Researcher finds critical vulnerabilities in Sophos antivirus product

Sophos antivirus should only be considered for low-value non-critical systems, the researcher said

By Lucian Constantin, IDG News Service |  Endpoint Security, antivirus, Sophos

"It is simply inexcusable to disable ASLR systemwide like this, especially in order to sell a naive alternative to customers that is functionally poorer than that provided by Microsoft," Ormandy said.

A website blacklisting component for Internet Explorer installed by Sophos antivirus cancels the protection offered by the browser's Protected Mode feature, the researcher said. In addition, the template used to display warnings by the blacklisting component introduces a universal cross-site scripting vulnerability that defeats the browser's Same Origin Policy.

The Same Origin Policy is "one of the fundamental security mechanisms that makes the internet safe to use," Ormandy said. "With the Same Origin Policy defeated, a malicious website can interact with your Mail, Intranet Systems, Registrar, Banks and Payroll systems, and so on."

Ormandy's comments throughout the paper suggest that many of these vulnerabilities should have been caught during the product development and quality assurance processes.

The researcher shared his findings with Sophos in advance and the company released security fixes for the vulnerabilities disclosed in the paper. Some of the fixes were rolled out on Oct. 22, while the others were released on Nov. 5, the company said Monday in a blog post.

There are still some potentially exploitable issues discovered by Ormandy through fuzzing -- a security testing method -- that were shared with Sophos, but weren't publicly disclosed. Those issues are being examined and fixes for them will start to be rolled out on Nov. 28, the company said.

"As a security company, keeping customers safe is Sophos's primary responsibility," Sophos said. "As a result, Sophos experts investigate all vulnerability reports and implement the best course of action in the tightest time period possible."

"It's good that Sophos has been able to deliver the suite of fixes within weeks, and without disrupting customers' usual operations," Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos, said Tuesday via email. "We are grateful that Tavis Ormandy found the vulnerabilities, as this has helped make Sophos's products better."

However, Ormandy wasn't satisfied with the time it took Sophos to patch the critical vulnerabilities he reported. The issues were reported to the company on September 10, he said.

"In response to early access to this report, Sophos did allocate some resources to resolve the issues discussed, however they were clearly ill-equipped to handle the output of one co-operative, non-adversarial security researcher," Ormandy said. "A sophisticated state-sponsored or highly motivated attacker could devastate the entire Sophos user base with ease."

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