Monday, October 12, 2009

Lessons Learned: Vulnerability and Expectations Management

As an information security professional, a large portion of my work day is spent with vulnerability and patch management. So when I saw a security advisory addressing multiple vulnerabilities in both Symantec's Corporate Antivirus and Endpoint Security Solution products last June, I immediately investigated. You can read the security advisory here. I became concerned because other Vendors also use the Intel File Transfer service so I thought it be prudent to investigate.

I began looking around and noted that Tenable Network Solutions had a Nessus plugin. You can find the plugin here. So like any true geek with nothing to do on a Saturday evening, I began scanning. I was surprised at what I found.

The systems running the Intel File Transfer service from other vendors were not vulnerable but systems patched with Symantec 10.1 MR8 were still be vulnerable. The solution table in Symantec’s Advisory states that the issue with AMS2 was fixed in this version.

I contacted someone I knew at Tenable and asked for assistance in verifying the vulnerability. The plugin actually contains remote execution code but it is commented out by default. With instruction from Tenable I uncommented the cmd = "calc"; line in the NASL script and ran a nessusd -R to perform a reload of the Nessus Database. Sure enough, the next scan verified that cmd.exe would execute without authentication on the vulnerable machines.

So what gives? Is Symantec's advisory incorrect? Not entirely, although it may be misleading. This became a case of reading the fine print. Further down the advisory we find this information:

"AMS2 is installed by default with Symantec Antivirus Server 9.0. AMS2 is an optional component in Symantec Antivirus Server 10.0 or 10.1. These vulnerabilities will only impact systems if AMS has been installed."

And further down, under mitigation section:

"Reporting has replaced AMS2 as the recommended method of alerting. Symantec Endpoint Protection Central Quarantine Server 11.0 MR3 and later no longer include AMS2. Symantec recommends that customers who are still using AMS2 switch to Reporting to manage alerts in their environments. If the customer is unable to switch to reporting immediately then Symantec recommends that the customer either disables AMS2 as a temporary mitigation or completely uninstall AMS2."

All the systems vulnerable had all been upgraded from an earlier version of Symantec Antivirus Corporate Edition 9.X. During the remote upgrade process there seemed to be no way to specify if AMS2 was to be installed or not. Symantec support seemed unable to instruct me on how to remove or disable AMS2 from the affected systems and I have spent the last several months trying to get them to change the advisory so that the solution table listed at the top of the document noted this tidbit at the bottom. To say the least I have not been successful in this endeavor and feel a bit frustrated. Although the Sales Executive has been nice enough to try and sell me their Endpoint Protection v11 product and recommended I start with a fresh install.

If you do want to mitigate the vulnerability, I determined disabling the Intel File Transfer service works well and does not seem interfere with my configuration. I recommend you test this in your own environment however.

So Lessons Learned:

Read Security Advisories carefully.
Scanning is an important part of any vulnerability management plan.
Manage your expectations when dealing with vendors.

Updated December 29, 2009

Posted two updates on the release of the POC for this vulnerability and a report of the exploit being used in the wild by SANS ISC.


  1. I had a huge run-in with McAfee last night. I'm getting convinced these "big AV firms" have no clue what they're doing anymore.

    Sorry, that really wasn't the point of your post, but that part hit a nerve. :)

  2. LonerVamp,

    I recently had a conversation with a couple of people that had similar experiences with such security solution providers. On one hand I felt a sense of brotherhood with others equally as frustrated as myself. On the other hand, I felt disgusted and in need of delousing.