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Symantec: We've plugged up pcAnywhere holes

Security giant tries to draw line under source code soap opera

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Symantec has said its pcAnywhere remote control software is once again safe to use, following the release of its latest security patch.

The security giant made the highly unusual move last week of advising customers to avoid using older but still widely used versions of pcAnywhere as a precaution, after it emerged that the product's source code was swiped by Anonymous-affiliated hackers.

The "Lords of Dharmaraja" bragged that they had obtained copies of Symantec's source code and threatened to publicly disclose it in order to facilitate the hunt for unpatched vulnerabilities. Source code for pcAnywhere was put up as the first candidate for this bug hunt, hence the heightened security concern over this product.

After initially blaming the leak on a security breach by an "unnamed third party", Symantec eventually admitted the breach was the result of a previously undisclosed theft of source code from its systems dating back to 2006. Older versions of the source code of a range of enterprise and consumer security products from Symantec was exposed.

At this point – a fortnight ago – Symantec issued a statement warning that "customers of Symantec’s pcAnywhere product may face a slightly increased security risk as a result of this exposure if they do not follow general best practices."

These best practices can be found here (PDF).

Pitches about patches

Symantec released a patch for pcAnywhere versions 12.0 and 12.1 on Friday 27 January – just days after patching vulnerabilities in the latest (pcAnywhere 12.5) version of the software on Monday 23 January. In the days in between, Symantec advised users of older versions of its remote-control software to suspend the use of the technology of their environments pending the availability of a fix, which it has now delivered.

The initial version of Symantec's best practice white paper reportedly advised customers to disable pcAnywhere, unless it was required for business-critical purposes (surely the last thing you'd want to do with it).

"At this time, Symantec recommends disabling the product until Symantec releases a final set of software updates that resolve currently known vulnerability risks. For customers that require pcAnywhere for business critical purposes, it is recommended that customers understand the current risks, ensure pcAnywhere 12.5 is installed, apply all relevant patches as they are released, and follow the general security best practices discussed herein."

This content has now been removed from Symantec's white paper. Descriptions of possible man-in-the-middle attack scenarios created by the vulnerabilities and contained in the initial version of the white paper have also been "disappeared" but are detailed in a blog post by Sophos here.

Symantec explained how to disable pcAnyWhere in an advisory published on 19 January and updated on 24 January – the day after it patched the latest version of the software. The security giant also published an updates series of statements on its response to the "Anonymous" source code theft.

The security giant has tried to keep customers in the loop about what's going on. Even so, its advice has occasionally been hard to easily digest and occasionally been buried in the small print of security notice. Frankly the whole thing has been more than a little confusing.

The latest line from Symantec, kindly forwarded to El Reg by its local representatives on Thursday lunchtime, can be found below.

At this time, Symantec recommends that customers ensure pcAnywhere 12.5 is installed, apply all relevant patches as they are released, and follow general security best practices.

If customers are unable to adhere to this guidance and have not installed the latest version with current patches, we recommend that they contact pcanywhere@symantec.com<mailto:pcanywhere@symantec.com> for additional assistance.

On Monday, January 23, 2012, Symantec released a patch that eliminates known vulnerabilities affecting customers using pcAnywhere 12.5. On Friday, January 27, 2012, Symantec released a patch that eliminates known vulnerabilities affecting customers using pcAnywhere 12.0 and pcAnywhere 12.1.

Symantec's rivals, such as Netop, have seized on the confusion over the safety of using pcAnywhere to offer customers trials of their alternative technology, Netop Remote Control.

In a statement, Netop's CEO Kurt Bager said: "Symantec's announcement highlights the risks of having varying levels of security in your remote access setup. The theft of its old source code by a hacking group could potentially open up companies across the world to key vulnerabilities within the remote access program. We hope that by offering Netop Remote Control at no charge for thirty days - Symantec will have time to fix the issue."

Netop is also offering special terms for enterprises that switch from Symantec before the end of February. ®

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