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Search Engine Goes On Offensive

Malware search engine Offensive Computing helps security pros find, analyze, and download hostile files

If you're trying to find or figure out a nasty bit of malware in your IT environment, your job may have just gotten a lot easier.

A pair of independent researchers earlier this week launched Offensive Computing, an open-source search engine that contains information and analysis on some 40,000 hostile files and exploits from around the security industry.

The search engine, which was developed under the auspices of the Cult of the Dead Cow (a longstanding Black Hat forum) was unveiled on Wednesday. The idea, according to a co-founder who goes by the name Valsmith, is to provide a single source where security researchers can go to find a particular exploit, download it, and defuse it.

"I used to do a lot of incident response, where someone would have a compromised system containing unknown files," Valsmith says. "I would try to figure out what the files were, and I always thought, 'I wish there was someplace I could go online and find out what these files are.' So in late December of 2005, I set up the Website and started adding malware and analysis to it."

Working on a self-funded project in the garage of co-founder Danny Quist, the two researchers began collecting and analyzing malware files for inclusion in the search engine. Soon, they added data from popular, open-source malware collections, such as Nepenthes and MWCollect, and then contributors began sending them files from their own collections.

"We get some contributions every day now, through our Web upload interface," Valsmith says. "We hit 40,000 samples today."

Without Offensive Computing, IT troubleshooters and security researchers often are left scrounging for information about malware files that they find in their systems, Valsmith explains. "Antivirus systems in general only have about a 20 percent detection rate, so there is a ton of malware running around out there that few people know anything about," he says. "Hopefully, we can help fill that gap."

The groundswell of support for Offensive Computing's efforts is indicative of a growing desire for more unified, consolidated study among security researchers, observers say. The search engine is not the only consolidation effort in town: At the Defcon conference in Las Vegas last week, Internet pioneer Paul Vixie and Georgia Institute of Technology bot researcher David Dagon announced that they have created a "malware repository" that helps researchers identify new bot exploits.

Vixie's and Dagon's repository includes data from Nepenthes as well as tens of thousands of malware contributions from Shadowserver.org.

Both Offensive Computing and the malware repository are designed to bring security researchers together and speed the process of shutting down new attacks. "Something has to change, because the malware authors are getting more and more sophisticated," Valsmith says.

"We have actually been talking with some antivirus vendors on ways we can help each other improve," he says. "We really want to reach out to the AV community and find ways to collaborate." As more people become aware of the site, more analysis and samples are contributed, which builds up a knowledge base that people can use to help defend against threats."

However, such a unified effort could be tricky, because antivirus vendors make their living by collecting new exploits and trying to be the first to defeat them, observers note. A consolidated database of malware samples and suggested solutions could level the playing field and threaten AV vendors' business, they add.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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