BLACK HAT - Microsoft looks to combat Vista threats

After security researcher Joanna Rutkowska demonstrated how it's possible to circumvent security in Microsoft's Vista beta software and install a rootkit called Blue Pill, Microsoft said it intends to find ways to stop both potential threats before Vista ships.

At the Black Hat conference, Rutkowska, security researcher at Singapore-based firm COSEINC, showed that she found a way to bypass the Vista integrity-checking process for loading unsigned code into the Vista kernel. Then she presented Blue Pill, a rootkit she created based on Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Secure Virtual Machine, Pacifica.

On bypassing the signature-checking mechanism for device drivers that Microsoft is including in Vista to prevent loading of malware or unauthorized software, Rutkowska said, "The fact that this mechanism was bypassed does not mean that Vista is completely insecure. It's just not as secure as advertised." She added: "It's very difficult to implement a 100 percent efficient kernel protection in any general-purpose operating system."

In the second part of her presentation at Black Hat, Rutkowska, a noted expert on rootkits, detailed Blue Pill, which can hijack a computer and serve as a backdoor for attackers. While developed for Vista, Blue Pill could be adapted to other platforms as well.

Blue Pill so far has proven impossible to detect, said Rutkowska, although she was continuing research to uncover a means of detecting it. She said software-based detection mechanisms may not be effective though a hardware-based approach in the computer may provide a means of detecting or preventing a Blue Pill-based attack.

Microsoft's director of the Windows client group, Austin Wilson, said Microsoft considers Rutkowska's findings "legitimate" and is looking at the problem.

Wilson pointed out that Rutkowska's code-signing bypass attack requires the attacker to start as the machine's administrator in Vista. "If you're running as a standard user, this wouldn't work," he noted. "But we're still looking at blocking this type of attack."

In her presentation, Rutkowska suggested a few ways Microsoft might address the code-signing bypass issue, and Microsoft intends to review them. However, Microsoft probably won't hold up shipping Vista if it can't resolve the issue in time.

The problem of the Blue Pill virtual-machine rootkit is also one Microsoft takes seriously. "We're looking at ways to mitigate that on a final version of Vista," Wilson said. Microsoft is not working alone on this, but in partnership with Intel and AMD.

"What she showed was legitimate and a very real threat," Wilson said.

The flip side of virtual-machine rootkits is that the virtual machine and its "hypervisor" providing a layer on top of an underlying operating system is also being eyed as a security mechanism in future versions of Microsoft's operating systems. "On the server side, virtualization would allow running multiple operating systems in a server," said Wilson. But that prospect remains a few years out as far as Microsoft products are concerned.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ellen Messmer

Network World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?