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Virus names likely a lost cause

KamaSutra, Blackmal, Nyxem, MyWife, huh?

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The MITRE Corp has had success in creating identifiers for a different kind of security issue - vulnerabilities. The group's Common Vulnerabilities and Exposure (CVE) list is now used by most major vulnerability databases and software companies to assign identifiers to the thousands of vulnerabilities found every year.

Having a single identifier did help incident responders, said Alex Shipp, senior anti-virus technologist at MessageLabs, which interdicts, on average, five samples of new malicious software in email every day.

"In talking with our customers, they said it helped," Shipp said during an interview at the RSA Security Conference last month. "By checking on the list of names (for the CME identifier), you know what you are talking about and what they are talking about."

Still, not everyone used the staid system of monikers. The computer emergency response team (CERT) in India, the country hardest hit by CME-24, renewed warnings about the worm this month, but failed to use the common identifier.

And, getting the media on board will be a lot tougher, MITRE's Beck said.

"CME-24 is very functional but it's not very sexy," she said. "Something like KamaSutra is more sexy and it's going to get more people to read your articles."

The anti-virus industry has brainstormed over ways to create general purpose names that everyone in the industry would use, but no single method has seemed to work, said Vincent Weafer, senior director for Symantec's security response group (Symantec is the owner of SecurityFocus).

"There was an idea that the name could be picked off a list of names, like hurricanes," Weafer said. "But if we called it 'Alice', then it wouldn't be easily understandable to the user. KamaSutra, a name taken from the subject line, is more easily recognisable."

Moreover, anti-virus firms seem less likely to cooperate as a virus gets more media attention. The viruses that become media darlings are frequently the ones that each antivirus vendor attempts to name. Thus, MSBlast also became known as Blaster, Lovesan and Poza, and the Bagle virus was also called Beagle. The top viruses frequently have a host of aliases, said Sunbelt Software's Wells, who also founded a catalog of current viruses known as the WildList.

"If we can't get any agreement for the top 700 viruses on the WildList, we are not going to get agreement on the rest of the thousands we see every year," he said.

So for consumers, at least, virus naming seems likely to remain a source of confusion.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus

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