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by John P. Mello, Jr.

Microsoft plugs security systems into its worldwide cloud

May 30, 20133 mins
BotnetsCloud SecurityCybercrime

Connection to Azure improves ability to push out near-real-time threat information welcome but called 'long overdue'

In a move designed to starve botnets where they live, Microsoft launched a program on Tuesday to plug its security intelligence systems into its global cloud, Azure.

The new offering, known as the Cyber Threat Intelligence Program, or C-TIP, will enable ISPs and CERTs to receive information on infected computers on their systems in near-real time, Microsoft said.

“All too often, computer owners, especially those who may not be using up-to-date, legitimate software and anti-malware protection, unwittingly fall victim to cybercriminals using malicious software to secretly enlist their computers into an army of infected computers known as a botnet, which can then be used by cybercriminals for a wide variety of attacks online,” Microsoft explained in a blog post.

Microsoft has been a leader in the industry in taking down botnets. Its victims include zombie armies enlisted with malware such as Conficker, Waledac, Rustock, Kelihos, Zeus, Nitol and Bamital.

Once a network is taken down, though, its minions must be sanitized. That’s what ISPs and CERTs do with the information they receive from Project MARS (Microsoft Active Response for Security), which is now plugged into Azure.

“While our clean-up efforts to date have been quite successful, this expedited form of information sharing should dramatically increase our ability to clean computers and help us keep up with the fast-paced and ever-changing cybercrime landscape,” Microsoft noted.

“It also gives us another advantage: cybercriminals rely on infected computers to exponentially leverage their ability to commit their crimes, but if we’re able to take those resources away from them, they’ll have to spend time and money trying to find new victims, thereby making these criminal enterprises less lucrative and appealing in the first place,” it added.

[Also see: Hackers exploit Ruby on Rails vulnerability to compromise servers, create botnet]

 Following a botnet takedown, its zombies must be purged in a “remediation phase” of the operation. “The remediation phase is designed to clean up the systems that are infected after the command and control infrastructure is taken over,” said Jeff Williams, director of security strategy at Dell Secureworks

“To leave the infected systems would allow criminals to use the existing malware to create a new botnet,” he told CSO. “It’s a critical component of takedown work to remediate the infected systems.”

In addition to allowing Microsoft to feed remediation information to ISPs and CERTs quickly, Azure allows Microsoft to scale up its botnet busting efforts without a hiccup.

Currently, Microsoft manages hundreds of millions of events a day with its security intelligence systems. It forsees that number climbing into the ten to hundreds of billions in the future, noted T.J. Campana, director of the Microsoft Cybercrime Center.

Now the only data Microsoft is putting into its intelligence systems is MARS program data. “As we increase the number of takedowns we do per year, the size of the attacks and work with more partners around the world, we’ll be processing a much larger set of IP addresses and events per day,” Campana said. 

Azure allows Microsoft to accommodate that expansion. “The ability to have that kind of elasticity dynamically through Azure has been a huge advantage to us,” he added.

For one security analyst, the move to Azure was long overdue. “It’s something Microsoft should be proactive about because it has millions of endpoints from which to collect this information,” Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan told CSO.

“This is long overdue,” she added. “They should have done something like this a couple of  years ago.”