Microsoft scrambles to quash 'friendly' worm story

Microsoft is moving to counter several scathing comments regarding a security paper authored by researchers at its Cambridge, England, facility.

Microsoft is moving to counter some scathing comments regarding a security paper authored by researchers at its Cambridge, England, facility.

The paper, "Sampling Strategies for Epidemic-Style Information Dissemination," looks at how worms sometimes inefficiently spread their code.

The research explores how a more efficient method could, for example, be used for distributing patches or other software. The advantage would be that patches could be distributed from PC to PC, rather than from a central server.

That method would reduce the load on a server, and patches would be distributed faster. But the patches would have the same qualities as a computer worm, a generally malicious file.

Since a story about the paper appeared on Thursday in the New Scientist magazine, the paper has been roundly assailed.

"This is a stupid idea," wrote Bruce Schneier, a security expert, author and CTO of enterprise security vendor BT Counterpane, on Tuesday, before quoting a passage from the New Scientist story on his blog.

Schneier wrote that the idea of so-called "benevolent worms" comes up every few years.

However, a worm is designed to run without the consent of a user, which doesn't make it a good method of software distribution, Schneier wrote. The worm patching technique could also make the patches hard to uninstall or interrupt during installation, he wrote.

Worms designed to distribute software patches could also be hacked to distribute malicious software, wrote Randy Abrams, director of education for security vendor Eset, in his regular e-mail commentary.

Forced patching is also troublesome since some patches may not be compatible with critical software, Abrams wrote.

"Breaking into computers is a bad idea," Abrams said.

A Microsoft spokesman said on Monday that the New Scientist story is not inaccurate. However, the writer of the story "sexed" up the research paper a bit, particularly with the headline that used the phrase "friendly worms," the spokesman said.

In response to the criticism, Microsoft said it doesn't intend to develop patch worms.

"This was not the primary scenario targeted for this research," according to a statement.

The company also said it will continue to let customers decide how and when they apply security updates.

One of the paper's authors, Milan Vojnovic, said in a statement that there were no plans to incorporate the ideas into Microsoft's products. Efforts to reach Vojnovic for comment were unsuccessful.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?