Security researchers plot revamped anti-virus tests

Behaviour-based testing

Warning: biohazard

Security researchers are close to formulating plans to overhaul anti-virus testing amid growing concerns that current tests can be misleading.

Anti-virus packages are traditionally tested for their effectiveness in detecting a sample of malware packages known to be in circulation. Products that fail to detect a sample get a lower rating. Such tests - which have remained almost unchanged for a decade - essentially test signature detection of malware samples. Products that fail to detect a sample fail to achieve coveted benchmarks, such as the VB 100 endorsement.

But the approach is a poor method for detecting the effectiveness of behavioral detection technology, an approach that is increasingly gaining traction in the marketplace as a means of providing detection for rapidly evolving threats. In the era of targeted Trojan attacks, some based on unpatched vulnerabilities, signature detection alone really fails to provide a complete defence, however highly a product is rated on those terms.

German testing organisation AV-Test.org is pooling suggestions for a revamp to current testing regimes, taking ideas from vendors such as Symantec, Trend Micro, Panda Software, Kaspersky Labs and others, IDG reports. The revamped tests are likely to involve presenting malware samples as an email attachment or as malicious code on web pages within a testing environment.

Security packages (either anti-virus or host-based intrusion prevention) put through their paces in the tests are likely to have been put on ice, without signature update, for a few weeks prior to the tests. The approach is designed to put the onus on detecting viral code on behavioural analysis features in security packages. The new tests be carried out alongside traditional tests, though that and the scoring systems for behaviour-based tests still remain open to debate.

Proposals for a new testing regime, which have the support of other influential testers such as Virus Bulletin, are due to presented next month at the Association of AntiVirus Asia Researchers 2007 conference in Seoul, South Korea. ®

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