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Pests is the collective term we use to describe non-viral malicious
code - trojans, remote administration tools, hacker tools, and spyware.
Such code can stealthily gain access to and hide on computer systems,
bypassing traditional security measures such as anti-virus, firewalls,
and intrusion detection systems.
Pests can allow unauthorized users to breach firewalls and access
sensitive data by assuming the identity of authorized users. Pests can
then allow unauthorized third parties and disgruntled insiders to access
electronic assets (customer database, financial records, intellectual
property, trade secrets), compromise existing security, destroy customer
confidence, and expose individuals and organizations to litigation.
Pests are fundamentally different from viruses, in that they are
self-contained programs rather than code fragments, and so the
technology required to detect and remove them is also fundamentally
different from anti-virus software. All pests share these common
characteristics: most people don't know anything about them, didn't
invite them in, don't know they are present, and don't want them in
their system. That is the heart of the problem. With thousands of files
in today's computers, no one could be expected to know what every single
one does. And, without the technology to help find pests, they can live
and thrive in your system for a long time before anyone finds out
they're there - by which time it may be too late.
Pests have the potential to create even greater damage than viruses -
including significant loss of business, legal liability, and public
Protecting your systems against pests
PestPatrol picks up on the protection of your network where current
products leave off. It is designed to be used in conjunction with
anti-virus software, and has little to no impact on system performance.
PestPatrol, used in conjunction with an anti-virus product, offers
comprehensive and reliable protection against stealthy malicious code
that can result in downtime, loss of employee productivity and legal
A recent example of why additional protection beyond anti-virus was
the December 2001 outbreak of BadTrans B. Every anti-virus company came
out with a 'quick fix' to detect and remove the worm itself, but did you
know that the worm left behind a key logger that may still be hidden on
systems you thought were clean? PestPatrol would have found and removed
Pest behavior and impact
Pests can do anything that software can do. Here are just a few
- If your PC has ever locked up for no reason, the CD-ROM drive has
started to turn, or you've mysteriously lost files, you could
unknowingly have downloaded a RAT (remote administration tool),
enabling a hacker to control your machine without you ever knowing.
Back Orifice and Sub Seven are well known RATs.
- If a disgruntled ex-employee plants a key logger on critical
systems before he's terminated, he can access confidential data long
after he's gone by capturing keystrokes for passwords. This is what
the key logger left behind by the trojan incorporated into the
BadTrans.B worm was programmed to do.
- And, how would you like to discover that some company has secretly
planted spyware on your machine and has been following your surfing
habits and transmitting this information to an outside source?
No network administrator would be happy to find out that intellectual
property, customer data or even ownership of the corporate web site has
fallen into someone else's (unauthorized) hands.
Unlike viruses, however, there can be 'good' pests. That is to say,
tools such as password cracking programs are an important part of the
system administrator's toolkit, but in the wrong hands, password
crackers can allow unauthorized individuals to access confidential data
unchallenged. PestPatrol deals with this "gray area" by enabling you to
detect the presence of such a tool only if it's on a PC where you would
not expect to find it - in the accounting or sales departments, for
Why are pests on the rise?
Many factors conspire to make today's computer systems a fertile
environment for pest growth.
- Users have changed. A decade ago, it seemed that many users
were fascinated by the details of their computer's operation. Many
knew that the size of COMMAND.COM in DOS 5.0 was 47,485 bytes. But
today's users tend to regard computers as just another tool to help
them do their job, so there is less interest in the details of what is
going on behind the scenes. This simply means that, should problem
software be inadvertently introduced to a machine, the number of users
that are equipped to realize what has happened and deal with it is a
much smaller proportion of the total user population.
- Operating systems are more complex. A decade ago, DOS
consisted of COMMAND.COM and two hidden system files, and could fit on
a low-capacity floppy. Today, the Windows directory on a typical
Windows 98 machine is likely to have 200 or more directories, 4,500 or
more files, and use 600 Mb or more. Today, no user could be expected
to know what every file in their computer does, where it came from, or
if it is even needed.
- New software cannot be readily inspected prior to installation.
A decade ago, nearly all software introduced to a machine was
installed from a floppy disk. It was a simple matter to determine the
immediate source of that software, and to scan it for viruses. Today,
nearly all software is introduced to a machine via the Internet. The
transfer process might reveal the overall setup package, but not its
components. Even the size of the basic component often cannot be
determined with precision. And any kind of security check of the
installation package cannot usually be done prior to installation.
- Software is installed in obscure ways. A decade ago,
software installations involved little more than creating a directory
and copying some files. Not until DOS 6 were operating system files
even compressed. Today, the exact process followed by an installer is
hidden by both the installation package (often a single file contains
dozens or hundreds of individual files) and installation procedure (an
installer may or may not enumerate files as they are extracted.)
component on a web page, there is no evident installation process at
all: the software is simply transferred, installed and run, sometimes
without any user interaction at all.
- Trusted sources can no longer be determined. A decade ago,
users were counseled to avoid viruses by only installing software from
trusted sources, and to not accept software from untrusted sources.
Users of a decade ago might call local Bulletin Boards (BBSs), but
would rarely make long distance calls to BBSs across the country, or
make international calls. And at 2400 baud, users spent some time
judging the potential value of software before downloading. Today, all
of the world's software is a local call away, via the Internet, and
can be accessed 30 to 1,000 times faster than it was a decade ago.
- There is more problem software. Problem software, such as
viruses, does not become extinct just because it is hunted. Every
piece of malicious code that has ever been distributed probably still
lives, somewhere. In short, the evil that men do lives long after they
The real problem is that the rate of emergence of pests is
increasing. The table and graph below report on the growth of pests in
both number of megabytes of pests and total number, by creation date.
These values come from the PestPatrol database, available for
Figure 1: The number of pests has increased rapidly
over the past few years.
Anti-virus (AV) requires a different approach
Anti-virus vendors have added detection capabilities for some
high-profile pests. They just haven't added it very well or with any
degree of thoroughness or consistency. There are two main reasons for
There have been many pests in the news recently. In fact, they
sometimes seem to be "stealing the show" from viruses. For example, the
"SubSeven Defcon8 2.1 backdoor trojan" is a trojan, not a virus.
Anti-virus is not enough
Anti-virus software detects some pests, particularly those that have
made the news. But generally, the pest detection rates of anti-virus
software are pretty low. To illustrate this, we asked the National
Software Testing Laboratory (NSTL) to test PestPatrol's pest detection
capabilities against the three major anti-virus software packages -
Norton AntiVirus, McAfee, and PC-Cillin. Here is a summary of their
"PestPatrol clearly detects more pests in every category than any
other product tested by finding 86% of the pests. PC-Cillin 2000 came in
a distant second, finding 55%. Although no product, in its default
state, detected every available pest, it is clear which product provides
the better protection.
"Our testing indicates that pest detection, unlike virus detection,
has not been given strong enough attention by the computer industry.
This may be due to the fact that pests tend to run silently, and users
often don't even know that their systems are infected. So there is no
big outcry by infected owners for remediation or prevention. As more
people become aware of pests and see the damage that they can do, there
should be increased demand for effective products to detect and clean
"Currently, products tend to do their best detection with trojan-type
pests - detecting a larger percentage of them. Pests used for hacking or
performing Denial of Service attacks were only modestly detected by the
majority of products. Only PestPatrol was able to detect any spyware
Figure 2: Results of the 11/01 NSTL pest detection
Use of anti-virus software is not enough, as many experts have
recently argued. "Antivirus software still does an excellent job of
protecting against viruses in the wild; however, other products, in
association with corporate security policy, are now becoming
increasingly important to safeguard the network and critically sensitive
corporate data." - Datapro
Anti-virus technology is not well-suited for detecting pests
Viruses do not "install" themselves in a machine. They do not normally
examine the registry, nor do they make changes to it. They do not
reconfigure the machine to ensure that they run at next boot. The
challenge with a virus is to remove it from the objects it has infected,
returning them to a fully functional state.
Trojans usually do install themselves in a machine. They frequently
modify the registry, and sometimes also modify .ini files, such as
win.ini. Deleting a trojan will cause a problem if the registry calls
for a missing file to be run. Unlike virus removal, removing a trojan
may require editing the registry.
Because a trojan appears to all intents and purposes to be a normal
uninfected program, and lacks jumps, there is no convenient section of a
few thousand bytes from which a detection scan string might be
extracted. To detect a trojan with a scan string is not difficult. To do
so without false alarming on non-trojans is a great deal more difficult.
The PestPatrol approach
PestPatrol scans your system, looking specifically for malicious
code. It currently can detect some 32,000 pests, and the database
continues to grow. PestPatrol is designed to be very fast and can scan
33,000 files per minute.
How does PestPatrol differ from anti-virus software?
PestPatrol is not an anti-virus product and it will not remove viruses.
PestPatrol looks for and detects other malicious code, including
trojans, hacker tools, Denial-of-Service attack agents, and spyware.
Since anti-virus products focus on viruses, PestPatrol used in
conjunction with an anti-virus product offers complete and reliable
protection from the full complement of malicious code that might result
in downtime, loss of employee productivity and dissemination of
How does PestPatrol stay current?
We have created a number of tools that automatically manage the
PestPatrol database, trapping new malicious code and constantly updating
the database. Such new files are downloaded and automatically analyzed.
Information on how to remove this malicious code from the registry,
from ini files, and from the file system is automatically added to our
PestPatrol.dat database. The database is automatically posted to the web
site so that users of PestPatrol have access to the latest strings; the
product looks for updates and downloads them automatically, too. The
result: PestPatrol can detect a pest within a few minutes of its
availability on the Internet and have the necessary removal information
The PestInfo database is also revised automatically, so that users
looking for more detailed information on new pests can find it at
Compatibility with anti-virus
PestPatrol is designed to work with anti-virus software, not instead of
it. This design required that several conditions be met:
- the scanning time for PestPatrol needed to be lightning fast;
- the product needed to be "lightweight", taking little machine
- the product needed to detect problems that the anti-virus software
missed, with little overlap.
PestPatrol is fast because its detection algorithms are specifically
built for pest detection. At the time of writing, the database contains
11 different pieces of information on each of 32,000 different pests -
over 350,000 information elements.
PestPatrol is flexible, with powerful command line capabilities to
facilitate scheduling, network-wide scanning (including systems
connecting to corporate servers via VPN), reporting, and updating.
Pest Patrol combines speed, a mature database and automated updating
capability offering complete and reliable protection from dangerous
code. Further information and evaluation software for download may be
It is clear that anti-virus, while extremely valuable, is no longer
the complete solution to malicious code management. According to The
Hurwitz Group, PestPatrol "will create a solid tool for fighting against
the software that plagues our networks today. In the corporate world,
this provides two benefits: It protects corporate information that
resides on systems being accessed by infected PCs and reduces the
likelihood of liability associated with corporate PCs acting as
"zombies" and attacking other companies."