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Sophos Anti-Virus Update Identifies Sophos Code As Malware 245

Posted by timothy
from the auto-immune-disease dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Yesterday afternoon anti-virus company Sophos Inc. released a normal anti-virus definition update that managed to detect parts of their own software as malicious code and disabled / deleted sections of their Endpoint security suite, including its ability to auto-update and thus repair itself. For many hours on the 19th, Sophos technical call centers were so busy customers were unable to even get through to wait on hold for assistance. Today thousands of enterprise customers remain crippled and unable to update their security software." Sophos points out that not everyone will be affected: "Please note this issue only affects Windows computers."
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Sophos Anti-Virus Update Identifies Sophos Code As Malware

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  • 99.999% (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jsepeta (412566) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @12:52PM (#41401283) Homepage

    how many of Sophos customers are not on the Windows platform? that makes me laugh.

    • Re:99.999% (Score:5, Insightful)

      by thereitis (2355426) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:22PM (#41401721) Journal
      Speaking of percentages, I wonder what percentage of anti-virus updates go terribly wrong like this. 0.00001%? AV companies are constantly producing new signatures, many times per day. All it takes is one mistake and you have a loose cannon and a front page news article like this one. It's impressive that there aren't more occurrences.
      • Re:99.999% (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Culture20 (968837) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:37PM (#41401959)
        What's impressive is that this got out of Sophos' testing lab and into production. I guess they must not test signatures in house at all. Congratulations, Sophos customers, you've been promoted to alpha testers.
        • Re:99.999% (Score:5, Funny)

          by jd2112 (1535857) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @02:16PM (#41402479)

          What's impressive is that this got out of Sophos' testing lab and into production. I guess they must not test signatures in house at all. Congratulations, Sophos customers, you've been promoted to alpha testers.

          Actually, it's an incredible show of honesty on the part of Sophos. Perhaps Symantec and McAfee will follow suit and flag their own software as malicious as well.

          • I hope they're publishing this widely. It's the first article I've seen that leads me to believe that antivirus might actually work...
          • Certainly it makes it one of the easiest to remove antiviruses, which is a pretty major AV feature in my book.

        • Re:99.999% (Score:4, Funny)

          by RDW (41497) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @05:35PM (#41404963)

          What's impressive is that this got out of Sophos' testing lab and into production.

          What's really impressive is that is that it also orchestrated a DDOS attack on the Sophos tech support helpline...

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:40PM (#41402003) Journal

        The trouble, in this case, is that it detects its own signature update componenets as viruses...

        Not only should this have been caught in testing(Since it would have cropped up more or less the moment the new signatures were loaded onto a live system with Sophos installed; but they hit files about which sophos presumably has intimate knowledge, this isn't some 'obscure packing/compression scheme used by legacy CAD program that seemed like a good idea in the 80's looks like a suspicious obfuscated payload' kind of thing.

        I am not impressed, though thankfully it only took me a little over half a day to fix it here...

        • by omnichad (1198475)

          I think it basically detects all files on your system that include "updater" in the path. It also kept doing it over and over again.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>>All it takes is one mistake and you have a loose cannon and a front page news article like this one.

        This is why my virus update is off. I update about once a month, and I only accept OLD updates not newer ones. So if I had Sophos on my computer I would be having zero problems right now.

        • While this may work for you, being a careful, knowledgeable slashdotter that I'm sure you are, it would be unthinkable in a business environment. Sophos only makes business products, there is no "Sophos Home Edition," so I don't think your method really applies in this case.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Speaking of percentages, I wonder what percentage of anti-virus updates go terribly wrong like this. 0.00001%?

        It's got to be more than that. I remember a few years back that several people in my company who were foolish enough to have anti-virus on their Windows PCs configured to auto-fix problems came in in the morning to find it had deleted some essential Windows DLL files.

        That software probably only updated once a week, so you're talking more like 0.1%.

    • Re:99.999% (Score:4, Funny)

      by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:24PM (#41401771) Homepage Journal

      I'm just glad I didn't have a mouthful of coffee when I read:

      Sophos points out that not everyone will be affected: "Please note this issue only affects Windows computers."

      or I would still be cleaning coffee off of monitors, laptop, papers, etc.

      I have a couple of old Windows XP installations I can still get to when some idiot creates a web site that only works right in IE (e.g., I live in Colorado and the state has a site for doing your state income tax that doesn't work when accessed with Firefox). Ditto for software like most income tax programs. I don't otherwise use Windows. Even my work laptop is running Linux (Fedora 16).

      Cheers,
      Dave

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Rasputin (5106)
      It's not uncommon. Companies run Sophos on Solaris or Linux servers to scan uploaded files before they're passed to the poor stupid Windows systems.
      • They also have a mac client, if I recall. If you need A/V for the Windows boxes anyway, plus something on the mail server to snip some of the crap out on the way in, it becomes a fairly easy sell for the vendor to shove a few mac or linux licenses out the door if some of their customers have a paranoic 'zOMG all computers must have antivirus to protect our megahertz!!!" policy. If you have to implement that, it's easier to at least implement it all in one place, with one console, and maybe a volume discount

  • by realsilly (186931) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @12:54PM (#41401307)

    This is a classic case of not thoroughly testing code and making sure you have enough variations of test machines to ensure as little pain to clients as possible.

    If I were a customer, I would be shopping for a better company.

    • by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:08PM (#41401519) Homepage

      If I were a customer, I would be shopping for a better company.

      Is there a better company, though? Seems like all the major antivirus vendors have had embarassing false positives like this in the past.

      • Is there a better company, though? Seems like all the major antivirus vendors have had embarassing false positives like this in the past.

        Yes, but getting a false positive on your own software takes it to an entirely new level.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Hello QA department your fired.

      • by rbrausse (1319883)

        Hello QA department your fired.

        nah, more like: Hello $computerguy, you're hired. we need a QA dept.

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:22PM (#41401731)

      This is a classic case of not thoroughly testing code and making sure you have enough variations of test machines to ensure as little pain to clients as possible.

      Antivirus engines and definitions change daily, weekly at the most. Where do you suppose this "thorough testing" of code is supposed to happen? It costs time and money, and while you're busy doing that testing, the support lines are being flooded with "We've been infected by something your software doesn't protect against! What are we paying you for, anyway?" As a bonus, your competitors, who didn't decide to setup a massive lab with dozens of employees in it, testing all the typical configurations of a half dozen operating systems and the couple hundred most popular software packages of each... they already released a patch.

      Now, a software patch that causes the application to stomp on its own dick is amusing (and difficult to forgive), but demanding a massive expenditure of time and money is almost as unforgiveable. It's easy to demand best practices and ample safety margins: It's quite another thing to deliver it in a business environment. Most people in the industry, including the people at Sophos I'm sure, do the best they can with what they're given. It's pretty much the work creed of anyone in this industry -- few have the time and resources to do it right, they have to settle for 'good enough'.

      And sometimes, good enough breaks.

      • by Culture20 (968837)
        A simple group of ~20 VMs could handle this egregious type of error. Who cares if AV X marks some specialty software with a false positive? It should at least not detect itself! Load the new sigs to the test VMs, and if they don't commit suicide after a full scan, upload the sigs to the prod download servers. At most, this costs a company ~$5,000/year for equipment and ~$40,000/year for labor. That's pocket change compared to how much the company can lose over a screw up like this.
        • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @02:01PM (#41402307)

          That's pocket change compared to how much the company can lose over a screw up like this.

          Emphasis mine. Look, every major antivirus producer has made a similar mistake to this. Sometimes, it takes the whole operating system down with it (Symantec anyone?). Whether you agree or disagree, it's clear there are business incentives for a fast workflow process -- and as the old saying goes "Do it fast, do it right, do it cheap -- pick any two." It's obvious which ones the antivirus industry as a whole has chosen. Rather than argue over whether or not they're right, I'm pointing out why they're making those choices. Businesses aren't willing to pay a premium to avoid mistakes like this. The cost of the occasional screwup like this is less than the cost required to do all the testing and lab work that many here on slashdot seem to support.

          It's a business decision they've made, right or wrong.

        • by omnichad (1198475)

          Not sure. This issue hit my workplace (state university), and it only affected 2 computers in my office, and I never heard about it from outside the office. I think there were other factors that triggered this.

        • by osu-neko (2604)
          The fundamental problem is that, no matter what you do, your testing environment is never a perfect replication of the live, end-customer environment. It cannot be, since it's required by virtue of being a testing environment to differ so that you can test things before they go live. What happened here is, the testing environment's method of distributing updates to test differed from live (which it must if it is to be able to test definitions that aren't live yet), and the problem didn't affect the testin
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        You're defending mediocrity?

    • In no particular order. Vipre, Trend Micro WFB, and Symantec Endpoint are all good products. Everything else is a crapshoot. And stay the hell away from McAfee. That shit will eat your servers alive! (no really, blocks registry write backs from most legit software including Windows Updates)

  • ... the chicken ate the egg, after all...

  • by mschaffer (97223)

    So, how much testing do they perform on their own product. I suppose they do not even know how their own "dogfood" tastes.

    • they're running Avast free version like everyone else.

    • So, how much testing do they perform on their own product. I suppose they do not even know how their own "dogfood" tastes.

      Are you kidding, the bitch killed and ate her own pups! How do you test for the software equivalent of zombie Apocalypse?

  • "test by eyeballing the code" has its drawbacks.

    In a perfect world, the QA manager would be updating his resume.

    • by localman57 (1340533) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:12PM (#41401559)

      "test by eyeballing the code" has its drawbacks.

      Exactly. Sometimes code that looks useless is really pretty important. The article follow up said they removed this test from an iteration loop, since there weren't comments about what it did. Apparently the original programmers thought it obvious...

      if ( asimov_3rd_violation())
      {
      continue;
      }
      else
      {
      remove_file(filename);
      }

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Oh, that's brilliant. The thing is, any geek would get the significance immediately. What kind of dunderhead would delete it?

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      I think this was an in-development definition that wasn't meant to be deployed at all. It referenced a virus that didn't exist "shh/updater-b" and Sophos didn't even have a page for that name on their web site when it hit. It flagged anything on the system with "updater" in the path.

  • Strangely enough, two days ago the Sophos install I have on Mac OS also started flagging itself as a threat and disabling itself...

    Blasted it off as quickly as I could. No harm done that I can find.
  • by chill (34294)

    An honest scan report from a major anti-virus vendor. Was it flagged as spyware/advertising trojan?

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:03PM (#41401439) Homepage

    Obviously, once this change had gone in, Sophos was correct to identify itself as malicious.

  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:05PM (#41401463) Homepage

    Let's see this isn't a virus, it's kinda like software leukemia or a software autoimmune disease.

  • by MachineShedFred (621896) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:06PM (#41401477) Journal

    The detection rate for Sophos's malware engine inched closer to 100%.

  • A definite Own Goal. This gaffe is one that will be repeated for years to come, if not decades.

  • As memory serves McAfee did this about 8-10 years ago with an update. It's a sign of poor release management and a failure to follow best practices. If they fail to follow best practices for something like this that is high visibility and customer facing, imagine what they look inside the company.

    Time to start bringing your business elsewhere.

  • by phrackwulf (589741) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:14PM (#41401607) Homepage

    Every year, we need to go down the list of software makers who have managed to totally Bork their users. The Meltdown awards. Just to distinguish between the companies that handle it well and the companies that are incompetent.

  • These autoimmune diseases ain't a whole lot of fun. I'd prescribe some computosteroids and avoiding sunlight. Just stay in the basement.
  • "It's a trap!"

    Perfect attack vector for a real infection - as part of the AV suite. Talk about stealthy.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:26PM (#41401799) Homepage

    Wanna cause problems? Add code from the various AV vendors...

  • Avira had a similar problem [theregister.co.uk] last year.
  • First for calling itself out. And then again for NOTcalling Windows out.

    So it goes...

  • by dskoll (99328) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @01:52PM (#41402193)

    Just think about it. The average Windows AV program runs with sufficient privilege to wreck your system by altering or removing arbitrary files. And it gets fed multiple updates per day created by teams of workers working in a hugely stressful situation: When a new virus appears, you've got to get those signatures out NOW.

    I'm amazed people don't see this risks in this.

  • We are currently considering switching AV vendors from Kaspersky (our license renewal is coming soon). So the boss contacted Sophos and they sent a guy yesterday to install a demo and got hit with this bug.

    Needless to say the guy was pretty embarrassed.

    I like ESET nod32 myself, but it seems that the administrative console is not as good as Kaspersky (K's allows to deploy software, turn off machines, send messages to users and lots of other non-AV stuff we actually need)

  • BitDefender once did the awesome feat of quarantining every. single. file. They even rolled out the update to all x64 Vista and 7 machines (possibly XP, too).

    Thanks goodness for backups.

  • by illtud (115152) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @06:31PM (#41405551)

    Yes, this was bad. The virus signature in question appears to match any software that does auto-updates (possibly trying to spot phone-home malware?) so it's flagged dozens of software packages and according to what policy you've set, quarantined or deleted the files. This includes the auto-update part of the sophos client. The flood of emails from the sophos enterprise manager package as machines were switched on this morning quickly alerted us that this wasn't good, and just looking at names of the files it was flagging was enough to see that this was a false positive. Cleanup continues.

    We've been very happy with sophos enterprise, and I'm staggered that this signature made it out the door - they should have numerous controls in place to ensure this can never happen and I await an explanation for how they failed.

    I'm not too impressed by some of the advice given in their cleanup procedure [sophos.com] - they advise setting the policy to not scan certain sophos directories - guess where viruses may try to hide in future.

    This is an embarassing fubar which will have had a high impact on thousands of enterprises. It'll be interesting to see if Sophos come clean about the circumstances and can be convincing enough about how it's never going to happen again.

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