Feeds

Government-built malware running out of control, F-Secure claims

What if antivirus companies are whitelisting state malware...

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

TrustyCon A surprising number of governments are now deploying their own custom malware – and the end result could be chaos for the rest of us, F-Secure's malware chief Mikko Hyppönen told the TrustyCon conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

"Governments writing viruses: today we sort of take that for granted but 10 years ago that would have been science fiction," he told the public conference. "If someone had come to me ten years ago and told me that by 2014 it will be commonplace for democratic Western governments to write viruses and actively deploy them against other governments, even friendly governments, I would have thought it was a movie plot. But that's exactly where we are today."

The US is leading the way in this, he said, having initiated the Stuxnet malware against Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities, although the actions against the Iranians were part of a much larger program, Operation Olympic Games, which was initiated by the then-President Bush and carried on by Obama.

Hyppönen said that he had investigated a Stuxnet sample to see if it could be modified to attack other targets and found that it could, up to a point. The specific control code to interfere with the industrial SCADA control systems used by the Iranians was very difficult to reshape, but the malware could be reconfigured to introduce random controls to be sent to an infected industrial plant that could cause havoc.

Later parts of Operation Olympic Games were even more worrying, he said, particularly the Flame malware which spread using a false Windows Update system. Normally the Windows operating system refuses updates from code that isn't properly cryptographically signed, but in this case the writers appeared to have used a large team of crackers and a supercomputer to spoof Microsoft's signing key.

But it's not just the Americans, he said. China has long been fingered as using state-sponsored malware, and last June US President Obama and the Chinese premier were due to have a White House summit on the issue. Unfortunately Edward Snowden started leaking the NSA's documents four days before the meeting and the crucial topic was abandoned.

In Europe, German police and customs officials have access to a bespoke computer Trojan called R2D2 which is used to track and collect data on targets. The Russians are also major players, and even the Swedes are in on the game; Hyppönen showed the audience leaked documents showed Swedish officials had had meetings with the NSA and were setting up their own malware program.

New state actors are also piling in. Hyppönen highlighted the birth of a new malware family, called Careto (Spanish for "the mask"), which popped up in February. That software nasty, which has cropped up in 31 countries, belongs to a yet unknown Spanish-speaking country and is spreading fast.

Hyppönen also wondered out loud whether some antivirus companies had overlooked government-crafted malware. A Dutch campaign group called Bits of Freedom sent a letter to all the major antivirus vendors asking them to confirm that they weren't being asked to whitelist some kinds of malware being produced by government.

"The question was answered by our CEO saying 'No, we haven't', we have never whitelisted any government malware since the source doesn’t come into play – we simply protect all our customers," he said. "We've had this policy for 13 years."

While ESET, F-Secure, Norman Shark, Kaspersky, Panda and Trend Micro replied to Bits of Information, Symantec and McAfee (among others) have not responded, Hyppönen claimed. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
UK smart meters arrive in 2020. Hackers have ALREADY found a flaw
Energy summit bods warned of free energy bonanza
DRUPAL-OPCALYPSE! Devs say best assume your CMS is owned
SQLi hole was hit hard, fast, and before most admins knew it needed patching
Knock Knock tool makes a joke of Mac AV
Yes, we know Macs 'don't get viruses', but when they do this code'll spot 'em
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
Mozilla releases geolocating WiFi sniffer for Android
As if the civilians who never change access point passwords will ever opt out of this one
Why weasel words might not work for Whisper
CEO suspends editor but privacy questions remain
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
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.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.