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Malware on tap scheme draws flak

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A Dutch-firm's plans to sell malware samples to corporates have drawn a barbed response from members of the anti-virus industry and a penetration testing firm.

Dutch security Frame4 Security Systems plans to go live with a malware distribution project, dubbed MD:Pro, from 1 February. The service is promoted as offering "developers of security systems and anti-malware products a vast collection of downloadable malware from a secure and reliable source".

The subscription-based service will cost from €1,000 a month and will be restricted to security developers involved in analysis, testing, research and development, according to Anthony Aykut of Frame4 Security Systems. Aykut said Frame4 had more than 6,500 files in its system and predicts it might have 120,000 downloadable malware samples by the end of 2006. It claimed many of the samples would be "undetectable" by anti-virus products

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at anti-virus firm Sophos, questioned the benefits of the service. He said that researchers in the anti-virus industry have worked closely together for years, sharing malware samples between trusted experts and analysts without ever charging money.

"This has benefited internet users around the world as it means if one anti-virus company discovers a new threat it won't stand in the way of its competitors also having the opportunity to analyse the malware and produce protection from its customers."

"The Malware Distribution Project is not that different from many of the VX [virus writer] websites that exist on the net. It presents itself as being available for research purposes, but mentions nothing about restricting access to trusted, responsible members of the security community. Indeed, its barrier for entry appears to be hard cash rather than trust," he added.

Aykut countered that membership of MD:Pro will be restricted to corporate customers only. "It will be a closed list and applications will be checked. Members would not be allowed to distribute virus samples," Aykut told El Reg.

"The samples come from a private collection and from a malware researcher, who wishes to remain anonymous. Virus writers are not involved in the business."

He said MD:Pro would be attractive to developers of intrusion detection systems, along with large corporations and ISPs. "Why should the criminals be the only ones who have access to malware repositories?"

"The anti-virus industry is too exclusive and keeping people outside in the dark. Corporate clients could use samples to test the security of their anti-virus defences," he added.

Roy Hills, technical director of security testing firm NTA Monitor, is sceptical over these arguments. "I can't imagine this would be useful to corporates. If you need virus samples to do a penetration test, and that's something we hardly ever do, it's easy to get a zoo virus. It's doesn't need to be bang up to date and you wouldn't want to test against every virus out there," he said. ®

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