[ISN] Reports of death of email viruses greatly exaggerated?

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Sun Apr 29 2001 - 19:46:59 PDT

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    By: John Leyden
    Posted: 27/04/2001 at 16:58 GMT
    The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has come under fire over the
    capabilities of a product designed to protect business from the
    effects of email viruses, such as the Love Bug and Anna Kournikova
    Anti-virus vendors have said that software developed by the MoD's
    Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) is neither innovative
    nor what the market needs. Dera has hit back by suggesting antivirus
    software on its own isn't enough to protect people from malicious
    As previously reported, Dera unveiled a product called ::Mail this
    week which works on the principle of displaying a pop-up box when a
    user sends an email, confirmed whether they intended to send it or
    not. The software is designed as an add-on to antivirus software.
    The idea of ::Mail is that it will both highlight the activation of
    covert email virus from infected PCs and effectively block propagation
    of viruses by methods such as Visual Basic scripts embedded in
    harmless looking email attachments, a technique used by the Love Bug.
    Promising as this sounds the idea has been criticised on two grounds
    by antivirus firms: that the idea has been tried before and has been
    seen as a nuisance by end users and that such techniques would not
    stop the latest batch of email viruses.
    MessageLabs, a managed service provider that scans its customers email
    for viruses, said that the techniques used by ::Mail would be
    effective against the not stop the second most common virus this
    month, W32/Magistr-mm. This is because the virus comes bundled with
    its own SMTP client.
    Eric Chien, chief researcher at Symantec's antivirus research centre,
    said it might help block the spread of viruses in some organisations
    but is not a novel approach.
    Putting users in control of deciding whether or not it is safe to send
    a message is likely to lead to more help desk calls in many
    organisations, he argued.
    "Dera's technology sounds like a classic behaviour blocker, it's all a
    bit draconian and I don't believe the average customer would adopt
    it," said Chien.
    In fairness to Dera, which enjoys a reputation for quality
    cutting-edge research, it has to be said that ::Mail is far more
    sophisticated than early reports suggested and in its professional
    version includes content control and techniques to prevent email
    Simon Wiseman, an information security specialist at Dera, hit back at
    the criticism by antivirus software vendors by saying their products,
    though widely used, failed to prevent the expense and inconvenience
    caused by viruses like the Love Bug.
    Organisations often turn off all the checks their anti-virus scanner
    can perform in order to speed up operations, said Wiseman, who said
    that greater defence in depth against malicious code was needed in
    order to mitigate risks.
    Symantec's Chien agreed that misconfiguration of antivirus scanners
    was an issue and that vendors needed to educate users and ship
    products with sensible default settings.
    He added that there's no good reason for Visual Basic scripting to
    hook into Outlook and that firms should consider applying Microsoft's
    Outlook security patch, which is available here.
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