The number of software vulnerabilities, as measured by entries in the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database, went down in 2010, although due to the complexity of modern programs, they can never be completely eliminated. Criminals take advantage of this to drop their malware onto the systems of victims everywhere.
In recent years, both vulnerability researchers and criminals have been focusing their attacks on third-party applications. This is quite natural, as both Internet-exposed services (such as Web servers) and the OSs themselves have been made more secure. This focus on third-party applications increases the risk for typical end users, as they tend to ignore third-party programs as primary attack vectors. In addition, no common patching platform like Windows Update is provided, raising the risk of having vulnerable versions on user systems.
Let’s examine the number of publicly disclosed proof-of-concept (POC) exploits that allowed remote code execution in several applications that users commonly utilize (these are based on exploits posted on the Exploits Database site):
|Application(s)||Number of Exploits|
|Adobe products (Flash and Acrobat/Reader)||16|
Note the number of exploits for third-party applications above compared with browsers. Both Adobe and Java exploits are very reusable, as the vulnerable applications are present on most user systems. In addition, these can be obfuscated to bypass network-based intrusion protection systems.
Out of these critical vulnerabilities in 2010, the ones which had the most impact in the wild were:
- Internet Explorer iepeer.dll code execution vulnerability (MS10-018; CVE-2010-0806)
- Java Web start vulnerability (CVE-2010-1423)
- Microsoft Windows Help and Support Center vulnerability (MS10-042; CVE-2010-1885)
- Windows LNK vulnerability (MS10-046; CVE-2010-2568)
- Adobe Acrobat/Reader cooltype.dll buffer overflow vulnerability (APSB10-21; CVE-2010-2883)
- DLL preloading attacks via remote network shares (Microsoft Security Advisory 2269637)
It’s also worth noting that the DOWNAD/Conficker threat, which dates back to late 2008, was still quite active during the first half of the year. DOWNAD isn’t quite dead yet.
What kind of malware are dropped or downloaded onto users’ systems by exploits? Variants of the ZeuS family of malware were favored payloads throughout 2010. In particular, exploits using .PDF files and ActiveX controls as infection vectors were frequently used for this purpose.
These threats highlight how important it is for users to properly protect themselves against vulnerabilities by patching their software. For that, readers should consult the previous blog post “Have You Patched Your System Lately?” The CTO Insights blog also talked about it in the video “Zero Day Vulnerabilities Risk Overblown.”