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Windows XP still used by a staggering 40 percent of all PCs

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April 8, 2013

Believe it or not, Windows XP is still being used by over 40 percent of all personal computers, including desktops used in large Fortune 500 companies. And now, with just one year left to go until Microsoft cancels its free support for that aging Windows version, if you don’t currently have a migration plan in place, it’s well time to start thinking about it.

Exactly one year from today, on April 8, 2014, Microsoft will stop fixing defective OS code and will no longer release security patches for free anymore for an operating system that has been in use since 2001.

From that date on, you’ll either have to put up with hackers, viruses and malware writers or you’ll be forced to premium-level paid Microsoft support.

Market research firm Gartner says that Microsoft will charge you $200,000 if you have a Software Assurance contract and $500,000 without a SA agreement.

With just twelve months until next April’s deadline, if you haven’t already started moving off Windows XP then there’s little chance you'll finish in time.

Adrian Foxall, chief executive of application migration specialist Camwood says that he fully expects his company will still be working with customers on migrations up to a year after next April’s deadline has passed.

Microsoft officially estimates a “successful” migration would take 18 to 30 months. “The next two years will be very busy for us,” Foxall said. “We’ve made great steps with a lot of customers, but for everyone that’s there, there are at least ten that haven’t done anything yet."

"Even if all those who were unprepared started to plan ahead, physically, there simply wouldn’t be enough people to get through all of that,” he added.

Over the years, Camwood has migrated business applications for many customers. Camwood says that just 42 percent of Windows XP customers have not yet started moving. He also noted that while an impressive 15 percent of IT decision-makers didn’t know about the existence of next year’s deadline, of those who are aware, 23 per cent blamed their colleagues on the business side for blocking migrations.

Camwood’s data comes from its survey of 250 strategic types initially released in March but published in detail with a migration white paper.

Factors blocking upgrades include lack of budget (25 percent) and hardware issues (27 percent). That’s a real issue because it means organizations have decided to upgrade as part of a business-as-usual process of buying new PCs to run Windows 7 rather than realizing they have to actually rewrite Windows XP apps.

Business types aren't forking over budget in part because of the parlous state of the economy, to see if they’ll still be around in a year’s time and in the belief the issues of today matter more than something that could happen twelve months from now, Camwood added.

Additionally, it seems that some corporate IT departments are out of shape on planning and executing Windows upgrades as well.

Many adopters of Windows XP later avoided Windows Vista since that OS has and continues to have so many problems, meaning that for many of those companies, it has been thirteen years and several working generations since their IT departments have had to managed a mass Windows upgrade program.

Since then, we’ve had a surge in home computing and a growing expectation that devices should update themselves automatically.

Camwood’s solutions architect Ed Shepley says that he’s talked to some customers who are complacent and simply don’t understand the scope of the work that’s looming.

“People are used to a Mac or an iPad updating by itself. Computer users have got used to easy IT solutions and they don’t recognize the security issues that are facing them until it's too late,” he says.

“When you run though the logistics, when they want to start the business engagement and pilot it in a reasonable manner, and then deploy it at large, and when you explain all of what it involves, you get that dear-in-the-headlights look," he added.

Foxall agrees: “In 2001 and 2002 when Windows XP was new, the office computer was better than the home PC. Now that culture of where 'It’s so easy to do at home so why should it be so hard to do in the office' - that little learning curve has become a dangerous thing.”

Among the several problems to consider are application compatibility with Windows 7 and 8 thanks to changes in Windows introduced in the years after Windows XP.

For example, Session 0 Isolation was introduced in Windows 7, User Access Control came with Windows Vista, and Windows XP’s GINA secure authentication and log-on services was replaced by Credential Provider in Windows Vista, two very incompatible applications.

Camwood’s advice now is to do what’s realistic in the time left before next April. That means managing a phased migration that moves groups of applications rather than try to move everything. This involves identifying specific apps that are the most important and moving these first, weeding out apps that are old or unused and dropping them, and keeping Windows XP apps that are really important off the web and working only behind the corporate firewall.

In other internet security news

An individual claiming to be No. 1337 hacker has removed several programming projects hosted by SourceForge.net. In other instances, other projects were either modified or compromised.

For example, web pages for the network utility 'Angry IP Scanner' and similar open-source software hosted by the online coding vault were altered by the same hacker.

The person responsible claimed that the websites were hacked using a backdoor, and then darkly warned he could have supposedly caused far worse damage had he wanted to.

Each vandalised project read: "This is a project whose homepage has been hacked with the SourceForge backdoor by a 1337 hacker! It is extremely lucky because this message is the only change I did. After I found this backdoor, being nice, I added this message to some SourceForge-hosted sites to warn them, instead of maliciously dropping their tables."

The truth is rather mundane: In a blog post, SourceForge's managers said each affected project had files that could be accessed by anyone on the web and that these documents contained usernames and passwords for editing the project.

In essence, anyone who knew where to look on a project's website could find, use and expose these sensitive credentials.

The SourceForge management staff responded: "Upon investigating, we found that the affected projects had configuration files (which contained database usernames and passwords) that were world readable. In other words, anyone looking in the right spot could get these usernames and passwords and have direct access to the database itself."

The "1337 hacker" commented on the SourceForge blog: "After checking 850 projects, I've hacked only 44, but you were lucky! I did this to notify the project owners so that they would fix this critial issue. If other hackers did this, they might not have been so nice as me. They might plant malicious scripts or even just delete your data for the sake of it."

Arguably, SourceForge.net should consider ensuring that no world-readable files are created by default. But coders must still carry a large part of the blame for not picking the right permissions in the first place.

SourceForge, which hosts more than 320,000 projects, explains how to set up proper file permissions on their site. It also explains how to reset project database passwords.

In other internet security news

South Korea's massive data wiping malware that knocked out hundreds of personal computers at TV stations and banks last week may have been introduced through a combination of compromised corporate patching systems spread across the country.

Several South Korean financial institutions-- Shinhan Bank, Nonghyup Bank and Jeju Bank and TV broadcaster networks were all impacted by a destructive virus, since identified as DarkSeoul by Sophos and Jokra Trojan by Symantec, which deleted all the data on the hard drives, right down to the operating system of infected PCs, preventing them from booting up upon restart.

Initially, it was believed that the malware spread through local telco LG U+ and may have came from a single Chinese IP address. The Korea Communications Commission said it was mistaken when it identified an internet address in China as the source of the mega-attack.

The IP address involved actually belonged to NongHyup Bank, one of the main victims of the assault, suggesting that the attack could have been an 'inside job'.

Late on Friday afternoon, security appliance firm Fortinet claimed that hackers broke into the servers of an unnamed but local antivirus company and planted malware which was then distributed as an update patch. Local researchers at Fortinet's Threat Response Team working with the Korea Information Security Association came up with the theory before notifying news media about the apparent find.

But later on Friday evening, Guillaume Lovet of Fortinet stated that the security appliance firm no longer stood by its earlier pronouncement.

By early this morning, things had moved on again with South Korean security software firm AhnLab putting out a release saying hacked corporate patching systems were to blame for the wide spread of the malware. It also added that its own security technology wasn't involved in the distribution of the malware, an apparent reference to the premature and since-discredited theory put up by Fortinet.

It now appears that attackers used stolen user IDs and passwords to launch some of the attacks. The credentials were used to gain access to individual patch management systems located on the affected networks. Once the attackers had access to the patch management system, they used it to distribute the malware much like the system distributes new software and their updates.

Contrary to early reports, no security hole in any AhnLab server or product was used by the attackers to deliver the malicious code.

The latest theory suggests hackers first obtained administrator login to a security vendors' patch management server via a targeted attack. Armed with the login information, the hackers then created malware on the PMS server that masqueraded as a normal software update.

This fake update file subsequently infected a large number of PCs all at once, deleting a Master Boot Record on each Windows PC to prevent it from booting up normally. The malware was designed to activate on March 20 at 2.00 PM, South Korea time.

The speed at which the attack spread had already led security tools firm AlienVault to suggest that the wiper malware might have been distributed to already compromised clients in a zombie network. AhnLabs suggests that this compromised network was actually the patching system of the data wiping malware's victims.

However, the prevailing theory remains that North Korea may have instigated the attacks, which follows weeks of heightened tension on the small peninsula. But there's no hard evidence to support this conclusion. We will keep you posted on this and other news stories as they develop.

In other internet security news

A very obvious security flaw has been blamed for the compromise and attempted theft of 300 .uk domains managed by hosting firm in 2012.

Anyone with a hosting package from 123-Reg and an account control panel supplied by that company, simply had to change the final section of the URL manually (to, for example, /someoneelseswebsite.co.uk) to be able to gain full access to someone's else emails, FTP credentials, name servers, private information and billing.

With access to the administrative control panel, would-be domain thieves just had to change the contact details for U.K. registry at Nominet to a new email address and then do a failed password request to have a new password sent to the new email address, locking the original owner out.

In defense, 123-Reg said it had "worked with our registrars to help them tighten security and prevent a repeat of this incident."

Both 123-Reg and Nominet say that there was "a query from a registrant" last year that led to Nominet "discovering some irregularities in registration and renewal patterns".

"As part of Nominet's standard operating procedures they locked the affected domains from any transfer or adjustment while they investigated further, and with our full support," 123-Reg said in an emailed statement.

Nominet said that its investigations into the issue revealed that "a total of 300 .uk domains had been transferred over to a new registrant in the post-expiry period without the permission of the original registrant".

"We have terminated our registrar agreement with one registrar," the dot-UK registry said. Neither firm would comment on how the the security breach had come about or whether the matter had been referred to Britain's Information Commissioner to investigate in such matters.

Nominet added that it couldn't elaborate any further because "we understand there is an ongoing police investigation into this issue".

In other internet security news

Critical internet-facing industrial systems controlling crucial equipment used by nuclear power plants, airports, factories and other sensitive systems are still subjected to sustained attacks within a few hours of appearing online, according to new research by Trend Micro.

The security vulnerabilities of SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) industrial control systems are numerous, and have been a major focus of interest in information security circles for the last three years or so thanks to Stuxnet, Duqu, and other similar noteworthy virus attacks.

A security expert has challenged a theory on how the infamous Stuxnet worm, best known for tampering with Iranian lab equipment, somehow escaped into the internet. New York Times reporter David Sanger wrote what's become the definitive account of how Stuxnet was jointly developed by a U.S. / Israeli team. The sophisticated malware virus was deployed to sabotage high-speed centrifuges at Iran's nuclear fuel processing plant by infecting and commandeering the site's control systems.

According to Sanger's sources, an Iranian technician's laptop was plugged into a Stuxnet-sabotaged centrifuge device and was almost immediately infected by the malfunctioning equipment.

Trend Micro researcher and SCADA security expert Kyle Wilhoit set out to look into this phenomenon in greater depth by setting up an internet-facing 'honeypot' and record numerous attempted attacks. The honeypot architecture developed by Wilhoit directly mimics those of real industrial control systems and SCADA devices.

The researcher, who was once the lead incident handler and reverse engineer at a large energy company, focusing on ICS/SCADA security and persistent threats, created a total of three honeypots. All three were internet-facing and used three different static IP addresses in different subnets scattered across the United States.

One honeypot featured a programmable logic controller (PLC) system running on a virtual instance of Ubuntu hosted on Amazon EC2, and configured as a web page that mimics that of a water pressure station. Another honeypot featured a web server that mimicked a control interface connected to a PLC production system.

The final honeypot was an actual PLC device set up to mimic temperature controller systems in a factory. All three honeypots included traditional vulnerabilities found across the same or similar systems. Various steps were taken to make sure the honeypots were easily discovered.

The sites were then optimized for searches and published on Google. The researchers also made sure that that honeypot settings would be seeded on devices that were part of HD Moore’s Shodan Project, which indexes vulnerable routers, printers, servers and internet-accessible industrial control systems. Once a search latches onto a vulnerable embedded device, then Metasploit provides a library of possible attacks, which - as security strategist Josh Corman points out - can be run without any detailed knowledge or skill.

The Trend Micro security researchers excluded simple port scans and focused on recording anything that might pose a threat to internet-facing ICS/SCADA systems. This includes unauthorized access to secure areas of sites, attempted modifications of controllers, or any other attack against a protocol specific to SCADA devices, such as Modbus/TCP.

They also logged any targeted attempt to gain access or take out servers running the system. Various tools including popular open-source intrusion detection package Snort, honeyd (modified to mimic common SCADA protocols), tcpdump and some analysis of server log files were used to monitor and record the attacks the honeypots attracted.

The researchers waited less than a day before the attacks began, as Wilhoit explains in a research paper Who’s Really Attacking Your ICS Equipment? It took only 18 hours to find the first signs of attack on one of the honeypots. While the honeypots ran and continued to collect attack statistics, the findings concerning the deployments proved disturbing.

The statistics of this report contain data for 28 days with a total of 39 attacks from 14 different countries. Out of these 39 attacks, 12 were unique and could be classified as “targeted” while 13 were repeated by several of the same actors over a period of several days and could be considered “targeted” and/or “automated.”

All of these attacks were prefaced by port scans performed by the same IP address or an IP address in the same subnet. The attacks included attempts to spear-phish a site administrator, bids to exploit fundamental ICS protocols and malware exploitation attempts on the servers running the honeypot environment.

Other attacks included bids to change the CPU fan speed on systems supposedly controlling a water pump and attempts to harvest systems information. Four samples were collected over the four-week testing period, two of which have not been seen in the wild.

Trend Micro is currently analyzing these pieces of malware to determine their functionality. As well as looking at the type of attack getting thrown against the honeypot system, researchers at Trend Micro also looked at the origin of attempted attacks.

About 34 percent of attacks against the industrial control system honeypot originated in China but one in five (19 percent) originated in the U.S. Security researchers also discovered that a surprisingly high (12 percent) of attacks against a honeypot control system they had established came from the southeast Asian nation of Laos.

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Source: SourceForge.net.

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