New Microsoft security system scours Web

Microsoft has taken the wraps off a new security program that uses automated "HoneyMonkeys" to patrol the Web, seeking out sites that automatically install malicious code on Windows XP systems.

In its first month the Strider HoneyMonkey research project located 752 Web addresses linking to 287 sites that could automatically infect unpatched machines, Microsoft said. The project also discovered an attack that could penetrate a fully up-to-date Windows XP Service Pack 2 system using a previously unknown vulnerability.

Microsoft first discussed the HoneyMonkey program in May, and last week published a research paper discussing the details.

The project is relatively limited in scope - it only looks for code that can be installed with no user interaction, leaving out the more sophisticated, and increasingly successful attacks relying on social engineering - attacks such as phishing.

However, Microsoft believes the automated approach could become a valuable tool for detecting new types of attacks before they become widespread. Attackers appear to share new exploits among themselves, quickly spreading to numerous sites, according to Yi-Min Wang, manager of Microsoft's Cybersecurity and Systems Management Research Group, author of the paper.

"Although (manual analyses) often provide very useful and detailed information about which vulnerabilities are exploited and which malware programs are installed, such analysis efforts are not scalable and do not provide a comprehensive picture of the problem," said Wang in the paper.

For example, Microsoft's HoneyMonkeys came across a Windows XP SP2 exploit at the beginning of July, before many other sites were using it. Two weeks later, 40 of the 287 sites were using the exploit, Microsoft said.

That exploit used a previously undiscovered bug in the JView Profiler COM object (javaprxy.dll), and was patched at the end of July

The system uses a chain of HoneyMonkeys, the name being derived from "honeypots", passive security research server systems set up to wait for attacks. Each HoneyMonkey is a Windows XP system with a different level of patching, running in a virtual machine. An initial wave of unpatched HoneyMonkeys scours the Web seeking potentially malicious sites. When a site is found that installs potentially malicious code, the virtual machine is scrapped and another takes its place.

The target URL is then passed to a virtual machine with a greater level of patching, to see which systems are vulnerable to the site's exploit. At the end of the chain is a fully patched Windows XP system, Microsoft said.

The system builds up a topology graph based on traffic redirection, which has led to the identification of a few major players who are responsible for a large number of exploit pages, said Wang in the paper.

The HoneyMonkey systems run a variety of tools to monitor the dastardly work the malicious sites are carrying out, including Strider GhostBuster, Microsoft's rootkit detection and removal program.

Microsoft said it plans to eventually deploy several geographically distributed networks of hundreds of HoneyMonkeys, and to patrol popular sites as well as the obscure recesses of criminality.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Matthew Broersma

Techworld.com
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?