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Tuesday, 11 December 2018 11:35

Linux malware: is it so hard to get it right?

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Linux malware: is it so hard to get it right? Pixabay

Once again, so-called security researchers and tech writers have combined to provide misinformation about trojanised SSH scripts which can be run on a Linux server after said server is compromised through a brute-force attack and root status attained. And they call it Linux malware!

Security firm ESET and ZDNet writer Catalin Cimpanu have both got it wrong in the past — the latter on numerous occasions as he simply does not seem to understand anything about the Linux security model — but both continue to persist in trying to pursue the topic. ESET has gone in the wrong direction on torrent files and clients too.

Arguably, there is reason to do so: Linux and malware in the same headline do still serve as some kind of clickbait.

ESET's Marc-Etienne M.Léveillé wrote a blog post about trojaned versions of OpenSSH which had been found in the wild. But when it came to specifying how one would get these versions installed on a Linux system, all that was talked about was brute-forcing passwords. Really? And this is called Linux malware?

Cimpanu was more descriptive, but again made the same fundamental mistake. Malware can be created for any operating system, but the crucial question is how do you get it onto that system?

Under a bold headline, "ESET discovers 21 new Linux malware families", all that he could say was "Attackers would compromise a Linux system, usually a server, and then replace the legitimate OpenSSH installation with one of the trojanized versions." How that compromise was effected was not mentioned.

Towards the end of his misnamed article, Cimpanu mentioned that brute-forcing passwords or exploitation of vulnerabilities of applications running on top of Linux was the way one could gain a foothold on Linux systems.

But then how would that be Linux malware?

ZDNet has form in this matter, with the same writer making the same error here. He did it again in February for another site.

Cimpanu's former employer, Bleeping Computer, was also prone to screw-ups of this nature. Here is the editor of Bleeping Computer, Lawrence Abrams, expounding on ransomware targeting Linux servers.

But then Bleeping Computer is a relatively small operation. One would have thought that ZDNet, which has tons of resources, would have a little more editorial quality control.

Alas, that does not seem to be the case.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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