfee is seeking to downplay the effects of the incident, saying that few consumers were affected while apologising to those hit:

McAfee is aware that a number of customers have incurred a false positive error due to this release. Corporations who kept a feature called “Scan Processes on Enable” in McAfee VirusScan Enterprise disabled, as it is by default, were not affected.

Our initial investigation indicates that the error can result in moderate to significant issues on systems running Windows XP Service Pack 3.

The faulty update was quickly removed from all McAfee download servers, preventing any further impact on customers. We are not aware of significant impact on consumers.

False positives affect all anti-virus software vendors from time to time. Problems are particularly severe, as in this latest case, when a core Windows file was targetted.

As previously reported, the industry's approach towards minimising the number and severity of false positives has been to make greater use of whitelisting.

Quite why that technique either wasn't applied in the McAfee case or failed to work properly is a key question for McAfee's quality control engineers to consider in the wake of Wednesday's massive snafu. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
George Clooney, WikiLeaks' lawyer wife hand out burner phones to wedding guests
Day 4: 'News'-papers STILL rammed with Clooney nuptials
Shellshock: 'Larger scale attack' on its way, warn securo-bods
Not just web servers under threat - though TENS of THOUSANDS have been hit
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
PEAK IPV4? Global IPv6 traffic is growing, DDoS dying, says Akamai
First time the cache network has seen drop in use of 32-bit-wide IP addresses
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.