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Windows' Patchguard Hinders Security Vendors 187

eldavojohn writes "Windows' PatchGuard seems to be upsetting third party security vendors such as Symantec, Sana Security and Agnitum. It sounds like the 'black hats' will be able to bypass this security feature (which will be in all copies of Vista) but force security software companies to give up developing software for Windows. From the article: 'PatchGuard will make it harder for third parties, particularly host intrusion-prevention software, to function in Vista,' said Yankee Group analyst Andrew Jaquith. 'Third parties have two choices: continue to petition Microsoft to create an approved kernel-hooking interface so products like theirs can work, or use "black hat" techniques to bypass the restrictions.' Apparently, using these techniques is not a difficult trick."
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Windows' Patchguard Hinders Security Vendors

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  • Oh noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @01:46PM (#15890257)
    "Oh noes, windows has security! What'll we do?"

    C'mon, get a grip. Despite the fact that this is a dupe, it still angers me that the 'major' pc protection companies can't deal with windows actually securing itself. They would actually consider using blackhat techniques instead of the provided methods? They'd be fools, too. Any blackhat technique they use would be immediately patched by Microsoft. Doesn't take a genius to see that.
    • Re:Oh noes! (Score:2, Funny)

      by y5 ( 993724 )

      Any blackhat technique they use would be immediately patched by Microsoft.

      Yes, they could patch. Or (and it's probably obvious, but IANAL) if they want to be "legally" anti-competitive, they could always claim that third-party vendors are violating the DMCA by using said techniques...

      • Of course they could. If by "legally anticompetitive" you mean being anticompetitive through the legal system. Lawsuits can be an illegal monopoly abuse too.
    • Re:Oh noes! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @02:01PM (#15890364)
      I agree, this sort of system software IS going to break with each security rev of Windows. It only stands to reason that breaking viruses, which is what MS wants to do, is likely to break anti-virus software as well.
      • Re:Oh noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by phasm42 ( 588479 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @02:41PM (#15890613)
        To add to your point, customers won't care when their viruses/malware break, but they will care when the security software they paid for breaks. It could also discourage people from applying updates, out of fear it will break their security software.
    • Re:Oh noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @02:06PM (#15890390) Homepage
      C'mon, get a grip. Despite the fact that this is a dupe, it still angers me that the 'major' pc protection companies can't deal with windows actually securing itself. They would actually consider using blackhat techniques instead of the provided methods?

      Well, history tells us that the likelihood of Windows actually securing itsself is pretty slim.

      If they could use black hat techniques, then it wouldn't be secure now, would it?

      Having said that, it's a catch-22. If Windows implements an approved kernel hook for the antivirus companies, it will get exploited. If they don't, then no antivirus software, but just as many virus writers.

      Wether or not Microsoft is going to help 3rd parties sell software to secure Windows, there will be people doing the same things they do now. Except in that case, the consumer is on their own and waiting for Microsoft to stop them from getting pwn3d.

      Cheers
      • Re:Oh noes! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DCGregoryA ( 993060 )
        Viruses and you. In this case we're talking about locally executed binaries that are being run with root(admin) privileges.

        I just felt it had to be said but : Since when can you not totally mess up a Linux system when you're running software as root?

        I don't see local software running as root and therefore having root permissions as "a security hole". The only security holes I worry about is elevated permissions and unauthorized installs such as the 0-day IE exploit and buffer overruns.

        While I'm glad MS is s
        • Re:Oh noes! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @03:49PM (#15891063) Homepage
          Viruses and you. In this case we're talking about locally executed binaries that are being run with root(admin) privileges.

          I just felt it had to be said but : Since when can you not totally mess up a Linux system when you're running software as root?

          Absolutely you can. But, if I choose to install software, I can decide that I trust it, and want it running as root. But the rest of the time, I'm logged in as a user who doesn't have root priveleges, and can't bork anything but my own stuff. If the user wishes to install kernel-level software, they're allowed. I've ran apache as both userland and root, except for which ports it can bind to, apache doesn't care.

          That being said, the problem with windows (asides those I've mentioned which are valid security holes), lies not in the admin account being insecure but rather the fact that everyone and their uncle is an admin the entire time they're running.

          That has always been the problem. You simply can't do anything on windows without being the admin, because so much crap just expects to have it, and fails if it doesn't. And then every damned website you visit which has an exploit is the administrator. Whee!! How fun!

          Back in the day, if I wanted some software on a UNIX machine, and the cranky UNIX admin said "leave me the fsck alone", I could still untar it into my own directory, set my path variable (give or take one or two more) and just run it. The software ran just fine in userland, and was isolated from the OS. It could hose my files, but not the system.

          Same deal on a Mac, the folder which was the install was the whole app. You could move it or delete it -- deleting was uninstalling basically. On Windows, every bloody piece of software expects to be able to write to the registy, install itsself for every user, demands that it write to Program Files, and possibly muck with some stuff in the Windows folders. Because that's how you're expected to do these things.

          The fact that you can't do anything in Windows without being the admin has always been a major source of problems. If they had a model whereby users could install software into their own "user programs" or somesuch, and that was separated from the rest of the damned OS, these things couldn't happen.

          However, as long as MS sticks with the way they have envisioned the world, preventing people from having kernel hooks (unless you use black hat methods) is kind of an empty solution, because it doesn't address the bigger problem of needing to be the Administrator to accomplish anything on a Windows machine.

          Cheers
          • Re:Oh noes! (Score:3, Interesting)

            by DCGregoryA ( 993060 )
            This I tend to agree with but I don't view it so much as a "security software shortcoming" as a "convenience against security tradeoff" in their business model. I classify it as a separate thing because that isn't a "hole", its very much "by design" in order to cater to people who know jack all about computers.

            And its not a matter of being insecure at the software level, its a matter of bad practices implemented to make things convenient for "low knowledge users" in home environments.

            While I get what you're
            • Re:Oh noes! (Score:3, Interesting)

              by gstoddart ( 321705 )

              This I tend to agree with but I don't view it so much as a "security software shortcoming" as a "convenience against security tradeoff" in their business model. I classify it as a separate thing because that isn't a "hole", its very much "by design" in order to cater to people who know jack all about computers.

              First off, I agree with everything you said in both posts.

              It just has the effect that the system is highly insecure because of the design, which is no better.

              If every UNIX engineer wrote software the

              • I think much of it is culture. In the Unix world, programmers have always assumed that the machine you are using is multiuser and multitasking and network connected. In the Windows world though, the culture comes from DOS - so the majority of developers treat the machine as if it were single user and single tasking and not network connected. Even in 2006.
          • Re:Oh noes! (Score:5, Interesting)

            by myowntrueself ( 607117 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @06:29PM (#15892065)
            The fact that you can't do anything in Windows without being the admin has always been a major source of problems.

            I agree, but theres no *point* in doing anything in Windows without being admin.

            There is no point in running Windows as a non-priviledged user.

            If you doubt my word, log into your favorite Windows as your unpriviledged user and set up a scheduled task to run cmd.exe

            When the scheduled task runs and you get a command window try and see what you *cannot* do on the system...

            (I used to put a great deal of effort into running as an unpriviledged user; I spent hours trying to get games to run without having to be Admin. It seems that I totally wasted my time. Thanks, Bill.)
            • You can set it so that regular users can't schedule tasks, eliminating that hole.

              And games not running as admin is (usually) not Bill's fault. Blame copy protection for that one.
            • another work around is open up notepad and save a cmd.bat file with the text cmd.exe and presto you have command prompt
            • It should, of course, be noted that this is really only the case in XP, while running in the default user configuration. Want Windows 2000-style user configuration / login?

              Administrative Tools -> Computer Management -> Local Users and Groups

              Or, alternatively, for the actual old Control Panel dialog:

              Start -> Run -> control userpasswords2

              Want to access the (much more powerful) ACL-based File Sharing and Security from 2000 rather than the simple one presented by default in XP? You need Pro, but:

              M
            • Just tried, access denied.

              Scheduling system tasks is a privilege account, not allowed in XP (at least not XP SP2).
          • Administrator accounts in Vista are much better handled than in XP. Even when you're logged on as an administrator in Vista, you run with user priviliges. Should a program actually NEED your admin powers, a little dialog box pops up whenever a program tries to use admin priviliges. (It's a little annoying, but it doesn't happen as often as you'd think and it's much more secure.) When on an strictly userland account, this box also has a prompt for the admin password.

            For games and other programs that pr

      • So Microsoft plan close the gate tight enough so that your security guard can't gain access to the premises, but cheeky bastards can still poke their arms through the bars and swipe your personal data.

        Wonderful :|
      • If Windows implements an approved kernel hook for the antivirus companies, it will get exploited

        Not exactly - Windows Vista breaks a lot of hardware support by forcing most drivers to exist in user mode instead of kernel mode. This keeps the system more stable because a crappy driver running in user won't bluescreen the computer and besides, your printer driver doesn't need to be in ring 0 anyway.

        Most antivirus software uses a kernel mode driver to implement "on-access" scans or to see past a user-mo

    • Re:Oh noes! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jimmy King ( 828214 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @02:11PM (#15890415) Homepage Journal
      "Oh noes, windows has security! What'll we do?"

      C'mon, get a grip. Despite the fact that this is a dupe, it still angers me that the 'major' pc protection companies can't deal with windows actually securing itself. They would actually consider using blackhat techniques instead of the provided methods? They'd be fools, too. Any blackhat technique they use would be immediately patched by Microsoft. Doesn't take a genius to see that.
      Part of the commplaint, though, is not just that they cannot provide proper security software for it but that MS' solution isn't actually providing any security. What they are saying is that this "security" feature makes it pretty much impossible to properly/legitimately do their job, but doesn't actually stop a good many of the techniques that hackers use.

      Whether MS' technique works or not, it's bad for us as it limits our choices.

      Of course I'm sure neither of these is a concern to symantec, only that they'll make less money, but they are still valid arugments to consider.
      • Re:Oh noes! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Fordiman ( 689627 ) <fordiman@MENCKENgmail.com minus author> on Friday August 11, 2006 @02:29PM (#15890533) Homepage Journal
        Does anyone else smell a new monopoly suit?

        Microsoft moves into system security (with their firewall, spyware tool, and I think they recently bought an AV company), and then sets up a 'security' feature that just happens to block out their competitors?

        Yeah... that smells pungent to me.
      • Re:Oh noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nigel_Powers ( 880000 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @02:30PM (#15890543)
        Don't kid yourself...this is NOT a case of Windows securing itself -- this is revenue protectionism at its best. Microsoft is actively trying to make third-party security vendors a thing of the past.

        In all of this, Microsoft forgets the most important thing -- It's my freakin computer! If Microsoft hinders me from getting done what I (remember me? I'm the consumer) want, then I have to reconsider my OS decision -- which I did -- about 5 years ago -- and never looked back.
        • Don't kid yourself...this is NOT a case of Windows securing itself -- this is revenue protectionism at its best. Microsoft is actively trying to make third-party security vendors a thing of the past.

          Well, then, maybe Microsoft will have to do the "charitable" thing and help out poor old Symantec like they did Apple and Borland to keep the monopoly monster away?
          • No! Please let Symantec die! They screw up every half-way decent piece of software they get their grubby little paws on.

        • It is your freaking computer, so you can easily turn off signed driver checking. As for grandma, I'm glad this'll be one more thing to keep her from being rooted.
    • Re:Oh noes! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MarkGriz ( 520778 )
      "Any blackhat technique they use would be immediately patched by Microsoft"

      Immediately? I think you're being a bit generous.
    • Re:Oh noes! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by canuck57 ( 662392 )

      ... pc protection companies can't deal with windows actually securing itself.

      I heard this too going from Windows 98 to XP. Still waiting. Vista will be no different.

      They would actually consider using blackhat techniques instead of the provided methods? They'd be fools, too.

      Isn't this exactly what AV and firewalls already do? There is no open easy M$ official way to do any of these security functions is there? Wrapping a DLL here, swapping out a registry entry there isn't much different than a root

      • M$ is finally doing what UNIX/Linux/BSD has enjoyed for many years, user processes should not be able to modify OS stuff!

        [cough] insmode [/cough]

        (user as in ring 3, not user as in user vs. root)

      • M$ is finally doing what UNIX/Linux/BSD has enjoyed for many years, user processes should not be able to modify OS stuff! Hurray, M$ finally gets the idea!

        So here's the problem, certain things do need to modify "OS Stuff." What if I want to run a hypervisor, or to kernel level process monitoring? On Linux you install a new kernel module or recompile a custom kernel. On Windows, there is no official way to do this, so companies that traditionally have relied upon this must move to unofficial mechanisms. C

        • You're right. But I also see the solution in your message. Read it over a few times, and you'll get it. I think it's a first step towards the theory of natural selection taking its course in the computer world.
          • You're right. But I also see the solution in your message. Read it over a few times, and you'll get it.

            If you're thinking switching away from Windows is the solution, you're missing the big picture. Because of their monopoly MS can do things like this that hurt consumers, but the artificial benefits to staying or problems with switching still make staying on Windows the right business case for the majority of people. If we simply had a free market, consumers would have switched already, but we don't. Mon

    • > Despite the fact that this is a dupe, it still angers me that the 'major' pc protection companies can't deal with windows actually securing itself.

      Me too, but it makes business sense: the whole "pc protection" industry is based on the fact that Windows is insecure. Of course they are upset if Windows is getting more secure, and they will do everything in their power to prevent this.
    • "...it still angers me that the 'major' pc protection companies can't deal with windows actually securing itself."

      I think the point is that Windows IS NOT actually securing itself. If it's easy for black hats to get around it how can it be "Secure?"
    • It's not that windows will be secure, exactly, it will still be able to download disabling code from microsoft. Their firewall is transparent to their own software.

      Recently, I was forced onto SP2 (new computer, old computer died, even linux won't run on the new system -- doesn't see the SAS Harddisk at all nor the Gigabit Broadcom ethernet; I'm sure it will be supported in 12-18 months :-( ).

      But one of the brilliant things I noticed about their "security upgraded XP" was that it seemed to "disable" most of
  • by krell ( 896769 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @01:47PM (#15890262) Journal
    Does this mean there will be a new day of the week devoted to patching the patchguard?
  • by DNX Blandy ( 666359 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @01:48PM (#15890276) Homepage
    "Window's PatchGuard" should be an optional feature. If you dont' want to use it, (like me!), you should be able to NOT include it when installing etc. Being able to do what you want is the best way, forcing users only pisses them off.
  • by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @01:49PM (#15890282)
    I remember something about the entire kernel becomming a "protected process" under an MS implementation of TCPA/TCG/Palladium/(insert name of the week meant to spoof drm watchers here).

    This was meant to be an "effective" means to stop viruses, but it served more to force licensing fees out of companies which provide security solutions and to stop independent tinkerers (also known as "good" hackers) from providing cool kernel mods for power users.
  • by Anonymous Coward


    What? Did you run out of kayak stories ??? What sort of place is this anyway ?

  • Microsoft want you to pay them a monthly fee to get the Microsoft anti-malware stuff. Every obstacle they can toss in the way of cheaper alternatives is (for them) a good thing.

    The rule is: If you are in the business of doing X - then Microsoft announce that they are getting into doing X - then you'd better find a way to do Y instead. In the absence of government intervention, an illegal monopoly can do pretty much whatever they heck they like.

  • Debugger Disables (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mugnyte ( 203225 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @02:05PM (#15890380) Journal
    It is fascinating that TFA explains how if a boot routine can initialize a "debugger attached" flag, the PatchGuard system is not initialized. From this aspect alone, I'd say MS should start playing more nicely with the vendors, since any malicious code worth it's salt should set this value permanently and then replace kernal routines on disk as necessary.

    Also, given the fact that MS intends to making patching the standard for releasing a secure OS, the vendors can't really do this kernal checking themselves. Thus, I think it's safe to say from the perspective of this article, the OS's kernel is patchable by anyone.

  • Blackhat techniques (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jtwronski ( 465067 )
    Um, how is this security if its easily bypassed? Isn't the point behind any security layer to make it so nobody can bypass it? Seems to me that if its that easy to circumvent, Microsoft is just spinning its wheels, and there will be plenty of market for companies like Symantec/McAffee to compete in. Its not like the virus/trojan/malware writers give a single shit about any layer of security that they can bypass. Easily.

    Symantec should be glad that Vista will have this ineffective security layer, so they
  • by thorkyl ( 739500 )
    A few years ago in office 2000 Microsoft dictated what attachments you could receive and what you could not. It sounds like Microsoft is attempting to create a business model of "If you want security you get it from us." and "We know better, you do it our way." Does the phrase duck and cover mean anything to anybody?
  • Third parties have two choices: continue to petition Microsoft to create an approved kernel-hooking interface so products like theirs can work, or use "black hat" techniques to bypass the restrictions.
    "We had to hack the system in order to protect it"?
    • "We had to hack the system in order to protect it"?

      Why not? Picture a heavy steel door with no holes in it, but secured by a thin plastic deadbolt. Cut a hole in the door and put in a proper deadbolt, and it'll become more secure.

      -b.

  • by buffoverflow ( 623685 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @02:13PM (#15890428)
    1) Company creates horribly insecure OS.
    2) New multi-billion $$ industry sprouts for the sole purpose of securing said OS.
    3) Insecure OS company institutes blatantly obvious absolutely worthless security "features".
    4) No longer new multi-billion $$ industry complains because new BS security measures are worthless & the new features steal their pennies.
    4.5) Linux zealot chimes in on how these issues are not issues under their chosen OS.
    5) Horribly insecure OS company forms new multi-billion $$ industry to secure their horribly insecure OS in a proprietary fashion.
    6) Balmer covers the $1 he owes Gates for the bet they made on whether or not they can steal the billions from the industry that wouldn't exist had it not been for them & their lax attitude toward secure coding practices while blaming the whole fiasco on Google & Linux all the while creating a brand spanking new completely worthless multi-billion $$ proprietary industry. (Thank you Mortimer, er I mean Balmer)
    • That was perhaps the single silliest thing I've ever seen anybody hint to. Nevermind try to pass any of it off as fact.

      I still firmly beleive that as a matter of averages, OS security is based on a few different things:

      The current market share. The company with the largest slice will be the largest target for..everything. The technical prowess of the people responsible for coding the exploits for said market leader. It is BY DESIGN that Windows has more security issues. Linux and OSX users are automa

  • The only Windows box in our house is my wife's laptop, and we'll be keeping XP on that until XP is no longer supported. By the time that happens, I think it's likely she'll be using a Mac - so if we need Windows for anything (which would be her sewing machine software) we can run it without internet access.
  • Apparently, using these techniques is not a difficult trick.

    The linked webpage contains a bunch of "techniques" which are mostly

    "If we find a bug in this system call, PatchGuard will be worthless!"

    along with a few

    "This disables PatchGuard in the current beta build of Vista!"
  • This doesn't surprise me in the least. PatchGuard is obviously designed to eliminate third-party competition, not stop hackers.
  • If Microsoft intends to have its own anti-virus software/mechanism they must feel they're capable of doing this without the kernel hooks requested by Norton and ilk. The only thing I would take issue with is if Microsoft uses an undocumented API in order to get an unfair advantage over the third party vendors. When that happens, wake me up and I'll get back up on my anti-Microsoft $oapbox. Until then... bleh.
  • I think it's universally agreed that the biggest flaw in windows is security. To this extent, we've seen many a revision of windows that has altered the way windows works with certain tweeks, to try and make windows more secure.

    Many people knock windows for being insecure, but it's not like Microsoft WANTS it to be that way. No, the people who want it to be that way are the "security" companies. Anti-virus companies have profitted from security flaws and viruses alike for many years now, and it has begu

    • I think you've hit it pretty well, but there's one thing worth mentioning.

      The Windows security problems are Microsoft's own fault, and at a FAR more fundamental level than merely flawed implementation.

      The problems began because Windows began as a GUI shell on top of a single-user program loader. There's an old adage, "Those who don't understand Unix are doomed to reinvent it - poorly." Multi-user wasn't in there at the beginning, and retrofits were awkward. I realize that the NT kernel is a true multiuser k
    • if Codeweavers can provide a compatibility layer to run Windows applications on ($distro) Linux, and if a free/free solution (wine) can do a pretty good job of it as well, even in ($distro) Linux's security model, then why can't Microsoft do the same? Cut the cord on native backwards compatibility, then provide a compatibility layer where it's confined to a litterbox where poorly-written apps demanding Administrator access can shit all over themselves without causing system-wide security headaches?
  • I'll say it again, Microsoft has no incentive in providing a reasonably secure OS. (ex. your favorite distro) Like every version that's come before Longwait, it's a coordinated message to make the PHB's buy it because they "fixed security" in longwait.

    Mom & Pop buyers will be okay with this because they'll pay MS every month like they pay a cable tv bill. The software monoculture pretty much dictates that their machine will be zombies anyway.

    This works out great for me because I will have -plenty- of
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @03:06PM (#15890778) Homepage

    The whole "PatchGuard" concept shows how broken Microsoft's approach to an OS has become. The whole concept is to catch changes made by programs which already have full access to kernel space. By checking every five or ten minutes for a change, no less. That's inherently a futile exercise. It may break some current exploits, but it won't break new ones. Any program that has access to kernel space can take over the machine. It could load a whole new OS if it wanted to.

    The whole concept of add-on programs having access to kernel memory is so insecure that it has to go. UNIX and Linux limit it to loadable drivers, and the serious microkernels like QNX and IBM's VM don't allow it at all. But the Microsoft world, mostly for historical reasons, has all sorts of crap running with access to kernel memory, from various "security programs" to game DRM components. All that crap should have been taken out in Vista. The fact that it wasn't indicates how minor a change at the kernel level Vista is over XP.

  • if it weren't for all the security flaws in Windows. they make their revenue based on the fact that there are security flaws that can be exploited by viruses and spyware. if people randomly stopped making viruses, then these third-party companies would be out of business, too.
  • using these techniques is not a difficult trick.

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • ...we are forgetting Microsoft has it's own anti-virus software [windowsonecare.com]. I'm not saying MS is trying to shut out competition, but that MS wouldn't do this if it would break their own software. They probably have OneCare doing things the "correct" way.
  • ...in Windows software world, your anti-virus hacks you?

    But it's for your benefit?
  • Look many hear are going to argue that Microsoft is being anticompetitive, and maybe they are or maybe they are not, its not really the point. What is M$ supposed to do?

    On the one hand they could make kernel hooks available to vendors and perhaps secure their use with code signing or something. Then the AV companies would be happy; but it would only be moments before some blackhats found away to expoloit the system and make their code look legit. Once it is exploited M$ is again accused (fairly) of produ
    • "The other option is lock down lowlevel access as much as possible and keep non M$ code out of kernel space lots of the biggest security problems become much easier to solve and M$ can produce a better product."

      Exactly! I mean, that's how BSD and Linux do it... isn't it?

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