Florida Tech Professors Innovate Software Protection, Earn Patent

MELBOURNE, FLA. – Three computer science professors at Florida Institute of Technology recently were awarded a patent for their work titled “System and method of generically detecting the presence of emulated environments.” The United States Department of Commerce honored the inventors, Richard Ford, William Allen and Gerald Marin for their industrious pursuit in the field of computer security and software protection.

The patent addresses the problem of very high-end rootkits and malware, which can bury themselves deep under the operating system, creating an environment designed to hide the attackers’ presence. The newly patented method of defense focuses on subtle changes the malware makes to statistical properties of the system; such changes can be used to determine if a particular program is running in a synthetic or otherwise virtual environment. Traditional approaches rely on detecting traces of the malware itself; the Florida Tech invention discloses an entirely new way of detecting such attacks.

As noted above, some computer viruses depend on programs to be running in such environments; this allows the previously undetectable malware to take over the system and access its memory. The researchers’ method of detection also helps prevent software from being reverse-engineered.

Ford is director of the university’s Harris Institute for Assured Information. He is also an active participant on state and national levels in technology commercialization and computer security, and serves as senior and executive editor of Computers & Security and Virus Bulletin respectively. He is also president/CEO of the anti-malware industry consortium, AMTSO. Allen’s current research involves the collection and analysis of malicious code, improving the security of SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) devices to protect critical infrastructure and improve software design methodologies for more secure software. Marin joined Florida Tech in August 2003 after a long career in industry, principally with IBM Corp.

To learn more about Florida Tech’s computer science department visit http://coe.fit.edu/cs.

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