Symantec Patches PCAnywhere, But Should You Delete?
Symantec says hotfix 'eliminates known vulnerabilities,' but hackers could use source code to exploit unknown holes. Some users will want to delete the app entirely.
Symantec has patched its pcAnywhere software, after reports began surfacing that hacktivists had gotten their hands on the source code for the remote-access tool.
Symantec's hotfixes, released last week, will update pcAnywhere versions 12.0, 12.1, 12.5 (including SP1, SP2, and SP3), eliminating all known vulnerabilities in the software. Symantec said the fixes are also compatible with the November 2011 patch it pushed to troubleshoot startup errors in its pcAnywhere plug-in for Windows (aka Symantec pcA Agent) version 12.6.65.
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"We recommend installing these patches as quickly as possible if you have pcAnywhere installed," said Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Qualys, in a blog post. A Symantec spokesman said via email that "the vulnerabilities that have been identified and patched were specific to the Windows version of pcAnywhere."
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That revelation led Symantec to confirm that some of its source code had apparently been stolen in a 2006 hack attack. While the company knew that there had been a "security incident" then, it had failed to spot that source code had been stolen. Furthermore, Symantec spokesman Cris Paden told Wired last week that it's unclear when Lords of Dharmaraja may have come into possession of the code.
Regardless, the worry now is that with the source code in hand, attackers might be able--or might have already been able--to find previously unknown vulnerabilities in pcAnywhere that could be exploited, allowing them to remotely access any machine on which the software was installed and enabled. Accordingly, Symantec had taken the unusual step of recommending that all pcAnywhere users disable or delete the software from their PCs until a patch was released.
With a patch now available, products that will require updating include all supported versions of pcAnywhere, as well as versions of pcAnywhere that ship as part of the Altiris IT Management Suite (7.x) and the Altiris Client Management Suite (7.x). Remote pcAnywhere, which ships with Altiris Deployment Solution 7.1, is also at risk. Symantec said that the Altiris products themselves were otherwise not at risk.
But even with Symantec's new pcAnywhere patches, is the product now safe to use? Symantec has said its hotfix "eliminates known vulnerabilities." The threat from having potential attackers possess the source code, however, is precisely that they would spot unknown vulnerabilities to exploit.
When assessing the risk posed by pcAnywhere, note that the presence of pcAnywhere on a system is not necessarily cause for security concern. "Symantec pcAnywhere is shipped separately or as an optional bundled application along with other Symantec products. Because of this, pcAnywhere could be present on a system but neither configured nor enabled," said Symantec.
If pcAnywhere is present on a PC but not configured nor enabled, then it's not vulnerable to being exploited. Even so, in such cases, it's best to delete the software. "If customers do not require the use of remote access capabilities, Symantec pcAnywhere should not be enabled. If installed but not required, it can be uninstalled from the system," according to Symantec's security advisory.
For businesses that don't want to use pcAnywhere but can't uninstall it, Symantec has outlined several security steps that they should follow. According to Kandek, Symantec advised users to "[move] Internet exposed pcAnywhere installations behind a VPN gateway, block standard pcAnywhere ports 5631 and 5632 on the firewall, and disable the auto-startup of pcAnywhere."
But given the potential power of remote-access tools, especially in the hands of someone with malicious intentions, security experts recommend not just deactivating such tools when not required, but deleting them entirely. "Personally I am a big fan of uninstalling unnecessary software, and it is always sound advice to minimize one's software footprint and related attack surface," said Kandek.
For example, the 2008 Verizon data breach investigations report, which reviewed 90 forensic investigations, found that about 40% of attacks were executed using poorly secured remote-access or system management tools, which refers "to applications such as Windows RDP, Citrix, VNC, and pcAnywhere, but also telnet and SSH," said Kandek.
"Attackers scan for these applications on the Internet and log in using default or easily guessable passwords. Once on the machine they install a malware--i.e. a backdoor and a sniffing--application, if necessary using a local exploit to become administrator or root," he said. Once on the machine, the malware can be used to automatically record keystrokes and troll for interesting data, and then relay this data back to the attacker.
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