Microsoft research revives 'friendly worm' ideas

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   Feb 15, 2008

Malware techniques proposed as update-spreading method.

A group of Microsoft researchers have put forward proposals to use worm techniques to spread patches and updates across networks, reopening an age-old debate on the possibility of 'beneficial malware'.

The research, to be presented at the INFOCOM conference in April by a team from Microsoft's Cambridge, UK, research outfit, suggests the use of worm-like software with highly sophisticated learning mechanisms to probe systems not yet infected and move on to new subnets once the local area has been covered or deemed unusable as a target. The aim of the scheme is to reduce networking overheads by moving data required for fixes from system to system in a distributed manner rather than from a central point.

The ideas have recalled several previous proposals in a similar vein, generally found to be deeply flawed. Issues with such methods include ethical problems with modifying software and systems without permission, safety issues regarding controlling spreading, ensuring changes do not cause unexpected results and the potential for abuse for malicious ends, as well as difficulties in managing proper interaction with security software. Some real-life worms have implemented similar strategies to eliminate other malware, including W32/Nachi which attempted to remove W32/Blaster and W32/MyDoom infections and apply security patches.

A report on the proposals is in the New Scientist here, with comment on the ESET blog here.

Posted on 15 February 2008 by Virus Bulletin

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