Security

Microsoft reaches out at China hacker conference

Microsoft Corp. staged with Chinese security researchers at a Beijing hacker conference, aiming to build ties in a country that produces a growing number of threats to Microsoft products.

John Lambert, a team head at the Microsoft Security Engineering Center, spoke to an audience of a few hundred people about security features in Microsoft products and tools used by the company to find vulnerabilities in its software.

Microsoft has worked to build contacts with security researchers worldwide, but the language barrier and low attendance by Chinese experts at overseas conferences make the country's security circles harder to access, Lambert said.

Important security research increasingly comes out of China, but is often presented in Chinese, he said.

Microsoft was a sponsor of the Beijing forum, called XCon, and Lambert said the company would consider attending other security conferences in China where skilled researchers gather.

Microsoft also wants to educate more Chinese software developers on security issues to shield Windows and Internet Explorer users from vulnerabilities in third-party programs, Lambert said.

China produces a growing amount of malware, which usually targets domestic users but is sometimes aimed abroad as well. Two zero-days, or previously unknown vulnerabilities, that were found this year in Internet Explorer appeared to come out of China, Lambert said.

Other speakers at the forum shared tactics that could be used to find or exploit vulnerabilities in software, but researchers in the audience said Microsoft measures had made attacking its programs with exploits more difficult.

“There may still be vulnerabilities, but it's harder to exploit them,” said one researcher. He cited one obstacle as address space layout randomization, a function included in Windows Vista that rearranges the positions of key system code when a PC restarts.

But attackers searching for vulnerabilities in Microsoft products are as active as ever, he said.

One Chinese researcher at the forum demonstrated a tool for fuzz testing of software, a technique used by software vendors and attackers that involves feeding a program invalid data inputs to see what causes a crash. The tool recorded program activity during a crash to help a tester pinpoint its cause. One speaker duo discussed ways to trace the code changes between original and updated versions of a program and another speaker presented tactics used in cross-site scripting, a vulnerability that allows malicious code to be injected to Web sites.

Forum organizers at first said reporting on the event was banned because it dealt with sensitive topics.

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