Carnegie Mellon researchers develop new software to detect viruses


New software to detect viruses in cellphones and other embedded systems

PITTSBURGH New types of insidious programs are burrowing into a variety of embedded systems in cars and cellphones, wreaking all sorts of problems. Here's what's being done by Carnegie Mellon Electrical and Computer Engineering researchers to combat them.

A research team led by Adrian Perrig has developed a new software designed to detect remote malicious attacks, such as worms and viruses. Other researchers on the team include graduate student Arvind Seshadri, College of Engineering Dean Pradeep Khosla and IBM researcher Leendert van Doorn.

Dubbed SWATT, short for SoftWare-based ATTestation, this new cyber cop can root out the worst offenders by alerting users that their cellphone or car computer has been invaded by an unwanted rogue virus, Perrig said.

"We have designed a special mechanism that can verify the code running on any given remotely embedded system,'' said Perrig, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and engineering and public policy. "We can detect the presence of any virus: simple viruses can be detected through their altered memory contents, while more advanced viruses will attempt to hide, but we can detect them since hiding will slow down our code verification,'' Perrig said.

In fact, some viruses can slow a computer's performance to a crawl by hogging its memory.

But the Carnegie Mellon SWATT software is programmed to seek out and find even the most finicky virus no matter how elaborate the virus defenses are. Industry analysts say this new software has enormous implications since there are hundreds of new Internet viruses cropping up daily. Even worse, hackers are setting up camp in millions of computers across the country. Some of this new computer spyware can even carry orders to snatch passwords and run other online scams. These include "keyloggers'' that record every tap on the keyboard and "dialers'' that direct computer modems to dial premium-rate numbers, running up phone bill charges for unwitting computer or cellphone users.

"This new software will have tremendous impact for industry and consumers as we can find viruses that infect cars, cell phones and other networked devices,'' Perrig said.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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