Symantec admits it won’t patch ‘catastrophic’ security flaws until mid-July
Symantec has warned customers that security flaws in the firm’s systems outed by Google’s Project Zero last month won’t be fixed until mid-July.
Patches were rushed out to cover some of the “as bad as it gets” flaws identified by Project Zero, but patches to secure the fundamental architectural flaws are still some weeks away.
The cloud-based versions of Symantec’s Endpoint Protection Small Business Edition will finally be updated this week, but users of the workstation versions will have to wait weeks.
Symantec has promised updates “by mid-July” and recommended that customers apply them as a matter of urgency, but in the meantime Symantec’s systems remain vulnerable.
Project Zero publicized the flaws found in Symantec’s Norton Antivirus products last week, after uncovering them in May and reporting them to Symantec.
“These vulnerabilities are as bad as it gets. They don’t require any user interaction, they affect the default configuration, and the software runs at the highest privilege levels possible,” said Project Zero lead Tavis Ormandy in a blog post.
“In certain cases on Windows, vulnerable code is even loaded into the kernel, resulting in remote kernel memory corruption.”
Ormandy criticized Symantec for the flaws, which he suggested were the result of cutting corners. For example, antivirus software typically has dedicated unpackers to get around the problem of software ‘packers’ that compress executables.
“This causes a problem for antivirus products because it changes how executables look,” he said.
“Antivirus vendors solve this problem with two solutions. First, they write dedicated unpackers to reverse the operation of the most common packers, and then use emulation to handle less common and custom packers.”
The problem with both of these solutions, according to Ormandy, is that they’re hugely complicated and prone to vulnerabilities, making it “extremely challenging” to make such code safe.
“We recommend sandboxing and a security development lifecycle, but vendors will often cut corners here. Because of this, unpackers and emulators continue to be a huge source of vulnerabilities,” he said.
Other security companies have been whacked for cutting corners here, including Comodo, ESET, FireEye and Kaspersky, but Symantec runs its unpackers in the kernel of the operating system.