Microsoft & Intel Agree To Fight Malware

Microsoft and Intel have a novel approach to classifying malware with the means of visualising it. They’re collaborating on STAMINA (Static Malware-as-Image Network Analysis), a project that turns rogue code into grayscale images so that a deep learning system can study them. 

The approach converts the binary form of an input file into a simple stream of pixels, and turns that into a picture with dimensions that vary depending on aspects like file size.

A trained neural network then determines what, if anything, has infected the file.  “As malware variants continue to grow, traditional signature-matching techniques cannot keep up. We looked to applying deep-learning techniques to avoid costly feature engineering and used machine-learning techniques to learn and build classification systems that can effectively identify malware program binaries,” according to Intel researchers.

The researchers fed malware samples into a program that converts the data into grayscale images, using an approach called static malware-as-image network analysis (STAMINA). They then analyze the samples for structural patterns that can be used to distinguish between benign and malicious code, and then rank the malicious suspects into degree of threat. 

The study relied on earlier work by Intel on deep transfer learning for static malware classification. Static analysis permits malware detection without having to execute code or monitor runtime behavior.

Drawing on Microsoft’s massive dataset of malware code collected through its Defender security system, the researchers say they achieved “high accuracy” in detecting malware and “low false positives.”

With static analysis, most threats are detected before they are triggered.

The study consisted of three steps: image conversion, transfer learning, and evaluation. In a process that included pixel conversion and resizing, malware code drawn from 2.2 million infected files was converted into two-dimensional images. The next step used transfer learning to apply knowledge obtained about detected malware in one task to similarly structured unidentified code. The last step was evaluation.

The STAMINA program achieved an accuracy of more than 99 percent identifying and categorising malware samples, with a false positives rate of 2.6 percent.

With enough refinement, though, this could be very useful. Most malware detection relies on extracting binary signatures or fingerprints, but the sheer number of signatures makes that impractical. This could help anti-malware tools effectively keep up and reduce the chances of security threats.

TechXplore:      EndGadget:       ZDNet:         I-HLS

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