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Microsoft Launches Cloud-Based Fuzzing

'Project Springfield' debuts at Ignite conference.

Microsoft this week at its Ignite 2016 conference in Atlanta released details of a new cloud-based service for rooting out software bugs.

The so-called Project Springfield tool is a fuzzing service that the software giant has been testing with some customers as well as in-house. Fuzzing is a form of testing that sends random inputs to software programs to spot security holes.

Patrice Godefroid, a principal researcher at Microsoft and chief scientist of Project Springfield, said the types of flaws the service spots are ones attackers use most. "The more we can find those bugs ourselves, the more we can fix them before we ship the software," Godrefroid is quoted in a Microsoft post announcing the service.

The Microsoft research team noted in the post that when a development team can find a potentially serious bug before software is released, it saves a developer the costly effort of having to release a patch. This holds true for Microsoft products as well as companies with their own software development teams, they said.

Just when Project Springfield will be widely available is unclear. Microsoft has not announced details on that just yet. “At Ignite, Project Springfield will be available to customers selected by Microsoft from applications to our preview web site," Microsoft said in response to a query about when the service would be available.

Oliver Rochford, research director for security management solutions and services at Gartner, says it's too early to tell just how different Microsoft's service is compared with other fuzzing offerings. "Fuzzing has been known and used for many years," Rochford says. "In its most simple form, it revolves around bruteforcing an application's data inputs with lots of different requests and random data to force it to crash to identify bugs. Commercial products already such as Veracode or HP Fortify also utilize fuzzing methods to analyze software." 

Fuzzing is just on level of vulnerability testing, notes Josh Zelonis, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. Companies then still have to go through each exception to find out why the application failed, and if it did so in an exploitable manner.

"Unfortunately, without someone highly skilled to go through the exceptions discovered by the fuzzer, the development shop just has an unprioritized list of bugs with no criticality attached to them from which to make a business decision on whether to remediate," Zelonis says.

Zelonis adds that while he’s sure there are organizations that will take advantage of Project Springfield, it's likely for more mature development shops.

Microsoft said in its post that many companies can’t afford or can’t find the staff they need to do fuzz testing. Project Springfield offers an automated way to fuzz code, especially for companies that may not have a security engineer or have even heard of fuzz testing.   

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