Process Scanner from Process Library

Process ScannerIt’s happened to all of us at some time or another; our computer starts to act up, operate slowly, or exhibit some other sort of suspicious behavior. Since we’re all chronic downloaders, we know there’s a very good chance that some nefarious process is running on our machine that we’d rather wasn’t.

In the past, this meant using a process explorer like the built-in Windows Task Manager or a better 3rd party option, and ferreting out process names that we don’t recognize. Personally, I’d then simply punch the process name into Google, and check out the first few sites that came up – usually this would be enough to give me a good idea of what I was dealing with. But thankfully, I won’t have to do that manual process any longer.

Probably the best known site for doing Windows process name lookups is Process Library. Thankfully, Process Library now offers a little utility called Process Scanner that you can download to your machine, run, and get a report back on all of the processes that are currently active on your system, and their likely security threat level and performance impact level.

It took me literally less than 2 minutes to download, install and scan my system with Process Scanner. Thankfully, I didn’t find anything to be worried about. But I’ll keep it in my hip pocket as yet another great free security tool.

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Windows Defender Final Released

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After nearly two years in beta testing, Microsoft has at long last released the final version of Windows Defender, its free anti-spyware software. The tool is available now for Windows XP, and will ship as part of Windows Vista.

Originally named Windows AntiSpyware, Defender came from Microsoft’s acquisition of GIANT Software. The company bulked up the detection engine and added protection for pop-ups and other malware that affects PC performance. By offering Windows Defender without cost, however, Microsoft has irked some security vendors.

The final Windows Defender release — build number 1592 — brings a number of minor improvements to the software including IE7 integration and interface tweaks. Beta 2 previously introduced a new “Real Time Protection” engine that monitors critical areas of the operating system for any changes, as well as accessibility enhancements.

Microsoft has also added support for 64-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. But support for Windows 2000 has been dropped, as the operating system is now out of mainstream support. The Redmond company is offering customers two free support incidents for the software.

Windows Defender is available for download for both 32-bit versions of Windows and x64 editions. The software requires Windows Genuine Advantage verification to use.

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Spam Trojan Installs Own Anti-Virus Scanner

Veteran malware researcher Joe Stewart was fairly sure he’d seen it all until he started poking at the SpamThru

Trojan—a piece of malware designed to send spam from an infected computer.

The Trojan, which uses peer-to-peer technology to send commands to hijacked computers, has been fitted with its own anti-virus scanner—a level of complexity and sophistication that rivals some commercial software.

“This the first time I’ve seen this done. [It] gets points for originality,” says Stewart, senior security researcher at SecureWorks, in Atlanta, Ga.

“It is simply to keep all the system resources for themselves—if they have to compete with, say, a mass-mailer virus, it really puts a damper on how much spam they can send,” he added.

Most viruses and Trojans already attempt to block anti-virus software from downloading updates by tweaking hosts file to the anti-virus update sites to the localhost address.

Malicious hackers battling for control over an infected system have also removed competing malware by killing processes, removing registry keys, or setting up mutexes that fool the other malware into thinking it is already running and then exiting at start.

But, as Stewart discovered during his analysis, SpamThru takes the game to a new level, actually using an anti-virus engine against potential rivals.

At start-up, the Trojan requests and loads a DLL from the author’s command-and-control server.

This then downloads a pirated copy of Kaspersky AntiVirus for WinGate into a concealed directory on the infected system.

It patches the license signature check in-memory in the Kaspersky DLL to avoid having Kaspersky refuse to run due to an invalid or expired license, Stewart said.

Ten minutes after the download of the DLL, it begins to scan the system for malware, skipping files which it detects are part of its own installation.

“Any other malware found on the system is then set up to be deleted by Windows at the next reboot,” he added.

At first, Stewart said he was confused about the purpose of the Kaspersky anti-virus scanner.

“I theorized at first that distributed scanning and morphing of the code before sending the updates via P2P would be a clever way to evade detection indefinitely,” he said, but it wasn’t until he looked closely at the way rival malware files were removed that he realized this was a highly sophisticated operation working hard to make full use of stolen bandwidth for spam runs.

Click here to read more about cyber-criminals’ use of P2P tools.

Stewart also found SpamThru using a clever command-and control structure to avoid shutdown.

The Trojan uses a custom P2P protocol to share information with other peers—including the IP addresses and ports and software version of the control server.

“Control is still maintained by a central server, but in case the control server is shut down, the spammer can update the rest of the peers with the location of a new control server, as long as he/she controls at least one peer,” he said.

Stewart found that the network generally consists of one control server (running multiple peer-nets on different ports), several template servers, and around 500 peers per port.

There appears to be a limit to how many peers each port can effectively control, as the overhead in sharing information between hosts is fairly large, he added.

“The estimated number of infected hosts connected to the one control server we looked at was between one and two thousand across all open ports,” Stewart added.

The operation uses template-based spam, setting up a system where each SpamThru client is its own spam engine, downloading a template containing the spam, random phrases to use as hash-busters, random “from” names, and a list of several hundred e-mail addresses to send advertising.

The templates are encrypted and use a challenge-response authentication method to prevent third parties from being able to download the templates from the template server.

Stewart also found that the Trojan was randomizing the GIF files—changing the width and height of the images—to defeat anti-spam solutions that reject e-mail based on a static image.

“Although we’ve seen automated spam networks set up by malware before, this is one of the more sophisticated efforts. The complexity and scope of the project rivals some commercial software. Clearly the spammers have made quite an investment in infrastructure in order to maintain their level of income,” Stewart said.

During his analysis, Stewart found that SpamThru was being used to operate a spam-based pump-and-dump stock scheme.

Check out eWEEK.com’s Security Center for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer’s Weblog.

Vista Lockdown: McAfee Learns the Meaning of Proprietary

eWEEK’s Matt Hines offers coverage Oct. 3 on the latest chapter in the mini-saga in which Microsoft’s efforts both to tighten Windows security and to cash in on the security add-ons aftermarket have placed the Redmond giant at odds with various security vendors—most recently McAfee.

The stickiest sticking point appears to be Microsoft’s move to modify its Windows operating systems—beginning with the x64 versions—to limit the sort of kernel access on which both malware and anti-malware coders depend.

These moves make life more complicated for security vendors making a living patching holes that shouldn’t exist in Windows in the first place. Tightening up Windows security is Microsoft’s job, and is certainly more important than protecting the business models of McAfee, Symantec and others.

The cries of foul from affected vendors have been particularly mournful, no doubt, due to the fact that Microsoft has begun competing directly with these vendors, with OneCare.

It may not seem fair that Microsoft gets to make all the rules, but Windows is and has always been a closed, proprietary platform. If the security vendor community doesn’t like it, they can either begin stumping for open operating system alternatives, or try to stoke new interest in the matter over at the Department of Justice.

For more information, this blog post, while written with an undisguised pro-Microsoft bias, is worth checking out, if only for the informative links that its author, Robert McLaws, has compiled.

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