'Shady RAT' Report Called Alarmist, Flawed

Eugene Kaspersky, also known as the 'Virus Pope,' is the latest security expert to attack McAfee's report.

McAfee’s report on Operation Shady RAT, a five-year hacker attack against a broad swath of industries, is facing renewed criticism, this time from the head of the Kaspersky Lab, Eugene Kaspersky, a man also known as the "Virus Pope."

The report, from Dmitri Alperovitch, McAfee’s vice president of threat research, has drawn fire from members of the security community since its release. In a blog posting, Kaspersky wrote that “We conducted detailed analysis of the Shady RAT botnet and its related malware, and can conclude that the reality of the matter (especially the technical specifics) differs greatly from the conclusions made by Mr. Alperovitch."

"We consider those conclusions to be largely unfounded and not a good measure of the real threat level," he added.

[Related: 'Shady RAT' Hacking Claims Overblown, Security Firms Say; McAfee Warns of Massive 5-Year Hacking Plot]

Alperovitch has warned in his report that "every company in every conceivable industry with significant size and valuable intellectual property and trade secrets has been compromised (or will be shortly), with the great majority of the victims rarely discovering the intrusion or its impact."

Kaspersky's blog turned nasty when he wrote, "[W]e cannot concede that the McAfee analyst was not aware of the groundlessness of the conclusions, leading us to being able to flag the report as alarmist due to its deliberately spreading misrepresented information."

The blog item appears to be motivated by a letter sent to McAfee by the chairwoman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, Mary Bono Mack, asking the company to answer a series of questions about Shady RAT. In his blog, Kaspersky provided his own answers to the questions.

The report suggests the high-profile intrusions of recent months are neither sophisticated nor novel, Mack noted, then asked, how do these unsophisticated intrusions differ from the intrusions that were the focus of your report?

"Many of the so-called ‘unsophisticated' intrusions that the IT security industry has discovered recently and which have been so prominent in the news should in fact be labeled just the opposite: 'sophisticated,'" Kaspersky answered.

"These sophisticated threats —such as TDSS, Zeus, Conficker, Bredolab, Stuxnet, Sinowal and Rustock—pose a much greater risk to governments, corporations and nonprofit organizations than Shady RAT."

"On the other hand," he added, "most security vendors did not even bother assigning a name to Shady RAT’s malware family, due to its being rather primitive."

Mack also asked, are such intrusions something the government and private sector can effectively prevent or mitigate on a continuing basis?

"Most commercially-available antivirus software is capable of preventing infection by the malware involved in Operation Shady RAT; most doesn’t require a special update to do so either, capable of detecting the malware generically," Kaspersky contended.

Mack, who is sponsoring one of several bills before Congress governing the reporting of data breaches by companies, asked whether more public disclosure would help or harm industry efforts to fight this type of cybercrime?

"Some of the more insidious intrusions take place without the general public becoming aware of them," Kaspersky responded. "What’s more, they can go undetected for some time before being discovered by the IT security industry, and this is likely to continue due to the nature of the architecture of modern software and the Internet."

"However, regarding Shady RAT," he added, "the IT security industry did know about this botnet, but decided not to ring any alarm bells due to its very low proliferation — as confirmed by our cloud-based cyberthreat monitoring system and by other security vendors. It has never been on the list of the most widespread threats."

Kaspersky is just the latest among several security experts to rap the McAfee report. Symantec researcher Hon Lau, for example, questioned the sophistication of the attackers, characterizing their techniques as sloppy, while Dell SecureWorks’ director of malware, Joe Stewart, observed that the Shady RAT software "is actually less sophisticated than general malware the public sees."

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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