VirusTotal Monitor Looks to Reduce Security False Positives

A new service from VirusTotal enables software developers to privately check and monitor application code against antivirus engines, in a bid to reduce false positives.

VirusTotal Monitor

VirusTotal announced a new Monitor service on June 19 that could help to reduce malware false positives in software.

Since the site was founded in 2004, VirusTotal has enabled developers and antivirus vendors to check files against malware detection engines. With the new VirusTotal (VT) Monitor, software developers can now benefit from a private system where they can upload new files and have them continuously checked to see if they will be flagged as malware. The VirusTotal Monitor service is an attempt to help software developers limit false positive malware detection.

"With Monitor, VirusTotal will rescan every single file in VT Monitor daily, which requires quite a lot of resources," Emiliano Martinez, technical lead at VirusTotal, told eWEEK. "Once it takes off, VT Monitor could eventually be scanning, per day, more files than the standard VirusTotal public web interface—approximately 2 million files per day."

VirusTotal was acquired by Google in 2012 and became part of Google's parent company Alphabet's Chronicle division on Jan. 25. While the core VirusTotal service is free, Martinez said independent software vendors and developers access the service via a paid subscription. Developers can still choose to simply submit a file for analysis to the free version of VirusTotal, though Martinez said that it would not be as effective as VT Monitor for several reasons.

"False positives can happen at any point in time; hence, it is not enough with checking a file just today. You need to keep your collection periodically scanned with the latest signature sets in order to make sure that you get notified as soon as the incident happens," he said.

In addition, Martinez noted that uploading to VirusTotal’s standard web interface does not notify antivirus vendors about a potential false positive detection and it does not tell them what company is behind a given file. In VT Monitor, whenever there is a false positive, the AV vendor and the software developer are immediately notified, he said. Martinez said that with VT Monitor, the AV vendor gets the contextual information of the file automatically and then makes a decision as to whether the pertinent company should be cleared.

"Uploading a file to the standard VirusTotal web interface results in VirusTotal distributing the file to the AV partners in the service so that they can study the file and blacklist it if appropriate," he said. "This means that if you happen to be suffering a false positive, you may start to generate a snowball effect whereby other vendors trust the verdicts of their peers and start to detect the file also."

In contrast, Martinez said VT Monitor keeps files private and does not share with third parties. It will share the file exclusively with the AV producing the detection and only in the event of a potentially mistaken detection. This prevents the detection snowball effect.

False Positive Remediation

A core value of VT Monitor is that the developer does not have to determine the root cause of a file being flagged as malicious, according to Martinez. 

"Instead, what happens is that at the same time that the developer is notified about the potentially mistaken detection, so is the antivirus vendor producing the detection," he said. "VirusTotal has a long history of collaboration with our antivirus partners. We have the contacts with the teams in charge of false positives at these antivirus vendors, and we have been working closely with them in order to provide them both with a web platform and an API so that they can automate the ingestion and management of detections that happen among the files held in VT Monitor."

When VirusTotal first launched, Windows executables were the primary file type scanned. Now in 2018, VirusTotal works for any kind of file and any kind of operating system. Martinez said that false positives, for example, could happen on Android applications and VT Monitor will pick those up. 

Looking forward, Martinez said VirusTotal has a roadmap that will continue to grow and help security teams and antivirus vendors research threats. 

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.