The Register: Windows XP SP2 features security crater - report
Basically, a malicious program can add a new WMI provider to the root\SecurityCenter namespace - an instance of AntiVirusProduct or FirewallProduct. Windows XP SP2's Security Center may then report that an anti-virus product or firewall product is installed and working correctly, even when one is not.
The mitigation, though, is that WMI is indeed read-write - for Administrators. PC Magazine's original article (attributed to eWeak by The Register's pet hack) makes this clear.
I was thinking along the lines of changing the ACL on this namespace so that only LocalSystem is able to create new providers, but failed since the ACLs are inherited - but you can't clear the inheritance in the MMC WMI Control snap-in (it's in the Computer Management console). However, this would only add a small hindrance since by default on XP SP2, at.exe still exists and still allows you to do
at 23:39 /interactive cmd
to get a command interpreter running as LocalSystem:
Process primary token
This is a unrestricted token
Token type: primary
Token ID: 0x25066b9
Authentication ID: 0x3e7
Token's owner: BUILTIN\Administrators (alias)
Token's source: *SYSTEM* (0x0)
Token's user: NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM (user)
Token's primary group: NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM (user)
(dumptoken from w00w00.org)
This only works if you're an administrator, of course.
And if you think about it, most WMI providers get registered with WMI by an installer, running as an administrator. I'm not too sure about the default ACL for the root namespace which allows Everyone to modify provider information, though.
Anyway, what's the point of misreporting the firewall or antivirus status? A program running using a token containing the Administrators group SID (or, loosely, running as an administrator) can punch a hole in the firewall using the firewall administration API - how many users will regularly check the list of exceptions? It can normally install a device driver. It could install a file-system filter driver below the anti-virus filter driver in the disk driver stack and remove any trace of its own code (you'd probably need to add another one above to add the code back in so it could run).
The true mitigation, as for most things, is to run as a regular user. Don't run as a member of the Administrators group.