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Microsoft deploys protocol defense for IE

'We can't do it on our own!'

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RSA Internet Explorer is the next battleground for Microsoft in its goal of securing the Windows stack against an anticipated avalanche of script-based attacks.

And the company appears to be putting out the feelers to the community in order to get there.

David Cross, Microsoft product unit manager, told RSA generic application-level protocol analyzers are a key tool in the company's fight against an anticipated surge in script-based attacks on users of its browser as the internet goes Web 2.0.

The company reckoned it's facing 1,000 threats per day versus 500 a month in the good-old days of the CodeRed and Nimda worms.

Attacks are also becoming more advanced: key loggers and worms are dropping off in number while downloads - trojans and adware - and root kits remain high. Areas for attack are the hypervisor and BIOS down in the guts of the stack and at a higher level in specific applications.

Cross, in his session Life after Vista: what is next for Windows security?, said: "As we harden the OS - driver interfaces, hooks into the OS - the applications become the richest points of attack. The number of attacks - not necessarily the sophistication, the sheer volume of attacks coming at us - require innovation on our part."

Analyzers would help detect an "infinite amount of signatures in virtually an infinite number of languages" as users engage in day-to-day activities like uploading photos to the web that exposes their personal information, such as passwords and identities.

According to Cross, the operating system has been hardened. "The key aspect of the platform looking forward is how we can use things like GAPA to add the script-based vulnerabilities in a browser. This is something where we see a lot more attacks coming from at Microsoft and how we can provide innovation in this area."

Cross advocated an "open" approach on GAPA in IE. "We've been doing a lot of work on GAPA," Cross told RSA. "GAPA shouldn't be a closed system that Microsoft only develops... the true value in something like GAPA is through the community model. People can plug in and provide new protocols."

Cross also identified a number of areas where he "predicted" continued investment by Microsoft, although it was clear these were his "predictions" and there were no specific commitment to features in IE 8 or Windows 7. Time to read between the lines.

These include continued investment in hardening the operating system, the creation of extension points that act like gateways and channel third-parties' software, code signing to support new features such as User Account Controls and application whitelisting, and even some form of digital rights management.

Separately, Cross claimed users both accept and understand Windows Vista's UACs, which turn-off Windows Vista users' administrative privileges and reduce users' ability to easily download or install malicious code.

Cross, previously UAC group program manager, called the system a "very heavy hammer" to solve the installation problem, something that was intended to annoy users and thereby force a change in the ecosystem.

Quoting statistics from Windows Watson dumps, the Malicious Software Removal Tool and opt-in programs run in conjunction with consumers and enterprises, Cross said 80 per cent of UAC interruptions were caused by just 10 actions in Windows and other software from Microsoft and third parties. UAC is on 88 per cent of all consumer sessions and 66 per cent of sessions have no prompts at all.®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

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