Rebooting for Security?

Andrew Froehlich, Network Engineer & IT Consultant | 3/27/2012 | 12 comments

Andrew Froehlich
When you are having problems with a PC or server, one troubleshooting step that magically fixes many problems is the good ol' reboot. For one reason or another, clearing out the RAM and cache can work wonders on a finicky PC. But now we may be rebooting for a completely different reason: malware.

A new malware strain has recently been detected that installs itself in a computer's RAM as opposed to its hard drive. The malware uses a Java exploit (CVE-2011-3544) that can potentially affect computers running various operating systems, as Java is a universal framework.

Not only is the malware executed without any files needing to be download and installed to a local drive, it quickly attaches itself to a trusted process already running on your computer's RAM. This makes detection by antivirus software very challenging. While most AV software does indeed scan your RAM, it's not on a continuous basis. So it is highly probable that an exploit could sneak through and camouflage itself well enough to be overlooked by your AV software -- or even disable it all together.

While the obvious malware removal solution is to clear out your computer's RAM by issuing a reboot, the malware may have gone undetected for a period of time and already caused a great deal of damage in the form of stolen data. The real key to stomping out this new file-less malware before any harm is done is to catch it before it reaches your desktop. And the only way this can be done is through a comprehensive "defense-in-depth" security strategy.

The goal of defense-in-depth, according to a National Security Agency whitepaper, is to "deploy multiple defense mechanisms between the adversary and his target. Each of these mechanisms must present unique obstacles to the adversary. Further, each should include both 'protection' and 'detection' measures."

So instead of using just one security component like AV software, a multi-layered security approach should be used that includes components such as intrusion prevention system (IPS), firewall, patch management, authentication, and monitoring system. Unfortunately, many companies continue to ignore the benefits of a defense-in-depth strategy and do not deploy a system with sufficient layers. In fact, many companies rely far too heavily on simple, rule-based firewalls and AV software. And these two security layers alone would not stop this type of malware.

Expect file-less and cross-platform malware to become more prevalent in the coming months because of its effectiveness in neutralizing AV software. And if you happen to stumble onto one of these new RAM-only exploits and think that simply rebooting will solve your problems, think again. Instead, your goal should be to prevent the malware from reaching host computers in the first place. And the best way to do that is to use a comprehensive defense-in-depth strategy to protect your entire network, both inside and out.

View Comments: Threaded | Newest First | Oldest First
Technocrat   Rebooting for Security?   3/27/2012 9:42:39 PM
Memory Based Virus Attacks

RAM based viruses have been around for a long time but apparently they are more prevalent now ? I agree the normal desktop solutions for the most part do not account for this type of attack.  I wonder what admins are using to combat this ?   Of course a firewall, and enterprise wide security solution - but which one do EE readers prefer and you, Andrew, recommend.

Andrew Froehlich   Rebooting for Security?   3/27/2012 9:56:14 PM
Re: Memory Based Virus Attacks
This is reported as unique maleware because it was completely fileless.  Other RAM-based viruses had to touch the hard disk and therefore have been much easier to detect.
User Ranking: Blogger
Technocrat   Rebooting for Security?   3/27/2012 10:05:30 PM
Re: Memory Based Virus Attacks

I see.  Not a trace ?   This certainly makes things considerably more difficult and I agree a multi-layered approach is the only way to go.  

David Wagner   Rebooting for Security?   3/28/2012 12:05:21 AM
Re: Memory Based Virus Attacks
So am I getting this right though that they can't stay on the machine because they are fileless? So, rebooting really does clear them?

If so, won't someone be able to develop something that just tracks outgoing data at the PC level to see if it is unusual?
Gigi   Rebooting for Security?   3/28/2012 4:46:55 AM
Gigi
Re: Memory Based Virus Attacks

Andrew, I think the root scan software can scan even RAM and Registries for any malwares.
SaneIT   Rebooting for Security?   3/28/2012 7:40:49 AM
Re: Memory Based Virus Attacks
I was wondering what was new or different about the RAM based virus that you were referencing, being totally RAM based is new and a bit worrying.  I'm curious now though as to it's attack vector, if it's totally RAM based how is it infecting machines does it have a worm like component?  Is clearing it's process thread enough to kill it or will a reboot be necessary to clear any hooks it has on your system?
fbpmt   Rebooting for Security?   3/29/2012 6:49:42 PM
Re: Memory Based Virus Attacks
And the blog referred to a Java based virus - is this why Java software or an alleged Java software installer magically appears every so often with an alleged update? Is this malware? How to rid?
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eethtworkz   Rebooting for Security?   3/31/2012 6:53:55 AM
Re: Memory Based Virus Attacks
Fbpmt,

Yes its a virus(99%).

Be careful and run atleast a couple of different anti-Virus solutions on it first.

Ashish.
geeky   Rebooting for Security?   3/31/2012 12:00:25 PM
Re: Memory Based Virus Attacks
Definitely a virus. Should be removed as soon as possible. A format would be the best option.
kstaron   Rebooting for Security?   3/29/2012 2:41:34 PM
how many layers is enough?
Yet a new malware progran to be concerned about. At what point can you stop layering defenses, hoping it is enough?
eethtworkz   Rebooting for Security?   3/31/2012 6:55:48 AM
Defense in Depth is critical.
Andrew,

the Whitepaper u linked to was a masterpiece.

Hopefully more and more IT pros read it.

Yes we need Defense in Depth.Without which its not possible to avoid the scourage of Malware/Viruses Online.

Ashish.
Damian Romano   Rebooting for Security?   3/31/2012 2:21:03 PM
Breachin'
"Instead, your goal should be to prevent the malware from reaching host computers in the first place."

As with anything, once we find out about a security breach, its practically to late. The above statement is without a doubt first and foremost. And as you note, its only achieved through a comprehensive defense-in-depth strategy to protect your entire network, both inside and out.


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