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2/1/2016
10:30 AM
Mark Kennedy
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IEEE Anti-Malware Support Service Goes Live

Through the collaborative effort of major players in the computer security industry, organizations now have two new tools for better malware detection.

As readers know all too well, the computer security industry today faces many challenges in detecting malware and effectively vetting the supply chain on behalf of providers and consumers of anti-malware software.

Until recently, developing common solutions has been hindered by the proprietary nature of much software, which requires comprehensive collections of “clean” software to ensure the development of malware detection tools that are effective and error-free. Unfortunately, this work runs up against the need to protect intellectual property (IP) embedded in software.

Meanwhile, with the advent of cloud-based services, intelligent “things” and Big Data, the urgency of the malware detection challenge has grown sharply.

What has been sorely needed is a neutral, trusted, nonprofit organization that can devise a means for players in computer security to share the relevant data to allow the creation and use of anti-malware support services to benefit the entire industry and, of course, a sizeable chunk of humanity.

I use the past tense on the computer security industry’s mutual needs because, as readers of Dark Reading may already know, such an organization – the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) – has undertaken this challenge and the results – our Anti-Malware Support Service (AMSS) – are now available.

Development of the AMSS began in 2009 and its two essential services went live late last year. I’ll use this blog to review what’s being offered and the thinking behind it because as more players subscribe, the stronger the results will be for all.

AMSS is a set of shared support services, created through the collaborative efforts of all the major players in the computer security industry. It enables individual computer security companies and the industry as a whole to respond more effectively and efficiently to rapidly evolving malware threats.

The purpose behind the AMSS is to take advantage of economies of scale to produce solutions for common challenges faced by computer security companies. As our heuristics become more aggressive and our cloud technologies become more dominant, it’s critical for us all to be working with a good corpus of clean files so that we don’t generate time-consuming and, therefore, costly false positives. 

In this project, we’ve overcome the understandable reluctance of computer security players to share their IP-bearing files to develop better malware detection. With the AMSS system, participants need only share metadata such as hashes and file names and version information -- no proprietary IP is exposed in this process. The AMSS approach allows, in particular, cloud-based systems to incorporate that metadata to reduce the overall false positive rate.

CMX andTaggant

The IEEE-SA’s AMSS is comprised of two main services: the Clean File Metadata Exchange (CMX) and the Taggant System.

CMX provides real-time access to clean software metadata, even prior to the publication of the corresponding software, which helps reduce the number of false positives from anti-malware software. Currently, Microsoft is posting all operating system-related metadata from Windows XP through Windows 10. All new public data being created by Microsoft is also being posted on the CMX.

CMX users fall into two categories: “providers” and “consumers.”

“Providers” deliver the metadata at the time of final software application build for publicly released software and for internal corporate applications. Participation requires an invitation or an existing Class 3 Digital Code Signing Certificate. The CMX is being provided to “consumers” to retrieve the metadata for use in security product back-end systems or other processing.

The Taggant System we’ve developed places a cryptographically secure marker in the packed and obfuscated files created by commercial software distribution packaging programs or “packers.” The markers identify the specific packer user’s license key used to create the file. This allows users to gain reputation. It also allows for the blacklisting of license keys should they be used to create malware. The individual packer user (e.g. a malware author) can then be blacklisted and all files created by that packer user will be reported as suspicious in the Taggant System. A new version, Taggant V2, was developed to address the need for applying taggants to different types of files and objects. This will be used by the Clean Software Alliance to self-regulate the distribution of free and ad-supported software.

The Taggant System has two types of users: software packer vendors (SPVs) who are makers of commercial packing and obfuscation programs, and security software vendors (SSVs) who provide security solutions, validate taggants, and compare them to a blacklist of bad license keys. This requires licensing the use of the Taggant System IEEE Public Root Key and getting access to the blacklist.

The AMSS offers two fully operational services and delivers value for subscribers that include Microsoft. Consider subscribing by visiting the AMSS Web page where you will find more information, downloads, and the ability to submit information about your interest in our services. Collectively, we can overcome major challenges in computer security, with value for all.  

Igor Muttik, Vice-Chair, IEEE Industry Connections Security Group, Vice-Chair, IEEE Malware Working Group, also contributed to this article. 

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Mark Kennedy is a Distinguished Engineer in the Security Technology and Response (STAR) group, and has worked for Symantec for nearly 25 years, the last 16 in security. He is a named inventor on 49 issued patents. In conjunction with his work at Symantec, Mark serves on the ... View Full Bio
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