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Showdown persists over '100% undetectable' rootkit

Slight disagreement to the tune of $412,000

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The public feud over the effectiveness of a proof-of-concept rootkit said to be completely undetectable continued on Thursday, as a researcher once again challenged those claims.

In a blog entry on ZDNet, researcher Thomas Ptacek took another swipe at the so-called Blue Pill, a prototype rootkit that turned heads when it was unveiled at last years Black Hat conference in Las Vegas.

Today's comments follow last week's challenge by Ptacek's camp that creators of the prototype enter into a contest to prove their claims.

The brainchild of researcher Joanna Rutkowska, Blue Pill makes use of virtualization software commonly referred to as a hypervisor to conceal itself in a machine running Windows Vista. Rutkowska at the time claimed the malicious software was "100-percent undetectable," a claim that Ptacek and his colleagues have publicly challenged.

"Hypervisor malware seems hard to defeat, but it isn't," Ptacek wrote. "Hardware virtualization offers great power to malware that can harness it. But with great power comes great responsibility."

To remain undetected, Ptacek claims, Blue Pill must create a replica of the x86 platform it takes control of, and that includes plenty of minutiae, including "chipset features, obscure timing sources and even hardware bugs, or 'errata', that sneak into the finished version of any chip."

"To hide a rootkit in a hypervisor, Blue Pill has to emulate all of that," he added. "To detect Blue Pill, our team only has to find one of place [sic] she missed."

Last week Ptacek's company, Matasano Security, issued Rutkowska a challenge. It called for Blue Pill to be installed on one of two laptops. The Matasano camp would install their detection software on both and would then identify the machine running the rootkit. If they failed, Rutkowska would get to keep the machines.

Rutkowska responded with a few proposed revisions. She wanted five laptops, to lower the odds of a correct guess. Oh, and she also wanted $200 per hour for about 12 months of work to build a commercial grade version of the rootkit, at a total cost of as much as $412,000.

With signs starting to point to an impasse in the terms of the contest, Ptacek went on in today's entry to call on Microsoft and other big guns to run virtualization by default in their operating systems. That would allow the ideas Matasano has implemented into its detection software to become an industry standard and, they say, debunk the 100-percent undetectable claims once and for all.

"Companies like Microsoft should help make that day come sooner rather than later," he wrote. ®

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