Security guru Bruce Schneier has questioned some of the excuses coming from the antivirus industry as to why it is taking them so long to pick up advanced malware like Flame and Stuxnet.
Schneier's scolding was inspired by a mea culpa published in Wired by F-Secure's top security man, Mikko Hypponen. He admitted that when Flame was discovered F-Secure back-checked and found samples of the malware from two years ago and in the cases of both Stuxnet and DuQu the code had been in circulation for a year before being picked up.
"The truth is, consumer-grade antivirus products can’t protect against targeted malware created by well-resourced nation-states with bulging budgets," he wrote. "They can protect you against run-of-the-mill malware: banking trojans, keystroke loggers and e-mail worms. But targeted attacks like these go to great lengths to avoid antivirus products on purpose."
The kind of zero-day holes used by such malware are unknown by definition, he said, and the fact that such malware was being pretested against the most current commercial antivirus software meant that it wasn't a "fair war."
"I don't buy this," said Schneier. "It isn't just the military that tests their malware against commercial defense products; criminals do it, too. Virus and worm writers do it. Spam writers do it. This is the never-ending arms race between attacker and defender, and it's been going on for decades."
While it's likely that the Flame developers had a bigger budget than your common-or-garden cybercriminal, that wasn't the issue he argued. There's nothing particularly stealthy about the code itself. What makes Flame, Stuxnet et al more stealthy is that they are distributed in a slow, small-scale manner and are therefore considered either false-positives or not worth investigating.
"It seems clear that conventional non-military malware writers that want to evade detection should adopt the propagation techniques of Flame, Stuxnet, and DuQu," he concluded. ®