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13.5. Conclusion

Behavioral worm-blocking techniques on the host can be extremely effective against known types of attacks. Like antivirus software, most behavioral rule-based systems need continuous updates to deal with the increasing complexity of attacks. The behavioral rule set that successfully dealt with many DOS viruses is completely ineffective against today's modern computer worms. Newer methods must be researched and implemented to block the fast-spreading worms of the future and protect the Internet.

Such systems do not nullify the need for traditional antivirus, IDS, or firewall technology. Instead, they need to work in symbiosis to enhance the overall networked system security. Behavior blocking will slowly but surely mature into networked behavior blocking to prevent intrusions of computer viruses, worms, and threats created by malicious hackers.

Microsoft Windows XP, SP2 was released with support of the NX (nonexecutable) feature of modern processors. A new line of 32-bit processors will support the NX feature using the physical address extension (PAE) mode, which allows extra page table bits, such as the NX bit, to present27. In addition, 64-bit architectures support this feature as well.

This protection should raise the bar for attackers on systems with new hard ware. Without the new hardware in place, however, no protection is presented by this feature, so for the foreseeable future, the main protection on such systems will be the /GS recompiled operating system files in both user and kernel modes, which will certainly need to go through a number of revisions in the future to eliminate additional attacks. Even if the new hardware is in place, attackers will likely turn their attention to return-to-LIBC attacks and focus their efforts on third-party product vulnerabilities, besides the operating-system vulnerabilities. Additional, increased protection against buffer overflowbased attacks will be vital for the foreseeable future.

It is also interesting to note that NX will break some of the computer viruses that utilize execution of on-stack-generated code, as well as virus code loaded from writeable but not executable sections. Figure 13.8 shows that execution of a file named "funlove.exe," which is infected by W32/Funlove, is prevented on Windows XP, SP2 (RC2) on an updated Pentium 4 processor.

Figure 13.8. DEP (Data Execution Prevention) triggered on execution of the W32/Funlove virus.


Of course, to block viruses like W32/Funlove, the NX feature needs to be enabled globally. It appears, however, the default settings in the shipping SP2 does not enable the protection globally, but on a subset of system processes instead.

Windows XP SP2 also implements a number of improvements to deal with heap overflows, such as security cookies for heap-based memory allocations, but the new safeguards are already challenged by recent exploitation techniques.

In the future, modern 32-bit and 64-bit viruses will typically set their sections executable, as demonstrated by W64/Rugrat.3344, and also set the execution flags on allocated memory. It is also very likely that EPO and code integration techniques will be more common to avoid setting sections executable that can help heuristics analyzers, as discussed in Chapter 11, "Antivirus Defense Techniques." Thus NX is expected to trigger a new evolution for file infectors, as well as computer worms and exploitation techniques. As defense systems against exploitation are getting stronger, shellcode techniques will continue to evolve.28

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