Academics leverage malware data to catalogue Australian Web security threats

Security researchers have high hopes for a jointly backed three-year project between Deakin University and Macquarie University, which will use large-scale analytics techniques to analyse massive volumes of Trend Micro malware sensor data with the goal of identifying and fighting Australia’s most prevalent malware attacks.

The project, which will occupy a team of around a half-dozen security researchers across the two universities, will see a range of algorithms developed, run and tweaked to provide an Australian view of the ever-growing mass of information being collected by Trend Micro’s Smart Protection Network (SPN), which uses an online network of 27m sensors to review 4 trillion URLs, emails and files every day – and block over 73 billion malware threats.

Although that service provides real-time blocking for Trend Micro customers, deeper analysis is expected to help the team bring out important trends in malware proliferation and activity – paving the way for development of Australia-specific defences against the estimated 90 percent of malware that originates on the Web.

“Australia is a remarkably Internet dependent country, so it is fundamentally important to improve the security of the current Australian internet,” project leader and Professor Yang Xiang, of Deakin’s School of IT, told CSO Australia. “The goal of this project is to use complementary knowledge and skills from both sides to work together and analyse the Web threats specifically targeting Australia.”

Although the Web team won’t have direct access to the masses of data collected by Trend Micro, they will be able to run algorithms against it and extensively analyse the results. Complemented by existing research from Xiang’s team – he is also director of the university’s Network Security and Computing Lab – the project is expected to offer significant new insight into the Australian face of online malware.

“We can’t expect one project to secure the whole Australian cyberspace,” Xiang said, “but I hope this project could make significant contributions in this field.”

“Our research lab has already developed a few systems and algorithms for defending against polymorphic malware, and we have some mathematical models to model the propagation of malicious malware. I hope that we can develop some systems or algorithms as well as improving the security awareness of the Australian people.”

One researcher will work on the project full time, with contributions from others as appropriate. Outcomes from the project are expected to range from academic research papers and security advisories, to algorithms for better malware detection and potentially even software tools implementing them. The project, which is part of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects scheme, is one of many funded under the Gillard government’s $58.4m research investment funding.

“Massive amounts of threat-specific data are being collected, and we’ll be using big data analytics to identify, correlate, and analyse new threats,” said Trend Micro Melbourne-based senior global threat researcher Dr Jon Oliver. “The team will be able to distinguish which Web threats are attacking Australia specifically, and whether they are impacting individuals or particular business segments.”

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