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11/26/2008
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U.S. Army Goes Bot Hunting

As an automated network-flow analysis tool, BotHunter uses IDS routines to scan inbound and outbound network packet headers and payloads.

Most people whose computers have been turned into bots and linked to a botnet have no idea that their machines have been commandeered by cybercriminals. Their PCs send spam, steal information, and participate in denial-of-service attacks without any obvious sign.

But new software, funded by a grant from the U.S. Army Research Office and developed by SRI International, promises to provide users with more insight into what their computers are doing.

BotHunter, announced on Monday, is a free malware-detection application for Mac OS X, Linux/Unix, and Windows that monitors network activity. Unlike intrusion detection system (IDS) tools that scan only incoming data, BotHunter looks for patterns that indicate malware activity in both incoming and outgoing data.

"We do a lot of inbound egress monitoring," said Phillip Porras, SRI program director of enterprise and infrastructure security and lead developer of the BotHunter project. "BotHunter really flips that paradigm around."

As an automated network-flow analysis tool, BotHunter uses IDS routines to scan inbound and outbound network packet headers and payloads. It does so without revealing packet payload contents, which is necessary to protect privacy and make it usable in government environments. The machine profiles it sends to the BotHunter repository are anonymized to remove local network identification data.

The software has been downloaded some 35,000 times to date and several thousand instances are running in the U.S. military. So far, about 250 users have reported finding that their PCs have been turned into bots, said Porras.

Though the software is aimed at technically savvy users, specifically network administrators, the Windows version should install easily and should be usable by those without deep networking expertise. The Mac version requires the target machine to have Apple's developer tools installed to function.

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The cybersecurity profession struggles to retain women (figures range from 10 to 20 percent). It's particularly worrisome for an industry with a rapidly growing number of vacant positions.

So why does the shortage of women continue to be worse in security than in other IT sectors? How can men in infosec be better allies for women; and how can women be better allies for one another? What is the industry doing to fix the problem -- what's working, and what isn't?

Is this really a problem at all? Are the low numbers simply an indication that women do not want to be in cybersecurity, and is it possible that more women will never want to be in cybersecurity? How many women would we need to see in the industry to declare success?

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