Ramblings & ephemera

Microsoft: only way to deal with malware is to wipe the computer

From Ryan Naraine’s “Microsoft Says Recovery from Malware Becoming Impossible” (eWeek: 4 April 2006):

In a rare discussion about the severity of the Windows malware scourge, a Microsoft security official said businesses should consider investing in an automated process to wipe hard drives and reinstall operating systems as a practical way to recover from malware infestation.

“When you are dealing with rootkits and some advanced spyware programs, the only solution is to rebuild from scratch. In some cases, there really is no way to recover without nuking the systems from orbit,” Mike Danseglio, program manager in the Security Solutions group at Microsoft, said in a presentation at the InfoSec World conference here.

Offensive rootkits, which are used hide malware programs and maintain an undetectable presence on an infected machine, have become the weapon of choice for virus and spyware writers and, because they often use kernel hooks to avoid detection, Danseglio said IT administrators may never know if all traces of a rootkit have been successfully removed.

He cited a recent instance where an unnamed branch of the U.S. government struggled with malware infestations on more than 2,000 client machines. “In that case, it was so severe that trying to recover was meaningless. They did not have an automated process to wipe and rebuild the systems, so it became a burden. They had to design a process real fast,” Danseglio added.

… “We’ve seen the self-healing malware that actually detects that you’re trying to get rid of it. You remove it, and the next time you look in that directory, it’s sitting there. It can simply reinstall itself,” he said.

“Detection is difficult, and remediation is often impossible,” Danseglio declared. “If it doesn’t crash your system or cause your system to freeze, how do you know it’s there? The answer is you just don’t know. Lots of times, you never see the infection occur in real time, and you don’t see the malware lingering or running in the background.”

… Danseglio said the success of social engineering attacks is a sign that the weakest link in malware defense is “human stupidity.”

“Social engineering is a very, very effective technique. We have statistics that show significant infection rates for the social engineering malware. Phishing is a major problem because there really is no patch for human stupidity,” he said.

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