April 16, 2014

Microsoft stopping support for its anti-malware scanner on XP in 3 months time

microsoft logoThe bell has been tolling for Windows XP for a long time and even though Microsoft has given its 2001 operating system the occasional reprieve it looks like Redmond is set on ridding itself of arguably its most popular OS. As well as mainstream ending support, including security updates, from April 8th 2014, Microsoft will also stop supporting its anti-malware scanner – Security Essentials.

Microsoft Security Essentials helps guard against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software and new definitions files and updates are provided on a regular basis by Microsoft itself. At the moment the current minimum requirements for the malware scanner is Windows XP Service Pack 3, however according to Microsoft’s end of support for XP page, Microsoft will also stop providing Microsoft Security Essentials for download on Windows XP after April 8th.

According to the latest data from NetMarketShare Windows XP is still running on 29 percent of PCs that access the Internet. That is a staggeringly large number of PCs and makes XP Microsoft’s second most popular operating system in use today. More PCs run XP than Windows Vista and Windows 8/8.1 put together. Only windows 7 is more popular than XP with some 47 percent of PCs using it.

But despite its popularity Microsoft is pulling the plug in less than 90 days. Microsoft itself acknowledges that continuing to use Windows XP after the support ends will make your PC “more vulnerable to security risks and viruses.”

What makes this even more concerning is that XP is still very much under attack from cyber criminals and hackers. Only last month  Microsoft issued a warning about a zero-day vulnerability in XP that allows attackers to gain elevated privileges. Once the attackers have system level privileges they can install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full administrative rights. December’s security updates from Microsoft contained several patches, some Critical, for Windows and only one of those patches didn’t apply to Windows XP. Extrapolating from this shows that Windows related security bulletins to be released after April will likely also affect XP but the OS will be left vulnerable. This means that cyber criminals will have a wealth of clues available for creating new exploits knowing that XP hasn’t been and won’t be patched.

By removing support for Security Essentials it seems that Microsoft is sending a strong message to XP users that now is the time to upgrade.

Zero-day vulnerability in Windows XP being exploited via a malicious PDF file

microsoft logoMicrosoft has issued a warning to all users of its aging Windows XP operating system about a zero-day vulnerability that allows attackers to gain elevated privileges. Once the attackers have system level privileges they can install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full administrative rights.

The vulnerability is in the Windows kernel and affects Windows Server 2003 as well as XP. Once exploited an attacker can run arbitrary code in kernel mode which automatically gives them full administrative rights.

According to CVE-2013-5065 NDProxy.sys in the kernel of Microsoft Windows XP SP2 and SP3 and Server 2003 SP2 allows local users to gain privileges via a crafted application. The vulnerability is being exploited in the wild.

Microsoft has issued a workaround for the vulnerability however by implementing it services that rely on the Windows Telephony Application Programming Interfaces (TAPI) to not function, this includes Remote Access Service (RAS), dial-up networking, and virtual private networking (VPN). Full details of the workaround, which disables NDProxy.sys and reroute all calls to Null.sys, can be found in Microsoft’s security advisory.

According to Symantec there have been a “small number” of in-the-wild attacks happening since early November. Users in the U.S., India, Australia, Saudi Arabia and throughout Europe were targeted.

This is the second zero-day vulnerability to be recently exposed in Windows. At the beginning of November Microsoft released  a security advisory about a vulnerability in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, Microsoft Office 2003 to 2010, and all supported versions of Microsoft Lync, that is being exploited in the wild and targeting PC users mainly in the Middle East and South Asia.

Windows XP is Petri Dish For Rootkit Infections

(LiveHacking.Com) – A six month study, by the AVAST Virus Lab, has found that 74% of rootkit infections originated from Windows XP machines, compared to 17% for Vista and only 12% from Windows 7 machines.

Window XP is the most common PC operating system with around 49% of avast! antivirus users running it compared to the 38% with Windows 7 and the 13% with Vista.

And the problem seems to be that there are a large number of pirate copies of XP which don’t run automatic updates as they can’t be validated by the Windows Genuine Advantage validation process. This leaves the out-of-date and upatched OS open to all kinds of attack, even old ones long patch by Microsoft.

“Because of the way they attack – and stay concealed – deep in the operation system, rootkits are a perfect weapon for stealing private data” said Przemyslaw Gmerek, the AVAST expert on rootkits and lead researcher.

Cybercriminals are continuing to fine-tune their attack strategy with the Master Boot Record (MBR) remaining their favorite target for even the newest TDL4 rootkit variants.
The study found that rootkits infecting via the MBR were responsible for over 62% all rootkit infections. Driver infections made up only 27% of the total. The clear leader in rootkit infection were the Alureon(TDL4/TDL3) family, responsible for 74% of infections.

Experts from AVAST Software will be attending the upcoming Blackhat events in Las Vegas on August 3-7, 2011.