What CME Is Up

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-09-29 Print this article Print

Against"> This data is from a recent Bagle outbreak, and most if the identifications are of Bagle, but theyre almost all different specific variants. Many (such as Ikarus) use a generic identifier.
Think of the confusion this might cause, and specifically look at the three big anti-virus companies: McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro use names bearing no resemblance to each other.

Theres definitely a problem here, and its not an inconsequential one. But Cert is being restrained in their claims about CME and they should be. Its not going to solve the problem.

CVE is much more successful, although its basically a behind-the-scenes system. It is used to identify vulnerabilities. Frequently, if not most of the time, it is the vendor of a product who works with MITRE to assign a CVE candidate number to a vulnerability. Vulnerabilities are usually disclosed to the world by one researcher or firm and accompanied by a definition of their nature. Malware is different.

Click here to read more about US-CERT issuing uniform names for computer viruses, worms and other malicious code. Malware isnt disclosed, it is released to the world without announcement. In the first hours, different anti-virus companies will be getting copies, in some cases arguing (as the table above illustrates) what exactly the threat is. A procedure has been defined by CME wherein submissions will be sent and a candidate number assigned. There are checks in place to try to avoid duplicate submissions and subscribing anti-virus companies are expected to use the ID number, perhaps in addition to their own name, in all correspondence.

If this works it will be great, but theres reason to believe that it will end up being just another name to look at. Anti-virus companies already share code samples extensively through back channels, and still there are often disagreements during outbreaks about whether new threats are really new.

Id be shocked if the CME system supplants the more fun naming systems in place. Part of the glory a researcher gets for finding and identifying a new malware is to name it, and they wont give that up easily. Plus, the numbering system doesnt convey the existence of families of malware, such as Bagle, and the relationships between them. You might assume that Sober.A and Sober.B are closely related, but are CME-123 and CME-124? Not necessarily.

Finally, having a single identifier in place, if the system would be really successful, would help make it clearer which anti-virus companies react faster and better than others, although AV-Test already has good testing to make that clear. Such clarity isnt necessarily in the interest of the largest companies in the business.

I seem to be saying this a lot lately: I dont have a better idea; I think the problem is basically insoluble. If were lucky, CME can gain general acceptance, and that will make things somewhat clearer, but I worry that too many factors are working against it.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at larryseltzer@ziffdavis.com. 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 eWEEK.com 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.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel