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Symantec downplays source-code trophy theft

Indian hackers posted 5-year-old Norton code

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Symantec has confirmed earlier versions of its anti-virus source code have leaked, following a security breach of what the company said was the network of a "third party entity" rather than their own.

The admission follow claims by an Indian hacking group that it had accessed source code used in the company's flagship Norton anti-virus program. The Lords of Dharmaraja threatened to publicly disclose the secret sauce source code of the industry's largest infosec firm.

In the meantime the group published documents related to API interfaces on Pastebin. In addition, the group shared source code related to what appears to have been the 2006 version of Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus software with local journalists.

A hacker calling themselves "Yama Tough", acting as a spokesperson for the group, claims the source code had been pulled from insecure Indian government servers, implying that Symantec – and perhaps other software firms – may have been required to supply their source code to Indian authorities.

In response, Symantec said the leaked code related to enterprise (not consumer) products of 2006-07 vintage. It downplayed the significance of the hack and sought to assure the industry that everything was under control.

Symantec can confirm that a segment of its source code used in two of our older enterprise products has been accessed, one of which has been discontinued. The code involved is four and five years old. This does not affect Symantec's Norton products for our consumer customers.

Symantec's own network was not breached, but rather that of a third party entity. We are still gathering information on the details and are not in a position to provide specifics on the third party involved. Presently, we have no indication that the code disclosure impacts the functionality or security of Symantec's solutions. Furthermore, there are no indications that customer information has been impacted or exposed at this time.

However, Symantec is working to develop remediation process to ensure long-term protection for our customers' information. We will communicate that process once the steps have been finalized.  Given the early stages of the investigation, we have no further details to disclose at this time but will provide updates as we confirm additional facts.

Even if the leak related to up-to-date source code, it would be of only limited use to hackers, except as a "trophy scalp". Nonetheless the hack raises questions about the security of Symantec's ecosystem and the circumstances when it is prepared to share source code.

Sources have told us in the past that anti-virus firms were obliged to share both source-code and virus samples prior to been allowing to trade in China. We've never been able to prove this and only mention it as an anecdote that's worth considering when thinking about the recent run of malware-powered cyber-espionage attacks, routinely blamed on China. ®

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