Almost half of users think virus-writing contests are a good idea

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   May 22, 2008

Shocking survey results disappoint security experts.

Nearly half of the respondents in a Virus Bulletin poll said they thought that virus-writing contests are a useful way of highlighting issues with anti-virus products - while 12 per cent felt that such contests are nothing but harmless fun.

Last month, the organisers of the annual Defcon hackers' convention announced the Race to Zero contest, to be held at the 16th Defcon conference in August this year. In the contest, participants will be provided with existing virus code, which they are required to modify so that it will not be detected by the available anti-virus scanners.

The reaction to the announcement was one of unanimous disapproval from the anti-virus community at large, making the results of the poll - of more than 1,000 visitors to the Virus Bulletin website - all the more surprising. In total, 46% of respondents said they felt that virus-writing contests are a useful way of highlighting issues with anti-virus products. A mere 35% of respondents expressed disapproval at such activities.

Graham Cluley, Senior Technology Consultant at anti-virus vendor Sophos, echoed the view of many in the anti-malware industry: "There is enough malware already," he said. "We have seen more new malware variants in the last six months than in the last 25 years put together and we don't need contests to create new variants of malicious code." Moreover, he continued: "writing new malware teaches you nothing about how to write a better anti-virus. That's why anti-malware vendors don't create viruses."

Asked whether the results of the poll worry him - in particular in light of the fact that many of the respondents are IT or security professionals - Cluley said he finds it disturbing that people think virus-writing competitions are harmless fun. He warned: "They will realise that competitions aren't without consequences if their networks are attacked by malware produced by the competition, or as the size of the anti-virus definition databases increase due to vendors having to add detection for malware entered into the contest."

Cluley does, however, have a suggestion for the Defcon organisers: "If the hackers at Defcon really want to give something back to the community and prove how clever they are, how about a competition to write a better anti-virus? How about some of them get together to develop software which works on a multitude of operating systems, can detect hundreds of thousand of different pieces of malware in real-time without making mistakes, and can be seamlessly updated?"

The full results of the poll can be found here.

Posted on 22 May 2008 by Virus Bulletin

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