So excuse me, Mr Zalewski, but people don't update their AV with the latest signatures, but it's okay because they push out new signatures really fast? These two points of logic can in fact work together, as strange as it seems. The problem is that, in this scenario, the user base that is all good, has been marginalized to a fraction of the total user base. So what is really being said here is not that AV blacklisting methodology works really well, but rather that the fundamental failure of this approach for the majority constitutes a success for a minority of the users. So if you are a home user, who keeps his antivirus up to date you are better off than a home user who doesn't, or a corporation that does or does not.
Now let's talk about the second failure of this thinking. Mr Zalewski is thinking in the immediate. Even if the current trend continues on for N iterative cycles, the AV users do not win. The reason for this is simple: Blacklist methodology is not sustainable where N has grown to a large enough number in relation to the resource capacity of the machine running it. Antivirus has always been a resource hog, and has only gotten worse with time. the reason for this is the escalation factor. The 'bad guys' keep coming up with new malware, new techniques, new exploits etc. So the AV firms come out with new signatures, new heuristics, and new scan engines. With every cycle, the product becomes less manageable from a resource perspective. I have had consultants tell me that 'most major companies' do not run AV products on production servers, because it is too resource intensive.
There is also the manageability of the program itself. Remember that AV is code just like any other program, and not some magical box. It's prone to bugs big and small, like any other code. The more you mess with the code, the more the chance of introducing NEW bugs into it. As the complexity increases so do the odds of deviation from expected behaviour. i'm sure that smarter people than me have expressed this mathematically, but I don't know where such a formula resides. So as the N described above continues to increase so do the odds that we will see something like the Mcafee DAT 5958 bug. This factor alone takes a bite out of the security of an AV solution, because security will constantly be fighting operational needs for resources, and every time we have a bug like DAT 5958 or the Symantec Y2k10 bug, the rest of IT hates AV more.
Now let's get back to the bit about most malware authours not using AV evasion. now, I am not Dancho Danchev or any other malware researcher. Remember i'm just some schmuck penetration tester. That being said, I find it hard to believe this statement is entirely true. What I would be more inclined to believe is that there are now an abundance of skiddies out there using malware 'kits' to assemble tons of variant malware and distributing it. These people, of course, have no idea how to create evasion techniques and so they don't bother. They just cherry-pick. I would hazard a guess that a lot of the people really spending time on writing their malicious code, spend the time on at least some basic AV evasion.
Whether that's true or not, evasion is somewhat unnecessary. Mr. Zalewski hints at this as well in his article. He says that they don't bother because people don't update their anti-virus, so they don't worry about signature updates. This is just a demonstration of the utter failing of blacklist methodology. The malware authours don't need to write evasion techniques, because if a signature doesn't exist, and the heuristics won't catch it, what's the point? They can release their code into the wild now, then create a new variant when the AV companies get a sig out. They can play this game for quite a while. Tools like virustotal even give them a running scorecard of how they are doing against all the major players. Relying on signatures leaves holes you could drive trucks through. Those trucks, by the way, happen to be hauling your private data away to China and Russia.
Now please don't get me wrong here. I am not trying to call foul on the AV companies. At least not in any particular fashion. The thing of it is, if you are an MNC that got hit by a worm that exfiltrated trade secrets, and then F-Secure releases a signature a little later, that doesn't help much. It's rather like someone breaking into your house and stealing all of your stuff. the cops catch the crook, but may not get your stuff back. you don't blame the cop, but you do wish they had caught the guy while he was trying to break in, not after the fact.
As always, discussion and opinions are always welcome here.