[ISN] Microsoft tells US Air Force to bug off

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Wed May 02 2001 - 10:59:14 PDT

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    By: John Leyden
    Posted: 02/05/2001 at 12:21 GMT
    Microsoft's security patch for Outlook, which is designed to protect
    users from the effects of another Love Bug-style virus, has come under
    fire from no less a body than the US Air Force.
    In a paper to be presented at a security workshop in June, an
    assistant professor of computer science at the US Air Force Academy
    will deliver a devastating critique of Microsoft's approach to
    security in general and Outlook in particular.
    Martin Carlisle will tell an audience of security experts that a
    security patch to Outlook, which is designed to stop viruses spreading
    via automated messages through requiring user's authorisation via a
    dialog box, can be easily circumvented.
    This "Object Model Guard" prompts a user with a dialogue box when an
    external program tries to access a user's Outlook address book, a
    trick used by the Love Bug and other similar viruses.
    Carlisle said this idea has promise but Microsoft's implementation is
    "It is possible, with a small amount of code, to create a program that
    hides and answers the dialog box automatically," said Carlisle.
    In a paper to be presented at the workshop Carlisle explains how
    Microsoft dismissed the significance of the potential vulnerability.
    Its security team argues that to get around the dialog box they would
    have to get executable code running on a victims machine, and if an
    attacker could do that getting around the dialog box would be "the
    least of your worries".
    This, frankly astonishingly arrogant response, is given short shrift
    by Carlisle: "The Microsoft Security Team seem to have missed the
    significance of their own security patch because their view neglects
    the ability of viruses of this class to replicate."
    Carlisle and colleague (and co-author) Scott Studer have produced a
    detailed rebuttal of Microsoft's argument and suggestions of
    improvement to the dialogue box security, which involve protecting the
    lowest level of an application.
    In a statement we find hard to disagree with the researchers state
    that reinforcing dialogs based security in Windows can only go so far.
    "Given the current limitations of the Windows operating system, this
    [improving dialogue box security] turns to be similar to trying to
    secure a parked car at an airport. You can make it harder to break in
    but you can never make you car totally secure."
    The researchers said that Microsoft should consider modifying its
    operating system in order to verify that messages received come from
    users rather than other programs. Carlisle and Studer also cover a
    variety of other ideas for dealing with Love Bug-style viruses (such
    as blocking Visual Basic Scripting) and their paper is well worth a
    [USAF paper: Reinforcing Dialog-Based Security
    http://www.usafa.af.mil/dfcs/papers/mcc/ieeesmc2001.html ]
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