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Antivirus startup linked to infamous Chinese hacker

Nov 15, 20123 mins
CybercrimeData and Information Security

'This may all be a strange coincidence or hoax,' the reporter who discovered the link warned

Anvisoft, a Chinese antivirus startup, has been linked to an infamous hacker suspected of developing sophisticated malware used to siphon sensitive information from Defense Department contractors in 2006.

Through some high-tech sleuthing on the Web, Brian Krebs, author of the KrebsonSecurity blog, found Anvisoft-connected IP addresses connected Anvisoft to registered to “tandailin” in Gaoxingu, China.

Tan Dailin, a.k.a. Withered Rose, was the subject of Verisign’s 2007 iDefense report, which described Dailin as the 20-year-old leader of a state-sponsored hacking team called NCPH, which stood for Network Crack Program Hacker.

In 2006, the group was linked to multiple zero-day attacks against Microsoft Office vulnerabilities. Some of the attacks were aimed at defense contractors, Krebs reported.

Anvisoft did not respond to a request for comment, and has been coy in answering questions on its user forum. Krebs acknowledged that Dailin might not be connected to the company.

“This may all be a strange coincidence or hoax,” Krebs said on Wednesday. “Anvisoft may in fact be a legitimate company, with a legitimate product; and for all I know, it is. But until it starts to answer some basic questions about who’s running the company, this firm is going to have a tough time gaining any kind of credibility or market share.”

The report was a warning to small businesses and consumers to only use “well-known and trusted branded products in such a sensitive area as malware protection,” said IDC analyst Al Hilwa.

[In depth from Malware/Cybercime section: Organized cybercrime revealed]

“It is [also] why consumer technologies are moving to the curated platform app store model that we see today with mobile devices, where the responsibility of screening applications and utilities is handled by well-known and trusted branded companies,” Hilwa said.

While not condoning Dailin’s past, Himanshu Dwivedi, founder of security consulting firm iSEC Partners, said sophisticated hackers are better equipped to build antivirus products than the average software developer without a background in security.

“When you take a pure security person to write a product, for me personally, and this is my bias, I actually have more confidence that that product is secure, because it’s written by someone who knows all the ways to bypass software,” Dwivedi said.

Nevertheless, to buy a security product from someone like Dailin would expose the buyer to unnecessary risk, said Gartner analyst Peter Firstbrook. “I would rather trust my PC security to a good white hat hacker than a reformed black hat hacker.”

China is known as a hotbed for cyberespionage. The U.S. Defense Department recently reported that Chinese hackers aiming malware at U.S. industries and government agencies were a threat to the national economy.