Every year, during the Virus BulletinConference gala dinner, we celebrate the life and works of Péter Szőr, the brilliant security researcher who passed away so sadly in 2013. We do so by recognizing a great piece of technical security research with the Péter Szőr Award.
This year, we received many nominations, which we narrowed down to a shortlist of three:
First on the shortlist was SHAttered, the piece of research which demonstrated the first ever collision of the SHA-1 hashing algorithm, by researchers from CWIAmsterdam and Google.
Few were surprised by the fact that a SHA-1 collision was found; it was widely known that this particular group was working on finding one. But the paper itself (pdf) went well beyond presenting two colliding strings: it carefully explained how the collision worked, provided two colliding PDFs, and even included a tool for people to check if a file was part of a collision attack.
Next on the shortlist was 'AKBuilder – the crowdsourced exploit kit', a research paper by Sophos's Gábor Szappanos.
Malicious documents that exploit Office vulnerabilities are used in many attacks, from massive spam campaigns to various more targeted attacks. In a key example of the commoditization of cybercrime, such documents tend to be generated by 'Office exploit-kits'. Gábor has studied several such kits and late in 2016 wrote an excellent paper (pdf) on one of them: AKBuilder.
The final shortlist entry was Iran Threats, a project by researchers Claudio Guarnieri and Collin Anderson.
As part of this project – which the researchers work on in their spare time – various digital surveillance and espionage campaigns targeting the human rights community in Iran have been documented. Not only does the project serve as a reminder that, in some countries and regions, people face digital threats that are far more serious than ordinary cybercrime, it also provides these people with important guidance.
The award was presented during the VB2017 gala dinner by Symantec researcher Liam O'Murchu, who both knew Péter Szőr personally and worked closely with him. After a short speech in which Liam shared some personal anecdotes about Péter, he announced the winner of the fourth award: Gábor Szappanos for his AKBuilder research paper.
Sophos researcher Gábor Szappanos receives the fourth Péter Szőr Award.
Given the quality of the AKBuilder paper, and of Gábor's work over the years, the winner was a popular choice. It means that after Canada, The United States and The Netherlands, the Péter Szőr Award now finds its way to Hungary – the country in which Péter himself grew up.
New additions to the VB2019 conference programme include a closing keynote address from Thinkst duo Haroon Meer and Adrian Sanabria and a talk on attacks against payment systems.