CME Malware Naming System Never Had a Chance

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-03-10 Print this article Print

Opinion: About six months after its inception, CME has not clarified the malware mess in any meaningful way, but fortunately the problem is obsolescing.

Do you remember the Common Malware Enumeration Initiative? I wrote about it skeptically several months ago and was recently reminded of it by an article by one of my own favorite writers, Rob Lemos of SecurityFocus. CME is an effort to create a simple and centralized naming system for malware. One of the banes of the anti-virus business is that different researchers and anti-virus companies use different, often wildly different, names for the same attack. Even worse in a way, some times theyre off just by the variant code, so Bagle.AR for one vendor could be the same as Bagle.AQ for another.
How are administrators and other non-experts supposed to keep track of such stuff? The answer was supposed to be CME, which would create a code and maintain a database of which threat names corresponded to that code. So you could see, for example, that all of these malware names correspond to the same attack, a.k.a. CME-24:
  • McAfee: W32/MyWife.d@MM
  • Norman: W32/Small.KI
  • Panda: W32/Tearec.A.worm
  • Sophos: W32/Nyxem-D
  • Symantec: W32.Blackmal.E@mm
  • TrendMicro: WORM_GREW.A
Some vendors have embraced the CME system to a degree; Microsoft calls this same attack "Microsoft: Win32/Mywife.E@mm!CME-24."
Lemos writes that CME is fighting an uphill struggle. He cites spotty evidence of success, but the big picture is less encouraging. In fact, Ive yet to read an optimistic assessment from anyone who wasnt directly involved with the initiative. Most outside observers sound like me, or like Dr. Alan Solomon, well-known as "Dr. Solomon," one of the pioneers in anti-virus development. Dr. Solomon also argues that CME has added nothing but another name, one that is likely to be ignored. The realistic case for CME never claimed that it could take over the naming system. It was about outbreaks, the big ones where admins cant just let the tools do the job but must personally look into things. Is "American" software more secure? Click here to read Larry Seltzers opinion. Unfortunately, the CME system is not up to the task it sets itself. It can take hours to determine that an attack is one of those important ones, deserving of CME treatment, and those first few hours are all that is needed for the naming to get out of hand. Also, researchers may disagree on whether they are seeing the same threat. Lemos talks about the CME-24 case. This was one that got some attention over an extended period of time, because a delayed payload in the attack was scheduled to delete files on the system. So in this case there was enough time for the CME name to be available when it was still timely and useful, and it did get used some. For advice on how to secure your network and applications, as well as the latest security news, visit Ziff Davis Internets Security IT Hub. Unfortunately, CME-24 is a drop in the malware bucket. In most cases the CME name gets no coverage, and these days theres even less opportunity. The number of significant malware outbreaks has been decreasing over time to the point that in 2005 you could probably count them on both hands. Who needs a new numbering system under such circumstances? Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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